Posts Tagged ‘The Crimson Campaign’

Welcome to the 2nd edition of the review of the best Speculative Fiction books of the year. And this turned out to be one hell of a year to be a reader. A whole bunch of awesome boundary pushing books, promising debuts, and the Grim Dark getting grimmer and darker.

In 2014, I completed 91 books mostly from the fantasy genre with a smattering of sci-fi, other fiction genres, non-fiction ending the year trawling the last 3 years of DC verse of Batman, Justice League and the Big Events. This huge jump in reading was primarily attributable to 2 interlinked reasons, the sheer increase of domestic travel and the increasing comfort of reading books on the mobile. In fact, of the 80 odd books (removing the graphic novels), I potentially would have read atleast 50% of them on the mobile phone. With phone batteries being what they are, the most useful acquisition of the year happened to the portable charger. Such a life saver it turned out to be.

Creating a best of list for the year turned out to be such a big pain. While ratings were captured diligently at Goodreads (the biggest change from last year, where I was on Shelfari), ratings sometimes are not true reflectors of what you really feel for the book and sometimes, it requires you to revisit a book again to really get a sense of what you missed in between the numerous flights and travel tensions

While the top 10 books are in no particular order, 2 books stand out among them for books of the year and make it nigh high impossible to select the first among equals. Without much ado, the top 10 below

1) The Martian by Andy Weir (Joint Best of the Year)

the-martian

Synopsis

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he’s stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive–and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit–he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

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A brilliantly narrated book all the way through with such an awesome voice. In the hands of any other writer, this would have come as whiny but Andy Weir infuses Mark Watney with such a fantastic attitude and spunk, the book never ever feels wrong. A bit technical but easily followable (and even if not, just go with the flow), this is one hell of a tale. Easily among the most accessible books of the year, this is a book for all ages and one of the books that can be recommended without any fear to anyone (My personal stats on this one is 33 recommendations and barring one who has not completed the book, not a single dissenting voice). While it’s set on Mars, this is not really sci-fi. It’s just pure escapist thriller

 

 

2) Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb (Joint Best of the Year)

Fool's Assassin

Synopsis

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown.

But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more…

On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing.

Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger?

Suddenly Fitz’s violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe

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Why does a book where nothing really happens for 80% of the book figure as the top book of the year? For the simple reason that its written by Robin Hobb and features FitzChivalry Farseer. Actually, by this time Hobb could just have Fitz writing down a shopping list and I would buy that. Hobb’s writing is emotional. Period. There is a sense of loss, nostalgia and simple happiness permeating right through the book. That in reality is the magic and among the reasons why we read books. Absolutely lovely

 

3) Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson (The Stormlight Archive, Book 2)

Words of Radiance

Synopsis

Six years ago, the Assassin in White, a hireling of the inscrutable Parshendi, assassinated the Alethi king on the very night a treaty between men and Parshendi was being celebrated. So began the Vengeance Pact among the highprinces of Alethkar and the War of Reckoning against the Parshendi.

Now the Assassin is active again, murdering rulers all over the world of Roshar, using his baffling powers to thwart every bodyguard and elude all pursuers. Among his prime targets is Highprince Dalinar, widely considered the power behind the Alethi throne. His leading role in the war would seem reason enough, but the Assassin’s master has much deeper motives.

Expected by his enemies to die the miserable death of a military slave, Kaladin survived to be given command of the royal bodyguards, a controversial first for a low-status “darkeyes.” Now he must protect the king and Dalinar from every common peril as well as the distinctly uncommon threat of the Assassin, all while secretly struggling to master remarkable new powers that are somehow linked to his honorspren, Syl.

Brilliant but troubled Shallan strives along a parallel path. Despite being broken in ways she refuses to acknowledge, she bears a terrible burden: to somehow prevent the return of the legendary Voidbringers and the civilization-ending Desolation that will follow. The secrets she needs can be found at the Shattered Plains, but just arriving there proves more difficult than she could have imagined.

Meanwhile, at the heart of the Shattered Plains, the Parshendi are making an epochal decision. Hard pressed by years of Alethi attacks, their numbers ever shrinking, they are convinced by their war leader, Eshonai, to risk everything on a desperate gamble with the very supernatural forces they once fled. The possible consequences for Parshendi and humans alike, indeed, for Roshar itself, are as dangerous as they are incalculable.

