Books of 2017: Fantasy, scifi and all the other stuff part 2

Ah, dear reader. We’ve come to the final chapter. Who will turn out to be the murderer?

Wait, wait, wrong post. That was the best crime books of 2017 post. This is the other stuff. You know, with spaceships, dystopia, zombies and swords. The good stuff.

Without further ado, I hereby present my top five fantasy, scifi and all that other stuff of the year.

(Yes, yes. there *are* 8 books on the list. Well, nine if you count 5(a) and 5(b) as two separate books. Which technically they are, but they’re part of one story and the list was long enough already so I’ve given them joint fifth place. Look, it’s *my* list. You go and do your list and make it a ‘top five’ or a ‘top 10’ and be all pedantic and ‘ooh look at me with the correct number of books’. Send me a link when you’re done.)

8. The Collapsing Empire – John Scalzi

Fast-paced, with funny dialogue which fizzes with snark and a glorious cast of characters. We’ve got grand Houses battling for influence with the Emperox, wormholes, sarcastic space captains, pirates, dukes and a glorious cast of minor players in the empire-spanning game of power.

Favourite character is hard to pick – there’s the deliciously foul-mouthed Kiva, daughter of the House of Lagos, unafraid to speak her mind (and she does get most of the best lines). Cardenia, newly-annointed Emperox Grayland II, ruler of, well pretty much everything, and not entirely thrilled about it. The rival Houses, with their Machiavellian schemes to gain or influence power reminded me of Frank Herbert’s Dune (though slightly more foul-mouthed).

The plot veritably bounds along from planet to planet (or slightly more accurately, from planet to Hub) as we follow our heroes (if you can call anyone here a hero) on an exhilarating, rip-roaring galaxy-spanning adventure.

7. The Feed, by Nick Clark Windo

I do love a good dystopia (spoiler: there’s another one further down the list) and The Feed is just that. Splendid concept, beautifully and horrifyingly realised. Imagine having Twitter/Facebook/everything implanted in your head where every fact is mere nanoseconds away, where books are obsolete and society is addicted the ever-present rush of knowledge and has been for years. Now, imagine what happens when the Feed goes down. Superb. The opening chapters are a horrifyingly credible view of a future not too far away.

6, The Burning Page, by Genevieve Cogman (Pan, December 2016)

Book #3 in The Invisible Library series, following on from The Masked City (a book of the year for 2015), we follow the adventures of Librarian spy Irene and her dragon assistant Kai as they try to save themselves and The Library from destruction at the hands of arch nemesis (and deliciously evil) Alberich. Glorious fun, superbly inventive. It’s got books, dragons and librarian spies. Just go and read it. Probably start with book #1 though. Genevieve’s latest book, The Lost Plot is out now!

5(a). The Girl With All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey

5(b). The Boy on the Bridge, by M.R. Carey

A double-header for book 5. The Girl With All The Gifts is a disturbing dystopian thriller which is a fresh take on a well-trodden genre staple.

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

. It’s the characters which make this book so special. Melanie is wonderfully drawn and we see the crumbling world through her eyes. The ending is spectacular.

The Boy on The Bridge then, is another story in the same world. I was blown away by TGWATG and approached this second book with no small amount of trepidation. How do you follow a book like that? Mike Carey knocks it out of the park. The Boy on the Bridge is instantly recognisable, yet very different. It’s one of those books that you just inhale in a single sitting, then fall back and marvel at what you’ve just read. The Girl was good, the Boy was astonishing, and together they make one hell of a team.

4. Defender, by GX Todd

Set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia where something… unusual has happened, Defender tells the story of a young girl called Lacey and a drifter, Pilgrim. The world has changed – the biggest threat to mankind is from the voices that have started appearing – voices which tell people to do bad, bad things. Suicide, murder or a descent into madness – you don’t get to choose, the voices do…

Defender is part thriller, part horror, with a dash of sci-fi. It’s startlingly original, blackly comic, bleakly desolate, with an utterly fantastic cast of characters, and a setting which just oozes menace. It’s dark and brutal, and definitely not for the faint-hearted, but if you give it a chance, it’ll grab you by the hand and take you on a dust-soaked ride across the wilderness to some places you’ll not soon forget.

Phew. Top three territory now (and I’ve checked, and yes there *are* only three). Super tough to choose between them, but the ‘Top X’ format demand that I do just that.

In third place, we have Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames

I have a tiny confession to make. The book turned up and, dear reader, I judged it by its cover. More specifically, I judged it by its title, the ‘Wyld’ made me think of the terrible fantasy epics of my youth and Wyld Stallyns from Bill & Ted.

