Tomorrow we’ll be posting our annual Favorites list — the best books we read which were published for the first time in 2011 in print or audio format. Each year we spend many hours preparing this list, and we’re wrapping it up at this moment, but we thought we’d highlight some of our favorites today and ask about your favorite books that were published in 2011. We’ll pick one commenter to win a book from our stacks.
You can find our reviews of each of the novels listed below by clicking on the linked author names. We’ll go in Seniority Order. (That doesn’t mean that the first people on the list are any more senile or more important, or even older, than those at the bottom of the list — just that they were here first.)
Kat: I read 125 books in 2011 and, like last year, most of them were audiobooks and most of my favorites were classics that were published in print long ago and were just recently brought out on audio. In particular, Blackstone Audio, Brilliance Audio, and Audible Frontiers produced a lot of old SFF on audio in 2011 and there are so many great books to choose from! The two that I was most excited about both before and after listening to them were Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz and William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Both of these are must-reads for any SFF fan and these excellent audio productions are a delightful way to experience them.
Bill: The Magician King is my number one choice of the year for Adult books, sharing the honor with Icefall. It’s Lev Grossman’s second book in the FILLORY series and a better book than the first: thoughtful, substantive, with great characters and great characterization, funny at times, harrowingly terrible at others. It’s both great fantasy and great meta-fantasy, with lots of rewards for the well-read fantasy reader, but also lots of stimulating questions in the more realistic literary fiction vein. A rich, sophisticated work, it lingers in the mind long after reading. According to Kat, our indefatigable leader here, Matthew J. Kirby’s Icefall needs to be categorized in our Best of 2011 List as YA so parents and teens know it’s a good choice for that age group. So you’ll see it listed under “YA.” But I want to be clear here. Without that necessity, I would have picked Icefall as my overall top choice of year, YA label be damned. It’s about as perfect a gem of a novel as can be crafted: incredibly tight, filled with sharply drawn, fully human characters, incredibly tense, emotionally wrought, beautifully individually voiced, stylistically and structurally creative and sophisticated, and written in sparsely lyrical prose that is a perfect match for both theme and setting. Because of the YA/Adult distinction, I’m giving it co-honors as personal book of the year with The Magician King. Different kinds of books, different targeted audiences, but to be honest, the one that lies closest to my heart and the one I’d recommend first to just about anybody is Icefall. So for the purposes of this blurb, I’m recasting YA from Young Adult to Year’s Awesomest.
John: Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes was brilliant on so many levels, but as someone who has spent time as a soldier, the depiction of the camaraderie and companionship shared by the people fighting the war was simply amazing. I can’t tell you how much that means to see an author really get that right. The Rift Walker by Clay & Susan Griffith has kept a compelling series moving. The main characters continue to grow, we are introduced to a wealth of new supporting characters, and the Griffiths have added grit and depth to a world that was already captivating. I love the way they use the different climates of the globe to illustrate the social and physiological evolution of the vampiric race.
Greg: Joe Abercrombie is my personal favorite active fantasy author and The Heroes is my favorite of his books to date. Carnage, characters, and hilariously dark humor are Abercrombie’s mainstays and he seems to only get better with each book. Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence caught some crap for the violence. SWEET!!! It’s one of the best written fantasy debuts I’ve ever read. If the first line doesn’t grab you, maybe you’re just scared. : )Douglas Hulick’s Among Thieves was a great first novel. What fantasy reader doesn’t like a story about thieves already? But Hulick writes underworld characters exceptionally well. And I love how each book in this series will focus on different characters and plots with the only constant being the criminal element of the city.
Kelly: Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs is a poignant, beautifully written novel about the end of childhood and beginning of adolescence, told as a fairy tale. It’s aimed at children but will strike a chord with many adults too. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a tale of angels and demons — but they’re not like the angels and demons you’ve seen before. Laini Taylor’s writing is exquisite and the novel haunting and intricate. Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon will keep you guessing until the last page: was young Lisa taken by the fairies, or by a garden-variety predator? And which is scarier? Creepy, suspenseful, and full of twists.
Stefan: I read a lot of anthologies, and usually they’re a mixed bag. Some strong stories at the front and back, a few to anchor the middle, and the rest is filled with the average to good material. Brave New Worlds is that rare instance of “all killer and no filler.” It contains some recent stories that are among the best I’ve ever read (Paolo Bacigalupi, Matt Williamson, Joe Mastroianni) as well as some great older stories. Brave New Worlds, edited by John Joseph Adams, is the definitive anthology of short dystopian SF, and one of the very best anthologies I’ve ever read. Among Others is a wonderful contemporary fantasy novel, but it’s also a love letter from Jo Walton to science fiction and fantasy. If you found comfort in SFF when you were growing up, and still think back fondly on those first “sense of wonder” experiences, Among Others will take you back to those years — and deliver a wonderfully gripping coming-of-age fantasy story at the same time. This is a book for people who love books.
Justin: I really struggled this year to make time for reading. I had to choose the books I read wisely so as not to waste a single moment. I apparently chose very well since everything I read was very good. Top honors goes to Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes. It is such an amazing culmination of everything Abercrombie has written so far. The flawed characters, the brutal battles, and the razor-sharp wit. Everything came together perfectly. Next is Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear. Rothfuss is a terrific storyteller, and having him take you further into the life of Kvothe is a real treat. I got lost in The Wise Man’s Fear; I would start reading and not look up for hours. John Hornor Jacobs’ Southern Gods is an audiobook that took me by surprise — a well-written scary book with unique southern charm. If you need a change of pace next year, Southern Gods should top your list.
Terry: Seanan McGuire’s OCTOBER DAYE series continues to excite and enthrall. In One Salt Sea, Toby is charged with preventing all out war between two faerie kingdoms, but given precious little in the way of time or tools to get the job accomplished. The sadness that seems to always linger below the surface in this series is prominent in this book, changing the idea of Faerie as an idyll to Faerie as red in tooth and claw. It’s a great addition to a strong string of novels. M.L.N. Hanover’s series, THE BLACK SUN’S DAUGHTER, continues to get better with every book. In Killing Rites, Jayne Heller begins to deal with what lives within her own soul, and discovers that perhaps evil isn’t always pure.
Marion: Haruki Murakami’s IQ84 is a trans-reality love story, and so much more. It’s flawed, but rich and intriguing, filled with compelling characters and observations about life that stayed with me days after I finished the book. In Embassytown, China Miéville creates a literary work about the power of linguistics, a study of colonialism, and a wildly imaginative story — and of course Miéville’s signature semantic virtuosity. In Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s The Fallen Blade — magic and politics play out against an historical Venice, nicely flavored with bits of Shakespeare.
We’ll post our full list tomorrow at noon. Meanwhile, tell us which books are your favorites of 2011 and deserve to be on our list. We’ll pick one commenter to win a book from our stacks.