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Putting the epic in epic fantasy, book 2 of the Stormlight Archive is a massive tome. In fact, as Sanderson calls it, the book is a trilogy in itself. Packing in tons of epic moments and action set pieces, Sanderson does a fantastic job in crafting what is likely to be his magnum opus. While Way of Kings had to spend a fair bit of time in context setting and exposition, Words of Radiance fairly breezes through even if there is the whiny angst of Kaladin to contend with before he embraces his heroic nature to save the day. Brandon Sanderson answers a whole bunch of questions this early in the series while serving up a lot more. Terrific

 

4) Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Fools

Synopsis

The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.

The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.

After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board

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Mark Lawrence’s debut trilogy was a hit or miss. You either loved it or hated it based on how you liked Jorg Ancranth, who can be mildly described as a psychopathic hero (I Loved it). Set in the same world, Mark Lawrence debuts his next series this time featuring a coward, womanizer and a liar as the lead. Prince Jallan (Jal for short) is unlike any lead you would have encountered. Paired with a strapping northman (Viking) Snorri who is his exact opposite, this makes for one hell of a buddy pairing as the pair travel north bound to each other by a curse. This is the kind of book where the one liners just keep on coming but the general grimness never seems to ease. A worthy addition to the Broken Empire series, this seems decidedly a better book compared to Prince of Thorns. Prince of Thorns had the shock value of Jorg while this one is just so well written more than anything

 

5) Breach Zone by Myke Cole

Breach Zone

Synopsis

The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began “coming up Latent,” developing terrifying powers—summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Those who Manifest must choose: become a sheepdog who protects the flock or a wolf who devours it…

In the wake of a bloody battle at Forward Operating Base Frontier and a scandalous presidential impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorsson, call sign “Harlequin,” becomes a national hero and a pariah to the military that is the only family he’s ever known.

In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind.

When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil…

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A delicious action packed romp, Myke Cole concludes the Shadow Ops trilogy in grand style. Mixing the mile a minute action with quieter moments that build up the supporting cast from previous book who take center stage here, what follows is a rival-the-Avengers-style attack on Manhattan that is in parts exhilarating and in parts terrifying. The book handles the military side of the conflict supremely well even if the political resolution seems a bit hurried. But this is a world that bears revisiting and here’s hoping for more books in the same universe from Myke Cole

 

6) City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs

Synopsis

Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city’s proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power.

Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Divani. Officially, the quiet mousy woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country’s most accomplished spymasters-dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian.

As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem-and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well

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City of Stairs is Robert Bennett’s first foray into epic fantasy and what a book this turns out to be. City of Stairs turns out to be richly majestic. A book that starts out as a murder mystery morphs into a spy thriller featuring dead gods, miracles, spies among others. The central character here is the city of Bulikov which cedes its secrets very reluctantly. With an awesome female lead character and a Viking like prince as her support, the tropes are neatly turned. The book takes sometime going but once it starts, there is no way it can be kept down. Also among the few books I rated 5 stars for the year

 

7) The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone

Three Parts Dead Two Serpents Rise

Synopsis

THREE PARTS DEAD (Book 1)

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities, Three Parts Dead introduces readers to an ethical landscape in which the line between right and wrong blurs

TWO SERPENTS RISE (Book 2)

Shadow demons plague the city reservoir, and Red King Consolidated has sent in Caleb Altemoc — casual gambler and professional risk manager — to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. At the scene of the crime, Caleb finds an alluring and clever cliff runner, crazy Mal, who easily outpaces him.

But Caleb has more than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security to worry about when he discovers that his father — the last priest of the old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists — has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.

From the beginning, Caleb and Mal are bound by lust, Craft, and chance, as both play a dangerous game where gods and people are pawns. They sleep on water, they dance in fire… and all the while the Twin Serpents slumbering beneath the earth are stirring, and they are hungry

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A bit of cheat here since this one features the 1st 2 books in the series, Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise. This is one damn inventive innovative piece of work. The sheer brilliance in world building carries both the books. Three Parts Dead has quite the characters and interactions, while Two Serpents Rise suffers a bit from having not so great a chemistry between the lead pair. While we do not follow the same characters in both the books, the world shared is the same and it’s a testament to Gladstone’s skills that he has crafted (all pun intended) a very vibrant different world in each book

 

8) The Widow’s House by Daniel Abraham

The Widow's House

Synopsis

THE RISE OF THE DRAGON AND THE FALL OF KINGS

Lord Regent Geder Palliako’s war has led his nation and the priests of the spider goddess to victory after victory. No power has withstood him, except for the heart of the one woman he desires. As the violence builds and the cracks in his rule begin to show, he will risk everything to gain her love or else her destruction.

