Smugglivus Guest Blogger

Smugglivus 2012 Guest Blogger: Kristen of Fantasy Cafe

Welcome to Smugglivus 2012! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2012, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2013.

Who: Kristen, one of the fantastic duo behind the always amazing Fantasy Cafe. We discovered Kristen’s blog years ago and it was love at first read – since then, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Kristen in person (BEA, baby!), and we are always huge fans of her insightful articles and reviews. Oh, and she has pretty impeccable taste in her SFF books, too.

Fantasy Cafe

Please give it up for Kristen, everyone!

First of all, thank you to Ana and Thea for the invitation to participate in this year’s Smugglivus! I look forward to this event every year, even if it means my TBR grows even more rapidly than normalóthat’s quite a feat considering its usual rate of growth!

2012 was somewhat of an odd reading year for me since there were a couple of months that I didn’t have much time for reading. Even though I didn’t read as many books as usual, it seems as though what I lacked in quantity, I made up for in quality. Narrowing down my favorites this year was just as difficult as it has been during years when I’ve read more books. Here are six of my favorites from 2012 so far (since I’m still desperately trying to read more incredible books before the end of the year!):

The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin

The Killing Moon

N. K. Jemisin has been one of my new favorite authors since the Inheritance trilogy, and The Killing Moon is my favorite book I’ve read by her yet. It’s the first of an Egyptian-inspired fantasy duology, but don’t worryóthe first book stands on its own really well and even if you must continue the series anyway the next book is already out. Everything about this book is top notch from the lovely writing to the well-thought-out world-building to the complex characters to the engaging story. I loved the world of Gujaareh with its dream magic and the religious structure that involves Gatherers. Gatherers steal into the dreams of the corrupt and suffering and end their lives, leaving them in their favorite dream and gathering their dreamblood in order to help the people. They’re not bad people but are a mixture of ruthless and compassionate ones who are doing what they believe to be right in the service of their goddess. Those who suffer even find their visit to be a blessed event, and the religious institution is complicated, as are the characters. Two of the three major characters had a very different perspective from the other, yet I understood where both sides were coming from and the experiences that shaped them. There’s a lot of depth in this book, which is thoughtfully put together.

Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

Range of Ghosts

Elizabeth Bear is one of my favorite authors and this is actually my favorite of her books so far. (There seems to be a pattern here. I promise I won’t describe each one of these books this way, especially since one third of these books are by new-to-me authors!) Range of Ghosts is the start of a fantasy trilogy with a setting based on Central Asia, and it’s another one that impressed me with the strength of its writing, characterization, world-building, and story. I loved everything about this book, but one aspect that particularly struck me was the way magic worked in this world. It’s based on real-world knowledge instead of just knowing the right words or hand motions, and becoming a wizard in the first place requires a huge sacrifice. Trying to attain magical ability is a gamble, though, since there’s no guarantee one will survive this procedureóor even gain any magical power as a result. There’s also a very vivid depiction of the harshness of people vying for the preservation of their own power, but that’s not to say the main characters are power hungry people who are difficult to like because they are not. I loved these characters and was particularly impressed by the inner strength and determination they possessed, even against great hardships.

The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer

The Tainted City

The second book in the Shattered Sigil trilogy completely took me by surprise. I enjoyed the first book, The Whitefire Crossing, but it didn’t make me want to do the Book Dance of Joy. However, this one made me want to do the Book Dance of Joy (or, at the very least, tell everyone I know to read the series). It’s a very different book than the first book with its more adventurous story, and this second novel delved more into the world and characters. The Tainted City had exactly what I like to see in my fantasy novelsóa fascinating, well-built, and consistent world; excellent, authentic characters who are put to the test; an exciting story that kept me on the edge of my seat; and magic that is not easy and often requires making tough choices. I love the balance of the two nations that are important to the story. Ninavel, a desert, gives mages free reign and finds them important for supplying water to the people. In contrast, Alathia heavily regulates magic. Despite these two very different perspectives, I think both viewpoints are understandable. The characters were also excellent, and I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of one of the villainous characters. He’s definitely ruthless, but he’s not stereotypical and actually has the capacity to care for other people, which I found made him a really compelling character.

House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

House of Shadows (FINAL)

This was my first book by Rachel Neumeier, but I can guarantee it will not be my last! This story of two sisters and a bard who become entangled in a scheme against a kingdom is enchanting. It’s beautifully written and character-driven with this wondrous fairy tale quality. The different types of magic, the mage house with its mysterious passageways, and the dragon all added to its allure. I also loved the characters, especially Taudde and Nemienne. From the third page, Nemienne, one of eight sisters who felt like she didn’t belong captured my sympathy:

But sometimes, especially on those evenings, she felt her fatherís puzzled gaze resting on her, as though he understood how each of his other daughters fit into his household but did not quite understand where Nemienne might exactly fit. Sometimes Nemienne herself wondered what kind of puzzle it might be, that had a Nemienne-shaped piece missing out of its middle.

