Here are some of my favorites from the past year.

  • "Wrath-Bearing Tree" (Pyr, $18, 376 pages), the second in James Enge's "A Tournament of Shadows" series is perhaps the best of his many works about Morlock Ambrosius, the son of Merlin Ambrosius, who battles the agents of darkness on an unnamed world filled with gods, magic, and strange allies and enemies. Enge also deepens his characters by fleshing out the backstories instead of fleshing out the inevitable preindustrial skirmishes with precise descriptions of hacked bones, severed sinews and dripping blood.

    Oddly, though, this series precedes in time a previously published trio of books, so really the best place to start is with "A Guile of Dragons," then eventually move on to the Morlock the Maker series that begins with "Blood of Ambrose." Wherever you start, you will engage with one of the most interesting writers in modern fantasy, not to mention one of the most taciturn yet fascinating protagonists. Don't miss out.

  • Joel Shepherd returns to his superhuman female warrior, Cassandra Kresnov, in "23 Years on Fire" (Pyr, $16.95, 439 pages), but this one doesn't quite have the spark of his first three books about a vat-grown, heavily augmented fighter who is designed to blindly follow orders but develops a mind of her own.


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    There's a lot going on in "23 Years on Fire," as Shepherd never dodges difficult questions, but the writing gets a little clunky this time (especially a long explanation disguised as dialogue about human beings' insistence on creating narratives). Still, things pick up steam as the book goes along, and Shepherd's battle scenes -- with all the bells and whistles of modern combat -- are well-done.

    If you're a fan of the previous books, jump in; if you haven't encountered Sandy before, I'd definitely suggest starting with "Crossover."

  • Scott Lynch has some ambitious plans for his "Gentleman Bastard Sequence": seven novels, the first three totaling nearly 2,000 pages, and a grand picaresque style that melds clever con artistry, daring action and mysterious pasts.

    "The Lies of Locke Lamora" and "Red Seas under Red Skies" came out in 2006 and 2007, but "The Republic of Thieves" (Del Rey, $28, 651 pages) took six years to deliver. I've enjoyed all three books, despite a feeling that Lynch tried to cram two books into one in this volume, and I look forward to the coming releases -- though it's hard to predict precisely how long it will take him to deliver volume four.

  • Brenda Cooper wraps up her two-book "Ruby's Song" series with "The Diamond Deep" (Pyr, $18, 438 pages), and as she comes right out and says this is based on the story of Eva Peron, many readers will know where this is going from page one.

    "The Diamond Deep" is still a reasonably entertaining book, even though Cooper is pretty much locked into the ending and the all-too predictable struggle of the powerless against the powerful. But after several books, I confess I'm not sure whether I'm really a Cooper fan or not. Her books are a curious mixture of obvious talent and poor authorial choices, but there's still hope. Maybe she will put it all together next time.

    Contact Clay Kallam at clayk@fullcourt.com.