Well it’s that time of the year. The time of lists. And no review site would be complete with a list of the top books I read this year. In the interests of inclusion and staying topical, I’m publishing two separate lists; one of my top five books I read which were published in 2015, and one for my top five books I read which were not published in 2015. I don’t generally apply ratings or scores to my reviews, but this is a ranked list showing the book’s spot on its own list, as well as its spot out of ten inclusive of both lists. So without further ado, let’s get to listing!
Top Five Books Not Published In 2015
5) Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch (10th Overall)
You will quickly see a pattern in this list which is ‘I really really liked the Gentleman Bastards series this year’. I’ll do my best not to be too repetitive. Red Seas Under Red Skies was the second book in the series, and actually managed to avoid a lot of the common pitfalls of a second book. It didn’t drag, there was a good amount of character development, Lynch’s great dialogue was very much in evidence. I think what pushed it down to 10th on the year was really just that the setting felt really out of place. Locke and Jean just didn’t work for me as pirates on the high seas. The sections of the book which took place in Tal Verarr were right up there with everything else, but I kept wanting to skip over other sections of the story to get back to it. That speaks well for that part of the story, but not as well for the overall novel. Definitely a great instalment of a great series but not as great as it could have been if they stayed in the cities where they belong.
4) Prince of Fools, by Mark Lawrence (7th Overall)
Full Strange Currencies Review
Prince of Fools was the first in a new series which overlaps the events of his Broken Empire trilogy, and basically felt like he took all of the great mechanical stuff that went into the other trilogy: The witty dialogue, the excellent pacing, the combination of close up focus on the characters with addressing nods to the greater events of the world, and applied it all to a completely different kind of character. In my various reviews of the Broken Empire trilogy, I pointed out that it felt like Jorg was basically the villain in an unpublished version of the trilogy where the Prince of Arrow was actually the protagonist. If Jorg is The Emperor, and Arrow is Luke Skywalker, then Jalen Kendeth is Han Solo. On the surface he seems to only care about himself, and be a little shallow and cocky, but once you get to know his character a bit, his true qualities shine through.
My only complaint about this novel was that I felt there were just a touch too many nods to the previous trilogy that didn’t land as well to the uninitiated as they could have, but as complaints go, that’s pretty minor. I haven’t had a chance to pick up The Liar’s Key yet, but I’m very definitely going to do so, quite probably with holiday money for a review next year, so expect another likely entry into my top 5 next year from this fantastic author.
3) The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch (6th Overall)
Here we come to my second Gentleman Bastards entry on the list, and the third book in the series. To me, after Red Seas Under Red Skies it felt like a return to the classic form I loved so much in the first book. Drop Locke and Jean into the middle of city politics and let them go to town, and you basically get pure gold top to bottom. This one felt very like a Steven Soderbergh Oceans movie. It looks like things are going well, you get a stunning and terrible reversal, and then have no idea until right up to the end, and even after the end, whether they actually pulled it off or not. Watching their plans start weaving and interweaving with their nemesis, to say nothing for finally getting some good scenes -with- said nemesis, who has sort of been hanging over the series like a spectre up to know, was extremely entertaining.
There aren’t actually that many fantasy series that I genuinely think would make good movies. Too many of them bog down in endless action scenes, or have characters who barely change or grow and mostly just embody a few select tropes and stay that way throughout. But I really think that these are some books that would make great films, and this one most of all. So if anybody has put some thought into a dream cast for these guys, please comment below!
2) Assail, by Ian C Esslemont (3rd Overall)
Full Strange Currencies Review
Ever since I binge-read the Malazan Book of the Fallen (basically reading them all consecutively in a 2 month span) I’ve been picking these up every time I come across them, and loving them to bits. I had a bit of a heart attack followed by a scream of despair when I saw Assail and printed along the bottom was “The final novel of the Malazan Empire” However, the world seems to be in order, as there are still a number of novels coming in the setting, just that don’t deal directly with the Malazans, so crisis averted.
Assail then. So Ian Esslemont has been providing a vital service to the fans of Erikson’s big 10-book epic. So many interesting races and groups and people cropped up in Malazan that you just desperately want to know more about, and the Forkrul Assail have been second from the top of my list since they were first mentioned. (Top on the list being the Seguleh, so Ian, if you see this, Seguleh book please!) and this book did not at all disappoint. The really impressive thing that Assail did was condense the story style of Malazan down into one book while still keeping all the storylines interesting and well-developed. The whole ‘five groups all doing their own thing, and then they slowly weave together into all being at the climax’ thing makes for one of my favourite kinds of book, and this was a great example of the form. It’s pretty hard to think of reasons why -not- to read anything that Esslemont or Erikson have done with this world. So read them!
1) The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch (2nd Overall)
Full Strange Currencies Review
And now we come to my top non-2015 book of the year, and 2nd overall book of the year. I’d had this series suggested to me for a long time, and for whatever various reasons, never got around to it. Now I’m in the annoying position of having borrowed all the books, and my desire to own them myself is warring with the desire to spend book money on un-read books. But I really don’t think I can -not- get my own copies, if just to a) support Scott Lynch and b) get more people hooked on this series.
Lynch has really done an incredibly job capturing something great here. Early on in the book, there are a few little beats that make you go ‘Oh…another one of THESE books’ in a very ‘oh, a poor street boy is going to go do crime and isn’t that grand’ way. Lynch very quickly disabuses you of the notion that there is anything tropey or ‘usual’ about these books at all. Managing to feel a lot more grubby and gritty without being too grim or dark (or you know…grimdark), while still injecting a huge amount of really clever wit and charm into the dialogue, it feels like the best of the ‘heist’ school of movies (earlier comparisons to Soderbergh’s Oceans series and I think a nod to Guy Ritchie in the original review communicate my point). Locke is a great character. He’s competent and interesting, but flawed. He has a history we slowly see unfold in a series of flashbacks in the novel that really flesh out his character.
Altogether there’s not much more to say besides “Buy this book and read it.” Immensely entertaining, clever, charming, well written both thematically and mechanically. The Lies of Locke Lamora is easily one of my top books of all time.
So this concludes the list of my top 5 books not published in 2015. I hope you enjoyed reading it, and that you may have been inspired to pick one of these books up and try it out!
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