Archive for the ‘Best of 2013’ Category

And lo, just like that 2013 ended in a frenzied explosion of dragons and drugs. A year that increasingly got bloated under the sheer weight of the summer blockbuster frenzy, almost inducing viewer fatigue. A year that pretty much solidified that sequels and superheroes are likely to dominate box offices for quite some years ahead, especially given the not-so-great performances of original content (of course, it didn’t help that some of the original fare were just execrably bad, Cough *After Earth* Cough). This was also the year that proved that destruction of the Earth remains a fairly viable movie proposition (and not in real life of course). 3D still remains a money grab proposition with most movies hardly making use of 3D to supplement the story experience and instead using it more as a gimmick (Gravity and Pacific Rim being obvious exceptions). Finally, this was also the year that truly cemented the Marvel juggernaut. A juggernaut that increasingly is forcing other studios to jumpstart their own shared universes so as to not get left behind (DC’s painfully rushed attempt at the long planned Justice League movie and Sony’s own attempt towards a Spiderman shared universe)

With over half the year spent in the US, especially during the summer time, my movie viewing experience was fairly peaceful. Barring for a few movie, one rarely has to book tickets in advance and could just walk in to watch a movie even if it’s a new release. Picking out a list of top movies from all the movies watched is quite an exercise especially when one has to compare across genres. There are some obvious parameters like story, plotting, acting etc but then there is the one other important aspect which is typically given a short shrift when it comes to ranking top movies by critics (snobs!), which is the fun and sheer entertainment aspect of the movie. While movies do have a responsibility to serve as a window to our past, present and future and also educate if possible, the primary purpose of movies still remains that the audience have a good time. And that is something that usually gets lost when any top movie ranking list is prepared. In the same approach as last year, below are the top movies of 2013 (in no particular order)

1.  American Hustle: Bringing together the acclaimed cast comprising of actors from his previous award winning movies (Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook), David O Russell crafts a fine movie that avoids the pitfalls of Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook and works brilliantly. The movie is predominantly about the characters and each one trying to hustle the other (except for poor Jeremy Renner). Strong performances from the cast truly drive this movie; Bale as the hustler with the heart of gold, Amy Adams as a hustler who would do anything to survive, Bradley Cooper as the relentless, ruthless FBI agent, Jeremy Renner as the mayor who does not mind breaking/ bending the laws if it helps his constituents and Jennifer Lawrence as the true wild card, scaring everyone. This period film with all its wigs, costumers and music is quite humorous (if darkly) and frankly, very entertaining (even if you see the ending coming)

American Hustle

2. Gravity: As folks would know, I am not a fan of 3D. It’s just a money grab proposition and nothing else. However, 3D if done properly, is quite an awesome experience and the first 15 mins of Gravity remains one of the best movie moments of the year. Watching Sandra Bullock spiraling in space, your heart beat escalates and you (almost) forget that this is a movie. Gravity is a sheer triumph of what technology can achieve in film making and as well as, how the real deal lies not in blowing up stuff but in how you blow up the stuff. A survival tale, Alfonso Cuaron’s  real triumph is making you feel claustrophobic in a movie set in space

Gravity

3. Rush: A big screen retelling of the epic 1976 formula 1 rivalry between James Hunt & Niki Lauda, Rush is a heart-pounding, adrenaline-driven comparison of the rivals who were complete contrasts to one another. The trailers focus a lot on Chris Hemsworth, playing up his good looks and the daredevil attitude but the movie does a far better job of focusing equally on both the characters. Daniel Bruhl portrayed as the rat-faced Lauda does get his fair share of screen time and quips. The movie does a fine job of not being judgemental or portraying either of the characters as hero or villain and therein lies its greatest achievements.

