Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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The Best New Releases in 2015

So, with an eye toward recommending some of the no-kidding-honestly-best new works for awards next year, what have we seen so far in 2015?

I, of course, am way behind on reading in general, and also I seldom remember (or am in the mood) to focus on titles released this year.

I have therefore, as far as I can recollect, read precisely two novels so far that were published in 2015 and that I think are award worthy. These were:

1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Published in May, this title got a huge amount of buzz and now has nearly 3500 reviews on Goodreads. I think it is well-positioned to be nominated for awards next year. That would be fine with me. I may well nominate it myself. It is a more intimate-scale story with a focus on character, relationships, and family. I didn’t entirely believe in the ending, but I did love the book.

2. In the Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman. I seem to remember a fair bit of buzz about this title, too, but maybe it got less attention than I thought, because at the moment it has fewer than 300 reviews at Goodreads. Its rating is much lower, about 3.6 compared to 4.2 for Uprooted, but this is a book that a lot of people are going to dislike — much grimmer, for one thing, and the extremely impressive use of language must surely have turned off a good many readers.

Did I like this book? Well, yes. Or maybe no. But I admire it. I’m very likely to nominate it because I think it has the scope and ambition suitable for an award-winner and because it is ambitious (use of language!) in ways I particularly admire. Especially if it seems to me to be getting less attention than it deserves, I’m likely to try to promote it. It’s the first book of a series, but reasonably self-contained.

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Titles that I’ve heard a lot about and really, really want to read and expect/hope to love:

3. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. With nearly 900 reviews and a rating just over 4.0, Bone Gap looks like it may be potentially positioned for nominations. The cover does it no favors imo: somehow this strikes me as a horror cover, unless it were on the cover of an Entomology textbook, where it would be right at home:

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Cover aside, Brandy at Random Musings said this about it: This book is one that needs to be read. It begs to be read. Nothing I say in this review is going to do this book justice. It’s one of those books you simply have to experience. Just read the book.

Maureen at By Singing Light had this to say: Bone Gap is really something else. It’s a story that combines many of my favorite things, and I truly loved it.

Ana at The Book Smugglers said: Bone Gap is a book about perspective. About the difference between looking and seeing. About fairytales, self-image, the heavy burden that beauty can be and the pernicious ways we look at and treat women. It’s awfully tense and there is this feeling of anxious momentum that runs through this novel. It’s also very romantic where it matters, empowering where it counts and beautiful in its telling.

So this one has been on my wishlist since spring and every now and then I think about shuffling it up toward the top. I definitely plan to read it in time to nominate for awards next year.

4. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho is getting a ton of attention right now; it seems like you can’t turn around on Twitter without stumbling across someone raving about it. The publisher (Ace) is plainly pushing it hard; it’s got nearly 200 reviews on Goodreads and it only came out at the beginning of this month.

I don’t pay much attention to buzz qua buzz, but Maureen from By Singing Light mentioned in the comments here a couple of posts ago that it’s one of her favorite titles so far this year and Sherwood Smith posted this at Goodreads:Come to think of it, however little the language resembles Jane Austen’s, in many ways I think the book’s intent might have tickled her fancy, considering her trenchant representation of nobly born and pretentiously superior characters in her novels. Her satire of social frauds hiding behind their pedigrees and Cho’s sapient eye on same share a great deal of a similar spirit.

5. The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu. Of course Ken Liu is well known for short fiction; naturally a lot of people were therefore primed to take his first novel seriously and put it on the tops of their TBR piles. I have really liked some of Liu’s short work, but it’s obvious that sometimes his fiction reads like nonfiction; ie, “The Man Who Ended History,” a novella which was nominated for a Hugo in 2012 and which I wound up just skimming because I was not actually really interested in a history lecture.

So, evidently this novel also feels in some ways like a history book. Or like a massive collection of interwoven short stories. Or something. It sounds like Liu put a ton of thought into the construction of this novel. But it also sounds like it works — or almost works — or fails in interesting ways. It has 400 reviews on Goodreads and a rating of 3.8; the ratings are all over the place with lots of five-star and lots of two-star reviews.

