The 4 books that top my list of Best Books of 2014 share similar attributes (as one would expect): 1) fascinating main characters that I cared about and wanted to linger with; 2) exceptional world-building; and 3) stories that kept me engaged and immersed. Without further ado:
Best Fantasy - Tie
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
I am pretty much assured that I am going to really like a Robert Jackson Bennett novel. Bennett's writing and worldbuilding in City of Stairs is exceptional. There are mysteries, thrills, action and a city so askew and marvelous that it is often breathtaking. To cap it off, the main and secondary characters are captivating and interesting. Bennett mixes these wonderful characters with a fantastic mythology and a riveting story to create one of the best fantasies of 2014. I'm really looking forward to the sequel, City of Blades. (See Qwill's review here.)
Breach Zone by Myke Cole
Cole hit every note correctly with the third novel in his military fantasy Shadow Ops Trilogy. He's gone from strength to strength with this series. The magic system and magical world is wildly inventive and Cole puts you deep into the action as NYC is turned into a battle ground. Breach Zone also deals with issues of haves and have-nots (magical vs. non-magical). And while the novel deals with grand issues, it delves deep into the persona of the characters and is ultimately very moving. As I said in my review (here) "Breach Zone is a stunning novel." Fortunately I don't have long to wait for Cole's next novel - Gemini Cell, which is out on January 27, 2015.
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
I utterly adore this novel. This is the best thriller I've read in ages and ages. Pilgrim is one of those characters that stays with you well after you've finished the novel. The plot is scarily believable but what really makes I Am Pilgrim shine are the characters. The story moves back and forth from Pilgrim to Saracen who are on a collision course throughout the book. After 600 pages I really was disappointed, not in the story, but that I wasn't going to be able to read about Pilgrim any more. This is a fabulous novel all around. Fortunately Hayes is penning a second novel in the series - The Year of the Locust (Sept. 2015). (See Qwill's review here.)
Best Science Fiction/Debut
The Martian by Andy Weir
It's not often that I want to peek at the end of a book, but The Martian almost made me look. Weir sublimely ratchets up the tension throughout the novel - will Mark Watney survive? Watney is an incredible character which is really good since he practically carries the entire book. He's intelligent (as you would expect of an astronaut) and funny and sarcastic. I loved listening to him think as he tries to figure out how to possibly survive being left behind on Mars. It's really hard to believe that this is a debut novel - it's so assuredly and beautifully written. The science is clearly explained without bogging down the story at all and that helps makes this novel so believable. Add this to a character that you just have to root for and you have a superb nail-biter of an SF novel.