Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
(recommended by Allison)
One of my three favorite fantasy debuts of 2015.
What a DELIGHT of a novel. I hate using the words “charming” and “quirky” in reviews, but THIS WAS SO CHARMING AND BRILLIANT. Regency England plus dragons plus Malaysian witches. Eat your heart out, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell!
This took me a couple chapters to get into, as I’m completely out of practice in reading anything convincingly Regency in flavor, but then it really takes off and goes in a few really wonderful directions. Zacharias and Prunella are both entirely engaging protagonists, and Prunella is an absolute riot and a half. I laughed aloud quite a few times and hooted in a public a bit too much.
Warm, inventive, and AMAZING. THRILLED that this is the first in a series.
Don’t Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche
(recommended by Rebecca and Teresa)
T: Michelle has always been the responsible one; raising her two siblings, bailing her mother out of jail (due to drugs), no father to help (he left when she was 7), and just barely making enough money to get by. Leah’s biggest challenge is deciding what college to apply to and how embarrassed she gets when her stepbrother, Tim, serenades her in the prep school cafeteria for her birthday. When Michelle and Leah learn their father is dying, they are thrown together in ways they could never have imagined and they both learn that family breaks color, boundaries, and hearts. A wonderful novel that I devoured. Highly recommend to those that enjoy John Greene and Jojo Moyes.
R: Finally! A book that talks about teen issues, real teen issues, that kids have to deal with! Especially if a parent is an addict, or one is dealing with extreme poverty, or unreliable parents. It’s a complex story full of screwy choices, but the characters don’t really know what else to do. So they hit the open road on a teenage road trip to find pieces of themselves and their family. A good teen read, especially for a deep discussion on what issues REAL TEENS face in this country besides boob size and who’s taking them to the prom!
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth J. Dickinson
(recommended by Allison)
I could write a 3-page essay on this book and why I absolutely loved it, but I’ll try to keep this short. THIS IS THE EPIC FANTASY BOOK TO BUY THIS YEAR.
“The Traitor Baru Cormorant” is perfect for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, but also an improvement on that series in so many ways. The low amount of magic, blistering levels of political intrigue and backstabbing, and sprawling cast of characters will definitely appeal to ASoIaF fans, but Dickinson is far more subtle in the emotional and physical cruelties he unfolds for the reader (and believe me, this book really PACKS AN EMOTIONAL PUNCH – I was crying by page 60 or so, and in public). There are no cheap thrills here. Add to that the stunning diversity and richness of the world-building, of which we’ve only scratched the surface, and this is a debut every fan of every kind of fantasy should have on their to-read list.
The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
(recommended by Allison)
Non-formulaic, diverse, dystopian YA novel!!!!!!!!! I didn’t even mind the love triangle because it wasn’t really a love triangle at all!!! GOD, THIS WAS GREAT.
I LOVED Greta, the narrator and protagonist. She was composed, sensible, and responsible, while still being strong-willed and a little against the grain. The entire novel is about her willingness to die for and be useful to the ~tyrannical system~ because she knows it generally works to keep the peace. So many YA heroines come across as privileged and whiny, and it makes them unbelievably unlikeable. There were adults in active and supportive (and not-so-supportive) roles in here too! Amazing!
The other characters are fantastic as well, especially Xie, Elias, and Talis (they’re the most well-fleshed out besides Greta herself), but also the Abbot (a surprisingly complex secondary AI character), and the other Children of Peace. I won’t spoil anything here, because Bow really pulls the rug out from under the back-of-book summary (this is me cackling in delight), but I particularly loved Xie, Greta’s best friend.
The world-building was also interesting, and I really appreciated the grittiness that permeated the entire novel. After the first fifty pages or so I knew this wouldn’t be a neatly packaged YA narrative with a smooth ending. Thank God.
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
(recommended by Kelsey & Rebecca)
K: This book has floored me. I am left totally in awe of Margaret Atwood, but also kind of creeped out because only the strangest of minds would be able to produce ‘The Heart Goes Last’. In the wake of an economic collapse, chipper Charmaine and cynic Stan are practically unemployed and living in the car. When offered a spot in the Utopic town of Consilience, Charmaine is overwhelmed with gratitude while Stan remains a bit more hesitant. The town seems too perfect to be true, that is except for the bimonthly mandatory stay in Positron, the prison built inside of Consilience. This new utopia is based on the premise that prisons can be incredibly lucrative for the communities that host them– as long as the prison population and the civilian population balance each other out. Without wanting to attract such a large criminal element, the citizens of Consilience simply take turns in their roles inside and outside the prison. Charmaine and Stan are content, at first, until Charmaine starts a passionate affair with a dangerous man, and the couple soon find themselves the center of a ruthless game played without their knowledge or consent. But who are the players and what is it that they want? Charmaine and Stan soon find their marriage rocked to its core, and the basic tenants of their humanity are put to the test.
What a dark social commentary that is truly well pieces and crafted. The story itself is intriguing but the message around “the American Dream” and domesticity is genius. Must be read with The Handmaid’s Tale as an alternative if not precursor idea of the future.
Definitely a dystopian novel to take note of and question. Beyond it’s direct social analysis of the US, it also questions our prisons in a subtle but important way in regards to organ donations and attitudes to the incarcerated.
Anyone who cares about social justice and questions the current world needs to give this a shot!
The Unquiet by Mikaela Everett
(recommended by Allison)
SO SO GREAT.
A chilling and moving sci-fi thriller and one of the best novels, teen or adult, that I’ve read concerning parallel worlds. More raw and complex than any of the easy comparisons like Hunger Games or The Host.
Some light romance (just enough to be a little heart-breaking and add to the narrative, but not enough to annoy me), heart-stopping action, and the right kind of “world-building” for the parallel-Earth setting. The simple yet beautiful writing, emotion, and deep characterization lean me towards a quality comparison to Archivist Wasp, one of my favorite reads this year, and also, of course ORPHAN BLACK.
Absolutely wonderful. I will be looking forward to more from Everett.
Scream by Margee Kerr
(recommended by Kelsey)
Margee Kerr is uniquely qualified when it comes to the science of fear. Not only is she a daredevil and thrill seeker, she is the sociologist-in-residence at ScareHouse, one of the biggest haunted house attraction in Pittsburgh. Through the course of ‘Scream’ we follow Kerr as she challenges herself to travel the world experiencing the wide range of how fear can present itself– from physical thrills to haunted locales to the not-so-fun reality of living in high crime areas. This book will appeal to readers who love sociology, memoir, and all the things that go ‘bump’ in the night.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
(recommended by Allison & Teresa)
I was COMPLETELY BLOWN AWAY by this one. I enjoyed Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, but this really showcases her epic fantasy writing chops.
Six amazing main characters (I LOVED – and sometimes hated – ALL OF THEM; so much bosom-clutching), great world-building (great expansion of the world we glimpsed in Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy), and plenty of cutthroat action. The marketing blurb says “Ocean’s Eleven meets Game of Thrones” but this to me was reminiscent of Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series and Sanderson’s Mistborn books. A superb book for adult fantasy fans as well!
That cliffhanger though???