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Thursday, January 14, 2016


     Listed below are the best fantasy fiction titles for adults that I read and reviewed in 2015. Within each category or subgenre, the books are listed alphabetically by author. 

                 IMPORTANT NOTE:                 
     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.
     The fantasy genre can be subdivided into an endless number of subgenres, none of which are standardized, so I divided my list in a manner that made the most sense to me. I listed the stand-alone novels separately from the series novels because many people prefer to read stand-alones rather than tie themselves to ongoing series. These stand-alones include a number of different subgenres. Some of the series novels combine several fantasy subgenres, so I listed each one in the subgenre that I felt was the best fit. Within each subgenre and category, the titles are arranged alphabetically, by author's last name. 

     My nominations for the best fantasy novels of 2015 are divided among the following categories and sub-genres:

   > Stand-Alone Fantasy Novels
   > Fantasy Story Collections and Anthologies

   > Alternate World Fantasy
   > Comic Fantasy
   > Dark Fantasy
   > Romantic Fantasy
   > Sci Fi/Fantasy
   > Steampunk Fantasy

     To read my full review of each book on this list, click on the PINK-LINK book title on the first line of each entry below. All of my review posts for series books are ongoing and all-inclusive. That means that each series post contains a reading-order list of all the novels, stories, and novellas; an overview of the world-building; and reviews (or sometimes, summaries) of all of the books/stories published in that series to date, with the newest review at the top of the post. 

     If you are a paranormal romance fan, click HERE to read my list of Top 10 Paranormal Romance Novels for 2015.

                BEST STAND-ALONE FANTASY NOVELS                 
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. 

Elizabeth Bear: Karen Memory 
Plot Type: Dark Steampunk Fantasy
From my review: This steampunk fantasy is told in pulp-fiction style, with a plucky heroine, lots of weird gadgetry, and a supporting cast of quirky characters, most of whom are employees of the Hôtel Mon Cherie, a brothel located in Rapid City, a fictional Wild-West town in the Pacific Northwest in the late 19th century. Many of the brothel's customers are gold miners coming from and going to Alaska. Karen's narration gives the reader a wonderfully detailed picture of Rapid City—images of its appalling poverty, its unique physical structure, its complicated cultural elements, and its corrupt politics. This a story in which the heroine gets beaten, whipped, kidnapped, shot, badly burned (twice), and nearly blown up, but (being extraordinarily spunky) she always prevails, just like a superhero. If you are looking for escapism steampunk with a tough-but-vulnerable heroine, well-drawn supporting characters, an enthralling plot, and a 90-mile-an-hour ending, you'll probably enjoy this book. 

Mat Johnson: Loving Day
Plot Type: Modern-day Fantasy with Ghosts
From my review: Johnson's book is a keen-edged, incisive, satirical, frequently hilarious take on race in America. His protagonist, Warren Duffy, is a quick-witted neurotic cynic whose deadpan comments—both humorous and morose—are always spot on. As the story opens, Warren has just returned to Philadelphia feeling like his life has been a succession of failures: his broken marriage, his sputtering career as an inept comic book artist, his lack of money, and now the inheritance left to him by his recently deceased father—a dilapidated, roofless monstrosity of a house in the middle of the city's roughest neighborhood. As if that weren't enough, Warren soon realizes that the house is haunted by two ghosts. When Warren sets up at a local comic convention, he is confronted by Tal, a teen-age girl who tells Warren that she is his daughter, the product of a clumsy interracial sexual escapade when he was just sixteen. Tal, who has the pale skin of her late mother, soon moves into the decrepit mansion with Warren, and he tries to find her a school that will enhance her perceptions of her new-to-her black heritage. Johnson is brilliant in his satirization of the search for schools, finally settling on the Mélange Center, a mixed-race community organization that is squatting in a municipal park, and which embraces balance between both races that make up a biracial person's genetic heritage. In order to be accepted as a teacher at the school (in exchange for Tal's tuition fees), Warren has to take a test with questions like "Was O.J. Simpson guilty?" and "What are your feelings about mayonnaise?" The secondary characters are over-the-top in their words and actions, particularly the members of the eccentric Mélange community. And the house that stands at the heart of the novel is also a spectacular character—a monster representing the ghosts of the past (real ghosts in this case) from which Warren must disengage if he is to move on. Johnson is an adept comic observer, and I found myself chuckling at his frequent sardonic observations. 

