SFFWorld Review of the Year 2011: Part 1

So here we are again: our usual review of the year. (This is something like our ninth, I think!)

For the uninitiated, this is where Rob Bedford and I 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.  (In fact, it never does, but the intention is always there….!)

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

Fantasy and Horror

Though there are still a lot of genre novels, the global recession has clearly affected the publishing world. According to Locus Online, at the time of writing, (beginning of December) there have been 172 Fantasy & Horror Genre novels published this year, down significantly from 287 last year. The difference between standalone and book series is, though lower, still significant: In 2010 39 of the releases were standalone and 249 were sequels, or part of a series, this year 12 were standalone and 160 were sequels/part of a series.

In January we had the usual post-Christmas lull. Many UK readers were grappling with the release of Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings on 30thDecember 2010.  Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London/London Riot was released to acclaim, though Mark was less impressed.  We also saw the release of Carol Berg’s much awaited The Soul Mirror.  KJ Parker’s The Hammer was another in the loosely connected series that included The Company and The Folding Knife.  Rob was very impressed with Jo Walton’s Among Others, a semi-autobiographical novel about a girl who is friends with faeries that Rob called ‘a masterpiece’.

February things moved up a gear and saw the much awaited release of a couple of books.  Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes was a tighter, more focused work than some of his previous books and was generally very well received. It was reviewed by Mark HERE  who was given a very pleasant surprise in it. Secondly, Steven Erikson’s The Crippled God, Book Ten (and final book) of the Malazan series, was also greatly anticipated. Owen reviewed it for SFFWorld HERE, and although he enjoyed it, he did feel it was an imperfect ending. Of the other releases, Cherie Priest’s snarky and fast paced urban fantasy Bloodshot was released and reviewed by Mark HERE, whilst Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s take on historical vampires, The Fallen Blade, was also released in February.   Jasper Fforde’s reboot of the Thursday Next series, One of our Thursdays is Missing was more entertaining humour. Rob really liked The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder. He also read Tim Lebbon for the first time, reviewing Echo City. Mark reviewed Heir of Night by Helen Lowe, a solidly pleasing Fantasy debut.

March saw the release of one of the year’s most anticipated releases of the year, Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear. This hefty tome was generally well received. There was lots of debate http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=29709) on this one, with some feeling it was too long and sagged in the middle, though both Rob and Mark liked it. Rob also continued his recent discovery of Elizabeth Moon’s Fantasy, with his review of Kings of the North. The month also saw Graham Joyce’s The Silent Land released. Though some questioned its genre links, if any, many felt it was a great novel from a genre writer.

In April we had Daniel Abraham’s The Dragon’s Path. A traditional style Fantasy of war and economics, Rob reviewed it here at SFFWorld and liked it a lot. The month also saw Jean M Auel’s return to the mammoths in The Land of Painted Caves and Robert VS Redick’s The River of Shadows. Mark reviewed Ari Marmell’s The Conqueror’s Shadow and was impressed by its combination of Dark Fantasy and humour.  He was also very impressed by Mark Chadbourn’s latest Will Swyfte novel, The Scar-Crow Men, reviewed HERE which was a darker novel than the first. In the same month we saw The Unremembered debut from Peter Orullian. Rob was a little frustrated by it, but sees potential in the series and young writer. Douglas Hulick’s Among Thieves was also released, which Mark thought was an impressive debut, and one that was a little underrated. R. Scott Bakker’s latest, The White Luck Warrior, was also released this month.

May saw Trudi Canavan’s The Rogue released, a continuation of her Traitor, Spy series. Stephen Deas’ last book in his Adamantine Palace series, The Order of the Scales, brought things to a violent end. We also saw Cameron Esslemont’s Malazan novel Stonewielder released in the US. Ari Marmell’s The Warlord’s Legacy was released in the UK. Rob really liked Kevin Hearne’s Urban Fantasy debut Hounded, and as a result was quoted on the front cover of the UK edition, for Hounded and the two books published in the next two months, Hexed and Hammered. Peter William reviewed SFFWorld member Lianne Mercel’s Heaven’s Needle, which he liked a lot. Many SFFWorld members liked R. Scott Bakker’s second book in the Aspect-Emperor series,The White Luck Warrior, released this month.

June saw the release of Elspeth Cooper’s debut novel Songs of the Earth by Gollancz in the UK. Titus Awakes, an addition to the Gormenghast series written by Mervyn Peake and based on a recently found uncompleted manuscript, was published with some pleasure and some debate over whether such books should be counted as canon. Kim Newman’s Victorian vampire novel Anno Dracula was re-released in the UK after a gap of nearly twenty years,which Mark was very happy about.

July was the month for one of the genre’s most eagerly awaited books of the year, if not the last six years: George RR Martin’s A Dance with Dragons. It was generally well received, with many readers rereading the previous books and trying to remember what they read at least six years ago, whilst others bemoaning the wait for the next one. It sold so well, in fact that in the US it had the highest single and first-day sales of any new fiction title published this year. Most readers felt though that it was a good read. We also saw Gail Carriger’s Heartless, the latest in her Alexia Tarabotti/Parasol Protectorateseries, the fourth.   MD Lachlan saw his second genre novel released, Fenrir. SFFWorld member Jon Sprunk also had his second novel, Shadow’s Lure, released.

