In 2016 I read about half of what is normal for me. Most of that reading happened in the Spring, and it slowly tapered off throughout the year into a bunch of unfinished books, books I bought and never finished, or a few books I forced myself to finish yet did not like. Not many of them stood out to me, I’m sure a good portion of what I read and hated was due to my mood more than the quality of the story, but still not many left a good impression.
There were a few exceptions, as I hope there always should be, such as I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells. I was a bit behind the mark in this series. I have been an avid listener of the podcast Writing Excuses (which he co-hosts) for years now, so I’m not sure what took me so long to pick it up. I was pleasantly surprised. What shocked me most about liking the book was not only I read it on Kindle (I hate reading books digitally), but it was also of the thriller/horror/YA trend that has been filling the bestseller lists lately. I’m not a huge fan of this genre.
I can only think of a few others I would even bother mentioning that I read in 2016. To top that off, most were published years ago, and I was just catching up on them. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick was a fantastic nonfiction work on living in North Korea; Light in August by William Faulkner was one of the few I had never read by him, one of my favorites of 20th Century lit; Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch is third in an on-going fantasy detective series I picked up a while back. I read a few others, but they were either unmemorable, or I hated them.
I try to stay current on upcoming fantasy or contemporary literature. To me, 2017 looks it will be almost as dull as 2016 was, but I hope I am wrong there. When perusing the Spring debuts, I saw nothing that would peak my interest in my standard categories. I shifted to two other genres I tend to pick up once in awhile, some off-beat mysteries (as you may guess, the occasional urban fantasy that does NOT include vamps or werewolves) and the science fiction debut list. Nothing there really caught my eye either.
Just as I was beginning to think I would have to go back to some older stuff, in hopes it might enthuse me to start binging again, the book popped up on a Spring release list: Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb.
Here is the thing about Robin Hobb: most cover art on her books are awful. I just hate them so much. They look like the covers to re-releases of classics months before a movie based on the novel is coming out; no Alexandre Dumas book should be sitting on a bookstore shelf with Leonardo DiCaprio’s face on the cover. Nor did Matt Damon make me want to re-read The Martian. Whether they are great actors, or books, movies what have you, it’s just the way it looks.
When picking up a Robin Hobb novel, the adage “never judge a book by its cover” indeed holds firm. It is some of the best fiction I have ever read. She sits in that sweet intersection of Dickens, Tolkien, and LeGuinn. Her books are not difficult to understand, but they are far from any standard pulp that is released. She has the standard tropes of kingdoms, kings and an orphan with unique abilities who will save it all, but her writing never crosses the line of what is vaguely familiar; they are unique. And perhaps my favorite of all, and no spoilers here just bluntness: you will not get the ending you hope for or expect. No, her books have an odd bleakness to their “happy” conclusions.
Now, I’m not saying there will be no great books coming out. I saw a Mark Lawrence novel to be released. Other authors releasing novels are N.K. Jemisin, Neil Gaiman; and while I haven’t read any I’ve heard great things about Pierce Brown and V.E. Schwab. It’s just that I wouldn’t rush out to grab any of those in hardcover, or eagerly await them.
But this new Robin Hobb novel, this I am anticipating. I cannot wait to sit down and savor every second of her story because that’s how I’ve always preferred to read her novels. I never skim, and if it takes me two weeks to read a story of hers, then so be it.
I guess this is a thank you to her. She has made the upcoming Spring line-up something to look forward to; I cannot wait for May.
For those who can pick up good books with awful, just embarassing covers, here is a link to her Goodreads:
Start with Assassin's Apprentice; I promise it won't disapoint if you enjoy Fantasy. Plus, the original 90's cover art is the best you'll get.