Rush

4. Prisoners: You know what they say that there are no new stories, just new ways of telling stories. Denis Villeneuve, takes a Taken-like situation (Angry dad, hunting for his kidnapped daughter, takes the law in his own hands going after the kidnappers) and creates a movie that is deeply uncomfortable. While you cheer for Liam Neeson as he trashes Paris, in Prisoners, you bear an uncomfortable disturbed silence as you watch Hugh Jackman torture Paul Dano to find out where his daughter is. A sense of dread pervades the movie even as you start feeling conflicted towards the happening on the screen. Hugh Jackman is quite brilliant (seeming angrier than any of his Wolverine movies) and Jack Gyllenhall presents an intriguing detective names Loki with his tattoos and nervous tics that increase as the movie goes on. A complex, complicated movie that forces you to ask uncomfortable questions

Prisoners

5. Pacific Rim: This is a movie for your inner 12 year old. Granted that the movie suffers from a complete lack of surprise in the story (or as remarked, a story itself), some annoying characters, general clunky, cringe-worthy dialog (“Today, we are cancelling the apocalypse”), all of which do not make a difference as you watch giant robots (called Jaegers) slugging it out with ginormous lizard like creatures (called Kaiju). Fantastically shot, Guillermo Del Toro brings about all the love and affection that he has for the old robot-monster fighting movies. Each set piece is bigger than the previous one and there is a particular jaw-dropping moment when one of the Kaiju unveils an enormous pair of wings and drags a Jaeger upwards into the sky. A rousing, pulsating score from Ramin Djawedi and a fun cameo from Ron Perlman helps distract attention from the absolutely wooden performance of Charlie Hunnam. It also must be said that Idris Elba carries the movie with gravitas (and the name Stacker Pentecost is among the coolest names that I have come across)

Pacific Rim

6. 12 Years a Slave: While Django Unchained was a typical Tarantino twist on slavery, 12 Years a Slave paints a harrowing picture of slavery. Brutal and unflinching, made all the more remarkable as this is based on a true story, 12 Years a Slave is an uncompromising take and told poignantly in just over 2 hours. A remarkable performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor and supported brilliantly by Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch, Steve McQueen should be among the frontrunners this award season for this terrific movie

12 years a slave

7. All is Lost: If one strips Gravity of all its special effects, dialogs and the back-story, the movie you would get is All is Lost. Featuring a one man cast of Robert Redford who is adrift in the Indian Ocean as his boat develops a leak following a collision with a shipping container; it’s a story of survival. We do not know the name of Redford’s character nor his backstory. All that we want is for him to survive as he faces the elements. Redford’s character does all to survive braving all the hardships that comes his way but things turn bleak fairly quickly. JC Chandor is fast becoming a hot shot director with his 2nd impressive movie after Margin Call. Robert Redford’s gives quite a performance with barely a few sentences of dialogs and in fact, one of the most powerful moments in the movie is when he yells an heartfelt invective as all things go bad

All is Lost

8. Iron Man 3: In an age where superhero movies are becoming angst-filled and going dark, Marvel Studios are bucking the trend and making movies that are fun (even if they have darker aspects to it). How does one make a super hero follow up to Avengers? Simply, by not making a super hero movie. Iron Man 3 is more of an action thriller movie rather than just a superhero movie of saving the world when all is at stake. An exploration of what Tony Stark is without the suit, Iron Man 3 addresses some of the major pain points of the prior 2 Iron Man movies, (notably a coherent 3rd act). RDJ remains as snarky as ever and owns the role (even if it’s not sure if he will return for an Iron Man 4). While there has been a fair amount of online outrage of the identity of the Mandarin, it was definitely one of those plot twists that stayed away from the constantly buzzing internet spoiler boards. As always, Iron Man’s suits are simply awesome and it’s definitely cool to see how the suits have constantly evolved from the 1st movie. A fun summer movie without a lot of superhero angst.

