Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten New Authors I am Thankful I Checked Out This Year

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, readers have a Thanksgiving Freebie, so I am taking this chance to mention those authors who I am thankful I checked out for the first time this year.

In 2019, I had the pleasure of reading a number of different books that ranged from impressive debuts, intriguing sequels, amazing starts to new series, fun standalone novels and fantastic entries in long-running series. While a number of these books were written by authors I was previously familiar with (such as some of my autobuy authors), quite a few of these books were written by authors I had not had the pleasure of reading before, but who I am very glad that I checked out. I have to say that I was really impressed with a number of these authors, and for many of them I am planning to try and read more of their works. As a result, I thought that it would be a good idea to do a list honouring my absolute favourites of this group. This list is not limited to debuting authors, but also includes authors whose works I only just got a chance to read this year.

Like many of these lists that I do, I ended up with quite a substantial group of authors I wanted to include on this list. I really enjoyed their books that I read this year and I am looking forward to reading more from them in the future. I was eventually able to whittle this list down to my top ten favourites, as well as a generous honourable mentions section. Unfortunately, I had to exclude a couple of authors who I really liked, such as Laura Shepherd-Robinson, who wrote the fantastic historical mystery Blood & Sugar; and Australian young adult author Jay Kristoff, who wrote some fun books this year, including DEV1AT3 and Aurora Rising (co-written with Amie Kaufman). Still, I think I came up with a good list that represents which authors I am really thankful I tried for the first time this year.

Honourable Mentions:

Tamsyn Muir – Gideon the Ninth

Gideon the Ninth Cover

Gideon the Ninth, the debut novel of Tamsyn Muir, was one of the most unique and entertaining books that I read this year. I absolutely loved the combination of weird comedy, interesting futuristic necromantic magic and the curious murder house storyline, and it was an overall fantastic novel. I definitely want to check out the future books in the series, especially as the second book, Harrow the Ninth, already has a cool cover and plot synopsis up.

Steve Berry – The Malta Exchange

The Malta Exchange Cover

The Malta Exchange is the 14th book in Berry’s long-running Cotton Malone thriller series. Not only did it feature a clever and complex modern-day thriller, but the author utilised some deeply fascinating historical elements to create a powerful and captivating mystery. I am very keen to read more from Berry in the future, and his next book, The Warsaw Protocol, sounds like it is going to be a very fun read.

Claudia Gray – Master and Apprentice

Master & Apprentice Cover

I had to feature a Star Wars novel on this list somewhere, and I actually had a hard time choosing which book from a new author I enjoyed the most. While I strongly considered Tarkin and Resistance Reborn, my favourite Star Wars story from an author I had not read before this year was probably Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray. Gray did an outstanding job crafting together an action-packed and intriguing Star Wars story that focused on a younger Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Clever, entertaining and deeply emotional at times, this was a fantastic read and I hope that Gray writes some more Star Wars novels in the future.

Samantha Shannon – The Priory of the Orange Tree

The Priory of the Orange Tree Cover

The Priory of the Orange Tree was a massive and inventive standalone fantasy novel that was released at the start of the year. I really liked the excellent story and unique fantasy universe that Shannon created in this book, and she is definitely an author to keep an eye on for the future.

Top Ten List (in no particular order):

Mark Greaney – Red Metal and Mission Critical

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Let us start this list off with the fantastic thriller writer Mark Greaney. I first became familiar with Greaney earlier this year when I read Mission Critical, the electrifying eighth book in his Gray Man series. While I quite enjoyed Mission Critical, his authorship of the military thriller Red Metal, which he co-wrote with Lt. Col. Hunter Ripley Rawlings IV. USMC is the main reason why I am including him on this list. Red Metal is easily one of my favourite books of 2019 and that, combined with an excellent thriller in Mission Critical, is why Greaney is an author I will be reading much more of in the future.

Miles Cameron – Cold Iron and Dark Forge

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I am slightly cheating with this entry as I have actually read some of this author’s historical fiction books which he writes under the name Christian Cameron. However, 2019 was the first year that I read the books he publishes under his fantasy nom de plume Miles Cameron, and I feel the name and genre change justifies his inclusion on this list. I previously featured Cameron’s 2018 release Cold Iron on my Top Ten Books I Wish I Read in 2018 list, and I ended up listening to it a couple of months later. Cold Iron, the first book in his new Masters & Mages series, was an absolutely incredible fantasy read. I also listened the second book in the series, Dark Forge, a couple of weeks ago, and it was a pretty amazing follow-up to Cold Iron (review coming soon). Not only am I planning to read the final book in the Masters & Mages series, Bright Steel, as soon as I can, but I will also be grabbing every new fantasy book that the author releases as Miles Cameron, and I am very glad I checked out his alternate genre of writing. In the meantime, make sure to check out my review for Cameron’s latest historical fiction novel, The New Achilles, which he also released this year.

