It’s 2016!! And to celebrate in proper fantasy-nerd style, I’m doing my annual round up of the best fantasy and science fiction books I read last year. These are not books published in 2015, just books I happened to read last year, thus you’ll notice some are ones I took a bit longer to discover than other people might have.
So without further ado, here are my top 6 books for 2015:
Author: Andy Weir
I listened to this as an audiobook over the last New Year’s period, so it seems an appropriate one to start my post with this year. The film adaptation starring Matt Damon hit screens a few months ago (yes, I went and saw it), but I was actually originally prompted to read this book by it winning the Goodreads Choice Award for Science Fiction in 2014. I can definitely see why this novel got so much acclaim – it’s a survival story set on Mars told in great scientific detail (it’s hard science fiction), and yet it manages to be thoroughly enthralling and suspenseful. I loved every minute of it and have recommended it countless times… and yes, while I liked the movie, the old adage still holds: the book is better.
Author: Brandon Sanderson
I know I’m jumping onto the bandwagon very late with this one… it was published in 2006 and fantasy-lovers have been singing its praises for years. I finally sunk my teeth into it this year and was grateful I did. It’s a thoroughly gripping high fantasy that manages to avoid many of the clichés of the genre, introduces you to great characters you learn to love, and fascinates with a creative metal-based system of magic – allomancy. It’s also simply one of those stories where the odds are stacked so high against the characters, and they endure such dreadful oppression and suffering, that I felt their every victory and every defeat with the keenest swells of triumph and despair. I also liked the young female main character, the romance elements that were woven in, and the accessible writing style that I sometimes find lacking in high fantasy series.
Author: Sarah J Maas
A great high fantasy romance with a dangerous female lead character that had me liking her within a few minutes. She’s a deadly assassin with a lot of wit and personality (though she has her vulnerable moments too) and her predicament at the outset, as she’s retrieved in a ruined state from a slave camp, is immediately intriguing. The story has a vicious oppressive villain you can enjoy hating… but a plausible and interesting conflict in that the main character is not your classic save-the-world hero. She’s far from morally pure, and her interests are more in looking after herself than rebelling against the status quo. While I don’t doubt this will change as the series progresses, it makes her a more human and layered protagonist. The love interest and best friend characters were compelling as well, and the book thoroughly entertained and engrossed me.
Author: Kate Sparkes
I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this book, but I’m glad I did. It’s a high fantasy romance with a very flawed and slightly villainous love interest, and he was the highlight of the story for me. I get a little sick of fantasy romances with terribly noble and un-self-interested male love interests – they just don’t seem as real or interesting – so this was refreshing. The book provides an unashamedly romance-driven fantasy, but avoids a lot of the clichés or roll-the-eyes moments that I sometimes encounter with fantasy romances, and was simply a very enthralling, enjoyable and tantalising read. It might also be, coincidentally, the first self-published book I’ve listed as a favourite! I’ve sampled a few lack-lustre self-published books, but this one didn’t disappoint and had me hooked from the beginning.
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
This is a classic, and although it is often classified a science fiction, it’s not your typical science fiction and is more in the vein of absurdist fiction. It’s essentially an anti-war book, in which the author explores his real-life experience of the fire bombing of Dresden through the character of Billy Pilgrim, a simpleton soldier who jumps back and forth in time. I loved this book because it was so moving, so layered and so wonderfully crafted. The story skirts back and forth in time around the ultimate central event of the fire bombing, and rarely addresses the violence directly… but when it does it hits hard, and I found myself unexpectedly brought to tears by what had for large parts been a slightly humorous or farcical tale. I do not think a straight non-fiction recounting of the events dealt with in the novel could have imparted the same emotions that this book did… and I don’t think I ever truly understood the horror of what happened in Dresden till I read it.
Author: Marissa Meyer
This is one of those books that drew me in within the first chapter and had me compulsively reading till the end. It’s a science-fantasy with a young adult cyborg heroine and a slightly dystopian futuristic setting. There’s definitely romance involved, though it’s not a dominant element so I’d be hesitant to label it a romance. As the title suggests, it’s inspired by the fairy tale Cinderella, but it diverges from the original tale in enough interesting ways, and adds enough complexity and futuristic flavour, that it goes beyond being a simple fairy tale adaptation. I really enjoyed this one and am looking forward to reading the rest in the series.
From the books I’ve read last year those are the highlights (though I’ve read plenty more that I also enjoyed), and I’m looking forward to discovering more great books in 2016. It seems every year brings new set of gems to my shelf!