2018 was a great year for reading. I smashed my Goodreads Reader’s Challenge goal and just scrapped to finishing the 2018 Popsugar Challenge. Once again this year, my reading included a selection from the classics, big names and several indie authors. While not all are 5 star reads, each of the books chosen for my 15 picks intrigued me and/or left me thinking about the characters, the plot or the world long after I’d put the book down.
What were my best spec-fic reads for 2018?
1. The Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead
This science-fantasy series by Stephen Lawhead consists of five book: The Skin Map, The Bone House, The Spirit Well, The Shadow Lamp, The Fatal Tree. The series follows the adventures of 17th century Arthur Flinders-Petrie, present day Kit Livingston, his erstwhile girl friend Mina, and the villainous Lord Burleigh, as they each seek to explore the mysteries of ley travel between an expanding number of alternative earths. Each transfer to an alternative world is at a different time as well as place – from 17th century London and Prague, to China, to both Middle Kingdom and early twentieth century Egypt, ancient Tuscany, the paleolithic, early twentieth century Jordan, or north American desert. Like the Doctor and Riversong – people can met out of synch with each other which results in some interesting plot points. New characters are added along the way and the stakes grow more serious with each book until it encompasses the whole cosmos. And while the final book didn’t quite live up to the rest, I enjoyed the complexity of the plot, the immersive and detailed nature of each setting, the interplay of the characters, the redemptive arc and transcendence in this brilliant series.
2. Children of the Furnace by Brin Murray
Children of the Furnace is a YA dystopia set in a world devastated by global warming, with only the polar regions suitable for human habitation. Will, brought up by his step-father in Sekkerland (Greenland) is sheltered from the realities of the world until he is discovered by the Revouts and sent to Ferule – a re-education camp for boys – as a hated Heater. The book is narrated by both Will and Leah (a girl from the south) with strong world-building and characterisation. Though, at times I found the violence quite harrowing and was disappointed the trope of religious fanaticism, I really did like the originality of setting and that Will seeks another way than ‘the way of the strong’. Here’s my full review.
3. Grounded: A Dragon’s Tale by Gloria Piper
Grounded: A Dragon’s Tale is another book with an original setting that intrigued me.
The story inter-leaves the narrative from the dragon Many Colours (aka Rumplewing) in first person with sections from the Watchers (scientific observers) and the enigmatic Baaden in third person. Through Rumplewing, we are introduced to dragon society and to their terraformed planet with a multitude of different wildlife, including unicorns and griffons. Each dragon has a groombug bonded at hatching and cannot live without this lifelong smaller companion. Piper interweaves both personal challenges of young Rumplewing and sixteen year old Hote (one of the Watchers) with grave threats to the existence of the dragons and to the wellbeing of the whole planet, culminating in an exciting showdown. Here is my review.
4. Ted Dekker’s Eyes Wide Open & Hacker
Ted Dekker’s Outlaw series are modern spiritual allegories. Each book is loosely connected to the other but stand on their own merits.
I found Eyes Wide Open a gripping read. Christy Snow is trapped in a concrete hollow below the unfinished and supposably empty hospital and has just enough mobile battery to call her friend Austin for help. What follows is a mind-stretching psychological play where neither Christy or Austin knows what is illusion and what is fact, until the appearance of Outlaw.
In Hacker, Nyah Parkes is desperate to provide revolutionary brain-restoring therapy for her comatose mother. When she asks her friend Austin for the money, he suggest his experiments with hacking the mind (in order to cure his inoperable brain tumour) provide a better chance of saving her mom. Both Nyah and Austin push the limits, ripping through the envelope of normal reality to find a greater truth beyond the layers. Will they grasp it in time before her mother dies or Nyah’s past mistakes come to destroy them both?
I’ve yet to read the second in the series, Water Walker and the origin story, Outlaw, but both the books I have read were gripping psychological thrillers with action and thought-provoking scenarios that kept me turning the pages. My review of Hacker here.
5. Artemis by Andy Weir
Andy Weir’s second book Artemis (following The Martian) is set in the near future on Artemis moon base established by the Kenyan space agency. Jaz (Jasmine Bashara), who grew up on the Moon, makes a living by carrying messages supplemented by some low level smuggling. That is until she is offered a job with an impossible-to-refuse bonus. When things go spectacularly wrong and killers are hunting her down, she has to decide what is worth dying for. This science fiction heist thriller is fast-paced, full of Weir’s trademark maths, with a feisty smart-mouthed heroine. A fun read and I particularly enjoyed the interplay between Jaz and her dad. See my review here.
6. Clara’s Diary by Angelique Anderson
Clara’s Diary is a fast-paced mystery novel in a uniquely steampunk New York setting. It is set in an alternative history, in 1906, in which Octilunes, half-human, half-octopus children of the gods, have emerged from the oceans to live among humans. Detective Joseph (Joe) Desmond is determined to find who murmured his beloved daughter, especially after a look-alike Octilune is also murdered. He investigates both crimes with the help of stunning Octilune shop owner, Sadie, finding himself in danger at every turn. A big clunky at times, it’s a fun read with a world filled with fantastic gismos, memorable characters and a good dash of humour. See my review here.
