Hello and welcome to my Second Annual BeerRantsAndBooks Blogger’s Choice Book Awards! In preparing for this post I’ve gone through my notes on all the books I reviewed this past year and compiled a list of my favorite characters and stories. I’m quite pleased with how strong all the nominees were this year, though that did mean making my final decisions was no easy task!
To note, I considered for these awards any book I read in 2018, regardless of when it was initially published. As much as I’d like to, I simply don’t have the time to focus solely upon new releases. With that said, bring on the nominees!
Best Leading Male Character
Dalinar Kholin (Oathbringer, by Brandon Sanderson – Book Three in the Stormlight Archive): Oathbringer was Dalinar’s turn to take center stage in the Stormlight Archive and he certainly made good use of his time. In this book he emerged not only as a leader capable of uniting humanity, but also someone who may have the potential to stand up to Cosmere bad guy Odium as well.
Hadi (Frankenstein in Baghdad, by Ahmed Saadawi): Hadi stands out on this list in that unlike the other characters here, he is not a fantasy hero. Instead, he’s a junk trader with a drinking problem who has spent months morning the loss of a friend who died in a suicide bombing. To find purpose in his grief, he begins the grim task of collecting body parts and sewing them together in the hopes that a completed corpse can get a dignified burial in honor of his friend.
Kvothe (The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss – Book One in the Kingkiller Chronicles): Although Kvothe was the star of two books I read this past year, I am nominating only his performance in The Name of the Wind as it was his most likeable. In this book we are told (by him) about how his seemingly exceptional skills, determination, and wit enabled him to rise from an orphan living in poverty to a gifted aspiring arcanist.
Roaden (Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson): The Prince of Arelon, Roaden is an idealistic, charismatic young man who pushes his father to implement economic and social reforms their kingdom desperately needs. On the eve of his wedding, however, he is afflicted by a disease called the Shaod and exiled with others like him to the city of Elantris. On the verge of giving up, he instead finds a new purpose in organizing his fellow outcasts.
Winner: I went back and forth on all of these characters, but ultimately my decision is Roaden. I found him very likeable and thought his selfless desire to constantly work for the betterment of others helped push him past the often arrogant Kvothe.
Best Leading Female Character
Adda Karpe (Barbary Station, by R.E. Stearns): Adda was truly a joy to meet. An extremely talented programmer/hacker and aspiring space pirate, she was also an extreme introvert (like myself!) who finds the energy and motivation to get through the day by cuddling her girlfriend and harvesting the hallucinogenic mushrooms she uses to help focus on work.
Lisette Toutournier (Everfair, by Nisi Shawl): A free-spirited French woman who rises to a highly influential position in the fictional African nation of Everfair. In addition to her diplomatic skills, her keen intellect and life-long fascination with machines put her right at home in her new surroundings. Through the course of the book, her duties and obligations push her to confront both her identity as a woman of mixed race and the dynamics of her decades spanning relationship with the ex-wife of her former lover.
Sarene (Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson): After learning of her husband-to-be’s suspicious death upon arriving in a foreign land, this cunning, sharp-tongued princess wasted little time establishing herself in her new home. Between inserting herself in local politics, training the previously idle court ladies in fighting techniques, and providing humanitarian aid to the outcast people of Elantris, she becomes a force for good in an otherwise stagnant kingdom.
Shallan Davar (Oathbringer, by Brandon Sanderson – Book Three in the Stormlight Archive): Shallan overcame a lot in this story; she came to grips with her multiple personalities, confronted her past family traumas, resolved a love triangle (further complicated by the aforementioned multiple personalities), and stepped into her powers as a Radiant. She also played a pivotal role in some very key situations, cementing her position as a key player in the fight against Odium.
Winner: I honestly could (and even did) make a case for each of these women and indeed went back and forth on my final decision multiple times. Upon my final review, however, I found Lisette to be the best choice. She was a deep, multifaceted character whose story exposed me to a fresh perspective that really made me think.
Best Supporting Male Character
Bast (The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss – Book Two in the Kingkiller Chronicles): Companion to an older Kvothe in his guise as an innkeeper, Bast is certainly more than meets the eye. Not only is he a fae/demon of some kind, but underneath his often laid-back and jovial exterior lies a ruthless desire to see his tutor restored to his former glory.
Da Shi (The Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin – Book One of Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy): I’m pretty sure you’re not sure you’re supposed to like him, but this detective had a certain vulgar charm and ruthless cunning that made him stand out for me.
Kiin (Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson): Sarene’s uncle and political exile, Kiin was a kindly family man, excellent cook, and former pirate who provided his niece with some much-needed support in her new home.
Winner: This one goes to Bast. He was just such an interesting character and I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of what is going on with him. I can’t wait to learn more of his backstory and see what inspires his a actions. Assuming, of course, that this series ever gets finished.
Best Supporting Female Character
Devi (The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss – Book Two in the Kingkiller Chronicles): An underground money-lender who despite her pixie-like appearance and flirtatious nature has by all accounts earned her nickname “Demon Devi.” She also turns out to be an extremely gifted alchemist and sympathist who enjoys collecting favors from interesting people.
