It’s a new year, which means it’s time to share my top three reads of 2019 with you all. Goodreads says I’ve read 21 books in 2019. I know I’m reading less and less. I’m hoping to find more time to read, but I have to find a balance between reading and writing. I’m also reading much larger books. This list was made without regard to publisher, format, or author.
How I did it: I kept track of books I liked and mentally compared one to the other. Without further delay, here’s my list.
#3 Skyward by Brandon Sanderson: You can find my review for that book here. Sanderson is probably going to be on my list every year I reads something from him. He’s my favorite author in the business. Skyward was a charming story that had a universe that intrigues me. Spin is fun. It probably fell because it’s YA. It’s a great story that I enjoyed, but I tend to be drawn to a bit more drama than YA goes here or there. Still, this book’s pages flew by as I read.
#2 Transcendence and Rebellion by Michael G. Manning: The rotation I have on reviews (I review in the order that I’ve read) means I won’t have reviews for number two or one. While I haven’t had the chance to review it, I will say this book was bitter sweet for me. I love Mordecai and his saga. I love that world. The conclusion was appropriate and satisfying. I’m just sad to see it over (like, very over). I still think Embers of Illeniel is the segment of this world that takes the cake, but Riven Gates was great in that it brought all the Illeniel generations together. There were some character decisions that I wasn’t such a fan of, and Rebellion did a decent job of sweetening the sour taste the last book left in my mouth. All in all, I love the characters so much. Listen, if you love fantasy (especially fantasy that’s just a shade darker than normal, just a shade mind you) try this who series out. These books have shown that Manning is an author who readers should wait with eager longing to write another. In fact, he has another saga out there I mean to start here soon.
#1 Blunt Force Magic by Lawrence Davis: Again, I haven’t had the pleasure of posting that review yet, but man do I love it when a cool cover contains a cool book. If you like Dresden, you NEED to read this book! It has all the emotional feel and charm that Dresden has with a new world of magic. I couldn’t put it down, and I couldn’t wait to add its sequel to my TBR. This book has everything I look for in a great book: Great characters (plural), interesting world, fast plot, great ending. If I could only recommend one book (book, not author) for you, it’s this one.
So that’s my top three. What are yours? Why? Do you have a review you can link it to? I’d love to reblog it for you.
This is book five of the Mageborn saga. My review for book one can be found here. My review for book two can be found here. My review of book three can be found here. The review for book four is here.
Spoiler Free Summary: In The Final Redemption, Mordecai is in quite an awkward position because of what happened in book four (remember, I said no spoilers). He’s gained some horrific, destructive powers, and those powers have isolated him. The last dark god has set his sites on bringing the world to its knees, and Mort has to use his newfound power to take on someone many times more powerful than even himself. He has to do all of this without friends or family.
Character: Mort took center stage here. By taking everything from him, we were able to see him in a different light. His changes did a lot to set up not just the climax of this book, but the next era in the Mageborn universe. That said, all of our favorites are back for this final showdown with the big bad of the series.
Exposition: Manning was back at full strength here. I’m more certain that the heavy exposition I mentioned in book four was more because of the huge gap between books than anything else. Here, we get what we need when we need it. Sure, there’s some dialogue loosely hiding some exposition, but at least in that manner, we don’t feel force fed information.
Worldbuilding: This book wrapped up everything nicely. I love it when a series ending can tie up all the loose ends while still presenting an option for where the story could (and did) go forward. This book did a great job of connecting a lot of dots and hinting at the depth the universe. I said that right; he expanded his world building to include a universe. Here, we just catch a glimpse, but it’s there.
Dialogue: I love the interaction between Mort and the dragon (whose name escapes me at the moment). Some of the other conversations are great. James has a bit of time in the limelight as does his daughter, who steals a bit of the show. Their dialogue was crips and fun to read.
Description: This book doesn’t rely on description nearly as much, which is a relief to me as I’m not a big fan of it. It does a good job of highlighting what matters (and BOY does some of it matter). It helps create the visual tone and mood of the story. It’s visceral without bogging the story down.
Overall: There was one particular scene during which I wanted to cry. I HAVE cried while reading some books, but I didn’t cry during this scene. It was sad, and it was painful. I’m just trying to create a range so you know my emotional spectrum. This is a satisfying end to a great era in an even better universe. I still feel Tyrion’s era was the most satisfying so far, but I’m still a big fan of the story as a whole. This book puts a reader through a strong range of emotions. It puts a nice bow around all the plot points and teases the universe going forward. I think fans of epic fantasy will enjoy this series.
Line is book two of the Mageborn saga. My review for book one can be found here.
Spoiler Free Summary: In The Line of Illeniel, Mordecai is coming to terns with his status as a lord. But the history of wizards in the world has more catches than he was aware. Forced by his king to take a bond that limits his ability and could get the woman he loves killed, Mort is struggling to find the truth. Is this bond the only think keeping him sane? Are the voices he hears those of a madman’s fraying mental state? Things come to a head when a neighboring kingdom invades. Their insurgency point? Mordecais’ newly retaken family land.
