The Best, and Next-Best, of 2010

By now you’ve probably all seen PW‘s list of the 100 best books of 2010. I had five spots each for romance and SF/F/H, and I had to make some very hard decisions. The books that made the final cut for SF/F/H:

  • The Bone Palace by Amanda Downum
  • Feed by Mira Grant
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms (yes, I cheated a bit and squeezed two books into one listing) by N.K. Jemisin
  • Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
  • A Special Place: The Heart of a Dark Matter by Peter Straub

All these books received starred reviews from PW, and if you’ve talked to me at any point over the past year, you’ve probably heard me squee about them. Every book on that list made me sit up and go “WOW”, a rare and treasured thing for a jaded old reviewer like me.

I also want to list some honorable mentions here. It’s been an especially strong year for fantasy, and numerous books deserve acclaim:

  • Hard Magic, Laura Anne Gilman: “CSI with magic” in a really neat little package.
  • The Poison Throne et seq., Celine Kiernan: An improbably terrific epic fantasy trilogy.
  • Game of Cages, Harry Connolly: The powerful sequel to rural urban fantasy Child of Fire, which was on last year’s mass market Best Books list.
  • The Third Bear, Jeff VanderMeer: A delicious selection of deeply surreal short stories.

This was not such a great year for hard SF, I’m sorry to say, but a few titles are definitely noteworthy:

  • Hull Zero Three, Greg Bear: A strange, video game–like cross between Elizabeth Bear’s Dust and the movie Groundhog Day. No, weirder than that.
  • Zendegi, Greg Egan, and Omnitopia Dawn, Diane Duane: Two very different novels about MMORPGs and how the game world can affect the real world.
  • The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction: A must-have for any scholarly library.

Finally, on the horror front–where I am perhaps the pickiest–I want to give a shout-out to Mr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett, which vividly brought out the scariest parts of the Great Depression.

I don’t usually talk much about romance on Genreville, since I don’t want to tread on the toes of the brilliant Barbara Vey, but since I put together the romance list, I figure I can get away with it just this once. Here’s our top five:

  • The Forbidden Rose, Joanna Bourne
  • The Iron Duke, Meljean Brook
  • The Heir, Grace Burrowes
  • Barely a Lady, Eileen Dreyer
  • Trial by Desire, Courtney Milan

For the honorable mentions, I’ll start with historical romance:

  • Proof by Seduction, Courtney Milan: A stunning debut Victorian that very nearly made the top list, outclassed only by its sequel.
  • Whisper of Scandal, Nicola Cornick: An adventure story wrapped around a heartbreaking tale of a woman rendered barren by her husband’s beatings.
  • Last Night’s Scandal, Loretta Chase: The hilarious and adorable story of two rapscallions renovating a haunted Scottish castle.
  • Marry Me, Jo Goodman: A moving 19th century American romance with tons of interesting period medical detail.

On the paranormal front, a big crowd-pleaser is Zoë Archer’s Warrior/Scoundrel/Rebel trilogy, which cranks up the Indiana Jones–style adventure to 11 and then piles on the sexy heat. Jodi Thomas’s contemporary Western Welcome to Harmony is a really lovely meditation on what it means to be family. And Christy Reece’s series kickoff No Chance is an exemplary romantic suspense novel with a fabulous self-saving heroine.

Congratulations to these authors and their publishers on some very impressive achievements. I look forward to seeing where you all go next!

(An administrative note: Honorable mentions are just that, and cannot be billed as being on PW‘s best books list. If you want to quote anything I’ve said here, feel free, but the quote should be attributed to “Rose Fox on PW‘s Genreville blog” and not to PW. My opinions as stated here should not be treated as equivalent to PW reviews–and PW gave all these books very positive reviews, so go quote those instead!)

13 thoughts on “The Best, and Next-Best, of 2010

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  2. Elena

    Fantastic list! Added just about everything on it to my TBR list, except FEED and THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, which I already adore beyond measure. I’ve recently been hunting for good high fantasy AND good Regency romance, and can hardly believe my luck in finding recs for both in the same place.

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  4. gamerlibrarian

    Is The Bone Palace amazing? I bought The Drowning City on a friend’s recommendation, and found it to be rather bland, and difficult to get into (there were so many viewpoint characters, and I never spent long enough with any of them to get attached, other than to the necromancer who seemed to get the least amount of screen time).

    Is the second book vastly improved? I liked the idea of magical CSI, but found myself in the middle of a political drama with terrorists instead. If the second book is similar to the first (lost of politics and multiple viewpoint characters), it may not be for me (I have read the PW review, which was the Pick of the Week, but it didn’t mention things like viewpoint switching).

    I’m adding Hard Magic to the want-to-read-list, as it seems to have the CSI with magic vibe that I’m looking for.

    1. Rose Fox Post author

      There is a fair amount of viewpoint switching in The Bone Palace, and it’s very much political drama as well as police procedural. I felt it was quite an improvement over The Drowning City but I also freely admit it hit all my buttons (did I mention a TRANS PROTAGONIST OMG).

      Hard Magic will probably be much more to your liking.

      1. gamerlibrarian

        I read the excerpt of The Bone Palace and it was did hit my buttons (magical analysis of the body in the morgue) but then so did the excerpt at the front of The Drowning City (analyzing a crime scene IN A FIRE). So I’m now skeptical of excerpts.

        I may just buy it on the principal of a trans protagonist, because that is so very cool! I completely agree on that aspect. Or I’ll try to find a library in the area with it (I can’t buy mass markets for my library anymore – the very small Sci Fi section of the spinner is full, so until something falls apart we can’t add anything).

        Hard Magic will hit the buy list – my library’s copy has been out a lot (bought it on reviews, but haven’t had time to snag it myself to read).

      2. Natalie L.

        The trans protagonist made me SO HAPPY.

        My 2010 list looks an awful lot like yours. Such a great year for fantasy.

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  6. David K.

    Mr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett was a horror read. Is there a reason you only picked the one horror novel? Surely there must have been more decent reads in the genre. Care to name some other titles?

    1. Rose Fox Post author

      Well, there’s Straub’s novella in the top five, which I felt was by far the finest piece of horror writing this year. Feed is also as much horror as it is SF.

      I care a lot about the genre, so I have really high standards. As much as I loved A Special Place, I didn’t love A Dark Matter. As much as I loved Laird Barron’s first collection, I didn’t love his second. ChiZine Press’s books didn’t quite knock my socks off this year like they did last year. Some years are just like that. Maybe next year will be all hard SF and horror! Or maybe there’s a lot that I missed. These things happen.

  7. L. Merciel

    I’m so happy to see THE FORBIDDEN ROSE on the list! Joanna Bourne is my favorite romance writer; her work is consistently smart, witty, suspenseful and sweet — and, as if all that weren’t enough, just plain well-written.

    I’ll have to make a note of the other titles on the list. My 2010 reading is way behind.

  8. jeff vandermeer

    Honored to be mentioned in such fine company, thanks. Re the Straub–nice job spotlighting A Special Place, truly the best horror of the year! Like you, I thought Dark Matter didn’t work as well. jv

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