Only one more day left in 2014! And even though this isn’t really a review blog (though I do mention books I’ve enjoyed), I thought I’d follow in the footsteps of several other bloggers I’ve seen recently and take this opportunity to list a few of the best fantasy and science fiction books that I’ve read this year. I should point out that these aren’t books that were published in 2014, simply ones I read in 2014.
I’ve enjoyed so many books this year, but I’m picking these ones as my top six:
Author: Ernest Cline
This is a science fiction book with a strong video game feel to it, and it had me hooked from beginning to end. The title has to be one of the best titles of all time, and had me crossing my fingers that the book itself would not disappoint. Thankfully, it didn’t. Not only did the plot and characters suck me right in, but I found myself fascinated and deeply moved by some of the concepts in the novel. That may sound weird to people who’ve read the book, as it’s perhaps not something many would describe as a “moving” book, but it was the misfit character of James Halliday that touched a nerve with me. He found a way to live on after death and to share the things he loved with other people, and I really liked that. It’s also just a riveting book with high stakes and loads of geeky video game trivia thrown in, which I loved (even though I’ve never been a big gamer). I’d highly recommend it (and I’d also recommend the audiobook – the narration is great). Thanks Anjali for suggesting this one to me in the first place!
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
A young adult fantasy novel about a race on a remote island involving dangerous magical waterhorses, and two young locals whose future hinges on its outcome. The romance is a core part of the book, and it’s really well done – very compelling and heartwarming, and not at all cliché or cringe-worthy (and the male character is very easy to fall in love with!). The worldbuilding is also brilliantly done: the island and its people really come to life, and the setting is so vivid and enchanting you feel like you’re there with the characters. The whole book was thoroughly compelling and beautifully written, and it’s now on my list of all time favourites.
Author: Dan Simmons
This is a real mind-bender of a novel. Inspired by the structure of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, it tells the story of 7 pilgrims making their way to the mystical Time Tombs on a faraway planet called Hyperion. On the journey they share their tales with one another, recounting their past encounters with a strange and terrifying time-manipulating creature called the Shrike. The book is a little slow and stilted at the very start, but once I delved into the first pilgrim’s tale I couldn’t stop – the creepy and mysterious story of the priest visiting the remote tribe literally gave me the shivers. The following tales also didn’t disappoint, each of them filling me with wonder and awe. Really brilliant science fiction.
Author: Scott Lynch
A high fantasy novel with a gritty setting and a group of thieves for main characters. It took me a little while to warm to this book, but after I got into it I really loved it. The characters are cunning and tricksy, so a huge part of the suspense is created by the simple fact that you are wondering whether they have been duped, or are playing at being duped in order to dupe someone else. The intricate plans and schemes, and the way the different characters and story lines start to weave together, really drew me in. You might think it would be hard to warm to a pack of thieves, but the truth is that their cleverness and their code of honour, and the way they are up against those far more rotten and evil than themselves, left me loving these characters and wanting them to succeed. The world itself is also an interesting one, and much more grim and squalid than your usual fantasy setting. And again, the audiobook of this one is brilliant – the narrator Michael Page won an AudioFile Earphones award for this performance and I can see why.
Author: Juliet Marillier
I’d call this historical high fantasy, with a strong fairy tale feel to it. There’s a romance at its heart that really drew me in, but there’s more to the book than that. The amount of suffering that the main character endures is quite confronting (if you can’t handle violence against women in your novels, this might not be the book for you), but it makes her endurance all the more inspiring and the outcome of her quest all the more uncertain. It’s a novel that very much transports you back in time, and draws on Irish and English history and mythology in interesting ways. It’s certainly not what I’d describe as a fast paced novel (the story plays out over several years), and the majority of the main character’s journey is a personal internal struggle, but it’s an enchanting story that made me care for the character and desperately want to see what would happen to her in the end. It turns out Marillier is also an Australian author – so it’s always nice to read and love a book written by a fellow Australian 🙂
Author: Veronica Roth
I know I jumped on the bandwagon very late in reading it this year (just in time for the movie to come out) but I really enjoyed this book. It’s a dystopian young adult novel in a similar vein to The Hunger Games, and the main character’s struggle to fit in and survive in the new faction she has been assigned to really gripped me. The romance is great, and the final scenes are particularly tense and enthralling. In essence it’s the story of a supposedly utopian society that reveals its dystopian underside, and while there are countless books that tell this type of story, it is always a compelling one if it’s done well – and I felt this book did it well. The story was interesting and different enough that it stood out, and the characters were likeable… altogether it was a very enjoyable read.
I would have loved to include The Rosie Project above (a debut novel by Australian author Graeme Simsion that had me laughing out loud) but given that it is a romantic comedy I couldn’t really earnestly put it in a “best fantasy and science fiction” list. Still, it’s well worth a read.
No matter how many books I read in a year, I never get to read as many as I would like. I know there a hundreds of books I am missing from the list simply because I didn’t have the time to read them, but I guess I’ll just have to tackle them next year, and the year after, and the year after that… and the upside of the plethora of great books out there is that I will never run out of fabulous things to read!