Wednesday 18 December 2013

My top reads of 2013

Books I read in 2013, not necessarily books published in 2013. In no specific order.

Sycorax and other fables by Suniti Namjoshi: Not all of the fables work equally well; some are a bit too transparent. But when Namjoshi's wit, whimsy and thought-provoking themes all come together, which they do more often than not, the result is a series of new fables and poems that play with ideas, words and meaning while re-jigging familiar tales.

Crandolin by Anna Tambour: A wry, weird and witty fantasy tale which reads like a heady mix of Bulgakov, Gogol and who knows what else. All I ask of a good fantasy novel is that it be completely original and really well written. Crandolin is both.

Ambrosia For Afters by Kalpana Swaminathan: An excellently poised coming of age novel with the most wonderfully-named heroine ever and interspersed with powerful, slightly demented fairy tales.

The Invisibles by Grant Morrison: This is some seriously mind-blowing stuff. Morrison mixes psychedelia, occultism, cyberpunk, conspiracy theories and more to create a heady cocktail of secret societies, shifting realities and anarchy. I don't know why I waited so long to read this.

Gingerbread Girl by Paul Tobin: Elegantly drawn, engagingly written, this graphic novel uses an interesting technique of jumping between narrators with results that are both meaningful and whimsical. The central tale of a disturbed young woman is leavened by the elaborate metaphor the girl - and Tobin - weave around her dissociation.

Korgi by Christian Slade: Just a totally adorable, good-natured little fantasy comic series. Great art, incredibly loveable central characters and

Wilson by Daniel Clowes: I thought slice-of-life graphic novels were not my thing. This brilliantly bleak (but also grimly funny) story of a man who is incapable of relating to any other human being in an effective way changed my mind. The varied illustration styles helped too.

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf: Another graphic novel, this one is by a real-life high school classmate of the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. It's chilling and absolutely unputtdownable. Without soft-pedalling Dahmer's crimes, Derf examines how society and the school system failed him and failed to recognise that he was going off the rails.

Mythago Wood by Richard Holdstock: You know why most fantasy fiction sucks? Because it's about plotty plotty plot and wordbuilding and all that unwieldy stuff. This book is about stories, magic, imagination, desire, love, fear, hate, more magic, more stories. About the deep places that all these things come from. The good stuff, not the dull action thriller/soap opera gestures the genre wastes so much woodpulp on.

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge: This, on the other hand, is full of plot and worldbuilding, but here's the thing: the plot is chaotic and twisty, more a rollercoaster ride, with all the euphoria and nausea that implies, than a dreary trudge through a maze and the worldbuilding is equal party whimsical and mind-boggling. The fantasy world is examined, the social order is ripped apart and upturned and a great time is had by all, especially the reader.

The Red Tree by Caitlyn R. Kiernan: We're back in no plot land, and a what fine place it is. Fine, but deadly. A portrait of a woman who is feeling her age and who may be coming to the end of many things - the limits of her talent and productivity, the last of her chances at love - and coming face to face with mysteries that will absorb her in more ways than one. The weird tale is so hard to deploy across the length of a novel - but Kiernan does it to perfection.

The Young Merlin Trilogy by Jane Yolen: Yolen distills the magic and mystery of the mage of mages into a vivid yet economically tale of a young boy learning about the world and himself. The setting feels grittily real, but has room for wild magic and wonder too.

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki: This is a luminous, generous-spirited book which encompasses so many themes and stories without ever being too big for its britches. Someone called it half a great novel but I think neither half works as well with the other. It is also a novel which supports my contention that any truly contemporary literary novel must also partake of the qualities of speculative fiction.

Honourable mentions: Some Kind Of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce, By Light Alone by Adam Roberts, Anya's Ghost by Vera Brogosol, Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones, Freddie & Me by Mike Dawson, Why Does The World Exist by Jim Holt, Owly by Andy Runton, The Autumn Myth by Joel Lane, I See The Promised Land by Arthur Flowers and Manu Chitrakar.

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