Best of 2017: Notable Debuts

I’m always excited at the end of each year to have discovered favorite debut novelists or new authors who have broken onto the scene for the very first time, and 2017 was no exception. Today on this special day I want to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a joyous holiday season, and also to shine a spotlight on these rising stars and thank them for the gifts of their wonderful debuts.

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

Kings of the Wyld follows a motley crew of aging yet charming mercenaries as they reunite to rescue a bandmate’s daughter trapped behind the walls of a city under siege. After years of questing and brawling, Clay Cooper is ready put his past behind him. He’s married now with a young child, and he’s looking forward to retiring to a life of quiet and leisure. Fate, however, has different plans. One day, his old bandmate Gabe shows up with a desperate request for help. It seems Gabe’s daughter Rose has run off and gotten herself into trouble again, only this time it’s a matter of life and death. This book has it all: gritty anti-heroes and twisted villains, epic battles and heart-stopping fight scenes, exotic locales and all manner of fantastical creatures. Nicholas Eames has reworked the classic quest narrative and presented it to us in a fun and refreshing package.  If this sounds like your kind of story, then you’re in for a treat. You might even find yourself laughing out loud along the way. (Read my full review…)

The Nine by Tracy Townsend

Taking place in an alternate universe in which science has become a religion and God is seen as the great Experimenter, The Nine involves a magical self-scribing book which lists the nine people whose actions will determine the fate of world. It’s the mother of all experiments, and needless to say, there are various factions who will go to great lengths to affects its outcome. I love reading fantasy, I love reading science fiction, and occasionally I’ll even be in the mood for a bit of both at once. Is it any wonder then that this book hooked me on page one? Defying genre traditions and labels, Tracy Townsend’s debut is a fresh and bold novel that marches to the beat of its own drum, delighting me at every turn. By blending together a number of speculative elements, the author has created something that’s altogether different and new. (Read my full review…)

The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

Although there’s no magic formula to determine what makes a good novel (not to mention I can’t always explain why certain books simply work well for me while others do not), there are still a few key elements I generally look for, including believable and compelling characters, realistic atmospheric and world-building, and writing that is smooth and easy to get into. The Tethered Mage managed to check all these boxes and also succeeded in delivering an absorbing plot with an altogether rewarding blend of intrigue and fantasy. Though not the most original story ever, the familiar elements still resonated strongly with me because of how well everything was put together. If you’re looking for a traditional fantasy that hits all the right buttons of a great debut, I highly recommend checking this one out. I am already craving the sequel. (Read my full review…)

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

Meet Nahri, a young hustler who makes a living scamming the superstitious and gullible on the streets of 18th century Cairo. Even though she has the uncanny ability to sense illness in a person simply by touching them, she’s never truly believed that what she does is magic. But then one day during a zar ceremony, in which Nahri was just supposed to go through the motions, she accidentally calls forth a daeva warrior. But said daeva isn’t just any spirit to be summoned, for he is Dara, the greatest warrior to have ever lived. Right away, he recognizes Nahri for what she really is—something not all entirely human—and soon the two of them are on the run, trying to say one step ahead of the dark forces pursuing them. Their only safe haven would be Daevabad, the city of gilded brass walls and enchantments, where Dara claims there will be protection to be found. Many authors have endeavored to tell a similar story, but S.A. Chakraborty has achieved something quite unique and remarkable with City of Brass, incorporating elements from Middle Eastern folklore along with a heady infusion of magic combined with the rich history and culture of the time period. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it! (Read my full review…)

Age of Assassins by R.J. Barker

“To catch an assassin, use an assassin…” This is the situation Queen Adran has found herself in when she discovers a plot to murder her son, the royal heir Prince Aydor. But rather than showing her hand, the queen has decided to handle the matter quietly, privately seeking out the services of an expert in the field. Setting a trap, the queen lures her old friend the accomplished killer-for-hire Merela Karn to Castle Maniyadoc, tasking her to root out the would-be assassin. Enter our protagonist Girton Clubfoot, who is Merela’s young apprentice. Pretending to be a squire, Girton is put through combat training with the other castle boys to maintain the deception. Hiding behind a mask of clumsiness and ineptitude, he begins to ingratiate himself with the other noble sons, when all the while he is actually keeping his eyes and ears open, discreetly gathering information that would help them discover who might want Prince Aydor dead. If you’re looking for a compelling mix of fantasy and mystery along with a bit of wisdom and heart to go with your deadly intrigue, then I strongly urge you to pick up this book as soon as you can. (Read my full review…)

