Sunday, January 10, 2016

Some Fun Fantasy Reads From 2015

Swords and Scoundrels, by Julia Knight. Published by Orbit Books.

This story centers around Kacha and Vocho, a sister and brother who have been exiled from the Duelists Guild because Vocho killed a man he had been hired to protect. They're making ends meet as highwaymen until they rob the wrong carriage and are plunged into a conspiracy. This story is set in a flintlock and Rapier world where people worship a clockwork god and live in a city where the buildings rearrange themselves at set intervals. It's a really fun read, filled with plot twists, conspiracies, and divided loyalties that will keep the reader guessing until the end. The tale continues in the sequels, Legends and Liars and Warlords and Wastrels.

Black Wolves, by Kate Elliot. Published by Orbit Books.

Set in the same universe as her Spirit Gate Trilogy,  this novel stands alone and does an excellent job of pulling a new reader into the author's rich and complex world, which centers around a kingdom called The Hundred. It has several pov characters, but the connections between these characters keep the story from meandering the way some fantasy epics do. It's not easy to give a thumbnail sketch of this book, but it centers around the power struggle between the current King of the Hundred, his wives, their sons, and their various allies. A major theme in this book is change within a society and conflict between cultures. And don't let the cover and blurbs that focus on male characters fool you. Three out of five of the protagonists are women, and the author does an excellent job of portraying women, even ones who are from cultures that cloister them, as major players with agency and goals. I'm looking forward to the next installation.

Dust and Light, by Carol Berg. Published by Roc Books.

Set in the same universe as her Lighthouse duology, this book book can be easily read by someone unfamiliar with Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone (though those are well worth reading as well). Magic is hereditary in Berg's world, and sorcerers occupy a privileged, yet constrained position, as the use of their magic is controlled and contracted by the restrictive pureblood registry. The story centers around young Lucian de Remeni-Masson, a pureblood sorcerer who has been stripped of half his magic for unseemly conduct with an "ordinary." He and his sister are struggling to survive after the rest of their family was murdered by savage Harrowers. When he's forced to accept the contract of Bastien, master of the local dead house, Lucien's talent for creating portraits that tell the truth about the dead lands him in a world of trouble.  Like with Berg's earlier books, the narrative is in first person and she does a fine job of portraying the voice and personality of her protagonist and making the reader care about him and his problems. The second book in this duo, Ash and Silver, was released in December, and I plan on reading it soon.

Finn Fancy Necromancy, by Randy Henderson. Published by Tor Books.

I don't read a lot of urban fantasy, but this author came to my attention when I attended the Cascade Writer's Conference in 2014. The protagonist, Finn Gramaraye, was framed for the crime of dark necromancy 25 years ago, and the story begins as he ends his exile from his body to the Other Side (an ethereal place of existence populated by the fey) and returns to his body, which has been helpfully occupied by a changeling to keep it alive during Finn's sentence, in the mortal realm. But the person who got him in trouble last time doesn't want him back in the mortal world, and Finn, with the help of his eccentric family, are going to have to find out what really happened and prove it to the Arcane Enforcers. The story has got a great voice and plenty of dark humor. The next book in the series, Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free, is coming out in February.

The Waking Engine, by David Eddison. Published by Tor Books.

This novel was published in 2014, but I didn't read it until last year. As someone who is a fan of classic fantasy, I wasn't sure if this book would appeal to me, but the author did a good job of drawing me into his basic premise, which is somewhat similar to that of the Riverworld series. When you die, you awaken in another world, where you live until you die again. Rinse, repeat. Until you awaken in the City Unspoken, which holds the gateway to true death. But Cooper is an anomaly. He seems to have skipped to the end of the line, and he awakens in the City Unspoken without ever having died at all (his navel from his "first birth" is still intact). He may be the only one who can solve a problem that threatens to unravel the metaverse: the gateway to true death seems to be malfunctioning and the Undying City is thronged with people who have nowhere else to go and are repeatedly dying and being reborn in the same place. Cooper is no kick-butt protagonist; he's more like an Arthur Dent--confused, bemused, and in over his head--but he never lost my sympathy. The author also made good use of the omniscient pov, something I haven't run across much in fantasy lately.