Tuesday 23 December 2008

End of year review + top 5 reads of 2008

Well, it's that time of year when everyone starts doing their 'best of the year' lists, so I thought I'd join in the fun and list the best five novels that I read this year. 2008 was something of a slow year for fantasy, with major novels by the likes of Rothfuss, Lynch and George R. R. Martin being pushed back into 2009. This is reflected by the fact that none of my top reads for 2008 were actually published this year. Next year promises to be a belter, so I expect it to be a very different story in 2009.

Before we continue, here's some stats for Speculative Horizons in 2008 (all at time of writing):

Total visits: 26, 714
Most visits in one single day: 278
Average per day: 122
Total page views: 39, 244
Average per day: 160
Books reviewed: 30
Authors interviewed: 4 (plus one editor!)

It was an eventful debut year for the blog, but the highlights include:
  • A snippet from my article on the Worlds of Fantasy TV programme appearing on the BBC4 website.
  • A tongue-in-cheek dig at self-appointed (apparently) 'Tolkien heir' (you at the back, stop sniggering!) Christopher Paolini, which attracted a huge amount of traffic to the blog. I'm far from the only person to have a serious issue with Paolini and his books...
  • My infamous (well, I like to think so!) rant about fantasy authors that don't read fantasy, that seemed to spread across half the genre blogosphere and caused one or two frilly-cuffed strops. Even the likes of Joe Abercrombie joined the fun.
  • Getting to know loads of new folks - authors, editors, and readers. There's a lot of good people in this genre. 
Anyway, on to the main attraction. Here are the best five novels that I read this year (in no particular order).

The Terror

By Dan Simmons 

(Bantam, 2007)

What I said: "...the lukewarm final chapters don't spoil what is a gripping novel. Well-researched and brilliantly written, The Terror is a harrowing tale which is
 masterfully told."

This might just be the best novel I read this year, and certainly contains one of the strongest opening chapters I've ever read. The writing is superb and oozes atmosphere and tension. The characters are impressively drawn and the plot masterfully constructed. Purists may whine about historical inaccuracies, but they're missing the point - this is a stunning historical horror novel, and when you write as well as Simmons does, the odd historical inconsistency doesn't matter. Quite simply, a brilliant novel.

The Scar

By China Miéville

(Tor; New Ed edition 4 April 2003)

What I said: "The Scar is one of those rare books that makes you ponder on the state of the genre, and causes you to wonder why more authors don't push the boundaries of fantasy. Beautifully written and populated with some wonderful characters, The Scar is a real tour-de-force that demonstrates the potential of the fantasy genre. Admittedly it won't appeal to everyone, but if you find yourself tired of bland fantasies and craving a more literary, innovative novel then look no further."

This novel changed the way I looked at fantasy. It made me realise just how wide the parameters of the genre are, and really reinforced to me the potential of fantasy literature in terms of innovation and adopting a more literary approach. I was also in awe of Miéville's style of prose; it makes 95% of other fantasy novels look bland in comparison. Innovation and style aside, what The Scar does is deliver an excellent story that explores the nature of freedom and democracy. There are some memorable characters - LOVE YOU UTHER DOUL - and fantastic sequences that (due to Miéville's style) are wonderfully visceral and cinematic. Not everyone will like this novel, but everyone should read it. 

Gardens of the Moon

By Steven Erikson

(Special edition published by Bantam Books, 2007)

What I said: "I could go on about Gardens of the Moon all day. I could extol the masterly characterisation, ramble about the epic, war-torn world that is steeped in history, babble about how damn cool some of the events are in this novel, heck I could even blabber about how awesome Anomander Rake's sword is.

But I won't. Instead, I'll just make a suggestion: read Gardens of the Moon. It's not for everyone, but at least you'll know whether it's for you after a short while. And if it is, the epic fantasy genre will never be the same again."

Even though I'd already read Gardens of the Moon, even on my second read through it was still better than most other books I read this year. I was sorely disappointed by Deadhouse Gates, partly because Gardens is such an amazing novel. Erikson imbues his world with so much depth, and some of the sequences are truly epic in every sense of the word. Like The Scar, this book won't appeal to everyone, but also like The Scar, it's ambitious, innovative, and undeniably cool. 