My favorite review, hands down, is Kate Elliot’s. However, that is a review chock-full of spoilers. If that’s not what you want, try this review by Justin Landon at tor.com, which is spoiler-free, but ought to give you a good picture of what Liu is trying to do and how it might work, or not work:

And a unique epic it is, not only for the influences it displays, but for the structure Liu employs. Constructed more like an epic poem than an epic fantasy, the underpinnings of The Grace of Kings hearken back to Chinese folklore. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is the obvious comparison, but Western readers will recognize hints of the Homeric poems as well. Where epic fantasies are traditionally based around tight third person points of view, Liu deploys a far more adaptable voice, zooming in and out of omniscient to convey the story he needs to tell. Of course, like many cultural historical narratives, Liu seems occasionally more interested in the thematic through-line than multidimensional characters. This can leave the reader feeling apathetic about many of the characters, who seem to fit an archetype deployed for storytelling purposes rather than living, breathing people.

In the end, I have to say, I’m deeply intrigued by what I’ve heard about this book and even more likely to read it than if all the reviews were uniformly positive. I want to see how Liu has structured this story and see how it works for me. On the other hand, I will first try a sample, because it also won’t utterly surprise me if I wind up setting this one aside as a DNF — that comment abut characters who don’t feel like living, breathing people makes me think of the Totally Wooden Puppet Characters in Three-Body Problem, which is not a selling point. So we’ll see.

6. Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson. It’s not even officially out yet and it already has 300+ reviews. This title is obviously being pushed really hard by the publisher (a HarperCollins imprint). It’s another one you trip over; I’m seeing a new review raving about it roughly every day right now. Sherwood Smith says it’s her favorite YA title so far this year. Stephanie Burgis raves about it. So does Brandy at Random Musings.

Evidently the historical elements are the focus, the fantasy elements are minimal, and this is the first book of a trilogy, so not sure how thoroughly it stands alone. Also various comments on Goodreads suggest the story is slow as molasses. I usually like slow and definitely like well-done historicals, so those criticisms don’t put me off a bit. This is one I will definitely want to read.

7. House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard. Well, this one came out in August and has 150+ reviews so far. Rating of 3.6, which as is often the case means that the reviews are all over the place — lots of love, lots of, uh, non-love.

Great title, great cover:

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A superb murder mystery, on an epic scale, set against the fall out – literally – of a war in Heaven.

Paris has survived the Great Houses War – just. Its streets are lined with haunted ruins, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine runs black with ashes and rubble. Yet life continues among the wreckage. The citizens continue to live, love, fight and survive in their war-torn city, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over the once grand capital.

I don’t know. This one really, honestly sounds like it could be too dark for me. It’s Gothic, it’s noir, it’s gritty, the background is a devastated Paris . . . that’s what reviewers are saying. Also haunting and beautiful and “one of my favorite books this year.” This makes it hard to decide whether to try it. I will probably read a sample and then see.

8. The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin. I’ve loved her other books, of course, and so now here this is, just came out this August and I would really like to read it. Quick, is it self-contained? Because if so, I am more likely to read it this year. Otherwise, I don’t know.

The Fifth Season sounds grim: Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

You see. But since I have loved Jemisin’s other work, I am willing to trust that this book will not be *too* grim for me. Uh, if I am mistaken, please let me know.

It’s got 240 reviews so far and an amazingly high 4.43 rating. Wow. I’m guessing it cannot be too grim and must have a satisfying resolution, because I just can’t see that high a rating otherwise.

I hope for great things from all the titles above. Of course high expectations are a mixed blessing, but still. I really feel I must read those this year or early next year. Maybe I’ll want to nominate them for things, it seems pretty likely, and even if not I want to know what people are talking about and I expect all those to be talked about.

But there are lots of other titles that came out in 2015 that I would like to read, that I either expect to get some attention or that I hope to love myself or both. These include:

9. Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Now, listen. I am very much opposed to just nominating the same authors for awards over and over and over. And yet, name recognition is a Thing. In fact, it’s an Unavoidable Thing. Thus, once an author is nominated for major awards, readers who like his or her work will forever take a serious look at any new work by that author. So, this one jumped out at me.

