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Best Books of 2016 (So Far)

23 Feb

December last year I discovered the revolutionary idea that I can in fact buy books on my Kindle account for cheap prices. Being a miserly sort of person when money is concerned…I haven’t done that much. I used to let my mum buy the books and wait eagerly for them to arrive in the mail…ah, those were good times. But times are changing, as times are wont to do. I have an iPad and a smartphone with which I can carry a bunch of books wherever I go.

Granted, I prefer to read a real book, a flesh-and-blood (well…paper-and-ink) book with real pages rather than text on a backlit touchscreen. Still, I find there are advantages to reading on my phone and its small screen. There isn’t much text on each page, and because of this I read slower. I read every word. I don’t skim like I am prone to do, and I guess I enjoy the book more that way.

Enough about my reading habits. Here are the best books I’ve read so far in 2016.

Orphan’s Song

Gillian Bronte Adams

Who Will Keep the Song Alive?

Every generation has a Songkeeper – one chosen to keep the memory of the Song alive. And in every generation, there are those who seek to destroy the chosen one.

When Birdie’s song draws the attention of a dangerous Khelari soldier, she is kidnapped and thrust into a world of ancient secrets and betrayals. Rescued by her old friend, traveling peddler Amos McElhenny, Birdie flees the clutches of her enemies in pursuit of the truth behind the Song’s power.

Ky is a streetwise thief and a member of the Underground—a group of orphans banded together to survive . . . and to fight the Khelari. Haunted by a tragic raid, Ky joins Birdie and Amos in hopes of a new life beyond the reach of the soldiers. But the enemy is closing in, and when Amos’ shadowed past threatens to undo them all, Birdie is forced to face the destiny that awaits her as the Songkeeper of Leira. (Goodreads description)

Orphan’s Song is the most recent book I bought, but the one that takes first place for me. The prose itself captures the quality of a song—melodious, lyrical, wrought with the loving care and concern of a master wordsmith. Adams’s characterisation is deep and multisided—no one is who they appear to be at face value. One minor character I noticed in particular—Madame, Birdie’s stern and harsh mistress. That kind of character I’ve seen before, but Adams also shows Madame’s tender side with her husband and sons. Even though I dislike Madame as a person, I love her as a character, because Adams captures her humanity perfectly. So it is with the rest of the characters…Birdie, Amos, Ky, Cade, even the antagonists Carhartan and Hendryk.

The story contains common tropes such as an abandoned infant who turns out to be someone special, but I thought Adams used this well-worn plot very well. Her characters and prose make the plot sing, and while it’s still a common trope, Adams’s version of this common trope is one I heartily recommend. Many of the plot twists I guessed before the author revealed them, but only a few authors have been able to spring surprises on me recently. There are two POV characters in this story: Birdie and Ky. I have to say I liked Ky’s story better. The rawness, the intensity, the struggle for life itself, Ky’s victory over the mantra pounded into him that everyone has to “look out for themselves”…this was done so beautifully. (And is there anyone else out there who wants to see more—much more—of Meli?)

What struck me about the story was its brevity. Oh, I’ve heard the quote by Brandon Sanderson. “I’m a fantasy author. We have trouble with the concept of brevity.” Haha. I myself most strongly agree. But Orphan’s Song was not like this. It was a short book. Not a short story, but a short book. And what really struck me was how well Adams told her story in the shortest amount of words possible. A wordsmith creates, but a wordsmith also excises a story’s flab with a knife sharper than a surgeon’s. Adams did this very well. I know that for my stories I need to work on cutting words to get to the heart in a similar manner.

Overall, this is one author I’m going to follow. This book I highly recommend. Its sequel, Songkeeper, comes out in April.

Blood of Kings

Jill Williamson

Half of the kingdom is shrouded in Darkness. On the side that still sees the sun, two young adults struggle to understand the magical abilities thrust upon them.

It’s called bloodvoicing. Some say it’s a gift. One of the newly “gifted” wish it had never come.

Jill Williamson’s award-winning epic fantasy series, Blood of Kings, tells the story of Achan, an orphan who’s been a stray all his life. When an enigmatic knight offers to train Achan for the Kingsguard, he readily accepts. But his new skills with the sword do not prepare him for the battle raging between the voices in his head.

Vrell Sparrow is not who she seems. She masquerades as a boy to avoid marriage to a powerful prince who seeks to exploit her. But Vrell feels called to help a young squire who recently discovered his bloodvoicing gift, even if doing so puts her in the path of her enemy.

While Achan learns to use his new ability, Vrell struggles to shut hers down. All the voices strive to learn Achan and Vrell’s true identities—and a different kind of voice is calling them both to adventure, romance and a truth that just might push back Darkness for good. (Amazon.com description)

Having read Jill Williamson’s posts on the Go Teen Writers blogs for a long time now, I felt as if I already knew her style and story before I read these books. I’d seen the outline for By Darkness Hid before reading the book, and I’d read a lot about these characters and this story…but still, reading them for the first time was not disappointing. I loved seeing what I’d already heard come to life in these stories and find out what really happened along the way. Williamson’s worldbuilding is—as would be expected given her repeated posts on the subject at Go Teen Writers—superb. The depth she’s put into each part of her world is incredible, and the reactions of the POV characters are done very well. Sitna, for example, the place in which Achan’s story begins, feels so real, so familiar…we’re experiencing Achan’s home through his eyes.

