Archive for December 24th, 2009

December 24, 2009

Not a best books of 2009 list

Right, books published in 2009 that I am most likely to remember/think about/return to. It’s probably obvious from this list that pretty much everything I read this year was YA and/or SFF. That is, when I wasn’t reading school stories for the thesis.

In no particular order:

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. When I talked about this book a few months ago, I was speaking more about the book’s reception than the work itself. In case it wasn’t clear though, Lanagan is an amazing writer. The book is intense and lyrical (and never overwritten) dark and absolutely gutted me, and it’s going to be a long time before I read it again. But I will read it again, and I’m very glad I read it the first time.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. Young adult, steampunk, alternate history, flying whales. I was expecting this to be really good no matter what. And I absolutely loved it; I love Westerfeld’s protagonists (Deryn more than Alek), Keith Thompson’s illustrations are fantastic (my laptop wallpaper is currently his map of Europe), and this just all-round worked. The only thing I could have asked for is more politics. But Behemoth, the next book in the series is out next year and as far as I can tell focuses on a diplomatic mission to steampunk Constantinople*. So it looks like I’ll be getting what I wanted.
Incidentally, Leviathan‘s on sale at the Waterstones website here.

Soulless by Gail Carriger. Another alt-history novel, set in Victorian England. Alexia Tarrabotti deals with her Italian ancestry, her big nose and her growing attraction to (werewolf) Lord Maccon while solving a mystery and fending off rogue vampires with her trusty parasol. If this was a best books of 2009 list this book would not be on it, much as I enjoyed it. I can see plenty of things wrong with it, it’s not that original, I’m pretty sure it hasn’t changed my life in any way (except maybe as a stepping stone towards getting my boyfriend to read Austen). I think you’d have to be a romance novel fan to really get how hilarious Carriger’s book is. But in a year when I discovered Loretta Chase (thank you, Pradipta), rediscovered Sarah Caudwell, and turned frequently to Heyer and Wodehouse for solace, Soulless really held its own beside all this other clever, funny fluff. Which is actually a pretty huge compliment.

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett. It still amazes me that Pratchett manages to come out with a book a year, usually good and usually on or around my birthday. Unseen Academicals isn’t the best he’s ever written, particularly coming after last year’s amazing Nation. But it’s a good book, and I treasure each one of these now more than ever.

The City and The City by China Miéville. This is my book of the year. I love the genres it’s playing off, I love the concept, and I love Borlu’s voice. There’s a regular-size review of it that I wrote floating around the internet somewhere, so I’m not going to say much more. But it is amazing and if you have somehow managed not to read Miéville yet you must rectify the situation at once. Apparently next year we get Miéville + tentacles, which sounds about perfect.

Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton. I discovered Newton this year and spoke a couple of months ago about The Reef, his first novel. NoV appears at first a more conventional fantasy than The Reef. It’s a dying earth story and it is rather good. I still feel like Newton’s prose occasionally drops into clunkiness and some of the book’s subplots were a lot less original than others (*cough* Randur) – but I like how his head works and he has some serious world building skills. And so I’m pretty excited about City of Ruin, which comes out next year (and I love that cover more each time I look at it). 2010 looks like it’s going to be a pretty great year, bookswise.

The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness. Technically I read both of Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking books this year, but only TA&TA was published in 2009. I’ve talked about it a little here, and I’m not going to add much to that except to urge people once again to read these books. They’re authentic and thoughtful and painful, and just incredibly good.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. This is the only book on this list that I actually disliked. But I never said these were my favourite books of the year, and The Magicians really is a fascinating read. Because it’s about reading fantasy – right at the beginning of the book Quentin thinks about how the Fillory (Grossman’s version of the Narnia series) books function as literature, and Grossman plays around with that idea throughout. Which is great, and the sort of thing I was likely to enjoy even when the book made it a little too obvious. What ruined it for me were the characters. I don’t ask that my characters be flawless, and I suspect I’d be bored to death if they were. But I felt such a strong, irrational repulsion for Grossman’s characters that however much I liked the idea of what the author was trying to do it simply didn’t work for me. But The Magicians is here because it’s interesting, because it came very close to being something I could really enjoy, and it’s certainly worth reading.

2009 books that I still haven’t got hold of and really, really want to:

Finch, Jeff Vandermeer
Liar, Justine Larbalestier
Ash, Malinda Lo
You Might Sleep, Nick Mamatas