Friday, 16 December 2016

Best of 2016!

Well it's that time of the year again. The festive season is in full swing here at the lair (no, I'm not drunk... yet), and I figured it was time I reflected on what has been an amazing year for genre fiction. 

Looking back over the books I read in 2016 made me realise just how lucky I am to be a reader. I've witnessed the emergence of some stunning new talent this year, and I've rediscovered some old favourites along the way. To paraphrase George R R Martin, I've lived a thousand different lives over the past twelve months, and I've loved every single one of them! Choosing a top ten proved extremely difficult. I struggled to make my selections for a long time. However, after much deliberation and thought I managed to nut it out, and I'm pretty happy with the list I came up with. Most of the top ten have full reviews (those that don't never fear, I will get to them soon), which I have provided links to if you'd like to check them out. I've also linked purchase information. It is the season of giving after all, and as a friend of mine pointed out when you buy a book you are buying two gifts essentially (one for the reader, and another for the author of the book you purchased). So be generous to those around you!  

So without further ado, I give you my top ten best reads of 2016! 

1 - The Fisherman by John Langan/Crow Shine by Alan Baxter

I cheated a little here, but I really couldn't seperate the two. The Fisherman is a magnificent character- driven cosmic horror that crawled under my skin and refused to budge. Langan is a masterful storyteller, and The Fisherman is hands down one of the best books I've ever read, period. You can buy The Fisherman here.

Crow Shine is also an incredible book that is filled to the brim with rich and powerful dark fiction. It is one of the best collections I've ever read, and Baxter is one of the best short fiction writers working in the world today. I loved this book so much I even forked out a lot of money to buy a signed limited edition copy of it! Highly recommended. Check out my full review here, and buy yourself a copy here.

2 - The Grief Hole by Kaaron Warren 

Words cannot describe how good this book is. Poignant, chilling, and powerful, The Grief Hole is arguably one of the best ghost stories I've read in all of my years as a reader. Warren takes you on a terrifying journey into the world of loss and grief, and in doing so rips out your heart, stomps on it, and shoves it back into your chest. Captivating work. You can buy a copy of it here.

3 - Swift to Chase by Laird Barron

Swift to Chase, Barron's fourth short fiction collection, is arguably his best. It is an enthralling and frightening journey across both time and space that digs even further into his ever-growing cosmic mythos. Barron always pushes the boundaries, and this remains the case in Swift to Chase. I was hooked on every single story in this book, and Barron took my mind to places I never imagined I would go. Poetic, intoxicating, and brave storytelling, Swift to Chase is cements Barron's position as one of the best genre writers in the world today. Check out my full review here, and pick up a copy here.

4 - The Blood of Whisperers by Devin Madson

Have you ever read the opening few line of a book and fallen instantly in love with it? I have. The Blood of Whisperers had me hooked with the lines: We are judged. That's what the  Sixth Law says. It says the gods are always watching. That they can hear the whispers of our souls. From that first page onwards I was drawn into one of the best fantasy books I've ever read. Wonderful Asian inspired world building, brilliant characterisation, and a story that will destroy you emotionally, Madson takes everything I love about writers like Guy Gavriel Kay and makes it better. Highly recommended. You can pick up a copy here

5 - The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle 

The Ballad of Black Tom is cosmic horror at its finest. It is raw and formidable storytelling, with LaValle never shying away from both honouring and critiquing Lovecraft and his work. I was enthralled by the setting (1920s New York) and shifting points of view, and I adored the pacing of it. LaValle sets everything up like a chess master, and leaves you reeling at the end. Brilliant characterisation and top off what is one of the best stories I've read in many years. Madness encapsulated in novella form, and mesmerising from start to finish, I can only hope that LaValle writes more stories in this genre. You can buy a copy here.

