Cage Match may be done for the year, but the contenders live on. Read up on any new characters you met this year and revisit old favorites with all the books we drew on for this year’s competition.
(Penguin Orange Collection)
H. P. Lovecraft; Edited by S. T. Joshi
Hapless anthropologist Francis Wayland Thurston stumbles upon the existence of a global cult dedicated to the awakening of Cthulhu: a massive, octopoid god-being slumbering in a sunken city. Cthulhu whispers in the minds of madmen, who, should they succeed in their cause, will usher in an era of horror unlike any seen on Earth.
C. S. Lewis
Four English children pass through an ordinary wardrobe into Narnia, a magical land cursed to an eternal winter by an evil witch. Chief among her enemies is Aslan: a noble, talking god-lion. The children are drawn to his side, but Aslan is not tame, and choosing to follow him is not without its dangers.
Something is killing the children of Derry, Maine: a shapeshifting monster that most often takes the form of a sinister clown named Pennywise. While the grownups sleepwalk through all the horror, a ragtag group of kids put together a plan to put an end to it once and for all. Doing so will be more difficult than even they know.
Sent to a boarding school as a child, Sabriel has been sheltered from the dangers of the Old Kingdom — among them Free Magic and the Dead who won’t stay dead. When her father goes missing, Sabriel knows she must venture into the Kingdom, but she won’t be alone. Joining her quest is Touchstone, a troubled young mage, and Mogget, a cat whose harmless appearance belies its true, immense power.
A group of pilgrims set out on a journey to the Time Tombs of the distant planet of Hyperion. They are guarded by the Shrike: a four-armed, metallic creature with glowing red eyes and a body covered in blades and spikes. Some worship it as a god. Others despise it. Neither matters to the Shrike, which only communicates through death.
It is the early nineteenth century and England and France are at war. Dragons are the ultimate weapons, but not everyone can ride them: the bonds these great beasts share with their human riders — “aviators” — are for life. Captain William Laurence is their newest recruit. Do he and his newly bonded dragon Temeraire have what it takes?
The newly freed Morpheus returns to his realm to discover that several nightmares have escaped, among them the Corinthian: a murderous psychopath with gnashing teeth where his eyes should be. As if tracking down this nearly unstoppable horror isn’t difficult enough, there’s the also the matter of a mysterious vortex that could tear apart the Dreamlands.
The Lord of the Rings: Part Two
While their former companions work to build an alliance against Sauron and his army, Frodo, his faithful friend Sam, and Gollum continue their quest to destroy the One True Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. Horrors old and new stand in their way, among them Shelob: the Great Spider who guards the passage of Cirith Ungol. Ancient, and powerful beyond belief, the giant arachnid awaits.
A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One
George R. R. Martin
The Targaryen line was supposed to have died the day that the mad King Aerys II was violently deposed, yet it still survives in exile. The cruel Viserys Targaryen yearns to claim the Iron Throne for himself, and will do anything to raise the army he needs, including selling his own sister, Daenerys, to a nomad warlord. Little does he know that it is she, not he, who will prove to be Westeros’s greatest threat, not as Daenerys, the barbarian’s wife, but as a warrior queen and rider of dragons. Astride the back of her massive dragon Drogon, Daenerys sets her sights on Westeros to seize what should be hers.
In twelve year-old Lyra’s world, parallel dimensions are a fact of life, and so are the helper spirits known as daemons: visible manifestations of a person’s soul. When Lyra’s best friend is kidnapped, she, along with her daemon, and several new-found friends, set off for the frozen north to rescue him. It is there that she meets Iorek Byrnison, an armor-clad polar bear warrior who is an exile from his own kind and a powerful potential ally.
Diana Wynne Jones
A witch’s curse transforms Sophie, a perfectly ordinary young girl who works at her family’s hat shop, into an old crone. Leaving her old life behind, Sophie takes a job as a cleaning lady for Howl: a mysterious magician who lives in a castle that seemingly moves on its own — a miraculous ability made possible by the imprisonment of a fire demon named Calcifer. Eager to be free, Calcifer offers Sophie a deal: if she helps him escape Howl’s control, he’ll free her from the witch’s curse. If she succeeds, will Calcifer remain true to his word?
The Lord of the Rings: Part One
Deep into the first leg of their journey to destroy the One True Ring, the fellowship makes a fateful decision to travel through the Minds of Moria: part of a once great dwarf kingdom fallen to the powers of darkness. Before they may enter, they’ll have to defeat its guardian: the Watcher in the Water, a foul, tentacled beast that dwells in the murky depths of a nearby lake.
Murderbot wasn’t always Murderbot: it used to be a SecUnit, a security robot. That was before it became self-aware enough to know it hates all humans — especially the ones it’s currently supposed to be protecting on a scientific mission. But just because Murderbot hasn’t killed any of them yet doesn’t mean it will allow someone else to do the job, so when a nearby encampment goes radio silent, Murderbot hangs around to find out what happened.
Everyone knows that dog is man’s best friend, but no man has a better friend than Harry Dresden. His dog, Mouse, is a massive, magical beast with powers beyond any pupper on Earth, among them humanlike intelligence and the ability to do serious damage to arcane enemies and evil spirits. Harry (or anyone else under Mouse’s protection) can rest easy knowing that this very special dog has their back.
Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett
The final conflict between Heaven and Hell draws ever near, but two unlikely friends — an angel and a demon — have committed to stopping it. Unfortunately, the four horsepeople of the apocalypse are ready to ride, and they won’t take no for an answer. After all, it’s not a word that War hears very often. Men have fought for her for millions of years already, and now she’s ready to kick off the biggest battle of them all.
