Over on Goodreads there’s a fantasy and sci-fi celebration, each genre list contains 72 books that have ‘ruled’ the field in the last three years. I’m always wary of best-of lists. What good do they do? Sure, they promote a few books, but the vast majority of published books never get a mention.
Anything that increases awareness of science fiction and/or fantasy has to be a Good Thing, but appearing on best-of lists is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Get on one, achieve visibility, and suddenly some books by some authors become flavour of the month and are on every list that’s going. Is it really because they are better than anything else out there? There are thousands of brilliant books that are never listed.
I’m not knocking best-of lists, but I see some books on there that I’ve read and consider decent but not brilliant, while some books I’ve read are brilliant and never make the lists at all. Of the ‘72 Most Popular Fantasy Novels of the Past Three Years’ I’ve read seven, and I would only put one of those into a best-of list. Of the 72 ‘best’ Science Fiction books listed on Goodreads, I’ve read precisely two.
So here’s my Best Of list, not in any particular order.
Anything by Lois McMaster Bujold.
She writes science fiction and fantasy. The Curse of Chalion is the book I would grab as I ran screaming from a burning building. If you haven’t read it yet I envy you because I has such pleasure in discovering it for the first time. It took me a while to get around to reading her Vorkosigan series, but I was wrong to wait. Start with Cordelia’s Honour (an omnibus of Shards of Honour and Barrayar detailing the love affair between Cordelia Naismith and enemy soldier Aral Vorkosigan. Another great starting point is Warrior’s Apprentice, featuring Miles, the son of the aforementioned Aral and Cordelia, who is born stunted and frail into a militaristic society, so he has to think his way out of situations. Admittedly they are usually (but not always) situations of his own making. I’m currently re-reading all these, or rather re-listening, via Audible, and loving them (again)..
Anything by Sebastien de Castell.
In particular his Greatcoats books which feature three travelling magistrates appointed by the late king, and still trying to carry out his wishes. Falcio, Kest and Brasti are fabulous characters These four books: Traitor’s Blade, Knight’s Shadow, Saint’s Blood, and Tyrant’s Throne can be read as one long story. There’s a new short story collection out now called Tales of the Greatcoats.
Anything by T. Kingfisher.
This is the adult pen name for the beloved children’s Author Ursula Vernon. Mostly she writes fantasy though a few of her stories are on the edge of horror. Definitely in the fantasy camp is Swordheart – my favourite by a short head, though I also adore her Saint of Steel books, Starting with Paladin’s Grace. You’ve got to love a sword-wielding hero who knits his own socks.
Anything by John Scalzi
I confess I haven’t read everything by John Scalzi, but based on the fifteen books I have read or listened to, all have been highly entertaining from the six books of the Old Man’s War series, or the three books of the Interdependency, to the standalone books Fuzzy Nation, and the Kaiju Preservation Society.
Anything by Jodi Taylor.
Ms Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary’s are about a bunch of time travelling historians documenting historical events in contemporary time. Disaster magnets all, but a nice cup of tea will often sort things out. Maddie ‘Max’ Maxwell PhD is inaugurated into St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. The institution is chaotic and dangerous. Eccentric hardly begins to cover it. Dark, exciting and hilarious in turn, this is a real page turner and yet delivers some real laugh-out-loud moments. The first book is Just One Damned Thing After Another. They are worth reading in order. If you are an Audible fan Zara Ramm is the reader and she captures the ‘voice’ beautifully. Ms Taylor has also written a spin-off Time Police series featuring Max’s son, Matthew, and a thriller series beginning with White Silence set in the same location but with a different set of characters. I’ve enjoyed all of them.
Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus series.
This is urban fantasy, set in London and featuring mage Alex Verus who always seems to be on the wrong side of the White Council, having once been apprenticed to a dark mage. Alex is an engaging protagonist, a genuine nice guy with decent values, but as the series progresses, he has to examine his affiliations and face up to his dark past if he’s going to have any future. Comparisons with Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels are inevitable, and also with Kevin Hearne’s Atticus O’Sullivan (Iron Druid) books, but it stands up well. The series begins with Fated, and is now completed by the twelfth book, Risen.
Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duo, and her Grisha books including King of Scars.
These are magical fantasies written for the YA market all set in the same world, centred upon Ravka. Of all of these, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are my favourites. They are set in the ‘anything goes’ town of Ketterdam, and feature Kaz Brekker and his gang of criminals undertaking a dangerous heist. Kaz has a brilliant criminal mind but a broken soul, which makes him a fascinating character.
Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora books
The Lies of Locke Lamora is a brilliant book. Locke is a cocky child who grows up into a cocky adult, devising elaborate schemes for his gang, the Gentleman Bastards to part the rich from their money. It’s followed by Red Seas under Red Skies, and The Republic of Thieves. A fourth instalment was rumoured, but it’s been almost a decade and fans are still waiting. But don’t worry, you won’t be left with a cliffhanger after Republic of Thieves, so go for it. Highly recommended.
I could go on: George R.R. Martin, Karen Traviss, Terry Pratchett. Joe Abercrombie, Patricia Briggs, Liz Williams, Ann Aguirre, Paul Cornell, Nnedi Okorafor, Lisa Shearin, Andy Weir, Rod Duncan, Tanya Huff, Genevieve Cogman, Suyi Davis Okungbowa, C.E. Murphy, just to mention a few.