Before we dive into the starred reads, however, I wanted to talk a moment about pure pleasure and sheer enjoyment. There are 3 books that stand out in my mind as providing more literary fun and delight than any others. These are the books with passages that I kept insisting on reading aloud to my wife. They are the books I keep asking if friends have read. These are the books I would gleefully slip under any tree, confident that the recipient will come back with a fist-pump, a hand-slap, and a smile on their face. They are (in chronological order) . . .
- The Marching Dead by Lee Battersby
- Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett
- The Iron Wolves by Andy Remic
Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett. I wrote in my original review that this was an exciting, adventurous, and exceptionally well-told story, filled with equal parts amusement and astonishment. From the concept to the characters, I enjoyed every aspect of it and came away wanting more . . . much more. Not only that, but in a glimpse of sheer prescient genius, I said it was sure to be a fixture of best-of lists come the end of the year . . . and here it is!
In terms of 4 star recommendations, I have to acknowledge Three by Jay Posey and Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey.
Fearsome Journeys: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy by Jonathan Strahan (editor) is it. As I wrote at the time, this was just a great collection of tales, well-selected, and very well put together by a man who has an obvious feel for the genre. In another of those fits of prescient genius, I even suggested that anybody voting on an award find their nomination form, jot the title down, put a huge asterisk beside it as the likely winner, and focus their reading efforts on those categories yet be decided.
While it could just as well have been a Science Fiction 4 star recommendation, Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts was another stellar anthology.
Love & Zombies by Eric Shapiro. This was a bloody, catastrophically gory tale that made perfect use of the 'fast' zombie, an insanely black comedy that leaves you feeling guilty over every laugh and, at it's heart, a love story - not a normal, happy, romantic one, but a love story all the same. You have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it, but so long as you trust Shapiro to carry you beyond the zombie porn premise, you'll have one hell of a time.
As for some 4 star recommendations, I'd be remiss in not mentioning some other small press titles such as The Black Church by Toby Tate, Hell's Door by Sandy DeLuca, Beatrysel by Johnny Worthen, and Worm by Tim Curran.
River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay. This is a book I was almost reluctant to read, afraid that it could never measure up to the lyrical magic of Under Heaven, but Kay did just that. Not only was it better paced than its predecessor, but it was driven by a slightly stronger protagonist. If it lacked some of the subtlety of the first, it certainly eclipsed it in terms of demonstrating how seemingly insignificant, very personal choices can conspired to change the course of history.
This seems to be my strongest genre for 4 star recommendations, but I have to highlight some 'final' chapters with King Breaker by Rowena Cory Daniells, Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, and Magician's End by Raymond E. Feist.
The Diabolist by Layton Green even more notable. As much as I try to avoid making comparisons, this was one case where I felt it was warranted. It's a dark, intelligent, spellbinding novel that is destined to appeal to readers of Preston & Child, David Gibbins, and Dan Brown . . . as well as the likes of Peter Straub, John Saul, and James Herbert. It's a rip-roaring, pulse-pounding adventure, but it's also an intelligent, deeply philosophical look at the concept of evil, and how it's defined (or justified) within the bounds of faith and belief.
My 4 star recommendations here would include White Fire by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, The Tombs by Clive Cussler, and Pharaoh: A Novel by David Gibbins.
As for the worst of the year, I won't embarrass anybody by highlighting them here, but in the interests of balancing out the statistics, I will say I handed out a pair of 1 star reviews this year, and had a half dozen titles I abandoned to the DNF pile.