Sunday, 28 December 2014

Australian Fantasy Books read in 2014

Not a challenge per se, but I've been keeping track of the Australian fantasy books I've read over the past year. The time has now come to blog the list and go through them all. Because Australian-authored fantasy is the best fantasy (true story). And more people should read it.

I seem to have made it to twenty books, which is a nice round number I wasn't particularly aiming for, but cool. As I said, this isn't a challenge, but in terms of shifting my reading habits to where I'd like them to be, I want to aim to read more BFF books next year (big fat fantasy). It's a genre I like, particularly when written by my favourite Australian authors, and I have a few books sitting around waiting to be read while I go off and get distracted by review books. So. More reading those. (This also ties in with trying to not overburden myself with review books so I can enjoy other books. These are the other books.)

Anyway, my list follows with short extracts from my reviews of the books.

Stained Glass Monsters by Andrea K Höst (review)
You know what I've just noticed about Höst's books? It came up when I was reviewing Hunting as well. I start writing my review thinking "well, I enjoyed that but I'm not sure how much I have to say about it" and then I start writing it and, in the course of reflecting on the book, end up finding added depths that I didn't necessarily notice while I was actually reading. Thumbs up. There's also the fact that almost all the key players in Stained Glass Monsters were women, apart from Rennyn's brother and her love interest. Which makes me happy.
The Other Tree by DK Mok (review)
I would recommend The Other Tree to fans of contemporary-set fantasy looking for something different to most urban fantasy or paranormal romance books. At it's heart it's an adventure story, following two adventuring laypeople in their quest to find the Tree of Life (or, well, on their quest to find out what happened to Chris's mother and also to see what happens next). A fairly enjoyable read.
Wall of Spears by Duncan Lay (review)
The level of intrigue and machinations was probably my second favourite thing in Wall of Spears. Everyone has hidden (to most of the other characters) motivations and everyone is lying to everyone else about them (well, the Velsh less so). It makes for a complex read and no dull moments.
Bespelled by Dani Kristoff (review)
I liked Elena, the main character. I found her relationships with people in her life, particularly her family, to be believable. She was abandoned by her mother and spent the first thirteen years of her life raised by humans, until her aunt found her. Then, as a half-witch, she doesn't fully immerse herself in coven life. She has a pro-human activist streak in her, but it wasn't exaggerated or very prominent to the story, which I liked.
The Lascar's Dagger by Glenda Larke (review)
Larke has written an excellent book that I highly recommend to all fantasy fans, especially those who like their fantasy serious, long, and with complex characters and motivations. I am very keen to read the next book in the series and I hope it's not too long a wait. For readers who have not read any Glenda Larke books before, this is a good a place to start as any book one.

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (review)
The "rules" described by the protagonist start of fairly innocuously like "Never eat the last olive at a party" but become darker and more worrying as the story progresses. Although the narrative is told in sparse sentences, a large amount of the story is conveyed in the gorgeous artwork.
North Star Guide Me Home by Jo Spurrier (review)
If you've read and enjoyed the earlier books in the Children of the Black Sun trilogy, you absolutely have to read North Star Guide Me Home. If you haven't read the series, but got this far in my review anyway, then I can't recommend it enough. All fans of BFF (/epic/high/grimdark fantasy) should give it a go. I look forward to seeing what Spurrier writes next.
Innocence Lost by Patty Jansen (review)
This was an enjoyable read. It's brevity and style made it an easy read, which was exactly what I felt like at the time. It did end on a bit of a cliffhanger, however, so fair warning for those that don't like 'em. The second book, Willow Witch, is already out, if that helps, however I suggest not reading the blurb since it does rather spoil the end of Innocence Lost.
Chasing the Valley: Borderlands by Skye Melki-Wegner (review)
Borderlands has everything I loved about Chasing the Valley, including things I had forgotten I loved. Five(ish) teenagers continue their difficult and high-stakes journey from their home city to the mythical Valley where they hope to seek asylum. They're still being chased by the King's ruthless hunters (and one in particular who has it out for them) and, even without that, the going is tough.

