Happy New Year! It seems the feasting and drinking are over and it’s time to start making good on those resolutions… one of which, in my case, was to return to blogging – so I’m back! I thought I’d kick off 2018 by taking a look at some books that brightened the past year for me. These aren’t necessarily books published in 2017 (in fact, most weren’t), simply a selection from the books I happened to read over the last 12 months.
I’ve picked 5 favourites – I read and enjoyed other wonderful fantasy and sci-fi books in 2017, but these were the ones that most stood out, enchanted or impressed me:
Strange the Dreamer
Author: Laini Taylor
This was probably my favourite of the year. This book had an enchanting, dreamy, fairy-tale-like quality to it, and was brimming with mystery and romance. I fell in love with the characters and found myself furious at the injustices they faced, and rejoicing at their triumphs. The world also felt very unique, and the story was beautifully written, which made it a real pleasure to listen to it as an audiobook. I’ve read Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, which I love, but Strange the Dreamer topped even that.
I should say not everything about this read was perfect for me – there were a couple of things I took issue with toward the end (to avoid spoilers I’ll simply say that there was a twist that conformed to a cliché that often frustrates me, so I found that a little disappointing… especially because the rest of the book felt so fresh and unique). However, on the whole it was such an entrancing, enjoyable read that it is still a 5-star favourite.
Author: Leigh Bardugo
After loving Six of Crows (a book that made it onto my 2016 favourites list), I read Crooked Kingdom in 2017 and was not disappointed. Once again I was drawn in by this cast of great characters and offered a suspenseful plot full of ups and downs and twists I didn’t see coming.
One of the strengths of this duology is that it’s basically a heist story set in a fantasy world, which means it’s a high fantasy but without a trek-across-a-continent-and-battle-the-dark-lord storyline, so that makes it feel quite fresh. Don’t get me wrong, important things are still at stake in the story (things that also affect the wider world), but the characters aren’t chosen-ones or royal heirs battling to save humanity, just a group of skilled criminals and fugitives fighting to achieve the impossible, keep each other alive, and in some cases, take revenge on those who’ve crossed them.
The Lightbringer Series
Author: Brent Weeks
This was probably the series that dominated my year – I started with The Black Prism in March, and then listened to all four currently-available (and rather sizeable) audiobooks.
The magic system is creative and complex (based on ‘drafting’ different colours of light) and the cast of characters is large and varied, but I think the thing I like most about this series is the mind-blowing twists. The first book throws a jaw-dropping one at you about half way in, and the sequels consistently pivoted around incredible, unexpected twists. Even though I’m four books in, I’m still not entirely sure who is good and who is evil (in terms of their ultimate goals anyway), and I kind of like that moral ambiguity.
While I love this series, there are a few small things that irk me about it. One is that although it has some of the most interesting, complex and powerful female characters I’ve ever encountered, one of whom is an all time favourite, occasionally it feels like there is an unnecessary focus on their female-ness or sexuality (with some male vs female stereotypes presented)… which admittedly may be because they are sometimes being seen through the lens of the male characters, and because the whole series is quite sexual with regard to both men and women, but it just irritated me a little when there was a focus on the gender of characters at times when it seemed irrelevant. But this was a fairly minor quibble and on the whole I’m loving the series. It looks like the fifth book might be coming out this year, so I’ve got some more Lightbringer adventuring ahead!
Author: Hugh Howey
I read this book on a recommendation from a friend, and I’m so glad she brought it to my attention. I sometimes get a bit fatigued by dystopias as many of them follow the same pattern, but Wool didn’t follow the patterns I expected. In fact, in the first few chapters it shocked me and gave me goosebumps.
It was a very bleak story – I know all dystopias are bleak, but I found this one more so than most. It wasn’t without hope, however, and it explored human behaviour and the survival of our species in ways that other books I’ve read haven’t. It had some highly suspenseful parts and incredible twists and reveals, and although these were tempered by slower more reflective parts that weren’t as riveting, I didn’t mind. The characters all felt very real and complex, and the line between right and wrong was often hazy.
This isn’t a Hunger Games or a Red Rising – the tone is very different, and it’s also not a young adult novel – but it’s a brilliant story, and I’m looking forward to reading the next books in the trilogy.
Author: Anne McCaffrey
I finally read Dragonflight last year (rather late, considering it was published well before I was born). I’d been dragging my feet on this one, since the cover and blurb made me wrongly assume it was simplistic, clichéd story aimed at young children, but I saw enough glowing recommendations that I decided to read it anyway. I’m glad I did!
It definitely wasn’t aimed at children – and it surprised me in other ways too, proving to actually be a science fiction novel (or at least, a science fantasy). The evil threat in the book came from an unusual and intriguing source, and the dragons were presented in a very realistic way. I also liked that most of the time the main character wasn’t battling evil, but fighting against a stuffy, old, patriarchal society, and the power-hungry nay-sayers whose prejudices, ignorance of history, and refusal to heed warning signs would lead everyone into disaster if left unchecked.
As an honourable mention: I also finally read Pillars of the Earth this year and loved it. Since it’s not fantasy or science fiction (it’s historical fiction set in the middle ages) it’s not on the above list, but it was definitely a favourite.
If you also enjoyed any of these books, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!