Justine Larbalestier: Razorhurst
Plot Type: Historical Urban Fantasy for YA and Adults
From my review: I am always searching for fresh and inventive new worlds, and in this book, I found one that captured my interest right from the beginning. The story is set in 1932 in Razorhurst, a hardscrabble neighborhood in an alternate Sydney, Australia that gets its name from the gangs of thugs who roam the streets keeping order with long, sharply honed razors. The protagonist is Kelpie, a growth-stunted, streetwise girl who has lived wild on the streets since her foster mother died. Kelpie has been raised by ghosts: guided and protected by the ghost of a school teacher, who taught Kelpie to read; by the ghost of her foster mother, who helped her learn how to prowl safely through the alleys and hovels of Razorhurst; and by the ghost of a boxer who taught her self-defense skills. The ending lends itself to a sequel, so I am hoping that Larbalestier will write one—perhaps turn this into a trilogy—because I can't stop wondering what will happen next to Kelpie and her friend, Dymphna. I highly recommend this novel for anyone who loves a suspense-filled plot with fascinating characters interacting in a unique and unusual setting. Don't worry about the YA label. This is adult-level content that is so beautifully written that it will capture your interest immediately. 

Lydia Millet: Mermaids in Paradise
Plot Type: Romantic, Satirical Fantasy
From my review: Millet has created a complex, layered story that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Deb, the heroine, splits the citizenry between ironic, pragmatic red-staters and stout-hearted Heartlanders, with the members of the two disparate groups peering at one another through such distorted lenses that they can barely discern each other's humanity. It's as if the groups were in adjoining cages in a zoo. Members of the two groups never truly interact, but each side has extremely strong, mostly negative, opinions about the other side. Deb is an every-woman American of a certain type who tries her best to strike a balance between blind optimism and “bulletproof” irony. Although Deb's quirky fellow travelers sometimes come close to being stereotypes, they all have their moments of unexpected strength and insight. For me, this was an intriguing reading experience. No matter which cultural side you are a part of, prepare for a few zings because Millet has a tart take on a number of groups within American society. Or...if you hate cultural analysis, you can just read this book as a loopy romantic fantasy about mermaids in the Caribbean and the miracles of nature. Either way, this is a terrific novel and I recommend it.

Naomi Novik: Uprooted
Plot Type: A Coming-of Age Fantasy that combines elements of Medieval, High, Romantic, and Sword-and-Sorcery Fantasy sub-genres
From my review: I almost didn't read this book because Medieval Fantasy is definitely not on my list of favorite genres. Thank goodness I didn't go with my first impulse. Novik has created a terrific tale by pulling together elements from several fantasy subgenres, mixing in some fairy-tale elements, and then adding a cast of singular characters who grow and develop before our very eyes as events carry them along at an increasingly fast and dangerous pace. She successfully uses several familiar tropes—the sentient Wood that is possessed by a dark and corrupted being, the plain but brilliant peasant girl who is chosen to serve a harsh (but sexy) master sorcerer, and a King's Court full of snobby courtiers who look down their noses at Agnieszka, our feisty heroine. A mere plot summation cannot do justice to this wonderful novel because it would seem like the author crammed too much into a single book. But that is definitely not the case. Yes, the plot has many, many twists and turns, and yes, the cast of characters is huge, but I never was confused about what was going on and I always knew exactly who was who. That is due entirely to Novik's transcendent writing skills, which ensure that the story unfolds so naturally and effortlessly that you just keep turning the pages, sinking deeper and deeper into Agnieszka's world. Every peasant, every noble, every sorcerer is a unique individual with a distinct personality that emanates from their words and actions. Every plot twist serves to ratchet up the tension and add even more depth to the drama. 

Helen Phillips: The Beautiful Bureaucrat
Plot Type: Surreal Mystery/Thriller
From my review: Phillips takes the narrative structure of Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener and turns it on its head in this existential tale in which Josephine, a curious worker-drone, becomes increasingly alarmed over the activities of her faceless, passive-aggressive boss and the huge, impersonal company that employs them both. Many authors would cast big business as the bad guy: intimidating the hapless workers, suppressing free will, and hiding an evil purpose behind every swipe of the computer key. But Phillips takes a different approach. Here, the bureaucracy is portrayed as neither moral nor immoral, neither good nor evil. Phillips paces the story perfectly, letting clues slip gradually into the narrative. The focus of the story moves slowly from the drone vs. company emphasis of the early chapters to the specific details of Josephine and her husband's lives and the love between them that safeguards them from the surreal strangeness that threatens to engulf them. This is an enthralling, quick read featuring a sympathetic heroine and an eerie workplace that will send chills down your spine. If you are looking for a surreal take on modern life in the city, give this one a try. 

