Best Fantasy Books of 2014
These our our picks for the best fantasy books of 2014.
2014 was a phenomenal year for fantasy and there was a stack of highly anticipated book released by some of the biggest authors in the genre, including Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Lev Grossman, Brent Weeks and Robin Hobb.
There was also a slew of awesome debut fantasy books that are the start of some great new fantasy series and a showcase of serious new talent in the genre.
And 2014 also brought some great sequel books to us as well (if anything, I would call 2014 the year of the 'Sequel' with many of the best books in fact sequel books NOT debut fantasy.
The general trend, as has been the same the past few years, was the grimdark aesthetic. Most of the 'big' fantasy releases this year, be they categorized as grimdark or not, at least borrow or adopt some of the grimdark elements. Not all books are supremely dark like say The Dark Defiles (Richard Morgan) or The Barrow (Mark Smylie), but most do mix in something dark.
Of course, in a genre gone mad for dark and gritty, there were a few standout exceptions like The Goblin Emperor (Katherine Addison) and Traitor's Blade (Sebastien de Castell) that were entirely more positive in nature, heralding back to some of those happier fantasy days of classic fantasy where the heroes don't all have a strong streak of evil (or selfishness) running through them. It's a refreshing change I might add, very much so.
Note, you can check out our other version of this list posted on the blog. The picks are the same as this list but descriptions slightly different.
Books in The Divine Cities Series (1)
City of Stairs is Jackson's best work, but check out his next best American Elsewhere and his wonderfully written The Troupe. His other books are a dime too, rich in deep themes and exploration (through fantastical tale) about the American dream.
The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley explores some of the same themes as does City of Stairs; it's not the same type of narrative or story, but there are some loose overlap in themes. Both do explore themes of colonialism and power and of the oppressed becoming the oppressors
American Gods by Neil Gaimen. Recommended because besides being quite literary in theme, it's about old vanished god's fighting for their survival, sort of mirroring the old dead god's coming back idea of City of Stairs.
The Grim Company is, I fully admit, not at all similar in style to City of Stars being a gritty grimdark in the style of Joe Abercrombie, but the themes of overthrowing and killing the gods only to find out such an action has had catestrphic consequences after the fact, does mirror loosely the theme of old dead gods coming back into the world explored in City of Stairs
Starts with The Emperor's Blades. On the list here, this is the most traditional epic fantasy tale, but it does explore the idea of dead vanished gods coming back into the world of men as a very bad thing.
Books in Chronicle Of The Unhewn Throne Series (5)
Books in Worldbreaker Saga Series (1)
One of the more interesting fantasy debuts this year by a well-established pedigreed author (she's won some serious awards with two previous HUGO's). It's an interesting take on the epic fantasy genre with solid writing and a highly imaginative world.
The Mirror Empire is one of those few fantasy books that comes along every few years and pushes the boundaries of the genre into a slightly different direction. And for that alone, this book should be lauded.
The author's mashup of a number of different ideas, genres, and even universes, is a breath of fresh air.
However, there are shortcomings a plenty present too. The shift between the two main POV's happens quite often and out of the blue. It's jarring and it ruins the flow and you are left feeling mildly confused as to where you are and what character you are following now (you'll get what I mean when you read the story). Not all the POV's are as well developed as the others. The author does flesh out a few of the characters, but the other characters are really left by the wayside. And by golly, there is an astounding amount of blood, violence, and mayhem. This may or may not be your cup of tea, but the warning is there.
Overall, I must wax lyrical about this book. One of the more interesting and best fantasy books to come out this year -- in my personal top 5. The Mirror Empire holds nothing back, it's a brutal heavy take on the violence and atrocity of warfare: People die, characters die -- often horribly. There are few books I've read with a body count that runs into the hundreds and the thousands -- and this is one of those books. But there is method to all this violence; the book is a sharp look and critique at the horrors of war and all the evils founded on it -- genocide, ethnic cleansing, and brutality. You can certainly read this book and see many real world parallels, especially in the Middle East conflicts and the genocides occurring in Africa.
For a novel that does the novel things and pushes the boundary and spins the genre on its head, for a novel that takes a smart look at the hard things about ware, for a fantasy with a message, and for a fantasy that holds nothing back and combines different genres, ideas, with some serious action and worldbuilding ideas, the Mirror Empire must be read.