Midnight Falcon

By David Gemmell 

(Corgi 2000)

What I said: "I've considered the novel from several different angles, looking for flaws, but I just can't find any. The plot is masterfully constructed and totally gripping, the characters possess great depth and the story itself echoes with all the hallmarks of genuine legends, with an intense climax.

Midnight Falcon is not my favourite David Gemmell novel, but it's undoubtedly one of his best."

I've read most of Gemmell's novels, and I didn't think he could surprise me anymore, but I was wrong. Even by Gemmell's standard this is a fantastic novel. I didn't really like Sword in the Storm, the first novel in the Rigante series, but Midnight Falcon made me very glad I trusted the quality of Gemmell's work and stuck with the series. Probably one of the most perfect novels I've ever read, a real masterpiece. Gemmell is sorely missed. 

Altered Carbon

By Richard Morgan

(Gollancz 2002)

What I said: "What Altered Carbon essentially boils down to is a tough, gritty detective storyline fused with original sci-fi elements that combine to make an enthralling, addictive novel. The superior prose, twisting plot and wonderfully human characters make this a book that's very hard to put down. It's a sci-fi novel for people that don't normally read sci-fi, and a damned good one at that."

This book makes a very good argument for why you should read SF, a genre which I've never been that keen on. Quite simply, this novel blew me away. As I said, this is a SF novel for people like me who are perhaps a little scared by the prospect of having to try and understand reams of information about gravity and highly advanced technology. There's plenty of technology here and some great concepts, but Morgan doesn't bludgeon you over the head with it. A massively impressive, addictive blast. I'll definitely be reading more Morgan novels and will probably check out some other SF as well. 

So, those were my top five reads of the year. Honorable mentions go to:
And that's about it for 2008. Thanks for all the support, comments and banter throughout the year - I very much look forward to doing it all over again in 2009, which promises to be a cracking year for fantasy. 

Feel free to post your own favourite reads of the year in the comments section!

Merry Christmas! :)


Ben said...

Nice list! I'm reading The Scar right now and it is AMAZING! Much better IMHO than Perdido Street Station...

ediFanoB said...

I like your list. It seems we have in a lot of cases a similar taste.

TERROR by Dan Simmons is the current read of my wife

THE SCAR is on my shelf

I will get THE GARDENS OF THE MOON within this evening (I expect to get all MALAZAN BOOK OF THE FALLEN as a Christmas gift)

MIDNIGHT FALCON is on my to-buy to-read list


I read
-The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan
-The Ten Thousand by Paul Kearney
-Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

AND I also wait for
Rothfuss, Lynch and George R. R. Martin

Swainson said...

In no particular order my favorite first reads of 2008.

The First Law, Joe Abercrombie. I know it's a cheat to name the series.

Iron Angel by Alan Campbell

The Steel Remains, Richard Morgan. This pipped Black Man to the top 5 by a nat's.

The Painted Man, Peter Brett

Fatal Revnant, Stephen Donaldson

Have a good one

Iain said...

I am currently reading The Painted Man which is turning out to be a really enjoyable book. At first I thought I had bought a YA fantasy novel...then the demons attacked. As well as the odd dose of incest. About 100 pages in. Heartily recommend it to anyone.

I love Dan Simmons and read The Terror did not disappoint int he slightest. Midnight Falcon is one of David Gemmell's best. The Gardens of the Moon...where do I start?? I disagree with you about Deadhouse Gates. Get on with Memories of Ice as I think you will love it. All the major characters from the first book make an exhilirating return. Haven't read anything by China Mieville which I must remedy and have just bought Empire in Black and Gold.

Top 5

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The Ten Thousand by Paul Kearney (a fellow Co. Antrim man, how could I possibly not love it.

The Steel Remains by Richard 'f**king' Morgan

A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay. If you haven't read this guy do yourself a favour. In my opinion he is right up there with George RR.

A belated Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year