Plot Type: Magical Realism 
From my review: This is a weirdly terrific book, with well-drawn characters and inventive situations. The author weaves supernatural elements from myths and fairy tales into a family saga that lays bare the human frailties found to some degree in any family, although I must admit that the Roebuck family is quirkier and creepier than most. The writing style is a mash-up of the plot peculiarities of Ransom Riggs, the character eccentricities of early John Irving, and the grotesque imagination of Franz Kafka. As Shields tells her story, she skillfully intermingles mythological events and real-life experiences, mysterious creatures and mystifying humans, arcane monsters and mundane misfits, until the reader is drawn into a bemused state of suspense, waiting with bated breath to see what bizarre event or entity will generate the next fateful twist or turn in the chronicle of the ill-fated Roebuck family. 

Robert Charles Wilson: Affinities
Plot Type: Near-Future Science Fiction
From my review: Have you ever wished that you were a part of a group that always understood your every emotion, need, and desire? That's how Adam Fisk feels when he loses his beloved grandmother, becomes estranged from his family, and faces a future with no college degree, no money, no job, and no prospects. It is at this point that Adam decides to take the Affinity tests. If Adam qualifies, he will be matched up with one of twenty-two Affinity groups, which are loosely woven, cooperative groups made up of uniquely compatible people. Adam is hoping to find the human connection that is missing in his life. Things are fine at first, but then everything begins to fall apart. The author characterizes the distinctive personalities of Adam’s family and his new Affinity friends so well that we feel that we know them intimately. This is a terrific book that pulls you into a story that will leave you in a contemplative mood long after you finish it. Wilson is a great story teller who is adept at drawing well-developed characters and advancing his narrative in understated, but perfectly nuanced, dialogue and interior monologues.

Cat Winters: The Uninvited 
Plot Type: Ghostly Gothic Mystery/Romance
From my review: Winters mixes together Emily Dickinson's and Robert Herrick's poetry, Jazz-Age music, war-time grief and hysteria, the deadly 1918 flu epidemic, and an ethereal Gothic romance and comes up with an enthralling, mysterious, genre-bending tale. We see just how far humans will go when, in the face of fear, they develop a "patriotic" duty that involves the punishment of easy scapegoats. But we also see that some refuse to succumb to their basest natures. As naive, guilt-driven Ivy moves from one all-new experience to another, she plays a pivotal role in an intricately woven, extraordinary tale that ends with a twist that you won't see coming. (I could give you a movie title with a similar plot twist, but that would be a spoiler.) Winters creates an otherworldly, achingly romantic atmosphere in which her heroine searches for peace and freedom in a war-torn, disease-ravaged world. The jazz scenes are truly magical. I highly recommend this book for any reader who loves well-written Gothic romances with a touch of the paranormal. You won't be disappointed. 


John Connolly: Night Music: Nocturnes 2
Plot Type: Short Fantasy Fiction With a Supernatural Theme
From my review: The overriding theme in the four longest (and best) selections is books—real books, magical books, world-changing books, characters in books, readers of books, authors of books, and keepers of books. Connolly, obviously, is a lover of the written word, and these stories cover a wide range of supernatural fiction, encompassing humor and horror, melancholy and malevolence, and devotion and disembowelment. 

Michael Cunningham: A Wild Swan: And Other Tales
Illustrator: Yuko Shimizu
Plot Type: A new twist on a selection of traditional fairy tales 
From my review: Unsatisfied with the lack of detail in the endings of fairy tales, Cunningham always wanted to know exactly what happened after the "happily ever after." In this collection, his reinterpretations of some traditional fairy tales vary from prequels to sequels to twisted retellings. In each story, he thoughtfully explores the complexity of kinship—the stresses and emotional minefields that exist between husbands and wives, mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters. In many of the stories, he defends the outcasts of the world, while showing the dark sides of the usual fairy tale heroes and heroines. Somehow, the new twists he applies to these old tales feel natural, as if they should have always been there.