I was utterly charmed by this description and House of Shadows as a whole.

Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip

Wonders of the Invisible World

I’m not much of a short story reader so I never would have imagined a short story collection would ever end up on a favorites list of mine. That I included one is a testament to the beauty of Patricia A. McKillip’s writing. After taking a peek at the beginning of this book, I was completely spellbound by McKillip’s lovely prose and ended up reading the entire book. There is an incredible range represented in these stories with some lighter, more humorous stories; some more dramatic and darker stories; and everything from fairy-tale-like fantasy to contemporary fantasy to science fiction. My favorite story in this collection, “The Kelpie,”is a love story that intertwines fantasy and myth with artistic and feminist themes. When I read this passage, it completely stole my heart:

ìWhat are your thoughts on the breadth of a womanís soul, Mr. Bonham?î

ìI think,î he said fervently, ìI could travel a lifetime in one and never see the half of it.î

She regarded him silently for a heartbeat, out of eyes the color of a fine summer day, and in that moment he caught his first astonished glimpse of the undiscovered country that was theirs.

It’s such a gorgeous story, and it’s far from the only impressive one in this collection.

The Siren Depths by Martha Wells

The Siren Depths

Last year, I discovered Martha Wells and the first of the Books of the Raksura, The Cloud Roads (thank you, Book Smugglers, for your wonderful review that convinced me to read it!). The next two books both came out this year and were both enjoyable, but my favorite book in the series has to be the third one. It’s so satisfying because it wraps up some loose ends from the first book, and it’s just one of those books with endearing characters that it’s a joy to revisit. The Three Worlds is a completely original setting with shapeshifters and various species of the earth, sky, and sea. I love that the Raksura have their own unique culture but have plights that make them very easy to relate to. The main character Moon’s longing for a place to belong is very sympathetic, and I was rooting for him from the start so it was fun to see what happened to him in the third volume. I’m looking forward to reading more set in this world when the Raksura novellas are released!

I could also go on about two more fantastic books by some of my favorite authors, Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire and Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor. Or I could discuss Banner of the Damned by Sherwood Smith, which was my first book by this author and made me want to read more of her work. Or I could write about After the Fall, Before the Fall, and During the Fall by Nancy Kress, a very short book that packed in a lot that I could not put down. But I’ll stop there and move on to books I’m looking forward to in 2013!

Shattered Pillars

Of course, I’m excited to read The Shattered Pillars, the sequel to Range of Ghosts, and I’m quite looking forward to the first book in a new series by Martha Wells, Emilie and the Hollow World. Here’s some other books by authors not on my list above that I’m really looking forward to in order of publication:

Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs (March 2013)

Frost Burned

It’s a new Mercy Thompson book. Need I say more?

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord (March 2013)

The Best Of All Possible Worlds

I haven’t read anything by Karen Lord, but I love the sound of this book and have been hearing lots of early praise for it. Science fiction about clashing alien societies sounds like exactly the type of book I’d like to read.

The Grail of the Summer Stars by Freda Warrington (April 2013)

Grail of the Summer Stars

I loved the first Aetherial Tales book, really enjoyed the second, and cannot wait for this one! Freda Warrington writes beautifully, and I really enjoyed her complex and flawed characters. They made mistakes, but I thought they also made mistakes that made complete sense. And I was very glad to hear that some of the characters from Elfland should return in this one!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (June 2013)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

It’s written by Neil Gaiman. Enough said.

Cold Steel by Kate Elliott (June 2013)

Cold Steel

Waiting for the conclusion to the Spiritwalker trilogy has me on tenterhooks! The second book was a page-turner with a fascinating world, characters I loved, and wonderful dialogue and that ending! What happened?! I must know!

I could write quite a bit about books I’m looking forward to in 2013. Both the second InCryptid book and the next October Daye book by Seanan McGuire have me quite excited. And the next Kate Daniels book is a cause for celebration! But I’ll stop there and end my bookish ramblings.

Thank you, Ana and Thea, for the chance to share some of my favorite books and for the wonderful recommendations you both share all year round!

Thank you, Kristen!

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  • Chachic
    December 23, 2012 at 9:06 am

    I borrowed House of Shadows from the library in Singapore but didn’t have time to read it before the due date rolled around. I’m planning to borrow it again! Good to know that it’s in your best of 2012 list.

    I would love for you to read more Sherwood Smith. Crown Duel is still my favorite but I also enjoyed reading her other titles.

  • Kristen
    December 23, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Thank you for the recommendation, Chachic! I would love to read more Sherwood Smith books, too. Crown Duel is probably the next one of her books I’ll read.

    I hope you also enjoy House of Shadows when you get a chance to borrow it again!

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