These are our top books of 2018 in order of author’s last name by the Fantasy Focus Review Team. It was an amazing year for Fantasy and it was quite difficult to come up with this list. There are so many honourable mentions, but we’re quite certain you won’t go wrong with any of these.
The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft: I will likely soon be known on this blog as the reviewer that refuses to shut up about The Books of Babel series by Josiah Bancroft. I was extremely fortunate enough to get my hands on an advanced copy of the third book. The first book in the series, Senlin Ascends, is nothing short of a masterpiece. The Hod King just might surpass it in excellence as the best installment in the series to date. – Dani
King of Assassins by RJ Barker: RJ Barker’s final instalment of The Wounded Kingdom is an immense emotional masterpiece. He ties together all of his plot points beautifully and has ensured that his trilogy will be an enduring classic. – Michael E.
Burning Ashes by James Bennett: Draconic hero Ben Garston’s quest is brutal and uncompromising and James Bennett demands that we journey with him from the beginning. His prose shifts from the standard to the abstract poetic much like Rushdie and David Miller, and while the story is excellent, Bennett’s prose is a wonder to behold and the true star. – Michael E.
The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus: I don’t usually read movie-tie ins. But I made an exception for this one and do not regret it. Anyone that was a fan of del Toro’s film will likely enjoy this read. It departs from the movie in several ways, and every one of those departures is a brilliant improvement. – James
One of Us by Craig DiLouie: This book hit me hard. In this alternate United States, the 1960s saw the rise of a virus called the germ. Anyone that has the germ will see no effects of it themselves but their children will be born extremely mutated. Their face may be upside-down, they may grow fungus on their skin, they may bear a strong resemblance to a dog or a gorilla. One of us explored what it means to be human in a way that hit home hard and refused to let up. This is one of the most difficult and emotional books that I have ever had the pleasure of reading and it is going to stay with me for a long time. – Dani
Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames: A brilliant sequel to an amazing debut. Bloody Rose adds new layers to the world first introduced in Kings of the Wyld. It’s a different kind of story compared to the first book. Where Kings focuses on a band of old, retired heroes, Rose shows us the life on the road for the “modern” band. Despite any differences between the books, I still felt that this story had all the charm that made me fall in love with the first. – James
Quelling by Angie Grigaliunas: After a phenomenal debut, the civil unrest in this sequel grows in a brilliant example of worldbuilding and character development. The rebellion’s wheel is turning. . . – Michael B.
Never Die by Rob J Hayes: I have to believe that Hayes just spent months watching an endless stream of martial arts films and anime as research for this novel. A love for that genre shines through in every page. Creative worldbuilding and amazing characters make for a fun, action-packed story that I thoroughly enjoyed. – James
Knights of the Dead God by James Jakins: A beautifully written tale that is actually a spin off of Jakins’ Jack Bloodfist series. Centered around a Paladin and a Half Orc 6 year old girl, It feels important, epic and game changing, and not once did I doubt Jakins’ ability to wrap the novel up effectively in less than 200 pages. His pacing was perfect, and it remained so to the very last word. – Michael E.
The Traitor God by Cameron Johnston: This debut novel brings everything you want from a new fantasy. Edrin Walker is a powerful magician, exiled from his home on the understanding that his friends will be protected in his absence. When Lynas, his closest friend, is brutally murdered, Edrin returns and finds himself thrust into a much larger fight than he anticipated and people on every side want him dead. Fast-paced, engaging and ambitious. – Shona
Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa: Shadow of the Fox combines everything I love about Japanese folklore and anime into one place. It’s a quick and easy read, totally reliant on every classic anime trope and cliche in the books. Pretty dojinshi boys, yokai and a mischievous fox, as well as the most tried and true quest of an ancient scroll being the key to saving the world. If you want to read your anime, instead of watching I would recommend it. It’s a fun book, and if you’re unfamiliar with anime or don’t know about sickle weasels or fox spirits, it’ll be more of a unique treat for you. – Noelle
Jade City by Fonda Lee: Everything about this story is fascinating. Set in an Asian-inspired world with 1980s-ish level technology, the island nation of Kekon where Jade grants magical, superhero-like abilities, has long been in isolation just up until a few decades ago. Now that their borders have opened to the wider world, the mob families that once all but ruled Kekon are playing parts in international politics with nations that covet their jade. From its amazing writing, dynamic characters, and remarkably creative world, this book kept me on my toes from beginning to end. – Dani
Ravencry by Ed McDonald: Favorite book of 2018 hands down. By far. Nothing else comes close to the wonderful, rich, gritty details of the Misery and Rhyalt’s gruesome and haunted past. I found myself completely entranced by the storytelling and glued to every detail that painted the most graphic, yet heroic adventure story about a man trying to look out for his comrades and save a town that’s falling to pieces. If you like rich world-building in a more gruesome world, you can’t find a much better adventure than this one. – Noelle
Priest of Bones by Peter McLean: While I read a lot of indy fantasy, occasionally I do receive an review copy form a traditional publisher. Priest of Bones just happens to be one of those. I have to say, I was absolutely blown away by the dark world world Peter McLean has created. Centering around a group of returning conscripted soldiers who used to be criminal gangsters, it chronicles the Pious men, named after their leader Thomas Piety, who return home to find their territory taken over by outsiders, and their efforts to take it back. There is also an overarching conspiracy that has repercussions for the entire kingdom. With A fantastic cast of characters and a well described setting, this fast paced dark fantasy has something for any fantasy fan. – Steve
Priest of Bones by Peter McLean: This is a brilliant, gritty, fantasy story. Tomas Piety returns from war to discover that his businesses have been taken over by a rival ‘company’ and his people are starving and frightened. As he sets about reclaiming what was his, Piety discovers that the war isn’t over and there’s more to the troubles in Ellinburg than meets the eye. Violent but ultimately hopeful, all fans of gritty fantasy should read this. – Shona
Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell: Brutal, compelling and gut-wrenching from start to finish, Kings of Paradise is an epic soaked in the blood of its fallen. – Michael B.
Straight Outta Fangton by Charles Phipps: Urban fantasy in the highest quality, this is exactly how I would imagine Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines would be if written in this day and age. Funny, thought provoking and brilliant. – Michael B.
Wraith Lord by CT Phipps: Being a huge fan of the first book in this series, Wraith Knight, I was excited to see the sequel being written. Definitely a worthy sequel. Jacob Riversson is adjusting to his unlife as the new god of Evil, although for a god of evil, he isn’t exactly Sauron. Along with his two wives, who he shared the godly power with, Jacob has to fight the avatars of the Lawgiver, god of Good, who is more evil than Jacob will ever be. With amazing characters, a fast paced plot and and one of my favorite fantasy settings, I can’t recommend this one highly enough. – Steve
Son of a Liche by J. Zachary Pike: Another sequel to one of my favorite books, in this case Orconomics, the second book in the Dark Profits series takes everything that works in the first book like a creative plot, excellent characters and loads of humor, as well as a dash of darkness, shakes it all up, and amps it up to 11! Adding even more of what made Orconomics an SPFBO award finalist, This book will definitely grab hold of any fantasy fan, and not let go. – Steve
The Hyena and the Hawk by Adrian Tchaikovsky: The final instalment in the Echoes of the Fall trilogy, The Hyena and the Hawk sees all the peoples from the Crown of the World to the River Kingdom of Old Croc, come together to fight the legendary Plague People who are destroying villages all across the land. A fantastic finale to a wonderful trilogy with hints at links to Tchaikovsky’s larger series, Shadows of the Apt. If you haven’t read these books yet, start now. – Shona