Top 10 Best Fantasy Debuts of 2011

This past year has been a great and intense year for fans of the fantasy genre. We have been treated to highly anticipated releases like George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons, Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear, and Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance. It was also a great year for debuts, with many amazing new authors releasing their first books.

Our reviewers at The Ranting Dragon have been working all year to report on the best releases, along with the disappointing ones. Having reviewed over a hundred of 2011’s fantasy releases, it is time to look back and tell you which debuting authors we appreciated most. Unfortunately, we still missed a couple of acclaimed titles, like Courtney Schafer’s The Whitefire Crossing and Teresa Frohock’s Miserere: An Autumn Tale. We hope to tell you all about these books and more in the first months of 2012.

For now, though, we present you with our ten favorite fantasy debuts of the year 2011:


1. Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
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Dark and captivating, relentless and haunting, Prince of Thorns is a brilliant epic fantasy that more than delivers in all respects. It is the spectacular debut novel of talented new British author, Mark Lawrence, and the first installment in the Broken Empire trilogy. Fans of happy stories shouldn’t bother with Prince of Thorns, as Lawrence’s fast-paced and relentless narrative plunges the reader headfirst into bloodthirsty forays where readers will soon need to decide whether they can stomach the graphic violence and dark humor that define the novel. Those who can are in for an exhilarating ride. Dazzling in its brilliance, Prince of Thorns is a must-read for any fan of gritty, epic fantasy that delves into the darkest depths of humanity, and a well-deserved winner of the title “best debut of the year.”
Want to know more? Read Michelle and Stephan’s review of Prince of Thorns.
2. Hounded by Kevin Hearne
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Hounded delivers everything an urban fantasy lover could possibly want: one hilarious and delicious Irish druid, his sassy wolfhound companion, a whiskey-sodden neighborly widow, an Icelandic vampire/lawyer, werewolves and witches, and even a demon or two for spice. Clever, energetic, and full of fun pop-culture references, this is a perfectly fun novel, and the heart warming—and occasionally hellish—relationships between Kevin Hearne’s characters make The Iron Druid Chronicles worth treasuring.
Want to know more? Read Caleigh’s review of Hounded.
3. God’s War by Kameron Hurley
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God’s War is Kameron Hurley’s debut novel, and she enters the speculative fiction scene with a bang. In a bloody, bugpunk world, Nyx is a government-funded bounty hunter, chopping off heads at any cost to pay a few bills. Filled with political intrigue and quite few badass fight scenes, God’s War fully entrenches you in the world of Umayma, from the fighting rings that Nyx involves herself in to the women that she loves to bed. You’ll be racing off to read the sequel, Infidel, as soon as you set it down.
Want to know more? Read James and Caitrin’s review of God’s War.
4. The Samaritan by Fred Venturini
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Fred Venturi’s debut novel, The Samaritan, begins when Dale Sampson is in the sixth grade. Since girls don’t talk to him, when he discovers that he can regenerate his body parts, he decides that if he can’t improve his own life, he’ll use his regenerative powers to save others—starting with the twin sister of his dream girl, the sister who married an abusive husband. The Samaritan is an extremely strong debut, and with Venturini’s insights into human nature and smart writing style, it’s easy to see why the budding Blank Slate Press chose Venturini as one of its flagship authors.
Want to know more? Read Benni’s review of The Samaritan.
5. Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley
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A pleasant surprise this year was Maria Dahvana Headley’s debut Queen of Kings, a paranormal, alternate history retelling of the story of Cleopatra. In this amazingly well-researched version of her history, Cleopatra wasn’t bitten by an asp, but instead aligns herself with the goddess of death and becomes something of a shape-shifting and divine vampire. This may be a bit blunt because Queen of Kings is, in fact, a subtle and tragic story of romance and fighting for loved ones. With this debut, Headley has proven herself a master storyteller. Simultaneously a paranormal love story, an epic, and a fast-paced thriller, Queen of Kings is a sexy read and a comprehensively researched book.
Want to know more? Read Stephan’s review of Queen of Kings.
6. Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick
