The OF Blog: Best of 2007: The Next Ten

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Best of 2007: The Next Ten

For those who may have wondered why Book X or Y failed to make my Top 12 Countdown list, I decided that I would post a list of ten others that I considered adding (again, there will be a separate list for short story collections and anthologies in the coming days), but ultimately decided not to for various reasons. Hopefully you'll find these works to be worthy of reading and discussion in the near future.

Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, A Companion to Wolves.

While this was one of the few animal companion stories that I have read and enjoyed (the few others that come to mind are too treacly for my tastes), not to mention the authors have constructed a multilayered society fraught with political, social, and sexual tensions, I ultimately decided against having this book appear on the Countdown for a very simple reason: I did not want to have multiple novels by the same author appear on the Countdown. Besides, any of these ten could have made the Countdown if I had chosen the list another time.

Tobias Buckell, Ragamuffin.

While I'll say more about this book and its author in an upcoming post on the three authors who made my 2006 Debut Author list, I can say that I believed that Ragamuffin showed necessary plot and characterization growth from 2006's Crystal Rain. I enjoyed this tale and its broadening of the storyline universe, but I decided to exclude it from the list more because I am expecting even more goodness from Buckell in his upcoming third novel, Sly Mongoose. It's just hard for middle volumes in any genre or storytelling form to win the prize (I think Monette's The Mirador was the only middle volume work I had on the Countdown), but like the others on this list, Buckell's work certainly would have been a worthy candidate for the Countdown.

Hal Duncan, Ink.

I loved his first volume of the Book of All Hours duology, Vellum, when I read it back in July 2006. It was full of interesting archetypes and the 3-D concept of time/place was done quite well. So it was with great anticipation that I preordered Ink, eager for its February release. I read it over a couple of days, but ultimately, it felt a bit "flat" to me, as if a string or two had broken in the performance. While far from a "bad" book, Ink for now (as I suspect a re-read might increase my opinion of it) is just merely a "very good" read, thus dropping it off of my personal Top 12 for 2007.

David Anthony Durham, Acacia: The War with the Mein.

Durham is not a new author; he has published three excellent historical novels (Gabriel's Story; Walk Through Darkness; Pride of Carthage) and in this opener to the Acacia trilogy, he brings a lot of the historical fiction tools to this secondary world setting. We see all sorts of links and chains that bind the Acacian ruling family to sordid things such as slavery and the drug trade, things not often talked about or shown in such books. While the more removed third-person limited style was a bit off-putting for those readers who wanted to immerse themselves in every sweaty, dank moment, I think it was an appropriate voice to capture the "historical" feel that I suspect Durham wanted this volume to have, not to mention that it made it possible for this story to be told in one 576 page volume rather than being sprawled out over multiple volumes. This book was one of the very last ones cut from the list (I originally was contemplating a Top 15) and I dropped it more because I am awaiting to see how the characters develop in the following two volumes. I suspect those volumes will be even more rewarding than this one.

Elizabeth Hand, Generation Loss

This was an emotionally draining but powerful story of an aging photographer from the punk scene in the 1970s who has been having some nasty flashbacks from her past. More of a psychological horror novel than anything overtly "speculative" in nature, this was a very well-written and gripping narrative. The only reason it didn't make the Countdown (or even get a full review from me when I read it last month) is that I was left numb at the end - not the dull sensation caused by inferior prose, but rather that it was so overwhelming in places (having worked with and known teens that are going through the same stages that Hand's main character does) that I think it'll take time and a re-read later for me to be able to write a succinct review.

Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

Rothfuss certainly knows how to incorporate elements of oral storytelling forms into his story, as I got this sense on occasion that I was being "told" the story rather than just reading it. Kvothe was an intriguing character and there is much promise for the next two volumes in this trilogy for it to become a classic in the years to come. However, there were some rough patches in the characterization and the narrative flow. Not enough to damper the enjoyment much, but just enough for me to leave it off of the Countdown. Rothfuss, however, does have the potential to write a book that might make a future edition of the Countdown.

Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn: The Well of Ascension

Despite having a tepid, lukewarm reaction to Sanderson's debut novel, Elantris, when I read it in January 2006, I found myself enjoying the first two volumes of the Mistborn trilogy when I read them back this summer. The characters weren't as wooden, the action was better-plotted, and the premise of "What would happen in the world if the Dark Side won?" made for an engaging opening volume. While I enjoyed The Well of Ascension almost as much as I did The Final Empire, it suffered a bit from the usual middle volume problems of lacking a defined and separate introduction and conclusion. For that, it gets an honorable mention but no place on my Best of 2007 Countdown.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Children of Húrin

For those who aren't familiar with Tolkien beyond The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, this expanded narrative (pieced together from various drafts by his son Christopher) of a dark, tragic First Age tale might seem unsettling with its "historical" feel and its rather nasty ending. I enjoyed reading this tale a lot in abbreviated form over the past 20 years and I thought Christopher Tolkien did a nice job in constructing a good narrative from all the bits and pieces his father had written over the years. However, this edition was little more than a compilation of drafts that I had mostly read elsewhere over the years, so it's mainly for this reason that I decided not to include The Children of Húrin in the Best of 2007 Countdown.

Daniel Wallace, Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician

Although I have not read Wallace's other works (Big Fish being the most famous of those, I believe), I will try to correct that in the coming year as this was an excellent sleight-of-hand telling of a backroads circus performer and his tragic life. There are hints that the "negro magician" might actually have made a deal with the Devil for actual magical powers, but in this shifting narrative told by those who knew him best, the truth becomes buried under layers of artifice until a rather surprising history is revealed. I enjoyed this novel quite a bit and had the privilege of hearing Wallace read from it when he was in Nashville on my birthday back in July. It didn't make the Countdown more because it was hard for me to decide between that and a couple of others and ultimately those other tales stayed in my mind just a tiny bit more than this excellent tale did.

Zoran Živković, Steps Through the Mist

Serbian author Zoran Živković has written some delightfully meditative and interconnected stories over the years, in arrangements that he calls "story suites." In this collection, there are five women who have various interactions with a sometimes-metaphorical, sometimes-very real "mist," each of those encounters occurring at a pivotal point in the stories. These were very well-written, but not as moving as his earlier collection, Seven Touches of Music. For that reason, I decided to leave this work off of my Best of 2007 Countdown, although I certainly would recommend it to most people, especially those who are fans of Živković's earlier work.

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