It’s been an odd year for reading. I’ve never tried to write a review blog because my tastes are so eclectic – or even disordered – that I’ve no idea to whom such a page would appeal. And I’ve enough on my plate ensuring my own writing is kosher to worry about assessing other people’s.
But the year’s end is rapidly approaching and, in the absence of anything better to write about, here’s my five favourite novels published (in the UK) this year, chosen from the rather limited, biased and random selection on my book log. I hope you – or if not you then someone somewhere – will find it interesting.
Book of the Year:
Uprooted; Naomi Novik
Let’s begin at the top. Uprooted takes all the tropes of fairytales – the deep, dark wood; the sorcerer in the lonely tower; the rural, isolated community; the darkness in the forest – and spins them into something unique and special. Its heart lies in eastern European folk-tales but its perspective is – for a mediaeval world – refreshingly modern. Feminist, even. Novik shows she’s not a one-trick pony (her Temeraire novels have long been favourites) with a story that manages to feel both totally original and eternal.
Also in the mix:
Ancillary Mercy; Ann Leckie
The last in the Ancillary series, this is a book I admire intensely rather than really love. Put simply, it’s new. It’s different. In some ways it feels more like classic 60s sci-fi than modern space-opera (Andre Norton is the name that springs to mind); but it’s subject – multiple bodies, artificial intelligence, split personalities) are right up to date. Begin at the beginning – and hope for further entries in the series.
Haterz; James Goss
Dark, witty, and with a lot to say about the new internet world, this had a lot of buzz when first released and very much deserves its acclaim. A murderer is manipulated into eliminating internet trolls. Mischievously misanthropic without being over-cynical or devoid of hope; and with amusing caricatures of certain ‘popular’ figures who you secretly wish were treated as they are in this novel
The Annihilation Score; Charles Stross
Charles Stross’ Laundry files are the missing link between Cthulu, James Bond and PG Wodehouse. Arcane bureaucracy, technomancy, demons and violins – all delivered with wit and flair. Very British and very much fun
Unseemly Science; Rod Duncan
This world of semi-steampunk and half-suffrage is real and delightful and ominous and – yes – full of great characters. Elizabeth Barnabus, in her life masquerading as her fictional brother, is a great protagonist with a great deal to lose. I’m already looking forwards to the next entry in the series
Best Dr Who:
The Drosten’s Curse; AL Kennedy
Fizzing with energy and with a lightness of touch, this is simply a book to make you smile. I read criticism saying this lacked a real sense of peril: that maybe true. But that just allows the fourth Doctor more time to be himself – erratic, irreverent, larger than life. Simply a joy
The Shepherd’s Crown; Terry Pratchett
Ah, Terry. Never shall we see your like again. And ah, Granny. And Tiffany. And the Nac Mac Feegle. This is glorious.
In truth, The Shepherd’s Crown is flawed and doesn’t stand up with the rest of PTerry’s books. It’s half-finished. There isn’t a real sense of danger; it doesn’t quite deliver an emotional hook (except that which the reader brings in themselves). It’s too simple and doesn’t quite fly.
But it’s Terry Pratchett’s last novel. The writing is, as ever, something to drown in. Another draft and this would have been perfect. As it is, this is more than just one last cash-in. It’s the truth of a truer world than the one in which we all live.
Best Graphic Novel:
Rat Queens; Wiebe, K et al
Joyous! Joyous, I tell you. It’s nice to read a work that has no intention other than to entertain. A great parody of po-faced fantasy tropes, and specifically the D&D world of warriors, mages, clerics and thieves: of halflings and orcs and ogres, with a side-order of Cthuluality. It also has a character who chugs magic mushrooms like sweeties. What more do you need?
The Greatest Knight; Asbridge, T
Best non-fiction is tricky; I feel I’ve slipped a little on my reading, and there’s only a few that have been published this year. I’m still picking up random selections from the last decade – mostly about the writing craft – and the history and popular science sections of my local (rubbish) library have provided slim pickings. This, then, is simply the book I enjoyed most and remember best of that small pool. A biography of William Marshal, the 12th-13th century knight who served five kings from tournament glory to civil war. A fine read and a fascinating subject.
Discoveries of the Year:
In terms of the books that weren’t released this year – but that I’ve only just caught up with – my biggest discoveries were Hugh Howey’s Wool series and Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora. A special non-fiction nod goes out to Harari’s Sapiens, a book so good that I’ve also bought it for my wife and father (not the same person).
And that’s it. I know I’ve only scratched the surface here, but I must now crawl back to my Editorium before the clock strikes Holiday. I doubt we’ll be seeing any more bloggery from me until 2016, so let me just wish you all the happiest of happy times – whatever and wherever and with whomsoever – and I’ll catch you all in the new year.