The Best Books of 2014

Posted by: |

The Best Books of 2014

Happy New Year, book readers! As you probably already know, there’s not nearly enough time to read all the amazing books that came out last year. Between the two of us, though, we tried to get as big a sampling as we could. Here’s each of our picks for our three favorite science-fiction/fantasy books of 2014.

Kathryn’s Picks:

Sand

SandThe original review is here.

Hugh Howey’s post-apocalyptic tale creates a new world (planet-sized desert) new technology (force-generators that allow divers to swim through dunes like water) and a whole new set of vocabulary words to cover all the different types of sand (sand poured out of boots, sand sifting through windows, sand in the corner of your eyes).

It’s a fascinating grim reality where new homes are constantly being built on the roofs of houses that are being swallowed by the dunes, and where water is so precious that grit caught between the teeth is swallowed, rather than wasting saliva in order to spit it out.

There’s also a treasure hunt, betrayal (no honor among thieves in this book), and a global conspiracy, all set with the constant westward blowing sand as the backdrop, and the booming thunder in the East that no one can explain.

The Seventh Bride

The Seventh Bride - coverThe original review is here.

I love reimagined fairy-tales, especially if the author can do something more clever than just setting the story in modern day, or replacing all the characters with mice.

In The Seventh Bride Ursula Vernon tells the story of a reluctant miller’s daughter betrothed to an evil sorcerer, but she goes down deeper inside the story and the characters, so the readers can see exactly what someone is thinking when they’re having to face down a sentinel crow made out of bones and rocks, or getting befriended by a hedgehog.

And since it’s written by the artist who created labels for “Dead Dragon Breakfast Blend Tea” and “Naked Mole Rat Soap”, the story is told with her usual combination of the beautifully bizarre and the totally mundane.

Station Eleven

Station-ElevenThe original review is here.

Emily St. John Mandel’s fourth novel has been at the top of quite a few “Best of” lists for 2014, and it’s not hard to see why. With most of the world’s population wiped out by a flu epidemic, the few remaining survivors are left without most of the technological advancements and small pleasures that everyone had learned to take for granted, like emergency room doctors, and electricity, and social media avatars.

The story flows backward and forward in time, showing the characters in their comfortable, and sometimes unhappy, normal lives, and then the life they try to make for themselves after civilization collapses. It’s a very bittersweet book, because in between the betrayals and hardship and bad decisions and occasional violence, there are also moments of beauty and happiness, from such small things as carefully preserved comic books, or a loaf of bread baked in a new oven. And Shakespeare, of course; I love the whole idea of the Traveling Symphony in the post-apocalyptic world, going from town to town performing Shakespeare.

Elizabeth’s Picks:

Peacemaker

Peacemaker_by_CJ_CherryhCoverThe original review is here.

I look forward to a new book in C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner universe every year, and Peacemaker didn’t disappoint (they never do.) The saga of the human paidhi, his aishid bodyguards, and the world of the atevi gets more interesting with every book, and after fifteen books it’s downright epic.

Fans of very intelligent science-fiction will love the newest book, though it’s better to read the previous four trilogies before this one, because if you jump in the middle it gets confusing fast. It’s worth the effort though. Huge, beautiful, scary-as-hell alien assassins combine with plots, treason, and lots of stray bullets to make a very exciting story. The history and science make the world incredibly rich and textured, and it’s balanced out by a teenage heir and his young human friends for a bit of a breather every other chapter.

Full Fathom Five

FullFathomFiveCoverThe original review is here.

I was a little nervous when the third book in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence came out; the first book was wonderful, but the second was a little disappointing. He definitely made up for it with the third book. (It’s odd, I’ve heard quite a few people complain that they thought the third book was slower than the second, and I didn’t get that at all.) We return to the world of Gods and immortal Craftspeople, this time to an island where Idols are custom-made for your worship, giving you luck or health or whatever else you’re paying for. Except they’re not supposed to be intelligent, so our main character couldn’t have possibly heard one of them talk, could she?

Add in the terrifying Penitents (huge stone policemen with convicts locked inside of them, fully conscious so as to appreciate the excruciating pain of being ground into bits by slabs of stone) and you get a lovely, dark world with a great internal logic. The story’s half a mystery, and one that actually makes sense once you get to the end, which is always tough to pull off in a book with this much magic.

The Supernatural Enhancements

TheSupernaturalEnhancementsCoverThe original review is here.

I feel incredibly lucky that I managed to read this one with three weeks to go of 2014, because it ended up being my favorite of the year. It’s another mystery, with cryptography, ghosts, visions, and hedge-mazes, paired with a smart-ass companion who can’t speak a word, and still ends up with the cleverest dialog in the whole book.

There were a few plot points here and there that I hadn’t been clear on, because there’s so much information being thrown at you. I figured “well it’s a shame there aren’t enough hours in the day or I’d read it again.” And then I read it again anyway, and loved it even more the second time around.

 

Honorable Mentions (From both of us.)

Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea

The Martian by Andy Weir

Dead Man’s Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West

Timebound by Rysa Walker