These are some of the better fantasies I read this year, most of them falling into the urban/supernatural category, but with a couple historical fantasies thrown in (from when I couldn’t find a historical mystery I wanted to read).
Supernatural and Urban Fantasy
Paul Cornell : Lychford
These are two utterly delightful urban fantasy novellas. The three main characters are women, one of whom, Judith, is elderly. All are strong characters—and highly amusing.
“You said he was a being of tremendous power and evil, but I’ve looked him up. He’s got a wife and family. He’s on LinkedIn.”
The telemarketers who called her up now seemed either desperate or resigned to the point of a mindless drone, until Judith, who had time on her hands and ice in her heart, engaged them in dark conversations that always got her removed from their lists.
Witches of Lychford (2015) Paul Cornell 10/10
The Lost Child of Lychford (2016) Paul Cornell 9/10
Paul Cornell’s other series is very different from his Lychford series; I can see that it may well not be to everyone’s taste. I, however, really like it.
This is the second book in his Shadow Police series, and although you could read it on its own, I think you’d be better served going back and reading London Falling first, because a LOT happens in that first book.
The Severed Streets (2014) Paul Cornell 9/10
Charles de Lint : Newford
Charles de Lint is one of my favorite authors.
He writes urban fantasy—magic/fae exist, but they’re not the super-sexy, uber powerful creatures of supernatural fantasy. The magic in his books is that of folklore and myth—the Green Man, the Raven. It is the magic that exists just out of the corner of your eye.
Charles de Lint also writes some of the strongest female characters of any fantasy writer today. And I read a LOT of fantasy with female characters. His women are faliable creatures with whom you’d love to have coffee or go to a show with.
But these are not children’s stories any more than the original Grimm’s tales were stories for modern children. There are often monsters in his stories, but they tend to be human.
How can a smile, a laugh, a good deed, stand up against the weight of such a history?”
“I… I guess it can’t,” Jilly said. “But you still have to try.”
“Because that’s all you can do. If you don’t try to stand up against the darkness, it swallows you up.”
And I adore the Crow Girls.
“And now I feel like I’m forgetting what it’s like to be happy,” I said, finishing up. “It’s like that stupid ghost boy stole all my happiness away, and now, ever since I talked to him, all I meet are unhappy people with very good reasons to be unhappy, and that makes me wonder, how could I ever have been happy? And what is being happy, anyway?”
Zia gave a glum nod. “I think it might be catching, because now I’m feeling the same way.”
“You see? That’s just what I mean. Why is it so easy to spread sadness and so hard to spread happiness?”
All of these books are short story anthologies—you don’t need to read them in any order, because in addition to being one of the best writers of strong female characters, he is also the best short story writer of any I can think of.
I just wish his Dreams Underfoot would come out as an ebook so I could easily reread it.
Muse and Reverie (2009) Charles de Lint : 10/10
Tapping the Dream Tree (2002) Charles de Lint : 10/10
Newford Stories: Crow Girls (2015) Charles de Lint : 9/10
Daniel José Older : Bone Street Rumba
There are not enough squees in the world for how I feel about Daniel José Older.
The Bone Street Rumba books are not YA books, but they have an utterly marvelous teen character, Kia.
A textbook lies open on the counter in front of me; I don’t even remember taking it out. It’s trig, some shit I already know how to do, and can’t be bothered answering a bunch of mindless questions about. I know this is a terrible reason to be getting Cs, but the truth is, I’m bored out my mind almost every day in school.
I also don’t have enough squees for how much I love Kia.
I mute the TV— you have to stand up and turn the remote at some hypotenuse-ass angle while pressing the button eighteen million times to get it to work…
Midnight Taxi Tango is the second book in this series; you should definitely read the first book before this one, because it’s just as awesome. But if you’re not sure if this is for you, check out his short story collection, Salsa Nocturna. It’s also marvelous, and will give you an idea of whether you’ll like his stories or not.
Also, he is the reader on his audiobooks, which initially concerned me, but he is quite good. (Although I’ll admit that although I like the idea of his daughter reading the raps Kia listens to, I’m afraid she’s not quite strong enough to do them justice.)
