Top Ten Fantasy Novels of 2011

Saturday, December 31, 2011
I didn't read as much fantasy as I usually do this year (I blame my recent and often looooong forays into good YA).  I did manage to read more than a few impressive examples of my favorite genre when I wasn't distracted by another market.

1. The Crippled God by Steven Erikson
(The Malazan Book of the Fallen #10)

Some might be surprised that the long-anticipated A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin isn't in my top spot for how much I waited and loved it when it came, but this novel takes the cake. One of the most impressive. sprawling, imaginative, creative, unique fantasy series out there, Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series does not disappoint with its 10th and final volume. One of the few authors that hasn't let me down with epic series finales, I am eager for more books from Mr. Erikson.

My advice: 
 If you have trouble with the first novel Gardens of the Moon, as so many new readers do, just stick it out. It's a rewarding series to pursue to the finish.

2. A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
(A Song of Ice and Fire #5)


You knew it was going to be in here somewhere: I loved and absorbed the most recent novel from Martin. Long anticipated and awaited since the arrival of A Feast for Crows nearly 6 years before, I was one of the few fans A Dance with Dragons did not disappoint. While my opinion is far from universal and Martin is wearying on even my patience, I was grateful for such a long, complete trip to Westeros. Not the most exciting novel to date (but hey now, will anything in this series ever top the Red Wedding?), A Dance with Dragons is a solid offering in my still-favorite on-going series.

My advice
Don't expect Red Wedding-esque events but you will be engrossed and entertained in the continuing tale of the Lannisters, Starks and Targaryens.

3. Heartless by Gail Carriger
(The Parasol Protectorate #4)

Gail Carriger's lively and imaginative books consist of my favorite steampunk series and one of my all-time favorite heroines in Alexia Maccon. Heartless is another on-point addition to the three-book tradition established: funny, inventive, unique, and a race to the finish. I loved Heartless from start to its all-too-soon-finish: full of Carriger's trademark humor and wit, tea,  researched thoroughly for an authentic and real feel, I defy anyone's inability to be charmed by Alexia's latest escapades.

My advice:
Go to your nearest bookstore/favorite online retailer. Order Soulless, the first in the series, and don't look back. Be prepared for cleverness, wit, and humor in a familiar-yet-foreign locale peopled with drones, werewolves and preternaturals. Continue reading until reaching book four, whereupon you must wait impatiently for the fifth and final book, Timeless, due out February 2012.

4. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
(The Kingkiller Chronicles #2)

Second in a planned trilogy, The Wise Man's Fear delivers what so many fantasy fans were craving after The Name of the Wind. Like denner resin, Patrick Rothfuss world is easily addictive and immensely colorful. The mysterious, aloof but incredibly alluring Kvothe is back, with more of his mysterious past and tale to unravel at his Waystone Inn. More answers are provided from events in book one, though not as much action takes pace during this sequel.   

My advice:
The strength of this second novel is in the rich, developed characters at the heart of the story. Kvothe, Bast, Tempi, etc. fill in the black and white of Kvothe's tale. Don't get frustrated that not all answers are provided, that Ambrose and Kvothe's rivalry isn't as engaging as before: focus on the characters and Rothfuss great talent for telling a compulsively readable tale.

5. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
(Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1)

My love for this book is far and wide and often shown on this blog. It's made two of my "Top Ten" lists for the year (Best Young-Adult Novel #1, Best Covers #2) and my love for it is totally warranted. Karou is strong, independent but not perfect: she's relatable and grounded in a world of magic and teeth. Taylor earns major major kudos for her intelligent treatment not of only her female protagonist, but for her handling of the
romance angle to her novel. The love story isn't overwhelming or saccharine for a change. This novel has many nice twists on many of the prevalent tropes seen in YA novels: angels, devils, seraphim, forbidden love... all receive new ideas and representation in Taylor's evocative novel.

My advice:
If you're a fan of great visual description, beautiful prose, a teenage romance that feels genuine and appropriate,  pick this up the first chance you get. I think this is a nice segue for readers who love YA but haven't read much fantasy: Taylor has a great blend of genres at work within Daughter of Smoke and Bone - it's never boring!

6. The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
(The Inheritance Trilogy #2)

Though the first in author N.K. Jemisin's fantasy trilogy does appear in this Top Ten list, it is surprisingly after its direct sequel here at #6, The Broken Kingdoms. With less of the pacing and plotting issues that the first had, The Broken Kingdoms is an exciting and new addition to this series: gone is the first main character but a just as strong and even more likeable one has replaced her. So much of the typical fantasy structures are just a little different in this series; it's one of the reasons I rate them so highly and eagerly await a new release.

My advice:
Do yourself a favor and break from the old fantasy standbys like Cook, Wolfe, Lackey, etc. Give this newish series and author a try with the first novel, but if it's not precisely to your taste: keep going. The second is even better than the first and I have very high hopes for the conclusion to this creative and individual fantasy series. 

7. Stardust by Neil Gaiman

 One of the few books that I saw the movie before buying and reading, Stardust is a delight. Though oftentimes quite different from the on-screen version I loved, Gaiman's tale is just as charming and engaging when on the page. Inventive, quirky and engrossing, this was my first thought surely not last foray into Mr. Gaiman's bibliography.

My advice:
Read this is you're searching for a bit of fun and don't need dragons to enjoy your fantasy. Be prepared to want more than is there, as this is quite a short little novel filled with lovely and lively people.

(The Inheritance Trilogy #1)

The introduction to Jemisin's exciting and fresh series, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a very strong beginning and a solidly entertaining fantasy novel. With new ideas and magics and Gods, Ms. Jemisin's world is indelibly her own and very interesting. Reminiscent of fantasy great Roger Zelazny with its familial internecine intrigue, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms does so many things right and uniquely.

My advice:
This is another must-read for any fantasy fan that likes unique and creative magic with their dose of escapism. Much like Brandon Sanderson, Jemisin doesn't rely on old hat tricks and ways of magic: her methods and ideas are unique to her novels and people. 

9. Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

A time-traveling tale of faeries, Baba Yaga and love across time, Enchantment is a one-off and sadly so since I'd love to continue . Though I despise its author, this was a charming, whimsical and all-around fun read. A nice mix of folktales and myths from Russia and other places keep it fresh and less fantasy than other entries, but hey this is my list and blog, I can do what I want.

My advice:
Read if you're looking for a fun, easy read with creative twists and turns. Some readers may have issues with the religion aspects to the novel and characters, but they were easily dismissed by my liking for the plot and characters, especially the villains.
10. The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa

Fourth and final novel in the much loved and read Iron Fey series, The Iron Knight is a change from the first three and refreshingly so. Not told from Meghan Chase perpective, this is a close look at Ash of the Unseelie Court. Long my favorite character of these books, I loved this trek from his mind: a nice contrast from Meghan's usual views. Conclusing a well loved series with aplomb and some serious twists, The Iron Knight is a winner from beginning to end.

My advice:
If you don't like fae/fairy novels give this series a try. The first is the weakest by far, but hold out for the better, stronger novels further down the line.

Honorable Mentions:

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder

Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick

Theft of Swords (The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha) by Michael J. Sullivan

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