Now that the dust is settling and the last rays of light have died away, a quick reviw of the best books I read in 2017.
Fantasy fiction (all published 2017)
Swarm and Steel – Michael R Fletcher
Easily the best fantasy novel I read in 2017. Insane, dark, gory, graphic; utterly cynical, utterly and profoundly humane. ‘Fletcher’s best novel yet’, as I said on the back cover – and anyone who’s read Beyond Redemption or Ghosts of Tomorrow will understand what an achievement that is. This really should become a cult classic, one of those books people bond over when they discover they’ve both read it. Insanity defines reality. But even that is a delusion. And civilization stinks of shite. READ THIS FUCKING BOOK.
The Dragon’s Legacy – Deborah A Wolf
Gorgeously written high fantasy with a non-western setting. A detailed, immersive world that you can wallow in and explore, with elements of the romantic fantasy dreamworlds of Clark Aston Smith, Lord Dunsany and Dream Quest era Lovecraft. Beautiful.
The Fall of Dragons – Miles Cameron
The concluding volume in the Traitor Son series. Massive and epic in every sense, a fantasy novel about total war. The battles are based on real 18th century engagements, and it shows: the sense of confusion, the vastness of the combat, the strange twists of a battle’s course. That weird phenomena of real warfare, so rarely captured in fantasy, whereby one group of soldiers is standing around in the rain doing nothing, while half a mile off their comrades are being annihilated, and half a mile off again their side is about to win. A lovely balance of wonderous, absurdly over the top romance and the gritty realism that is the smell of a White Knight’s underwear after he’s fought a four hour battle with a wyvern.
The Unholy Consult – R Scott Bakker
The Second Apocalypse series will stand as one of the great masterpieces of epic fantasy literature, books for intellectual, serious, literary readers.The scope of his world is so vast, so thoroughly realised, so complex. He’s writing a story, he’s writing ancient history, the history of an entire other world. And his world is horrifying. I kneel at Bakker’s feet as the greatest living master of our craft.
Evil is a Matter of Perspective: An Anthology of Antogonists – Adrian Collins (ed.)
A glorious anthology of villians and villiany, far more complex than just ‘bad guy gonna do bad things’ to make you question what evil is and why we do it so often and so damned well. Stand-out stories include Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Old Blood, Courtney Schafer’s A Game of Mages and Michael R. Fletcher’s The Broken Dead.
The Thirty Years War – Peter Wilson
Probably the definitive English-language history of the period for many years to come. Paroramic, nuanced and humane.
The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England’s Self-Made King – Ian Mortimer
Exciting and engaging, with a strong sense of Henry as a man. Old-school history-as-narrative-romp.
1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow – Adam Zamoyski
A precisely written, incisive and horrifying account. A terrible lesson in hubris and incompetance that should perhaps be required reading for all politicians and CEOs.
Jerusalem: The Biography – Simon Sebag Montefiore
Beautiful and heartbreaking. A dream-vision of an impossible city; an unflinching, honest account of the roots of so much suffering.
General fiction and other books
Colour – Marion Deuchars
A ‘children’s book’ – pages of pure colour, artists’ words about colour, lists of synonims for a colour, lists of moods a colour might evoke.
Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki – Kevin Crossley-Holland
Axe-Age, Wolf-Age had a defining affect on my life. This new retelling of the Norse myths is less brutal (it is aimed primarily at children), but is still a thing of wonder. The illustrations are superb. Ignore the cover quote from the charlatan Gaiman.
The Kiss and Other Stories – Anton Chekhov
To my shame, I hadn’t read Chekhov before now. Why? Why? Sublime, perfectly observed glimpses of a world about to be swept away in idealism and blood.
The Days of Abandonment – Elena Ferrante
Also to my shame, I deliberately avoided reading Ferrante because everyone was. This is intimate, beautiful, ferocious writing about women’s lives.