SFFWorld Review of the Year 2010 part 1

So here we are again: our usual review of the year. (This is something like our eighth, I think!)  The snow’s deep around Hobbit Towers but you’re welcome to pull up a chair near the fire while we chat.

For the uninitiated, this is where Rob Bedford and I (Mark) try to pull together what we see as key genre books from the previous twelve months. I should really point out before we start that there is always some slippage here, as books get published in different places around the world at different times.

Putting it simply, some books may reappear even though they were mentioned previously. At the moment this seems to be a ‘UK first, US later’ thing, but by no means always.

At the end, Rob and I will try and mention our year’s favourites. We try and limit it to five each, but it doesn’t always happen that way.

Right: with that over, let’s get started.

Fantasy and Horror

According to Locus Online at the time of writing (beginning of December) there have been 287 Fantasy Genre novels published this year. Rather scarily, only 39 of these are standalone and 249 are sequels, or part of a series. Such is the way of the Fantasy novel.

In January we saw the release of one of the genre’s biggest names (if not also by book weight), Steven Erikson’s latest Malazan, Dust of Dreams. Owen reviewed it for us in September 2009: he was a little disappointed. Many others seemed pleased that we were heading for a conclusion in this penultimate novel. (The tenth, The Crippled God, is now complete and due for release in February 2011.)

We also saw Jasper Fforde’s underrated Shades of Gray: away from the Thursday Next series (at least for now) this was, to Mark’s mind, a great book from a talented writer who continues to write genre fiction when publishers seem determined to point him in other directions.

Many noticed the huge amount of publicity behind Paul Hoffman’s The Left Hand of God – Mark reviewed it, thought it was OK but wasn’t too impressed, yet found himself quoted in the front (from ‘SSFWorld’, admittedly) of the UK paperback. The sequel, The Last Four Things, is due in April 2011.

Gail Carriger’s first Alexia Tarabotti novel, Soulless, was released in the UK after being published in the US in 2009, and seemed to be again well-liked by the steampunk fraternity. It was followed in quick succession through the year by Blameless and ChangelessRob reviewed it in September 2009.

 

February saw Joe Hill’s second novel, Horns, appear. Many liked it, though personally I still think he writes better ‘short’ than ‘long’.  KJ Parker’s Folding Knife also appeared and seemed to be more quality from this enigmatic writer. Dan Simmons’ Black Hills emerged; though the style and the ability of the writer were not in doubt, some were unsure about its take on the events of Custer and the North American Indians.  We also saw NK Jemisin’s first novel,The Hundred-Thousand Kingdoms, which on the whole has been well-received, though personally Mark couldn’t get on with. It was later added to with The Broken Kingdoms in November.  Rob reviewed Ari Marmell’s entertaining The Conqueror’s Shadow, and was surprised by how much he enjoyed it.

Robin Hobb’s The Dragon Keeper was also released in the US, to mixed reviews, if reviewed at all. It was released in the UK in June 2009. Part of these reviews seemed to be more about this being the first part of a split novel than the book itself (rather like Connie Willis’s SF novel Black Out, also released this month – see SF Review.)  This book was a return to the popular setting of her FarseerLiveship Traders, and Tawny Man trilogies, which all take place in the Six Duchies.  Perhaps her side-step into the divisive Soldier Son trilogy was a factor in the diminished response?

March saw the release of the second half of Robin Hobb’s split novel, Dragon Haven, in the UK. Elizabeth Moon’s return to the world of Paksenarrion this month, Oath of Feality, was much more well-received on the whole. As Rob’s review indicates, the book is a good jumping on point for Moon, after all it was Rob’s first foray into her fiction and he thought well of it. Gene Wolfe’s The Sorcerer’s House, released in the US, was fairly well respected. In the UK, Col Buchanan’s Farlander appeared (and due in the US in January 2011). To Mark, it promised much, but disappointed. Many liked the cover but were less impressed with the novel. For those who could get around Mark’s frustrations, they quite liked it. The next book in the series, is due in 2011.

In the same month, Jasper Kent’s Russian vampire novel, Thirteen Years Later was released in the UK. Mark liked it, and thinks Jasper really has stepped up his game here after the first novel, Twelve, which was released in the US by Pyr to positive reviews in September.