The fact is, I’m not all that likely to read Aurora unless it does get nominated for the Hugo, which I expect is pretty likely. At which point I’ll be obligated because as an attendee next year, I definitely must and will vote. Anyway, I sort of like Kim Stanley Robinson’s work. I very much admired 2312. But time is short, many books sway up on the tippy-top of my TBR pile, and Robinson is not an author whose work I particularly seek out.

10. Ash and Bramble by Sarah Prineas. This book officially came out Sept 15, but the publisher — HarperCollins — must have put out quite a few advance reader copies. It has 130 reviews so far, a rating of 3.6. When I mentioned it recently as “due out soon” and referred to it as a Cinderella retelling, Brandy from Random Musings told me in a tweet: It’s a twisted up feminist undoing of Cinderella more than a retelling, which sounds pretty keen.

I like the cover:

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And I like the description:

A prince.

A ball.

A glass slipper left behind at the stroke of midnight.

The tale is told and retold, twisted and tweaked, snipped and stretched, as it leads to happily ever after.

But it is not the true Story. … No one has ever broken free of the Godmother’s terrible stone prison until a girl named Pin attempts a breathless, daring escape. But she discovers that what seems to be freedom is a prison of another kind, one that entangles her in a story that leads to a prince, a kiss, and a clock striking midnight. To unravel herself from this new life, Pin must choose between a prince and another—the one who helped her before and who would give his life for her. Torn, the only thing for her to do is trade in the glass slipper for a sword and find her own destiny.

Doesn’t that sound intriguing? It’s not like I’m super-attached to the original Cinderella story, so subversion here seems like a fun idea.

11. Court of Fives by Kate Elliot. This one is a YA, I think maybe Kate Elliot’s first official YA, although I think the Spiritwalker trilogy had quite a definite YA tone and plot . . . well, it is a very artificial distinction, as I keep pointing out. Anyway, I liked the Spiritwalker trilogy quite a lot and therefore I am definitely interested in Court of Fives.

This one came out in August, has about 220 reviews and a rating of 3.66. As is generally the case with a rating in the 3.5 ballpark, the ratings are all over the place.

Its description makes it sound rather cliched: Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family, she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for the Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors.

But this is Kate Elliot we’re talking about, and based on her essays and other writing, I expect this to subvert expectations that might be raised by the fairly extensive YA Gladiator subgenre. I want to read more of Elliot’s work and this seems like a good choice to read soon. It is the first book of a series, though, so if you have read it, please tell me: is it fairly well self contained?

12. Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman. Another book that doesn’t seem to have been published as YA, but clearly could be seen that way:

Isobelle, upon her sixteenth birthday, makes the choice to work for the devil in his territory west of the Mississippi. But this is not the devil you know. This is a being who deals fairly with immense—but not unlimited—power, who offers opportunities to people who want to make a deal, and they always get what they deserve. But his land is a wild west that needs a human touch, and that’s where Izzy comes in. …

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The official description is all very well, but this comment is the one that most draws me toward this book: This book didn’t read to me like Gilman’s usual work; it felt less like a novel, and more a folk-tale told in an almost lyrical manner. You can easily imagine it being told around a campfire, somewhere on a trail through the Devil’s West. Like an oral history related by a storyteller.

That right there is plenty to make me pick up at least a sample. It’s not out yet — it comes out October 6 — it only has six reviews, which means the publisher didn’t get ARCs out early or that reviewers are waiting till right before the due date to post reviews. The rating is a very high 4.22, but I dunno, maybe that’s typical with the very first reviews. Anyway, I really want to try this one.

13. Forgotten Suns by Judith Tarr. I backed the kickstarter, I have the book, but I haven’t read it yet. It has 20 reviews, with a rating of 3.96, and this one is a space opera, which I definitely like as a break from fantasy. Sherwood Smith says of it: …a high-octane mix of space adventure, psi razzle-dazzle, scientific euphoria in discovery that will change the future, archaeological euphoria in discovery of the past, and cool space stuff stitching it all together. But Tarr does not lose sight of the characters, whose complexities deepen as they are tested to the max. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

14. Updraft by Fran Wilde. This one came out at the beginning of the month from Tor. Oh my goodness, you cannot turn around on Twitter without hearing about this book. Fran Wilde is doing a ton of guest posts. The book has about 70 reviews and a rating just over 4, and it sounds really good. Wings! Flying people! Obviously that sounds good to me.

