Ryan’s 2011 Fantasy Book Review Awards

2011 has been one of the best in recent memory for fantasy readers with a number of highly anticipated titles finally seeing the light, while a swathe of new authors burned the midnight oil putting out release after release and earning mountains of praise along the way. Below is a list of some noteworthy releases from the past twelve months:

Rookie of the Year – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus

The story of two duelling magicians in late 19th century London quickly captured the imagination of all teens and adults who read it. The Night Circus has drawn high praise from almost every corner, with many relating her work to that of J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, and Susannah Clarke. I think we can all expect big things from Morgenstern in the future.

Most Entertaining – At The Gates by Tim Marquitz

His Demon Squad books may be uncouth and they may not have the prettiest prose, but Marquitz sure knows how to write an exciting and entertaining book from start to finish. With his latest offering, At The Gates, Marquitz ups the ante by taking the Demon Squad on a global treasure hunt in an effort to stop the supernatural storms that have been devastating the entire world. There is never a dull moment to be had in this story,  from fighting werebears in the tomb of Adam, to lewd glances at his cousins cleavage.

Most Violent – Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #1)

Jorg is a 13 year old boy, he has been wronged by his father, he has been ambushed and left for dead by his fathers enemies, and he will not stop pillaging his way across the country side until he has had his fill of vengeance. Despite the young protagonist Lawrence does not shy away from the violence, crafting beautifully written yet brutal scenes that both amaze and disturb at the same time.

Best Fight Scene – Hard Magic by Larry Correia

Hard Magic: Book I of the Grimnoir Chronicles

Hard Magic is essentially a story set in the 1930’s about a bunch of superheroes called the GrimNoir just trying to save the world. With his Monster Hunter series, Correia had already established himself as a master of the set piece, and with Hard Magic, Correia has created a magic system that lends itself to epic fight scenes. As for the best fight scene, the one I have chosen pits three members of the GrimNoir armed to the teeth against an Iron Guard with a sword in the confines of a hotel corridor. The result is explosive, with bullets flying everywhere, gravity being shifted in all directions, and an amazing conclusion that literally brings the roof down.

An Unexpected Surprise – Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

Inheritance (Inheritance, #4)

The much maligned Christopher Paolini has become an easy target for many, this site included, with his work often seen to be derivative and his prose often seen to be lackluster. Not many people expected much from Inheritance, so it was a nice surprise when Inheritance turned out to be a rather good book, with Paolini maturing his writing style to deliver a fitting conclusion to his first fantasy series.

Delivered Everything It Promised – A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin

A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, #5)

George R. R. Martin is the man of the hour, his books are back on the New York Time bestsellers list, the HBO series succeeded wildly beyond everyone’s expectations, and after years and years of waiting, A Dance With Dragons was finally published. A Dance With Dragons is quite possibly the most highly anticipated fantasy book ever, and with that title came piles and piles of expectations from anyone who has ever read a fantasy book. G.R.R.M. not only met all these expectations, he exceeded many of them too, delivering a book that easily surpasses the less than stellar A Feast For Crows, and is on par with A Game of Thrones.

Overachiever – The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

The Alloy of Law (Mistborn, #4)

Is there anything this man cannot do? Sanderson, upset that his fans may not get a 2011 release due to his Wheel of Time commitments, decided to take a small break and write a Mistborn short story. While it started as a project for fun, it quickly became a Mistborn novella and before he knew it, he was planning on releasing a full blown Mistborn novel. The Alloy of Law is set close to 300 years after the events of The Hero of Ages, and is a buddy-buddy detective novel set during an industrial revolution. No surprise that this spur of the moment story turned out to be one of the best of 2011… bloody overachiever.

