The first Hippogriff Awards go to my favorite books published from many years ago through 2012. The reason 2012 is the cutoff is that 2013 is when I really started reviewing a higher volume of books on site, including new releases. So rather than a Top 5, which is what I will be using for the following years, this early category will have a Top 20 due to the number of years it encompasses. So below are my Top 20 favorite books, with a little blurb under each one to explain why it appears on this list, and then my awards.
TOP 20 BOOKS UP THROUGH 2012
1. Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
Though not the first fantasy novel I read, as I mentioned in my review of this book, no other book had such an influence on me as this one did. The mystery behind Corwin’s accident, the concepts of moving through shadow along with the Trumps and the Pattern, the quips, the fast pace – it all blended so well. It’s not without flaws, but the book is so damn good, who cares? There’s a reason why Zelazny was nominated for 14 Nebula awards (winning 3) and 14 Hugo awards (winning 6).
2. The Vanishing Tower – Michael Moorcock
Right behind Zelazny’s influence on me were Moorock’s sword and sorcery tales of the albino with the black soul-sucking sword. This was the first book I was able to find in the series, and I admit it was the Michael Whelan cover that drew me in. Although Stormbringer or the Corum books are superior in content, this is the book that hooked me into Moorcock’s Multiverse, so that’s why it appears here.
3. The Black Company – Glen Cook
My classic review of The Black Company says it all. The military connection, the wit and sarcasm, the battles between Goblin and One-Eye…there’s nothing else like it. Indeed, the inspiration for many of today’s writers of grimdark originates from this book. Say what you will about the books that follow…there is no question that the original The Black Company is an amazing piece of fiction that I hold in high regard.
4. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – J. R. R. Tolkien
When I was 15, I spent the summer with my uncle, who invited me to read his copy of The Hobbit. Up to that point I had read books involving Narnia, Nihm, Prydain, and A Wrinkle in Time – which were considered to be Young Adult. The Hobbit bridged the gap between YA and adult reading, and it does appear later on this list, but it is The Fellowship of the Ring that I find the most appealing of Tolkien’s works. Not only was it incredibly imaginative and immersive, it was also my first “adult” novel, the most challenging book I had ever read at that point in my brief life. The more serious tone, the grave stakes, the world-building, the mystery of Strider and Ringwraiths, Moria, the Balrog, betrayal…all these factors helped to transform me into a more serious reader. Its importance cannot be overstated…without The Fellowship of the Ring, this blog, and my love of fantasy fiction, may never have existed.
5. The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss
Although this book does quite a bit of meandering, in spite of that it makes my Top 5. As I stated in my review that appears on this site, when a book of this quality stumbles, it is still far superior to most everything else in fantasy. The Wise Man’s Fear is one of the best books I’ve ever read.
6. The Sword of Shannara – Terry Brooks
The main complaint about The Sword of Shannara is that it’s derivative of The Lord of Rings – but it was meant to be! Many people know the story of how Lester Del Ray wanted Terry Brooks to write something similar to Tolkien’s works, and Brooks nailed it. I tackled this book not long after finishing The Lord of the Rings, and absolutely loved it. Although it was more shallow, as it did not have Tolkien’s penchant for linguistics and intricate world-building, it nonetheless won me over with tension, the mysterious figure of Allanon, spider gnomes, hints of ruined technology, the Skull Kingdom, and the Druid castle Paranor. Not to mention the awesome Hildebrandt illustrations. For me it continued the momentum I had built up in reading The Lord of the Rings and made it sustainable.
7. The Two Towers – J. R. R. Tolkien
The Two Towers is proof that “middle book syndrome” is not always applicable. From the lonely journey of Frodo and Sam into Mordor, to the Ents tearing down Orthanc, to the epic battle at Helm’s Deep, this book is crucial in bridging the events to the cornerstones of the trilogy. I like it more than The Return of the King, since that novel, despite being excellent, spins it wheels a bit too much, although there is an awful lot of walking, running, and fighting in The Two Towers. But it is still wondrous…and don’t forget Smeagol and Shelob!
