To finally shift from 2016, below are the ten books that I most enjoyed reading this past year (in alphabetical order, since selecting a top ten was tough enough). As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, I’m a fan of great character work, vivid worlds and intense action, as opposed to quiet literary stories (though those can be good, too). If you’re into those things, as well, hopefully these recommendations will appeal to you. Note that not all of these novels were released in 2016; I just happened to read them this year (don’t judge me, there’s a lot of stuff out there).
I also wanted to say thanks to everyone who has been reading my reviews and commenting on them. Hopefully you’re enjoying them so far, and I’m excited to keep contributing here in 2017. Feel free to drop me a line below with your thoughts on my Top Ten, or recommendations for similar books I should check out.
An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet (Clarion, 2015)
Since I’ve already posted a review and follow-up interview with Leah, I won’t spend too much time repeating myself. Read this friggin’ book. Gun to my head and forced to choose my # 1 read this year, I’ll probably pick this one.
Black Science vol. 1 and 2 by Rick Remender, et al (Image Comics, 2014)
My reviews here don’t touch on comics, since I’ve never been much of a comics person – but I owe a friend of mine for recommending this series. Dimension-hopping is taken to a new level in Black Science, which manages to flesh out each of the characters trapped on this whirlwind journey and throw a lot of surprising twists in very few pages. It’s like Sliders meets Fringe and a thrill ride throughout, and appealed to me even though I don’t read a lot of comics.
Hellmaw: Eye of Glass by Marie Bilodeau (The Ed Greenwood Group, 2016)
Full disclosure: I’m also a writer for TEGG, and work closely with Marie on Can*Con (she’s also a contributor here). That said, I don’t recommend titles unless I really like them – and I absolutely loved this novel, which focuses on Jaeda, a creature from an alternate realm who is just a head on a spine (for now) and desperately wants to be a runway model. This is a dark and hilarious adventure that blurs horror and fantasy, and a great introduction to the world of Hellmaw, if you’ve yet to scope it out.
Impulse by Dave Bara (DAW, 2015)
Along with Leviathan Wakes, this novel proved to me that soft space opera, where the science is plausible but doesn’t need to be explained in detail, can still be done well and make it in today’s market. Bara weaves together a number of interesting, realistic characters in an intense space adventure with several twists and turns, combining believable action, political intrigue, and personal drama. It struck me as similar to David Weber’s Harrington novels, minus the dense prose and hard SF. Its sequel, Starbound, is on my reading list for 2017.
Kill Switch by Jonathan Maberry (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016)
Eight books into the Joe Ledger series and, much like Jim Butcher, Maberry hasn’t lost his stride. As a fan of 24 and Fringe, I’m crazy about these books, which have so far have tackled zombies, vampires, aliens, and other basic premises but twisted into a military science setting. Kill Switch applies Maberry’s unique storytelling to Cthulhu, taking something I think has long been overdone and using it in a really interesting way.
Monstrous Little Voices, ed. by David Moore and Jonathan Oliver (Abaddon Books, 2016)
Imagine that all of Shakespeare’s characters existed in the same world, so that Duke Orsino and Viola must negotiate with Prospero and weather the influence of supernatural characters like Macbeth and Puck. This collection of five novellas tells the story of that world, as war looms and your favorite Shakespearean characters from different plays interact for the first time. The only question I had was: why did it take so long for someone to do this?
Persona by Genevieve Valentine (Saga Press, 2015)
This is another title I reviewed on my personal blog before joining the Black Gate community; you can read the full review here. Persona is a near-future, ecofiction story that combines a rich and well-crafted world with a narrow focus on particular characters as they navigate the political world of a neo-United Nations. Unlike anything I’ve read before, and its sequel, Icon, is already sitting on my to-read stack at home.
Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Roc, 2014)
I’ve gone on and on before, both here and on my personal blog, about how much I love Jim Butcher. The Dresden Files series isn’t perfect — no 15-book series can be — but the latest Harry Dresden adventure is probably my favorite. It’s everything you want from this series: intense, emotional, hilarious, and deeply moving. When Harry successfully evades an enemy shouting, “Parkour!” I actually cheered on my couch. That is the power of superb fiction.
The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin (Ballantine, 2016)
A while back I discussed my love/hate relationship with Cronin’s work on my personal blog. Despite that (or maybe because of it), Mirrors is a fabulous conclusion to the Passage trilogy. The time-jump from the trilogy’s second novel is effective, and while the route the story takes might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it ties together the mythology of this world in a really interesting way and keeps to Cronin’s theme with the previous books. Really curious to see what he comes out with next.
Valor’s Choice by Tanya Huff (DAW, 2000)
This is the oldest title on my top ten; Huff has since published four sequels in the Confederation series, and recently started the new Peacekeeper books, all of which star Sergeant Torin Kerr, badass Marine in service to the Confederation. This is far-future military SF at its finest, combining everything I love in that genre: realistic aliens, plausible technology without the hard SF, gritty action, and detailed characters (that last part is hard in an ensemble military story, but Huff does it expertly). You’ve probably already read some or all of this series, I hope, but if you’re slow like me and haven’t, get started right now!
My previous article in this series covered the top short fiction of 2016:
An Ottawa teacher by day, Brandon has been published work in On Spec, Third Flatiron Anthologies, and elsewhere. His short story, “Blaze-of-Glory Shoes” was published in The 2017 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide on December 1. Learn more at brandoncrilly.wordpress.com or on Twitter: @B_Crilly