Biggest Disappointment – The Omen Machine by Terry Goodkind

The Omen Machine (Sword of Truth, #12)

The Sword of Truth series polarised fantasy fans, many loving the series as a wonderful story about human empowerment, while others loathed the series with Goodkind’s “preachy” writing often listed as peoples biggest problem with the series. I was one of those who liked the series and was very happy to find out that Goodkind would be revisiting Richard and Kahlan’s story. After some early promotion, website redesigns, online competitions, and various book trailers, the hype was building nicely. Then came the technical and contractual issues – the website and competitions going down, a very active forum going down, delays to the publishing dates, and issues with ebook, audio and foreign rights. The hype died, never recovered, and the release of The Omen Machine went by relatively unnoticed except for a very brief entry on the New York Times Bestsellers list and a few reviews that were largely underwhelmed by a story that lacked cohesion and was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. After the massive build-up and all the delays, The Omen Machine felt rushed, and it really needed another good 3 – 6 months worth of editing before being released.

Best Paranormal Romance – Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

Dead Reckoning (Sookie Stackhouse, #11)

Dead Reckoning is the twelfth Sookie Stackhouse offering from Charlaine Harris, and these books seem to have picked up in quality as they have become more popular. While the premise is still very much the same with Sookie getting assaulted by some sort of supernatural creature while stuck in the middle of crazy vampire politics, Harris is far better at fleshing out an entire story that makes sense over the course of a novel. There is a reason why these books are so popular right now, they are a lot of fun to read.

Best Epic Fantasy – The Crippled God by Steven Erikson

The Crippled God (Malazan Book of the Fallen, #10)

Twelve years, ten massive books, each one better than the last, Steven Erikson has become one of the modern superstars of fantasy writing. With The Crippled God, Erikson concludes The Malazan Book Of The Fallen in spectacular style, providing answers to some of the big questions that readers have been asking from early in the series.  These books are an acquired taste, and those who are picking up The Crippled God as their first Malazan book will struggle to make headway amongst the unique writing style and quantity of backstory they have missed out on. But as a fan of the series, I am simply unable to find any real faults with what is a fitting conclusion to one of the best ever epic fantasy series.

Best Sci-Fi – Stark’s Command by Jack Campbell

Stark's Command (Book 2)

Stark’s Command is the second book in Jack Campbell’s Stark series, and in my opinion the best of the three. While the first and third book showcased the electric space action sequences that we associate with military sci-fi, Stark’s Command is all what happens after you lead a successful mutiny and for me was far more powerful. This book was all about the people, the relationships, and the decisions that needed to be made, and while it might be lacking those massive action set pieces, it more than makes up for it by playing with your emotions, building suspense, and leaving you hanging for the third book.

2011 Worst Fantasy Book Of The Year – The Measure of Magic by Terry Brooks

The Measure of the Magic (Legends of Shannara, #2)

In 2010, Brooks released one of his better books in a long time with Bearers of the Black Staff, a book that offered a standard fare Shannara story, except that it dared to play with some new and unfamiliar concepts and themes for a Shannara storie, such as staring organised religion in the face and not backing down. Unfortunately, The Measure of Magic saw Terry Brooks back down, failing to capitalise on the strong foundation he had just set up by reverting back to the style and substance that feels familiar. Brooks really needs to take a chance with his new series else he risks losing his huge audience to authors like Sanderson, Abercrombie, Lynch, Rothfuss and Jemisin to name a few. It’s hard for me to say this as a long time fan, but The Measure of Magic is the worst fantasy book I read this year.

2011 Best Fantasy Book Of The Year – The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

The Wise Man’s Fear book cover

It was highly anticipated, it promised so much, and it delivered even more. The Wise Man’s Fear continues the retelling of Kvothe’s story, moving into day two with more stories from his progression through puberty. The writing here is beautiful, Rothfuss displaying a rare mastery of the English language which allows this book to flow from start to finish, toying with your emotions with the greatest of ease. The mysteries deepen, Kvothe’s reputation expands and expands, and you can tell this series is building towards one hell of a finish. While the story is somewhat slower here, and questions/mysteries keep stacking up unanswered, it is the beautiful prose, the amazing characters, and the continued building of a fantastic world that just edge out A Dance With Dragon’s and The Crippled God for book of the year.

Honourable Mentions:

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