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Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Listed below are the best of all of the urban fantasy (UF) novels that I read and reviewed in 2014. I have divided them into three sections: final novels, long-term favorites, and newer series. Within each section, titles are in random order, except for The Witch without a Name from THE HOLLOWS series, which I believe to be the best FINAL UF novel of the year. 

By the way, when I read through this post, I realized that I used the word "terrific" (and a few other words of praise) an inordinate number of times, but after all, these are the best of the bunch, so please forgive me for the sin of overusing superlatives.

Other Types of Fantasy Fiction: In order to maintain a manageable list, I decided to place my choices for the best futuristic, alternate realm, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, historical, and superhero fantasy novels in a separate post. (That post will go up tomorrow night, 1/7/14.) You may categorize some of the novels on that list as UF, depending on how you define UF, but I can only go by my own definitions, so we may have to agree to disagree on that topic. In any case, they are all top-notch novels. Click HERE to go to my DEFINITIONS page, where you will find the definitions that I use to identify and categorize the following sub-genres: dystopianhistoricalpost-apocalypticsteampunk, and urban fantasy

Click on the pink-link title/author line for any book to go directly to my full review of the novel and series, which always includes an overview of the world-building and a link to the author's web site.  


Kim Harrison: The Witch with No Name—13th and FINAL novel in THE HOLLOW/RACHAEL MORGAN SERIES
Thank you, Kim Harrison, for creating this wonderful world. I don't know what I'm going to do without Rachel in my reading life. This is a terrific finale to one of most fascinating and well-written urban fantasy series I have ever read. I'm always afraid to read the final novel in a long series (especially a series that I absolutely LOVE), but I am happy to say that this time, my fears were unfounded. Harrison has put together an action-filled, intricately plotted story that resolves all of the major conflicts that arose in previous books in a most satisfying manner. Speaking of the earlier books, at one point, Rachel makes a mind-boggling statement when she, Jenks, and Ivy once again head off together into danger. Jenks says, "Just like old times." And Rachel scoffs, "Old times…We've only been doing this for three years." Yes folks, this entire series has taken place within a three-year time span! It hardly seems possible. At this point, all I can say is that if you haven't cracked open this series, you're missing out on a lot of great urban fantasy reading. 

Here are my nominees for best, worst, etc, among the quirky cast:
Best book: Pale Demon (danger-filled road trip with Rachel and Trent steeped in simmering sexual tension with a few dollops of danger—need I say more?)
Weirdest book: A Fistful of Charms (missing werewolf artifact, weaselly ex-boyfriend, jumbo-sized Jenks, scuba diving in northern Michigan—it's a very odd mix)
Best ex-boyfriend: Kisten Phelps (sexy and tragic)
Worst ex-boyfriend: Nick Sparagmos (a lying scumbag)
Best snarky comments and inventive curse words: Jenks: "Oh for the sweet, humpin' love of Tink!"
Most heartbreaking deaths: Kisten, Matalina, and Ceri
Most vicious villain: Ku'Sox Sha-Ku'ru
Craziest demon: Newt
Wiliest demon: Al    
Most pretentious, self-important, underhanded loser: Ellasbeth (She never learns from her mistakes, and it's such fun to see her fail, time and time again.)

Jenn Bennett: Banishing the Dark—fourth and FINAL novel in ARCADIA BELL SERIES
Let me begin by saying that I really hate to see this series end. It has been a reliably exciting and suspenseful series with skillfully drawn characters, intricately crafted plots, and an intriguing series story arc. The heroine has just the right amount of angst in her interior monologues—not the endless wallows of self-pity that we often see with other heroines, but enough that we admire her ability to keep moving forward despite her tragic childhood. As usual, the plot is complex, but not convoluted. Each clue that Cady and Lon discover leads them on to the next step in their search. Unlike the previous novels, Cady and Lon are together in this one all the way through, even though Cady doesn't really understand why Lon won't leave her side, not even for a moment. Cady's shyness with Lon and her confused feelings about their sleeping arrangements are entertaining to watch, especially when we see Lon in the background seething with restrained passion. Because of some plot developments early in the book, Cady doesn't remember ever having slept with Lon, but Lon remembers every one of the passion-filled nights he spent with her. Don't worry, though, Cady and Lon have plenty of love scenes as she falls in love with him all over again. This is a terrific ending for a wonderful series. I can't say enough about Bennett's skills in character building and plot development. If you haven't been reading the series, please don't start with this book. Go back to Kindling the Moon and enjoy Cady's entire journey. 

