Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl to share our love of books and lists with our bookish friends. This week we’re celebrating our favourite reads of the past decade!
This may be the most ambitious prompt Top Ten Tuesday has ever had, and the trickiest to answer. Picking the best book for each year of the past decade is a big enough ask: I’m going to home in on my favourite fantasy read of each year, which isn’t going to make it any easier. Besides, it’s begs the question of whether I go by year or publishing or year of reading and OH HELP THIS IS GOING TO TAKE ME A DECADE JUST TO FIGURE OUT. Grab a cuppa, we could be here a while.
I still haven’t read many 2009 releases and I had a lukewarm response to most of them (note to self: reread Valente’s Palimpsest).
Best out: Thankfully, I finally got hold of Jo Walton’s Lifelode a few years later, which remains one of the most unusual and delightful fantasies I’ve ever read. It happily claims my Best of 2009 spot and gives her the joint honour of being nominated in multiple years (no prizes for guessing who the honour is shared with).
Best read that year: Rather out of step with my tastes these days (and a complete contrast to Lifelode), but I still have a soft spot for Richard Morgan‘s grimdark fantasy The Steel Remains, which I liked well enough at the time to reread within a year. Sometimes problematic, but Morgan’s trademarks work as well in fantasy as they do in cyberpunk.
I’ve read very few 2010 releases either. My reading that year was dominated by rereads – from my last Deverry read-through to celebrate the release of The Silver Mage to my last Wheel of Time read in honour of Towers of Midnight.
Best out: I didn’t read it until a few years later, but my pick of the year’s releases is The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, blending magic and mysticism into a Dutchman’s experiences of mediaeval Japan.
Best (re)read that year: Thieves, con men, pirates, kitten wranglers. Scott Lynch‘s extravagant second outing for the Gentleman Bastards as they sail Red Seas under Red Skies still makes my heart sing.
In my 2011 redux, I nominated Richard Morgan’s ultra-dark sequel The Cold Commands as my best of the year; but I also panned Blindsight – unfairly, in retrospect. So let’s try again. 2011 included the release of the disappointing A Dance with Dragons (YES IT’S BEEN 8 YEARS) and was the year I finally read The Name of the Wind (which filled my time, but didn’t win me over).
Best out: It was my favourite read of 2012, but I can’t go past Jo Walton‘s mesmerising Among Others as my pick for the best published in 2011.
Best read that year: My heart was stolen by earnest young London copper PC Grant, who had his first encounter with Mister Punch and the Rivers of London in 2011 courtesy of Ben Aaronovitch.
Most of my favourites this year were historical rather than fantasy. Alan Garner unexpectedly published a third volume about Alderley Edge in 2012, but Boneland was both too dense and too bleak to win my heart.
Best out: Thankfully, I eventually read The Rook by Daniel O’Malley so it can nab my favourite fantasy release of 2012. A riot of supernatural espionage, X-men-esque powers and one of the only times amnesia has worked for me as a plot device.
Best read: my second-best fantasy read this year, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern wins the nod here as I nominated Among Others for 2011 (when both books were published; I was mostly reading paperbacks at this point).
Best out and best read: One of my most-anticipated books of the decade came out in 2013: I bought Scott Lynch’s The Republic of Thieves on the day of release as I boarded a long haul flight and read (most of) it before I landed. Fun though it is, Republic doesn’t quite match its predecessors, leaving the door open for Neil Gaiman to make one of his occasional forays into my heart. The Ocean at the End of the Lane hooked me at hello and sank me with the Hempstocks. It claims all my nominations for 2013.
2014 was frankly amazing for scifi releases, but a little more ambiguous when it came to fantasy reads for me – I read relatively few, and those that stood out have fantasy elements rather than being clear-cut secondary world or urban fantasy novels.
Best read: Christopher Priest’s The Prestige is worth your time whether you’ve seen the movie or not. Where the film flirts with a scifi MacGuffin, the novel centres ghosts and dreams, so I’m calling it a fantasy read.
Best out: I only got round to reading this classic last year, but in retrospect The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison is the easy winner in the 2014 field. A moving character study, an intricate world and a heart-warming read.
Best out: I need a little sit down when I start to think about fantasy published in 2015, because it was so good. Two of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read came out (I didn’t read either of them at the time); along with several dear favourites. However much I recently loved Baru Cormorant, there’s no taking the crown from The Fifth Season by N K Jemisin. All hail devastation.
Best read: I refuse to pick between my darlings. Aliette de Bodard‘s gothic post-apocalyptic whodunnit The House of Shattered Wings and Zen Cho‘s frothy period fantasy Sorcerer to the Crown both deserve a mention here.
Best out: I’m going to resist the urge to say The Obelisk Gate… no, wait, who am I kidding? Why would I resist? While I thoroughly enjoyed several other 2016 releases (ahem, when I read them in 2017), none of them hold a candle to N K Jemisin‘s epic achievement.
Best read: I got to know some classics in 2016 thanks to the Muskedragon read-alongs: Swordspoint (Ellen Kushner) and Temeraire (Naomi Novik) both made my top ten of the year and once again I refuse to pick between them.
Another devastatingly good year. Jemisin doesn’t get my nod this year (…because I still haven’t read The Stone Sky. When I do, I reserve the right to revisit this), but trying to pick between the amazing books I did is almost impossible. Almost.
Best out: When nominations were made for the inaugural Subjective Chaos award, there was a problem. Half of us had nominated the same fantasy book. We agreed to submit second preferences and we read a large and amazingly varied field. But Jeannette Ng did something quite special with Under the Pendulum Sun, and she saw off the fierce competition.
Best read: Thankfully, The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams was nominated in a different category for its elements of scifi horror. I’m applying the same trick here; I really can’t pick between Sun and Rain, so consider them joint best out and best read.
I feel like I read more fantasy in 2018 and it was delightful. I finally read The Broken Earth and had my expectations of the genre rebuilt from the ground up. I met some new favourites, and visited with old friends.
Best out: Without hesitation, the best fantasy novel of last year was The Poppy War by R F Kuang, and I’ve been amazed not to see it nominated for more awards. I guess a lot of people haven’t read it yet – don’t be one of those people.
Best read: My favourite read of last year was probably The Tethered Mage and brilliant sequel The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso. Expect series closer The Unbound Empire in my favourites for 2019 – this trilogy is an absolute gem, delivering on all its promises.
Phew! That brings us right up to date. And definitely in need of that cup of tea.
What are your favourite fantasy reads of the past ten years?