Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Top Nine Books Published in 2011

This list is so very late, to the point that someone else might consider not even posting it.  But hey, I like my lists.  I still have at least two more for last year that I want to post (one is a list of books that I didn't read.  The list is long, but distinguished...).  I'll try to get that one done before June.  That's a joke. 

As I’ve mentioned previously, compared to other years, the list of books I read last year is fairly thin. I wasn’t able to read as widely or deeply as I have in the past and the volume of new releases was greatly diminished. This does not take away from the quality of novels on this list, though. Had I read everything I wanted to, I believe a significant portion of this list would remain in place.

Some people do a top ten list, others do a top eleven, yet others may only do five. My list is 9 books long. Why? Partly to be a little bit different and partly because I want the tenth spot on my list to be reserved for that really great book which I simply did not get the chance to read during 2011. That really great book may also be something I have only heard whispers about and I may not discover for several more years. Whatever that tenth great book is, I’m holding a spot for it on my list.

This Top Nine List is more or less in order. Ask me tomorrow and some titles may shift around a little bit. Whichever order the list is in, these are the nine novels published in 2011 which I feel were the strongest titles of the year, popularity be damned.

1. Among Others, by Jo Walton: Among Others is a novel which perfectly captures the childhood of a fifteen year old who is at a new school, feels isolated, and finds solace in the worlds and magic of books. There are hints and echoes of magic in the novel for the protagonist, Morwenna, but the real magic is in the story itself – that depiction of a childhood filled with the discovery of new worlds and how liberating that was, even as those school days are less inviting.

2. The Sea Thy Mistress, by Elizabeth Bear: Oh, Bear, why must you continue to crush my heart? I wouldn’t have it any other way and the way you crush me time and again is a major reason why I keep coming back, but damn.

3. Mechanique, by Genevieve Valentine: I rather liked this strange tale of a traveling circus in a post apocalyptic, steampunk, slightly magical world. While this may seem like an odd thing to single out, but what I appreciated about Valentine’s writing was her use of repetition for effect. Every now and then, there was a phrase or an image or something that was repeated and it was more than just a stylistic quirk. It helped build the tone of the narrative and a piece of the world. Mechanique is Valentine’s first novel and I hope for many more.

4. Grail, by Elizabeth Bear: More Bear is always a good thing. Here she concludes the Jacob’s Ladder trilogy of a generation ship finally arriving at a home planet only to find another tribe of humanity already there with their own particular culture in place. Except that is a gross simplification of the complexity of Bear’s work and the shape of life and post-humans on the ship. In introducing sections on the humans on Fortune, the novel loses a bit of the claustrophobic tightness of Dust and Chill, but as a whole, Grail still satisfies.

5. Harbinger of the Storm, by Aliette de Bodard: One of the cooler bookish things I’ve discovered in the last couple of years is Aliette de Bodard’s Obsidian and Blood series. Aztec Murder Mysteries, with blood magic. Harbinger of the Storm is the second of three (so far, I hope) novels. They follow Acatl, the High Priest of the Dead, as he is pushed to investigate murders touching the highest levels of the empire. It’s good, interesting, and fresh.

6. Dark Jenny, by Alex Bledsoe: If you’re not reading Bledsoe’s Eddie LaCrosse novels then you are missing out on some excellent sword and sorcery disguised as an old school private eye novel. If you’ve read Glen Cook’s Garrett PI books, you have an idea what to expect (if you haven’t, you should). Eddie LaCrosse is a “sword jockey” and a self-aware wisecracking investigator with a heart for the dames. Dark Jenny touches upon the Arthurian legends and is just a damn good read.

7. Bloodshot, by Cherie Priest: The first of the Cheshire Red novels, Bloodshot tells a different sort of vampire story. Raylene Pendle is a high end thief, stealing rare art and jewels. She is also a vampire. Bloodshot is chock full of government conspiracy, a drag queen, the supernatural, and a healthy amount of action. While I don’t think this quite measures up to her Clockwork Century novels (or the Eden Moore books), Bloodshot is still worth checking out.

8. Kitty’s Big Trouble, by Carrie Vaughn: It starts with some historical research on whether or not General William Tecumseh Sherman was a werewolf, touches on the possibility of Wyatt Earp as a vampire hunter, and then moves on to the larger story arc Vaughn has been teasing for much of this series: that of the “Long Game” played by Roman. Vaughn takes Kitty to San Francisco, introduces readers to yet more aspects of the supernatural (if some of it is true, why not all of it?), and as always, tells a heck of a good story. The Kitty Norville novels are like summer crack.

9. Kitty’s Greatest Hits, by Carrie Vaughn: While the Kitty Norville series stands on its own as complete novels that tell the full and necessary story, this collection of Kitty-verse tales fills in some of the gaps in what we know of the backstory. It enriches our understanding of the characters and the history involved. The focus here isn’t solely on Kitty. We get Rick and TJ and the story of what really happened to Cormac in prison (this perhaps sounds more salacious than it should). This is sort of like a disc of bonus footage that goes along with the main feature. They don’t really fit into the main narrative, but it’s a treat to get to see more.

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