I wasn't overly surprised that The Way of Shadows was the UK's bestselling UK SFF debut of 2008, but the US equivalent was something of a surprise.
Russell Kirkpatrick's debut novel Across the Face of the World was previously released in the UK to seemingly little online fanfare, and the final overall conclusion was lukewarm at best. Possibly the most striking aspect of the novel was the truly cringe-worthy comment from Trudi Canavan that adorns the front cover - "Not since Tolkien have I been so awed." Talk about putting pressure on a debut novel...
Still, online critical reaction matters very little in commercial terms so maybe we shouldn't be that surprised by the success of Across the Face of the World in the US. I think the main attraction was the plot, which - depending on your perspective - is either horribly derivative or wonderfully traditional:
For 2000 years Kannwar, the immortal Destroyer, Lord of Bhrudwo, has been planning revenge on those who cast him out from the mortal world and his plans are now nearing fruition. When the trader Mahnum escapes the Destroyer's prison and flees, the Lords of Fear are sent in pursuit. He makes his way home to Loulea, but there Mahnum and his wife are captured. His sons, Leith and Hal, together with a small group of villagers, set off in pursuit to free Mahnum and Indrett - and warn their world of the coming war. From a tiny snowbound village, six men and women will begin a dangerous quest to challenge an ancient evil, fulfil a prophecy and change the course of their world's history.
In any case, congrats to Orbit for publishing the bestselling debuts on both sides of the Atlantic.