|Sculpture of HP Lovecraft by Bryan Moore/copyright 2009.|
It occurs to me that I have reviewed a staggering amount of stuff here on my blog but never was so arrogant to give out my own personalized awards. Well, I've decided to be every bit as arrogant as that decision deserves. This is going to be a collection of awards presented to those works of indie literature that I feel like stood above the rest this year.
You may wonder why I'm presenting a bust of H.P. Lovecraft as my award. Well, for two reasons, the first is the World Fantasy Awards aren't using it anymore and second since this is just a picture of a bust that costs nothing--I might as well actually make it look good.
All of the contest awards are judged and presented by me with no input involved. I am completely fair in my judgement and will explain why I made the choices I need. If you have a problem with my decisions, well, it's just a blog award dude. I know a couple of these authors but that has not influenced my vote and even if it did--it would still be more honest than Hollywood.
Take note that I have deliberately chosen to list indie and lesser known books over the more popular books that might have come out this year. This is in part because of the fact I like to promote them but also because I actually primarily read indie. There's a few gems that you should definitely check out that didn't quite make the cut, though, like The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French, Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence, The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, and Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames.
BEST OF 2018
WINNER: Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell
Kings of Paradise is a work that caught a lot of indie reviewers by surprise for how awesome the work is. A conflict between an ice ridden realm and a tropical paradise rarely happens even in fantasy but in this case, it's a matter of a deformed warlord seeking to bring his people to a promised land. Tradition and lies collide in a story that I think stands up with Martin, Lawrence, and Abercrombie.
RUNNER UP: Son of a Liche by J. Zachery Pike
The Dark Profit series is one of the great indie-fantasy discoveries and if it wasn't going to win here then it probably would have won there. Certainly, if I'd known about it last year then it would have been marked on my awards. The premise of a Dungeons and Dragons-esque world where corporations ("Guilds") have made fortunes exterminating orcs as well as dragons to seize their hordes, only for the economy to collapse is a delightfully messed up but timely premise.
WINNER: Darkfall by M.L. Spencer
The Rhenwars Saga remains one of the best independent gems currently out on the market. The premise being, "what if a ragtag band of misfits ended up failing to save the world?" It's basically a long deconstruction of classic high fantasy stories and one which I think favorably compares to the Wheel of Time (at 1/10th the length). Darien, Kylie, Quinn, and others are all fascinating characters that work well in this saga. Darkfall is the final book in the series and satisfies its readers with a firm but well-written ending.
RUNNER UP: 1000 Scars by Michael Baker
One of my favorite works of 2019, I felt like 1000 SCARS was a surprise as it was an author's first work. It's a story set during a fictional version of the Peloponesian War with ZOMBIES. I have to say the characters are delightfully evil (even the protagonists), the battle scenes are epic, and the story is going in a direction I can't predict.
BEST INDEPENDENT FANTASY
WINNER: Steel, Fire, and Blood by Allan Batchelder
I admit this one is cheating but it was re-printed, redone, and re-released this year. Steel, Fire, and Blood is about a Conan: The Barbarian esque hero who gets hired by a corrupt old queen to take down a genocidal warlord whose armies are marching through her lands like a swarm of locusts. No one in this trio is a good person but whoever brings the conflict to an end swiftest will get to bear the mantle of hero.
RUNNER UP: Shattered Hopes by Ulff Lehmann
I was a huge fan of SHATTERED HOPES last year and this is a direct sequel to it. Unfortunately, that means you should probably read it back to back with Shattered Dreams for it to make much sense. It's a story of a massive war from the perspective of multiple players in it from the ground up and how the return of magic affects it. I'm very much looking forward to the sequels.
BEST INDEPENDENT SCI-FI/BEST CYBERPUNK
WINNER: The Saint of Liars by Megan Mackie
This is a combined award from last year because the best independent science fiction I've read this year came was done in the cyberpunk genre. The first of these is The Saint of Liars, which is like Michael Gibson's Technomancer or the Shadow Run games in that it combines the supernatural with the near-future tech. It's a romance as well as a fantasy/sci-fi novel but I like its depiction of a world dominated by corporations, corporate samurai, and ruthless businessmen where you still might meet centaurs.
