We’re coming up on the end of the year, which means the internet is starting to be inundated with all the “Best of 2015” lists. This is my little contribution to that. All of these are books that I read this year, and not necessarily books that were published this year—although some of them were—and listed in the order I read them. If you’re looking for any last minute presents for a book-lover, you could do a lot worse than any of the books on this list.
The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter
In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented—and highest born—sons of the Kingdom of Britain are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover…
Gray’s deep talent for magick has won him a place at Merlin College. But when he accompanies four fellow students on a mysterious midnight errand that ends in disaster and death, he is sent away in disgrace—and without a trace of his power. He must spend the summer under the watchful eye of his domineering professor, Appius Callender, working in the gardens of Callender’s country estate and hoping to recover his abilities. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.
Even though she has no talent of her own, Sophie Callender longs to be educated in the lore of magick. Her father has kept her isolated at the estate and forbidden her interest; everyone knows that teaching arcane magickal theory to women is the height of impropriety. But against her father’s wishes, Sophie has studied his ancient volumes on the subject. And in the tall, stammering, yet oddly charming Gray, she finally finds someone who encourages her interest and awakens new ideas and feelings.
Sophie and Gray’s meeting touches off a series of events that begins to unravel secrets about each of them. And after the king’s closest advisor pays the professor a closed-door visit, they begin to wonder if what Gray witnessed in Oxford might be even more sinister than it seemed. They are determined to find out, no matter the cost…
I fell into this book like falling into the deep end of the pool. Like falling in love. Which is exactly what I did. And when I was done reading the book, I was still stuck in that world for long, long days. I wanted to read twelve more books exactly like it. There’s nothing quite like this book and the world it creates, but the second book also came out this year. I haven’t gotten around to it quite yet—it feels like I’m saving it, like a good vintage of wine that needs a special occasion.
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
Hazel and her brother, Ben, live in Fairfold, where humans and the Folk exist side by side. Tourists drive in to see the lush wonders of Faerie and, most wonderful of all, the horned boy. But visitors fail to see the danger.
Since they were children, Hazel and Ben have been telling each other stories about the boy in the glass coffin, that he is a prince and they are valiant knights, pretending their prince would be different from the other faeries, the ones who made cruel bargains, lurked in the shadows of trees, and doomed tourists. But as Hazel grows up, she puts aside those stories. Hazel knows the horned boy will never wake.
Until one day, he does…
As the world turns upside down, Hazel has to become the knight she once pretended to be. But as she’s swept up in new love, with shifting loyalties and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?
A solid third of the books on this list are about faeries—which isn’t actually surprising since I love reading (and writing) about the fae. On the other hand, this book is one of the only Young Adult books I read this year, and a reminder that if so many of them didn’t use the same tropes—tropes I just don’t like reading—I would absolutely read more of them. I absolutely loved the way Holly Black subverted expectations in this book, and the writing is utterly mesmerizing. For more of my thoughts about this book, you can read my review here.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia—all the things Agnieszka isn’t—and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.
I was slow getting into this book, but it made it onto this list. I absolutely loved the fairy tale premise, and how the author turned it on its head. Yes, there were things that I didn’t totally like, but the end of this story more than made up for any of that. While I seem to be the only person who had a problem with even part of the story, I’ll be joining those who would pass copies of this book out like candy in the hopes that everyone reads it. For more of my thoughts about this book, you can read my review here.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Kell is one of the last Travelers-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes, connected by one magical city.
There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king-George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered-and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the rougish heir to a flourishing empire. White London-a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.
I didn’t end up reviewing this book here because I wasn’t entirely sure what to say about it. Mostly my head was filled with a single high-pitched tone of happiness and despair. Happiness because the book was so good, and despair because I had finished reading it and would have to wait until February 2016 to read the sequel. This book is really fabulous, packed to the gills with characters I never wanted to say goodbye to and locales I desperately want to visit myself, and I expect that I will soon be getting my hands on all the other things Victoria (aka V.E.) Schwab has written as a way of staving off my desperation for the next book in this wonderful series.
One Good Dragon Deserves Another by Rachel Aaron
After barely escaping the machinations of his terrifying mother, two all-knowing seers, and countless bloodthirsty siblings, the last thing Julius wants to see is another dragon. Unfortunately for him, the only thing more dangerous than being a useless Heartstriker is being a useful one. Now that he’s got an in with the Three Sisters, Julius has become a key pawn in Bethesda the Heartstriker’s gamble to put her clan on top.
