While paranormal fantasy is still in the midst of its Golden Age – which began in 2000, when Laurell K. Hamilton’s first Anita Blake novel was released in hardcover and irrevocably changed the landscape of genre fiction – I predicted last year that those glory days were coming to an end.
And up until recently, I still firmly believed that. But, after reading dozens of this year’s new releases, my outlook has changed.
I made that prediction last year in large part because some of the genre’s most popular – and innovative – sagas were either ending or had recently ended.
Just look at the last few years. Stacia Kane’s revolutionary Downside saga and Marcus Pelegrimas’ Skinners sequence are seemingly finished and, this year, Jaye Wells’ Sabina Kane saga came to its climactic conclusion. And the next few years will see the end of two iconic series – Kim Harrison’s Hollows saga and Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series.
When all of these series come to their respective ends, there will be a gaping void in paranormal fantasy. Will readers simply move onto another category? Or will a new or existing saga develop and fill that space left behind by the departures of these blockbuster series? Or maybe an unknown debut novelist will explode onto the scene with a groundbreaking storyline…
In that last sentence, I believe, is the key to the future of paranormal fantasy.
I’ve been reviewing genre fiction full-time since 1997, and I can easily go back seven or eight years and point out the arrival of one or more uber-talented debut novelists who, every single year, have enriched and expanded the paranormal fantasy landscape: Carrie Vaughn in 2005, Kat Richardson and Karen Chance in 2006, Jeaniene Frost in 2007, Adrian Phoenix in 2008, Jaye Wells and Nicole Peeler in 2009, etc. – but the last few years have seen a dramatic decline in the number of extraordinary debut novelists. I’ve seen solid debuts but none have wowed me like Frost’s Halfway to the Grave or Peeler’s Tempest Rising, for example.
At the end of last year, I stated that 2011 was the best year ever for paranormal fantasy. My list of noteworthy books last year was dozens of titles deep. While collectively 2012 wasn’t as strong, the narrative and thematic scope – as well as sheer originality – of books at the top of this year’s list far surpass that of last year’s. Every single one of the titles listed below was unarguably outstanding and all of the authors should be applauded for making this year such a memorable one for fans of paranormal fantasy.
Here’s looking to an even better 2013! – Paul Goat Allen
"This novel transcends genre categorization – yes, paranormal fantasy readers will LOVE [The Taken] but so too will hardcore mystery and romance fans and, most importantly of all, mainstream fiction fans. This is Vicki Pettersson’s coming out party – and we’re all invited."
"Ultimately Kane’s Downside saga is one of the most innovative – and important – paranormal fantasy sagas I’ve ever read..."
"The bottom line is this: Kat Richardson is an extraordinary writer (arguably the next coming of Algernon Blackwood), her heroine Blaine is equal parts Philip Marlowe and John Silence, and her Greywalker saga is classy and classic – the crème de la crème of supernatural fiction."
"...this series will go down as one of the best paranormal fantasy sagas of all time and Sabina Kane will be remembered as one of paranormal fantasy’s most memorable heroines."
"Kim succeeds in not only entertaining readers but also affecting them as well. Reading these novels is like visiting with beloved family members… honestly, I’ll be heartsick when this series ends."
"Kadrey’s Sandman Slim saga is one of the most original and outrageous series in all of genre fiction..."
"Arguably the best Dresden Files novel yet."
"Sookie is a paranormal fantasy superstar – she has a vampire boyfriend, cousins who are fae, and knows more than a few werewolves. But she is also very much human, very much grounded to her not-so-glamorous human existence."
"Peeler’s Jane True saga is as close to perfect as a paranormal fantasy saga gets. Mark my words – when all is said and done, Jane True will go down as one of the most universally beloved heroines to ever grace the pages of a paranormal fantasy, right up there with Rachel Morgan and Sookie Stackhouse."
"...these novels are more about Toby’s inner quest – her search to find herself, her place in the world, not some soul mate or better half. It’s delicious existential speculation wrapped up in fantastical candy-coated shell. That’s why this unique and addictively readable saga resonates so powerfully with me – I identify with Toby as the proverbial outsider, the seeker, the misunderstood hero...."
"...it’s the realistic – historic – setting that sets this novel above and beyond most paranormal fantasy storylines. The widespread devastation of Katrina and its aftermath as a backdrop add an undeniable power and intensity to this narrative."
"The latter chapters of this novel were just classic LKH – a major nail-biting conclusion, some fantastic sex scenes, and, most importantly, some crucial revelations by our polyamorous protagonist concerning her continuing journey of self-discovery."
"Dark, loud, and fast – that about sums it up."
• Burned by J.F. Lewis
• Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan
• Summoning the Night by Jenn Bennett
• Tricked by Kevin Hearne
• The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams
• Fated by Benedict Jacka
• Wild Cat by Jennifer Ashley
• The Shattered Dark by Sandy Williams
• The Mortal Bone by Marjorie Liu
• Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey
• Sealed With a Curse by Cecy Robson
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. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulgoatallen and get all the latest Barnes & Noble book news from @BNBuzz.