Monday, December 31, 2012

Lucky 13 in 2012

Hello out there! It's end of another year and the beginning of a new one. Where did the time go. At the end of every year I look back at what I've read throughout the year and try to figure out what was, in my opinion, the best books of the year. This isn't scientific at all and in some ways it's not even all that critical, it is purely an assessment of what I had the most fun reading.

For anyone who hasn't seen Travels Through Iest do this in the past I'll provide a quick rundown of how I work. When I look at my favourite reads of the year I don't confine myself to books released in the calendar year. They may have been new releases, but they can also be things I happened to discover for the first time. There's also two sections. The main one is books I happened to pick and read for whatever reason, the secondary section is for m favourite book in the 100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels challenge that I am still working my way through. Oh there's no real order to this. The final book, the one with the number 1 next to it was what I enjoyed the most, but the others are not in any particular order.

A little note before I get started. I read a lot of books this year. The final count was 106, I can't ever remember reading that many books in the one year before. As a result the list this year is bigger than it's been in the past. The title says Lucky 13, there's 12 general books and 1 from the list.

Without further ado, what was Travels Through Iest reading and entertaining itself with in 2012?

12) Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

What a great ride this one was. It's the first of Ben Aaronovitch's Folly series. There are three of them now and they all get better and better. A truly original urban fantasy that manages to tick all the boxes and just never lets up with surprising the reader. For reasons I don't totally understand this was released as Midnight Riot in the US and that's how I reviewed it, but other than the title and the cover (I prefer the UK one above) it's the same book. If you haven't already given this one a try, even if you're not really an urban fantasy reader, I would do so. You won't regret it.

11) Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

I don't really go all fanboi about authors in general. I make an exception for Seanan McGuire. I just adore what she does, everything she does. Having said that Discount Armageddon stands above the rest of her work for me. It's pure urban fantasy and I believe it was the series (it's the first in the InCryptid series) that Seanan was put on this world to write. Please don't let the rather typical, but still totally gorgeous, urban fantasy cover put you off. It actually makes perfect sense when you read it. To give you some idea of what you're letting yourself in for with InCryptid: the main character Verity (that's her on the cover on her way to work) is a ballroom dance enthusiast who works as a cocktail waitress at a place called Fish and Strips, she's also a cryptozoologist. It's loads of fun and I haven't even mentioned the Aeslin Mice.

10) Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

From the moment I started seeing press releases about Saladin Ahmed's debut novel I knew I was going to like it. I adore Arabian Nights themed fantasy, and there simply isn't enough of it around. I was also quite taken by Jason Chan's cover, although I know it's copped stick from some quarters for being too cheesy. Hey we can all use some cheese from time to time. Those that said nice things about Throne of the Crescent Moon were right. It's a thrill ride from go to whoa. It's rather like Harry Dresden in an Arabian Nights setting with Harry as a fat old man who has been almost beaten down by life. Doesn't it sound cool?

9) Anno Dracula by Kim Newman

I came to Kim Newman's amazing mashup fairly late, and wondered why I took so long to pick it up. A Victorian England controlled by Vlad the Impaler, who is Victoria's consort, and in the grip of terror from Jack the Ripper, who is going around killing vampires. Kim Newman threw everything at this one and it somehow worked. Seriously what is not to like about that scenario? Once I started I simply couldn't stop reading and despite it being a fairly thick book it flew by.

8) The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham

The first book in Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin series (The Dragon's Path) made my Best Of 2011 list last year. If anything The King's Blood is even better. Daniel Abraham has hit on something really special with this series, and I think it is the best in progress epic fantasy series going around (yes even over A Song of Ice and Fire which has been losing steam ever since A Storm of Swords, and drops down the rungs in my estimation as it seems increasingly unlikely that we'll ever see the end of it). Abraham's real strength is in character development and that is in evidence all throughout the first two books of The Dagger and the Coin. Geder Palliako is one of the most fascinating sociopaths I've encountered in a fantasy, and he's frighteningly believable.

7) Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Blackbirds was like a punch in the face. It's that raw and shocking. I wasn't exactly sure what I expected, and it probably wasn't the story of Miriam Black, a foul mouthed woman forced to live on the fringes of society because of the curse she carries; the ability to see a person's moment of death with physical contact. It's a deeply affecting story and wonderfully carried out. There's a dark humour that runs through Blackbirds and it alleviates the almost constant misery that surrounds Miriam. The sequel (Mockingbird) came out this year as well, and it is every bit as dark and visceral as it's predecessor. I also have to give a shoutout to Joey Hi Fi's arresting cover, which has my vote as cover of the year.

6) Among Others by Jo Walton

I probably never would have read Jo Walton's Among Others if it hadn't been nominated for the Hugo. I'm very glad I did. It's a difficult book to review and equally hard to classify. There are elements of it that make it fantasy, but it could just as easily find itself in the general or even literary fiction section of the bookshop. Not a lot really happens in Among Others, but you find yourself compulsively reading it all the same. It is first and foremost a book for by and about science fiction and fantasy books and fandom. It won the Hugo in 2012 and it was richly deserved, considering the competition Among Others was really 'the little book that could'.

5) Chime by Franny Billingsley

I read Chime by accident. My wife picked it up because it looked interesting and her praise of it convinced me to read it. It's classified as YA fantasy and I think it even won a YA word, but this haunting gothic romance is so much more than that. It mixes all sorts of elements and Franny Billingsley has a facility with words that I've only seen matched by Catherynne M. Valente. An absolute dream of a novel that everyone should at least consider.

4) John Dies at the End by David Wong

Since reading John Dies at the End I've discovered that it's been made into a film due for release in 2013, and it seems to have become a bit of a cult classic already. I only picked it up because the sequel (This Book is Full of Spiders) caught my eye. However I was very glad I did. It reads like something that could have been written by a combination of Stephen King, Douglas Adams and Ben Edlund fuelled by too little sleep and too much alcohol. The author breaks every rule in a how to write a novel guide, and it still hangs together and works. This one is going to go down as one of those once in a million accidental hits.

3) Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

One of my rare forays into science fiction. I read it as part of the Book Club at Fantasy Faction, but my interest had been sparked by it's use in a couple of episodes of the TV show Person of Interest. This was a stunner of a book. There's very little science fiction in it, and that may even by why I liked it so much, but it's a great look at what science can do to a person and how it can either improve or completely ruin their lives. It's also a wonderful character study, written in a rather unique style and it unashamedly tugs on the heartstrings. It had me in tears by the tragic and inevitable end. So glad I gave myself the chance to read this.

2) The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente

I shouted at anyone who would listen about Catherynne M. Valente's first Fairyland book (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making), so I was very eager to get the sequel. It is, as expected, brilliant. It's got a darker edge than the first one and while it is still beautifully written it suffers a little by by comparison because it is not quite as whimsical and there's less of the unseen narrator, who is a great character in her own right. It is still well worth reading and fits neatly into the best books of the year, just not quite up the stratospheric heights set by it's predecessor.

So what's number 1? What could possibly top all of those? Travels Through Iest's best book of 2012 was...drumroll please....

1) Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Yes, my favourite book of the year was, unsurprisingly, a Joe Abercrombie. Joe effortlessly makes this list every time he releases a book, but this is the first year he's topped it. I had a ball with Red Country, Joe Abercrombie's take on a classic western, set in a pre industrial revolution fantasy world. It's brilliantly done and any student, even a casual one like me, of the western genre, will find a lot of nods and plenty to enjoy in this one. For mine it's not quite as good as 2011's The Heroes, but still the most enjoyable and engaging thing I read in 2012. Old favourites return and new ones are introduced. It will be fascinating to see what Joe can do next, and hopefully Red Country can earn him that elusive Hugo nomination.

Now for the list. At times I struggle to do this. If anyone's read this blog they know about my problems with the list. There's some good stuff on it, but there's some stuff I really hate. 2012 was a good one for the list overall. I don't include work I've already read on this best of though, so I pick something I'm new to. This year it is:

Replay by Ken Grimwood

I wasn't really sure what to expect from Replay, it wasn't what I got. This book was brilliant. A life lived over and over, just trying to do the right thing. Trying to get it right, just once, a balance for the person or people going through it and for the world itself, most of whom are completely unaware what's happening. This one punched me right in the feels and I never saw the end coming at all.

So that's 2012 in books. I look forward to what 2013 can bring me.

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