March also saw the release of Tad Williams’s Shadowrise, the third in the Shadowmarch series that Rob feels is underrated, this again is a case of one book split in two (with the fourth volume having published in late December, see later in the overview). The month also saw Adrian Tchaikovsky’s release of his Shadows of the Apt series in the US in very quick succession by Pyr: the first in March, two in April and the fourth in September respectively. The series seems to be gaining quite a following.

In April one of the biggest releases of the month in the UK appeared to be Peter Brett’s The Desert Spear, the second novel in his series. Lots of people liked it at SFFWorld; Rob reviewed it, and thought VERY highly of it, in September on its US release, though there were some reservations. Some similarly enjoyed Guy Gavriel Kay’s alternate-Chinese related novel, Under Heaven. Many thought Stephen Deas’s The King of the Crags was better than his first,The Adamantine PalaceMany were shocked at the events in Jim Butcher’s latest Dresden tale, Changes, which had a humongous end-of-novel event.Rob reviewed Blake Charlton’s Spellwright, which was seen to be ‘entertaining’.

May saw Dragon Haven released in the US. For Mark, the release of the rather manic Kraken by China Mieville was a highlight. Much less restrained than his previous novel, the multi-award-winning City and the City, this was a case of China having fun. Squids, cults and subterranean religions all over the city of London. Mark quite liked it. Although released in April, Rob reviewed Neverland, a taut and solid reissue from horror veteran Douglas Clegg that evoked the best of Stephen King.

In the same month we saw MD Lachlan’s entertaining Wolfsangelwhich combined horror with Nordic myth. Rob also reviewed Mark Chadbourn’s The Silver Skull, an entertaining romp which Mark reviewed for its UK release in May as the Sword of Albion.

 

June saw the release of Mark Charan Newton’s second Legends of the Red Sun novel, City of Ruin, in the UK. Not one for arachnophobes! We also saw Laurel K Hamilton’s Bullet, another Anita Blake tale. The biggest release of the month was Justin Cronin’s The Passage, which was generally well received by both Rob and Mark, as well as many of those who wouldn’t normally go near a genre novel. June also saw the US release of Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold, which seemed to be as well received as it was in the UK.

 

July saw Kraken released in the US, to equally bemused responses. Interestingly, we saw what may be a keynote collection of stories from editors Jonathan Strahan & Lou Anders, Swords and Dark Magic: The New Sword and SorceryRob liked itMark was less enthusiastic. Containing tales from Erikson, Moorcock, Glen Cook, Jack Vance and many others, even with Mark’s disappointment it may be a sign that Sword and Sorcery may be regaining some modicum of respect.

The third Laundry novel, The Fuller Memorandum, was released by Charles Stross. Mark liked it. We also saw SFFWorld member Jon Sprunk’s novel,Shadow’s Son, released.

In August we saw the release of two much-awaited novels.  The Black Prism, Brent Weeks’ first book in his new Lightbringer series was released after the huge success of the Night Angel trilogy.   Many who read it said it was better than the debut trilogy, first released in three months at the end of 2008. Secondly, the end of the month saw Brandon Sanderson’s mighty tome The Way of Kings was also released in the US, to generally positive comments. It is the first of a proposed ten-volume series. Rob really liked itThe Way of Kings will be one of those landmark novels of Epic Fantasy against which future novels will always be measured.’ It was released later in the year (end of December) in the UK.

The month saw the release of Steven Erikson’s novella series re-published together as the story collection The Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, Vol 1.

September saw the release of Marie Brennan’s A Star Shall Fallto Mark’s mind, a better novel than its predecessor, In Ashes Lie. Science and magic meet through comets and dragons: a well researched and entertaining novel. Mark also read a couple of great re-releases, including a lovely omnibus edition of Jack Vance’s Lyonesse Trilogy. September also saw the publication of Bearers of the Black Staff, another release from Terry Brooks continuing to connect his Shannara novels with his Word and the Void series.