Delilah S. Dawson, Kevin Hearne, Chuck Wendig: Three Slices
Plot Type: Urban Fantasy 
From my review: According to Kevin Hearne, this is the world's first tyromancy-themed anthology. Each of the three novellas features a scene in which somebody along the way predicts the future by observing the coagulation of cheese. Sounds weird…right? Each novella is part of an ongoing series. Hearne's story takes place after the events of Shattered, book 7 of the IRON DRUID CHRONICLES. When Hearne invited Delilah S. Dawson to join in the fun, she followed her life philosophy ("Always say yes to cheese.") and contributed her first BLUD SERIES story written from a man's perspective. Although it is set in the BLUD world, Dawson's story is meant to stand alone. Chuck Wendig figured that "All the cool kids are doing it," and besides, he wanted to get "a slice of that sweet, sweet cheese-reader money." His story is part of his MIRIAM BLACK SERIES, coming just before Thunderbird (which is due in April 2016). 

Editor: Christopher Golden 
Plot Type: Vampire Horror Fantasy 
From my review: In his introduction, Christopher Golden provides the theme of this anthology: "Once upon a time, vampires were figures of terror...And they can be again." The vampires in this book are not glittery or chivalrous or love-struck. They are old-school, traditional vampiric monsters who are hungry for human blood. In preparing for this book, Golden challenged the authors "to strike back against the notion that the vampire has lost its ability to inspire fear." Golden explains that he doesn't have anything against vampire romances or vampiric heroes in urban fantasy, but "In Seize the Night…what matters is the terror." I’m including this anthology on my “Best” list for two reasons: 1. I love the idea of going back to the fearsome vampires of old. 2. Twelve of the 20 stories earned a thumb’s up in my review. 

Plot Type: Fantasy
From my review: If you like Shirley Jackson's short stories and Karen Russells' novels (like Swamplandia), you'll no doubt enjoy Link's story collection. I love this comment in the Publishers Weekly review of the book: "Like Kafka hosting Saturday Night Live, Link mixes humor with existential dread." Link plays with a wide range of imaginative and disparate elements: dreams and reality, truths and lies, friendship and rivalry, and escapism and capitulation. People tend to disappear and sometimes to reappear. The most interesting aspect of the collection is that each story is set in a completely different world, all equally fascinating. The end of each tale leaves you wanting to stay a little longer just to see what happens next to these quirky characters. Several selections have the shivery creepiness of Rod Serling's classic Twilight Zone episodes.


A. M. Dellamonica: A Daughter of No Nation—novel 2 in HIDDEN SEA TALES SERIES
Plot Type: Alternate Realm Fantasy
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. 

Laura Anne Gilman: Silver on the Road—novel 1 in THE DEVIL’S WEST SERIES
Plot Type: Alternate World Fantasy of the American West 
From my review: In this series, set in 1801, Gilman has created a legendary West that actually feels familiar. This world includes many of the traditional people and places: marshals, trappers, farmers, miners, saloon girls, gamblers, Native Americans, Spanish friars, tiny towns, isolated farms, grassy plains, and barren mountains. Gilman takes all of these and mixes in superstitions, religious fervor, Native American legends, supernatural beasts, magical spells, and the devil himself. It's a winning combination. Gilman seamlessly slips the world-building into the narrative—not in big chunks, but in brief scenes that seem utterly natural. The three main characters are a delight, all fully developed, but all with secrets still left to uncover. Gilman has much to mine in future books, all of which I am looking forward to reading. This is a terrific start to a gritty, thought-provoking, imaginative new series. 

Kim Harrison: “Sideswiped” and Drafter—prequel story and novel 1 in PERI REED CHRONICLES 
Plot Type: Near-Future Thriller with Sci Fi Elements
From my review: The 80-page prequel to Harrison's PERI REED CHRONICLES drops the reader directly into a futuristic, technology-driven world in which trained and talented “drafters” can alter time. The series heroine, Peri Reed, is one of those drafters. The problem with drafting is that drafters remember what happened—the two timelines—only until time catches up with them. At that point, they cannot remember either the real past or the past they created to supersede the real past, so they become very confused. This is a terrific new series with an introductory novel that I absolutely loved. Don't be put off by the sci-fi label. Yes, the story has elements of sci-fi, but also threads of romance, mystery, and suspense. Trust the author of the beloved HOLLOWS SERIES to present us with another complex, gutsy, smart, unstoppable heroine. I predict that Peri Reed will become just as iconic as Rachel Morgan. Peri's search for the truth of her life is as heartbreakingly poignant as Rachel's search for love and belonging. In this book, Harrison gives us her usual masterful plotting and nuanced characters, along with the mind-boggling inventiveness of this futuristic, tech-based world. The story moves along at such a fast pace that I could hardly turn the pages fast enough. I do recommend that you read the prequel novella first to acquaint yourself with the drafter/anchor relationship and with the main core of characters.

