Welcome to Smugglivus 2014! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2014, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2015, and more.
Who: Stefan Raets of the science fiction and fantasy review blog Far Beyond Reality and who also writes excellent reviews for Tor.com.
Please give it up for Stefan!
Thanks to Ana and Thea for inviting me back to participate in my second Smugglivus! For a brief moment, I considered submitting an excerpt from the fantasy trilogy I hope to write, inspired by Justin Landon’s recent Smugglivus post (The Dudebro Chronicles! Book One: Loin-Thresher! Book Two: Harvester of Women!) but, well, I really like Ana and Thea so instead I’ll just stick to the usual: a brief roundup of some of my favorite reads of 2014.
2014 was a slow reading year for me, with only about 65 novels read, far less than usual. Even worse: I reviewed only about half of them. (One of my vague resolutions for 2015 is to post short mini-reviews of the others throughout January.) Below, I’m listing my favorites, runners-up, and some honorable mentions.
For fantasy, my single favorite novel of the year has to be The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. The crazy thing is that I almost didn’t pick this one up because the title, synopsis and cover somehow gave me the wrong impression, leading me to expect a simplistic and very traditional fantasy tale. Instead, I discovered a wonderful, endlessly entertaining court intrigue about a young half-goblin who somehow finds himself inheriting the throne to the empire and all the headaches that come with it. Watching other characters mistake his inexperience for lack of intelligence made for one of the best reading experiences of 2014 — a book I literally carried around with me from room to room, occasionally bumping into furniture as I tried to read while walking. The Goblin Emperor gave me the same happy, fuzzy, wonder-filled sense of comfort I got when I first started reading fantasy, all those years ago. I was sad when it was over.
Runner-up: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett drew me in with its fascinating main character and kept me interested with its mystery plot, but ultimately really blew me away with brilliant worldbuilding. The author gradually reveals details about the world’s complex history and theology, and then ties those details into the ongoing mystery in a way that made this book very hard to put down for me. And, of course, there’s Sigrud. If there were an award for Best Supporting Character in a Fantasy Novel, Sigrud should win it hands down.
Honorable mentions: The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan, Truth and Fear by Peter Higgins, Veil of the Deserters by Jeff Salyards.
For science fiction, my top choice can be no other than Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie. Given the huge expectations, writing a follow-up to a novel like Ancillary Justice cannot have been easy, but Leckie pulls it off with verve. Ancillary Sword benefits from being a sequel: the reader is already familiar with some of the wonderful peculiarities of Leckie’s characters and fictional universe. As a result, the author can focus more on plot and especially character development, with Breq’s ongoing evolution the stunning center piece, culminating in one of the most moving scenes I read all year.
Runner-up (tie) SL Huang’s Zero Sum Game is the story of Cas Russell, who uses her exceptional math skills to calculate bullet trajectories and generally pull off amazing superhero-like stunts. This is an action-packed, supremely entertaining story, and I can’t wait for the sequel Half Life, due out on December 31st!
Runner-up (tie): Defenders by Will McIntosh deceptively starts off with your standard alien-invasion-in-progress but takes a surprising twist when the artificial race of super-soldiers created by humanity to save the day turn out to be the real danger. Will McIntosh is one of those authors who just can do no wrong for me – I’ve loved everything he’s written so far.
Honorable mentions: My Real Children by Jo Walton, Afterparty by Daryl Gregory.
(My actual absolute favorite science fiction I read this year were books 4 through 12 of C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series, but none of those were published this year so I didn’t include them.)
And a few other books that really should be mentioned:
I didn’t read a lot of short fiction this year. I’m not sure why—it just turned out that way, and it’s something I plan to rectify in 2015. Of the few collections I did read, Her Husband’s Hands and Other Stories by Adam-Troy Castro is easily my favorite: a set of dark, disturbing stories that simply didn’t get enough attention. You can read my full review of the collection here.
Finally, a graphic novel, or I guess I should say graphic short story collection: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. a haunting set of fairy tale-like horror stories, presented in a stark palette of colors that does more to drive home the terror of these tales than all the special effects Hollywood could come up with. Stunning, dark, atmospheric, and simply unforgettable.
And that’s about it for me for 2014. For next year, I hope to read more, and review more, and generally fulfill my personal mission to get people to read good books. Happy Smugglivus to all!