Refusal to play along with his mother’s plans means death, but there’s more going on than even Bethesda knows. Heartstriker futures are disappearing, and Algonquin’s dragon hunter is closing in. Now, with his most powerful family members dropping like flies, it’s up to Julius to save the family that never respected him and prove once and for all that the world’s worst dragon is the very best one to have on your side.
The first Heartstriker book ensured that this series became one of my favorite. This one blew the first out of the water. Rachel Aaron’s Eli Monpress books have been on my To Read list for quite some time and I still haven’t gotten to them. But Nice Dragon’s Finish Last was in my Amazon cart about four seconds after I learned of its existence. If you’re looking for a new series to start and larger series are intimidating, One Good Dragon Deserves Another is only the second book in the series—and it’s fantastic. Literally.
A Red-Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire
Things are looking up.
For the first time in what feels like years, October “Toby” Daye has been able to pause long enough to take a breath and look at her life—and she likes what she sees. She has friends. She has allies. She has a squire to train and a King of Cats to love, and maybe, just maybe, she can let her guard down for a change.
Or not. When Queen Windermere’s seneschal is elf-shot and thrown into an enchanted sleep by agents from the neighboring Kingdom of Silences, Toby finds herself in a role she never expected to play: that of a diplomat. She must travel to Portland, Oregon, to convince King Rhys of Silences not to go to war against the Mists. But nothing is that simple, and what October finds in Silences is worse than she would ever have imagined.
How far will Toby go when lives are on the line, and when allies both old and new are threatened by a force she had never expected to face again? How much is October willing to give up, and how much is she willing to change? In Faerie, what’s past is never really gone.
It’s just waiting for an opportunity to pounce.
This is the 9th book in the October Daye series—hands down my favorite Urban Fantasy series currently being written. Amazingly, these books only get better and better as the series progresses, and this book is no exception. While there was a significant derth of my favorite character, since I suspect she has a larger role to play in the series as a whole, I didn’t mind so much. And of course, I got sucked into the story just like I do every time. (I do, of course, recommend starting at the beginning of the series to get the most out of these books, but YMMV.)
An Apprentice to Elves by Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear
Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear return with the third book in their Iskryne trilogy, An Apprentice to Elves. The trilogy began with A Companion to Wolves, and continued in The Tempering of Men. This novel picks up the story of Alfgyfa, a young woman who has been raised in the Wolfhall by her father Isolfr, who is the human leader of the queen-wolf Viridechtis’ pack, and was the protagonist of the first book.
The warrior culture of Iskryne forbids many things to women-and most especially it forbids them bonding to one of the giant telepathic trellwolves. But as her father was no ordinary boy, Alfgyfa is no ordinary girl. Her father has long planned to send his daughter to Tin, a matriarch among the elves who live nearby, to be both apprentice and ambassador, and now she is of age to go.
I’ve been waiting for this book since the moment I finished the second one, and I like I actually liked this book better. I absolutely recommend beginning with A Companion to Wolves and The Tempering of Men before reading this one, but I can’t imagine you’d be disappointed. Everything I’ve read about this book says this is the last one in a trilogy, but I really hope these authors will return to this world. For more of my thoughts about this book, you can read my review here.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.
That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.
Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.
This is the best piece of fanfic that’s not really fanfic you will ever read. The sheer layers of meta in this book are amazing—this book began life as an imagined story in Fangirl—and I admit that the first thing I did after finishing it was check to see if there was fanfic. (Note: There absolutely is.) You can absolutely read this book without first reading Fangirl, but I highly recommend that you read the two together. Not because you’ll get more from it (though you might) but because your life just won’t be complete if you don’t.
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.
As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it… or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.
This book sat on my Kindle for months, even though the blurb promised all the things I usually love. Of course this book exceeded expectations wildly, and I loved every minute of it. I don’t know enough about the individual fairy tale parts to say how close this story follows, but it seemed like it was equal parts Tamlin and Beauty and the Beast. Feyre is exactly the sort of protagonist I always want: one who actually asks questions—and lets the answers drive the plot—and one who’s highly capable. I’m really looking forward to the sequel, as well as updates on the proposed movie.