Another year of reading is done and dusted. I read 78 books for the year, not quite up to the dizzying heights of plus 100 that 2018 reached, but pretty respectable all the same. As always there were some standouts for the year and so here they are:
Jade City by Fonda Lee. I think I purchased this some time in 2018, but it didn’t make its way up to the top of the pile in 2019. It’s one of those set in a low magic world that is very similar to ours, but at the same time totally different. It was actually kind of fun trying to work out where the various locations actually were. The setting itself feels like a 60’s or 70’s time frame. The premise is that certain well connected families on the island of Kekon have access to jade and it gives them physical powers beyond that of the jadeless population. The jade families are rather like the tongs of Hong Kong and the book takes us into one of these families while they’re in the middle of a power shift and a turf war. It was an action packed book with an interesting premise and some strong character development, unafraid to make bold choices in story direction, which kept the reader guessing. Highly recommended.
Vultures by Chuck Wendig. In 2012 I read Blackbirds, the first of Wendig’s Miriam Black books, the story of the inventively foul mouthed Miriam Black, a woman cursed with the ability to touch someone and see the moment of their death. Throughout a number of years and 6 books. I’ve loved these from the moment I first met Miriam in Blackbirds and adored Wendig’s short, sharp, visceral, brutal style of writing. They have a noirish feel about them and for the past few books, possibly because they’ve been set in and around Florida they’ve given me a very Burn Notice feel about them. The conclusion of Miriam’s story in Vultures was damn near perfect and the twist in the ending was a real kick in the guts.
Amnesty by Lara Elena Donnelly. This was the final of Donnelly’s Amberlough Dossier books. The setting and idea behind these is almost unique. Fantasy as written by Len Deighton or Le Carre. The only thing that really qualifies them as fantasy is that they’re set on a secondary world, but that world is not low magic, it is no magic. Not having magic, but an unreal setting allows Donnelly to write about people, not events, and follow their journeys through an always dangerous world. Amnesty brought the whole bloody mess to an appropriately explosive conclusion.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. This is the story of two individuals with unique abilities. It follows their lives and how they first met and develop a relationship and then follows their own separate journeys through life until fate demands that their lives once again intersect. It’s a lovely coming of age story which explores people, events and power. It was Anders’ debut and totally astonished me. Leapt easily into my best reads of the year for 2019.
The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch. This is part of Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, but it doesn’t have Peter in it. One of the things that I, and I suspect other readers of the series, have asked themselves, is do other countries have police whose job it is to investigate magical crimes and events? The answer is yes and it’s covered in this novella. One of the strengths of the Peter Grant series has been the obvious love that Aaronovitch has for the city of London (I actually felt that the one book located outside of the city; Foxglove Summer, was probably the weakest entry), so I approached The October Man with a bit of trepidation, not only did it not feature Peter, but was also set in Germany. I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed it and the main character Tobias Winter was a welcome change from seeing everything filtered through Peter’s eyes. Things are definitely different on the continent, but in a good way and it’s great to see that the concept has applications elsewhere. Would be interesting to see an encounter and maybe even a collaboration between Peter and Tobias in the future.
To Be Taught If Fortunate by Becky Chambers. I don’t think Chambers is capable of writing a bad book. This novella, while still science fiction, moves away from her Wayfarers series. The two are not at all connected, even peripherally. This is about a manned space exploration and in what is a Chambers signature it’s less about the technology than it is about the people aboard it and how they interact with each other and deal with the situation that they face. Stunning, and it should win the Hugo for best novella in 2020, although I suspect that it won’t.
The Girl Who Could Move Shit With Her Mind by Jackson Ford. I picked this up because I liked the title. I knew nothing about it, but that is a very eye and mind catching title. It was a really fun ride. There’s a fair bit of Miriam Black about Teagan, although their ‘gifts’ are dissimilar, they have the same cynical outlook on life and the world, plus neither of them really play well with others. It was just such a thrill ride that kept me turning pages.
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire. In things that aren’t her two long running series McGuire is at the top of her game, Middlegame is an example of that. It shares a bit with All the Birds in the Sky in that it’s about two gifted people who first meet when they’re children, separate and then life forces them back together again. It does have a McGuire/Mira Grant (Mira Grant is a pseudonym for Seanan McGuire, it tends to deal with zombies and recently mermaids) hallmark to it, in that the two principals are part of a giant genetic experiment. I think it’s the best thing that McGuire has written under her own name.
A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie. Abercrombie returns to the Circleworld, where he set his first 6 novels, after a successful foray into dystopian YA fiction with the Shattered Seas trilogy. Plenty of time has passed between the events in Red Country and A Little Hatred, enough that the characters of the original 6 novels have had families who have grown up and taken centre stage. It’s the coming of the 2.0’s Abercrombie style. I’m not generally a fan of grim dark, but Abercrombie does it with more style and humour than any of his contemporaries and that trademark wit is on display throughout A Little Hatred, it’s also an interesting fantasy look at the Industrial Revolution. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Abercrombie is a one trick pony, but he does that trick better than anyone else with a similar act.