A year-end list of some personal favorites (and possibles I didn’t read), but let’s hear your suggestions in the comments section!
NOVELS (alphabetically by author)
Acacia by David Anthony Durham (Doubleday): A book I haven’t reviewed because I didn’t feel I could do it justice. A truly epic fantasy — or rather the beginning of one — with a rich world and nuanced characters. Superbly written.
Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand (Small Beer Press): A superior non-supernatural modern horror novel that confronts both its protagonist and the reader with what can happen when art grows beyond humanity into monstrosity. Fantasy Review
Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay (Roc): Sheer enchantment. A delightfully plausible pair of smart teen-aged protagonists “[blunder] into a corner of a very old story. It is no place for children.” Contemporary thriller, historical fantasy, full of myth and magic, and a novel all about sex in which there is nary a fleshly scene.
Mainspring by Jay Lake (Tor): Maybe this is supposed to be clockpunk science fiction, but I suspect it could just as easily be metaphysical fantasy. Whatever you want to label it, Lake builds an incredibly detailed and imaginative world in which he sets a grand adventure.
Un Lun Dun by China Miéville (Del Rey): De Larrabeiti’s influence on Miéville’s brilliant first book for young adults, can be seen in its intense connection to London, proletarian protagonists, considerable grit, and the subversion of standard fantasy expectations. “Grunge fantasy”, dark but never disaffected. An exuberant novel of unfettered imagination, genuine heart, and (if you wish to read it that way) scintillating allegory.
Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert (Dutton): Mixes just about every genre imaginable and comes up with a captivating “non-genre” novel. Despite the protagonist’s science-fiction connection — he’s an info pirate with a psychic talent for “remote viewing” — the novel is drenched in gothic atmosphere and is, at core, a cross between a mystery and occult thriller. Fantasy Review
The Terror by Dan Simmons (Little, Brown and Company): A literally chilling Artic tale of doomed men with a surprisingly transcendent ending. History, horror, and ancient mythology that only Simmons could have brought off so well. Despite its length, you won’t want to put it down. So lay in the firewood, wrap up, and read.
SEQUELS I LOVED . . . but maybe you should read the earlier volumes first
(alphabetically by author)
Ink: The Book of All Hours by Hal Duncan (Del Rey): Reading the first book of this duology, Vellum, will at least prepare you for the onslaught of Duncan’s chaotic originality and brilliant re-invention of myth. Stunning, epic, sublime, and powerful, Ink compels you to start again with Vellum and take Duncan’s long strange trip again with even more admiration and understanding.
The Bonehunters (Malazan Book of the Fallen 6) and Midnight Tides (The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Book 5) by Steven Erikson (Tor): I’m never sure exactly what bloody year to list Malazan books under. They come out in the UK then Tor puts them out in two or three editions . . . Point is: this series is about as massive and excellent as fantasy comes.
The White Tyger by Paul Park: I’m reading The Hidden World, the fourth volume of Park’s “Roumania” books right now and I must admit I hope it ties the story Miranda Popescu up enough to call it “ended.” Due to the nature of the world(s) he’s created, however, there really can’t be an end and, as a reader, as much as you yearn for resolution you also hope it never ends.
The Poisoned Crown (Del Rey) by Amanda Hemingway: The last of the delightful Sangreal Trilogy about a contemporary quest by young Nathan Ward who matures over the course of the books. Nathan’s mother, Annie Ward, probably the best-drawn mother in fantasy, deals with the secret of her son’s parentage, the challenges of single motherhood, and the acceptance that her son is both a hero and a boy growing into a man. Bartlemy Goodman, a down-to-earth mystic guardian of vast culinary skill, and female friend Hazel Bagot round out the solid supporting cast.
Titans of Chaos by John C. Wright (Tor): The third in a trilogy of highly erudite science fantasy concerning godlike beings with adolescent urges. The Chronicles of Chaos leave no doubt Wright is an author of miraculous imagination, profound wit, and wondrous intellect — it’s just that with all the breathtaking tour de forcing, the reader may occasionally yearn for a little more oxygen.
ANTHOLOGIES (alphabetically by author)
Inferno edited by Ellen Datlow (Tor): Datlow consistently produces outstanding original anthologies, but this one was the first non-themed dark tome she’s been “allowed.” It sums up the state of the current art of modern horror. Fantasy Review
At Ease With the Dead: New Tales of the Supernatural and Macabre edited by Barbara Roden & Christopher Roden (Ash-Tree Press): Unless you are a real horror fan, you will probably not be acquainted with the authors of the thirty stories that appear here, but that doesn’t mean you will be disappointed. The Rodens have become the premiere keepers of the quietly creepy tradition.
COLLECTIONS (alphabetically by author)
The Imago Sequence by Laird Barron (Night Shade): Actually, I didn’t read this because I never got a review copy, but since I’ve read most all the stories in it and long admired Barron’s work, I have no hesitation in recommending it.
The Dog Said Bow-Wow by Michael Swanwick (Tachyon): A variety of polished but unconventional stories from a master storyteller.
BOOKS I PROBABLY WOULD HAVE LIKED . . . but Did Not Receive Review Copies (alphabetically by author)
Mister B. Gone (HarperCollins) by Clive Barker
Scar Night (Tor) by Alan Campbel
The Grin of the Dark by Ramsey Campbell (PS Publishing, UK) (Okay, I guess I can wait for the US edition)
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union (HarperCollins) by Michael Chabon (Yeah, I’m just a lowly genre reviewer, no “literature” for the likes of me!)
Ilario: the Lion’s Eye (HarperCollins) by Mary Gentle
Heart-Shaped Box (William Morrow) by Joe Hill
Butcher Bird (Night Shade) by Richard Kadrey
Daughter of Hounds (Roc) by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Extras (Simon Pulse) by Scott Westerfeld