Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Joel's Top Ten of 2014, or, How he got the year's best wrong, wrong, wrong, and occasionally right

My buddy Joel started a blog with his top ten list this month (check it out here if you want to see it in it's complete and natural state) and I asked him if I could re-post it, with added commentary, mockery, and snark; cause that's generally what I bring to our friendship.
Joel's opinions and mine aren't always in agreement, but they do overlap when he's right.
Without further ado, I present:

Joel’s 2014 Top Ten Books!
(Is it wrong that I counted them to make sure there were ten? I mean, what kind of friend does that?)

10) Breach Zone by Myke Cole
A wonderful ending to a wildly creative and engrossing series. Myke’s skill as a writer grew with every book, and Breach Zone showed that he’s ready to be a bigtime piece of the fantasy scene

9) The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan
Speaking of authors who got better with their next book – Brian exploded onto the scene last year with the amazing Promise of Blood, the first in his flintlock-fantasy Powder Mage  series. He proved he was definitely not a one-trick pony with this sequel, which expands greatly on the world he created, and shows a lot more writing craft. You can really tell at times that he is a student of Brandon Sanderson, but who can say that’s a bad thing? He brings a bit of edge and grit that Sanderson’s works lack, and it’s refreshing.
(Wait, if he's adding 'the edge and grit' that Sanderson lacks... oh forget it. I'll come back to it later.)

8) The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler
Last year, Django caught me completely by surprise with the brilliant The Thousand Names , the first of his military/flintlock fantasy series. The sophomore effort in this series was far from a letdown – I love Django’s matter-of-fact prose, his unique character voices, his addition of magic, and his continued brilliance in depicting military life.
(I think that Joel is using his thesaurus, because he's used 'engrossing', 'amazing', and 'brilliant' to describe these first three books. I'm not mocking, just noticing. Oh fuck it, you all are smart enough to see I'm mocking him.)

7) Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
I just want to say that Mark Lawrence is arguably my favorite fantasy writer – at the very least in my elite 5. So to put his book at #7 on my list is more indicative of how good of a year it was in SFF than it is a comment on where this book stands. Prince of Fools was a drastic change of pace from his Broken Empire  trilogy. It felt as though Mark listened to all the criticisms he got, and set out to write a book that addressed those “problems”. What you got was a much more free-flowing novel, with a ton of humor, a more innocent and light-hearted protagonist, and a buddy relationship between the protagonist and a viking that was heart-warming, hilarious and an absolute blast to read. Mark is a truly amazing writer who can wear many hats, and he showed it with this novel.
(I can't say anything mocking here or Mark will send his ninjas after me, and I am powerless before Mark's ninjas. Unless they like cookies... do ninjas like cookies?)

6) The Martian by Andy Weir
It honestly took a lot to convince myself not to put this book higher on my list – that’s how much I loved it. I only found it because it was on the Goodreads Sci-fi list, and am I ever glad to have read it. It’s got a lot of hard science in it, but it’s mixed with witty characters and dialogue, butt-clenching dramatic elements, and some really fantastic writing. “MacGyver on Mars” is how I often see it described, and I think it’s an apt description. I simply loved it.
('MacGyver on Mars'? Did the team from SG1 go to Mars? Did I miss that episode? Did he make water and breathable air with a Sharpie, an X-Men figurine, and three matches?)

5) Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
Joe Abercrombie is a god amongst (Amongst? What, are you a Cambridge Lit professor?) men. I mean seriously, my mancrush towards him is indescribable. After this hug, I did not shower or change clothes for several weeks. That said, Joe writes what is referred to as grimdark, which means his books are…let’s just say “adult”. Half a King was marketed and written as a YA novel, which scared me initially – would it neuter Joe’s normal style? Would he have to tone back so much that it would be boring? Luckily, none of my concerns were true. Half A King read like a normal Abercrombie book, except with less cussing and sex. There was violence, very smart dialogue and amazing action. It was an absolute blast to read and became an instant favorite of mine.
(His mancrush on Abercrombie is both adorable and understandable, I mean, That accent! That stubble! Call me Joe!)

4) Veil of the Deserters by Jeff Salyards
One of the bigger surprises in my 2013 reading list was Jeff’s Scourge of the Betrayer, a tight and interesting first-person novel following a scribe who signed on with a group of soldiers to document their exploits. I left that book wishing for so much more –  more history, more characters, more of that brilliant dialogue. Luckily, Jeff came through (and how!) with Veil . I got a copy from him via a contest, and thought it took me a while to read it due to life responsibilities, the time I spent on it was some of the best I’ve spent this year. Veil expands on everything I wanted, and improved in every way over Scourge. I simply loved it.

3) Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Oh man, speaking of mancrushes. Pierce is the kind of guy I’d love to hang out with, but also wouldn’t want to be around for long, as he would make me look so hilariously ugly next to him. I mean, look at the guy. Red Rising grabbed me initially by it’s absolutely breathtaking cover – simplicity in it’s finest, but so eye-grabbing. The combination of aspects from many other successful books, combined with prose that I can only describe as spectacular – it reminded me of a slightly less edgy cadence to Mark Lawrence in his Broken Empire. Short sentences, not many commas, matter-of-fact, but relentless. As I said in my review – the book is a masterpiece to me.
(Don't read too much into Joel's man-crushes on like half of his favorite writers. Really, don't, but I've included a picture of Pierce below, purely so you understand what Joel's talking about, of course. The fact that he's shirtless, well, completely coincidence. And is it mancrushes, or man-crushes?)

2) The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks
There aren’t a lot of authors I can say I’m on a first name basis with, but luckily one of them is utterly brilliant and a NY Times Bestseller. Brent blew me away in 2012 with what was easily my favorite book of the year, the 2nd in the Lightbringer series The Blinding Knife. Brent is another author who gets more creative, more subtle, more artful with each book he writes. The Broken Eye was the pinnacle of this growth – not relying on action, magic, or antics, it holds it’s own with plot turns, dialogue, character conflict, and an incredibly deft hand with subtlety. I finished The Broken Eye and wanted to immediately re-read it, forget it and consume it all over again. Absolutely spectacular.
(Watching Joel meet Brent was simply adorable. I won't mock him for it, cause he's aware of which authors I get all shy and bashful around, and I don't want him to announce them publicly.)

1) Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
I was concerned, for a time, that Brandon had peaked as a writer. The works he had been putting out were lacking in growth, lacking in substantial writing and content. YA novels, short stories, etc. And they seemed to be stagnant. And then, Words of Radiance entered my hands, and all of that was thrown out the window. The growth as a writer he exhibited in this novel is staggering – his worldbuilding is on a herculean scale, the plot windings, the subterfuge and politics, the character growth. As good as he’s ever done with his characterization so far, an area always called out as a weakness. One of the most epic duels/battles I’ve EVER read. This book had it all. It could have been trimmed down a bit, but in the end, I can safely say that it is one of, if not the, best books I’ve ever read.
(Joel and I have been bickering about 'The Book of Endless- errr, 'Words of Radiance' for weeks. I really liked the book, I truly did, while it was his favorite book this year. He has confused my enthusiasm for the book with where it finally placed in my yearly wrap-up.
That said, if McClellan adds the edge and grit that Sanderson lacks, shouldn't he be ranked ABOVE Sanderson? Is consistency too much to ask for, is it?)

Best Of The Rest:

To say I only read ten amazing books this year would be unfair. I really deliberated over which books made it into my top 10, but here are more that I feel deserve mention.

- Sand by Hugh Howey

- City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

- The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

- Lock In by John Scalzi

- The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The first thing (I mean, besides his love of superlatives) that I noticed about Joel's top ten list is that there isn't a single female writer on it. Not one. This isn't a criticism of Joel's list, because the books on his list (or at least the ones I've read) deserve to be here. 
It's a result of Joel and I having different reading lists, and following different writers. My top ten ended up very mixed because I read a fairly equal number of women and men writers, and my top ten is a fairly even mix of writers. Joel's reading list is more dominated by men, and his top ten list is as well. I have other friends who's lists (if they'd let me post them, would be dominated by women. Your reading list will determine what you loved.
His complete failure to include 'City of Stairs' in his top ten, however, is a sign of his undependable taste. That book was brilliant! 
Starting the 31st of this month, I will be featuring head-to-head reviews with Joel at least once a month, because I enjoy discussing and disagreeing books with him. And sometimes he gets it right and agrees with me.

(Joel Adds: To clarify, I did read 11 books this year by female authors, however only one of them came out in 2014, so only one qualified for my list. As you can see above, it was in my 'honorable mention' - I enjoyed it immensely, but did not find it to be better than other books in the top 10. I do not avoid female authors or enjoy them any less, I just happened to not read many that came out this year)


  1. Joel has even more limited reading tastes than you do! Not putting Max Gladstone's "Full Fathom Five" anywhere in the top ten is unfathomable. And: Elizabeth Bear, Elizabeth Bear, Elizabeth Bear. She is the Triple Moon Goddess: science fiction, fantasy, and horror. And to MY horror, her celestial "Steles of the Sky" was completely overlooked. Apparently, neither of you have even heard of Mazarkis Williams or Jo Spurrier, because if you did, well, then, you know, you would have said something about "Tower Broken" and "North Star Guide Me Home." Instead, nary a word. I'm all broken up about this and am going home.

  2. I suspect he hasn't ready FFF either, I'm not sure if it's on his list to read or not. Bear I am very behind on,
    Strangely, Joel is the one who turned me onto Mazarkis Williams, you'd need to ask him why her book wasn't on his list. I haven't read them yet. Don't go home Simon, we enjoy you here;-)