James Lovegrove – Firefly books – Big Damn Hero and The Magnificent Nine

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I had to include James Lovegrove on this list, as he has been the main author pushing through the new generation of Firefly tie-in novels. I absolutely love Firefly, so any tie-in material is going to get a lot of attention from me. Lovegrove has actually written both of the books so far, including the emotional Big Damn Hero (based on story ideas from Nancy Holder) and the fun The Magnificent Nine. Both of these Firefly books were really good, and I loved the cool stories and the nostalgia I felt from seeing the television show’s great characters in action again. Lovegrove has a third Firefly novel on the way, with The Ghost Machine coming out in April, and it looks to be another fantastic addition to the series.

Chris Wooding – The Ember Blade

the ember blade cover

The Ember Blade is another book that I regretted not reading in 2018, so I was very thankful that I got a chance to listen to it earlier this year. Wooding is a very talented fantasy writer whose outstanding character work and inventive story, created an incredible read in The Ember Blade. I am really excited for any sequels to this book that Wooding releases, which should prove to be very awesome.

Simon Turney – Commodus

Commodus Cover

When I first heard about Commodus by Simon Turney, I was quite intrigued, mainly because I knew so little about this emperor other than the fact that he was the villain of the film Gladiator. However, this is probably one of my favourite historical fiction releases of the year, as Turney did an outstanding job bringing this complex historical figure to life. I cannot wait to see which Roman emperor Turney writes about next, and I have a feeling that he is soon going to become one of my favourite historical fiction authors.

K. J. Parker – Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City Cover

Before receiving a copy of Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, I had not read any books by this author, either under the name K. J. Parker or his other writing persona, Tom Holt. This is a real shame, as Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City was one of the best and funniest fantasy novels I have ever read, and I can only imagine that his other works are just as awesome. I am really thankful that this author is on my radar now, and I look forward to seeing what else he can do.

Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca – Darth Vader (2015) and Star Wars (2015) comic series

Star Wars - Darth Vader Volume 1 Cover

While I did read the Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith comics in 2018 (check out my reviews for Volumes Two and Three), 2019 was the year that I really got into Star Wars comics, and that is mainly due to the cool partnership of writer Kieron Gillen and artist Salvador Larroca. Not only did I start reading their 2015 Darth Vader series this year, which is just so many layers of awesome, but I have been eating up their recent run on the ongoing Star Wars comic books series. In addition, the Doctor Aphra series, which has to be one of the best comics of the year, is based on the character they created in the Darth Vader series. Gillen also wrote the first 19 issues of the Doctor Aphra series, which feature some absolutely outstanding stories. Pretty much everything Star Wars that these two touch is magical, and I really, really hope they continue their partnership well into the future.

Ben Aaronovitch – Lies Sleeping

Lies Sleeping Cover

Lies Sleeping was the seventh book in the Peter Grant/Rivers of London series, which was released late last year. I got around to reading it at the start of 2019 and I was deeply impressed with this clever fantasy/modern crime fiction hybrid. While I spent a good part of the year kicking myself for not reading any of Aaronovitch’s books sooner, I will hopefully start to make up for this oversight in the near future. The next book in the series, False Value, is set for release in a couple of months, and it sounds like another fantastic addition to the series.

Blake Crouch – Recursion

Recursion Cover

Blake Crouch has a long history of writing clever science fiction and thriller novels, but Recursion, which was released earlier this year, is the first one of his books that I checked out. I absolutely loved this complex and captivating story and it was easily one of the top books I read in the first half of 2019. While I still need to actually write a review for Recursion (I’m working on one at the moment), I will make sure to grab any of his books that come out in the future.

Brian McClellan – Promise of Blood

promise of blood cover

The final author I am glad I checked out this year was Brian McClellan, author of the acclaimed Powder Mage series of flintlock fantasy novels. I had heard a lot of good things about McClellan’s books, so I decided to check out the first book in the series, Promise of Blood. I was not disappointed in the slightest, as this was an exceptional piece of fantasy fiction that blew me away (pun intended). I will be listening to all the Powder Mage books in the future, and I am extremely thankful that I checked him out this year.

Well that’s the end of this Top Ten Tuesday article. I hope you like my list and please let me know which new authors you are thankful you checked out this year. To anyone reading in America, happy Thanksgiving and I hope you don’t go too crazy trying to get new books this Black Friday.