Iron Man 3

9. The World’s End: The concluding part of the Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Blood and Icecream Trilogy, The World’s end is a worthy successor to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Subverting cinematic tropes like the previous 2 movies, The World’s End is about a bunch of friends reuniting to complete a 12 pub crawl that they did not complete when they were kids. And as things go, there is an entire world of weirdness in store for them as they discover an alien invasion paving the way for laughs and action through the course of the movie. Simon Pegg indeed has one of characters of the year with the refuse-to-grow Gary King who wants to relive his best days while the others are quite reluctant as they had grown up and moved on. Gary King is one of the saddest characters to be encountered this year despite all the outside bluster. And yes, the Cornetto wrapper makes its customary appearance as does falling over the fence.

The Worlds End

10. This is the End: Another apocalyptic comedy, another ensemble cast feature and another awesome movie. This one stars James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride among a host of other Hollywood celebrities, all playing grossly exaggerated caricatures of themselves facing an apocalypse that devastates LA and forces them to band together to survive. And boy o boy, this is the last group anyone would want to be part of, when one has to survive. A bunch of spoilt prima donnas, each person’s worst character comes out rather easily as they try to survive and the group isn’t afraid to take digs at each other during the course of the movie. Irreverent, wildly and wickedly humorous, it thoroughly deserves its R rating. Watch out for all the celebrity cameos including one at the very end that was completely left field. (Watching the movie, one does have a question if Danny McBride is really that obnoxious in real life or just that all his characters are be it Thadeous in Your Highness or Kenny Powers in Eastbound & Down)

This is the End

Movies that almost made it

1. Now You See Me: You know there are some movies that if you leave your brain behind and just go with the flow, you will have a great time. Now you see me fits that category perfectly. A fun caper thriller, the movie has an electric pace and as an audience, you go with that flow and it’s only when you step out and try to think about it, you realize that it quite did not make as much sense as it did. But for those 2 hours, you are thoroughly entertained and involved due to the pace of the movie as there is literally no breathing time during the movie

2. Wolf of Wall Street: A movie based on the life of Jordan Belfort, the titular Wolf of Wall Street and brought to life on screen by DiCaprio and helmed by Scorcese, this is a movie that celebrates the giddy excesses and highs of Jordan Belfort and his cronies making money in not so legal ways. A non-stop high ride, this is a movie that pushes the envelope constantly and what makes the entire drama unbelievable is the fact that it’s exactly what Belfort and his cronies did in real life as well. A fantastic performance from DiCaprio (he really wants that Oscar doesn’t he) and supported by Jonah Hill, the movie unfortunately suffers from a long running time. It also features one of the scenes of the year when a drugged DiCaprio tries to drive back home

3. The Place Beyond the Pines: A compelling ambitious movie that explores the whole idea of “Sins of the Father”. A movie with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper should frankly be a must see movie. Prepare to dampen your excitement as the pair shares just a single scene in the movie. A rather unevenly paced, the movie falters in the 3rd act when the other characters in the movie are forced to carry the burden. Deeply moody and filled with conflicted characters, The Place Beyond the Pines is not a light watch

4. Pain & Gain: Yes. That’s right. A Michael Bay movie almost making it. Pain & Gain is as atypical a Michael Bay movie as Anonymous was for Roland Emmerich and that is quite an achievement for both of them. Based on a true story, it’s the story of a bunch of bodybuilders who decide to get rich fast by kidnapping, torturing and extorting money from rich people. It’s darkly humorous, peppered with scenes of violence and extreme stupidity. While Mark Wahlberg does a good job, the real surprise of the movie is Dwayne Johnson. One never thought he could carry off a role like this so well.

Like last year, this year also had its fair share of clunkers. Poor scripts, badly acted, abysmal plotting, and a host of other factors (including the lack of a brain while devising the movie) feature in the list below

1. After Earth – or the movie that Will Smith did for which he rejected Django Unchained

2. Machete Kills – or the movie that only stayed true to half of it’s prequel’s “So bad that its good”

3. Bullet to the Head – or the movie where both Stallone & Jason Momoa deserve that Bullet

4. Parker – or the movie where Statham’s formula finally fails

5. Red 2 – or the movie where aged stars just turn up to pick up their paychecks

2013 Movies missed out which could have figured in the list – Inside Llewyn Davis, Dallas Buyers Club, Mud, Don Jon, The Spectacular Now, Kings of Summer, Out of Furnace

Next Post: The 2013 Beanbag Critic Award

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What a great year to be a reader of speculative fiction. Some long awaited books finally out, a few series getting over (and potentially be part of future best series), emergence of flintlock fantasy as a new sub-genre, promising debuts and a renewed focus on military fantasy (both medieval and modern).