What struck me in this series is the convergence in the storylines of the two POV characters, even when Achan and Vrell are acting completely independent of one another. An example early of this is when Achan hears the gossip among serving women about Lord Nathak, lord of Sitna Manor, and how his proposal for marriage has been rejected again by the Duchess of Carm. That same duchess and her continual rejections of Nathak play a large role in Vrell’s story. This convergence also sets the stage for plot events later in the story. I really enjoyed seeing how Williamson worked these plot events into the story.

Not everything about the series I liked. The intensity of the romantic material in To Darkness Fled and From Darkness Won was what I disliked most. The mistakes of the main characters are dealt with in an excellent way by the end of the series, but there were parts especially in the second and third books which I felt were not my kind of story. Like Mistborn: The Final Empire, which I reviewed recently, I’d say the appropriate target audience would be 15+. Still, despite the flaws, I would still recommend this series to people of an appropriate age and maturity.

The Reapers Trilogy

Bryan Davis

Reapers is a dystopian tale with a supernatural twist. Taking place in a futuristic, urban setting, this first book in a planned trilogy will appeal to readers of The Hunger Games and similar fast–paced stories for young adults. Along with a blend of real life and imagination, it delivers action, danger, and suspense through the adventures of three teenagers—Phoenix, Singapore, and Shanghai—Reapers who collect the souls of the dying or already dead and transport them to the Gateway where they will travel to their final destination … or so they are told. (Goodreads description)

(Okay. I’m cheating. I read this series in December 2015. So it shouldn’t really be in this blog post.) I admit that when I first heard that Bryan Davis was writing a series about ghosts, I was reluctant to read this series. I mean…he’s always written weird things, but ghosts? Reapers? Death? I’m happy to say that I enjoyed this series very much. Reapers is probably his fastest-paced book yet—Davis’s skill grows with every book he publishes, which is something to aspire to.

The strong point of this series is Davis’s mastery of character motivation and how it drives the plot. The heroes are active in working against the villains even when the villains think the heroes are working for them. To power along the story Davis uses unique plot twists—who would expect the main character to explain his plan to the villain?—and crippling dilemmas—how do you choose between friends?—and does not let the characters off the hook because of their choices, which makes the emotional impacts heartrending. If you’re the type of person who cries over books, then weigh carefully whether you want to read this series.

As would be expected, death takes a front and centre role in this series. Davis mitigates the violence by using sonic guns, which do not draw blood, but still the sheer amount of death is not something that can be taken easily. Near the start of Reapers a group of criminals and rebels are executed on-screen, and a death camp plays a large part in the first book. The death and despair contributes to darken the mood of this book. In fact, I attributed a colour scheme to the mood: Dry, dead yellow. And black.

One thing I found irritating was that Davis did not explain what an Owl was until the second book. I mean, I can understand his conviction to have his characters explain nothing they have no motivation to explain, but surely he could have slipped in a description of what an Owl could do sometime earlier? Motivate someone to explain? Have a less informed character ask what an Owl was?

Despite the darkness and death, I enjoyed the books very much. In fact, I stayed up reading Beyond the Gateway late into the night, something which I’ve done rarely in the past few months. (The only other book I can think of where I did this recently was with The Bands of Mourning.) And the last sentence of Beyond the Gateway…man. That adrenaline rush took some getting over.

The Bands of Mourning

Brandon Sanderson

The Bands of Mourning are the mythical metalminds owned by the Lord Ruler, said to grant anyone who wears them the powers that the Lord Ruler had at his command. Hardly anyone thinks they really exist. A kandra researcher has returned to Elendel with images that seem to depict the Bands, as well as writings in a language that no one can read. Waxillium Ladrian is recruited to travel south to the city of New Seran to investigate. Along the way he discovers hints that point to the true goals of his uncle Edwarn and the shadowy organization known as The Set.

Like Beyond the Gateway, I stayed up late to finish this book and actually leapt up and exclaimed variations of, “I knew it!” at the ending. (Read the book if you want to find out what I’m referring to.) In The Bands of Mourning Brandon Sanderson answers some of the questions we’ve been waiting to hear throughout the Wax & Wayne series, but…well…raises a few more. A few more major questions, that is. I mean, seriously? With one book left to go in this series, how is Sanderson going to wrap up all these plot threads in just one book?

