I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up being one of these five novels...
By N. K. Jemisin
(Orbit, 4 February 2010)
"Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky - a palace above the clouds where gods' and mortals' lives are intertwined. There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the potential heirs to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother's death and her family's bloody history. But it's not just mortals who have secrets worth hiding and Yeine will learn how perilous the world can be when love and hate - and gods and mortals - are bound inseparably."
This one's already received a very positive review over at Fantasy Book Critic. So far it's not yet received the coverage of some of the other debuts, but I have a feeling that might change. One thing that Robert's review praises is the prose, which I find encouraging - far too many fantasy books, especially debuts, are marred by wooden, dull writing. The premise is nothing new, but certainly sounds like it has potential. If I can get hold of a review copy, I'll be giving this one a go. The early release date is another aspect the book has to its advantage - plenty of time to generate buzz and generate a fan base before the enevitable 'Best of' lists at the end of the year.
One thing though - what's with the series title? Calling it The Inheritance Trilogy is a not a great idea, and one you'd have thought the editors would have changed (I certainly wouldn't want people to see my book and immedaitely think of Paolini's much-maligned series of the same name).
By Blake Charlton
(HarperVoyager, 8 July 2010)
"In a world where words can come to life, an inability to spell can be a dangerous thing. And no one knows this better than apprentice wizard Nicodemus Weal. Nicodemus is a cacographer, unable to reproduce even simple magical texts without 'misspelling' - a mistake which can have deadly consequences. He was supposed to be the Halcyon, a magic-user of unsurpassed power, destined to save the world; instead he is restricted to menial tasks, and mocked for his failure to live up to the prophecy. But not everyone interprets prophecy in the same way. There are some factions who believe a cacographer such as Nicodemus could hold great power -- power that might be used as easily for evil as for good. And when two of the wizards closest to Nicodemus are found dead, it becomes clear that some of those factions will stop at nothing to find the apprentice and bend him to their will!"
This one will probably prove popular, though I don't think it's for me. I read the opening chaper and it did nothing for me at all - I found the prose uninspiring and the dialogue rather wooden (I'm aware this was an unedited version, but even so...). Aidan enjoyed the book, but his review pretty much put me off the novel - he indicates that fans of Brooks, Williams and Feist will probably enjoy the novel, but fans of Lynch, GRRM and Abercrombie most likely wouldn't. That's the feeling I had as well, and since I'm firmly entrenched in the latter's camp, I doubt that Spellwright is going to work for me.
Yet plenty of readers love this more sort of traditional fantasy (boys with mysterious powers they can't control, demon hordes, etc) and so this book will probably prove popular, especially because the premise hints at some fresh ideas, mixing them up with one or two classic
By Sam Sykes
(Gollancz, 18 February 2010)
"Lenk can barely keep control of his mismatched adventurer band at the best of times (Gariath the dragon man sees humans as little more than prey, Kataria the shict despises most humans and the humans in the band are little better). When they're not insulting each other's religions they're arguing about pay and conditions. So when the ship they are travelling on is attacked by pirates things don't go very well. They go a whole lot worse when an invincible demon joins the fray. The demon steals the Tome of the Undergates - a manuscript that contains all you need to open the undergates. And whichever god you believe in you don't want the undergates open. On the other side are countless more invincible demons, the manifestation of all the evil of the gods, and they want out. Full of razor-sharp wit, characters who leap off the page (and into trouble) and plunging the reader into a vivid world of adventure this is a fantasy that kicks off a series that could dominate the second decade of the century."
Gollancz have a good track record with debuts, releasing both The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Blade Itself to critical acclaim in recent years. Tome of the Undergates is their big debut release of 2010 and they seem to have pretty high hopes for it. From flicking through my ARC, I was quickly reminded of Abercombie and Lynch, and that's certainly no bad thing. I think this debut will be aimed firmly at fans of those two writers, though whether it can replicate their respective success obviously remains to be seen. Wert's assessment was decidedly lukewarm, while another review is a little more positive but also mentions flaws that Wert picked up on - I'm interested to see if I think the same way. I certainly intend to read this one at some point, though given the size of the damned thing it's not going to be easy lugging it on my daily commute... Certainly a strong contender for 'hot' novel of the year - though will readers be expecting too much, given the quality of new talent that has emerged from the Gollancz stable in recent years?
