As a librarian and a book reviewer, I read a lot of books. This year I actually read fewer books than I have in a long time, due to a perfect storm of moving, changing jobs, and dealing with a serious illness. I got some help on the reviewing front, sharing my Library Journal column on science fiction, fantasy, and horror with a co-columnist which helped quite a bit. I still managed to read about 175 books in 2015, reviewing 146 for Library Journal.
Looking back at all that reading, some titles float right to the top as favorites. I participated in the twitter hashtag #libfaves15, which was fun but difficult to limit to only 10 titles. I also ran down my favorites for Library Journal, but that was an even more torturous limit of 5 titles. So here I thought I would run down my favorites in several SFF genres, NO LIMITS! I’m not going to give full reviews here as i reviewed all of these in Library Journal, but I’ll just give a brief note about why I loved them. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a lot of my favorites were genre blends!
Why? This had a great Indiana Jones vibe with adventuress heroine Owl and plenty of exotic locales. Owl is prickly and difficult, giving the author plenty of room for character growth over this new series.
Why? Because Kadrey has managed to turn this series in a new direction, more of an old-skool urban fantasy with Stark as a supernatural P.I. Of course, he’s still Stark (aka Sandman Slim) so there’s all the seediness and profanity that series regulars love.
Why? This is one of my favorite urban fantasy series (although it’s not really urban), with a fascinating world and a continuous storyline (don’t jump in here) with tension building slowly to a major showdown between humans and Others.
Why? I like the angsty melodrama of this new series. Delilah’s struggles when she realizes she is not human and her imprisonment in the carnival is dark, dark dark. Not a bad readalike for Bishop’s Others series, actually.
Why? After the amazing California Bones, the second book (Pacific Fire) was a bit of a disappointment. But Van Eekhout brings it back with this final volume. Another heist plot (yay!) and more of the character bonding that I loved so much makes this a great ending for the series.
Why? This gorgeous fairy tale has a terrific heroine who fights for her friends and family but is no simple storybook cutout. I love that it has an Eastern European flavor and the romance was lovely but didn’t overpower the story. Great teen appeal too.
Why? Wow, this world. Another book I would hand to adults and teens with equal glee, the biggest appeal for me was the worldbuilding where people live in towers grown of bone and fly on man-made glider wings. There’s family drama, teen angst, and lovely writing in this debut.
Why? Although this was based in an established world of Elliott’s, it stands alone well and starts a fascinating new series. I loved the world, with complicated politics and divided loyalties. Lots of Asian influences, but swirled in new ways.
Why? City of Stairs was one of my favorite books of 2014, and this follow-up is just as good, while being completely different. The action moves to a new, broken city and brings back Mulagesh and Sigrud and more of the fascinating toppled gods.
Why? I love unreliable narrators, and Baru is fascinating in her ability to be what other people want her to be while holding on to her dream of revenge against the powers that conquered her country.
Historical Fantasy, Alt History, and Steampunk
Why? Four Londons, each with their own level of magic, including Grey London (our London under George III) with no magic but one intrepid thief named Lila. I loved Kell, his changeable coat, and his ability to travel between the worlds but man did I love Lila!
Why? This amazing alternate Napoleonic England is so diverse that it might destroy SFF (kidding). Zacharias is a great embattled hero, a former slave holding the highest magical post in the land. The story really takes off when he meets Prunella, a young woman with a brash spirit and a natural magical talent.
Why? Victorian Civil Servant Thaniel is so delightfully confused about what he wants. When he gets an anonymous gift of a watch and tracks down maker Keito Mori, his life changes foever. I adored Keito and his unusual abilities and his mechanical animals. I want a clockwork octopus like Katsu.
Why? Bear sets her story in an unnamed Old West city that is delightfully rough, violent and FULL of prostitutes. I loved Madame Damnable’s brothel and the ladies who plied their trade there. This has an amazing cast of characters (including a really brutal villain) and a touch of steampunk gadgetry.
Why? The vivid setting in a ravaged Paris filled with warring houses of fallen angels and witches has stuck in my mind since reading this beautifully written fantasy. There are a bunch of little mysteries, that will keep you turning pages, not the least of which is the nature of hero Phillippe and fate of most famous fallen angel Lucifer.
Why? What if the Dutch developed robots 250 years ago, using alchemy to bind the “Clakkers” to their will? How cool is that?!? The Dutch rule the world, France is almost destroyed, and one Clakker has found a way to throw off his yoke and experience free will. There is plenty of action and spies making this more than just a cool idea.
Why? Even though this didn’t flatten me with awe the way the first book did, this is still easily one of the best SF books of the year. Breq’s arc has been pretty weird, but so, so satisfying. This series tackles huge ideas like what is identity, how to do the right thing (and know what the right thing is), imperialism, etc. – and makes them FUN.
Why? This works well as a smart techno thriller, with the tantalizing possibility that a government funded group has developed teleportation technology. But it takes a great step sideways into the weird midway through, and that’s what made it a winner for me. I also loved hero Mike, a genius with an eidetic memory who gets sent to check on the progress of the research group.
Why? Ripped from the headlines! The drought in the western states of America makes this SF/Thriller about the fight for water rights completely believable. Angel Velaquez (the eponymous water knife) should be too much of a violent thug to be a hero as he swindles and schemes and kills to make sure Las Vegas gets its water, but somehow he remains engaging.
Why? Ian McDonald is such an amazing writer, but his books are sometimes challenging reads, dense with ideas. This one is interesting, but still a LOT of fun, especially the last half. I loved the feuding families on the moon (very Game of Thrones) as well as the touches of mystery. Can’t wait for the next book!
Why? While Red Rising was fantastic, the scale was small, focused on the competition on Mars and it had a YA vibe. Now the scope has busted wide open, giving the talented author room to strut his stuff while still keeping the story of Darrow and his goal to overthrow the government from within.
Horror & Dark Fantasy
Why? The character of antiques dealer Sax was so wonderful – cranky, gay, vain, clever, cowardly – all that and more! And he steals from vampires? That’s a risky career move. Plus it has a heist plot (my catnip) and vampires that are truly scary again.
Why? The idea of children being taken from their homes and raised by a psychotic godlike father figure who makes (most) of them into psychotics as well was irresistible, especially as the now grown Carolyn tries to interact with the regular humans as she looks for her missing father. Surprisingly funny while still chilling at time.
Positive by David Wellington
Why? Zombies are over, right? But this thriller of humanity after the devastation of a zombie apocalypse is gripping and scary, especially as the real monsters are (of course!) altogether human.