Midnight Taxi Tango (2016) Daniel José Older : 9/10
This is a standalone set in a similar (the same?) world as the Bone Street Rumba series, but is not a part of that series, and doesn’t have boinking and quite as much language as that series.
But he understands teens—and women—very well.
(T)he words crept in, made a home in Sierra’s mind no matter how much she fought them off. Her wild, nappy hair. She ran her hands through her fro. She loved it the way it was, free and undaunted. She imagined it as a force field, deflecting all Rosa’s stupid comments.
Further down Gates Ave, a couple of guys were throwing dice in front of the Coltrane Projects. “Why you frownin’, girl?” one of them called out as Sierra walked past. “Smile for us!”
Sierra knew the guy. It was Little Ricky; they’d played together when they were small. He’d been one of those boys that all the girls were crazy about, with big dreamy eyes and a gentle way about him. A few years ago, Sierra would have been giddy with excitement to have his attention. Now he was just another stoopgoon harassing every passing skirt.
“I ain’t in the mood, jackass,” Sierra muttered, hugging herself. She was still shaky from the horrible night and she knew any sign of weakness would encourage them.
The guys let out a chorus of ohs and pounded one another. “I’m just saying, Sarcastula,” Ricky called after her. “C’mon back when you in the mood …”
This is such an amazing book, I really cannot encourage you enough to read it.
Shadowshaper (2015) Daniel José Older : 9.5/10
I’m currently re-reading this series for the second time this year, which probably tells you how I feel about it.
Mercy is a half Native American WV mechanic who can change into a coyote, but aside from that doesn’t have much in the way of super powers, although she does have a propensity for getting herself into trouble.
This book continues the issues with the Fae and the rest of the US, and takes us for the first time Underhill.
This is the 9th book in this series (there are currently four books and a novella in the Alpha & Omega series) AND graphic novels, so if you want to start at the beginning you have your work cut out for you, but I do love this series, so I think it’s well-worth your time to do so. Additionally, there are generally no cliffhanger endings, so you can read a book and then stop with no ill effects.
Fire Touched (2016) Patricia Briggs : 8/10
Faith Hunter : Jane Yellowrock
I am a huge fan of the Jane Yellowrock series—in fact I’ve been slowly working through the audio versions (I listen to audio books when I’m doing repetitive tasks or exercising, but it has to be something I’ve read before or else I get nothing done).
Jane Yellowrock is a skinwalker and a vampire hunter. She is also currently the enforcer for the head of the New Orleans vampires.
Shadow Rites is book ten of the series, and although you could start here, you probably want to go back to the beginning, because Jane does a lot of growing and learning through this series.
And there is Beast.
Beast perked up at the description of the food. Gator. Human killed gator? Human man is good hunter! Hungry for gator. And the picture she sent me was a whole gator, snout, teeth, feet, claws, tail, skin, and all, crusty with batter. I chuckled and sent her a more likely mental picture. Inside she huffed with disappointment.
You can, however, pick up the short story collection, Blood in Her Veins, if you’d like an idea of Faith Hunter’s writing and Jane’s world. The Jane books do not have cliffhangers, so you can read one and come back to the series.
Shadow Rites (2016) Faith Hunter : 8/10
Blood in Her Veins (2016) Faith Hunter : 8/10
Soulwood is a new series that parallels the Jane Yellowrock books.
Nell Ingram appears in a Jane Yellowrock short story, and I was quite pleased to discover that these is also a good series. Some of the characters from the Jane stories appear here—one being Rick LeFleur, who I don’t much care for. But at least he isn’t a love interest for Nell.
One thing I especially liked about this series is that although Nell left the religious cult in which she was raised, and the cult is seen as very negative in the short story, Nell’s relationship with her family is far more complicated than “escaping a cult” would make it sound. I may not be religious, but I appreciate the effort to make Nell’s family and religious faith complex.
One thing I did not like is that the second book ended on a cliff-hanger of sorts. I despise cliff-hangers. Let me be clear, I like story arcs that develop over the course of several books. I love bits that crop up again several books later. But I hate left in the dark as to what has happened when the narrator knows damned well what has happened. So the second book was dinged for the ending.