Christina Henry: Alice—novel 1 in ALICE SERIES
Plot Type: Dark Fantasy Set in a Twisted Wonderland
From my review: Henry uses Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland stories as a framework for her mythology, taking the main characters and their general characteristics and twisting them to suit her darker needs as she offers a macabre mutation of Alice's adventures. The series is set in a divided city with a 19th century ambiance. The elegant and refined New City is home to the rich, educated upper classes, while the filthy and decaying Old City harbors the illiterate, hardscrabble poor, who live in neighborhoods ruled by cruel bosses. In a poem in Through the Looking Glass, Carroll warns, “Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!" And that is the crux of the plot of this novel, with the Jabberwock as the primary villain along with several lesser, but still dangerous, bad guys. The heroine is, of course, Alice, who escapes from an insane asylum early in the book with the help of her mad friend and protector, Hatcher. On Henry's Facebook page she warns, "This is not Wonderland," and you should heed her words. Alice is a suspense-filled, violent tale about greedy, misogynistic men, the women they mistreat, a heroine who decides that she will do her best to rescue the innocent and punish the guilty, and a mad hero who will lay his life on the line for her. Henry has done a great job interweaving significant characters and plot points from Carroll's story into her all-new and much darker fantasy. If you are searching for a fresh, fast-paced, action-packed fantasy, you'll probably enjoy this book, particularly if you like your fantasies on the very dark side.

Devon Monk: Infinity Bell and Crucible Zero—novels 2 and 3 in the HOUSE IMMORTAL TRILOGY
Plot Type: Dark, Dystopian Fantasy set in an Alternate World 
These are the final novels in the HOUSE IMMORTAL TRILOGY, so they are definitely not stand-alone books. 
From my review: Set several hundred years in the future, this world is ruled by eleven powerful Houses that control all of the world's resources and authority. Three hundred years ago, a scientist triggered a disastrous comet-related experiment that killed hundreds of people, leaving only twelve known survivors who are called the galvanized. The galvanized resist every strain of disease on earth; feel no pain; and are inhumanly strong, adaptive, and infinitely repairable. Their brains show no sign of aging or decline, and they are immortal. The galvanized are not considered to be humans, so each one is regarded as an object that is owned by its House. Anything I tell you about the plots of these novels would be a spoiler, so I’m going to keep this short and nonspecific. The plot of Infinity Bell centers on a necessary, but ultimately disastrous, time-travel trip that sets up the final novel. The best thing in Crucible Zero is the development of Matilda's new relationships and reconnections with her friends. The evolution of Matilda's layered perception of her old and new worlds is fascinating to watch. This has been a terrific series, filled with nail-biting suspense, great characters, and an extremely inventive mythology. I hate to see it end. 

Greg van Eekhout: Pacific Fire and Dragon Coast—novels 2 and 3 in the CALIFORNIA BONES TRILOGY
Plot Type: Dark, Dystopian Fantasy set in an Alternate California
These are the final novels in the CALIFORNIA BONES TRILOGY, so they are definitely not stand-alone books. 
From my review: Chapter one of Pacific Fire begins ten years after the end of California Bones, and the series hero, Daniel, has been on the run all that time with his golem “son,” Sam. Otis Roth, Daniel's greedy and devious uncle, has an extraordinary plan to construct a massive Pacific firedrake (a long-extinct dragon) in an abandoned factory on Catalina Island. He wants to bring the firedrake to life, but he can't do it alone. Unfortunately, Otis needs someone to become the vital spirit within the dragon—the one who brings it to roaring, fiery life—and that someone is Sam. Dragon Coast begins not long Sam's devastating experience with the firedrake, and Daniel (the series hero) has a plan to rescue him. Eekhout alternates the point of view among Sam, Daniel, and Gabriel Argent, the powerful water mage of the Southern Kingdom, who wants to trap and control the firedrake for his own purposes. I don't want to provide any more plot details because that would spoil your reading of the novel. I'll just say that this is a satisfying conclusion to a terrific trilogy. All of the ongoing conflicts are resolved, but new ones emerge towards the end of the book, so I'm guessing that Eekhout is leaving the door open for a possible sequel. I highly recommend this trilogy to sci fi/fantasy fans who are looking for nonstop action, magical adventures, noir humor, sympathetic characters, and a fresh and inventive mythology. 