6 - Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew J. McKiernan

Although this collection was published a couple of years ago (and won an award mind you), I didn't read it until early this year. And holy hell, what a collection! McKiernan is one of the most talented writers I've ever come across. Writing in a style that is both poetic and muscular, he dances across genres with glee with stories that range from Lovecraftian horror through to a clown counter revolutionary movement. One of my all time favourite collections. You can read my full review here, and pick up a copy here

7 - Into the Mist by Lee Murray

I'm a big lover of military horror, and Lee Murray nails everything I love about the genre with this book. Thrilling, action packed, and utterly enthralling, Into the Mist blends ancient myths and primordial horror with a wonderful setting and powerful characterisation. Lee Murray is a writer to watch. Brilliant stuff. My full review can be found here, and you can pick up a copy of the book here (Just be mindful that the publisher is currently switching distributors. Updated entires should be up soon).

8 - The Mirror's Truth by Michael R. Fletcher

Like Grimdark? Well it gets no darker than the work of Michael R. Fletcher. Fletcher burst onto the Grimdark scene last year with his book Beyond Redemption, which had me in a frenzy with his incredibly original world building and hellishly dark storyline (check out my full review of BR here). Fletcher continues with the mayhem in The Mirror's Truth. Brutal, uncompromising, and even more fucked up than Beyond Redemption, I loved diving back into this universe! I can't wait to see what comes next from Fletcher.  

9 - American Nocturne by Hank Schwaeble 

I rediscovered my love for short stories this year, and this collection was the book that started that it all. Dark, evocative, and utterly addictive, Schwaeble writes a power and precision that is honestly astounding. There are so many twists and turns in this collection that I didn't know left from right at times, and his take on Lovecraftian horror left me chilled to the core for months afterwards (and it has the best line about goats I've ever read). A masterful collection. Check out my full review here, and you will be able to buy a copy of it online again soon (Cohesion Press, the publisher, is currently switching distributors and putting everything back up with updated information). So keep an eye out for it. 

10 - Vigil by Angela Slatter 

I've been a big fan of Slatter's work for a few years now, and Vigil further cements her standing in my eyes. A powerhouse of a book that is filled to the brim with brilliant action sequences, jarring twists and thrills, and a universe that is both fantastical and grounded at the same time. Vigil was the kick up the arse urban fantasy needed, and I absolutely adored reading it from start to finish. I can't wait to read the next instalment! You can check out my full review here, and it can be purchased here

Honourable Mentions - 

I'd feel terrible if I didn't take the time mention the following entries that I loved as well. 2016 really was a magnificent year for speculative fiction, and I really did struggle to pick a top ten. All of the following books are brilliant in their own right, and they just missed out on a top ten entry. You all should definitely check them out:

Tallwood by Amanda Kool, Leviathan's Blood by Ben Peek, The Angel of the Abyss by Hank Schwaeble, A Shattered Empire by Mitchell Hogan, A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones, The Children of Old Leech edited by Ross. E Lockhart and Justin Steele, Fathomless by Greig Beck, Children of Lovecraft edited by Ellen Datlow, Crooked by Austin Grossman, Armageddon Bound by Tim Marquitz, Cthulhu: Deep Down Under edited by Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira, and Bryce Stevens, SNAFU: Black Ops edited by Geoff Brown and Amanda J. Spedding, The Warren by Brian Evenson, X's for Eyes by Laird Barron, Jade Gods by Patrick Freivald, The Stars Askew by Rjurik Davidson, Disappearance at Devil's Rock, The Lure of Devouring Light by Michael Griffin, The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley, My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier, Suspended in Dusk edited by Simon Dewar, Squid's Grief by DK Mok, The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence, Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie and Black Jade by Kylie Chan. 

So there you have it. 2016 has been a stellar year for speculative fiction, and I'm already very excited by what I'm seeing on the release calendar for next year. I wish you all a happy and safe holiday over Christmas, and I look forward to sharing the book love with you in 2017. Keep being good to each other people. 

Matt

Disclaimer -

In the spirit of honesty and full disclosure... I have included titles here from my employer Cohesion Press. I want to point out that Into the Mist and American Nocturne were both rated and reviewed BEFORE I started working for them, and are in my top ten on their own merit. The other Cohesion Press titles (Fathomless, SNAFU: Black Ops, Jade Gods, and The Angel of the Abyss) that I have listed in my honourable mentions are all also wonderful and brilliant in their own right, but they were published AFTER I started working for Cohesion. I wanted to prevent any accusations of bias being levelled against me or Cohesion Press. I highly recommend that you check them out also. 

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