Blood of the Earth (2016) Faith Hunter : 8/10
Curse on the Land (2016) Faith Hunter : 8/10
This is an utterly delightful series. Mac is a seer for the SPI—the group in charge of policing the supernatural. Her only talent is that she is a seer, which puts her at a disadvantage when going up against supernatural monsters, which is one of the things I like about this series.
Mac knows her limitations. Which is something I very much appreciate.
As soon as the elevator doors closed, Ian drew his gun, which was loaded with silver-infused hollow points. “Stay here,” he told me.
“I can do that.” Not only could I do that, I was glad to do that.
We’ve also listened to the first two books of this series, and they were quite enjoyable.
The Brimstone Deception (2016) Lisa Shearin : 9/10
Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls (1994) Jane Lindskold : 9/10
This is a single book story that is part fantasy, part SF, but only that there is advanced technology (a technology that is in some cases indistinguishable from magic). I read this years ago and was pleased to enjoy it just as much coming back to it the second time.
The Dark Side of The Road (2015) Simon R. Green : 8/10
This is a Simon R. Green story that is—best I can tell—not part of a series, which is unusual for him. Nope. Just checked, it’s a new series, but it’s certainly written as a stand-alone.
I tend to either love or hate Simon Green’s series. I adore the Nightside series, but didn’t care for his Secret histories. This book fell into the Like Very Much category.
My reflection met my gaze with a cold, mistrustful stare. A very familiar face because it hadn’t changed in so very long. Not the one I would have chosen; but good enough. I was tall, slim, dark-haired and handsome enough if you weren’t too choosy. A long rangy figure who appeared to be in his mid twenties. Dressed well, but anonymously. The kind of stuff you can buy anywhere, so you can fit in anywhere. An easy smile, a casual look, and dark eyes that gave away absolutely nothing.
The Sarantine Mosaic
Guy Gavriel Kay is an author I absolutely love, but whom I have to be careful reading for two reasons. First, his books are complex and absorbing—not something I can pick up and put down, or read in a couple hours. Second, his writing and story-telling are phenomal, and I usually have trouble finding something to read after I finish one of his books, because everything else pales in comparison.
This series is set in alternate Byzantium, and the main character is a mosaicist, gone to the capital to decorate the rebuilt sanctuary.
To say of a man that he was sailing to Sarantium was to say that his life was on the cusp of change: poised for emergent greatness, brilliance, fortune— or else at the very precipice of a final and absolute fall as he met something too vast for his capacity.
Although there are touches of magic, this isn’t a fantasy in the traditional sense. It is instead a past the was never quite ours, and a glimpse into a great empire at its peak.
If this was the world as the god— or gods— had made it, then mortal man, this mortal man, could acknowledge that and honor the power and infinite majesty that lay within it, but he would not say it was right, or bow down as if he were only dust or a brittle leaf blown from an autumn tree, helpless in the wind.
Do not look to Guy Gavriel Kay if you are looking for a quick read, or a book you can easily put down. Look here is you want to become immersed in a world so like our past, yet that never happened.
Sailing to Sarantium (1998) Guy Gavriel Kay : 8/10
Lord of Emperors (2000) Guy Gavriel Kay : 9/10
Magic and Manners (2016) C.E. Murphy : 9/10
This is historical fantasy of the what-if-magic-existed type. The world is much as we know of it, except that humans have the ability to use magic. It’s a re-telling, of sorts, of Jane Austen.
I was looking for some escapism, this fit the bill to a T.
Tremontaine: Season One Volume One (2016) by Patty Bryant, Joel Derfner, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Ellen Kushner, Malinda Lo, Racheline Maltese and Paul Witcover : 7.5/10
This is a prequel of sorts to Swordspoint, written by various authors as a serial novel. If you have not read Swordspoint, there it is difficult to explain Tremontaine to you. There is no magic here, just a world and time that could have been our past, but wasn’t.
If you click through any of the Amazon links and buy something, it’ll get me hapenny or so, which will eventually let me buy another book.