Character: Mort is good, and Penny really came into her own. Dorian is still my favorite character by far (and he remains so). This book really helps readers connect with these characters. They’re human, but honorable. Smart, but have weaknesses. This book, to me, does the best job of setting the tone for not just the characters, but how they grown through the rest of the saga.
Exposition: Manning balanced this well. In fact, a lot of the scenes that feel like exposition dumps become valuable later in the saga. The aforementioned info dumps are few and far between. Limiting the exposition (despite the amount necessary when writing in first person) makes this feel like a fast-paced story.
Worldbuilding: While not quite the book I was waiting for, what this book does is start connecting Mageborn with Embers of Illeniel. Manning lets the deep history of his saga trickling into the story gently rather than beating the reader to death with a history lesson. He also lets the world take shape in a lot of ways. What impresses me most about this story is how gently interwoven the magic system and scope of the world are not the plot and dialogue of the story.
Dialogue: I’m comfortable saying this is Manning’s best, most natural dialogue in the series. It’s witty, without being forced, and engaging, without being overly dramatic. In fact, one of the more dramatic scenes is undercut Ala Joss Whedon by an endearingly funny moment. Manning’s dialogue isn’t bad, but I think this story is Manning near his best. (Embers is his best work by far in my opinion.)
Description: This, and his work with character, is Manning’s strength. It takes skill to weave visceral imagery into a plot. Most writers are blocky with their description, making the act of reading a scene feel like a workout before the reward of a plot. Manning doesn’t do that. He gives the details of the story when they’re relevant, and the information is most appropriate.
Overall: I think this is arguably my favorite book in the Mageborn series. The last book in the series has an argument, but this was the book that made me fall in love with these characters. While The Blacksmith’s Son wasn’t bad, I think this is the book that truly starts the series. The conflict and plots in this story are truly compelling. It kept me reading when I should have been working or sleeping, which is a great compliment for any book.
Spoiler Free Summary: The Blacksmith’s Son by Michael G. Manning takes place 2,000 years after Betrayer’s Bane, which was December Book Cover of the Month, which I reviewed and you can find here. I started this series up right away via Audible because I loved Embers so much. Mordecai was raised as a humble son of a blacksmith with some rather affluent friends. Just as he learns the truth of his birth, he also discovers his magical ability and makes a powerful enemy. When everything in his life should start looking up, it all takes a turn, and Mort must figure it all out before the secrets that led to his unusual upbringing come back to haunt the kingdom of Lothion.
Character: Mordecai is a fun character. He’s clever and proactive. Some may think he’s too good at too many things, but I like a skilled character. He’s not a Mary Sue by any stretch of the imagination, but some might argue how quickly he learns. What I like about him is his emotions. He’s a passionate person (meaning he cares deeply). A lot of his conflict starts with how he reacts to certain people or events. That emotion (I’ve actually finished the whole series and will post reviews in time) is what draws me to him and helps me connect to him. Dorian is someone I want to highlight. I like him. He’s my favorite character in the series. He’s a solid, stand-up, white-hat kind of guy. He’s honest, fair, and truthful to a fault. These traits make him a charming character to meet.
Exposition: Manning breaks the fourth wall quite freely here, and that reduces the impact of any exposition. Told (mostly) in first person, the story does have a touch or two moments of exposition, but Manning does something here that I don’t see often. He switches perspective. Most of the story is told by Mort, but the story switches to third-person omniscient and back. It’s actually a bit jarring for a reader the first few times it happens. That said, the technique allows Manning to get around some of the info dumps first person usually forces. There are also excerpts from an in-world book that are pretty heavy. They serve to tease the chapter, but also tend to slow things down just a touch.
Worldbuilding: For me, the big reward of the book (and this series) was seeing the world evolve from Betrayer’s Bane. This book feels sort of more like a prequel than an actual first book. It’s a ton of setup, which bogs this first book down. Most of this book either tells us how things got to this point or set us up for the overall conflict. It doesn’t make it a boring story by any stretch, but I won’t lie. I found myself wanting to get into it. It may be unfair though coming right off of Embers. Seeing the world as it’s progressed since then was one of the major reasons I kept with it. Mageborn is a great series, but this book is more of a warmup to a great saga.
Dialogue: A lot of the exposition for this story comes through dialogue (but most authors (including me) do that). It’s noticed here because Mort is either conversing with another character about what he means to do, what’s going on with his friends, or what happened in his past. The best conversations are those between him and Penny (which are charming). His conversations with Rose (who’s honestly more like a Mary Sue than any other of these characters) are also endearing.
Description: This was pretty natural for Manning. The scenes were visceral without being overly detailed. This is the highest compliment I could offer any book.
Overall: With a charming cast and a ridiculously compelling prequel trilogy, The Blacksmith’s Son sets the stage for a new saga in Manning’s world. While not remotely Manning’s strongest book, it teases at great stories to come while it also provides clever intrigue and deep world building. Fans of large worlds and complex magic systems would enjoy this story.