We’re once again coming up on the end of the year. Everybody seems to be happy to say goodbye to 2016, but there were some nice things about this past year too. My personal highlights include moving to a new state, starting a new job, and getting engaged. And also reading some awesome books. So here’s my “Best of 2016” book list. As before, these books are listed in the order I read them and aren’t necessarily books that were published this year (although some of them, of course, were).
Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip
Hidden away from the world by his mother, the powerful sorceress Heloise Oliver, Pierce has grown up working in her restaurant in Desolation Point. One day, Heloise tells her son the truth about his father, a knight in King Arden’s court; about an older brother he never knew existed; about his father’s destructive love for King Arden’s queen; and, Heloise’s decision to raise her younger son alone.
As Pierce journeys to Severluna, he learns that things are changing in that kingdom. Ancient magic is on the rise. The immensely powerful artifact of an ancient god has come to light, and the king is gathering his knights to quest for this profound mystery, which may restore the kingdom to legendary glory—or destroy it.
Patricia McKillip is hands down one of my favorite authors, and any year when she has a new book out is probably a year when she’ll have a book on my “Best of” list. In some ways, this books seems a little more accessible than her other books, in that there are modern conveniences that are familiar to the reader, like cars and cell phones which aren’t really in her other books. It’s an interesting mix, but this story still feels like much of her high(er?) fantasy that I love. One of my favorite thing about McKillip’s writing is all the strange and delightful twists that she comes up with, and this book certainly has its fair share. For more of my thoughts about this book, you can read my review here.
A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift—back into Black London.
Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games—an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries—a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.
And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.
This book certainly suffers from Second Book Syndrome more than any of the other second-books-in-a-series that might be on this list. By which I mostly mean that this book ends on a cliff-hanger that might have made me howl in despair over not immediately having the next book in the series available to read. (I cannot confirm or deny these allegations.) If you’re at all hesitant about picking up this book based on that recommendation, rest assured that the next book in this series is set to come out in 2017, so you can read the first one and this one without the fear of experiencing book withdrawal like those of us who read it as soon as it comes out.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up from the sand of her home and see red sails on the horizon.
The Empire of Masks is coming, armed with coin and ink, doctrine and compass, soap and lies. They’ll conquer Baru’s island, rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. But Baru is patient. She’ll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she’ll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free.
In a final test of her loyalty, the Masquerade will send Baru to bring order to distant Aurdwynn, a snakepit of rebels, informants, and seditious dukes. Aurdwynn kills everyone who tries to rule it. To survive, Baru will need to untangle this land’s intricate web of treachery—and conceal her attraction to the dangerously fascinating Duchess Tain Hu.
But Baru is a savant in games of power, as ruthless in her tactics as she is fixated on her goals. In the calculus of her schemes, all ledgers must be balanced, and the price of liberation paid in full.
I try not to give spoilers in any of my reviews—these tiny ones or the longer ones that I post here—but the one thing I will say about this book is that if you’re looking for a Happy Ending, this may not be the book for you. Or maybe set a comfort read aside for after this book, because this one is sure to leave you feeling gutted. As far as I know, Seth Dickinson isn’t planning a sequel to this book, and while this story doesn’t necessarily need a follow up, the characters and the world he created are thoroughly intriguing and definitely left me wanting more. Not the least because I didn’t want that to be how it all ended.
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
No matter the cost.
I tried several times to write a review of this book, but could never quite get the swirl of emotions to settle enough for me to articulate them. So I’ll say this: If you were ever that kid who read fantasy books during recess, who longed for Narnia or Middle Earth or Valdemar or the Enchanted Forest, this book is for you. Even more than reading about those worlds, this book is all about what it might be like to be those kids who go somewhere else, who find their portals. I alternately wildly grinned and tearily sniffled my way through this book, and I know you will too. We’re even getting a sequel to this book, because Seanan McGuire loves us all just that much.
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.
Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.
The first book in this series was on last year’s list, and this book is even better. While A Court of Thorns and Roses was a fairly close fairy tale parallel, A Court of Mist and Fury left that structure behind and moved forward with the characters and the story that the first book began. And it works. It works so well. We meet a whole host of new people and get new perspectives on characters we already know—and some of those perspectives aren’t so favorable. But I really loved those surprising turns. Without spoiling anything, it was the change in perspective of one particular character that I loved the best about this book. I can’t wait to read book three and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up on next year’s list.
No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished by Rachel Aaron
When Julius overthrew his mother and took control of his clan, he thought he was doing right by everyone. But sharing power isn’t part of any proper dragon’s vocabulary, and with one seat still open on the new ruling Council, all of Heartstriker is ready to do whatever it takes to get their claws on it, including killing the Nice Dragon who got them into this mess in the first place.
To keep his clan together and his skin intact, Julius is going to have to find a way to make his bloodthirsty siblings play fair. But there’s more going on in Heartstriker Mountain than politics. Every family has its secrets, but the skeletons in Bethesda’s closet are dragon sized, and with Algonquin’s war looming over them all, breaking his clan wide open might just be the only hope Julius has of saving it.
Let me say right now that the end of this book really knocked my socks off. This is another book with its preceding book on last year’s list, and you might think that just means I really like these authors. Well, I do, but I also haven’t read any of Rachel Aaron’s other series’ (yet). This series, though. It has such a great world and such great characters, and it just keeps getting better and better with each book. In particular, this book finally allows the reader to get to know some of the characters we’ve been really curious about from other books, opening up whole new schemes for the dragons we’ve come to love. And holy crap, that ending.
Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those don’t.
As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.
Aelin’s journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down?
I read the entire Throne of Glass series shortly after finishing A Court of Mist and Fury because I wanted more of Sarah J. Maas’ writing. And while I would recommend doing it the other way around, this series features one of my newest favorite characters: the witch, Manon. Maas does in this series the same reversal of perspective on characters that she did in A Court of Thorns and Roses and its sequel, which has quickly become one of my favorite things about her books. And while the first four books in this series are certainly good, this book ended with a really shocking finale that made me both smile at the deft way in which it was written while still cursing the author who had written it. (Are we sensing a trend with this year’s books?) If that isn’t a mark of a good book, I don’t know what is.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
This book was recommended for me through NetGalley based on my review of Uprooted last year, and it definitely hit a lot of those same highlights. Fairy tales and larger than life characters and a deep immersion into the world those tales and characters come from. If, like me, you tend to be cold all the time, I might hold off on reading this book until the warmer months, but definitely find a copy. For more of my thoughts about this book, you can read my review here.