It’s the end of another year; a time to reflect and reminisce. 2018 has been a big year for me: I graduated university and started my first full time job, so it’s been pretty busy. Amongst all that, though, I also found time to read some fantastic books. And so, in the true spirit of reflecting and reminiscing, here’s a countdown of my favourites and my thoughts on each!
5. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
A beautifully written, fairy-tale-like story of magic set in medieval Russia, The Bear and the Nightingale tells the story of a conflict between invisible household spirits and the changing human world, and a young girl named Vasya who sits between the two sides. Arden does not rush her tale, giving plenty of time for the reader to get to know the characters, savour the prose, and build up the atmosphere – and the tension for the dramatic conclusion. I can’t wait to read the sequel!
4. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
This contemporary novel may be an important read addressing and discussing trauma and mental health, but it’s also an uplifting story of friendship, acceptance, and hope for recovery. Protagonist Eleanor, despite having a seemingly normal, if slightly lonely, life, is an incredibly unique character with a fascinating worldview that hooked me from the first page. The mystery of Eleanor’s past, and the rollercoaster of emotions, from humour to bittersweet sympathy to shock and more, makes this a compulsive read.
3. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Although aimed primarily at children, this book is still immensely enjoyable for adults. It follows hat-maker Sophie when she gets magically turned into an old woman and seeks out supposedly fearsome wizard Howl in the hopes he will break her spell. It’s fun, enchanting, and whimsical, with all the charm and warmth of a bedtime story without being dumbed-down or patronising. (And with all the lovable characters and funny moments you could ever want!) Perfect for when you want a low-effort, high-spirited read to cheer you up!
2. Temeraire/His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
While Novik’s prose in this book may be a little hard to get into, it’s only because it emulates the typical prose of the eighteenth century England in which it is set. But this isn’t a simple historical novel: it’s Novik’s take on what history would be like with dragons! It’s an immensely fun read, focusing mostly on navy captain Will Laurence and the baby dragon, Temeraire, who adopts him. Their relationship is incredibly heartwarming, and there’s plenty of action and drama too! And if there weren’t enough dragons in this book, don’t worry: there are another eight in the Temeraire series to go at! I personally am incredibly excited to read them.
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
This was a very promising beginning to an epic saga! A richly detailed world, a vast host of interesting characters, and a plot full of mystery and action, what’s not to like?
The Secrets Between Us by Laura Madeleine
Set in the south of France during the Second World War, this book tells of the daughter of a baker and the close relationship she develops with a Jewish refugee. A charming and thoroughly enjoyable read full of ever-enticing family secrets.
1. The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
My number one read this year is one I only recently picked up – and then tore through and completed in no time! The Fifth Season and its sequels – The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky – are set in a world of apocalyptic natural disasters, people with the ability to control the earth (known as orogenes), and immortal stone creatures. They tell the story of orogene-in-hiding Essun as she searches for her missing daughter during the devastating aftermath of the planet’s single continent being ripped in two. And if simply trying to survive wasn’t hard enough on its own (what with all the ash, the acid rain, and earthquakes, not to mention a society hostile to orogenes), an old mentor brings her a mind-bending task which, if Essun accepts, will alter the fate of the world – whether she succeeds or not.
There’s really no wonder this fantasy/science fiction series has won three Hugo awards: it trumpets a host of complex yet down-to-earth, realistic characters, in an epic and magical tale. Jemisin creates a complicated web of plot threads, but by the end of the third book, she has delicately woven them all together into something beautiful and incredibly satisfying to read. It’ll leave you mulling over all the details long after you’ve put the book down. Best of all, though, is Jemisin’s breathtakingly immersive prose. It pulled me in from the very first page and wouldn’t let me go until the very I’d read the very last. Jemisin laces every seemingly straightforward line with emotion and detail, and somehow manages to seamlessly blend wry humour into a story about the end of the world. As a writer, I couldn’t help but admire every word.
Of course, that’s not to say it was perfect – nothing ever is. The pace of the story is often a little slow, which I personally really like, but in places it did mean there could have been more tension and build up towards the climax of each book than there was. But the grand finale to the series more than made up for any previous deficiency in suspense and drama. And if that’s my only complaint for a trilogy that boasts believable characters, an intricate plot, a well-developed world, and subtle yet masterful storytelling, then I can’t really complain at all. The Broken Earth trilogy is expertly written and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
(And all that without even talking about the aspects of this series that I respect and admire and love the most because spoilers!!!)