Devon Monk: Stone Cold—second and FINAL novel in BROKEN MAGIC SERIES (set in the ALLIE BECKSTROM world)
I won't tell you why Terric and Shame's story lines are separate for much of this novel because that would be a spoiler. What I can say is that at a certain point, something happens to set each one on a separate path. Both paths are filled with uncertainty, danger, pain, and heartbreak, and even when they converge later in the book, things don't get much better—at least not at first. I won't spoil the novel for you by revealing any more of the plot, but since this is the final novel, you can imagine that most—but not all—of the characters make it through to the end. Naturally, with a book that begins with a baby shower, you can expect it to end with a birth—that's about the only thing that is predictable about the plot. The resolution, which takes place in the requisite slam-bang showdown scene, is quite satisfying. It's been a long, wild ride through the nine ALLIE BECKSTROM novels and the two BROKEN MAGIC novels, but it's been well worth every minute of reading. Monk has constructed a remarkable world, and she has always done a masterful job with plot construction and characterization. Both main and supporting characters are well-developed, with distinctive personalities and in-depth backstories. I'm sad to see the end of this world, but I'm looking forward to enjoying Monk's future works.  

Jacqueline Carey: Poison Fruitthird and FINAL novel in AGENT OF HEL TRILOGY
This is an action-filled, suspenseful book that satisfactorily ties up all the loose ends and resolves all the mysteries that have been set forth in previous books. The resolution to the Dufreyne-related mystery is particularly dramatic as Daisy follows her heart, hoping that she isn't about to cause the apocalypse. I highly recommend this book and this series. Carey is a skilled writer who—luckily for the reader—handles Daisy's first-person voice exceptionally well. Daisy is a brave and likable heroine who muddles through her daily life just like the rest of us (except that she is a hell spawn with a tail and we aren't). The main characters are well developed; the secondary characters are interestingly quirky; the action moves along at a fast pace; and the finale has enough suspense and drama to keep you holding your breath. 


Seanan McGuire: The Winter Long—eighth novel in OCTOBER DAYE SERIES
Most series begin to go stale and formulaic by the time the eighth novel rolls around, but not this one. It's as fresh and inventive as ever. What a great story McGuire tells in The Winter Long! I’ll tell you only that an old enemy of Toby’s (from way back in book 1) turns up early in the story. To add any more plot information would be to give spoilers, and I don't want to taint your reading of this terrific novel. (You'll notice that there is no publisher's blurb on the back cover, and there's a reason for that.) Although the primary conflicts in this plot are resolved in the climactic showdown at the end, this book adds even more layers to the world-building and introduces a number of new story arcs. For example: Where is Toby's mother and what is she up to? Will Rayseline ever wake up, and if so, what will be her mental state? Will Toby and Tybalt tie the knot? How will the events of The Winter Long change Toby's relationships with the Luidaeg and with Sylvester? How will Toby's newly discovered family secrets affect her future? This is one of my all-time favorite series, and The Winter Long adds yet another excellent episode that makes this five-star series even stronger. 

Patricia Briggs: Night Broken—eighth novel in MERCY THOMPSON SERIES
When the phone rings in the Hauptman household and a hysterical woman demands tearfully to speak to Adam, you just know that this story isn't going to go well for Mercy. The phone call is from Christy, Adam's manipulative ex-wife, and she's in trouble—big trouble. Briggs has a great time with the Christy-Mercy situation. With Christy temporarily living in the house, Mercy has to walk a fine line. She can either submit to Christy's manipulations and look weak in front of her pack, or she can confront Christy and look like a jealous shrew. Will Mercy be able to outwit and outplay Christy, or will Christy manage to turn the pack against Mercy? Once again, Briggs provides us with well-drawn characters, each of whom has an interesting back story that adds depth to the plot. This series just keeps getting better and better, so you won't want to miss reading this novel.

Rob Thurman: Downfall—ninth novel in CAL LEANDROS SERIES
Warning: this summary has a spoiler if you haven't read Slashback. In this game-changing ninth novel, Thurman tells the story from the alternating first-person perspectives of eons-old Robin Goodfellow and 25-year-old Cal Leandros. This is a very different kind of story than we usually find in this series. The primary difference is that there are many, many scenes of reminiscence, as first Goodfellow, then Cal, remember their past lives and Cal and Niko’s past deaths. Goodfellow has been profoundly affected by his inability to keep the boys alive, and he is determined that this time he will not fail. At the same time, Cal is determined that even if he dies, Niko won’t, but since Niko feels the same way about Cal, their actions kind of cancel each other out. In the end, this is a story about friendship, faith, and trust. Thurman gives us a climax that twists at the last minute in the best trickster tradition. As I read those last chapters, my emotions were swinging from dread to disbelief to horror to hope—and back again. Here’s a shout-out to all of you urban fantasy writers who fall back on an improbable deus ex machina to swoop in and rescue the hero in the nick of time: Read this book for a lesson in plotting from a master of that literary art. Goodfellow is really the hero of this book, and I’m glad that Thurman found a way for us to look beyond his sexy-stud exterior to his wounded soul and his appreciation for the brotherhood that exists between himself and the Leandros siblings. Don't miss this terrific addition to a fantastic series that is now winding down to its last two books.

