Oh boy, am I getting behind on these. But it’s okay! December hasn’t been a thrilling month book-wise, but at least I get to look back midway through at five fantastic November reads – including on that just might be my book of the year.
(Will I be doing a best of 2015 list? Probably not, to be honest – it wouldn’t be fair to the books I read all the way back in January. Rest assured that it would look pretty different from most of the best-of lists that are being published now, though: more fantasy, for one.
Although I was vindicated somewhat by a few best of fantasy/sci-fi lists including some of my favorite books of the year on them. I always like it when my tastes are affirmed by bigger names than me.)
Without further ado.
The Secret Place by Tana French. Why yes, I did previously recommend another Tana French book. It’s not my fault she’s that good. I freely admit that this book caters to my very specific interest in young people murdering each other and codependent friend groups (see also: The Secret History, The Lake of Dead Languages) but it’s also just beautifully written, like all of Tana French’s mysteries, and keeps you hooked until the very end.
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz. I’m the first to admit that sometimes it takes very little to sell me on a book. Such as, in this case: “there’s a bisexual protagonist.” Sold! (Unfortunately, this particular pitch is actually rare enough that I’ve only ever picked up two books because of it.)
Simple though the selling may have been, this book was a delight from start to finish. The narrator ( )’s voice was unique and entertaining, and her struggle with her “in-between”-ness was both touching and emotionally wrenching – almost as much so as her relationship with Becca. It’s a young adult book, true, and it feels like a young adult book – but that’s not a bad thing. If half of the adult literature I read dealt this sensitively with mental illness, sexuality, and self-image…well. It doesn’t. Hannah Moskowitz does.
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. This might be the most “problematic” horror novel I’ve read in a while; it is also one of the most interesting, and I would love to do a detailed literary analysis on the way it is framed in terms of form: half a recounting of childhood events to a journalist, half blog posts reviewing a reality TV show of those childhood events, written by the same narrator.
This book is nominally about the performance of an exorcism on a probably mentally ill teenager, but also about the disintegration of a family, and the possibility of possession is never completely ruled out. The horror in this story isn’t really in the presence of paranormal occurences, however: it’s in the ways in which the suffering of the characters pulls each of them apart.
Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear. Bear’s Mongolian-inspired fantasy has some of the most interesting world-building I’ve seen in years. It took me a while to get into it, though I was never not enjoying it, but when I really hit my stride with this book I was running. Very quickly I was swept into the interwoven stories of Temur, unexpected survivor of his brother’s coup and Samarkar, recently inducted wizard and former princess, and their discovery of the tendrils of a plot that threatens to shake the world.
I look forward to seeing where Book 2 takes me, but based on the first entry this series is well worth picking up.
And last, but far from least:
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson. I read this book in a heady rush and when it ended I wanted to scream, and then shove it at someone else and make them read it, as fast as possible. Possibly everyone I know, because I need to talk about it with someone. I described this one as “post-colonial political fantasy” on my Twitter, and I stand by that description as a 30-second pitch.
In more detail: Baru Cormorant is inhabitant of a southern land slowly being consumed by an all encompassing empire. The empire conquers less with military might than with cultural and economic dominance, gradually subsuming local traditions and replacing them with their own code of moral and physical hygeine – including the elimination of polyamorous and same-sex relationships. Baru determines, from a young age, to beat the conquerers at their own game: to rise in the ranks and turn the techniques that defeated her people into her own.
This book – and apparently there will be a sequel – is a rare delight. Inventive, intense, twisty, it accomplishes the feat of making economics interesting as Baru schemes to manipulate her masters – and everyone else. Both revenge plot and political thriller, The Traitor Baru Cormorant culminates with a twist that made me gasp (actually, out loud) and then an ending that made me want to cry.
Oh yes, and there is also beautiful sexual tension between Baru Cormorant and her lover (and general), also a woman. Because the protagonist of this book is a lesbian. Did I forget to mention that?
Seriously, you guys. I loved this book.