This is another title that seems to be YA even though I can’t see a clear sign on Goodreads that it is being specifically marketed as YA. Also, while many, many reviewers rave about the unique, creative setting, this review pointed out something worth sharing: OK, none of these elements are unique to any one book, but all of the above applies equally to my childhood favorite, Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s Green Sky trilogy, and to Fran Wilde’s ‘Updraft.’ Even the ‘feel’ of the stories are similar; if you liked Snyder as a child – do yourself a favor and grab this.

I think it’s worth knowing that a lot of the worldbuilding and the feel of Updraft might remind a reader of Snyder’s trilogy, partly because it’s often worth ratcheting back expectations of uniqueness and because, hey, I loved Snyder’s trilogy.

Did any of you ever play the computer game based on the Green Sky trilogy? Because it thoroughly charmed me when I was a kid. Does anybody know whether there is a modern version of that game? Maybe I would break my No Computer Games rule for the sheer nostalgia…

Anyway, moving on:

15. Corsair by James Cambias. Of course I really liked A Darkling Sea I hear this is Cambias’ attempt to put All The Things About Pirates in a space setting. It sounds like fun, though not as much fun as the wonderful nonhuman species in his earlier book.

Sequels that I would be disinclined to nominate unless a) they were fabulous and b) I didn’t have enough other fabulous choices:

16. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie. Hey, it may be super-fabulous, who knows? Opinions seem to vary quite a lot about the second book, but *I* really liked Ancillary Sword and I’m very much looking forward to the third book in this series.

17. Price of Valor by Django Wexler. I’m looking forward to this one, too, but I think I’ve heard that it ends on a cliffhanger, so though I have it sitting right here, I am not likely to read it until the 4th book comes out.

18. Nemesis Games by James SA Corey. I’m not likely to read this one because I haven’t read any of them since Leviathan’s Wake and this is the 5th book in the series, well, that’s kind of a sign I may not be going on with it.

19. The End of All Things by John Scalzi. I liked the first book (Old Man’s War) well enough, but I never have gone on with the series. This is the 6th, evidently. Maybe if and when I re-read the first book, I will go on to the second and then the third and then finish the series, but so far I haven’t had much inclination to re-read either this or Corey’s series.

Now . . . drumroll . . . the thing that I absolutely DO NOT WANT to see on ANY nomination lists next year:

20. The Diskworld series by Terry Pratchett.

I have seen a proposal to nominate this entire series for the novel category next year (don’t remember where, sorry).

No. No no no. It was WRONG to nominate the Wheel of Time series, it was WRONG to let that nomination stand, and you see what you guys did there when you let that go forward? You opened an immense can of worms, didn’t you? Because it is COMPLETELY UNFAIR to compare any single novel to a huge series and until the rules are amended to disallow that and put the series award in place, this may keep happening.

Do you know what a novel is when you see it? So do I. Blackout/All Clear was a single novel. That, I was okay with. But the Diskworld series is NOT A NOVEL and should OBVIOUSLY not be nominated for a novel category.

Okay! This came out to an even 20, which is great, but I’m sure it is misleading. What am I missing? Did I leave off your very favorite book published so far in 2015? Drop it in the comments, please! Did I not list a book you’re particularly anticipating for the fall season? That, too, could go in the comments. Let’s build a list of 2015 titles that are enjoyable and/or impressive, please, and then those of us nominating for awards next year will have a reference list.

From the comments:

Here’s a couple that I had forgotten about that I definitely do want to read if at all possible:

21. The Just City by Jo Walton. Linda S recommends this one and it does sound intriguing: The goddess Athena gathers a variety of people from different time periods to see if they can make Plato’s Republic work.

22. Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. Pete recommends this one and adds that he’s already read it several times. It’s plainly a “voice” novel, with an extremely distinctive first person narrator: “You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.”