Personally, this year marked a significant change in my reading habits. I started reading a fair amount of current year releases than previous years, motivated partly by the need to keep track of what’s happening in the space and driven partly by the completion of some of the older series. While the number of books I bought has remained more or less the same, I have almost stopped buying physical books (running out of shelf space is quite a reason) (Non-fiction and Indian authors being the only books I end up buying, purely owing to the well, the non-torrentability of the Indian authors and outrageous prices for the ebooks). The amount of books consumed as well went up this year primarily due to technology convergence and syncing. From starting a book on the tablet to continuing to read it on the laptop to finishing it on the phone, this helped me reduce the multiple book syndrome and concentrated attention to 2 and at max, 3 books at a time. Urban Fantasy, which I discovered last year courtesy Jim Butcher, formed a decent chunk of my reading. Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne (Dresden-lite, if you will) and Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka proving to be discoveries of the year. This is likely to continue with books from Ben Aaronovitch and Paul Cornell being part of my immediate TBR (To Be Read) list. I closed the year with a good heaping of military fantasy, polishing off The Shadow Campaign by Django Wexler and The Red Knight by Miles Cameron in quick succession and would definitely like to retain the taste for military fantasy in 2014.

With the amount and the sheer variety of the books, ranking does become inherently challenging. While I diligently capture book ratings on Shelfari (I somehow love the site more than Goodreads) (I love viewing my shelf of Shelfari), the book ratings often are a function of more than just how the book shaped out to be. Apart from being a function of the characterization, world building, pacing of the book, and the language, the rating also is affected by extraneous factors like, the timeframe book was read (during stressful / non-stressful periods, during travel or quick peeks) and how it was read (both the medium as well as how interrupted the reading cycle was). Given the profession and the pressure, it definitely is not realistic to expect an uninterrupted peaceful reading atmosphere every time and that one must grab every possible opportunity to read (sometimes even at the cost of re-reading pages to get back into the flow of the book)

Having caveated (I am a consultant after all), below are the list of some of my favorite books of 2013 (in no particular order, except for the 1st, which is my book of the year)

1)      The Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (The Broken Empire Series, Book 3):

Emperor of Thorns

Synopsis:

Mark Lawrence brings to a thrilling close his epic trilogy of a boy who would be king, a king who would desire an empire—and an empire on the edge of destruction…

King Jorg Ancrath is twenty now—and king of seven nations. 

His goal—revenge against his father—has not yet been realized, and the demons that haunt him have only grown stronger. Yet no matter how tortured his path, he intends to take the next step in his upward climb.

For there is only one power worth wielding…absolute power.

Jorg would be emperor. It is a position not to be gained by the sword but rather by vote. And never in living memory has anyone secured a majority of the vote, leaving the Broken Empire long without a leader. Jorg has plans to change that—one way or the other. He’s uncovered even more of the lost technology of the land, and he won’t hesitate to use it.

But he soon finds an adversary standing in his way, a necromancer unlike any he has ever faced—a figure hated and feared even more than himself: the Dead King.

The boy who would rule all may have finally met his match…

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A compelling tour-de-force. Mark Lawrence brings to conclusion his epic series in style. This remains one of those series that turns the fantasy trope on its head. Despite featuring a protagonist who knows of no other way to survive than be evil, you want Jorg Ancranth to win, to succeed and to rail against those who say no to him. It indeed has been a fascinating journey. Lawrence crafts the book with dark black humor and in this age of ever expanding series size, he brings the book to a conclusion, which is the conclusion we need and not necessarily the conclusion we deserve. Easily among the best books of the year.

