My Reading Highlights of 2016

Posted by DarkChaplain at 1/01/2017

2016 has been a great year for me as far as books are concerned. I've gotten to read a lot of solid and amazing books over the past twelve months, and I am inclined to point fingers to a bunch of stories, from short to long, that I enjoyed most. It will come as no surprise that I've reviewed most of them in the past, which I am happy about; my review-output has drastically improved over 2016 as well.

To preface, though, I'll keep it to books that have released in 2016, at least in english. Some titles like Legend of the Galactic Heroes may be ancient, originally published in Japan over the 80s, but they've only now received international releases, so I am including those. If the book has been out in one format but gotten a paperback, audiobook or whichever else this year, that won't make the list, even if I may have read it this year. If a pre-release dropped in late 2015 but the general street date was in 2016, the book still qualifies.
I also tried to limit myself to one book per author, even though some of them had me wondering which I'd go with for a while.

With that out of the way, let's begin. Here's hoping some of these will find their way into your homes or onto your eReaders!

Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Dawn by Yoshiki Tanaka

You know I like science fiction/space operas and largely character-driven stories. This one's got those bases covered. I read books one to three over the course of 2016, and am eagerly waiting for my preorder of volume 4 in summer 2017. I've preordered all of the books since reading the 1st (in fact, I had preordered Ambition before I even finished Dawn), and despite Endurance arriving an entire month after its release date(!), which was half a month after e- and audiobook versions as it is, I am happy to continue to do so for the rest of the series.
I was so eager to dig into volume 2 this summer, I bought it at Barnes & Noble while visiting my girlfriend in the States, knowing that I'd have my copy the day after returning back home anyway, and left the book for her to read, as she was currently on Dawn.

All that speaks of commitment to the series and its stellar characters, spearheaded by admiral Yang Wenli and count Reinhard von Lohengramm. Their stories and the ongoing war between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance, and their political shifts and switching of spots, have me excited every time, and listening to the audiobooks narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds just adds a cherry on top. The characters feel alive and engaging, growing with the tale.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes Vol.1: Dawn on Goodreads

Legends of the Dark Millennium: Genestealer Cults by Peter Fehervari

I had long anticipated more stories, especially novels, by Peter Fehervari. Ever since reading Fire Caste, he's had me. Fehervari brings something to the table that most Black Library and 40k authors seem to miss more often than not: The bitter bleakness of the setting. There are no clear victories in his stories, no real hope for the future. Everything is a losing battle, driving characters insane and hopeless.

Genestealer Cults is no exception. If anything, it drives people insane in more ways than you'd expect, by reintroducing the alien cults back to the wider setting after returning to the tabletop for the first time in decades. Mind control, manipulation, vile zealotry, they're all in the book and result in an explosive combination. Once again he references his other works of the Dark Coil here and there, enriching the novel for those in the know and adding even more depth to his growing mythos.
The atmosphere is thick, the action leaving nothing to be desired, and his choice of battlefield is as intriguing and full of mystery as basically anything he writes. My only gripe was that it was a short novel, not a full length one, and that it left me wanting more.

I'm happy to see this book also catching on with the fans of the franchise on various forums, because this definitely deserves recognition. Fehervari is a genius when it comes to exposing the dark nature of the IP, and stare into the abyss of human hearts and minds. Genestealer Cults makes that abundantly clear once again. It is a psychological horror story the likes of which you'll rarely find in the franchise.

Legends of the Dark Millennium: Genestealer Cults on Goodreads

Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan

I read almost the entire book while staying at my girlfriend's over in the USA. The audiobook, narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds as well (like Sullivan's Riyria), kept me company on the way back home as well, while I was stuck at that annoying Chicago airport for a day. Surely I'd have gone even more insane without this novel's aid!

When I found Riyria a couple of years ago, I didn't know what to expect, but found something amazing. The Legends of the First Empire aim to be an independent, mythological prequel to the tales of Royce and Hadrian, set thousands of years earlier. Seeing certain things from Riyria gaining new context or a different spin was great, but even newcomers will be able to enjoy this greatly

Once again, Michael J. Sullivan scores with his easy to like and relate to characters, which also includes some very nifty female leads, a wolf and a lot of cleverly interwoven themes. This being a book that focuses on humanity's early existence, it doesn't miss a beat to remind us that these are more primitive, more superstitious and, in a way, more magical times. That brings a certain purity to the table which reminds me of Tolkien's expanded mythology around Beleriand and the First Age. But unlike Tolkien, Sullivan manages to squarely focus on the characters shaping the world, with little of what many readers found tedious about J.R.R.'s stories. The pacing felt great, the humor refreshing and with Sullivan having written almost the entire series besides some polishing work already, this will be a book I'll gladly re-read once the series is finished and I went through the first time.

Age of Myth on Goodreads

United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas

I read The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick in 2016, and look at that: A spiritual successor featuring giant mecha and political and military intrigue! This book was very exciting, owing to its kick-ass concept, the well-paced unravelling of mysteries surrounding the characters, and also the action sequences. There was much to enjoy (or avert your eyes from) here, and Tieryas certainly did not pull any punches!

This book won't be for everyone, and a certain maturity is needed to really pick up on the themes, so while giant robots may be exciting to kids and early teens (I know they were for me, though I always prefered Kaiju/Dinosaurs over robots), best not hand it to them without knowing what you're doing. This book is violent, and disturbing in places, but oh it all clicks together so well in part because of that.

If you've ever wondered what might have happened if the Axis forces had won World War II, and split the United States up among themselves, this is the book for you. It won't be pretty, but it will be one hell of a ride, and a ride through hell.