Oh how wrong I was. How very, very wrong. Kings of the Wyld is, quite simply enormous fun. Clay Cooper, determinedly helmetless member of the Watch, returns home to find his old mate Gabe with one last job: Let’s get the band back together and go on a quest to find his daughter on the other side of the world. It’s only a thousand miles through a monster-infested forest. Should be no problem.

What follows is a splendid rollercoaster of the most rollicking kind, with a grand smörgåsbord of beasts and monsters, evil villians, ex-girlfriends, former managers, relentless bounty hunters and what will soon become your favourite wizard since Gandalf (or Rincewind, depending on your literary tastes), Moog.

Kings of the Wyld has a simply delicious premise – what if the bands of adventures were treated as rockstars, with bookers sorting out gigs to clear out a horde of goblins, or dealing with an infestation of kobolds? Clay’s band really do get back together (one even wields an axe) and go on one final world tour with the action cranked firmly up to 11.

It’s an epic quest which simply rattles along, putting our ageing heroes with their sore backs and gammy knees through trials and tribulations one after the other until the grand finale. Superb entertainment.

In second place (but again, the top three might as well have gone in a hat) we have Age of Assassins, by RJ Barker

A refreshingly different hero, in a splendid coming-of-age tale of assassins set to track down another assassin, with a dash of intrigue, magic, skulduggery and shenanigans aplenty. If I’ve met you over the course of the last six months, I’ve probably suggested that you go read this book. It’s one of *those* books.

It’s got everything. Great characters, and more to the point interesting characters doing interesting things that actually make you care about them, a tightly-crafted plot (involving the aforementioned skulduggery) and some quite gloriously gritty worldbuilding. Oh, and footnotes. RJ appears to love footnotes almost as much as I do. It was refreshing to see a disabled hero (if you can call Girton a hero) where his disability wasn’t just a plot twist, or something which needed to be there in order for the story to be. Much like Furiosa in Mad Max Fury Road, just another person in a story. Utterly brilliant. And RJ is a thoroughly nice chap too, with only a *tiny* obsession with antlers.

And so we come to number one. Though as I said earlier (assuming you were paying attention and not just scrolling down to see which book I liked best), the top three are a tightly-knit bunch.

At #1, we have Godsgrave, by Jay Kristoff

The sequel to the much-loved Nevernight (book #3 in last year’s list), Godsgrave took everything which was awesome about the world (which was pretty much everything) and cranked the volume over as far as it would go, and then some. Mia sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium for a chance to finally kill Scaeva and Duomo (who killed her father), who will be making a rare public appearance at the games in Godsgrave. Think Gladiator, but with more stabbystabstab and assassins.

I was super lucky to score an advance copy in August, at which point all other books were unceremoniously pushed to one side as I lost myself in the world of stabby assassins, twisted plots and intrugue. Oh, and death, blood, murder, revenge. You know, all the good stuff. Nevernight was (and indeed is) one of my all-time favourite books. Jay has a love of footnotes which ranks alongside mine and RJ’s, and I adore him for it. Godsgrave is staggeringly good. I cannot wait to see where Jay takes us in book 3.

So, dear reader. Thanks for sticking with me. Those were my books of 2017. I know there’s a couple of weeks left to go, but I’m guessing nothing’s going to shift Godsgrave off the top spot…

What have been your books of the year? Have you read any of the books on my list? I’d love to hear what you think!

Books of 2017: Fantasy, scifi and all that other stuff part 1

Hello, lovely readers. I hope that you enjoyed my lists of top crime books (part 1: the honourable mentions, and part 2: the top five(ish). However, I know that not everyone loves crime books, and whilst I do, I also enjoy reading sci-fi and fantasy and dystopia and YA and other stuff.

So, here goes. Part 1, again with the honourable mentions. Cracking books! In no particular order…

Killing Gravity – Corey J. White (Tor, May 2017)

Killing Gravity is a kick-ass, whip-smart sci-fi short story/novella/novellette(?) which is a pure joy to read. It’s short, sharp and stunningly bloody, with a fiercely independent, void-damned spacewitch as the main protagonist. Echoes of Firefly abound, with a close-knit (albeit smaller) crew on a series of adventures as Mariam ‘Mars’ Xi goes on the hunt for vengeance. For such a short book, a *lot* gets crammed into the narrative.
The cast is refreshingly diverse and *interesting*, and it features what Warren Ellis described as ‘a cute space ferret of death’. Only tiny criticism would be that it was too short! The story, not the cute space ferret of death.

Strange Practice- Vivian Shaw (Orbit Books, July 2017)

Meet Dr Greta Helsing, medic to the… differently alive residents of London. She looks after the capital’s supernatural inhabitants, be they vampire or vampyre (and yes, there is a difference!), ghoul, mummy or demon. The trouble is, someone is going around killing people. And that simply will not do. Dr Helsing (her family dropped the ‘van’ many years ago) must join forces with some of her patients to sort it all out.