The Empire’s Ghost by Isabelle Steiger

The Empire’s Ghost was a book that sounded right up my alley: an epic fantasy that touts a complex, multi-faceted story complete with a rich cast of characters and many points of view, not to mention the potential of a brand new setting filled with unique cultures and warring kingdoms—all set within a world where magic has once been lost but is ready to be found again. As you can imagine, there are a lot of character POVs involved, and with a large number of characters also comes a large number of plot threads. I enjoyed the story weaving Isabelle Steiger has done here, and by the end of the book I was really starting to appreciate how everybody and everything was coming together. Though it does take bit of time and patience to realize the author’s vision, The Empire’s Ghost is a solid entry into the epic fantasy genre and an admirable debut. I expect the sequel will be throwing us straight into the action, and I’m looking forward to more revelations and answers. (Read my full review…)

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock

An Alchemy of Masques and Shadows turned out to an incredible surprise and one of the most engrossing reads I’ve had in a long time. In truth though, I hadn’t known what to make of the novel’s description when it first crossed my path. Its story’s scattered allusions initially prompted me to approach this one with a wariness I usually reserve for unknown quantities, but ultimately this mishmash of genre elements ended up being one of my favorite aspects of the book. There seems to be something for everyone, whether it’s science fiction, fantasy, historicals, steampunk or action and adventure that tickles your fancy. Lovable characters made this one a joy to read, not to mention my delight at how almost every page would bring something new and awe-inspiring about the world to the table. If you haven’t made reading this a priority yet, you should get on that right away. As a series opener, this book made a huge impression on me, and I can’t wait to see where the story will go next. (Read my full review…)

The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

The Court of Broken Knives follows a rough crew of mercenaries as they close upon their destiny of Sorlost, the Sekemleth Empire’s seat of power. Nervous and inexperienced, Marith is the new recruit, a young Adonis with the face of an angel and a dark secret in his blood. Tobias is his squad captain, a thoughtful but pragmatic leader who keeps his purpose close to this heart and his eye on the prize. But the mercenaries are just a small piece of the big picture. They follow the orders of Orhann Emmereth, a powerful nobleman and counselor to the Emperor. A hardened and jaded politician, Orhann fears for the future of the Sekemleth Empire and believes that doom will come to them all come unless he can bring about a new leader to rise from the ashes of the old. It is he who has hired Tobias and his mercenaries, tasking them to kill the Emperor and everyone else in his court. Using multiple perspectives, the author weaves a tale of intrigue, passion, and betrayal about the complexities of human nature and war. The book is more than the sum of its parts, and the plot follows a slow-burn approach that gradually builds to a violent climax. (Read my full review…)

The Waking Land by Callie Bates

The Waking Land encompasses a lot of the elements I love, including a courageous heroine, an evocative magic system tied to the living earth, and a complex world built upon the political alliances and animosities between various kingdoms. Books like these are usually well represented in my reading repertoire despite their familiar elements, simply because I always know I’ll have a good time with them and they remind me of why I love the genre. Plus, there are certain aspects which were handled extremely well, like the world-building and magic. Under Bates’ deft touch, some of these well-known tropes are transformed into something slightly different—just enough to offer a bit of flavor without too much distraction. A strong protagonist, an entertaining plot, and a well-crafted world are all reasons why this would make a great pick for any fantasy reader, especially if you enjoy a dash of enchantment and magic. The author has a bright future ahead of her, and I look forward to her next project. (Read my full review…)

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

The Punch Escrow all the makings of a runaway hit which will no doubt strike a chord with a broad range of readers, reaching even those who might not normally read sci-fi. While there’s a lot of techno-jargon in this story, as well as—I won’t lie—a significant amount of quantum theory involved, much of it is presented in an engaging, entertaining and often humorous way. The ideas are like nothing else I’ve read before, which makes the story difficult to describe, but maybe it’s just as well because I would be loath to spoil anything for prospective readers. This is a book full of amazing surprises, and it’s really no exaggeration to say that it’s best to go in with fresh eyes, knowing as little as possible about the plot. All I’ll say is that it’s extremely fun, fast-paced, and thrilling, yet there’s also a deeper, tender side to our protagonist’s existential journey and moments where he experiences meaningful philosophical reverie. I can’t recommend it enough! (Read my full review…)

Devil’s Call by J. Danielle Dorn

From the moment I started reading Devil’s Call, I was rapt. J. Danielle Dorn masterfully draws the reader in with her incredible debut, a horror-fantasy western featuring an emotional and gritty tale of revenge. I have a predilection for western-flavored fantasy, and this book is easily the best I’ve read in years. First and foremost I loved Li Lian AKA Lily, a unique heroine who is as fierce in her pride of her magical heritage as she is in her devotion to those she loves. She felt like a genuine character from the start, her words in this novel ringing true to the depths of her experiences and emotions. All told, this book was a poignant and riveting experience that took me by surprise. Westerns are always fun, and westerns with revenge plots are even better, especially when the struggle between good and evil is portrayed in such a heart-wrenchingly personal and visceral way. Devil’s Call had everything I wanted, from a strong and compelling heroine to a mesmerizing fast-paced plot that is guaranteed to engage, captivate and leave you breathless. (Read my full review…)

