This is a companion piece to my post entitled Favorite Authors. The authors I will address in this post are ones I admire and who I feel are worth studying by any student of the writing craft.
When I read Joe Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy, I was convinced he'd become one of my favorite writers. Those books were unlike anything I had previously read, totally refreshing. They were and are a complete departure from Tolkienesque fantasy. Then I made a mistake of reading Best Served Cold, which I absolutely despised. That book ruined my taste for Abercrombie's novels for many years. Some people seem to really like Best Served Cold. To me, it seemed like a long set aside manuscript got pulled out of the bottom drawer. I say all this to explain why it took me many years before I read more of Abercrombie's novels. Recently, I finished The Heroes, and I am currently reading Red Country. The latter book is so damn good I daresay Joe might one day make it onto my favorite authors list. He does two things amazingly well: action and interesting characters (not likable necessarily, but always engaging). Often his characters have innumerable flaws and are in many ways despicable, but he usually manages not to make them repulsive. Instead, they're interesting and, occasionally but not often, sympathetic. I think this is incredibly hard to do, and makes his books worth reading and studying.
Chuck Wendig's Zer0es is a fantastic book. It's undoubtedly the best one he's written, in my opinion. You see, Wendig has a style (voice?) that is in your face as in the writing draws attention to itself. Sometimes the style compliments the story. Other times, it doesn't work that well, at least for me – the similes and metaphors and word choices are just too over-the-top. But when that style works well, it's pretty awesome. Wendig is also one of the best writers at creating little character vignettes that are memorable and add a little extra spice to his stories. Good examples of these are found in his Star Wars: Aftermath novels.
John Sandford's Prey novels are some of the best thrillers out there, maybe the best. I've read scads of his books, and all are good. Some, like Winter's Prey, are awesomely great. Lucas Davenport, his lead character, isn't always likable but is forever interesting, and so are the cases he must crack. Just for the remarkable staying power of Lucas Davenport as the protagonist over a couple dozen novels make the Prey books worth studying.