I read 50 books in 2015. Here are my favorites:
Player of Games, Iain M. Banks. One of the most astonishing science-fiction novels I’ve ever read – not just for the depth of its penetration into human character and social order, but for how enjoyable and readable it is as well.
Mockingbird, Walter Tevis. A somber, slow, sweet novel of a far dystopian future. Some of the characterizations and concerns seem dated now, but the emotion and inner turmoil is keenly felt.
The Way Into Chaos, Harry Connolly. If this were merely an exercise into how vivid and original a world a skilled writer can build when he omits all the infodumps and instead lets history, character, and wonder be revealed through action, then that alone would be worthwhile. Instead, it’s all that and a compelling story as well. It’s not just “Western Europe plus a wizard or two” – it’s an original world that’s been built around fantastic creatures and concepts. And we only get a brief glimpse of it before Connolly starts tearing it apart.
I don’t know if Connolly would market this as “dark fantasy”, but THE WAY INTO CHAOS felt grimmer than any of THE SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, except perhaps the earliest and sharpest novels in Martin’s series. Perhaps that’s because there are fewer characters for us to worry about, and we’re more invested in their success. Regardless, I found myself twisting into knots with each new chapter in a way that I hadn’t with Martin in a long time.
The Oldest Trick, Auston Habershaw. An epic fantasy rollick in the style of Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch. This edition collects THE IRON RING and IRON AND BLOOD, which are really two halves of the same tale (why were they broken up in the first place?), into a single volume. Richly envisioned without getting bogged down in exposition, and bursting with action.
The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins. A remarkable, deeply chilling modern fantasy. The few rough patches don’t detract much from a compelling story. Full of images and characters that will haunt you for a while.
The Forgotten Monk, Greg Stolze. A highly entertaining fantasy fable. You can see the borders of the D&D-inspired setting – frequent use of healing potions and handy enchanted items – but that doesn’t detract from the drama or adventure. The story alternates between mystery, action, and gentle irony with deft pacing.
Honorable Mention: Child of Fire; A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark; Time and the Gods