At the time of writing, I’ve read approximately 230 new-to-me books in the past calendar year. Twenty-seven, according to my records, were nonfiction, and maybe another half-dozen were ARCs for books that won’t be out until next year. Of what’s left, a little over eighty were novels written or co-written by women published prior to 2014, and something over fifty were novels written or co-written by people who identify themselves as women and published in 2014.
If you’re interested in numbers, in 2014 I also read twenty-one books solely written by people who identify themselves as men which were published during said year, leaving about forty novels by blokes written prior to 2014. In percentages, 28.8% of 2014 novels which I read were by blokes, and 32% of all new-to-me novels. So 71.2% of new novels were by women, and 68% of novels overall. Next year I need to keep records on more grounds than merely gender, though, I think.
What I want to do in this post is talk a little about the kinds of new books I read in 2014, and what I think were the best of them. This is going to skew pretty heavily towards books by women, naturally, since with the exceptions of Max Gladstone’s Full Fathom Five, Django Wexler’s The Shadow Throne, David Drake’s The Sea Without A Shore, and the David Weber/Timothy Zahn collaboration A Call To Duty, nothing I read by a bloke this year thoroughly entertained me. (Don’t miss Full Fathom Five and The Shadow Throne. They’re pretty excellent. And the other two are thoroughly entertaining space opera.) Though I did like Charles Stross’s The Rhesus Chart, too: it’s just slighter than his usual run of Laundry novels.
My reading in general was fairly heavily biased towards fantasy, with some notable exceptions (Ann Leckie’s excellent Ancillary Sword, Karen Healey’s brilliant While We Run, Sophia McDougall’s Mars Evacuees, Stephanie Saulter’s satisfying Binary, and Ankaret Wells’ entertaining but flawed Heavy Ice among them), and towards a combination of epic and urban fantasy at that. I’m not much of a hard SF reader at the best of times, and this year definitely wasn’t the best of times.
For my money, the two best epic fantasies of the year were Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor—I’d really love to see it make a few award lists in the coming months, because it is such a marvellous, delightful book—and Elizabeth Bear’s Steles of the Sky, the concluding volume in her SERIOUSLY EPIC Eternal Sky trilogy. That’s a book that really sticks its dismount, a book that makes you look at the preceding volumes in a freshly appreciative light. I don’t know that I’ve read another trilogy that does what Bear’s doing here quite so well—and I know for damn sure I haven’t read a concluding volume that pulls off its grand finale as well.
Roz Kaveney’s Resurrections is also epic fantasy of a sort. Epic, and urban, and contemporary, and endearingly blasphemous, and odd: the third book in a four-book sequence, I’ve been trying to think about how to discuss it ever since I read it, months ago. I really enjoyed reading it, but it’s one of those books where explaining why you enjoyed it (despite, or because of, its flaws) is something of a challenge, because it’s not much at all like anything else I’ve ever read.
Also not much like anything else out there is Elizabeth Bear’s One-Eyed Jack, a novel that relies for a lot of its effect on audience familiarity with spy shows of the 1960s—but if you’re even slightly familiar with those, works magnificently well.
Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, too, feels interestingly unique. A first-contact story set in Lagos, it combines science fiction and a touch of what strikes me as magic realism to produce a very lively text, one that demands its readers pay attention.
Heather Rose Jones’ Daughter of Mystery doesn’t demand as much attention from its readers, but it’s a debut novel I’m thoroughly pleased to have read—and one which has joined the list of things I reread for comfort while I’m miserably ill. It’s a Ruritanian romance with fantastical elements set in the small Alpine country of Alpennia during the early part of the 19th century. In addition to being a Ruritanian romance, it’s also a lesbian one, with engaging characters and interesting incidents. It has its flaws, but it’s an awful lot of fun.
I’m not sure there’s anything (newly published, at least) under the urban fantasy rubric that got me particularly excited during 2014. I think I probably had the most fun reading Lia Silver’s Laura’s Wolf, a novel of werewolves, romance, and post-traumatic stress disorder: it’s certainly one of the handful that left more than a fleeting impression.
And in YA (a genre in which I confess I’m not very widely read), Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unmade, the conclusion to her Lynburn Legacy trilogy, packs a remarkable punch. A++, would cry again.
Those are the novels from 2014 that’ve stuck with me to the end of the year. What’s stuck with you?