Firefly: Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove and Nancy Holder

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Publisher: Titan Books (Hardcover edition – 20 November 2018)

Series: Firefly

Length: 334 pages

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

 

Ready for something shiny? Serenity flies again in this fantastic new Firefly tie-in novel that takes the reader back to the original television series and reunites the crew of your favourite spaceship for another amazing adventure.

Firefly, for those people unfamiliar with it, was a science fiction television show that ran for one season back in 2002-03.  Created by Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and The Avengers movie fame, Firefly is widely regarded as one of the best science fiction television shows of all time.  Featuring a fun group of main characters all played by amazing actors, this western-themed epic in space had some extremely clever and well-written storylines and an outstanding core concept.  Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after only one season (clearly the evillest thing that anyone at Fox has ever done), although it gained cult status after it was released on DVD.  Its post-airing popularity allowed Whedon to create the movie, Serenity, which closed one of the show’s major storylines, while also taking out a couple of major characters (I am still upset about one of those, he was a leaf on the wind, god damn it).  Following the movie, the Firefly universe has mostly continued in the form of several different comic books, usually created with Whedon’s direct input as either a writer or producer.  Do not be surprised if I review several of these Firefly/Serenity comics in the future, either as part of my Throwback Thursday series or when I review the collected edition of the current ongoing Firefly series.

If my notations above did not give it away, I am a huge fan of the Firefly franchise (and generally anything written/created by Joss Whedon), so I was always going to love this novel.  However, all prior biases aside, I found that Big Damn Hero was an excellent tie-in novel, and I powered through this book in extremely short order.

Big Damn Hero is written by James Lovegrove with bestselling author Nancy Holder (author of nearly 20 Buffy the Vampire Slayer tie-in books) credited as coming up with the original story concept.  Joss Whedon is also acknowledged as the original creator of the Firefly universe and is credited as a consulting editor.  Lovegrove is a veteran writer who has published a number of books since his 1990 debut, The Hope.  Readers may be familiar with his long-running Pantheon series, his recent work on the 2011 Sherlock Holmes series or the three books he has currently written for his The Cthulhu Casebooks series, which also features Sherlock Holmes.  Big Damn Hero is the first novel in a new Firefly tie-in trilogy from Titan Books which brings fans a completely new set of Firefly adventures.  Two additional books are set to be released later this year, with The Magnificent Nine coming out in March and Generations being published in October.

The Firefly franchise is set approximately in the year 2517, where humanity has expanded out into a new star system and terraformed a number of planets and moons.  The central planets were fully terraformed and heavily populated, while the outer planets and moons are more rugged, desert-like and with smaller populations.  The television series is set six years after the end of a brutal war between the Union of Allied Planets (the Alliance) and the Independents (also known as the Browncoats, a name also given to the fans of the franchise), which saw the Alliance gain complete control of the star system.

The show and associated media follow the adventures of the crew of the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity as they travel across the system participating in a variety of illegal or barely legal jobs.  The ship is captained by Malcom “Mal” Reynolds, a former sergeant in the Independent army who named the Serenity after the bloodiest battle in the entire war.  Joining him are former Independent army corporal and second in command of the ship Zoe; Zoe’s husband and Serenity’s pilot Wash; mercenary Jayne; ship’s mechanic Kayle; companion Inara; Shepherd Book; and the fugitive siblings Simon and River Tam.  Most of the crew’s adventures in the show followed their various jobs, personal stories and a particular focus on the events surrounding the Tam siblings becoming fugitives.

Big Damn Hero is set a few weeks after the events of the television show’s 12th episode, The Message, and starts the same way most Firefly adventures start, with the crew taking on a new job.  Initially contracted to transport volatile explosives off Persephone for their regular booker, crime lord Badger, the crew decide to take on some additional cargo from a mysterious new contact.  However, the meet turns out to be a trap and Mal is kidnapped and taken off-world.

With the explosives nearing a point of instability, the rest of Serenity’s crew is forced to leave Persephone to continue their original contract.  With only limited leads and the Alliance on their tail, the crew split up in order to locate their captain and maintain the safety of the ship.  Meanwhile, Mal awakens to find that he has been kidnapped by a squad of former Browncoats who are fanatically hunting down former members of the Independent army who they deem responsible for the Independents’ defeat in the war.  Mal has been named a traitor and a coward by old friend from before the war and must now defend himself in an impromptu trial.  As secrets from Mal’s past are brought to the surface, he finds himself at the mercy of a frenzied mob of former friends and comrades demanding his blood.  Can the crew of the Serenity save him, or will Mal pay for his past sins?

