How is this year almost over? Wasn’t it April yesterday? This year has positively flown by. 2017 has been… well, let’s say “hit or miss” for a lot of people. But, just like last year, this year was pretty good to me. Last year I had moved, started a new job, gotten engaged… Lots of great things. This year, I started a new new job, got married, adopted a kitten, and wrote 27,357 words for NaNoWriMo. 2018 has a lot to live up to if it wants to top all that. And in the midst of all that, I read some amazing books too. As always, these aren’t necessarily books that were published this past year (although some of them are) and are listed in the order I read them.
A Season of Spells by Sylvia Izzo Hunter
Three years after taking up residence at the University of Din Edin, Sophie and Gray return to London, escorting the heiress of Alba to meet the British prince to whom she is betrothed. Sparks fail to fly between the pragmatic Lucia of Alba and the romantic Prince Roland, and the marriage alliance is cast into further doubt when the men who tried to poison King Henry are discovered to have escaped from prison.
Gray sets off to track the fugitives abroad, while Sophie tries to spark a connection between the bride and groom by enlisting them in her scheme to reopen a long-shuttered women’s college at Oxford. Though a vocal contingent believes that educating women spells ruin, what Sophie and her friends discover in the decaying college library may hold the key to protecting everything they hold dear—as well as a dark secret that could destroy it all.
I really loved this series, and books two and three were almost both on this list. But book three won out. Even though they seem to spend an awful lot of time apart in these books, Sophie and Gray continue to be exactly the sort of loving couple I love reading about. If you like historical fantasy or… almost-alternate history fantasy, you should probably do yourself a favor and read these books. Now I really want a trilogy about ladies studying magick at a women’s magickal college. And having adventures while doing it, obviously.
THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED…
The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.
WHO WILL CRUMBLE?
Kell—once assumed to be the last surviving Antari—begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?
WHO WILL RISE?
Lila Bard, once a commonplace—but never common—thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.
WHO WILL TAKE CONTROL?
And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.
Oh hey, all three books in this trilogy were on my “Best Of” lists. Gosh, I must really like these books. Schwab excels at hitting her readers right in the feels, but I felt like this book raised what were already impossibly high stakes even higher, and she definitely didn’t pull any of her emotional punches. I was thrilled that this book wrapped up just about everything she set in motion in the first two books, since even the end of a series can often leave the reader hanging. While it’s always sad to get to the end of a series, this was finale was great. And, since the author has already said she’ll be returning to this world, I’m of course looking forward to reading it.
A Court of Wings and RuinE by Sarah J.
Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.
Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit-and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.
As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords-and hunt for allies in unexpected places.
In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.
The theme of this year’s list seems to be “Series Endings.” It’s hard to be too sad about the endings when they end so well, and given that this author has also announced that she’ll be returning to this world in forthcoming books. At the same time, it’s always sad to say goodbye to the characters we’ve come to love. The climax of this book just kept amping up the tension—seriously, you think she’s turning it up to eleven, only to realize she’s not stopping there—and somehow never managed to tip me over the edge too soon. It was a delicate balancing act and Maas seemed to handle it easily. While her other series is set to wrap up in 2018 (and I fully expect that book to end up on 2018’s Best Of list) I can’t wait to read the next books Maas adds to this world.
Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan
After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent—dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field.
And yet—after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia—the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure—scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland’s enemies—and what she discovered there, within the Sanctuary of Wings.
Another ending of a series. This book felt like the natural conclusion to the series, like everything else had been leading here. At the same time, once we get there it doesn’t go quite how we might have imagined. I was skeptical about this series when it first came out, but Lady Trent’s unwillingness to be told what to do and how she should act quickly won me over. And also, you know, dragons. In a genre that is full of friendly talking dragons, I absolutely loved that the dragons of Lady Trent’s world were wild and dangerous. This conclusion bridges that gap a little, and while there is probably a whole lot more to explore in Lady Trent’s world, Isabella herself is done writing about her adventures. I haven’t read anything else by Marie Brennan, but I’m looking forward to doing so.
An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock
In a world of soaring continents and bottomless skies, where a burgeoning new science lifts skyships into the cloud-strewn heights and ancient blood-borne sorceries cling to a fading glory, Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs is about to be married to a man she has barely heard of, the second son of a dying king in an empire collapsing into civil war.
Born without the sorcery that is her birthright but with a perspicacious intellect, Isabelle believes her marriage will stave off disastrous conflict and bring her opportunity and influence. But the last two women betrothed to this prince were murdered, and a sorcerer-assassin is bent on making Isabelle the third. Aided and defended by her loyal musketeer, Jean-Claude, Isabelle plunges into a great maze of prophecy, intrigue, and betrayal, where everyone wears masks of glamour and lies. Step by dangerous step, she unravels the lies of her enemies and discovers a truth more perilous than any deception.