8. The Elfstones of Shannara – Terry Brooks
Here Brooks proved he could do more than make derivative stories…he could actually come up with his own ideas, and they were pretty good! It also established Brooks as a master of the “hero’s quest”, which almost all of his books use as a plot device. One of the great things about The Elfstones of Shannara was actually not realized until the next novel, Wishsong of Shannara, when the cost of Wil Ohmsford’s use of magic is fully revealed. It is the ending of The Elfstones of Shannara, however – more heartbreaking than The Sword of Shannara – that left me thinking that Brooks was not afraid to emotionally devastate his characters, which I thought was pretty brave.
9. Stone of Tears – Terry Goodkind
Despite a clumsy writing style, repetitiveness, a controversial use of sex and violence, and a preachy, monotonous feel prevalent in Goodkind’s later books, I absolutely loved Stone of Tears. A number of fantastic elements – the slyph, sorcerer’s sand, Mriswrath capes – and constant tension – make this an outstanding read for me.
10. Libriomancer – Jim C. Hines
You can find a review of Libriomancer here on my site, in which I explain how it completely captivated me, and as a result it has earned a spot in my Top 10. I wish I had thought of it.
11. The Return of the King – J. R. R. Tolkien
Although I love this book, and it should occupy a spot in my Top 10, it has a bit too much of “spinning its wheels” as I mentioned above. Frodo and Sam take a long time to infiltrate Mordor, and the siege of Gondor makes up the rest of the book. It is epic but suffers from serious pacing issues. Still, the bittersweet ending caps a stellar book, as well as one of the greatest series ever written.
12. The Crystal Cave – Mary Stewart
Clearly I am fascinated with first person narratives, and this coming-of-age story is no different. Told from the perspective of a young Merlin in what feels like a fantasy blended with historical events during the collapse of the Roman Empire and the Saxon invasion of Britain, this was absolutely my favorite book of the trilogy. Stewart would go on to write two other books after the initial series was complete, but of the five in total, this is the book that made the biggest impression on me.
13. Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb
This was the first book in which I remember reading about assassins long before it became trendy to write about assassins. However, although there is a fair amount of abuse and darkness, this story isn’t really grimdark…strong characterizations and relationships, along with a certain wolf, give this book a lighter feel and make it an outstanding story, and of course it’s told in my favorite perspective – first person.
14. The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien
Is it really surprising how many Tolkien books are on this list? Although there are some who detest Tolkien, he had a big influence on my imagination. As I mentioned above in The Fellowship of the Ring entry, The Hobbit is important to me as a gateway book, transitioning from a young adult reading level to that of an adult, as I completed The Hobbit, and wanting more, immediately tackled The Fellowship of the Ring.
15. The Way of Kings – Brandon Sanderson
It’s been a great year for reading, but this is the only book I read this year, from the given time period, to have made it on to this list. As I said in my review here on the site, there’s something very special about this book that I can’t put my finger on. It’s possible that the sequels will be even better, but I’m glad I finally got past the intimidating page count and immersed myself in this amazing book.
16. The Eye of the World – Robert Jordan
Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series will always be associated with epic sprawl, but it wasn’t always that way. The first book was outstanding with regards to worldbuilding and the development of the main characters, so much so that it became the inspiration for many books from other authors that would come out later. Although I was tempted to put Towers of Midnight on this list, it’s more appropriate to go with the book that started one of the greatest fantasy epics of all time.
17. The One Tree – Steven R. Donaldson
I still recall the excitement among my friends when this book was released and we rushed out to buy it. The original series was good, but with serious flaws. When The Wounded Land was released, I had greatly anticipated it, and I thought it was an excellent read despite a few issues that held it back. But my friends and I agreed that The One Tree was perhaps Steven Donaldson’s finest work. Incredibly imaginative, and set outside of The Land, with places and creatures only hinted at previously, the book is spectacular. Even the double angst of the two main characters doesn’t manage to derail it.
18. The Bones of the Old Ones – Howard Andrew Jones
I was tempted to put the first book, The Desert of Souls, in this spot, but The Bones of the Old Ones is so damn good – more epic in scope, outstanding pacing, interesting character developments – that it has to appear on this list.