RUNNER UP: Drones by Rob J. Hayes
I am absurdly jealous of Rob J. Hayes who continues to put out some of the best independent fiction out there. In this case, the future has come and the most marketable drug out there is emotions. Our protagonist has decided to numb himself to oblivion while using himself as a tap for feelings that are sold on the black market. It's a dark and wonderful decadent story that I think people will really enjoy.
BEST CTHULHU MYTHOS
WINNER: Master of Chaos by David Hambling
David Hambling and Seth Skorkowsky are two of my favorite authors in terms of revitalizing interest in H.P. Lovecraft's classic gumshoe roots. Seth in his massive webvideo series for Call of Cthulhu and David Hambling for creating the magnificent Harry Stubbs series. Set in the Post-WW1 era of Great Britain, Harry is a former boxer turned pseudo-occult investigator that more often stumbles onto the edge of the Mythos than right down Yog-Sothoth's mouths. I've enjoyed all of the books so far with Master of Chaos being my favorite and taking advantage of the archetypal horror trope: the creepy asylum.
RUNNER UP: (Tie) Andrew Doran at the Mountains of Madness by Matthew Davenport/Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys
It was a good year for Lovecraft set in a world of Weird FictionTM. Andrew Doran at the Mountains of Madness was a work set in Matthew Davenports "Indiana Jones meets Call of Cthulhu"-esque setting where the protagonist continues his workd against the Nazis prior to WW2. In this case, they have a demonic desire to steal the power of the shoggoths! Equally awesome in its own way is the revision sequest to WINTER TIDE which follows Aphra Marsh, Deep One hybrid as she struggles to find a place for her people in post-WW2 America. While it's not QUITE indie, I threw this in here because of the niche nature of the work.
Winner: Please Don't Tell My Parents You Believe Her by Richard Roberts
I'm rather saddened by the end of the Please Dont Tell My Parents series. It's a lighthearted middle school coming of age drama except coming of age means becoming a supervillain. Here, Penny Akk ("Bad Penny") has been replaced by her evil robot duplicate and she has to figure out how to prove to her parents that she's the good(ish) Penny. It doesn't help she's in a robot body and superheroes don't consider destroying them to be murder.
Runner-Up: Villains Pride by Michael Gibson
I'm also cheating on this one due to the fact I made my list for last year without mentioning this one since I didn't know it was out in 2017. Villains Pride is the superhero themed sequel to the original Villains Rule. Really, I am terrible this year for sequels but who isn't. The Shadowmaster is a consulting supervillain for Dark Lords, Ringwraiths, demon princes, clowns, and villainous overlords. Now he's stuck on a Stan Lee-esque world where he's the only monster with any brains. It takes a particular skill to ruin a world--and a willingness to make human centipedes.
Winner: By Fire Above by Robyn Bennis
I'm stretching the definition of indie again because I can and it's my blog so nyah. However, steampunk is such a niche audience that I think it's important to bring attention to this traditionally published work about a young airship captain and her desire to prove herself worthy to the fat sexist jerkasses her control her country. I love this series and I hope Robyn Bennis continues it forever.
Runner Up: Privateer/The Queen's Pardon by J.A. Sutherland
The Alexis Carew series are two great tastes that go great together: steampunk and outer space! In the distant future, humanity is exploring space GOD SAVE THE QUEEN! With sailing masts, rigging, rum, sodomy, and the lash! Well, maybe not the sodomy part or at least young Ms. Carew hopes not. It's a story of a young lieutenant who rises to the role of her status as a burgeoning officer in a horribly sexist navy (we seem to have a theme here). Privateer and The Queen's Pardon are a two part.
BEST URBAN FANTASY
WINNER: Redemptor by Seth Skorkowsky
The Valducan series is a great urban fantasy series that is darker and more serious than the majority of urban fantasy out there. While a lot of authors prefer to fill their books with jokes and pop culture references (guilty), this is just about pure hardcore monster slaying badasses with magic weapons and Redemptor is no exception.
RUNNER UP: Paternus: Wrath of Gods by Dyrk Ashton
Another great innovative urban fantasy series and sequel to the Paternus: Rise of the Gods. I've done a lot of sequels this year but the continuing series have been done exceptionally well. The gods of humanity are an alien race that have been battling behind the scenes for ages. Now a new war is being waged among them with humans caught in the middle. Lots of great mythology research and obscure deities used compared to traditional Greek and Norse myth.