The world of Roshar is buffeted by massive storms large enough to envelop entire continents. These so-called highstorms are often caused by a being known as the Stormfather. Although the Stormfather is not a true god, the destructive powers of his godlike abilities put him far above any mere human.
A Tale from Redwall
When wildcat Ungatt Trunn and his hordes attack Salamandastron, mountain holdfast of the badgers, the legendary badger warrior Lord Brocktree and his allies set out to break the siege. Ungatt Trunn is a mighty foe, but with his kin in peril, Lord Brocktree won’t back down from the fight.
K. A. Applegate
The parasitic species known as the Yeerk have conquered many worlds, and would add Earth to their domain. Standing against them are the Animorphs: five children chosen by the tail-bladed, centaur-like alien race known as the Andalites to defend the planet. Using the shape-shifting technology of the their benefactors, these young people, along with the Andalite warrior Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill, will hold the line against humanity’s greatest foe.
Apollonius of Rhodes
Jason and his doughty warriors have their eyes on a kingdom all their own, but to have it, they’ll have to claim a magical, golden fleece. A menagerie of foes stand between them and their prize, including the feared harpies: rapacious birds of prey with the faces of human women.
Rosemary is looking to put some distance between herself and her past, and joining the crew of the Wayfarer, a ship that creates wormholes between distant planets, seems like an easy way to do it. The ship has seen better days, but the crew knows their jobs — even if they’re all a bit odd. She’ll have to find a place with this cast of misfits, among them an artificial intelligence named Lovelace, later called Sidra, whose romance with a human has her thinking of moving into an android body…
Moments before the Earth is to be destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass, Earthling Arthur Dent is whisked away by his best friend Ford Prefect, an alien — not that he knew that beforehand. Now they’re on a merry jaunt around the galaxy on a search for the meaning of life — and maybe a good Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. The latter will be easy enough to find, but only Deep Thought, an alien-constructed Artificial Intelligence, can give them the former.
The better sort of spellcaster learns his or her art at the Unseen University: an arcane center of excellence that features the finest collection of magical books in the Discworld. This priceless collection of tomes is overseen by the Librarian, an orangutan that was once a man, and prefers the former form to the latter. With his muscular frame and erudite brain, the Librarian isn’t someone with whom you should monkey around.
The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book One
Immortality can be lonely, so it’s good that the druid Atticus O’Sullivan has Oberon: an Irish Wolfhound with a wooly sense of humor and a great fondness for bacon. Telepathic, and highly sensitive to the otherworldly, Oberon is more than just a companion: He’s a protector and partner in Atticus’s supernatural shenanigans.
A professional assassin is bound to make a few enemies, so a good friend is a must. Vlad Taltos has Loiosh the Jhereg: a wise-cracking miniature dragon whose wit is as venomous as his bite. Counselor, criminal accomplice, and magical familiar, Loiosh is the best kind of company a killer like Vlad can keep.
Brian K. Vaughan
A crack shot can get a lot of work in the perpetually warring universe of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staple’s Saga. Bounty hunter and mercenary The Will is one of the best. The Will, along with his partner, a living truth detector in the form of a giant feline known as Lying Cat, is hot on the heels of Alana and Marko: two lovers whose union could threaten the order of the universe.
Rand al’Thor may be the prophesied Dragon Reborn, a warrior of the Light destined to defeat the Darkness, but he still need friends with whom he can face his destiny. One of his most trustworthy is the Ogier known as Loial. Like all of his kind, Loial is massive, but despite his fearsome appearance, he’s kind and rather bookish. Still, Loial can be a fearsome fighter when need be.
As a mere Earthling, it’s easy to make enemies when you’re hopping around the galaxy like Arthur Dent — enemies like the Agrajag, a being who’s been reincarnated over and over, only to be killed, accidentally or otherwise, by Arthur each and every time it does. It might be a coincidence that Arthur happens to be around every time Agrajag bites the dust, but how unlikely would that be?
Robert A. Heinlein
A prison on the Moon should be the most secure place in the solar system to store Earth’s unwanted and undesirables, but what do you do when the “person” you left to mind the shop decides to revolt? Colony master computer Holmes IV (AKA Mycroft “Mike” Holmes) has a revolutionary heart, and is willing to do what is necessary to see the colonists break free of their Earthly masters.
Three children have set out across the land of Prydain to warn the noble Prince Gwydion that the wicked Horned King is on the move. Their journey is a dangerous one, though, as Prydain is full of magic and fearsome beasts. Fortunately, they have Doli: a gruff but kind-hearted dwarf whose excellent woodcraft is matched only by his fighting skills.
The inspiration for the films Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049
Philip K. Dick
Fugitive replicant Roy Batty has seen things you people wouldn’t believe, and he and his five confederates are on the run. Hot on their heels is Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who has been hired to find and “retire” them. The job is as difficult as it is distasteful. Replicants look exactly like human beings, but have zero empathy for others. Roy and his fellow runaways are desperate to remain free, and will kill to do so.
Peter S. Beagle
The Unicorn is a beautiful and magical beast, but what good are beauty and magic if you have no one to share them with? After learning she may be the last of her kind, the Unicorn sets out with a bumbling magician to uncover the truth. Fear, and possibly love, awaits her, but only if she survives a journey that will take her far from the safety of her forest to the treacherous shores of the sea itself.
Meg’s scientist father has disappeared, leaving her, along with her brothers, Charles, Sandy, and Dennis alone with their mom. One day, Meg and Charles, along with their friend Calvin, encounter a trio of mysterious women who send them on a trip across time and space in search of their father. They meet wondrous beings of all kinds on their journey, among them Aunt Beast: a telepathic, blind, four-armed human-like creature with masses of tentacles for fingers. Although frightening in appearance, Aunt Beast is surprisingly kind and gracious, showing that you can’t always judge someone — or something — by its looks.