                    BEST COMIC FANTASY NOVEL IN A SERIES                     

Christopher Moore: Secondhand Souls—novel 2 in CHARLIE ASHER DUOLOGY
Plot Type: Comedic Urban Fantasy 
From my review: This is a weird and wonderful tale from an author who specializes in freaky take-downs of societal norms. Charlie is another in a long string of Moore's well-developed characters who are like everyman on steroids, dealing with the ups and downs of their supernatural-infused lives and making us chuckle, laugh out loud, shake our heads, and sigh all along the way. Charlie is a nuanced character who can veer from slapstick clumsiness to heartrending emotion in the blink of an eye. By the end of the book, Moore has tied up every loose end from A Dirty Job, making sure that all of the characters have either achieved their HEAs or have been properly punished for their accumulated sins. Like all of Moore's books, this one is a hilarious mix of slapstick action, quirky characters, snarky dialogue, bloody action, and snide commentary on modern life. 

                    BEST DARK FANTASY NOVELS IN SERIES                     

Adam Mansbach: The Devil’s Bag Man—novel 2 in JESS GALVAN SERIES
Plot Type: Horror-Crime Fantasy
From my review: This series will appeal to lovers of horror-crime fiction as well as those who love gory, supernatural horror movies—films like From Dusk to Dawn (or almost any other Quentin Tarantino movie). These novels are eerie, high-concept thrillers, mixing blood-curdling horror and driving action with Aztec mythology and Mexican drug cartels. This world is populated by fanatic religious cultists, corrupt cops, vicious motorcycle gangs, ancient evil deities, and a few honest folks who take many a beating but never give up on their fight for truth and justice. In this novel, as Mansbach moves back and forth between perspectives, he always maintains a high level of action and suspense while never letting go of the threads that tie his characters together. It's a brawling, blood-soaked ride from beginning to end. This novel is definitely NOT for the fainthearted, but if you are up for an engrossing adventure involving a series of spine-tingling, heart-stopping, blood-splattered exploits by a group of fiercely complex characters, I guarantee that you will love this book. 

Rachel Vincent: Menagerie—novel 1 in THE MENAGERIE SERIES
Plot Type: Fantasy (definitely for adults, not YA) 
From my review: This world looks much like our real world with one big exception: the existence of cryptids—animals who appear in myths and folktales, but for which there is no scientific evidence of existence. Cryptids have no rights at all and are treated like animals even though they are sentient and even though many look just like humans. As the book opens, Delilah Marlow is a typical young woman: a bank teller with a nice apartment, a somewhat boring boyfriend, and a best friend from childhood. But that all changes one night when she and her friends visit the cryptid humanoid and hybrid exhibits in Metzger's Menagerie. This is a terrific start to a fresh and inventive new series. Delilah is a great heroine—smart, strong, and sassy. The supporting characters—the ones who live through to the end of the book, that is—will make for fascinating reading in future books. I can't wait to see where the Menagerie travels in the next book.

                    BEST ROMANTIC FANTASY NOVELS IN SERIES                     

C. T. Adams: The Exile—novel 1 in THE FAE SERIES
From my review: This novel moves between the realms of Earth and Faerie as a young woman named Brianna (half witch/half faerie) and her friends are plunged into the poisonous political climate that permeates Faerie. The story drew me in immediately and kept me engrossed right through to its climactic ending. Brianna is a multi-layered character who is torn between her human feelings and her Fae heritage, but she doesn't indulge in long angst-filled interior monologues. (Thank goodness for that!) She tries to make her life in the mortal world as normal as possible, but when events in Faerie erupt into war, she jumps right into the action with passion, courage, advanced martial arts combat skills, and powerful magic. Her friend, David, is also a nicely developed character. Although he is human, David has nurtured his magical heritage and has received unconditional acceptance from Brianna—acceptance that his homophobic father refuses to give him. If you love to read well-written, suspenseful, romantic fantasies, I'm sure that you will enjoy this book. Adams' use of multiple perspectives allows the reader to see the whole picture—or at least the parts of it that she wants you to see. I'm definitely looking forward to the second book to see what happens next to Brianna and her friends and foes. 