A splendid adventure, and the underlying mystery is nicely twisty, and Dr Helsing has a splendidly quirky coterie of undead friends to aid her on her quest and in her rather peculiar practice.

Jade City – Fonda Lee (Orbit Books, November 2017)

Described as “a cross between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Godfather with magic and kung fu”, Jade City is all that and more. The magic system is both delightfully simple (jade gives its owner magical powers – the more jade the stronger the powers) and wonderfully complex. The worldbuilding is top-notch – it feels like a mishmash of a variety of different places – Hong Kong spring to mind, but with other far eastern islands layered on top, creating a unique, new-yet-familiar setting.

Similarly, the characters draw on the familiar – Yakuza, the Triads, and yes, The Godfather, but with its own unique polish. The level of detail in the world presented is fantastic – from the food, religion, clan power structures to the cars and weaponry – moon blades, and talon knives, jade giving the wearer powers, but too much in the wrong hands bringing the dreaded (and deadly) itches. The powers that Jade confers, giving us some splendid kung fu sequences. It’s all too easy to see how Jade City would rock on the big screen.

Blackwing, by Ed McDonald (Gollancz, July 2017)

I heard Ed speak at GollanczFest in November, talking about swords and fantasy and stuff (notably bringing a landmine to a fantasy weapon-off against a dragon, a spaceship, Abhorsen’s bells and, amusingly, a comedy boxing glove filled with a horseshoe. One of those times where you *really* had to be there). I picked up Blackwing soon afterwards and cor, what a book. Brutal, dark, and bloody, it’s the story of one man’s battle to escape his destiny. It’s dark and it’s funny in places, and has some of the most imaginative, terrifying monsters you’ll ever come across. Hugely recommended.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope, by Claire North (Orbit, May 2016)

A globe-trotting jewel thief who no-one can remember. An app which promises perfection. A truly fascinating protagonist. The Sudden Appearance of Hope is a remarkable book, with a unique voice. What would you do if no-one could remember you? How would you cope? Relationships are out, and you’d struggle to get medical treatment. Every time someone met you, it’d be the first time, kind of a never-ending groundhog day.

Hope is a curious and wonderful character who is remarkable for being unremarkable, and the author really gets under Hope’s skin, with all her worries and fears and the spectrum of grey morality that Hope inhabits. The fight against Prometheus, the makers of the Perfection app, plays out this moral ambiguity beautifully – are they really the bad guys, wanting to help people become perfect? What lines will Hope cross to bring them down? Stunningly good.

Phew. My five honourable mentions. Each highly recommended, and I hope you do find something there which piques your fancy. Do let me know if you do spot something you like, or if you’ve read any of them.

Part 2 will be along soon with my top sci-fi and fantasy books of 2017. What will make the cut? Who will take the coveted #1 spot?

Books of 2017: Criminally good books, part 1

Ah, December. That time of year when a young[1] chap’s thoughts turn to the annual Books of The Year List.

I’ve read 55 books so far this year, and there’s a couple of weeks left. How does one narrow it down to a top ten?

Easy. You don’t.

I’ve split the list into crime and non-crime, and then each into two halves. Even then I was left with some tough choices…

First up, the honorable mentions in the crime genre. All great books.

In no particular order…

All the Missing Girls – Megan Miranda

All The Missing Girls is a small town thriller with a splendid cast of characters. Everyone thinks they know everyone else, and it’s only when an outsider comes along that things start to unravel. This is a book which absolutely demands that you pay attention. It’s meticulously organised and beautifully constructed. If you like your crime dark and twisty, this one is most definitely for you. Highly recommended.

The Fourth Monkey – JD Barker

I read this one over the summer and despite spotting the twist fairly early on (perils of reading too many crime thrillers!) I loved it. I also really liked the way the main story is interspersed with the diary extracts of 4MK as a young boy – they really gave the story added depth and intrigue – you’re torn between wanting to find out more about the diary, but also more about the investigation in the present day.

It’s creepy and twisty and has definite shades of Jeffrey Deaver. Definitely falls into the ‘page-turner’ category, The Fourth Monkey is highly recommended.

Need to Know – Karen Cleveland
Sometimes a book turns up which piques your interest right off the bat. I do love a good spy thriller and Need to Know doesn’t disappoint. It’s clever, rattles along at a fair old clip and poses some interesting questions – what would you do when faced with a choice between your country and your family? It’s one of those can’t put it down books which I polished off in a single sitting, more or less.

Cursed – Thomas Enger

Despite being the fourth book to feature Henning Juul, this can easily be read as a standalone – there are hints at previous cases and events, but this story stands firmly on its own two feet. Henning and Nora are two fantastic characters, with a real and compelling depth to their relationship and backstory.

