This post does NOT include my choices for the best urban fantasy (UF) of 2015. In order to maintain a manageable list, I decided to place my UF choices in a separate post. (Click HERE to go to that post.) Although you may categorize some of the novels on this list as UF, depending on how you define UF, I can only go by my own definition, so we may have to agree to disagree on that topic. In any case, they are all top-notch books. To read my definitions of dystopian, gaslamp, historical, steampunk, and urban fantasy fiction, click HERE to go to my DEFINITIONS page.
My nominations for the best fantasy novels of 2015 are divided among the following categories and sub-genres:
NOVELS IN SERIES:
NOTE: At some future point in time, any of these books may become the first book in a yet-to-be-published series, but currently, each is a stand-alone novel.
From my review: The series is set in an alternate realm that is parallel to Earth and may actually be a future version of Earth. The two realms share many of the same physical characteristics (e.g., moon and stars, geological structure, salty seas) but also have many differences (e.g., languages, time measurement, plant and animal species, absence of large land masses). Entry to the Stormwrack portal involves the use of a special time piece and a ritual completed at a specific time of day. The best parts of this book are the scenes in which the heroine, Sophie, manages to gather scientific information and biological samples from Stormwrack’s lands and seas even though everyone is under orders to keep her from doing so. People are constantly shocked as Sophie keeps succeeding in her Holmesian analyses of situations—keenly observing and analyzing everything she sees and hears and deriving conclusions that she shouldn’t have been able to discern. It’s great to have such an intelligent, likeable, and curious heroine. Dellamonica continues to excel in presenting a fresh and inventive mythology with well-developed characters, engrossing story lines, and a fascinating examination of human nature, which doesn’t seem to change, no matter what kind of a world we live in.
Daryl Gregory: Harrison Squared—novel 1 in the HARRISON SERIES
From my review: Butcher describes this first novel as being a chance to meet these people, see the world they live in, and "throw them into hideous danger against horrible monsters…against evil opponents and not-so-evil opponents." Because this is the first novel, Butcher devotes a great deal of ink to world-building and characterization. That slows down the pace of the first few chapters, but don't give up. As soon as the Aurorans attack Albion, the action kicks in, the pace speeds up, and the story takes off. The series is set in a world in which an unexplained event made the world's surface uninhabitable. The enormous black spires that now house all of the Earth's population provide safety and security from the mist-shrouded surface, which is a hellish land that is overrun with monstrous predators. Each spire is a separate kingdom, and within each kingdom are groups of habbles (city-like divisions). All communication among the spires is conducted by airships. I highly recommend this book, but I warn you that if you are looking for something similar to DRESDEN FILES or CODEX ALERA, you won't find it here. This is an inventive, all-new world for Butcher, and in The Aeronaut's Windlass, Butcher makes a solid start for his series.
This is the final novel in the CLOCKWORK DAGGER DUOLOGY, so it is definitely not a stand-alone book.
From my review: The series is set in the mythical country of Caskentia, a land that has been divided by ongoing civil war between the Caskentians and the Darrowmen, derogatorily called Wasters. Cato weaves many steampunk elements seamlessly into the plot, along with a scattering of Victorian cultural references. In this finale, there are many suspenseful moments, but also plenty of tenderness and heartbreak. All of the questions left unanswered at the end of novel one are resolved in ingenious ways. In this series, Cato has created a fresh and inventive world that goes beyond the usual fantasy tropes, particularly in this novel. Although you'll probably be able to predict the solution to Octavia's huge dilemma at the very end of the book, that doesn't really take anything away from the final resolution, which is quite satisfying. If you enjoy romantic steampunk fantasy, I recommend this series.
From my review: The series is set in 1879 in an alternate London. Although England is ruled by Queen Victoria, this version of the queen married an English peer rather than a German prince. When the Industrial Revolution caused an upheaval in dark magical forces, Victoria realized that England was in the throes of some serious supernatural problems, so she created a new department to deal with them: Her Majesty's Psychic Service. The series will tell the stories of some of the psychically gifted agents of the Service, the first being Alexandrina Victoria Pendlebury, a forensic psychic reader. This is a fresh and inventive novel—a great beginning for what will certainly be an excellent series. It begins as a murder mystery, then adds a few bloody gun battles, and throws in conspiracies within conspiracies as it roars along at an exhilarating pace toward a stunning conclusion. Elrod is a first-rate story-teller who writes novels (like this one) that you just can't put down until you've read that very last page.
Bec McMaster: Of Silk and Steam—novel 5 (final novel) in LONDON STEAMPUNK/SILK AND STEAM SERIES
This is the final novel in the OF SILK AND STEAM SERIES, so it is definitely not a stand-alone book.
From my review: This novel tells the love story of Leo Barrons and Lady Aramina. Because this is the final novel, McMaster ties up all of the loose ends from previous books, weaving them together into a suspense-filled plot that follows Leo and his allies as they move into the final stages of their attempt to take down the psychotic prince consort. This is a fine ending to a terrific series that combines elements of romance, urban fantasy, and steampunk technology to introduce us to a group of well-developed, sympathetic characters who are at the center of an engrossing series story arc. I recommend that you read this book in the context of the series because of its frequent references to past events. If you haven't read the previous books, you won't have a clue as to the relevance of many of this book's revelations.