It’s been quiet around here, don’t you think? With not a single review in a month, it’s fair to say I’ve been a bad, bad blogger. But hey, I’ve been busy. And for reasons unknown to me, I’ve been struggling to force myself to write reviews (which is why I haven’t written any). The holiday season, however, is much progressed and the end of the year is nearly upon us. Not to end the year on a bad note - and as a show of good faith for my dedication to reviewing - I give onto thee LBR’s 2011 retrospective. Rankings, awards, and reflections follow...

Last year’s equivalent of this post was entitled ‘2010 In Review & Anticipation for 2011’ but as you’ll have noticed, this year’s title doesn’t follow the same convention. Firstly, I’ve decided to split the ‘In Review’ and ‘Anticipation’ parts into two separate posts. Secondly, I felt ‘The Great LBR 2011 Retrospective’ sounded that bit grander, in a falsely arrogant way. Wouldn’t you agree?

Anyway, I took a look at 2010 from the perspective of a blogger/reviewer who hadn’t quite reached his first year of reviewing, and I must say that with another year on, I’m not looking at things from the same perspective at all. I feel like I was quite a bit more lenient with myself reviewing-wise this year, but also reading-wise. Last year, I managed to consistently post 7-10 reviews a month - and read that many novels - while this year I’ve averaged about 6ish for the first half of the year, at which point my consistency deteriorated until I was struggling to put up 2 reviews a month.

Needless to say, I hope this will change, but this trend clearly affects my judgement in rankings present below. In 2011 I didn’t read any (or much) less than I did in 2010, the difference is quite a few of these books were never reviewed. I also didn’t force myself to get around to reading all of the ‘big’ genre releases of the end of the year (like Morgan’s The Cold Commands which currently sits with a bookmark on page two on my bookshelf). I didn’t even keep up to date with certain series I enjoyed in the past (Wooding’s The Iron Jackal sits beside me, waiting patiently; or Mayer’s Heart of Smoke & Steam).

A rising trend however was my interest in graphic novels/comics.Though a big fan of french-language ‘bandes-dessinées’, in January 2011 I owned a grand total of zero english-language comics or graphic novels. Now, over thirty decorate my shelves, and I plan on arranging to have more join them soon. Most of these are volume editions of monthly comics, and so this year I have discovered the wonderful worlds of Chew, Fables, Locke & Key, Incognito, The Walking Dead, Sweet Tooth, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Swamp Thing, I Kill Giants, and Serenity, amongst others. Graphic novels have been a means for me to quench my desire for entertaining genre stories at a time when I’ve never been busier, and their shortness a blessing when I couldn’t dedicate time to a novel.

This is all to say that 2011 has been a very different ‘reading year’ to 2010, and so you should keep that in mind when reading the rankings I have prepare below. I read over one hundred books this year, of which more than ninety where either genre novels or graphic novels. The lists below are compilations of my favorite reads, publishers and authors.

I have no wish to bore you (yet), so without further ado, let’s get to it!

LBR’s Top Ten 2011 Novels

I started out the year keeping track of all the genre novels I read and constantly ranking them against each other. That didn’t last much past May, so I’ve had to revaluate quite a few novels and see where they place.

This top ten simply embodies, in my humblest of opinions, what genre literature was about in 2011. These may not be the most popular books published this year, but they are the ones I would most recommend to readers wishing to sample 2011’s vast publication output. This year, as opposed to last year, I’ve ranked the books from 10th to 1st (though I cheat a bit). Don’t take this too seriously, it’s just the representation of one man’s opinion.

10th - Among Thieves, Douglas Hulick

Were it not for the title that follows it on this list, Among Thieves would have surely been the standout fantasy debut of 2011. Douglas Hulick’s tale of the thief Drothe was a thrilling story, and perfectly set the scene - in a wonderfully dark and exciting fantasy world - for the next books in the ‘Tales of the Kin.’ This book single-handedly marked out Hulick as a talent to look out for in the future.

9th - Prince of Thorns, Mark Lawrence

Most probably the fantasy debut which received the most spotlight this year, Mark Lawrence’s debut deserved every bit of attention it got. It is not everyday a write gets called the ‘British George R.R. Martin’ (this in Martin’s own biggest year), but one can certainly see how Lawrence’s darkly twisted book would draw such comparisons. With Jorg, Lawrence has created one of the most cruel anti-heroes known to fantasy, and we just cannot wait to read what atrocities he commits next.

8th - Germline, T.C. McCarthy

Germline came out of no where. With very little publicity or hype to speak of to launch T.C. McCarthy’s science fiction debut, the was little to prepare us for what it would contain. In his tale of war-induced emotional and mental sorrow, McCarthy introduced us to some of the most authentic characters in the science fiction genre. The story in Germline is essentially secondary to the turmoil undergone by it’s disturbed, deeply flawed protagonist Oscar Wendell, yet the fictional events it depicts remain etched in my mind. This is one of the darkest books on this list, but also one of its most complex and fulfilling.