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More than anything else, Douglas Hulick’s debut, Among Thieves, first in his Tales of the Kin series, can be praised for its amazing worldbuilding. Instead of stuffing a cookie cutter world down our throats, Hulick offers us a glimpse into the world through an amazing first person narrative that primarily focuses on action and suspense without slowing the story down by telling it from a wider angle. Yet, through the often quite witty comments interjected into the narrative, both the protagonist and the world are fleshed out gradually, never detracting from the story of Drothe, who works in the employ of a crime lord but sees his life shaken up when he finds an ancient artifact capable of toppling empires. Among Thieves is an original and creative story for fans of mysterious, exciting, and action-packed epic fantasy.
Want to know more? Read Stephan’s review of Among Thieves.
7. The Emperor’s Knife by Mazarkis Williams
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The Emperor’s Knife is Mazarkis Williams’ stunning debut and the first book in the Tower and Knife series. This amazing tale of magic and political scheming is a work of high fantasy in every way, offering intriguing and creative magic, epic world building, political strife, and unprepared characters thrust into unlikely situations. While it becomes clear from the start that there is a lot to the Arabian-influenced desert world in The Emperor’s Knife, we only see little pieces of it as they become relevant to the story. The Emperor’s Knife isn’t a page turner, though. While the story always intrigues and entertains, Williams spends too much time positioning his characters for the finale. Don’t expect a thriller, but rather a grown-up and utterly brilliantly well-wrought epic fantasy.
Want to know more? Read Stephan’s review of The Emperor’s Knife.
8. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
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The Night Circus started making waves even before it was published, receiving an unprecedented publicity push and then simultaneous release in the US and the UK. Morgenstern’s standalone debut work does not disappoint. A fresh take on literary fantasy that appeals to both a mainstream audience and genre diehards, The Night Circus features a solid writing style with strong descriptions that will immerse you in Morgenstern’s world. Set in an alternative Victorian era, The Night Circus follows two dueling magicians from two opposing schools of thought as they strive to prove their superiority in a game that neither truly understands. In a world where nothing is what it seems, Morgenstern’s characters must find a way to end a contest that neither can truly win. While no new titles have been announced, Morgenstern is certainly an author to keep an eye on in the future.
Want to know more? Read Janea’s review of The Night Circus.
9. Empire State by Adam Christopher
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While technically an early 2012 release, Empire State is already available in some stores and thus we have decided to include it in the best of 2011. Empire State is the genre-bending debut novel of New Zealand-born author Adam Christopher, one of Angry Robot’s exciting new acquisitions. A parallel world, Prohibition-era detective noir novel with a superhero spin, its nearly endless plot twists make for a fast-paced and unique saga of surprises that is sure to keep countless readers up into the early hours of the morning.
Want to know more? Read Michelle’s review of Empire State.
10. The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu
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The Winds of Khalakovo takes a while to get going, but once Bradley P. Beaulieu’s debut novel, first part in the Lays of Anuskaya series, is up to full steam, it sweeps you up and doesn’t let you go. The Winds of Khalakovo thrusts us into a complete world rich with history, politics, and elemental magic, but don’t expect it to come to you through easy info dumps; Beaulieu is a master of subtle worldbuilding. The Winds of Khalakovo is a well-written novel overflowing with action and suspense, great characters—and a couple of horrible ones—and a brilliantly-wrought story of mystery, magic, and political intrigue, where everything seems possible and you never know what lies around the next corner.
Want to know more? Read Stephan’s review of The Winds of Khalakovo.


Do you agree with our list? What were your favorite fantasy debuts of 2011? Let us know in the comments below, or discuss 2011’s fantasy with us on our forums.

About Stephan van Velzen

Stephan van Velzen
A 31 year-old Communications student, Stephan loves publicity and design, particularly web design. When he’s not designing websites, he can be found in a comfy chair reading a fantasy book. In The Ranting Dragon, he has found a way to combine these passions and discover a new love for writing to boot. Stephan lives in a small town in The Netherlands with his wife Rebecca, an editor for The Ranting Dragon, and their two cats.

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  1. Really enjoyed this list — I’d overlooked the Cleopatra novel as “meh, romance” but maybe it deserves a second look, and I’d not heard of The Samaritan, which looks interesting. (One nit pick: Frohock’s novel is Miserere, not “Misere”, in the intro.)

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