Clara Kalliam, the loyal traitor, is torn between the woman she once was and the woman she has become. With her sons on all sides of the conflict, her house cannot stand, but there is a power in choosing when and how to fall.

And in Porte Oliva, banker Cithrin bel Sarcour and Captain Marcus Wester learn the terrible truth that links this war to the fall of the dragons millennia before, and that to save the world, Cithrin must conquer it

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If there is a series that has gotten progressively awesome, The Dagger and Coin series has to be top of that list. There has been no middle book syndrome, no treading water even as characters push towards endgame. Instead, Daniel Abraham has introduced his own take on traditional fantasy, nudging the standard tropes just enough to make characters and situations extremely compelling. There is no greater example that the supposed villain of the series, Geder Pallaiko. Each character has his own view of him from a tyrannical despot to a sniveling coward to a lost and genuinely confused kid. Finance and Politics make for awesome if untrustworthy bedmates and that is played out in full in the best traditions of GRRM and Raymond Feist

 

9) The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

The Crimson Campaign

Synopsis

‘The hounds at our heels will soon know we are lions’

Tamas’s invasion of Kez ends in disaster when a Kez counter-offensive leaves him cut off behind enemy lines with only a fraction of his army, no supplies, and no hope of reinforcements. Drastically outnumbered and pursued by the enemy’s best, he must lead his men on a reckless march through northern Kez to safety, and back over the mountains so that he can defend his country from an angry god.

In Adro, Inspector Adamat only wants to rescue his wife. To do so he must track down and confront the evil Lord Vetas. He has questions for Vetas concerning his enigmatic master, but the answers might come too quickly.

With Tamas and his powder cabal presumed dead, Taniel Two-shot finds himself alongside the god-chef Mihali as the last line of defence against Kresimir’s advancing army. Tamas’s generals bicker among themselves, the brigades lose ground every day beneath the Kez onslaught, and Kresimir wants the head of the man who shot him in the eye

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Possibly the book with the highest body count, this flintlock fantasy (gunpowder magic) from Brian McClellan packs an explosive punch. Terrific pacing and big action set pieces interspersed with quiet character moments and relationship building make this a book that avoids the middle book syndrome of treading water very efficiently. There is an almost Sanderson-esque approach to storytelling combined with a Hannibal level predilection for blood, bodies and bullets. With three central characters, this is a tale of revenge, identity and survival for one and all the characters. (plus it had an impressive cover)

 

10) The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes

The Palace Job

Synopsis

The most powerful man in the republic framed her, threw her in prison, and stole a priceless elven manuscript from her family.

With the help of a crack team that includes an illusionist, a unicorn, a death priestess, a talking warhammer, and a lad with a prophetic birthmark, Loch must find a way into the floating fortress of Heaven’s Spire–and get past the magic-hunting golems and infernal sorcerers standing between her and the vault that holds her family’s treasure.

It’d be tricky enough without the military coup and unfolding of an ancient evil prophecy–but now the determined and honourable Justicar Pyvic has been assigned to take her in.

But hey, every plan has a few hitches

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Think Ocean’s Eleven (the good parts) mixed with Locke Lamora (without the darker portions) in a fantastic world featuring among others a talking Warhammer and an Unicorn, this book is the glimmer of sunlight in the GrimDark world. Absolutely fun and wickedly funny, this is a book of witty one-liners, snappy rejoinders and tremendous camaraderie. A fast paced heist thriller, there is hardly a dull moment and to an extent, the book is positive and joyous. Easily the most entertaining book of the year and one likely to have weird stares thrown your way in a crowded airport when you suddenly guffaw out loud or are trying to unsuccessfully hold back a bout of giggles. Optimistic is the word you conjure up once you read this book. Insane giddy fun

 

 

PS: An interesting trend is the number of books that have female leads, 5 (50%). Not bad at all. Quite a change from the usual male lead dominated books.