But I’m writing a review, not a fangirl statement. Each of the major characters has grown in some way in each of the Wax & Wayne books, and The Bands of Mourning is no exception. In fact, the character arcs in this book are some of the most well done I’ve seen. With the tragedy of the book before this, Shadows of Self, Wax has hardened himself, and with his characteristic stubbornness it’s as if nothing short of death would make him change his viewpoint on the matter. Steris was, without a doubt, at the most compelling she’s ever been in this series. I loved seeing her interact with Wax, Wayne, Marasi and MeLaan as a more major character in The Bands of Mourning. Marasi has grown a lot since the first Wax & Wayne book, The Alloy of Law, and this book vividly shows how much she’s progressed. Edwarn Ladrian, Wax’s nemesis throughout this series, is in fine form. I must say I’ve never seen one of Brandon Sanderson’s villains so well done as Edwarn in this book. I loved being able to see Wax’s sister Telsin for the first time in three books. And finally, Wayne. Truth be told, Wayne is not my favourite character. Oh, I admit, he’s amusing and interesting to watch and the series wouldn’t be the same without him, but certain things he does in the first half of this book are…not the kind of thing I want to read. Nonetheless, his decision and character growth at the climax was very powerful and is one of the parts I remember most vividly.

As is typical of a Sanderson book, The Bands of Mourning is stacked with unpredictable plot twists, gobsmacking reveals, and an ever-deepening sense of the world of Scadrial. There are a few intriguing new reveals about the magic systems of Allomancy and Feruchemy, which in part drive the story. Due to the nature of the plot, there is more history involved in this story than the other Wax & Wayne books, and let me just say…you have no idea of the truth of Scadrial’s history if you haven’t read The Bands of Mourning.

This book has the most mature content out of all the Sanderson books I’ve read. (I haven’t read Warbreaker. I think it would have more.) There’s a lot of swearing, and while I understand why people can have the motive to swear, I dislike reading it and listening to it. There is also some sexual content in this book—not dwelled upon or shown in any graphic detail, but Sanderson could easily lighten up on this without damage done to the plot. I was also disappointed that Trell only got a few brief mentions…we still haven’t learned what Bleeder was up to in the last book. Here’s hoping there’ll be some of that in The Lost Metal.


 

An honourable mention goes to the Goldstone Wood series, especially HeartlessShadow Hand and Golden Daughter, my three favourites from that series. I couldn’t include them because I bought them in December last year instead of 2016. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Put down the finger you’re pointing at Reapers. I’m allowed to be inconsistent on my own blog from time to time.) I’m hoping to read two books in particular soon: Calamity and Songkeeper. Whether you’ll see them in a review on this blog is yet to be confirmed.

What have been your favourite books in 2016 so far?

Matthew

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4 Comments

Posted by on February 23, 2016 in Book Reviews, Books

 

4 responses to “Best Books of 2016 (So Far)

  1. sarahtps

    February 24, 2016 at 6:02 am

    Bands of Mourning is finally in at my library . . . I have plans to read it (and a good bit of other Sanderson, though all that would be rereads unless a miracle happens regarding Calamity) as soon as I finish Monster in the Castle. Which should be very soon, if all goes to plan.
    (Also: Warbreaker wasn’t terrible on sexual content . . . there are some very blatant references to it, yes. And there’s one fade-to-black scene . . . but the characters in question are technically married, and there’s nothing explicit shown.)
    That being said, I quite agree with the assessments here of all the books I’ve already read. :D
    The best new-to-me book I’ve read in 2016 . . . I don’t know. A lot of the new stuff I’ve read, I haven’t been incredibly wowed with? But The Eye of the World was good, and The Screaming Staircase was pleasantly Jackaby-eque and also rather creepy in a good way, and Reaper Man was one of the more enjoyable Discworld books I’ve read. Though Vimes is still the best.

     
    • Matthew

      February 24, 2016 at 3:33 pm

      Hahah. Come back and reread my review of The Bands of Mourning when you’ve finished the book. You’ll understand it…better…then. ;) (On Warbreaker: Good to hear, but I doubt I’m going to read it anytime soon.)

      Now I know you’ve read Orphan’s Song because I’ve seen your Goodreads review, and I know you’ve read Blood of Kings because you’re the person I asked about it back when I was first considering reading it. I don’t know if you’ve read the Reapers books, but I do know you’ve read a lot of Bryan Davis’s books.

      So you’re reading The Wheel of Time? Is that a response to Brandon Sanderson writing the last three? XD

       
      • sarahtps

        February 24, 2016 at 3:36 pm

        I will remember to do that. :D (I kind of guessed. Have you/will you read Elantris, out of curiosity?)
        I’ve read the first Reapers book. I haven’t read the second because it came out without my noticing and then I kept forgetting to get it. I will eventually; it’s just not as high priority as the DiOM series were.
        Heh. No, it isn’t . . . though that fact does help. I heard about the series a while ago, then found out that one of my friends really liked it and used that as an excuse to put it on my TBR list (since I finally had a trustworthy recommendation). Then I finally got around to starting it this year.

         
      • Matthew

        February 24, 2016 at 3:40 pm

        I have read Elantris, yes. I liked seeing a story where politics and decisions rather than fighting and violence pushed the story forward. Hrathen was my favourite character because he’s so much like me, and I fully approve of his entire character arc. The last sentence Sarene speaks about him gave me chills.

         

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