Heartstone by Elle Katharine White

Pride and Prejudice retellings and other Austenesque-inspired stories have traditionally been hit-or-miss with me, but there was something about Heartstone that drew me to it right away. Might it have been the dragons? Okay yeah, it was the dragons. This book is actually a pretty faithful rendition of the original, in some places following the plot so closely that I was surprised the author took such a direct route. The publisher blurb for this book describes it as Elle Katharine White infusing Austen’s classic with her own brand of magic, and I find that wholly accurate. But with the exception of the ending, I wouldn’t say that the strength of Heartstone is in its story since most of the plot closely mirrors the original, but where it really shines is the world-building. White has fleshed out the world with a vibrant culture that’s entirely of her own imagination, and there’s no denying the book was at its best when it was doing its own thing, delving into the fantastical. All told it was a delightful experience that felt comfortably familiar and fresh all at once, and I highly recommend it. (Read my full review…)

The Return by Joseph Helmreich

The Return is what I would describe as hard science fiction—lots of heavy emphasis on technical details, especially surrounding the fields of astronomy and quantum physics. The result is a lot of complex and advanced scientific theory going over my head and plenty more technobabble I’m sure I didn’t quite grasp. So why did I enjoy this book much? Well, for one thing it was thoroughly addicting. Combining an altogether engaging sci-fi premise with the fast-paced intensity of a breathless thriller, Joseph Helmreich’s clever debut is a wild and unexpected journey worth taking. If these are the kinds of stories you like, then this book will work very well for you. From the very start, I was impressed with Helmreich’s sleek and polished writing style and the clever way he structured the plot. and despite the amount of scientific jargon, reading this never felt like a chore thanks to the writing being very readable and the punchy pace keeping me from putting the book down. (Read my full review…)

Magicians Impossible by Brad Abraham

Brad Abraham’s Magicians Impossible is a fascinating debut that blends together many genres, reading much like a magic school story for adults wrapped in a part-urban fantasy, part-spy thriller package. The novel stars protagonist Jason Bishop, a 30-year-old bartender from small town New York who has always felt deep in his heart that he was meant for bigger things. For many, such desires are nothing more than a pipe dream, but unbeknownst to Jason, the potential in him has always been in his blood. The existence of a magical secret world was a shock to him, when at his father’s funeral, a mysterious stranger told Jason the truth: his father was part of a coven of mages known as the Invisible Hand, and he did not really commit suicide—he was murdered by another shadowy society of magic users called the Golden Dawn. Now the Invisible Hand needs Jason to complete the work his father started. But first, he will have to undergo and complete his secret agent mage training—and he’s got a lot of catching up to do. (Read my full review)

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

I was both excited and a little nervous about starting Strange Practice, but as it turned out, I ended up really enjoying it. Swiftly paced at times, but also slow-moving at others, I can see how some readers would be put off by the story’s hodgepodge construction and eccentric writing style. Fortunately though, the book’s mix of humor, mystery, urban fantasy, and gothic horror ultimately struck all the right chords with me. The language in Strange Practice is quite formal, despite the novel being an urban fantasy story set in the present day, but I was completely charmed by its tone and wry sense of humor. The result is both strange and alluring, frequently transporting my mind back to the Victorian era, even though the text is peppered with references to modern day amenities and technology. For me this was a quick read which I found it hard to put down, and I’m already looking forward to the sequel. (Read my full review…)

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32 Comments on “Best of 2017: Notable Debuts

  1. Omg so many good ones, I am gonna bookmark this to make sure I have all on my wishlist, I tend to forget to put things there, it usually takes me like 5 times seeing a bok

    Like

  2. I’ve read only four of these, and there are a few more of them on my radar, but I have to agree: this has been an amazing year for debut novels, which is nothing short of wonderful from a reader’s point of view 🙂

    Merry Christmas!!!

    Like

  3. I am way behind on reading this year’s debuts! I’ve seen many of these floating around, but not read a single one (it’s been a strange, strange year). The Nine looks like my best bet.

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  4. Awesome list! Quite a few of these I’d heard of and already planned to read (Kings of Wyld and I remember your recommendation of Punch Escrow) But I’m also really curious about City of Brass now and Strange Practice sounds fun 🙂

    Like

  5. I want to read ‘The Empire’s Ghost’ now, that sounds like it’s something for me as well, thanks for highlighting 🙂

    ‘Kings of the Wyld’ was definitely a great debut! And I recently got a sample of ‘The City of Brass’, it sounds pretty cool!

    Like

  6. I’m surprised you didn’t put The Bear & The Nightingale by Katherine Arden on here. Then again, the list you have here is quite the list. I’d still like to read Heartstone at some point, and I agree that The Waking Land is fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Best of 2017: 10 Underrated Books & Hidden Gems | The BiblioSanctum

  8. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read For The First Time In 2017 | The BiblioSanctum

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