Saturday, December 31, 2011

Five for 2011, plus one

If you've never visited Travels Through Iest before or you don't know how I do this I'll provide a brief explanation. This is the second time I've done my best reads of a given year. Last year I wanted to do a top 5, but hadn't read 5 books that I actually felt qualified, so I did a top 4. I read more books in 2011 than in 2010 and happily I didn't read too many that I thought weren't much good, so that made identifying just 5 a hard task. I also read more books released in 2011 than I did in 2010, and in fact my top 5 were all released in 2011. The plus one refers to what I refer to as my 100 Must Read Fantasy Novels challenge. I read a book back in 2010 called 100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels and decided to read them all and blog them here. I didn't do a bad job of reading them in 2010, but in an effort to get my ever growing TBR pile under control I kind of abandoned the challenge at the F's. I do plan to go back to it in 2012 and will be starting again in January. Although I didn't get that many from the list actually read I did manage to find a favourite from what I did read.

Now Travels Through Iest's top 5 books from 2011 are as follows. The only one that has any specific order to it is number 1, I guess you could call it the winner. I'll start from 5 and work my way up.

5) The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham

This actually kind of happened last year, too. My top books were all settled until late in the year when I read Terry Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight and it leapfrogged Mira Grant's Feed to take top spot. I hadn't actually expected The Dragon's Path to make the list, and I read it pretty late in the year. What I got was the beginning to what promises to be a wonderful epic set in a secondary world that is remarkably reminiscent of a war torn Renaissance Europe. There are 13 races, not all human, and it contains bankers, plotters, warriors and remarkably layered and complex characters. Daniel Abraham plans to have the sequel out in 2012 and if the quality is maintained, it could very well find itself on this list next year.

4) The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

I've grown to expect a lot of a Joe Abercrombie release and The Heroes did not disappoint. Concerning an epic battle around a ring of ancient stones that give the book it's title, it takes place over a short period of time and contains Abercrombie's characteristically bleak and cynical outlook, but is punctuated at regular intervals by humour. None of the colourful characters in The Heroes are entirely good, but neither are they entirely bad, mostly they do what's needed to survive. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and it would have made this list if only for the 'cheese trap'.

3) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I don't read a lot of science fiction, so for one to first interest me and to then make this list it has to be something a bit different. Debut novelist Ernest Cline was probably always on a winner with Ready Player One with me. It's a love letter to the 1980's and all that decade's marvelously cheezy TV, movies and computer games. Like the fictional computer whiz James Halliday, I too am a child of the 80's, so Ready Player One's treasure hunt, like Indiana Jones meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with a bit of War Games tossed in for good measure taking place in a virtual reality pulled me in completely. I had an absolute ball reading it, and I know it's something I'm going to reread more than once.

2) Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick

This one was another late entry and for me another surprise. I had seen it in the book stores a few times, but a read of the back cover blurb saw me pass it up as it sounded so similar to a number of other books in the same thief as hero mould. The positive buzz around Among Thieves led me to give it a go, and I am glad I did so. Debutant Douglas Hulick has created a wonderful world for his anti-hero; Drothe, to operate in. There's magic and the 'thieves cant', there are thieves and nobles, a ruler that has three incarnations and it contains some of the best written scenes of sword play I have been privileged to read. Douglas Hulick is a name to watch, and for mine the debut author of the year.

If anyone has encountered me on a forum somewhere or they've read this blog then they're highly aware of what my number 1 book for 2011 is going to be, but for those of you who just cruised here by accident or haven't read enough of it to seen my rave reviews for the number 1 I will hold you in suspenders for a moment longer. Travels Through Iest's favourite SFF book for 2011 is...drumroll please...

1) The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

I first encountered Cat Valente at the 2010 Worldcon where her book Palimpsest had been nominated for the Hugo. Cat doesn't just put words on a page and hope that they make sense, she creates worlds within worlds and weaves magic with language. She's gone on record on her blog as saying that she would like a Hugo, personally I think she should be aiming for a Nobel. What the woman can do with words is a gift, and a gift that we who have read her work should feel privileged that she has chosen to share with us. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is an instant classic. It appeals to children and adults alike and it's heroine young September can take her place alongside Alice and Dorothy as a role model for all young girls to aspire to be like. Children will delight in the absurdness of a town made of fabric, while adults will enjoy reading about September's friend the well read Wyverary A-through-L. This is something you can read again and again and never become tired of it. My wife and I enjoyed the book so much that we even bought copies for our young nieces. They're a little young yet to appreciate it, but they will in a few years and their Mums will love the book in the meantime.

So that's it for 2011. Now as a little extra here's my favourite from the challenge.

The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany

I wasn't really sure what to expect when I picked up The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany. I knew he had inspired Tolkien and Neil Gaiman, but it's one of the oldest works in the challenge, and you can never be sure how they'll hold up to the passage of years. While the story is simple and even rather cliched these days it's the use of language and the painting of a picture with words that draws the reader in, and the stunning ideas and truly beautiful image of fairyland that Dunsany gives to his readers that makes it a genuine classic and realise what a debt modern readers and writers owe this man and his work.


  1. I *really* like the look of the fairyland one...

  2. It's a fantastic book, as is everything Cat writes, she's got a sequel coming out in 2012 and there's a short story that was on a publisher's website, I linked to it at the time, it's a prequel.

  3. oh, Fairyland is *definately* my first choice for Hugo noms this year! I'm still thinking of the other ones on the list, although I can manage a couple of short-stories this year!

    Annonymouse on the couch

  4. I've got a couple of short stories in mind and one novella and I didn't have any of those last year.