Ilona Andrews: Magic Breaks—seventh novel in KATE DANIELS SERIES
One of my favorite lines in this book comes when Kate explains to Curran that she met up with her grandmother’s skeleton deep in an underground cave and that Grandma gave her a rather gristly gift (which I can’t identify for you because it’s a spoiler). Curran’s response: “Do you know what most people have from their grandmother? A tea set. Or a quilt…If your family had a quilt, it would be made out of chimera skin and stuffed with feathers from dead angels.” So true. Two supporting characters add interest and entertainment to the story. First is Ghastek, the new leader of the People. At first, he comes across as just another pompous politician, but when he and Kate bond after getting kidnapped together, we learn more about his unhappy childhood and begin to view him more sympathetically. Then, there’s Desandra, whom we met in the previous book. She goes along with Kate on some her more dangerous missions and proves to be courageous, aggressive, and sarcastically humorous. It is obvious that Kate is getting tired of her “fishbowl” life—always on call, always being criticized by Pack members, always facing danger, and never getting any credit for putting her life on the line for the Pack. At this point in the series, she reminds me of Sookie Stackhouse at the end of her series in that both heroines have come to the point that they just want a normal life that doesn’t include daily battles with people who want to kill them and their loved ones. I enjoyed this book immensely and couldn’t stop reading once I got started. I loved the opening “summary” sections because they provided an opportunity to review some of the details from past adventures that I had all but forgotten.  


Elliott James: Daring—second novel in PAX ARCANA SERIES
This is one of the best urban fantasy series on the market today with its fresh and inventive take on magic, its complex and fascinating hero, and its witty mix of pop culture, unexpectedly appropriate literary references, sly humor, non-sappy pathos, and an unlikely romance. The flashback scenes from John's early history with the Knights are fascinating. Even more interesting are the scenes in which he bonds with his werewolf brothers and sisters in ways he never thought possible. In those scenes, we see a new side of John, a more thoughtful and emotional side (but still brimming over with sardonic banter). Woven throughout are several themes: that we need to recognize and accept who we are, that brotherhood and fratricide are points on the same continuum, and that good and evil are not absolutes. If you are looking for a well-written urban fantasy adventure with a charismatic hero, a riveting plot, and plenty of sarcastic wit and deadpan humor, I promise that you will enjoy this book—and this series. 

A. A. Aguirre: Silver Mirrors—second novel in APPARATUS INFERNUM SERIES
This series reminds me of the original Avengers TV show, where the hero and heroine have many of the same characteristics as their counterparts in this series. The hero even wears a bowler and carries a walking stick just like Steed, and the heroine has mad fighting skills and a wicked sense of humor just like Emma Peel. This is not a slam-bang, profanity-filled urban fantasy tale. Instead, it's more like Jim Butcher's DRESDEN FILES in its gritty but civilized tone and well-developed and well-spoken lead characters. The pace is moderate, but steady, and the character development is handled very well, with critical details creeping into conversations and thoughts all the way through the book. This is a solid series with an inventive mythology and a fresh approach to urban fantasy. It's refreshing to find a heroine who is able to have a loyal and loving relationship with her partner/lover/friend without being dependent on him to fight her battles or pull her out of danger. 

Kelley Armstrong: Visions—second novel in CAINSVILLE SERIES
Although there is a murder plot at the center of this novel, the real fascination is in the developing relationships among the characters as they get to know one another and as they begin to learn that they have been born to play roles in a world they never knew anything about…until now. Armstrong provides just enough new information to quench our thirst temporarily, but she leaves us begging for more. I can’t say enough about Armstrong’s character building (and world-building, for that matter). By the end of Visions, we have a clear picture of all of the lead characters, and what a relief it is that they are so original, so realistic, and so very different from the usual one-dimensional, good-against-evil heroes and heroines who battle their way through most urban fantasy series. Of course, they are on the side of good, but which side is the “good” side? And is one side all good and the other all bad? These are nuanced characters placed in an extremely ambiguous world that is built on centuries of cultural traditions, all of which they are unaware…for now at least. The Cainsville elders still have to reveal their true motives, as do the two mysterious men who tried to pull Liv to their sides. This series just keeps getting better and better, and I can hardly wait for book 3!    