2)      The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu (The Lives of Tao, Book 1):

The Lives of Tao

Synopsis:

 When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.

He wasn’t.

He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.

Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

*************************************

Ever wondered if the voice that sounded in your head was never really you but an alien parasite residing in you, an alien species that has been part of this planet for billions of years, influencing human civilization, through acts big and small right through the ages. Lives of Tao is the result when the alien parasite enters the body of a stuck in a dead-end desk job, slacker who also suffers from low self-esteem and well, is supremely unfit as well. An utterly hilarious romp with enough action and training montages packed in, Lives of Tao is a fantastic read. While the sequel (The Deaths of Tao) didn’t really live up to the potential of the 1st book, it’s still worth a read. A delightful delicious romp with unique character voices and philosophical ruminations when you least expect it. A fabulous debut

3)      Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole (Shadow Ops, Book 2):

Fortress Frontier

Synopsis:

The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began to develop terrifying powers—summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Overnight the rules changed…but not for everyone.

 Colonel Alan Bookbinder is an army bureaucrat whose worst war wound is a paper-cut. But after he develops magical powers, he is torn from everything he knows and thrown onto the front-lines.

 Drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder finds himself in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier—cut off, surrounded by monsters, and on the brink of being overrun.

 Now, he must find the will to lead the people of FOB Frontier out of hell, even if the one hope of salvation lies in teaming up with the man whose own magical powers put the base in such grave danger in the first place—Oscar Britton, public enemy number one…

*************************************

Contemporary military fantasy is a difficult beast to get right once, let alone twice. After a rocking debut that was Control Point, Myke Cole betters it with Fortress Frontier. A more likeable, consistent character, an expansion to the existing world, building up of secondary characters, and the nuclear weapon of great books, a well-timed betrayal sets up this fast paced, intriguing book and leaves one salivating for the 3rd book (out in another few weeks)

4)      The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wacker:

The Golem & The Jinni

Synopsis:

In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

 Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

 Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free

 Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

*************************************

Another fascinating debut. This book is as far removed away from fantasy fiction as it can get and yet retains all the fantasy elements necessary to bring about magic. A magic in writing, a magic in world building and a magic in characterization. This is a story about belonging and purpose. A love story and yet not a love story. Helene Wacker is a name to watch out for

5)      The Tyrant’s Law by Daniel Abraham (The Dagger and the Coin, Book 3):

The Tyrant's Law

Synopsis:

The great war cannot be stopped.

 The tyrant Geder Palliako had led his nation to war, but every victory has called forth another conflict. Now the greater war spreads out before him, and he is bent on bringing peace. No matter how many people he has to kill to do it.

 Cithrin bel Sarcour, rogue banker of the Medean Bank, has returned to the fold. Her apprenticeship has placed her in the path of war, but the greater dangers are the ones in her past and in her soul.

 Widowed and disgraced at the heart of the Empire, Clara Kalliam has become a loyal traitor, defending her nation against itself. And in the shadows of the world, Captain Marcus Wester tracks an ancient secret that will change the war in ways not even he can forsee.

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A book that gets into this list by the sheer dint of having crafted one of the most compelling antagonists in recent times. There is this popular saying that the most dangerous villains are the ones who believe that they are doing the right things. Geder Pallaiko thinks that his actions are just since he is doing the right thing but in reality, his actions are the actions of a weak man, who does not realize that he is a puppet and when he takes unilateral action, its usually is a result of his own insecurities and fear. This unpredictability makes him extremely feared by his opponents who view him as a hard cruel man. Being the middle book in the series, it does tread water a bit which is amply made up through the rich characterization

6)      Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan (Powder Mage Trilogy, Book 1):

Promise of Blood

Synopsis:

The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it.

 It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king…

Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

 It’s up to a few…

Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

 But when gods are involved…

Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…

 In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets?