I particularly loved Nora and her story – a strong, wilful investigative journalist who will stop and nothing, and brook no nonsense from anyone in pursuit of the truth, whilst dealing with a complex and challenging personal life.

Cursed is dark and riveting, with a plot which zigs and zags through a twisting landscape of suspense, truth and lies. Brutal in places, but beautifully layered and plotted.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie

Many months ago I decided that this year I was going to read a ‘classic’ crime novel once a month, both to catch up with books I’ve always intended to read, but also to see how they compare with their modern-day equivalents.

First up was the case of a Murder On the Orient Express, featuring one M. Poirot and his ‘little grey cells’ (and splendid moustaches).

It’s utterly wonderful, and I’m vaguely horrified that I’ve not read any of her books before. WHY DID NO-ONE TELL ME? The setting is glorious (and I’m a sucker for a book which immerses you in a location to the point where you can almost feel it), the characters splendid and varied, Poirot is cunning and devilishly clever and the mysterious murder is, at the end of the day, delightfully solved. It’s not Poirot’s first case, but you don’t really need to have read the others to benefit from it.

Rattle – Fiona Cummins

Last, but by no means least, and I’m not sure how I’ve missed reviewing this, we have Rattle, by Fiona Cummins.  I read it over the summer and loved it. Superbly creepy with a fantastic serial killer, full of twists and turns. Great stuff!

So, there we have the first half of the first list – the honorable mentions. Keep an eye out next week for the top five[2] crime books of the year!

[1] stop sniggering at the back. Yes, you.
[2] spoilers – there are more than five…

Age of Assassins – RJ Barker

TO CATCH AN ASSASSIN, USE AN ASSASSIN…

Girton Club-foot, apprentice to the land’s best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But their latest mission tasks him and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder.

In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire land.

Ah, Girton Club-Foot. A refreshingly different hero, in a splendid coming-of-age tale of assassins set to track down another assassin, with a dash of intrigue, magic, skulduggery and other shenanigans.

I’ll warn you now, this is one of those books that I’ll pester you mercilessly about reading until you finally gave in and read it[1]. You know the ones: Red Rising, Nevernight, Tracer or Kings of the Wyld. The awesome ones.

It’s got everything. Great characters, and more to the point interesting characters doing interesting things[3] that actually make you care about them, a tightly-crafted plot (involving the aforementioned skulduggery[4]) and some quite gloriously gritty worldbuilding.

I’ve read a lot of great books recently, but Age of Assassins shouldered its way in to stand firmly amongst them and will most definitely be on the illustrious[5] Books of 2017 list.

All the more impressive for being a debut – RJ Barker is a talented writer and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

I just hope that he’s writing quickly. Add this book to your list, kids. Or I’ll nag you until you do. You know it makes sense.

Age of Assassins is out in August and is published by Orbit.

Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit Books and RJ Barker for the chance to read an early review copy. You can find RJ over on twitter @dedbutdrmng. He won’t bite[6].

[1] Sorry[2]
[2] Not sorry in the slightest.
[3] and quite often unpleasant
[4] not forgetting the shenanigans. Who doesn’t love shenanigans?
[5] for a given value of ‘illustrious’
[6] probably. Unless you ask him *really* nicely

Defender – GX Todd

In a world where long drinks are in short supply, a stranger listens to the voice in his head telling him to buy a lemonade from the girl sitting on a dusty road.

The moment locks them together.

Here and now it’s dangerous to listen to your inner voice. Those who do, keep it quiet.

These voices have purpose.

And when Pilgrim meets Lacey, there is a reason. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia where something… unusual has happened, Defender tells the story of a young girl called Lacey and a drifter, Pilgrim. The world has changed – the biggest threat to mankind is from the voices that have started appearing – voices which tell people to do bad, bad things. Suicide, murder or a descent into madness – you don’t get to choose, the voices do…

Defender is a thriller, of sorts. It’s also part horror, and you could argue there’s a dash of sci-fi in there too. It’s also startlingly original, blackly comic, bleakly desolate, with an utterly fantastic cast of characters, and a setting which just oozes menace. It’s one of those ‘just one more chapter’ books, which keeps you up until far too late.

It’s dark and brutal, and definitely not for the faint-hearted, but if you give it a chance, it’ll grab you by the hand and take you on a dust-soaked ride across the wilderness to some places you’ll not soon forget.

It’s a stunning debut, and I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s going to be one of those books that I pester you about until you give in and read it. You may as well just go and read it and save yourself the nagging.

I can’t wait to find out where book 2 will take us. I just know that it can’t get here soon enough.

You can find GX Todd on twitter @GemTodd. Many thanks to Headline for the review copy.