I’ve read just over a hundred books this year, as well as a couple of hundred comics. I’ve thrown myself at genres and authors I would never normally bother with and a big part of that has been fantasy. I’ve always thought of myself as a horror and science fiction guy. You have a crashing spaceship? I’m there. You have a crashing spaceship with a living war machine on it? I’m so there.
But the big thing I’ve learned this year is just how great current fantasy fiction is. And I’m not talking the usual suspects either. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great but there’s so much more in the field than the latest grimdark spike fest or kettlebell-sized multi-volume tome. There are immensely fun, clever, new voices emerging and there are six in particular I want to talk about.
So, think of this article as a new year’s resolution and a “To-Do” list. Here are six authors who have work out now, and new work you’ll see in 2016. Together they span fantasy, science fiction and YA. Most importantly, together they also represent just how much fun genre fiction is right now. Plus if you ever wanted a half dozen authors to work an elaborate heist with? You want these six.
Jen Williams is the only author The Copper Cat will listen to. Wydrin, knife-fighting thief, scourge of ale houses everywhere and reluctant heroine is one of the most instantly likeable leads you’ll find in modern fantasy. Along with the quiet, endlessly well-meaning former knight Sebastian and the gloriously snippy mage Frith, she first arrived in The Copper Promise. Hired by Frith to do what amounted to a bank job, Wydrin and Sebastian instead caused something very bad to happen. They then did the most sensible thing anyone can do; ran away, very quickly and hoped it would leave them alone.
That form of reluctant heroism is one of the things that makes Williams’s books so much fun. They’re huge in scope, epic in stakes. But at the end of it Wydrin, Seb and Frith are still fundamentally untidy, endearingly rubbish human beings. They all screw up, none of them mean to and they all keep trying. They’re relatable people, who also happen to fight dragons and punch bad guys in the face a lot. Oh and mead. Always mead…
The trio of trouble returned in The Iron Ghost last year which both expanded their world and raised the stakes even further (Plus Seb got a boyfriend! Win!) and In 2016 we’ll see them one last time in The Silver Tide. The Copper Promise and The Iron Ghost are both out now so there’s plenty of time to catch up. Just remember, if you get to the bar before Wydrin, you’re buying…
Liz De Jager is the author you call when you have monsters fight. She knows some trained professionals. In the Banished series, monster-hunting is the family business and business is rather better than it should be. Kit Blackhart, the youngest family member is alone in the house one day when a beautiful, badly wounded young man staggers out of the woods behind the house. The only problem is, the woods are the Otherwhere, where the monsters live…
Liz’s work plays like the best TV show you haven’t got round to binge watching yet. She’s got a tremendous sense of pace, excellent comic timing and a cheerful willingness to kick stuff over when you least expect her to. The stakes raise constantly for Kit throughout the series and Liz cleverly shows us more and more of her world as they do. It’s classic adventure fiction coupled with rock solid world building, a glorious sense of humour and some delightfully handsome werewolf boys. The final volume, Judged, is out in 2016 so you’ve got time to catch up.
And once the contemporary fantasy series is done, check out the fully-fledged epic fantasy Infernal by Liz’s husband Mark, which is out August 2016. Between the two of them they’ve created worlds full of magic and lore and whilst Liz’s Banished books take place in the modern world of our here and now, Mark used the same exuberant world building for Infernal’s more overt fantasy setting.
Ed Cox is the author you call when you want to keep the peace or cause some trouble. His series The Relic Guild is based around a series of unexploded magical bombs. The first is the Labyrinth, a ruined former city turned into a combination prison camp and maze. The Labyrinth is the result of a catastrophic war between the humans and the Aelfir.
The humans lost.
