It’s been a interesting year for books, I’ll say that much! There are a few I’ve disliked, but on the whole it’s been quite an excellent year with a lot of titles vying for a mention in this list. It’s been the first year that I’ve been actively aware of the YA fantasy genre (instead of just reading books that happen to be YA, but are placed on regular shelves in stores) and I’ve found it to be a rewarding and insightful genre that knows just what to give and when to give it. The books on this list are all 2012 releases, but a few honourable mentions will be slipped in at the end to give some plugging time to titles not published this year, but that I read in the last twelve months regardless. They’re too good not to have a mention.
In reverse order, because that’s the way it’s always done!
Firstly, the honourable mentions go to: Ashes of a Black Frost, by Chris Evans, Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey, and The Spirit Thief, by Rachel Aaron.
10 - Taken, Benedict Jacka
When Jacka’s Fated came out, I was impressed, but then Cursed sort of took the wind from my sails with this series: I didn’t like it much and frankly it bored me. Then Taken dropped and everything changed. By far the best book of the series, Taken was everything I wanted from the Alex Verus series. It did not copy all the mistakes (too much action, too much bang, bang, boom) of Cursed and instead, found its own way to top its predecessors by finding the middle ground and sticking to it. It was a brilliant, page-turner of a book.
9 - The False Prince, Jennifer A. Nielsen
I don’t care if this book is classed as “middle-grade”. Honestly, being in the UK, I’m not even sure what that means. All I know is that it is a tightly-plotted book that keeps giving: it is exciting, surprising and fun. It is a fantastic story that is at once gripping and filled with adventure. I loved this book. You really should read it, regardless of target audience.
8 - Katya’s World, Jonathon L. Howard
As one of Strange Chemistry’s earlier launch titles, this one is definitely worth your consideration. It is a YA sci-fi that is every bit as good as it sounds. With a strong and complicated female lead, Katya’s World is a new kind of YA that focusses entirely on the complex story and setting, rather than its protagonist’s personal life.
That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the other kind (romance and conflicts are a part of YA lit because they’re part of being a young adult) but the lack of personal story arcs made the science fiction elements all the stronger. Set on a far-flung colony whose ties with Earth have since been severed, Kayta’s World is an engaging YA science fiction that is not dystopian. And it makes me wish there were more YA titles like it.
7 - Cold Days, Jim Butcher
I haven’t reviewed this yet as I finished it only yesterday, but it definitely earns a place on this list. Cold Days could have saved everyone some time and been a handful of pages shorter, but the central story is excellent and definitely one of the best-plotted novels of the series to date. Cold Days tackles my favourite subject in the Dresden universe: faeries. I love me some fae and this book is all fae, fae, fae and puts me in mind of Summer Knight, which is one of my favourite novels in the series.
6- Blackwood, Gwenda Bond
I loved this book. Which is ironic, since it is the one Strange Chemistry title that I did not receive an ARC of (digital or otherwise) and had frankly shown little interest in. Oh how wrong I was! I bought this on a whim after finding myself in book limbo and desperately in need of another book. Nothing took my fancy; I didn’t want to bite. Until Blackwood came under hand and bam! Love at first read. This book is amazing. It is exciting and creepy and has the best protagonists. It also has a male PoV. In YA. Yes! A real, live male who has his own narrative. I’ve not stopped yabbering on about this book to whomever will listen, because it is just so good. It’s a delicious urban fantasy mystery and it is utterly gripping. You need to read this book.
5 - Blood and Feathers, Lou Morgan
This book, at first, did not catch my eye. The cover was gorgeous and the blurb was sexy, but then I found that
the protagonist was female and it was filed in the urban fantasy section. You can’t blame a guy for being wary when the female protagonists are all standing, sitting or whatever-that-pose-is-meant-to-be-ing on dark and moody front covers, toting guns or knives, leatherclad and dating vamps and werewolves–or hunting them… or both. But I read the back and thought, “Hey, this sounds different!” and so I went for it.
It was awesome. Lou Morgan has written angels and fallen angels and heaven and hell in ways you have not seen before. And I assure you, she’s good. This is a sexy book with an amazing story to tell. It is snarky and witty and utterly perfect in its execution. It is hands down one of the best urban fantasies I have read in a long time. I am THIS EXCITED for Rebellion, when it drops in 2013. Read this book… no, really: read this book.
4 - Shadow’s Master, Jon Sprunk
Ah, the end of a series. And done well at that. The Shadow Saga remains one of my favourite series, entirely because of its excellent approach to an overdone topic and its constantly evolving characters. Caim and Kit face what looks to be their most difficult challenge yet, and all the while, the darker nature of the assassin we’ve followed since Shadow’s Son keeps trying to rear its shadowy head. It is an excellent book and wraps the series up so nicely you’d imagine it tied with a bow and topped with a sparkly ribbon. This is a series that you need to read and savour, because every word knits so perfectly together to create a classic adventure that will leave you wanting to take on the world.
3 - The Alchemist of Souls, Anne Lyle
Annle Lyle is a poet of a writer and The Alchemist of Souls is a gorgeous, exciting adventure that will keep you reading through the night. Set in an alternative Elizabethan England, The Alchemist of Souls is a rich historical fantasy that proves Lyle to be a master of her art. Her new England is rich and vast and deep enough that it feels completely real and her characters populate that world effortlessly. Unafraid to really sink her teeth into the morality of the time and the complexities of the historical relationships (guys kiss guys; deal with it!), Lyle really masters the story she set out to tell. With the magic and mystery of the skraylings and the deep intrigue surrounding the English secret service, The Alchemist of Souls is a complete success that will leave you yearning for more.
2 - Trinity Rising, Elspeth Cooper
I’ll say now that Elspeth Cooper is propably in my top five list of favourite writers. There’s just something about how and what she writes that feels completely and utterly right. As if she’s nailing something that you didn’t even know you were looking for.
The sequal to Songs of the Earth, Cooper’s Trinity Rising takes the story further and throws a whole new plate of arcs into the mix. It is compelling and pacy and just as engaging as its predecessor. Cooper is, like Lyle, a true poet with prose and her story is all the richer for it. Reading Cooper feels like going home.
1 - The Crimson Crown, Cinda Williams Chima
In all technicality, book three of the Seven Realms series should be on this list, too, since the UK release date for The Grey Wolf Throne was February 2012, despite releasing in 2011 in the US. From what I’ve seen, The Crimson Crown isn’t available in the UK yet. Which is a pity… So, naturally, I bought it from the US, because there wasn’t a single way in hell I wasn’t reading this book as soon as possible. So, that’s why it’s here: because it’s too good not to be.
The Seven Realms series is probably my favourite fantasy series. It is utterly compelling and engaging and the world leaps right off the page to pull you in. I love it. This book was… oh god. I really, really hate fanboy glarble, but ALL THE FEELS. I can’t articulate just how good this series is and how fitting and perfect an end The Crimson Crown was. It was unimaginably perfect and completely right. This book is the best of the bunch and each book sets a pretty high bar.
This is one of those books that is supposed to be YA, but that the UK shelves with the regular SFF. Wherever you find it: read it. It is likely one of the deepest and most character-oriented fantasies you will read. It is a masterpiece.