Marie Brennan, A Natural History of Dragons: swan_tower uses a somewhat lighter tone here than in the later Onyx Court books, but her
Glen Cook, Sweet Silver Blues: I would have sworn that I read this when I was in my first Glen Cook phase, at 13, but if I did, most of its content must have gone in one ear and out the other. Cook borrows an unfortunate quantity of misogyny and racial stereotyping from the hard-boiled detective novels he pastiches, but if you can push past that (and I understand many readers won't want to), Sweet Silver Blues is an intrigue-laden excursion into a monster-haunted war zone where two empires are waging an endless war over the economic and magical power granted by silver mines. About twice as problematic as The Black Company, with about half the payoff - though of course I love The Black Company with an irrational affection.
Mark Z. Danielewski, The 50 Year Sword: There's a lot of pretension baked into this one, which shouldn't come as a surprise, since Danielewski rose to prominence with House of Leaves, a surreal horror novel using $BIGNUM fonts and footnotes to in order to appear really damn clever. The 50 Year Sword has its text nested in 5 colors of quotes, in order to indicate which of the 5 orphan/narrators is meant to be reading it during its performance. Each page of text is also matched with a photograph/illustration, some of which are quite clever, but really you don't need to spare more than a glance to most of them until halfway through. The story proper is thin enough - a woman whose husband has left her goes to the birthday party of the woman who caused the dissolution of her marriage and gets stuck watching 5 orphans and a storyteller who claims to be a bad bad man with a very special sword - but the imagery around the rest of the sword-smith's weapons and the prices he demands were kind of cool. Not really recommended to people who don't obsess about that sort of thing, though.
Dorothy Dunnett, The Spring of the Ram: I continue to like Claes/Nicholas more than I liked Lymond, both because he isn't perfect (save for plot convenience) - he screws up at a grand scale at least once in this book through inexperience - and also because this series shows him learning. That said, The Spring of the Ram is kind of a weird book. It's not nearly as frustrating as I found Queen's Play, but in a lot of ways it's the sort of series book that's just marking time. We're told that Nicholas was never really worried about Doria as a threat, even though the book is structured so the reader's desire for Doria's elimination just keeps on building, and... yeah. There were a lot of places where readerly expectations and authorial intent didn't really mesh, at least for me, making The Spring of the Ram feel like it had a throwaway antagonist and was primarily about setting up Nicholas and Catherine for subsequent volumes, rather than its own events.
Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms (re-read): For me, at least, Ginzburg's arguments about folk culture take a back seat to the glimpses we get of the Inquisition and rural life in the Friuli through Menocchio's trial. An interesting counterpoint to Norwich's A History of Venice, even if Ginzburg's larger claims about oral culture among peasants are more speculative than well-grounded.
Yuki Hotta (illus. Takeshi Obata), Hikaru no Go 1-7 (re-read): A pre-teen Japanese boy touches a bloodstained Go board in his grandfather's attic and is haunted by Fujiwara No Sai, the spirit of a Heian Go master who cannot rest until he plays 'the Divine Move'. Enjoyable as a comedy in the first few volumes, the series gradually grows more concerned with the trappings of professional Go in Japan as it goes on, even as it falls into the common tropes and rhetoric of Shonen Jump manga - i.e. "strength", and "training". At least in these early volumes, Sai is one of the best parts of the story (though once Hikaru goes pro, the focus shifts enough that the supernatural elements of the series are dispensed with).
John Julius Norwich, A History of Venice: Norwich's history of Venice was both awesome and awesomely catty, with entire centuries dismissed in a few pages only to have the deeds of one of Norwich's favorite (or least favorite) doges take up several chapters. I can't really do the book justice in this post, but A) it's remarkable how many of the characters and atrocities in Dunnett's novel are taken from actual history - I'm still boggled that Dragut Rais was a real person - and B) after reading Norwich's account of the Turkish expansion into Europe, it's painfully clear that the Ottoman Turks were one of the historical models for Mordor. Not only does the sense of doom evoked by reports of the Turkish advance precisely match that evoked by Tolkien and later writers, but the Turks reached much further into Europe than I'd thought. (For example, Turkish raiders burned and pillaged the Friuli, one of Venice's provinces, on multiple occasions.)
Miho Obana, Kodocha v. 4-10 (re-read): Oh, teh dramaz! For a generally light-hearted girl's manga featuring a protagonist whose usual response is to overreact to everything, Kodocha goes some pretty dark places. Which is one of the reasons I like it, of course.
Anthony Price, The '44 Vintage: An interesting companion piece to Hour of the Donkey, The '44 Vintage follows Corporal Butler and 2nd Lieutenant Audley through the aftermath of the Normandy invasion, as they're seconded to a covert operations force tasked to recover hidden treasure from the retreating Nazis. Inevitably, things go wrong, and Audley and Butler have to navigate their way through a many-sided maze of intrigue. Enjoyable on its own, as well as a lens on Price's characters dealing with espionage and greed during World War II.
Hiroaki Samura, Blade of the Immortal 1-3: It's hard to tell how much of this is the original text vs. the localization, but I feel like Studio Proteus really got into its groove w/ regards to the translation later in the series. Which isn't to say that Samura's characters aren't gruesome and his depiction of conflicts between Tokugawa-era ronin problematic - they certainly are - but the combination of a localization that's still finding its feet with content that makes me more uncomfortable than the stylized ultra-violence that later characterizes the series made re-reading these tougher going than I'd expected.
The art and fight scenes are still crazy awesome, though.
Dorothy Sayers, The Nine Tailors: Possibly my favorite of the books I read in January, The Nine Tailors is a relentlessly domestic mystery set in the English fens, which spares almost as much attention to campanology and civic engineering as it does to the question of how an extra body could turn up in the local kirkyard. The actual mystery is intriguing, and the solution is ingenious (if not necessarily plausible), but what really worked for me was the care and attention Sayers took in describing not only the life of a country parish and its church, but the degree to which she integrated flood planning into the core of the book. The Nine Tailors is relentlessly nerdy, and does a better job of world-building in its description of Fenchurch St. Paul and its surrounding area than many SF novels do. Recommended as an example of a mystery novel that manages to be about much more than just the mystery.