*************************************

Another debut author featuring in the list, Promise of Blood places itself right after a coup has taken place and is a non-stop ride after that. With an unique magic system involving gunpowder, Promise of Blood packs in political intrigue and religious struggles amidst an action packed plot. While reading the book, I was constantly making comparisons to Brandon Sanderson’s works and realized that McClellan is one of Sanderson’s students. If imitation is the best form of flattery, McClellan has definitely chosen the right template and mentor and the end product could be written by Sanderson himself. No bigger praise than that

7)      Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams (Bobby Dollar, Book 2):

Happy Hour in Hell

Synopsis:

I’ve been told to go to Hell more times than I can count. But this time I’m actually going.

My name’s Bobby Dollar, sometimes known as Doloriel, and of course, Hell isn’t a great place for someone like me—I’m an angel. They don’t like my kind down there, not even the slightly fallen variety. But they have my girlfriend, who happens to be a beautiful demon named Casimira, Countess of Cold Hands. Why does an angel have a demon girlfriend? Well, certainly not because it helps my career.

She’s being held hostage by one of the nastiest, most powerful demons in all of the netherworld—Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell. He already hates me, and he’d like nothing better than to get his hands on me and rip my immortal soul right out of my borrowed but oh-so-mortal body.

But wait, it gets better! Not only do I have to sneak into Hell, make my way across thousands of miles of terror and suffering to reach Pan- demonium, capital of the fiery depths, but then I have to steal Caz right out from under Eligor’s burning eyes and smuggle her out again, past demon soldiers, hellhounds, and all the murderous creatures imprisoned there for eternity. And even if I somehow manage to escape Hell, I’m also being stalked by an undead psychopath named Smyler who’s been following me for weeks. Oh, and did I mention that he can’t be killed?

 So if I somehow survive Hell, elude the Grand Duke and all his hideous minions and make it back to the real world, I’ll still be the most hunted soul in Creation. But at least I’ll have Caz. Gotta have something to look forward to, right?

 So just pour me that damn drink, will you? I’ve got somewhere to go.

                                 *************************************

Our favorite wise cracking, cynical and general wise-ass of an angel is back. Thematically though, the book sees a change moving from the urban crime investigation theme to more of an exploration of hell. Tad Williams takes the readers along with Bobby Dollar through the various levels of hell and it ain’t pretty. While the pacing of the book is on the slower side and the plot does not really progress much, this book clearly subscribes to the fact that the journey is as important as the destination and with its description of hell, you feel the torment and the tribulations that Bobby Dollar undergoes, for a forbidden love

8)      Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis (Milkweed Triptych, Book 3):

Necessary Evil

Synopsis:

 12 May 1940. Westminster, London, England:  the early days of World War II.

 Again.

 Raybould Marsh, one of “our” Britain’s best spies, has travelled to another Earth in a desperate attempt to save at least one timeline from the Cthulhu-like monsters who have been observing our species from space and have already destroyed Marsh’s timeline. In order to accomplish this, he must remove all traces of the supermen that were created by the Nazi war machine and caused the specters from outer space to notice our planet in the first place.

 His biggest challenge is the mad seer Gretel, one of the most powerful of the Nazi creations, who has sent a version of herself to this timeline to thwart Marsh.  Why would she stand in his way?  Because she has seen that in all the timelines she dies and she is determined to stop that from happening, even if it means destroying most of humanity in the process. And Marsh is the only man who can stop her

                                *************************************

Mixing magic with the real world is a recipe for extreme kitsch and laziness in plotting for most authors. Thankfully Ian Tregillis isn’t most authors. The concluding volume of the Milkweed Tiptych utilizes these elements perfectly and is a seamless continuation of the middle volume, with a significant chunk spent exploring the 1st book. With the aid of a plot device, that when used in most other books (and movies and TV series) usually gives me a headache, Tregillis uses it in a way that seems entirely plausible (in the context of the book). Oh and also a big thumbs up for introducing a character best described as a precognitive sociopath through this series

9)      Blood Song by Anthony Ryan (Raven’s Shadow, Book 1):

Blood Song

Synopsis:

 “The Sixth Order wields the sword of justice and smites the enemies of the Faith and the Realm.”