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier (review)
Razorhurst follows two main characters, both of whom can see ghosts: Kelpie, a street urchin and Dymphna, the most expensive prostitute in the city. Kelpie has survived on the streets in large part thanks to some ghost who have taken her under their wings, helped her find food and taught her general survival skills. Dymphna has survived mostly by being good at what she does and having the right appearance and upbringing to impress higher society types.
Chasing the Valley: Skyfire by Skye Melki-Wegner (review)
The personal stakes were already pretty high (death if they didn't flee in book one), but by the third book new revelations up the ante to the point of them needing to save the world. But the thing is, it was all actually foreshadowed from the start. So although some elements seemed to me to come from left field, they didn't, not really. I have no doubt that the author had planned out the entire series before book one was done.
Dagger of Dresnia by Satima Flavell (review)
The Dagger of Dresnia was a reasonable read. It was a little shaky at times, but that's not unusual in a début. Flavell shows promise and I'm interested to see how this develops in future books. The first book finishes with a lot of unresolved badness, so there's definitely a lot of hook to hang further plots off.
Guardian by Jo Anderton (review)
Guardian was an unusual book, more so, I think, than the first two which at least shared a common setting. I'd seen a lot of people compare the Veiled Worlds series to anime aesthetics but I didn't really see the resemblance until Guardian. A large part of the story takes place in a different world with little in common with the world of Movoc-under-Keeper. In some ways that world is more similar to our own — mostly in the way that people don't control pions with their minds to build stuff — but it's a pretty extreme post-apocalyptic type of a world.
Prickle Moon by Juliet Marillier (review)
This collection is a mix of longer, intricate and fantastical tales and shorter tales which were no less serious (but of necessity less intricate). My favourites were "'Twixt Firelight and Water", a novella set in the same universe as the Sevenwaters books, and "Back and Beyond". I also quite liked the two Ditmar-shortlistees, "Prickle Moon" and "By Bone Light". Interestingly, although I enjoyed the latter more, I've found it's "Prickle Moon" that's lodged more firmly in my brain. I hark back to it every time hedgehogs come up (which has been more often than usual in the past month).
Shatterwing by Donna Maree Hanson (review)
I really enjoyed the story but there were times when the brutality got a bit much for me. Mainly this was towards the end of part one where Salinda, our first main character, is being brutally tortured. It's not that it's not relevant to the plot, but it wasn't fun to read (nor, I think, should it have been). Then, in part two, I was probably a bit over-invested in a new main character, Laidan, not being raped and it was a nail-biter for a while there. (I won't spoil which way it went.)

Small Shen by Kylie Chan and illustrated by Queenie Chan (review)
Small Shen follows Gold, a minor deity who featured in Kylie Chan's Dark Heavens and Journey to Wudang trilgies. I've read the Dark Heavens trilogy and the first book of Journey to Wudang and I have to admit I never paid a huge amount of attention to Gold. But Small Shen endeared him to me significantly. He's a bisexual, gender-swapping rock in human form. What's not to like?
Phantazein edited by Tehani Wessely (review)
My favourite stories, in the order they appear, were: "Kneaded" by SG Larner, which really grabbed me when I got up to it; "Scales of Time" by Foz Meadows and Moni, an illustrated poem, which was predictably sad but gorgeous; and "Love Letters of Swans" by Tansy Rayner Roberts, about Helen and Paris and Helen's slave girl, was probably my favourite story of the lot. I suspect leaning heavily towards the mythological rather than fairytalesque added to that, but however you want to classify it, it was an excellent story. Other stories I liked, again in the order they appear, were "Twelfth" by Faith Mudge, "Bahamut" by Thoraiya Dyer, and "A Cold Day" by Nicole Murphy.
How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier (review)
I really enjoyed How to Ditch Your Fairy. I would recommend it to younger readers who maybe haven't yet gotten into the slew of darker YA with older main characters which is popular at the moment. Unlike some younger readers' books I've read, I didn't feel How to Ditch Your Fairy was talking down to its audience or was unnecessarily simplified. For those reasons I would also recommend it to adults looking for a fun read (especially those that don't mind reading lots of teenage slang).
The Autumn Castle by Kim Wilkins (review)
I highly recommend The Autumn Castle to fans of character-driven fantasy books. I think readers who usually don't read much fantasy would also enjoy it since, although the fantasy element is inextricable from the plot, the character-driven narrative is the more complex aspect. Assuming you like that sort of thing, anyway. There are some dark elements, so be warned: vicious murder and light torture within (but no rape, if that helps).
City of Masks by Ashley Capes (review)
I tend to approach fantasy books by new authors (and new to me authors) with some degree of trepidation. I'm very particular about what kind of fantasy I enjoy and there are a lot of ways in which a fantasy book can disappoint me. Luckily, I need not have worried when it came to City of Masks. It's an entertaining read which kept me interested and turning pages. I would go so far as to say that it's the best début fantasy I read this year.

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