Also, I left some titles out because I don’t expect to recommend them for awards, but that’s an interesting category in itself: Books I expect to enjoy, maybe enjoy a lot, but not recommend for awards. These include:

23. Apprentice to Elves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear. Third book of the trilogy; really looking forward to it and might well want to recommend the whole trilogy for a series award, but I doubt this volume will stand on its own.

24. Jeweled Fire by Sharon Shinn. Not only a sequel, but also almost certainly a comfort read. For some reason I don’t seem to think of “comfort read” as overlapping with “award worthy.” Is that reasonable? Gotta give that some thought.

25. Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs. Series novel and UF/Paranormal. Again, I don’t really find myself feeling that UF/Paranormal are award worthy. I really *don’t* think that bias holds up to scrutiny. Also, it would be highly, highly entertaining to see the UF/Paranormal fandom stampede into an award like the Hugo. Seriously, that offend the WorldConFans who think the award should emphasize literary merit far more than straightforward storytelling; the Puppies who are looking more for, I gather, space opera and perhaps competence porn; the fans who would prefer to see the Hugo move back more toward being a SF award rather than a fantasy award. I sort of agree with all these groups, but pulling in hundreds and hundreds of new fans from all different directions is, I think, the ideal scenario. So seeing a UF/Paranormal series novel on the ballot every year would be fine with me.

26. The Thorn of Emberlain by Scott Lynch. Sequel and totally not going to stand alone, I’m betting.

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5 Comments The Best New Releases in 2015

  1. charlotte

    I didn’t get very far in Court of Fives; the world building felt very told and not shown, and it just didn’t grab me….

    I would like to play a Green Sky computer game!

  2. Linda S

    So far, I haven’t run across a 2015 novel that I absolutely, positively have to nominate for a Hugo, like ANCILLARY JUSTICE, THE GOBLIN EMPEROR, or A DARKLING SEA. (I still can’t believe A DARKLING SEA didn’t get more traction!) I did like UPROOTED, and it will probably be on my ballot. CORSAIR was a lot of fun and well worth reading, though one of the viewpoint characters was (intentionally) pretty annoying at first. I don’t know if I think of it as a Hugo candidate, though.

    The most obvious award candidate I’ve run across this year is Jo Walton’s THE JUST CITY, which has a really interesting and ambitious premise: the goddess Athena gathers a variety of people from different time periods to see if they can make Plato’s Republic work. The story was so compelling that I zipped through it at lightning speed, and I loved most of the characters. On the other hand, my politics and worldview are different enough from Walton’s that there were definitely some “Oh, come on!” moments. I’ll probably still nominate it, though. I also liked the second book in the series, THE PHILOSOPHER KINGS.

    I agree with you that nominating Discworld as a whole is a bad idea. I did enjoy THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN, and I may end up nominating it, though I admit that I’d be less likely to do it if TSC hadn’t been Pratchett’s last book.

    I’m about 10% of the way through Liu’s THE GRACE OF KINGS, and it’s not grabbing me so far, though I do plan to keep trying. Justin Landon’s comment about the author being more interested in the thematic through-line than the characters definitely rings true so far.

    I’m also looking forward to ANCILLARY MERCY. If Leckie can stick the dismount, it will almost certainly be on my ballot. Endings are notoriously difficult, though, so I’m trying to keep my expectations reasonable.

  3. pete mack

    Thanks so much for the list! I would add Karen Memory, by Elizabeth Bear. Presumably I will add the Norse Wolves book by Bear and Moning, too.

  4. Kootch

    I liked Uprooted and Karen Memory, although I still haven’t had that “WOW, this is the best!” feeling about any book yet. Just finished “The Fool’s Quest” by Robin Hobb and liked it better than the first book in the series, but this ends in a cliffhanger so I feel that maybe I should have waited for all the books in the series to come out. Django Wexler’s “The Price of Valor” was good, it ended in foreboding rather than a cliffhanger because it did have a denouement but obviously there is more to come. Awaiting the next Lois Mcmaster Bujold with bated breath.

  5. Rachel

    Thanks, Kootch, maybe I will read The Price of Valor soon, then. I don’t mind ending on a note of foreboding.

    And yes, I’m sure we’re all waiting eagerly for LMB’s next Vorkosigan book!

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