October saw the welcome re-release of a UK classic collection, the First Pan Book of Horror Stories. As it was Halloween we had a great set of posts from Horror aficionado Randy M., which gave us all plenty of good ‘old stuff’ to read. James Barclay released a Raven prequel, Elves: Once Walked with Gods, that looked at the Elves and gave them a nasty edge.  Guillarmo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s second vampire novel, The Fall, was reviewed and well-liked. Mark also reviewed Rachel Aaron’s The Spirit Thief, a debut book that was ‘light, fun and not particularly deep nor dark. It plays with the genre in a style that was reminiscent to me of early David Eddings.’ It was quickly followed by The Spirit Rebellion and The Spirit Eater in November and December.

Both Rob and Mark reviewed Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic separately. We were both generally positive, though Rob seemed to enjoy it more than Mark, on the whole. Kate also discussed a point about Mark’s review online, which seemed to cause a little ripple.  Against all Things Ending was another hefty tome in the Thomas Covenant Chronicles from Stephen Donaldson. October also saw the second of Paul Kearney’s Macht novels, Corvus, which was said by some to be an improvement on the first, 2008’s The Ten Thousand.  In fact, it was quite a year for Paul: his revised and revamped Monarchies of Godseries of five novels was released as omnibuses in August and September to quite a lot of positive comment.

November now. In the US Art read, reviewed and liked the release of a Fritz Leiber classic, Our Lady of Darkness. Rob reviewed Mark Charan Newton’sNights of Villjamur on its release in the US. However, one of the biggest releases of the year was the Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson novel, Towers of Midnight. The jury’s still out on that one, but there are big reveals as the series heads towards its conclusion. Again, like The Gathering Storm last year, most fans seem to be happy on the whole with Brandon’s interpretation of Jordan’s material. On a smaller scale, but also keeping fans happy, it seems, was Iain Cameron Esslemont’s latest contribution to the Malazan series, Stonewielder.

We saw the release of that perennial Christmas present, a book by Stephen King. This year (unlike last years magnum opusUnder the Dome), it was a fairly slim story collection, Full Dark, No Stars. Mark enjoyed it more than last year’s, though as King and the title may suggest, its unremitting bleakness is not the happiest reading experience ever. There was a stir on the Internet as unhappy ebookers complained about the ebook price being generally higher than the ‘treebookers’.

In December we have Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith, a vampire mash-up that Rob thought better of than he expected. The UK release of Sanderson’sWay of Kings at the very end of the month no doubt graced many a post-Christmas list.

Rob: 2010 seemed another year for strong debuts across the board, and Fantasy specifically.  Athough some of these have been previously mentioned, pulling the debuts together is worthy of not.  Blake Charlton’s Spellwright hit the shelves to great buzz across the internet as did N.K. Jemisin’s One Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and Anthony Huso’s The Last Page. Though not technically a debut, Ari Marmell released his first original novel (i.e. non-shared world) The Conqueror’s Shadow which Rob enjoyed quite a bit in 2009 when he read the ARC. Debuts also receiving accolades includeShadow’s Son by John Sprunk, Farlander by Col Buchanan, Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky (debut in the US, at least), Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes, the aforementioned Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman, Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts, to name only a few. I may have missed some debuts that hit the UK this year.

OK: to favourites. Always difficult to reduce, in no particular order, Mark’s five for 2010 would be

Kraken by China Mieville;

Thirteen Years Later by Jasper Kent;

The Passage by Justin Cronin;

Sword of Albion/Silver Skull by Mark Chadbourn

Changes by Jim Butcher

(Note: I have only just received Sanderson’s Way of Kings, which is not on release in the UK until 30 Dec 2010: might be added to the list of five, or held over until next year!)

Though I try not to include reissues in my five, honourable mentions go to Jack Vance’s Complete Lyonesse omnibus and Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Paksenarrion, both re-released this year.

 

Here are Rob’s favourites from the Fantasy tree of Speculative fiction:

The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Oath of Fealty by Elizabeth Moon

Shadowrise/Shadowheart by Tad Williams (Yeah it’s a cheat, but both were released in 2010 and because Tad tends to write longish and more so as he comes to the conclusion of his epics, are really one book split in two)

Neverland by Douglas Clegg

Since Mark cheated with some reissues, I’ll add that I really enjoyed the reissue of Steven R. Boyett’s Ariel published last year, as well as the recent follow-up Elegy Beach. Also, Night Shade Books continued its admirable and impressive re-issue of Glen Cook’s backlist with an omnibus of one of his early trilogies – Darkwar.

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