Do you know, while I was initially interested in this book’s summary, when I actually started reading it I was suddenly worried I wasn’t going to like it much. I thought, “Oh dear, this might go someplace I’m not sure I’m interested in.” But it went to all the right places. This is the beginning of a series, which is good because the ending sure left a lot open for future books. If you like court intrigue, princes in disguise, musketeers, and smart as hell princesses, this book should be at the top of your TBR pile. For more of my thoughts about this book, you can read my review here.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.
But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.
Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.
I read this on the recommendation of a friend, and I’m so glad I did. How this book ended up being one of my favorite books of the year is still a little baffling to me, particularly given that for most of the book I didn’t much like the main character. Or at least, I sympathized with Percy in sometimes wanting to strangle him. I like to think that was intentional on the author’s part, because it made the end that much more satisfying. Monty grew and changed, and that’s always satisfying to read. I believe that there is more coming from this author and in this world—even possibly with these characters—and I’m curious to see where Monty and Percy go next.
The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire
For once, everything in October “Toby” Daye’s life seems to be going right. There have been no murders or declarations of war for her to deal with, and apart from the looming specter of her Fetch planning her bachelorette party, she’s had no real problems for days. Maybe things are getting better.
Because suddenly Toby’s mother, Amandine the Liar, appears on her doorstep and demands that Toby find her missing sister, August. But August has been missing for over a hundred years and there are no leads to follow. And Toby really doesn’t owe her mother any favors.
Then Amandine starts taking hostages, and refusal ceases to be an option.
October Daye returns! McGuire herself has said that the more recent books have a lot of payouts for things she set up earlier in the series. And this book, more so than the previous few, does just that (while at the same time still setting up things for future books). It’s a really impressive feat of writing, especially given that this is book 11 in this series, and just thinking about the planning involved makes me want to applaud. You can really feel McGuire getting ready for Big Things in future books, and I can’t wait.
An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.
Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There’s only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.
Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.
I devoured this book. If I could have read it all at once, I probably would have (but instead I was a responsible adult and went to sleep at a mostly reasonable time, and then finished the book at work the next day). By now, it’s probably obvious that I love books about faeries and all the trouble that can be gotten into when a mortal gets involved. This book had a refreshing twist on the “becomes the Queen of Faerie” ending, and I won’t say more than that, but suffice to say that I was both thrilled with this book and devastated that it was only a standalone novel.
The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.
Sequel to a book on last year’s list. (Is anyone even surprised anymore?) If you’re a person who is easily made cold, I would recommend reading this book in warm weather, or with the heat turned all the way up. I got sucked in immediately, and once again the coldness of the Russian winter seemed to seep out of the page. This book builds beautifully on the first book, and I loved getting to see Vasilisa as a little more grown up. I’m really looking forward to the third book—which, according to Goodreads, thankfully should be hitting shelves while it’s still warm. For more of my thoughts about this book, you can read my review here.
A Dragon of a Different Color by Rachel Aaron
To save his family from his tyrannical mother, Julius had to step on a lot of tails. That doesn’t win a Nice Dragon many friends, but just when he thinks he’s starting to make progress, a new threat arrives.
Turns out, things can get worse. Heartstriker hasn’t begun to pay for its secrets, and the dragons of China are here to collect. When the Golden Emperor demands his surrender, Julius will have to choose between loyalty to the sister who’s always watched over him and preserving the clan he gave everything to protect.
The action in this book is non-stop. Seriously. I felt like I hit the ground running, and for the entire book I never stopped running. There’s so much action, so many things that are all happening all at once, so many threads of the story beginning to come together. All your favorite characters are back—yes, I mean all and for those who have been reading this series, you’ll know that for some of those characters coming back seemed… unlikely—and they are kicking so much butt. This is the penultimate book in this series, and you can tell that Rachel Aaron is ramping everything up for what’s likely to be an action-filled finale, and I absolutely cannot wait.
The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera
Even gods can be slain…
The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.
Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.
This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.
Even though multiple friends around the internet had said this book was great, the thing that finally pushed me into reading it was a random blurb about this book being the canon lesbians one reader had always wanted. And it is, it absolutely is, but this book is more than that. This book is a love letter—literally. It’s an epistolary book, written as a letter from one woman to the other, recounting their story. There’s still so much left to do in the world K. Arsenault Rivera has imagined—there’s still a Big Bad to slay after all—but I’m looking forward to seeing how the author will write the second book, given that the same epistolary style might not work a second time given where she left it. Book 2 should hit shelves next year, and I’ll definitely be getting my hands on it asap.
You can find all my “Best Of” lists here. Enjoy!