Lift (Oathbringer, by Brandon Sanderson – Book Three in the Stormlight Archive): Lift used her “awesomeness” to steal more than a few scenes in this book, most notably by crashing the private visions of a minor deity and later on by playing a key role in foiling the plans of a considerably larger one. She also managed to keep her irreverent, and hungry, outlook on the world despite having matured a bit since her previous appearance.
Sam (The Last Days of New Paris, by China Mieville): A mysterious photographer/secret agent who joins forces with the main character Thibaut to navigate the Nazi and demon infested streets of Paris. Her true intentions, however, remain something of a mystery.
Winner: As much as I gave some serious last-minute consideration to Devi, it felt wrong to not choose Lift. She’s such a fun character to have around in any situation. She’s also the nominee I’d most want to hang out with; maybe hit up an all you can eat buffet to chat about life, the universe, and everything before she runs off.
Best Supernatural Character
Exquisite Corpse (The Last Days of New Paris, by China Mieville): The physical manifestation of a surrealist art exercise, it didn’t speak at all but its presence certainly loomed large throughout the story. It’s fascination with, and protectiveness of, Thibaut brought an added curiosity to an already weird tale.
Wyndle (Edgedancer, by Brandon Sanderson – Book 2.5 in the Stormlight Archive): Lift’s vine-like spren companion and proud owner of a chair garden in the Cognitive Realm. For as impulsive and capricious as his partner may be, Wyndle is equally level-headed and logical. Often a voice of sense and reason, his kindly advice and dry humor brings a balance to the duo that makes them quite a team.
Whatsitsname (Frankenstein in Baghdad, by Ahmed Saadawi): A corpse sewn together from human remains collected at bomb scenes throughout downtown Baghdad, the Whatitsname came to life when entered by the soul of a slain security guard. Initially seeking revenge for each of its parts, it ultimately comes to question the righteousness of its quest.
Winner: The tough part about this category was that not was each character so different, but the stories they came from were all very different as well. After some deliberation, the winner here is Whatsitsname, on account of the questions it raised about the roles of justice, vengeance, and order in a society racked by violence.
Favorite Science Fiction Book
Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie (Book One of the Imperial Radch Trilogy): Simplified greatly, this was the story of a once-sprawling troop ship AI now confined to a single, human body through a complicated series of political maneuverings and betrayals. Seeking revenge for its lost lives, our main character pins her hopes on locating a lost relic from a conquered civilization.
Persepolis Rising, by James S.A. Corey (Book Seven of the Expanse Series): While the old powers in the Solar System have been slowly rebuilding their strength following the cataclysmic events of the previous novel, new forces emerge from beyond the ring gates seeking to expand their reach.
The Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin (Book One of Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy): The story of a modern-day Chinese research scientist who stumbles upon a Cultural Revolution-era conspiracy involving contact with alien life.
Winner: This really came down to Ancillary Justice and The Three Body Problem, and I really had to think hard about which story I liked more. I put myself in a tough position on this one, so I am going with my gut answer and deciding upon Ancillary Justice. As much as a I loved the harder sci-fi angle of the Three Body Problem, I got into the story of Ancillary Justice in a way that made it very hard to pick against. Moving on before I change my mind.
Favorite Fantasy Book
Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss (Book One of the Kingkiller Chronicles): This story began the journey of the prodigy Kvothe. After escaping from a group of demons that murdered his parents and traveling companions as a child, Kvothe overcame being a penniless orphan to enlist in a prestigious University to study the magical arts. Along the way, he makes a rather impressive and memorable list of friends and foes.
Oathbringer, by Brandon Sanderson (Book Three in the Stormlight Archive): The forces of Honor and Cultivation are gearing up for their first direct confrontation with Odium with nothing less than the fate of their world in the balance. And as if that wasn’t enough, each of the story’s heroes have some pretty major personal issues to work out as well
Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson: Once a beacon of progress, the city of Elantris has fallen into ruin after magic system supporting it has faltered. In its shadow, the Kingdom of Arelon is desperately seeking to secure its borders against the rapidly expanding Fjorden Empire.
Winner: There is now way I can’t pick Oathbringer. I don’t know if that’s entirely fair given where it occurs in its series, but my expectations for this going in were sky-high and the book more than delivered. It was a very long book, but still felt packed full of action, world building, and character development that culminated in one epic battle.
Favorite Non-Fiction Book
Radio Free Boston – The Rise and Fall of WBCN, by Carter Allen: A behind-the-scenes look at Boston’s WBCN radio station from its founding in 1968 to its eventual demise in 2009, told by the people who worked there.
Barrel Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business, by Josh Noel: The story of how Chicago’s Goose Island Brewing Company rose to become one of the early champions of “craft beer” in the United States and how its sale to the multinational conglomerate known as AB-Inbev changed the American beer industry.
Summer of ‘68, by Tim Wendell: An examination of the 1968 baseball season and how the World Series matchup between the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals reflected the social unrest going on at the time.
Winner: I’m going for the nostalgic pick here and selecting Radio Free Boston. It was a fun and informative look at my favorite radio station growing up.
Well, that rounds out my 2018 awards. It was a great year for reading and I look forward to seeing what 2019 has in store. See you all in the new year!