19. The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
Rothfuss is one of only four authors that place two or more of their books on this list. I was blown away by The Name of the Wind, so much so that I had set unfair expectations for The Wise Man’s Fear. Though the magic school setting does get a bit tiring, I was still completely captivated by the story.
20. Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson
I mentioned above that only four authors have more than one book on this list; Tolkien, Brooks, and Rothfuss are the first three, and Sanderson is the fourth. I found Mistborn to be fascinating mostly due to the magic system, but the excellence of the pacing and story are so good, that when you read the sequels, you notice that they are a little more uneven. Mistborn lays out the first pieces of the puzzle that form the amazing ending of the third book.
These are my personal choices…your mileage may vary.
Best Plot: The Fellowship of the Ring
A group of distrustful races are going to accompany some little people and carry the greatest magical item ever created into the heart of the enemy’s lands to destroy it? What could go wrong?
Best Plot Twist: Mistborn
I can’t reveal this one without giving away major spoilers, but Sanderson has proved to be very capable at plot twists.
Best Emotional Moment: The Fellowship of the Ring
Of the two candidates here, Boromir’s fate certainly had a huge impact on the story (and has incredibly powerful effect on me every time I watch the film), but it is what happens to Gandalf in Moria that brought forth some powerful emotions during my first read.
Best Action Sequence: Stone of Tears
A couple of candidates emerge here, such as Richard facing off against the Baka Ban Mana blademasters, Mriswraths, and the Sisters of the Dark.
Best Hero/Heroine: The Way of Kings (Kaladin)
You can see my review for an explanation of this. Aragorn or Frodo in The Return of the King are close runners-up, as is Vin in Mistborn and Corwin in Nine Prince in Amber.
Best Supporting Character: Assassin’s Apprentice (Nighteyes)
Sorry everyone. For me, this one’s not even close, despite how much I love Nom the Sandgorgan in The One Tree and Goblin and One-Eye in The Black Company. Either one of Gollum or Sam Gamgee would be another strong choice. I also liked Lena in Libriomancer but she shines much more brightly in the sequel.
Best Villain: The Black Company (Soulcatcher)
Most villains are overly powerful or work behind the scenes. Soulcatcher was a constant, malignant presence in The Black Company, with quirky traits and a creepy personality. The Howler and The Limper are also good candidates. Glen Cook was an absolute genius when it came to creating villains.
Best Setting: The One Tree
How thrilling it was to read a Thomas Covenant story set outside of The Land. Other candidates would be Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring and Buckkeep Castle with all of its secrets in Assassin’s Apprentice, with a nod to Howard Andrew Jones’ medieval middle-eastern setting in The Bones of the Old Ones.
Best Worldbuilding: The Eye of the World
For a perfect example of why, check out this series of brilliant posts by Adam Whitehead over at The Wertzone.
Best Names/Languages: The Fellowship of the Ring
Not even close, folks. A professor of linguistics wins this one going away.
Best Magic Item: The Vanishing Tower (Stormbringer)
A black, soul-sucking sword? Hell yeah! It beats out The One Ring and the Sword of Shannara pretty handily.
Best Magic System: Libriomancer
It was close between this and Sanderson’s intricately detailed Allomancy in Mistborn, but pulling items out of books is simply brilliant.
Best Evil Creature/Monster/Beast: The Fellowship of the Ring (Balrog)
Tolkien is the master of creating bad-ass monsters. Smaug gets a vote as does Shelob and the Ringwraiths, but the Balrog is the best of the bunch.
Best Non-human Race: The Way of Kings (Pardashi)
Sanderson has a knack for creating interesting races. Tolkien’s Ents come very close to taking the top spot, and I’m still debating it.
Best Ending: The Sword of Shannara
Like another entry on this list, describing why I like the ending would be too spoiler-y, so let’s just say I had a big grin on my face by the time I finished the last sentence.
Best Cover: The Vanishing Tower
Michael Whelan – simply the best.