“2011 was the best year ever for paranormal fantasy…”
– Paul Goat Allen
I’ll admit it: after the phenomenal year paranormal fantasy had in 2010 – I called it “a watershed year” – I thought that there was no realistic way that 2011 could be as strong, both in terms of quality and quantity of releases. But as I began to compile my “year’s best” list in late November, it hit me: this year’s releases were, collectively, far superior to those of 2010. And while there was no clear #1 pick this year, I found it virtually impossible to trim my list down to a baker’s dozen. So many 2011 releases were noteworthy, I couldn’t in good conscience exclude them. So this year, I’ve included an honorable mention list.
This year also continued the trend of more male authors – and male protagonists – in paranormal fantasy. A decade or so ago, paranormal fantasy was largely written by – and for – women. Fierce and endearing heroines like Sookie Stackhouse and Anita Blake ruled the roost and male leads like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden were a minority. Today, paranormal fantasy has evolved into a truly equal opportunity genre, written and read by men and women alike.
The reason that I even bring up debut novelists should be apparent – without new blood, any genre, no matter how popular, will eventually wither. Paranormal fantasy has the most creative writers in all of genre fiction – it’s the wild frontier of genre fiction – but if audacious, new novelists don’t continue to expand the boundaries of paranormal fantasy and redefine was it is, it’ll get stagnant pretty quickly.
I initially became a fan of paranormal fantasy back in the early ‘90s in large part because of its narrative limitless. Where else could I find novels that blended together elements of fantasy, romance, mystery, horror, etc. and couldn’t easily be shelved in bookstores? (Back in those days, when I managed bookstores, we shelved LKH’s Anita Blake novels in Fiction, Horror, and Romance!) Paranormal fantasy takes the best that every genre has to offer and blends them together in an intoxicating literary concoction that, if properly prepared, tastes uniquely different every time you sample it.
I’ll say this: 2011 was the best year ever for paranormal fantasy and if the quality of releases in 2012 can beat the list below, I’ll be shocked (but very happy)!
But before I get to the list, it would be remiss for me not to mention the tragic passing this year of Jennifer Rardin, the incredibly underappreciated author of the Jaz Parks saga (Once Bitten, Twice Shy; Another One Bites the Dust; et. al.), and L.A. Banks, a prolific novelist who wrote the Vampire Huntress Legend series (The Thirteenth, et. al.) and the Crimson Moon saga (Left for Undead, et. al.), to name a few. They will be missed.
So, without further ado, here are my best paranormal fantasy releases of 2011…
• Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
• Devil's Business by Caitlin Kittredge
• Another Kind of Dead by Kelly Meding
• Blood Work by Kim Harrison
• River Marked by Patricia Briggs
• Spider's Revenge by Jennifer Estep
• Crossed by J.F. Lewis
• Magic on the Hunt by Devon Monk
• The Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams
• Blackout by Rob Thurman• Shadow Walker by Allyson James
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
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