Books in A Land Fit For Heroes Series (3)
Books in The Stormlight Archive Series (4)
Books in The Red Queen's War Series (4)
Books in Lightbringer Series (6)
Books in The Traitor Son Cycle Series (6)
Books in The Farseer Books Series (4)
Books in The Dagger And The Coin Series (6)
Books in Bloodsounder's Arc Series (4)
Books in Tales Of The Kin Series (1)
Books in Golgotha Series (1)
Books in Shattered Sea Series (5)
Books in Bobby Dollar Series (4)
Books in A Raven Shadow Series (1)
Books in The Chronicles Of The Black Company Series (10)
If you like Black Company, you should definitely read his other fantasy series, The Instrumentalities of the Night. It combines an ancient evil coming-back-into-the-world plot, a military genius hero, plenty of conflicts between worldly powers, political scheming, all filtered through Cook's military narrative. The closest you'll find to The Black Company in style and form. And duh, it's by the same freaking author. How much closer CAN you get?
Starts with Scourge of the Betrayers. About as close as you are going to get to Cook -- the narrator is even an archivist and the tale is told in first person. There's a LOT of similarities and the Bloodsounder books are gritty gritty grimdark dark. Delicious and some of the best fantasy to come out the past couple years. Do NOT pass this series by if you want something similar to The Black Company. It's the best of the similar recommendations I can give.
For another "dark" military fantasy, you should read Malazan Book of the Fallen. It's more epic in scope than The Black Company, but there are enough similarities that you'll find yourself right at home. Steven Erikson has even stated that Glen Cook's books were an influence on his own writing, so there you have it.
You may want to give Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin series a good go at it. Books one and two are out and they are seriously good -- some of the best epic fantasy that's come out. Abraham's work is a good mix of epic and military fantasy with some smart writing and a cast of compelling characters (some which are anti-heroes). Both are character driven, though Black Company has a hell of a lot more action and angst while The Dagger and the Coin is far more about the characters. It can be somewhat plodding and slow at times. However, if you like Black Company, and military fantasy with strong characters, you may just like this series.
Paul Kearney's The Ten Thousand is a superb military fantasy by a much underrated author. If you like Black Company, you'll dig this one hard.
Sanderson's awesome The Way of Kings is also another book you might want to read (it's first in the Stormlight Archive series). The main character (Kaladin) has a few basic similarities to The Black Company main character (Croaker). Both are retired physicians who've given up their profession to become soldiers. Both lead a squad of men (and there is the squad dynamics). Cook's work is more gray and his style more dry, however. The narrator (Croaker), is not a crazy badass super hero, while Sanderson's work is more heroic in nature as is the character. So don't get the idea that The Way of Kings is anything like The Black Company as a whole, but as stated there are some similarities.
Heroes Die by Mathew Woodring Stoover. Dark and gritty world. Check. An anti-hero character who ends up working for the bad guys most of the time? Check. Explosive and brutal action? Check. Strong characterization. Check and Check. Heroes die is MORE about a singular hero than a company of characters, as is The Black Company, but there's enough that you'll probably love it if you like Glenn Cook's work.
The Darkness that Comes Before. Ah, grimdark epic fantasy at it's best, but not your standard epic fantasy: this shit is deep and philosophical. Lots of wars and grand military battles and dark gods taking over the world. There's nothing else quite like it to be honest, but ignoring all the philosophy sprinkled between the chapters, there's a hell of a lot of bloody action, gratuitous sex, character development, and political intrigue to keep you turning the pages. Oh and there's a world-ending apocalypse coming.
Black Sun Rising is a different sort of work. But it's a very dark and grim world featuring an anti-hero character and side kick heroes that are all flawed individuals. One of the best fantasy books in the genre. You'll probably like it, even if it's about a couple characters solving a quest rather than a military band caught up in incessant warfare.
The Thousand Names by Django Wexler. This is a new series that came out in 2013 with two books out so far (the last one was out a few months ago, mid 2014). If you like large scale battles and the story of a squad/company facing extreme survival odds in a foreign country, you'll love this series. It's one of the better fantasy books to come out the past few years. And it's certainly one of the best military fantasy series since Erikson's Mazalan. If you like Black Company, you'll love this series.
Legend by David Gemmell. A classic, but one all about a hero fighting an endless war against endless odds. There's something of beauty in this heroic treatment of an old washed up hero who's pressured by the need of his people to come back from retirement to kick some ass.
For a very medieval fantasy with magic and monsters and knights, Miles Cameron's The Red Knight. This was one of my favorite reads of 2013. There's a lot of military battles and squad/company warfare against foes with superior numbers. It's not as dark, on a whole, as The Black Company, but it's a stellar read. If you like might and magic and battles and warfare, this is one for your.