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Qwill's Top 3 of 2018


There are 3 top novels for me from 2018. These are books that I have thought about long after I finished reading them. I'm listing them in order by author name not order of favorite because trying to put one first would be like trying to choose a favorite child. Each novel features a well crafted magic system. These novels stand out for their exceptional worldbuilding but, more important, for their wonderful characters and riveting stories.



I love Robert Jackson Bennett's writing. From The Company Man to Foundryside, his work is just fantastic. Vigilance (from Tor.com) is out later this month. I'll be letting you know what I think. Check out The Divine Cities Trilogy if you're looking for great fantasy read. Don't miss reading The Troupe either. Just read everything he's written. You can thank me later. My review of Foundryside is here.


Foundryside
The Founders Trilogy 1
Crown, August 21, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 512 pages
   Trade Paperback, May 21, 2019

Qwill's Top 3 of 2018
“The exciting beginning of a promising new epic fantasy series. Prepare for ancient mysteries, innovative magic, and heart-pounding heists.”—Brandon Sanderson

“Complex characters, magic that is tech and vice versa, a world bound by warring trade dynasties: Bennett will leave you in awe once you remember to breathe!”–Tamora Pierce

In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself–the first in a dazzling new series from City of Stairs author Robert Jackson Bennett.

Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.

But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.

Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.

To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.





David Mack's The Midnight Front, the 1st novel in his Dark Arts series, is set during World War II. The titular Midnight Front fights the war on the magical level. The Nazis have magic wielders and so do the Allies. Mack's magical system is finely developed and like all well-written magical systems there is a price to pay for the magic users. While some passages in The Midnight Front will be perhaps just a disturbing historical footnote for some, to others (including me) there is a visceral gut-wrenching reaction. Mack pulls no punches in The Midnight Front. He doesn't sugar coat what happened during WWII as part of the Final Solution. He brought tears to my eyes more than once.

With or without magic Mack writes about some difficult events to which his characters bear witness. Yet the novel is not all doom and gloom. This novel is in equipoise - the horrific and evil balanced expertly by humor and good. Not everything is black and white though. The Midnight Front is as close to a perfect novel that I've had the pleasure to read in a long time. Mack leaves no cliffhangers and beautifully sets up the next novel in the series. I can't recommend The Midnight Front enough.

And I've just finished book 2 - The Iron Codex - which was published yesterday, and is set several years after the end of the first novel. It features some of the wonderful characters and not so wonderful characters from The Midnight Front. I can unequivocally recommend both novels.


The Midnight Front
A Dark Arts Novel 1
Tor Book, January 30, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages
   Also available in Hardcover

Qwill's Top 3 of 2018
From New York Times bestselling author David Mack comes a visionary World War II-era adventure. The Midnight Front is the epic first novel in the Dark Arts series.

On the eve of World War Two, Nazi sorcerers come gunning for Cade but kill his family instead. His one path of vengeance is to become an apprentice of The Midnight Front—the Allies’ top-secret magickal warfare program—and become a sorcerer himself.

Unsure who will kill him first—his allies, his enemies, or the demons he has to use to wield magick—Cade fights his way through occupied Europe and enemy lines. But he learns too late the true price of revenge will be more terrible than just the loss of his soul—and there’s no task harder than doing good with a power born of ultimate evil.





Aching God by Mike Shel is the first novel in his Iconoclasts series and The Qwillery's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) Finalist. It's going up against 10 other books to be the last book standing. Read more about SPFBO here at Mark Lawrence's site.

After going through a slush pile of 30 books, Shel's Aching God stood out. It's a terrifically fun read. I loved this novel from the moment I started reading it. The worldbuilding, history, and characters are outstanding. Read more of my thoughts here.


Aching God
Iconoclasts 1
Trade Paperback, eBook, Audible

Qwill's Top 3 of 2018
“Closer, mortal. You are here, finally, to feed the Aching God…”

The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside and isolated with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. But just as old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, he receives an urgent summons back to that old life.

To save his only daughter, he must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands. Along with a group of inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization. He has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But how can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god?

First volume in the planned epic fantasy trilogy Iconoclasts, Aching God is the debut novel by RPG adventure designer Mike Shel.

Also included is an advanced preview of Iconoclasts - Book II: Sin Eater.

SPFBO 4 - Our Finalist


Our five semi-finalists all looked good in the initial slush pile read. Full reads of the five novels pushed 2 to the very top of the list and the choice between them was extraordinarily difficult. What it came down to in the end was a couple of little things. For our Finalist nothing jarred me while reading the novel. I made no notes about something being out of place, etc.

Our finalist has wonderfully flawed characters, exceptional pacing, and a well-developed world history that is comprehensible. There is great action and adventure. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel from start to finish. It was and remained my front runner from when I read the first part of the novel to see which novels would become semi-finalists.

Congratulations to author Mike Shel, author of Aching God!


Aching God
Iconoclasts 1
Trade Paperback, eBook, Audible

SPFBO 4 - Our Finalist
“Closer, mortal. You are here, finally, to feed the Aching God…”

The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside and isolated with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. But just as old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, he receives an urgent summons back to that old life.

To save his only daughter, he must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands. Along with a group of inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization. He has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But how can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god?

First volume in the planned epic fantasy trilogy Iconoclasts, Aching God is the debut novel by RPG adventure designer Mike Shel.

Also included is an advanced preview of Iconoclasts - Book II: Sin Eater.




Some additional thoughts

The main character, Auric Mantea, a former agent of the Syraeic League, had retired after a particularly harrowing mission during which his co-agents were horribly killed. This mission haunts him. He is called back to the League to undertake a dangerous mission when a plague hits  Boudun, the Capital of the Kingdom of Hanifax. This mission will bring up everything that was wrong about the mission that made him retire, but is worse in many ways. Auric is emotionally damaged. He doubts his abilities. After all he feels that he failed his prior team. Shel deals with Auric's emotional issues extremely well - how they affect him, his abilities, and interactions with team members, and more.

Shel does not skimp of the characterization of the team that Auric leads. They are each well-developed - each with their own emotional baggage and needed special skills. Together with this new team Auric undertakes the mission into the Barrowlands that everyone is hopeful will end the plague. The journey the team takes to reach their eventual goal is fraught with perils, fascinating encounters, and adventure on sea and on land.

There are plenty of nerve-wracking fights in Aching God. Shel ratchets up the tension more than once. There is blood, gore, magic, and death. The world-building is extremely well done. The politics, religious belief systems, and history that are the underpinnings of the world and story are clear without overwhelming the story.

Aching God is a fabulous novel. It is a deeply immersive, exciting, and a dark delight. We give it a 9.5.


Note: The novel has several maps and 2 Appendices: Appendix A - Cast of Characters and Appendix B - Places, Creatures, Organizations, Gods, Saints, etc.


Qwill's Top 3 of 2018SPFBO 4 - Our Finalist

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