Now, Nathan Moor has returned to the Labyrinth and brought destruction with him. The only people standing in his way are Clara and The Relic Guild, a team of magic users sworn to protect the Labyrinth. The only problem is, they’re outnumbered and after the war, no one trusts magicians…
Ed’s work deftly juggles police procedural beats, big ideas and untidy wars. That leads to some huge action and some deft narrative juggling. His second book, The Cathedral Of Known Things is a great example neatly combining the ongoing plot with a flashback to the disastrous war. The end result is a series that’s clever, enthusiastic fantasy fiction filled with difficult choices and high stakes. The third volume, The Watcher Of Dead Time, is out in 2016. So join the Guild now. They need all the help they can get.
He was also given the honour of having a short story included in Legends II.
Den Patrick is the author you want on your side at every duel and dinner party. He came to prominence with the War Fighting Manuals, three short, very funny books about an anthropologist studying how classic fantasy races go to war. They’re Douglas Adams by way of Generation Kill and well worth your time.
His current series is even more fun. Starting with The Boy With The Porcelain Blade, Patrick’s Erebus Sequence introduces us to an island community built around two things; mutation and class. The Orfano are feared, respected and reviled children. More than human but less than citizens, the Orfano are fought over like toys at an overcrowded birthday party and Stefano, the series lead, is one of the most controversial. A brilliant swordsman, and political football, Stefano makes one mistake and sparks a war that will bring the island’s ruling classes to their knees.
Porcelain Blade plays like an entire trilogy in one, huge amounts of incident balanced on top of delicately handled character work and some excellently choreographed action. It’s all given room to breathe too and as the series progresses and other Orfano take the spotlight you get an idea of just how complex and interesting this world is.
The Boy With The Porcelain Blade and The Boy Who Wept Blood are out now. The Girl On The Liar’s Throne is out in January.
Andrew Reid is the author you go to when you want to bring a kingdom down. An immensely gifted short story writer, Andrew’s one of those authors who can turn a single, tiny idea into a multi-facted gem that changes entirely depending on where you’re standing. His short story “Run Forever” (Podcast recently at Pseudopod) is a perfect example. Looked at one way it’s a cleverly realised story about recovery. Looked at another, it’s the politest, gentlest piece of zombie fiction ever written. Looked at a third, it’s a melancholy ghost story.
Andrew brings that tremendous versatility to his long form work too. Kingdom’s Fall is, depending on where you stand, three things. It’s a coming of age story for Kara, a young woman working at the family inn who gets all the adventure she could want when an amnesiac spy arrives. Looked at another way it’s a war story, with Cuan the page boy discovering just how hard it is to fight an honest war as he accompanies his Captain to meet the King. Looked at a third way, it’s a horror story as King Varrion must decide which war to fight first; the one for his kingdom or the one that may save his daughter’s life.
There are no easy answers, no simple victories and no quick escapes. Instead, there’s a complex world filled with real people doing the best they can, even when they know it won’t be enough. Kingdom’s Fall is available on Wattpad now.
Rachael K Jones is the author you call when you need to train for a long distance race on the Moon. Or when your Roomba needs exorcising. Or possibly sanctifying. Basically any ecumenical concerns with your house robots? Call Rachael.
An endlessly versatile and prolific short fiction writer, her work is defined by three things: huge invention, tremendous compassion and colossal intelligence. “Wine For Witches, Milk For Saints”, her Christmas story (Podcast at Cast Of Wonders and originally published at Intergalactic Medicine Show) is a perfect example of her work. It takes traditional festive tropes and turns them into something far richer, stranger and darker while remaining true to their spirit. And yes she’s done a religious Roomba story, “St. Roomba’s Gospel” published online at Diabolical Plots. Read it and let the light of St Roomba into your soul.
Rachael has work in the Clockwork Phoenix 5 anthology due in April and the 2016 Writers Of The Future anthology. Her website is here with full links to where you can find her work.
So there you go, six authors whose unique skills, vast creativity and enthusiasm will enable you to break into the vault of 2016 and carry out a fun heist on some great new reading. Or at the very least keep your New Year’s Resolution to read some excellent new books.