By Col Buchanan
(Tor, 5 March 2010)
"The Heart of the World is a land in strife. For fifty years the Holy Empire of Mann, an empire and religion born from a nihilistic urban cult, has been conquering nation after nation. Their leader, Holy Matriarch Sasheen, ruthlessly maintains control through her Diplomats, priests trained as subtle predators.
The Mercian Free Ports are the only confederacy yet to fall. Their only land link to the southern continent, a long and narrow isthmus, is protected by the city of Bar-Khos. For ten years now, the great southern walls of Bar-Khos have been besieged by the Imperial Fourth Army.
Ash is a member of an elite group of assassins, the Rōshun - who offer protection through the threat of vendetta. Forced by his ailing health to take on an apprentice, he chooses Nico, a young man living in the besieged city of Bar-Khos. At the time, Nico is hungry, desperate, and alone in a city that finds itself teetering on the brink.
When the Holy Matriarch’s son deliberately murders a woman under the protection of the Rōshun; he forces the sect to seek his life in retribution. As Ash and his young apprentice set out to fulfil the Rōshun orders – their journey takes them into the heart of the conflict between the Empire and the Free Ports . . . into bloodshed and death."
There's more than a whiff of Steven Erikson about this novel, which is no bad thing in my opinion. Again, while the premise is fairly standard for an epic fantasy, it hints at some rich worldbuilding and a decent story. I've certainly got my eye on this one, though as of yet it's generated very little online buzz. Could turn out to be the sort of novel that snowballs in popularity as word spreads. It's certainly helped by a solid commercial cover. I expect to receive a review copy of this one, and will certainly give it a go.
The Left Hand of God
By Paul Hoffman
(Michael Joseph, 7 January 2010)
"The Sanctuary of the Redeemers on Shotover Scarp is named after a damned lie for there is no redemption that goes on there and less sanctuary. The Sanctuary of the Redeemers is a vast and desolate place – a place without joy or hope.
Most of its occupants were taken there as boys and for years have endured the brutal regime of the Lord Redeemers whose cruelty and violence have one singular purpose – to serve in the name of the One True Faith.
In one of the Sanctuary’s vast and twisting maze of corridors stands a boy. He is perhaps fourteen or fifteen years old – he is not sure and neither is anyone else. He has long-forgotten his real name, but now they call him Thomas Cale. He is strange and secretive, witty and charming, violent and profoundly bloody-minded. He is so used to the cruelty that he seems immune, but soon he will open the wrong door at the wrong time and witness an act so terrible that he will have to leave this place, or die.
His only hope of survival is to escape across the arid Scablands to Memphis, a city the opposite of the Sanctuary in every way: breathtakingly beautiful, infinitely Godless, and deeply corrupt. But the Redeemers want Cale back at any price… not because of the secret he now knows but because of a much more terrifying secret he does not."
This book has probably generated the most online hype so far, probably because it's already been released and so has a few reviews to its name (although it's also possible that the accompanying promotional media, like the YouTube video, may have helped). Early opinion seems split. Some readers loved it, while others criticised it for being fantasy-by-the-numbers. I was - and am - quite interested in this book, though some readers have slated the prose, and this is always a turn-off for me. If a book has bland prose, I usually really struggle to enjoy it. Still, the premise sounds interesting and there's something about this book that appeals to me, though I'm not sure exactly what it is. An outside bet for the 'hot' debut release of 2010? Possibly.
So, there we have it - five debut novels that, to varying degrees, will make waves this year. But which one makes the biggest wave remains to be seen...