The first book I read this year was one I received as a Christmas gift. Specifically I had asked for any of the Terry Pratchett books that had covers done by Josh Kirby, and I sure got em.
If you're not familiar with Discworld, it's a fantasy universe set on a flat planet on the back of four elephants who ride on the Great Turtle A'Tuin through space. Earlier books tend towards fantasy trope subversion, while later books are much more about real world satire. While any particular book can probably read just fine on its own, many of the books are part of a sub-series that focuses on a character or set of characters (Watch books, Death books, Witch books) and reading them in order gives more context for events that take place later.
They're full of bad puns, common themes and a dry but accessible British wit that I think gets written off by people who take things too seriously. They can tackle extremely serious things (Night Watch comes to mind) but never without levity, and I could go on and on but anyway.
The Hogfather is a Discword series book in the Death sub-series of books. It is the third or fourth in a series of books in which the Disc's personification of Death is one of the major players. In this book, the Auditors of the Universe attempt to end humanity by hiring an assassin with a particular mindset to find a way to assassinate the Hogfather (the Disc analogue of Santa Claus). As it turns out, while the Hogfather is nowhere to be found, it comes to Death to do the job.
Meanwhile, Death's Granddaughter Susan (long story) comes to discover what's going on and sets out on her own to try to bring back the hogfather... so that the sun will rise.
I have read all but some of the Tiffany Aching books and maybe the most recent book, so I wasn't on anything new here. I love the combination of holiday tropes with the stories of childhood: the story starts out with Susan, who works in an orphanage, beating off one of the "imaginary" creatures that haunt children (in this case one of the monsters under the bed that of course kids know are real even if adults dismiss them). Drawing a thin line between fantasy and reality is a common theme here, as of course, everyone "knows" the Hogfather isn't actually real, but also the disc is full of gods that people nonetheless believe in whether they're real or not, and that very nature of belief is something that plays into lots of the books (Small Gods I think is my favorite and very focused on that).
I think this one is a bit looser - it jumps around different perspectives in ways that don't feel connected until the last minute, but it's still a lot of fun and not confusing, just... loose. The play with beliefs here is really good and the moments of realization about some things are a lot of fun. Been a while since I had a full read through Discworld so I can't totally rate where this is on the scale, but I will always recommend them.
Along with several people from facebook, we have been doing a loose book club in which we all, at our own pace, read the entirety of the Malazan Tales of the Fallen series. I finished Night of Knives and Gardens of the Moon over my Christmas/New Years break and have been slowly reading Deadhouse Gates since new years. (I haven't actually finished it, I have like 50 pages left that I'll finish off either at lunch or worst case tonight) but it's completely in my mind so I wanted to talk about it now.
The book, much like Gardens of the Moon, has a lot of different storylines going on, of various connectedness, but it always felt a bit more together for me and less chaotic. I think part of is just that it's overall a bit better made after the initial outing with Gardens, but also I think the combination of being familiar with some characters (the first book was a huge character dump) while adding a few new key ones who are more tightly focused on, and also feeling like every storyline is actually headed to a conclusion (with some exception it was really hard to see where the first book was actually going IMO) work to Deadhouse Gates' advantage.
The story, as I mentioned, follows several storylines, but the ones that felt most focused on to me were Duiker's travels, and Heboric/Felisin/Baudin's struggles in the camp and after.
As for the first, without saying too much, Duiker, the historian is forced to flee the city he is living in when Seven Cities rebels against the occupation of the Malazan army. It follows him on a struggle to both survive, and to record the story of the many conflicts he encounters, as this is his task. He and the people he follows are all excellent characters and really captivating, and this was the most enthralling part of the story for me. The relationships formed, the thought process of the fighters in this rebellion, all of this was the main draw for me, and the most powerful emotional beats of the story are here.
The second main story follows Three Malazan prisoners who are sent to the Otataral Mines after the Empress overthrows Kellanved and culls the population. Heboric, an ex priest, Baudin, a slightly mysterious brute, and Felisin, a noble child of the Paran family, whose entwinement in all of the Malazan campaigns is critical. This one did not play as well to me this time around, specifically because Felisin falls hard on the "female character whose character is built entirely around her suffering" trope that is all too noticeable. Which is not to say Erickson hasn't built good female characters that don't fall into this trap (Tattersail) but it does stand out here for sure. Not only that, though, but the entire crew here just didn't feel good - Felisin's constant snipes at her unwanted protectors, and especially since the story is basically told from her point of view, gave the entire journey a bad taste that maybe I didn't notice before because I was too focused on the other stories? I dunno. Could just be a sign of the times. Regardless, this is mostly the weakest part, even though it has some strong moments.
The other stories all sort of weave around each other, Kalam's trip to Malaz Island, Fiddler's attempt to return Apsalar home, Mappo and Icarium's endless journey, all are very good and engaging and are very important but don't feel like they have the scope that the other two have. Which is probably good - I feel like scope creep is what harmed Gardens the most. (Gardens of the Moon is a tough read for a lot of first timers, though we've discovered that having them read Night of Knives first makes it easier and keeps them engaged)
As stated, the moments with Duiker are largely my favorite, touching on all aspects of a war of attrition - the struggle for food, the constant threats, internal conflict, and all in a hostile land, while still finding moments of emotional release and contemplation. However, I suspect that while this used to be my favorite book of the series, that opinion will change as I reread House of Chains and maybe even Memories of Ice, and as I push into later books that I never read/finished like Bonehunters (this mostly going off what others have said in my group).
It's a huge scope with lots of players, but if you really want some large scale fantasy, I highly recommend it. And if you even have the slightest qualms that you might not get into it, start with Night of Knives. Maybe do that anyway!
Book 3 of the Malazn Tales series, this one focuses again on the Bridgeburners and a new fight in the Pannion Domin. It impressed me in a lot of ways: this could have been 2 books with two enormous climactic battles, but while the book itself is some 600 pages, it's also very dense and, not compressed, but short when shortness will do, and descriptive when descriptiveness is important.
There's a captivating quality to this - sort of capturing verisimilitude not necessarily through realism but just through the messiness of the world, of relationships and of people in general. The way they deal with Whiskeyjack and Korlat here, the way Dujek and everyone else is seen to the Tiste and other armies, the complexities and both beauty and ugliness of their relationships is always fighting and creating conflict, as well as the competing conflicts of the difference between friend, family and ally. Even when built on the unreal, it feels real, like some philosophical conundrum that sounds tediously hypothetical until given a realistic framing.
I think one thing I always find interesting is how authors will compare humanity with races that are much more long lived, not even to the scale of hundreds of years but hundreds of thousands of years, what that means and what a difference that makes. The world that is created includes so many ancient beings and people and conflicts that date back to before any human even existed and it's such a wildly complex and rich world with so many unknown things. The scope across the entire series is so wide, and I can't offhand think of any other fantasy series that truly delves into its world's history the way this does.
Anyway, the next book in the series is House of Chains, but as a change of pace I think I'm hitting Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment first. I need something lighter, but I guess I can't escape soldiers right now.