G. T. Almasi: Hammer of Angels—second novel in SHADOWSTORM SERIES
This is a comic-book of a plot, with one battle after another filled with disintegrating bodies, gushing blood, spurting brains, broken skulls, and severed limbs (and heads)—you get the picture. But since the action moves at breakneck speed, the gory scenes fly by too quickly for you to dwell on the carnage. Also, each battle is very different from the previous oneabolutely no repetition. In one situation, Brando turns into MacGyver as he makes smoke bombs out of Coke cans, ping pong balls, and a bit of gun powder. In another scene, Alix and another agent kill two boatloads of enemy attackers by swimming out to them underwater armed only with knives. This is like every action movie or action comic you have ever seen—a riveting series of unbelievable exploits carried out by one young girl and her loyal and lethal buddies. With its insanely fast pace and unkillable super-heroine, this book is a page-turner that you won't want to stop reading until you get to the last page of the requisite showdown scene and the tear-jerker of a reunion that follows. Almasi is a skilled writer who has come up with a terrific heroine and a great supporting cast of characters, each of whom has his or her own well-defined personality. I recommend this series for all of you who love action-heavy plots and don't mind a big dose of blood-and-guts annihilation. It even has some dark humor as Alix and her team engage in noir repartee during and in between battles. 

Anne Bishop: Murder of Crows—second novel in THE OTHERS SERIES
Bishop does readers a great favor by including "A Brief History of the World," an overview of the mythology of the world of the Others (aka terra indigene), at the beginning of the novel. I wish all authors would do this instead of forcing the mythology into the dialogue and/or narration of each and every book in a series. The culture-clash humor is even better in this book than it was in the first one, and it begins in the very first scene. Many of the cultural clashes are simply hilarious, such as the scene in which Simon and his male colleagues find out first hand (and for the very first time) what it actually means when someone says that a human woman is acting strangely because it's "that time of the month." On a more sober note, the Others begin to realize that many humans whom they have had trusted in the past have neglected to explain various human customs—either because they didn't realize that they needed to or because it gave them leverage over the Others. This is a great novel and a terrific series with just the right balance of horror and humor to make it a real page-turner. 

M. L. Brennan: Iron Night & Tainted Blood—second and third novels in FORTITUDE SCOTTGENERATION V SERIES 
Brennan is a excellent story teller who has the ability to weave her character development seamlessly through the various story lines. She makes us understand Fort's desperate need to maintain his humanity in the face of his growing vampirism. In Iron Night, we recognize why Suze pushes Fort toward Lilah, even though we can see her pain, especially when she tells him a melancholy parable about the origin of her race. We watch Madeline (Fort's mother) fading away, but still holding on to her authority and still working hard to mold Fort into a vampire who will become the connection between the vampire and human worlds. In Tainted Blood, Fort's vampire transition process makes a major jump, which results in several disturbing incidents that make Fort wonder if he really wants to continue his existence if this is his future. As usual, there is plenty of wry humor scattered amongst the scenes of drama and violence. Fortitude Scott is an interesting and complex character, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to him as his vampire instincts become stronger, his sister gets crazier, his brother takes another bride, and his mother grows weaker and weaker. This is a terrific book (and series), with an inventive mythology, wonderful characters, compelling action, and sophisticated plotting.

Rhiannon Held: Reflected—third novel in SILVER SERIES 
Once again, Held has created a terrific page-turner of a novel with a fast-moving plot, plenty of suspense, subtle humor, and nuanced characters (even the villain). Tom continues to be a strong character, and in this book he has a maturing influence on Felicia that will no doubt turn into a loving relationship given time. This is such a wonderful series—a fresh and inventive approach to werewolves that moves away from woo-woo magical effects to the often gut-wrenching consequences of plain old human (or werewolf) nature—proving that they aren't much different from one another. You could read this novel as a stand-alone, but do yourself a favor and read all three novels in sequence for a richer reading experience. 

Chuck Wendig: The Cormorant—third novel in MIRIAM BLACK SERIES 
This is a terrific novel that is definitely right up there in breath-holding, page-turning quality with Blackbirds. Miriam tells her story in her usual profane, sarcastic manner, and she meets up with a series of quirky supporting characters who connect with her on a visceral level, some positively and some negatively. As the story flashes back and forth in time, more and more of the blank spots in Miriam's character development are filled in, particularly in regard to her relationship with her mother. I recommend that you read the first two novels before reading this one because the plot relies heavily on events from previous books, particularly book 1. 

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