Another year, another solid 12 months of excellent speculative fiction releases. There’s been something for everyone this year, so let’s recap the best of the best.
Eleanor by Jason Gurley
A tale of time travel and familial bonds, Eleanor is a book that explores grief and depression. A horrific car accident sends young Eleanor’s life on a dark trajectory. Her mother turns alcoholic and her sister dies. Then if that weren’t enough Eleanor starts falling out of time and into other dimensions. Previously self-published, this is a book that shows that speculative fiction can plumb emotional depths.
Read it if you: prefer spec fic that leans literary; enjoy stories outside of time and space.
Jennifer Fallon is one of the most popular Australian-based fantasy authors writing right now. With The Lyre Thief she returned to the world explored in The Demon Child trilogy and The Hythrun Chronicles. The new book isn’t a direct follow-on, but does reference her earlier works. It’s an epic of music, magic and dead gods and the world-building really takes your breath away.
Read it if you: love politics in fantasy worlds; want to get started on the work of Jennifer Fallon.
The Map of Bones by Francesca Haig
The premise of Alpha and Omega twins who are destined to be enemies is enticing, so enticing that The Fire Sermon is in film development. Now, in the second book of the series, all-out war against the rebelling Omegas is reaching a crisis point. A gripping story of fighting against your fate.
Read it if you: are looking for a darker than usual YA fantasy; you have a twin sibling.
Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones
Neil Gaiman is a fan. George RR Martin is fan. I’m a fan, and that’s all you need to know. Mongrels is a seriously good werewolf story about a poor family with a secret who are on the run. It’s also a brilliant coming-of-age story, and the writing is just superb. If you like werewolves and want to see them treated with a bit of humanity, this is the book.
Read it if you: want the whole package: mythos, story and writing; think werewolves have been done to death.
Black Jade by Kylie Chan
It began with White Tiger, and now it ends with Black Jade. Your favourite characters return, but it isn’t smooth sailing. Sacrifices will be made and there are many battles, both physical and mental, to overcome. It’s been a long time coming, but you cannot miss out on the conclusion to the Xuan Wu series.
Read it if you: enjoy a mix of modern fantasy and ancient mysticism; have finished the rest of the books!
The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence
Mark Lawrence is establishing himself as a heavyweight grimdark author. The Wheel of Osheim is the third in his second trilogy set in the world of the Broken Empire, and this series has a lot more humour than the first. That said, it doesn’t give up on the blood and thunder, as Jalan battles the forces of Hell and the world begins to crack.
Read it if you: love really messed-up, post-apocalyptic worlds; love really messed-up characters even more.
The Malice by Peter Newman
This fantasy series that started with The Vagrant has been a bit of a sleeper hit. More than just a paint-by-numbers fantasy this is a clever quest story with a silent main character. The fantastical elements are top notch, with legendary swords and demon hoards, and The Malice continues what The Vagrant started.
Read it if you: Liked The Vagrant or if you’re a fan of Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence!
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
The first thing you need to know about Nevernight is that the author, Jay Kristoff, is really tall. He also wrote Illuminae. Maybe being really tall makes you an excellent SFF author? Who knows, but I do know that Nevernight is a brilliant book about Mia Corvere, an assassin in training. Full of murder, sex and blood magic (with a dash of humour) you really are missing out if you haven’t picked this gem up yet.
Read it if you: are ready for a kick-arse female protagonist; don’t mind a bit of blood and gore (and footnotes).
A Shattered Empire by Mitchell Hogan
The first two books in this series started life as self-published bestsellers, and now the final in the trilogy is finally here! A Crucible of Souls won the 2013 Aurealis Award, so you know you’re in for a helluva ride. The story sees two empires finally facing off, and our hero, Caldan, having to engage his powers like never before.
Read it if you: are looking for a really cool magic system; need to see how the trilogy ends (hint: it’s awesome).
A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir 9780008160357
The sequel to the amazing An Ember in the Ashes takes readers into the heart of the Empire as Laia and Elias fight their way north to liberate Laia’s brother from the horrors of Kauf Prison. The main characters started a revolution, and this follow-up is the tale of an empire that strikes back.
Read it if you: enjoy YA/fantasy crossover novels; appreciate a dystopian world that strays from the Hunger Games model.
The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
Chinese speculative fiction is so hot right now. With the success of Cixin Liu and the movie Arrival, a version of Ted Chiang’s short story Story of Your Life, there is obviously a wealth of material to discover. Ken Liu’s beautiful The Paper Menagerie won multiple awards, and it seems he has the talent for longer works of fantasy, too. The perfect book, full of epic battles and court intrigue.
Read it if you: loved The Grace of Kings, the sequel delivers; want a bit of lyricism with your swords and sorcery.
Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by Cixin Liu
The trilogy is now complete. Death’s End was released in September, wrapping up this absolutely epic series by Cixin Liu. At the moment I’m re-reading the first two books, The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest, to get a good refresher before I plunge into the finale. Not since Asimov has science fiction been so science-y! Must reads.
Read it if you: want to have your mind blown; think that alien species will be peaceful.
Illegal cage fights. Supernatural powers. This series is urban fantasy done right. Bound, the first in the series, actually came out in 2014, but all three were released simultaneously this year with fresh jackets – no waiting for the next book to come out!
Read it if you: like a bit of kung-fu with your Kobolds; support home-grown authors.