The flush of the 2014 Hugo Awards is fading, and, with the holidays just peeking around the corner, I wanted to take the time to discuss some of my favourite novels from 2014, the ones that, at this very moment, would comprise my nomination slate for the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Will it change by next spring when nominations are due? Undoubtedly.
These are all terrific novels, and, if you haven’t read them already, well, I envy you.
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
Say hello to the best fantasy novel of 2014.
Even as I was startled by its twisted depth, I adored every moment I spent with City of Stairs. Colonialism lies at City of Stairs‘ centre, and RJB handles it with equal parts boldness and delicacy. The ruined beauty of Bulikov and its fallen gods haunted me long after I turned the final page.
Robert Jackson Bennett is best known for his contemporary fantasy and horror crossovers, such as American Elsewhere and The Troupe, so his move into more traditional epic fantasy put him on the radar of a lot of new readers, and the result is something special. On first reading City of Stairs, I described it to a friend as “China Mieville without the ego.” I’m not sure I still agree with that statement, because it’s unfair to saddle one writer with another’s baggage, but while reading City of Stairs I couldn’t fight the feeling that RJB was mixing and refining elements from some of my recent favourite fantasies. Other touchstones exists, such as Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire and Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, that place RJB among the most exciting and vibrant young fantasy writers working today.
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie — Review
Ancillary Justice took the genre world by storm last year, and Leckie stood deservedly atop the Best Novel podium at last year’s Hugo Award ceremony. Will Ancillary Sword be able to recapture its predecessor’s lightning-in-a-bottle success? Probably not, but it’s one of the year’s best novels and, due to its more focused storyline, smoother narrative, and introspective thematic elements, I actually liked it better than Ancillary Justice. No sophmore slump for Leckie.
The Eternal Sky Trilogy by Elizabeth Bear — Review
Calling on the Wheel of Time rule, I’m including Bear’s trilogy here as a bit of a self-indulgence and pie-in-the-sky dream scenario. The Eternal Sky trilogy — Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and Steles of the Sky — is a fascinating epic fantasy that eschews the tired medieval tropes the genre is known for and replaces with a vivid world based on the Turkish-Mongolian khanates of 13th century Asia. My time with Temur and his companions is dear to me, and I’d love to see Bear (who’s already a Hugo Award winner for her short fiction) rewarded for writing the best epic fantasy trilogy of the past decade.
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
On the surface, Vandermeer’s weird and haunting opening act in the Southern Reach trilogy appears to be a Lost-esque mystery about Area X, an undefinable pocket of land that has defied researchers and driven explorers crazy for years. Like the tower at the centre of the story, however, delve deeper and what you’ll find is an autobiography about a failing marriage, with raw emotional resonance bared to the reader as the narrator, lost in the mysteries of Area X, discovers herself and comes to understand that labyrinthine relationship between her and her husband.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison — Review
In a modern fantasy landscape that is littered with the broken corpses left in Grimdark’s wake, Katherine Addison (a pseudonym for Sarah Monette) is a shining light, a beacon of nostalgia and hope on the horizon. It took me some time to fall in love with The Goblin Emperor. At first, I was startled by Addison’s slow introduction to the world, and protagonist’s timid and reluctant nature. Without realizing it, however, the midway point of the novel passed and I realized I’d fallen somewhat in love with Maia, the titular Goblin Emperor, and became utterly enveloped by Addison’s dissection of classism, family, loyalty, and love. Even now, I fondly remember my time in Addison’s Elvish empire and look forward to returning again in the future. The Goblin Emperor is without a doubt one of the best fantasy novels of the year.
And don’t forget…
From books I enjoyed, but don’t think are quite up to standard that I hold the Hugo shortlist, to novels that I expect might end up on my shortlist if I read them before nominations, this is a list of other 2014 novels worth looking at:
- Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
- Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica — Review
- The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
- Lock In by John Scalzi
- The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
What are your favourite novels published in 2014? What egregious omissions have I made from my list?