Thursday, December 17, 2015

Top Reads of 2015

Some people have an instinct for storytelling. They are able to take all the disparate parts - plot, structure, setting, character - and weave them into a tale so fascinating, so heartfelt, so exciting that you not only can't see the seams, but don't even think to look for them. And these are the stories that reach out from the page, grab hold, and don't let go. In some strange, indefinable way, these stories become part of you. In short, some people can bring whole worlds to life with only the written word.

I'm not one of them.

Getting a story to come together into something cohesive, something that flows - something that fits all those separate elements into something greater than than the sum of their parts - is a real struggle for me. It feels like juggling a thousand balls in the air at once, and I never was any good at juggling.

And when you count the pressures that seem to go along with being a writer in this current day and age, it becomes infinitely harder. Not only must one be an excellent writer, but also editor, agent, publisher, promotional wiz, and advertising department. It's a lot to expect from one person, especially for those who, like me, aren't sure they have what it takes to begin with.

All this to say that I've done very little writing this past year. But I have been reading a lot this year, and I've had the (rare) privilege of encountering several books in 2015 that reached out and grabbed hold of me - the kind of story that left me dizzy and dazed, that I want to read again as soon as I turned the final page.

And they've made me realize that is why - despite my doubts - I want to write. Not for fame or fortune, but for the hope that someday I will write something that will reach out and grab an unsuspecting reader, leave them dizzy and dazed, and become part of them. After all, what better way to repay the writers whose stories I love than to pay it forward and write something that someone else will love?

Without further rambling, I present my top reads for 2015:

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
This is a lovely book. In fact, this may be the loveliest book I've read in a very long time. If you've been living under a rock and have not heard of this or yet read it, rest assured: all of the praise is well warranted. Maia is such a sympathetic, fully-drawn character that it is a joy to accompany him on his journey, and the surrounding cast of secondary characters are no less enjoyable (Csevet and Cala would probably be my favorites). If you, like me, have had your fill of grimdark and the torture and torment that seem to go hand in hand with that subgenre, then The Goblin Emperor is like the first spring breeze after a long winter. Read it. Read it now.

City of Stairs by Robert Bennett Jackson
This book crept up on me. Like The Goblin Emperor, I'd heard of it through numerous glowing reviews across the internets. It grabbed hold of my interest in stages, starting a bit slow and getting progressively more fascinating as more of the world - and the characters - were revealed. Two things make this book a standout on my shelves, the first being the gods themselves. Many, many fantasy books feature the gods of their worlds as fully fleshed out beings, interacting with and moving among the characters of the story. Painfully few do it well. City of Stairs does it brilliantly. In fact, I'd say it handles this better than any book I've ever read.

The other thing that made this book one of my new favorites is, in a word, Sigrud. Sigrud acts as the main character Shara's henchman. And at first glance, he is nothing more than that, a bloodthirsty brute like we've seen in so many other books. But once we are given a deeper look into him - his past, his connections with the gods, and how he met Shara - he just clicks, and becomes one of the most intriguing characters I've read in a long time. We can only hope he features strongly in the forthcoming sequel, City of Blades.

Other notable reads of 2015:
Bones of the Old Ones by Howard Andrew Jones
Sword and sorcery in eighth century Middle East make a beautiful and refreshing setting for this series. I'd read the first one, The Desert of Souls, a year or two back and found it a fun read. This one is even better, giving Asim a chance to be the hero rather than just following Dabir's lead - and without diminishing the friendship between the two.

Stories of the Raksura vol. II: The Dead City and The Dark Earth Below by Martha Wells
Any year that sees the release of a new Martha Wells book makes me happy. And when that book is a Tale of the Raksura? Even better! I can't say enough good things about her Raksura novels, and this collection of novellas and shorts doesn't disappoint. In fact, the only criticism I can offer is that the Raksura books are so outstanding that they kind of ruin me for other fantasy. Exotic setting? Check. Fascinating, believable characters? Check. Amazing new creatures with a unique worldview? You bet!

And best of all, Martha has announced two new Raksura novels releasing in the near future (see the ARC for the first, Edge of Worlds, on her blog!) What more can a reader ask for?


Anyway. Hopefully 2016 will see more (or any) writing from me, and - if I can get my act together - the re-release of Last Night in Ghosttown at Smashwords. I'm still proud of that novella, and would hate to see it vanish into the ether of the internet. May 2016 be a year of excellent stories, both for writers and readers!

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