                    BEST SCI FI/FANTASY NOVELS IN SERIES                    

Ilona Andrews: Sweep in Peace—novel 2 in INNKEEPER CHRONICLES
Plot Type: A mash-up of suburban fantasy and intergalactic science fiction
From my review: In this world, werewolves, werecats and vampires are not supernaturals; instead, they are aliens from other planets/realms. The werewolves landed on earth after they self-destructed their planet in the face of an invasion by another race. The vamps have their own planets, but sometimes hop in their spaceships and visit Earth. All of the expositional details are woven into the narrative during the first half of the first book (Clean Sweep). Dina Demille runs a bed and breakfast in the suburbs of Red Deer, Texas. In this world, an Innkeeper is a magic-wielding person who provides shelter and/or sanctuary for other magical beings. All in all, this is a terrific book, even better than Clean Sweep. It is a tale that deals with the horrors of war, the pain of the survivors, and the balance between religious faith and fanaticism. Aside from its engrossing, complex, fast-paced plot, it has a cast of interesting, nuanced characters, each of whom behaves according to his or her personal code of beliefs and morality and in response to tragic past events. As the conflicts accumulate and the "peace" negotiations devolve into violence, the authors turn the final chapters into one big surprise party for the reader. 

Daryl Gregory: Harrison Squared—novel 1 in the HARRISON SERIES 
Plot type: Science Fiction (appropriate for both YA and adults)
From my review: Although this novel is being marketed as YA, its audience includes both adults as well as older teens. Teen readers will be entertained by the spookiness of the story and will empathize with Harrison's loneliness. Adults will enjoy the story even more because they will "get" the many cultural and literary (sci fi and horror) references that are scattered throughout the book. Although the story has its roots in the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, you don't have to be a Lovecraft fan to enjoy this book. The small seaside town, the weird characters, and the imaginative monsters also put me in mind of Ransom Riggs' entertaining "Peculiar Children" novels. Gregory is a great story teller who excels in characterization and dialogue. His well-developed cast of eccentrics lead us effortlessly though a highly entertaining, if creepy, plot. Just when you think the story can't get any stranger, it does…and then it does again. Once I started this book I couldn't stop reading, mostly because the story moves along so quickly and with so much dark humor that I just wanted more. This novel can be read as a stand-alone, but the author has stated that he has plans for at least two more HARRISON books.

Michael R. Underwood—“The Shootout Solution”—book 1 in GENRENAUTS SERIES
Plot Type: Portal Fantasy/Other-Dimensional Science Fiction 
From my review: I read this novella just days after reading John Connolly's excellent novella, "The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository" (in his Night Music anthology), which is also an other-dimensional story about literary characters who live off-the-page lives of their own (although Connolly's characters are the "rock stars" of the literary world, while Underwood's are the masses—the often nameless supporting characters who make it possible for the iconic heroes and heroines to achieve celebrity status). The whole idea of adding a literary dimension to our perception of the world—Underwood calls it the narrative dimension—is quite fascinating. As I began reading this book, I kept my fingers crossed that he would deliver a story worthy of its inventive mythology, and (to my great relief and delight) he definitely did. Underwood does an excellent job with the exposition that must be dealt with at the beginning of all new series. I enjoyed this book tremendously. I love the mythology that Underwood has created here, and I'm looking forward to future adventures. 

NOTE: For definitions of Steampunk and Gaslamp Fantasy, click HERE to go to my "DEFINITIONS" page.

Jim Butcher: The Aeronaut’s Windlass—novel 1 of THE CINDER SPIRES SERIES
Plot Type: Steampunk Fantasy
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. 

Beth Cato: The Clockwork Crown, novel 2 (final novel) in THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER DUOLOGY
Plot Type: Romantic Steampunk Fantasy
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. 

P. N. Elrod: The Hanged Man—novel 1 in HER MAJESTY’S PSYCHIC SERVICE SERIES
Plot Type: Gaslamp Fantasy
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
Plot Type: Steampunk Fantasy
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.

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