The Best Novels I Read in 2016

Yeah, I should’ve done this earlier, but I just needed a break from 2016 for a couple of days. Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Morning StarMorning Star

by Pierce Brown
My original post
I was a little surprised (but not really) today to see that every book in the trilogy made my year-end Best-Of list — so it makes sense that this one occupies a space. But it’s more than that, this book was an exciting emotional wringer that ended the trilogy in a perfect way. I can’t recommend this one enough (but only for those who’ve read the first two). When I was informed a month ago that there was going to be a follow-up series? I let out a whoop, thankfully none of my family noticed, so I don’t have to feel too silly.
5 Stars

A Star-Reckoner's LotA Star-Reckoner’s Lot

by Darrell Drake
My original post
I’m afraid if I start talking about this one that I’ll spill a few hundred words. Let me just slightly modify something I already wrote and spare us all the effort (that could be better spent actually reading these books). I’m afraid I’ll overuse the word imaginative if I tried to describe what Drake has done here in the depth I want to in this book about pre-Islamic Iran. You haven’t read a fantasy novel like this one before — almost certainly, anyway — but you should.
4 1/2 Stars

Blood of the EarthBlood of the Earth

by Faith Hunter
My original post
This probably should be a dual entry with Blood of the Earth and Curse on the Land, but that felt like cheating. Between the two, I thought that this was a slightly better work, so it got the spot. While remaining true to the Jane Yellowrock world that this springs from, Hunter has created a fantastic character, new type of magic, and basis of a series. I love these characters already (well, except for those I wasn’t crazy about previously) and can’t wait for a return trip.
4 1/2 Stars

BurnedBurned

by Benedict Jacka
My original post
I’m just going to quote myself here: I’ve seen people call this the Changes of the Alex Verus series — and it absolutely is. I’d also call it the Staked in terms with the protagonists coming to grips with the effects that his being in the lives of his nearest and dearest has on their life, and what that means for his future involvement with them. Which is not to say that Jacka’s latest feels anything like Butcher’s or Hearne’s books — it feels like Verus just turned up half a notch. It’s just such a great read — it grabs you on page 2 and drags you along wherever it wants to take you right up until the “He is not actually doing this” moment — which are followed by a couple more of them.
5 Stars

Fate BallFate Ball

by Adam W. Jones
My original post
Since the Spring when I read this, I periodically reminded myself to keep this in mind for my Top 10, I was that afraid I’d forget this quiet book. It’s not a perfect novel, there are real problems with it — but it was really effective. I fell for Ava, just the way Able did — not as hard (and only in a way that my wife wouldn’t mind) — but just as truly. This one worked about as well as any author could hope one would.
4 1/2 Stars

All Our Wrong TodaysAll Our Wrong Todays

by Elan Mastai
My original post
My all-time favorite time-travel novel, just a fun read, too. I will over-hype this one if I’m not careful. So, so good.
5 Stars

The Summer that Melted EverythingThe Summer that Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel
My original post
I’m not sure what I can say about this book that others haven’t — this trip into a magical realism version of the 1980’s Mid-West will get you on every level — it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, the language is gorgeous, the characters are flawed in all the right ways. I wish this was getting the attention (and sales!) that it deserves — I really hope its audience finds it.
5 Stars

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
My original post
Here’s a book that doesn’t have to worry about attention or audience, it has one — and it’s probably growing. It deserves it. Short, sweet (and not-sweet) and to the point. I may have to buy a two copies of the sequel so I don’t have to fight my daughter for it when it’s released.
5 Stars

Lady Cop Makes TroubleLady Cop Makes Trouble

by Amy Stewart
My original post
Stewart took the really good historical crime novel she wrote last year and built on that foundation one that’s far more entertaining without sacrificing anything that had come before. We’ll be reading about the Kopp sisters for a while, I think.
4 Stars

