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It’s hard to believe that 2023 is halfway over. I am truly amazed by all the outstanding novels, novellas, and short stories published already this year. It’s therefore my pleasure to share this list of my favorite books published during this first half of 2023.

The Book That Wouldn't Burn

Best Fantasy

Best Fantasy

The Book That Wouldn't Burn by Mark Lawrence

The Book That Wouldn’t Burn is the work of a veteran author at the peak of his powers. Mark Lawrence has taken his craft to the next level yet again. His writing is witty and heartfelt, with several laugh out loud moments and many more that pulled at the heartstrings. The Book That Wouldn’t Burn somehow encapsulates all of Lawrence’s previous work while also being wholly unique.

The Book That Wouldn’t Burn covers a lot of ground, offering a meditation on human society in the information age, the seductive nature of lies, and the intrinsic danger of knowledge in the absence of wisdom. But at its core, The Book That Wouldn’t Burn is Lawrence’s self-described love letter to books and the buildings where they live. I am pleased to give my highest rating to this latest masterpiece from Mark Lawrence.

Read my complete review here.

The Ten Percent Thief

Best Science Fiction

Best Science Fiction

The Ten Percent Thief by Lavanya Lakshminarayan

In The Ten Percent Thief, Lavanya Lakshminarayan immerses us in Apex City, formerly known as Bangalore, once the Silicon Valley of India and now governed by a technocapitalist meritocracy. The Big Brother of the tale is Bell Corp, a corporation that has created its own technocratic caste system by ranking individuals on its signature bell curve. Individual productivity and the virality of social media posts help to improve one’s score, propelling them toward the upper tail of the bell curve. But it’s not enough to reach the top percentile: citizens must continually strive toward perfection to maintain this privileged ranking. Bell Corp has a zero-tolerance policy toward failure: anything less than perfection is unacceptable.

The Ten Percent Thief is a deeply thought-provoking and timely novel that updates the traditional notion of castes for a near-future meritocratic society infused with artificial intelligence.

Read my complete review here.

Looking Glass Sound

Best Horror

Best Horror

Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward

Looking Glass Sound is Catriona Ward’s unsettling literary horror that will lure readers in with its charming coming-of-age façade but leave them entangled in a web of metaphysical dread. From the retro cover design to its late 1980s northern Gothic setting, Looking Glass Sound is dripping with nostalgia for a simpler time that may never have existed. The psychological horror deepens as Catriona Ward weaves layers upon layers of uncertainty to the story. The lines between reality and fiction slowly blur, making the reader question everything they believed.

Much more than a standard horror novel, Looking Glass Sound is Catriona Ward’s ode to the power of the written word. The reader becomes entranced by her prose and entangled in her circular narrative. Put simply, Looking Glass Sound is a multilayered masterpiece of speculative fiction and proof that a horror novel can reach the greatest of literary heights.

Read my full review here.

A Woman of the Sword

Best Grimdark

Best Grimdark

A Woman of the Sword by Anna Smith Spark

Anna Smith Spark’s latest novel, A Woman of the Sword, presents a devastatingly authentic portrait of depression, including both the inner anguish and its impact on loved ones. Lidae, the lead protagonist, never feels that she is good enough and, despite her best efforts, cannot feel the joy of motherhood as her mental state spirals downward into overwhelming anguish. Her grief and traumatic experiences leave open wounds that never seem to heal.

A Woman of the Sword is a tragic masterpiece, reaffirming Anna Smith Spark’s reign as the queen of grimdark. Her new novel is a must-read for grimdark fans, and especially for parents.

Read my full review here.

Untethered Sky

Best Novella

Best Novella

Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee

Untethered Sky is Fonda Lee’s delicate coming-of-age novella inspired by Persian and Arabian folklore, featuring two beasts from Middle Eastern mythology: manticores and rocs. With Untethered Sky, Fonda Lee shows her maturity and versatility as an author. Her writing is precise and poetic, with every word skillfully chosen. Combined with its gentle didacticism, Untethered Sky has the feeling of a classic folktale.