7. Hunters’ Quest by Kasper Beaumont
Hunters’ Quest is the second book in Kasper Beaumont’s Hunters of Reloria series. It picks up from where Elven Jewel finishes as a group of hobbits and their halflings, dwarves, an elf, and a knight and a dragon-shifter travel across Reloria to warn the people of the coming invasion of reptilian monsters and gigantic cyclops, to ensure the shields are maintained and to look for a mage to help them rescue the Elven princess Shari-Rose. Hunters’ Quest is a middle-grade to young adult fantasy adventure with a wealth of different fantasy creatures, packed full of action, some romance and humour as well as moments of pathos. It ends on a cliff-hanger leading to A Dragon’s Revenge. My full review here.
8. Guardian of Ajalon
Guardian of Ajalon is the third and final book of the Joan Campbell’s Poison Path trilogy though it reads well as a stand alone with events of the previous two book introduced as back story. The book follows the adventures and fortunes of Shara’s journey through the dangerous Ri’twine to the fabled kingdom of Ajalon, her friend Nicco’s preparing against attack in the hidden Grotto, and Queen Nya’s decision to go to the aid of the Grotto to save Tirragyl from destruction; each in their way countering the scheming of Lord Lucian and the riftfiends. Intertwined is the story of Prince ‘Eshua, son of Ab’El who enters Tirragyly to save Shara and the people of Tirragyl with clear redemptive analogies. I especially liked the concept of two kingdoms divided by a curse and time-shift, the poison-tree analogy and depictions of Ab’El, ‘Eshua and the Goldbreast. My full review here.
9. Quench the Day by Shari Branning
I loved Shari Branning’s Quench the Day. Set in a wild west alternative world with shapeshifting, it has the feel of a fairy-tale retelling of star-crossed lovers, Rowen and Aaro, separated and cursed by Aaro’s ruthless cousin, Ormond, and their own inability to see past their anger and grief. Branning conveys both setting and the emotional struggles of the main characters in an evocative, gripping way. This is a book that embodies the saying, don’t judge a book by it’s cover. See my full review here.
10. Ready Player One by Ernest Kline
Inspired to read the book after watching the movie, I enjoyed both. Though there are significant changes between the two (especially the actual quest challenges and how Wayne finds the first key), at it’s essence the movie keeps true to the story. It is both an interesting celebration of 80s culture and the online world, while also critiquing over-immersion in that world and corporate greed that can control it. My full review here.
11. Amazing Grace by S. E. Saski
Again, Amazing Grace is book 3 in a series. Set on a huge medical space station (The Nelson Mandela), it is a glorious romp full of humour, larger-than-life characters, a sweet romance and spine-chilling adventure with devastating stakes, some really nasty villains and a high body count. Following the aftermath of previous devastating threats to the station, things soon spin out of control as old threats take on new, deadlier forms.
As a new reader to the series, I had no problem catching up with events. If anything, the first third of the book dealt with the aftermath of the previous two books in such depth it slowed the pace a bit, but once the real action started, I was totally hooked. My full review here.
12. Warcross by Marie Lu
Warcross is a YA cyberpunk novel with a feisty young heroine (Emika Chen). After the almost penniless bounty hunter Emika glitches into the Opening Ceremony game of Warcross, its creator, Hideo Tanaka, adds her to the draft as one of the undercover ‘hunters’ tracking down the mysterious Zero.
Overall, Warcross was a pleasure to read, with some great worldbuilding (both in the virtual world, the dark net, and future Tokyo), fast-paced (mostly) and intriguing plot. And while the identity and motivations of Zero confirmed my guesses, I still found the finale a strong and satisfying finish with an impossible dilemma and room for a sequel. My full review here.
My Publishing Year
As for the publishing year – not as many books and stories as in 2018, but I did have a few new releases in the world of Nardva.
Ruhanna’s Flight and Other Stories is a selection of my short stories, mostly published in anthologies, or on the webpage, a couple unpublished, and one “Before the Wind” I wrote specifically for the collection. I also published Ruhanna’s Flight as a stand alone short story.
Stone of the Sea: a novella – the third novella in the Under the Mountain series (following Heart of the Mountain & Blood Crystal) was published at the end of October.
Plus Heart of the Mountain is included in the Book Bundle – Limited Horizon, 12 books of speculative fiction with low technology available for a fantastic price.
And for 2019 – once again I’ve taken up the Goodreads Challenge (70 books) and the Popsugar Reading Challenge.
Shadow Crystals, novella 4 in the Under the Mountain series is slated to be published this month (January). With the final novella Caverns of the Deep in a couple of months time.
My apologies for the delay in getting Rasel’s Song (sequel to Akrad’s Children) ready. I’m making it a priority to get it released in the first half of this year.
Full Moon Rises: a short story will be available released on February 14.
Wishing you happy reading for 2019. What were your favourite Spec Fic books in 2018? And which (if any) is your favourite story or book set in the world of Nardva? I’d love to know 🙂
Jeanette January 2019