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One CollectionGenrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection

by Michael R. Underwood
My original post
Yeah, here I am again, flogging Underwood’s Genrenaut stories — whether in individual novellas, audiobooks, or in this collection — you need to get your hands on this series about story specialists who travel to alternate dimensions where stories are real and what happens in them impacts our world — Underwood has a special alchemy of Leverage + The Librarians + Quantum Leap + Thursday Next going on here, and I love it.
5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. I toyed with a Top 17 in 2016 but that seemed stupid — and I’ve always done 10, I’m going to stick with it. But man — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway here they are: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman (my original post), Children of the Different by SC Flynn (my original post), Thursday 1:17 p.m. by Michael Landweber (my original post), We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman (my original post), A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl (my original post), and Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja (my original post).

I hope your 2016 reads were as good as these.

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Morning Star by Pierce Brown

Morning StarMorning Star

by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising, #3

Hardcover, 518 pg.
Del Rey, 2016

Read: February 24 – March 3, 2016

“There is no pain. Only joy,” they chant, deep in the embrace of the god’s bread. Sefi begins the war bellow. Her voice higher than Ragnar’s. Her two wing-sisters join her. Then their wing-sisters, until dozens fill the com with their song, giving me a sense of grandeur as my mind tells my body to flee. This is why the Obsidians chant. Not to sow terror. But to feel brave, to feel kinship, instead of isolation and fear.

Sweat drips down my spine.

Fear is not real.

Holiday deactivates her safety.

“Njar la tagag . . . ”

My razor goes rigid.

PulseWeapon shudders and whines, priming.

Body trembles. Mouth full of ashes. Wear the mask. Hide the man. Feel nothing. See everything. Move and kill. Move and kill. I am not a man. They are not men.

The chanting swells. . . “Syn tir rjyka!”

Fear is not real.

If you’re watching, Eo, it’s time to close your eyes.

The Reaper has come. And he’s brought hell with him.

And when The Reaper, Darrow of Lykos, says he’s brought hell with him, you’d best believe it.

With books that come later in a series — especially with the last volume — there are huge expectations and hopes. Sometimes the book’s a disappointment; sometimes it’s as good as you hoped — every now and then, it’s better than you’d hoped. And then there are the times you get something like Morning Star. I want to avoid hyperbole, and I don’t want to over-sell, so let me just say that Pierce Brown delivered. I’m not sure how to talk about this book — one of my most anticipated reads of 2016 — other than to say it did not disappoint in the slightest, and if it doesn’t find its way to my favorite reads of 2016, I’d be flummoxed (although that would mean we have an unbelievably good 9 months ahead).

We pick up about a year after Golden Son — well, that’s not true. We start off with one of those aggravating teases for events later in the book before starting the actual story. If I’m going to complain about it in Freedom’s Child a couple of weeks ago, I’d better complain about it here. Thankfully, it’s a brief tease and you can forget it quickly because Chapter 1 doesn’t wait too long to get to the brutality that this series is so capable of bringing, making you forget about trivial things like bad ways to start a novel. I’m not going to get into the plot — if you’re curious, start with Red Rising and catch up. If you’ve read one or two of these books, I just want to assure you that you should grab this.

Red Rising was like the love child of Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games hopped up on amphetamines, steroids and too much Red Bull. Golden Sun was a roller coaster of stomach-lurching twists and turns and shattered hopes. Morning Star has elements of both, but it also reads like a series of climatic scenes from epic novels and movies stacked on top of one another — Jackson’s The Lord of The Rings + Gladiator + The Patriot + a few more things like that on the day that Michael settles all family business. Somehow, Brown keeps the tension mounting from chapter to chapter, in a way that every battle, every encounter feels like it could be the novel’s climax. Yet when the actual climax happens you’re not prepared.