In August we had the release of Jim Butcher’s Ghost Story. Many fans liked it, though it was a new direction to the tale told so far in the Dresden Filesseries. Jasper Kent’s The Third Section was released, the third book in his Russian vampire tales, this time at the events of the Crimean War. Another historical horror story, Brian Ruckley’s tale of body snatching in Edinburgh in 1818, The Edinburgh Dead, was also released. Lev Grossman’s sequel toThe MagiciansThe Magician King, was liked by many critics, often of a non-genre background. Daniel Polansky’s Low Town combination of violence, fantasy and detective novel in The Straight Razor Cure was also appreciated, though perhaps the SFFWorld favourite ‘hooded man cover’ of the month was SFFWorld member Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns, which was much debated in the SFFWorld Forums (http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=31053 ) and loved by reviewer Rob.  One of those ‘word of mouth’ books that seems to have done very well. Terry Goodkind’s The Omen Machine was released, to a mixed reception.

September saw the release of a few sequels. Terry Brooks’ latest in the Shannara crossover books, The Measure of the Magic, appeared. Spellbound, the second novel by Blake Charlton, was published and well received. Kate Elliott’s Cold Fire, the sequel to Cold Magic, was also released. Mark was less impressed this time around.  Rob liked CS Friedman’s Legacy of Kings, the third in the Magister trilogy, though perhaps a little less than the earlier books in the series. Of the original debuts this year, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was well received. Like the author Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, whose admiration was emblazoned across the cover, this romantic book was often appreciated by those outside the genre.

October saw the release of the much-delayed, yet just as violent as its previous book, Richard K. Morgan’s The Cold Commands. The SF elements of this Fantasy were slightly more obvious this time around. The big seller of the month was Terry Pratchett’s latest seemingly-perennial Discworld novel, Snuff,his 39th, which broke UK sales records for pre-release. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s seventh Apt novel, Heirs of the Blade was published and was generally well received, as part of a series gaining depth and momentum.  There were a couple of series finishing this month. Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s third book in the Strain series, The Night Eternal finished things darkly.  Also ending this month was NK Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy with The Kingdom of Gods. Mark really liked Otto Penzler’s  Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! , a great collection on a subject he’s not normally a major fan of. Rob thought very highly of Ari Marmell’s The Goblin Corps.

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. Mark started to read Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series, creepy tales of ghostly goings on in rural England, starting with The Wine of Angels. Rob read Graham McNeill’s first take on the Cthulhu Mythos, Ghosts of the Miskatonic, which he enjoyed a great deal.

November now. Christopher Paolini’s fourth and concluding book in his Eragon series, Inheritance, was published, which fans of the series generally liked. Similarly, Jasper Fforde’s latest YA novel, The Song of the Quarkbeast, was generally well liked, and not just by Young Adults. Gregory McGuire’s fourth and last Wicked novel, Out of Oz, was a hefty tome that heralded the last (at least for now) in that series. LE Modesitt, Jr.’s latest Imager novel, Scholar,was published and quite liked too. Mazarkis Williams’ debut, The Emperor’s Knife was an impressive tale of courtly intrigue. Rob really liked Michael J Sullivan’s Theft of Swords, with the second omnibus from Orbit US & UK in December. Another one of those ‘word of mouth’ books that was very popular.Mark loved The Weird, one of the biggest and most impressive story collections he’s ever read. This kept him quiet for most of the month. In the meantimeRob reviewed Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law, and thought it deepened an already fleshed-out saga.

In December we have the release of the next book in the afore-mentioned Michael J Sullivan’s Riyria series. The second Riyria omnibus, Rise of Empire, was even thicker than the first.  Rob reviewed K.V. Johansen’s first novel for adults, BlackdogMark finished reviewing the rerelease of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories.

 

OK: to favourites.

Mark:  Always difficult to reduce, in no particular order, my five Fantasy for 2011 would be

  1. The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie;
  2. The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham;
  3. A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin;
  4. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss;
  5. The Weird, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer;

No great surprises there for SFFWorld members, I suspect! Most are typical High/Low Fantasy. Not that I didn’t read a wider variety of fantasy, but these were what I came down to as favourites. Generally entertaining, in some cases shocking, and yet also comforting. The Weird amazed me with its breadth and depth, and is one I will keep going back to.

Must also say that I have spent the year reading lots of ‘old stuff’: things I’ve not had chance to catch up with before or rereleases and rereads. Though I try not to include reissues in my five, honourable mentions go to Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula in April, and George RR Martin’s Fevre Dream in the UK in November. Otto Penzler’s collection Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! in October was surprisingly good for a topic I find usually uninspiring.

What I have noticed, looking back, (and it’s not until I have that I’ve noticed!) is how many of these releases are parts of ongoing series or sequels. Not sure at the moment whether that is a good or a bad thing, but in the current climes it is perhaps understandable. Would like to see more original stuff next year.

Rob:

Every year we keep saying this, but new authors have been seeing quite a bit of good buzz and rightfully so, this year was no exception (Jo Anderton, David Chandler, Kevin Hearne, Erin Hoffman, Douglas Hulick, Mark Lawrence, Erin Morgenstern, Kristin Painter, Peter Orullian, and Mazarkis Williams, to name just a few.)  This ranking/list is always tough for me to jigger around in my head and could very well change the next time I’m asked. For now; though, I’m comfortable with naming these five books my favourite fantasy novels published in 2011.  I’m not numbering these because, at least for the top three, one book could easily slip ahead of the other for top spot depending on my mood:

Special mention goes to Kevin Hearne for having three books published – his first three at that – in 2011.  This strategy of monthly releases is smart and effective, and Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles most definitely benefitted. I mentioned in my reviews of the books that this guy is the logical heir to Jim Butcher and I still stand by it. Of course, if you’ve got a dog who can communicate on a human level with his master then I’m more inclined to like it, but nonetheless these books are a lot of fun. Along the same vein of humor, though darker, I have to mention Ari Marmell’s The Goblin Corps, which was a blast.  Michael J. Sullivan’s Theft of Swords was terrific, too, which, since it is technically a reprint, isn’t in the top five.

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