Untethered Sky is a beautifully crafted gem of a novella, which reinforces Fonda Lee’s standing as one of the most talented authors in fantasy today. The Middle Eastern-inspired setting is an ideal backdrop for Lee’s tale, which gently interweaves fantastical elements in this graceful story about the nature of humanity, our relationships with each other, and humankind’s place in the natural world. Fonda Lee’s understated approach is the perfect vehicle for this moving novella about rising from tragedy to find one’s true calling.

Read my full review here.

overdue

Best Short Story

Best Short Story

Overdue by Mark Lawrence

Inspiration cuts across space and time in “Overdue,” Mark Lawrence’s first short story from his Library Trilogy. The main action in “Overdue” takes place in independent bookshops, focusing on the store owners’ love of literature and their relative isolation from society.

A deep love of literature connects us all in the bookish community, a bond that manifests poignantly in “Overdue” as the oversized cat, Wentworth, helps lonely booklovers find both inspiration and companionship. This short story is a must-read for fans of The Book That Wouldn’t Burn and highly recommended for anyone who shares Mark Lawrence’s passion for the written word.

Read my full review here.

Best Anthology

Best Anthology

Life Beyond Us by the European Astrobiology Institute

Life Beyond Us is an anthology of fifty-four original science fiction stories and science essays compiled by the European Astrobiology Institute, a consortium of European institutions devoted to research, education, and outreach activities in the field of astrobiology, i.e., the study of life in the universe. This anthology is the brainchild of over sixty contributors from across the globe, including some of the world’s top authorities in astrobiology, astrophysics, and aeronautical engineering, as well as experts in science philosophy and linguistics.

Life Beyond Us features twenty-seven short stories, each followed by a professional essay explaining the scientific underpinnings of the story. Over its nearly 600 pages, Life Beyond Us covers a wide range of topics in astrobiology, including the environmental conditions that could foster life, the possible forms of microscopic and macroscopic organisms, and the social consequences of humans making first contact with alien life.

Life Beyond Us is an outstanding collection emphasizing the hard science behind science fiction. The authors clearly recognize the importance of science fiction in stimulating readers’ imagination and fostering an interest in scientific disciplines. The team at the European Astrobiology Institute is to be commended for this comprehensive anthology, which was clearly a labor of love for everyone involved.

Read my full review here.

the way of edan

Best Debut

Best Debut

The Way of Edan by Philip Chase

Every word is worth savoring in The Way of Edan, the masterful debut epic fantasy from Philip Chase and the first volume in his Edan Trilogy. Religion plays a pivotal role throughout The Way of Edan, as the kingdoms of Eormenlond descend into holy war. Chase expertly captures the uneasy alliances that form between religious and political leaders, each seeking their own goals by taking advantage of the other.

I love a good soft magic system, and The Way of Edan delivers in spades, featuring mind melds, nature magic, miraculous healing, and much more. The scenes of magic instilled a sense of awe and mysticism that recalled the first time I read The Lord of the Rings as a child.

The Way of Edan strikes the perfect balance between modern and classic epic fantasy. Chase manifests his deep love of literature in The Way of Edan, a lamentation that distills the best of fantasy from classics, such as Beowulf and The Lord of the Rings, through modern masterpieces like The Name of the Wind.

Read my full review here.

Buzzard's Bowl

Best Sequel

Best Sequel

Buzzard's Bowl by John Palladino

John Palladino takes his craft to new heights in Buzzard’s Bowl, the second volume of his grimdark fantasy series, The Tragedy of Cedain. I am delighted to see how Palladino has grown as a writer since publishing his first novel, The Trials of Ashmount. Palladino already showed great promise with his debut, and he has made all the right moves.

Palladino gleefully embraces the best of grimdark fantasy in Buzzard’s Bowl, which reads in many ways like an irreverent version of A Game of Thrones. Palladino shares Joe Abercombie’s talent at developing broken, morally complex characters, George R.R. Martin’s epic worldbuilding and well-paced story arcs, Scott Lynch’s incisive humor, and the raw emotional impact of Anna Smith Spark. Buzzard’s Bowl firmly establishes John Palladino as one of the most exciting new voices in the grimdark fantasy community. I eagerly await the next volume of his Tragedy of Cedain series.

Read my full review here.

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

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