Perhaps the best praise I could heap on this book is that I very easily saw this story as a new episode of the show.  Like several of Firefly’s episodes, Big Damn Hero contains a compelling story that is split between the current adventures while also examining the past of one of its characters, in this case Mal.  This exploration into the past then comes into play for the main adventure, as it not only shows the reader events that were formative in Mal’s current character but also explains the actions of the book’s antagonists.  I felt that the plot of Big Damn Hero was a bit of an homage to the show’s fifth episode, Safe, as there were a number of similarities.  Safe was also interspersed with character flashbacks and the main plot of that episode features members of Serenity’s crew being kidnapped and subsequently imperilled while the rest of the crew are forced to take Serenity away from the area for an urgent plot reason.  Safe also featured the crew of Serenity arriving to save the day at the last minute in order to be the “big damn heroes”, a term the crew coined in Safe.  I also felt that the author tapped into elements of the lasting impacts of the war that were featured in episodes such as The Message or in the movie Serenity.  Throughout this book, various characters are shown to be negatively impacted by the war, whether this has made them cold and determined or raging bags of revenge.  Overall, I felt that the author captured the heart of these episodes quite well and helped turn them into a fantastic new addition to the Firefly franchise.

While this is mainly a book about Mal and his past coming back to haunt him, Lovegrove does spend a bit of time focusing on the other members of Serenity’s crew.  As a result, nearly all of the other crew members have at least one chapter told from their point of view.  This allows the reader, especially those who are unfamiliar with the television series, to get a good idea of who the characters are and what their general personality or motivation is.  Aside from Mal, Zoe gets the most focus out of all the other characters, as she not only attempts to find her missing captain but must also take command of Serenity to ensure its safety from other threats encroaching on it.  Zoe is pretty awesome in these chapters, and I felt that the author captured her determination, badassery and extreme loyalty to Mal after serving with him during the war.  Shepherd Book also gets a few entertaining chapters throughout the book, as he leads the investigation into Serenity’s missing captain.  Lovegrove continues to expand on Book’s mysterious past, as the supposedly humble shepherd has high-level military contacts, investigative skills and tactical abilities (those curious to find out Book’s past should check out the comic book Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale).  Most of the rest of the characters also get their moments to shine: Jayne is his usual over-the-top violent self, Inara uses her position and companion training to manipulate several opponents, and River does River things, such as making fun of Badger’s accent or taking out armed goons surprisingly easily.  This focus on the whole crew of Serenity was very reminiscent of the show, and it is obvious that Lovegrove has a great appreciation for franchise’s characters.

In addition to looking at the main characters, Lovegrove also features a number of characters or references from the television show and movie that are likely to be extremely attractive to the franchises fans.  Lovegrove has included a huge range of stuff, from fan favourite side character Badger to Jayne’s fabulous knitted hat and a number of other call-backs to previous episodes and antagonists.  It is possible the author might have gone a bit overboard in places with these inclusions.  When the Hands of Blue are mentioned and it is implied that they could be nearby, that really got my hopes up and I was disappointed when they did not show up in any way.  However, I personally loved all the call-backs and references and it really played to my well-defined sense of nostalgia.

One of the inclusions I really enjoyed in Big Damn Hero was the new insight into main character Malcolm Reynolds’s backstory.  While the show and movie did provide some insights into his actions during the war against the Alliance, not a lot else about his past was ever shown.  Big Damn Hero, however, provides the reader with several chapters that delve into his past and show Mal as a rambunctious teenager on his home world of Shadow.  It is quite amusing to see several of Mal’s personality traits imposed on a younger version of the character, and fans will have fun getting this insight into the early days of this character.  I quite liked these flashback scenes, especially as they show some of Mal’s early tragedies and the events that led up to him joining the Independent army.  This is a fantastic addition to the plot, and I really appreciated this deeper look into one of my favourite characters.

Big Damn Hero is a superb new addition to the Firefly franchise that sees the crew of Serenity go on another dangerous adventure.  Not only does the author dive into the past of one of one of the show’s main characters but he presents a compelling and moving story of the harsh life at the edge of the verse while expertly utilising each of the show’s major characters.  The result is a fantastic tie-in novel that does a great job of capturing the Firefly universe and continuing one of my favourite science fiction series.  I had a lot of fun reading Big Damn Hero, although I am aware that a lot of that is due to my love of the show and movie.  People who are unfamiliar with the Firefly franchise will probably have a harder time following this novel, although I felt that Lovegrove did a good job setting this up as a book any science fiction fan could enjoy.  I am giving this book a rating of 4.25, although some of this rating is due to my nostalgia and love of the series as a whole.  I am very much looking forward to the next two Firefly tie-in novels that Titan Books are releasing later this year, and 2019 is going to be a great year for fans of the Firefly franchise.