Having been trained by Golden Son, I spent a lot of time expecting a betrayal, waiting for the sucker punch I knew was coming. But it wasn’t that kind of book* — it was a book of hard choices — even compromises (the good kind) — of people doing the right thing, to the best of their understanding. Not always the best for themselves, but the best for their principles, their loved ones, their people. Family — biological family, extended family, found family — is a major theme throughout. It shouldn’t be surprising considering that this all started with a husband and wife, but when you think of The Red Rising Trilogy, family isn’t one of the first words that come to mind. Well, after you read this, it might be.

Lieutenant Commander Worf, son of Mogh, would’ve approved of so much of the action here (on both sides). The pages dripped with honor and nobility (in both classic and more modern understandings of the concepts). Despite it being a mainstay in fiction, I have a hard time buying the concept of noble deaths, but man . . . there’s one roughly midway through the that got me in just the right way. The dying was a little more protracted than Brown’s typical practice, giving him time to do more with it narratively. It was such a good piece of writing (even if all the individual elements in the scene were cliché), it’s one of the most effective parts of the series. Once it starts, you know what’s happening, you know how the effects of it will play out, but it still works. It’s like the da da da dummm at the beginning of the 5th — everyone knows it, but if an orchestra does it right? It’s powerful stuff.

Like a good general — Brown’s always a few steps ahead of the reader, well, me. As before, he surprised me all the time. There were a couple of times that I came close to seeing his play — technically — but his actual move was so much better than I’d guessed, I might as well have been moving checkers around his chess board.

Before I came across the section I quoted in my opening, I was going to use:

Now I remember hate.

I’m glad I didn’t. Morning Star isn’t about that. After Golden Son (or after Eo’s death), that’s what you expect: Darrow going all John Wick/Beatrix Kiddo/Frank Castle, but that’s not what the book is. Darrow is much more than a vengeance-machine. He’s more than rage, more than hatred — he’s full of both, no mistake. But that’s not all that’s driving him.

And because there’s more to him, the book — the series — is elevated to something beyond a great SF/Action romp. When Darrow, his friends and/or his army say something, do something to send a message, more often than not, it’s inspiring, at the very least, stirring. In the end, Darrow’s mission isn’t about destroying the Golds (although there is plenty of destruction), it’s something more.

The question is, can he fulfill this mission? What would that look like? It is so close to the final page when you get the actual answers to those (and all the other) questions you have.

Oh yeah, and Brown made me laugh out loud once. There were heartwarming moments, moments of joy, moments of awe. In the midst of the chaos, the violence, the destruction, and all the blood? Rays of humanity everywhere.

Simply put, this is the perfect conclusion for this fantastic series. I can’t think of a more fitting way for Brown to have concluded things. If you liked Red Rising and Golden Son, you’ll love this.


* Which isn’t to say that there aren’t gut punches.

—–

5 Stars

Opening Lines – Morning Star

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (yet, publishing companies spend big bucks on cover design/art). But, the opening sentence(s)/paragraph(s) are fair game. So, when I stumble on a good opening (or remember one and pull it off the shelves), I’ll throw it up here. Dare you not to read the rest of the book.

Deep in darkness, far from warmth and sun and moons, I lie, quiet as the stone that surrounds me, imprisoning my hunched body in a dreadful womb. I cannot stand. Cannot stretch. I can only curl in a ball, a withered fossil of the man that was. Hands cuffed behind my back. Naked on cold rock.

All alone with the dark.

It seems months, years, millennia since my knees have unbent, since my spine has straightened from its crooked pose. The ache is madness. My joints fuse like rusted iron. How much time has passed since I saw my Golden friends bleeding out into the grass? Since I felt gentle Roque kiss my cheek as he broke my heart?

Time is no river.

Not here.

In this tomb, time is the stone. It is the darkness, permanent and unyielding, its only measure the twin pendulums of life — breath and the beating of my heart.

In. Buh . . . bump. Buh . . . bump.

Out. Buh . . . bump. Buh . . . bump.

In. Buh . . . bump. Buh . . . bump.

And forever it repeats.

from Morning Star by Pierce Brown