7th - Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Correy

The tag-team of Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham writing under the monicker James S.A. Correy brought us a revitalization of the space opera genre with the explosively entertaining Leviathan Wakes. Abraham’s writerly skill was already known, but combined with the imaginative detail of Franck’s prediction for the future of our solar system, this novel really managed to stand out amongst its peers. Leviathan Wakes is strong prose, well-crafted characters, and thoroughly plotted story which blends elements of other genres into an exciting space opera.

6th - The Book of Transformations, Mark Charan Newton

It always feels cheap to put sequels into these lists, since I feel like readers should be able to pick any book on this list and go off and read it without having to catch up first. Mark Charan Newton’s third book in his ‘Legends of the Red Sun’ series, however, undoubtedly deserves a mention. Newton’s first two books were brilliant in their own way, but in my mind The Book of Transformations more than either of the others demonstrated the finesse of Newton’s subtle melding of genres and tropes. In this book superheroes meet noir, weird, and epic fantasy in a story executed with tact and increased evidence of Newton’s literary skill.

5th - Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon, Mark Hodder

In September 2010, Mark Hodder threw at us one of the most fantastic, mind-bendingly fun steampunk adventures ever created. It seemed he was able to take all of the best elements of this funky sub-genre and throw them into a rich tale, a mix of alternate history and time-travel. He came at us again with The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man in March of this year, and a week ago it would have been this title featured on this list. However I hadn’t, then, read the third ‘Burton & Swinburne’ adventure: Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon. This final novel in the first story-arc of the series showcased Hodder at his best. Though the steampunkery was tuned down, characterization and plotting where better than ever before, and Hodder still managed to give us a good dose of wild genre goodness to sate our thirst. Look for my full review of this soon.

4th - The Kings of Eternity, Eric Brown

Eric Brown has been an established mid-list author for quite some time, but never before The Kings of Eternity had I dipped into his work. The more fool me. This book took me entirely by surprise, in its shortness, simplicity and excellence. This is not in any way, shape or form a novel which bends any genre conventions, or attempts to be particularly original in any way. Brown just wants to tell a good story and does exactly that. This book is simply on this list (and so high up) because it thoroughly entertained me when I wasn’t at all expecting it to, and for that it deserves other readers’ attention.

3rd - The Dragon’s Path, Daniel Abraham

Daniel Abraham showed us his stuff, so to speak, with his ‘Long Price’ quartet in which he delivered an unconventional epic fantasy which featured ephemeral magics and deities, and a story irregularly grounded in its strongly characterized personages. With The Dragon’s Path, Abraham had the desire to bring this type of focused storytelling to a more classical epic fantasy tale. What came out of it is one of the best epic fantasies in years, both familiar in its bearing and fresh in its narration. Solid characters ventured out into a vast world in this first book of a new series, and we simply can’t wait to see where they go from here.

1st - Embassytown, China Miéville with I Don’t Want to Kill You, Dan Wells

Again, I always feel guilty putting a sequel in these lists. Were I not prone to this guilt, you would likely find China Miéville’s stunning Embassytown in second and the conclusion to Dan Well’s brilliant ‘John Cleaver’ books, I Don’t Want to Kill You, in first. But this would largely be due to an emotional decision more than anything else. This is why I chose instead to award a tie for first between these two excellent titles.

Miéville’s latest embodies everything that make his books and approach so wonderful. He took a new genre, space-based science fiction, and gave him his unique treatment of weird, noir and intellectual inquiry. No other book quite enthralled me like Embassytown this year, immersing me completely in the complex and linguistically-peculiar world of Embassytown.

I Don’t Want to Kill You inevitably gets lumped with its two predecessors in my mind. Walking the line between young adult and regular fiction, Dan Wells’ books are amongst my all-time favorites, and the thing is.... I don’t really know why. There’s something in Wells’ intimate retelling of the high school life of John Cleaver, diagnosed psychopath and budding serial killer, which gets to you. As the final volume in the series, I Don’t Want to Kill You was the most emotionally palpable of the lot, and therefore stands out, to me, as the top book published this year. If you’ve not read it, then I once more recommend you check out Wells’ first: I Am Not a Serial Killer.

Notable Mentions

There are a few other novels that stand out for 2011. A few are the ‘big ones’ which were omitted more because everyone knows their worth already than due to any real deficiency on their part. All of these came very close to being featured on the list above.

The Hammer, K.J. Parker

The Winds of Khalakovo, Bradley P. Beaulieu

The Rogue, Trudi Canavan

The Sea Watch + Heirs of the Blade (Shadows of the Apt), Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Ritual, Adam Nevill

The Order of the Scales, Stephen Deas

The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss

The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson

A Dance With Dragons, George R.R. Martin

Rivers of London + Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at this year’s top genre publisher as well as having a bit of discussion about the Graphic Novels I discovered, and most enjoyed, this year.