So, what I've decided to do is pull quotes (in italics) from my actual reviews (many of which appeared in print) then follow up with a few thoughts now, in hindsight.
1# The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
The Ocean at the end of the Lane is a tale filled with powerful archetypes, be it images of the Triple Goddess or the eternal ocean that links all things. This is more than just a story about childhood, and coming to terms with the fact that the world is a dangerous, unpredictable place.
Okay, I absolutely adore Neil Gaiman. Apart from JRR Tolkien, he's probably had the most influence on my writing. I'll admit to being a bit underwhelmed by most of his fiction recently because to me the Sandman graphic novels are *it* so far as I'm concerned, and are a tough act to follow. But The Ocean at the End of the Lane is nothing short of inspired. I get the feeling he wrote this book because he *wanted* to. For himself.
King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
The Jorg we follow in book #2 is still impulsive, but his nasty side has been tempered somewhat. He's haunted by ghosts, and is vastly troubled by his connection to Katherine. So, though we can level accusations at him that he's a killer and capable of all manner of truly terrible things, it's also evident that he's matured.
I love Mark Lawrence's writing for a variety of reasons. Mostly because he effortlessly weaves pithy philosophical musings together with ultra-violence. His writing is unrestrained on many levels, unrestrained by genre, unrestrained by how far characters are allowed to transgress from what is morally acceptable. That being said, I don't think this writing is going to appeal to a broad spectrum, but if you love fantasy that's breaking fresh ground with old tools, then this is it. Watch Lawrence closely. He's nipping on GRRM's heels. (And if you don't know who GRRM is then jawellnofine...)
3# Passion Play by Beth Bernobich
Ilse as a character is resilient. Hats off to Bernobich for not wrapping her characters in cotton wool. Ilse’s choices are not always the wisest, and she gets hurt for her mistakes, and badly at the onset of the story. But she learns, and it is an absolute pleasure watching her come into her own.
Beth Bernobich is one of those authors I'm so happy to have become acquainted with. Her writing is lush, her world-building endlessly intriguing. She allows you to gradually build a picture of the setting's history. Her style harks to the classic styles of fantasy writing with a slow pace and gradual unfurling. You'll have romance, courtly intrigue and ancient magics all rolled into one. Also, bonus points is she clearly writes PoC as the protagonists.
4# The Reckoning by Alma Katsu
What follows is a tangled, sensuous web of betrayal and obsession, as author Alma Katsu allows tantalising glimpses into the pasts of her tragic creations. None of her characters are wholly good or evil; all of them have some sort of dark past. Some are irredeemably sadistic, and gleefully set about finding new ways to express their cruelty to those they manipulate.
Emily Brontë meets Lestat-era Anne Rice. That's probably the best way to describe Alma Katsu's writing. Also, kudos to her for creating a departure from the standard paranormal fare. Though her writing is being packaged to *look* like The Series About Angels We Won't Mention by Name, her writing is definitely way above that league. Those looking for sta
ndard HEA are going to be disappointed and to be honest, I'd beat *those* sort of readers off with a big stick. ;-)
5# The Big Stick by Richard de Nooy
Somehow these assorted tellings hang together seamlessly and enrich the reader’s experience. Each narrator holds but a fragment of Staal’s life, coloured by their worldview. These are threaded together as one would create a beaded necklace, a bigger picture emerges.
Richard is absolutely fabulous, both as a person and a writer. I've been following him on Twitter for a while and am so glad I've had the opportunity to dip into his writing. From what I can gather thus far, he loves playing with people's perceptions and how one person can change depending on who is telling their story. The Big Stick is a beautiful work of fiction.
The Ward by SL Grey
What lies in wait beyond New Hope exists as a dark parody of the medical system, a world where patients are either donors or clients, and medical staff scuttle about like worker ants in a diabolical hive presided over by the scalpel-happy butchers. In a big way The Ward is about people getting their just deserts.
The partnership between Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg can do no wrong. I often imagine the two of them conspiring while giggling madly over the next Terrible Thing they have planned for their characters. The Ward is a stronger novel than The Mall, and they're clearly more settled in their style. Mostly, I love them for their astute observations and their wicked, wicked black humour.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Miller’s prose is lush, sensual and evocative, and she captures this age of heroes perfectly to the point where you can taste ripe figs or smell the stench of blood on the battlefield. Miller’s characters spring forth into startling life from the pages of one of the greatest legends.
Okay, I'm a HUGE fan of Mary Renault's writing, and if ever there was an author whom I'd peg as a worthy successor, it's Madeline Miller. I devoured this book in less than a week and almost cried at the end. There's just enough of a fantasy element to keep those aesthetic demands satisfied but as for the lush prose... This lady's onto something.
8# Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon
Zenn is the kind of protagonist whose mouth is often way ahead of her brain, and for a female protagonist, she’s a breath of fresh air. This young madam knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to work very hard to get it—in this case she wants to be an exovet.
Star Wars meets James Herriot and Gerald Durrell. Need I say more? Christian Schoon writes with great enthusiasm about his subject, and his love for animals shines through. Tag him with pics of otters on Twitter (yes, Mr Schoon, I can see you smiling right now as you're reading this).
Glitterland by Alexis Hall
Perhaps what makes this story for me is the way Hall effortlessly brings the characters to life in such a way that if we were to meet them on the street, we’d recognise them instantly (and it’s not just the way they talk). At times playful, and others quite poignant, Glitterland maintains a careful balance between its moods with a joyfully exuberant pace.
I so didn't expect to love this book as much as I did. Contemporary romance isn't really my thing but just occasionally a premise will bite me. I absolutely ADORE Alexis and I'm looking forward to reading his other books. His characters are utterly charming and authentic, or should I rather say totes adorbs, babes?
A Discourse in Steel by Paul S Kemp
A Discourse in Steel is exactly what it says: a straight-up adventure filled with snappy dialogue, a spot of tomb-raiding, breaking and entering, and general asskickery. The magical key that opened any lock once it had a taste of a particular fruit or veggie was just one of the quirky touches strewn throughout the tale.
Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones meet Terry Pratchett is how I sum this up. For the interaction between Egil and Nix alone I'd read this. Paul S Kemp knows how to keep the pace going and plays nicely with all the standard fantasy tropes in such a way that he is both light but with a wry undercurrent. You get the idea that the characters as people are quite damaged, but this doesn't bog them down in a mire of emo wangst.
A note to authors and publishers:I am open to review requests for 2014. A warning though, I'm still quite back-logged and will only take on titles that knock my socks off with their premises. I will use my discretion and submit select reviews to print media. See my review policy above. Query me at firstname.lastname@example.org