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My Top Reads of 2012

Inspired by the recently agented Jennifer Williams AKA Senny Dreadful, I thought I would dust off the blog and post about the top five books that lit my fire this year. I have the obligatory year in review post coming up too so yes you could say my posts are like buses.

Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper

This is the last book I listened to on Audible. It’s book two of a fantasy secondary-world quadrilogy called The Wild Hunt. The basic premise of the world in which the tales are set is that there is a ‘hidden’ world beyond a veil, a barrier between them, and that this veil is under threat. Should it break bad things will happen.

I read book one, Songs of the Earth, on my Kindle and I found it to be a solid, well written, fantasy tale but I just didn’t get enormously excited about the plot or the characters. Amazingly for a mid-series novel, where we normally just get a load of filling before the big showdown at the end, Trinity Rising instead got me enormously excited, about everything. We follow some great characters, from all sides of the good-evil divide, the writing is as elegant as in the first book, but the themes are a lot darker and grown up. There is the elf healer Tanith from the first book, along with Gair from book one, sulking over his lost love. Both of them are thrown into different environments so we get to see different sides of them. We also meet Savin, the antagonist who was vaguely distant in book one, and see what an evil and twisted git he really is. Interestingly the plot is non-linear and doesn’t follow immediately on from the last page of Songs, we see particular events again from other points of view, which certainly makes them much more interesting. The best bit for me was a new character, Teia (apologies for the spelling, I didn’t see it written), similar to Gair in that she has  hidden talents for magic, a chosen one, but far more interesting to me for the cultural setting and the situation in which she finds herself – pregnant and ostracised from her tribe. She is a young tribeswoman of the plainsfolk – a kind of Sami/Viking/Mongol people – being oppressed on every side, at one point even her family are forced to reject her.

Really enjoyed this, was left in tears at one point. Definitely looking forward to the rest of the series.

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

I’d heard lots of good things about this, and lots of bad, but bad in a good way such as the protagonist is a horrible bastard who does terrible things. That sounded perfect to me and I was not disappointed. It’s the first in a series called The Broken Empire, all told in the first person by the titular Prince Jorg. We meet him in a very unprincely situation with a gang of cutthroat mercenaries who he, at only fifteen years of age, manages to bring to heel as together they sack a small town. We soon learn that it’s all part of a greater plan, and in flashback we discover why Jorg is who he is, what he has suffered and lost, and what he plans to do – become king, and eventually emperor. A typical ambition realised and told in a very original way. Every character is fleshed out, every setting is distinct, but the best thing has to be the snappy dialogue and Jorg himself. I look forward to following his exploits.

Red Country by Joe Abercombie

As everyone probably knows, Joe Abercombie likes to take fantasy and dress it up in unusual ways. Red Country is no different and it views fantasy through the filter of a western. Not a genre that has seen a lot of popularity in recent years, but Abercombie makes it work with huge success. No high noons, shootouts or  sheriffs, this is still the First Law setting and is about exploring unchartered territory, tracking loved ones across pitiless lands and settling old scores . . . and knives, you can never have too many of those.

Several familiar faces rear their heads, but most are new, wittily and sharply drawn as always without ever falling into caricature. The protagonist is a feisty young woman called Shy South who sets off with her stepfather to retrieve her kidnapped younger brother and sister. Do things work out okay in the end? That’s up to the reader to decide I suppose, but things are never what  they seem in these stories, which is why I love them.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

I had been looking forward to this for a while as it takes us out of the quasi-medieval Europe of typical fantasy and takes us to quasi-medieval Arabia. Like me, Saladin is an unabashed D&D geek and I was keen to see the monsters and settings that would be brought to life from Arabian folklore. It did not disappoint, the ghuls were truly terrifying, the magic internally logical and yet still magical, and best of all the protagonist was an overweight old man. Not your standard fare. In fact three of the main characters are well past their physical peak and the youngsters are often the sullen voice of reason. But it all works, splendidly so. Another one to follow up in 2013.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

I have to say, after this monster of a tome, book two in the Kingkiller Chronicle, The Wise Man’s Fear, had a lot to live up to, and it fell short of the mark for me. That doesn’t stop me admiring this vast debut of Rothfuss – it is another twist on fantasy delivery – fantasy as an autobiography.

The protagonist Kvothe is a bard and magic user, depicted in layer upon layer upon layer of story, so that we can’t see where the truth ends and the legend begins. We start in the present, through the eyes of Chronicler, the man who is transcribing the story, then we enter the tale itself as Kvothe tells it to him in reminiscence. Parts are missed, embellished, switched back to, interrupted. Other characters step in with their version of events. We follow him from a blissful childhood, discover everything about all the people around him, to the streets where he scratched out an existence as a beggar, and eventually to the University where his prodigious talents earned him great fame and  also countless troubles. His search goes on and on, pulling the narrative as he hunts some strange creatures that destroyed his loved ones, but this is essentially a device to keep up momentum. It’s a vast world, with hundreds of little side alleys to explore. Rothfuss is a master storyteller, and I hope that book three returns to this form.