United States of Japan on Goodreads

The Emperor's Railroad by Guy Haley
Disclaimer: I got an early review copy for this book thanks to the author putting me in contact with the publisher.
This was the first review copy I received from Tor in 2016, surprisingly. I remember seeing it listed on Amazon before it even had a cover, and preordering it on the name on the page alone. Guy Haley's been one of my favorite authors in recent years, ever since I read his Skarsnik and Baneblade when he joined Black Library.

Seeing him kicking off a new series of novellas in his own, original fantasy post-apocalypse was incredibly satisfying. The first thing that caught my attention, of course, was the strong narrating voice. Written from the perspective of one character involved in the book, telling his story to an unknown audience many years after the fact, it felt eccentric and fresh. The story itself is set around Virginia in the future, long after what appears to be a nuclear war that brought mankind back to the middle-ages - including faith in the spiritual, weird technology-turned-magic and superstition. There's a lot to love here, which only got expanded in The Ghoul King, book two, and I hope to see many more stories in the series.

Haley really nailed this blend between traditional fantasy and science fiction, presenting the entire thing as a sort of travel tale, revealing us, the readers in the know, a world full of disasters that the characters cannot even begin to really understand. I was worried that the zombies in the novella would be dull or too much of a focus, but neither turned out to be true. Instead they were used just the right amount, complementing the world and events that Haley wanted to present.

The novella is still available for a buck or your regional equivalent on Amazon for Kindle, and I'd encourage you to give it a try. Heck, I want to see where this series can go in the future, so I bought a copy of both books even though I had access to the review copies. If the Kindle store wasn't stupidly region-locked, I'd have gifted copies to friends already...

The Emperor's Railroad on Goodreads

Manglers Never Lose by Josh Reynolds

Oh, Josh Reynolds. You magnificent bastard. I knew you were going to be on the list, but it took me some back and forth to pinpoint which of your works to put on here. To my shame, I haven't managed to get really into The Infernal Express yet (out of hope for a print release, actually), but Fabius Bile: Primogenitor was a strong contender for this spot. But then I decided to go with the Manglers instead, even though 'tis but a short story.

Because I loved it. It was fun. It was so silly, so stupid, but also oh so satisfying and nostalgic. Who'd have thought that the first new Blood Bowl story released by Black Library would be that tiny gateway back to the Old World of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, even if just through easter eggs and references to Josh's other works. The unadulterated humor found here is glorious. This short story plays to Josh's strengths, and it made me laugh out loud in many instances. The way he handles inherently silly circumstances and makes them seem mundane in the Blood Bowl setting had me in stitches.

The dialogue too is something that this story got perfectly right. There's back and forths between characters all over, and I actually ended up reading them in various voices to myself while trying not to laugh.
‘Served him right, after what he did to my sister… my brother… my cousins… our goat…’ He trailed off. ‘He was an honourless dog.’

Even if you don't have a clue about Blood Bowl, this story is worth reading. Fantasy Football with orcs, dwarves and humans, with all the madness and violence you'd expect, but also utterly ridiculous and self-aware. Lovely job, Josh!

Manglers Never Lose on Goodreads

Wrath by John Gwynne

Wrath is the final book I read and reviewed in 2016. It is also my favorite. It was an amazing, emotional finale to a series I've devoured between January and February 2016, and then had to wait seemingly forever for the conclusion to. John Gwynne did something amazing in wrapping everything up so magnificently, giving me so many characters to love and/or hate, and he made me go from cheering to weeping over the course of the book.

It does so many things right, I am actually really annoyed by the fact that the trade paperback release won't be in my home until May, which tempts me to rebuy the entire series in hardback. That's how good this book, and the series as a whole, were. The Faithful and the Fallen grew bigger and more impressive with every installment. Whereas Malice felt familiar and nostalgic, I didn't expect things to get so big and emotional. It surprised me, with many of those surprises, good and ill, coming with Wrath. And unlike a lot of ambitious fantasy series, Wrath ended exactly where it should have, with the perfect bittersweet tone it needed. It didn't overstay its welcome, it ended plotlines satisfyingly, and left the rest up to the reader's imagination, not overexplaining. Of course, a new trilogy is in the works, called Of Blood and Bone, with the first book in the editing stages, and you can bet I'll be there to devour that, too.

This was the perfect book to end the year on. An emotional rollercoaster, just like 2016 as a whole. Exciting, scratching all the itches, and leaving me with hope for 2017.

Wrath on Goodreads

And that's it, folks. These are the standout books 2016 had in stock for me. I've read a bunch more, of course, but I had to narrow it done a bunch. Books that didn't make the list just had to go up against some very strong and enjoyable stories this year.

Hopefully 2017 will be able to keep up! I know I got a bunch of releases on my radar already, and the list is only going to grow as more get revealed and I get invested in series that have passed me by so far.

I wish you all the best in the coming year, at any rate. If you'd like, let me know via the comments or Twitter or the likes what releases you liked best in 2016, and what your highly anticipated reads for 2017 are. Maybe I'll find some new gems that way too!

Happy New Year!

About the Author
DarkChaplain is a big nerd who spends too much time reading and thinking about books, organizing them on his ever-growing shelves, and yet increases his backlog by the month. DC is also an avid Gamer and owns more PC games than he'll ever be able to play. He is certainly spoiled for choice!
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain

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DarkChaplain's bookshelf: read

The Dragon Engine
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Star Wars #22
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The Harrowing
The Awakening
Poe Dameron #5

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