 Vaelin Al Sorna was only a child of ten when his father left him at the iron gate of the Sixth Order. The Brothers of the Sixth Order are devoted to battle, and Vaelin will be trained and hardened to the austere, celibate, and dangerous life of a Warrior of the Faith. He has no family now save the Order.

 Vaelin’s father was Battle Lord to King Janus, ruler of the unified realm. Vaelin’s rage at being deprived of his birthright and dropped at the doorstep of the Sixth Order like a foundling knows no bounds. He cherishes the memory of his mother, and what he will come to learn of her at the Order will confound him. His father, too, has motives that Vaelin will come to understand. But one truth overpowers all the rest: Vaelin Al Sorna is destined for a future he has yet to comprehend. A future that will alter not only the realm, but the world.

                                *************************************

If we cannot have Patrick Rothfuss, at least we have Anthony Ryan. High praise and comparison indeed. Rothfuss has demonstrated a style of writing and narration (albeit over two books) that is a pleasure and Anthony Ryan does the same in his debut book. While it’s difficult for any character to be even closely comparable to Rothfuss’ Kvothe, Ryan does a phenomenal job. The story has the easy pace, cadence and flow that you are lulled into a fascinating journey and without realizing, it’s 4AM on a working day

10)   The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett:

The Troupe

Synopsis:

 Vaudeville: mad, mercenary, dreamy, and absurd, a world of clashing cultures and ferocious showmanship and wickedly delightful deceptions.

 But sixteen-year-old pianist George Carole has joined vaudeville for one reason only: to find the man he suspects to be his father, the great Heironomo Silenus. Yet as he chases down his father’s troupe, he begins to understand that their performances are strange even for vaudeville: for wherever they happen to tour, the very nature of the world seems to change.

 Because there is a secret within Silenus’s show so ancient and dangerous that it has won him many powerful enemies. And it’s not until after he joins them that George realizes the troupe is not simply touring: they are running for their lives.

 And soon…he is as well.

                                *************************************

Heartachingly beautiful. No other ways to describe this story of longing, belonging, love and hope. It’s moody and dark but never without hope. There is truly something about books/ movies that deal with music, traveling musicians, circuses et al that if done right easily vaults up to the top of my reading list starting with McLean in Caravan to Vaccares to Rothfuss in Name of the Wind. The Troupe is no exception to that and looking forward to more books from RBJ. (This is also the only exception in this list. All the books in the list were released in 2013 except for the Troupe. The Troupe due to the simple fact I read it in 2013. My blog, my list, my rules (when convenient of course))

Honorable Mentions:

1)      The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

2)      The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

3)      Hunted by Kevin Hearne (even if the new POV introduced is kind of grating and inconsistent)

Ambivalent Reactions:

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch: This is a book that I guess everyone had massive expectations on. We all wanted to see our familiar rogues (Locke and Jean) take on the world and with the introduction of a character that the Gentlemen Bastards considered a legend in flesh, this book should have had it all. Instead Sabetha didn’t live up the hype and the romance between Locke and Sabetha lacked chemistry. However, Scott Lynch remedies the situation by introducing a completely new wrinkle to the story, almost transforming perceptions on how future books are likely to pan out and this is my cause of excitement for the rest of the series.

PS: As one can see, I have gone with Speculative Fiction over the traditional fantasy fiction. Speculative Fiction is an overall umbrella that encompasses fantasy fiction, horror, supernatural, superhero, science fiction, apocalyptic et al (in short, the genres I pretty much read)

PPS: Disappointing read of 2013 could very well be The Daylight War by Peter V Brett. As much as I liked the Painted Man, this one got steadily irritating especially wrt some characters and the cliffhanger at the end of the book did seem a cheat of a way to end the book. And sadly, despite the title, there was no war