Top Ten Tuesday: best reads of 2017

Top Ten Tuesday bannerTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which we talk about a bookish topic and have fun making lists. It’s finally time for me to look back at 2017 and figure out what I loved the most.

…and I’m glad I resisted calling my Top Ten early as December was made up exclusively of 5 star reads – one of which I finished on New Year’s Eve, but which this list would be woefully incomplete without.

In spite of its other flaws, 2017 was kind in terms of reading: only 2 DNFs and 2 2-star reads.

Of the other 72 books I read, I gave a whopping 10 a whole-hearted 5 stars and 4.5 to a further (because at some point I relaxed my ‘no half stars’ rule, which I’m still ambivalent about) – and of these 21 amazing books, only 6 were rereads. That makes this list …a bit tricky. So obviously I’m just going to cheat.

The Space Between The Stars – Anne Corlett

Seeking self-knowledge after the space flupocalypse: a tiny handful of survivors seek to return to Earth and seek salvation in Northumberland. One dreams of a lost lover; two wish to glorify God; others just want to be left alone, really. This is an introspective emotional odyssey rather than a post-apocalyptic thriller, which didn’t suit every reader, but the result is probably my favourite book of the year. My heart still beats faster just thinking about it.

The Memoirs of Lady Trent – Marie Brennan

I adore that Marie Brennan makes the story of a wayward Lady’s academic career so utterly enthralling – showing that there’s no such thing as low stakes if you make your readers care about the right things (and add dragons. SUCH DRAGONS). Add in a vibrant supporting cast and excellent character development, and these alternate historical science capers should be on everyone’s shelves. Favourite: In the Labyrinth of Drakes.

The Book of Etta – Meg Elison

A sequel to last year’s Philip K Dick award-winner The Book of the Unnamed Midwife sounded superfluous but turned out to be a gripping if gruelling exploration of gender, identity and post-flupocalyptic feminism. Elison’s craft improves with each book, and I eagerly await the final book (The Book of Flora). This is hard reading, but I have huge respect for the gauntlet being thrown down to post-apocalyptic tropes.

Raven Stratagem – Yoon Ha Lee

In another excellent sequel, Yoon Ha Lee delivers top notch space opera in this second instalment of the Machineries of Empire, detailing the horrors of the Hexarchate and plumbing the depths of the ethics of power. Expect more questions of identity as Jedao assumes control of a Kel fleet and challenges the Hexarchs themselves. Focusing tightly on questions of free will, it’s hard not to read it as a call to arms to resist in hope of a better world. Simply brilliant.

Shades of Magic – V E Schwab

A high octane thrill ride from start to finish, this series was a delight (favourite: second instalment, A Gathering of Shadows). Magic is the promise and the threat as Kel, adopted prince and royal messenger between worlds, tries to close doors he should never have opened with the help (mostly) of outrageously cocky guttersnipe Lila Bard (yes, of course I adored her).

The House of Binding Thorns – Aliette de Bodard

If anything, The House of Binding Thorns improves on last year’s House of Shattered Wings, switching its attentions to the darkly cruel Hawthorn and the manipulative, ruthless Asmodeus. De Bodard’s post-apocalyptic Paris is highly atmospheric, and we get (arguably) a less biased view of the many factions that inhabit it. The result is a political thriller with personal stakes that I found hard to put down.

The Expanse – James S A Corey

I put off reading this for being just another blokey space opera with too many books already, but this popcorn horror space opera got me properly hooked with taut narrative, interesting character development and political nightmares to match the alien grue. Well worth the read; and Nemesis Games scored a solid 5 stars for feeling more intimate whilst raising the stakes off the chart at the same time.

Gnomon – Nick Harkaway

Easily the book I found hardest to read this year, and the most complex. When cult author Diana Hunter dies during a resisted interrogation, Mielikki Neith is assigned to investigate. But Diana’s recorded consciousness is as unhelpful as the living woman, and Mielikki is consumed by the absorbing histories of multiple personalities – or are they just figments of Diana’s imagination? And if so, what story was she trying to tell? Harkaway tackles issues of technology, security, morality, faith, identity and more in a sprawling, paranoid thriller as compelling as it is intricate.

The Ninth Rain – Jen Williams

In a post-apocalyptic world of vampiric elves, mutant wildlife and disembowelling ghosts, Vintage de Grazon studies the long-dead Jur’elia. But not all history is content to stay dead – and the nearly-extinct Eborans are too few to offer a defence if the Jur’elia return. This fantasy-horror had me squirming but unable to look away and I adored the vibrant characters. I’m very excited for upcoming sequel The Bitter Twins.

Under the Pendulum Sun – Jeanette Ng

If I’d written this top ten sooner, I wouldn’t have read Under the Pendulum Sun, so I’m glad I waited. This astonishingly assured debut puts Victorian missionaries in a darkly Gothic Fairyland, where they are – as you would hope – toyed with in the best Faerie tradition. It’s a magical, distracting whirl of ideas and theology, where souls teeter between hope and despair and the price of perseverance may well be damnation. Utterly remarkable.

And then there were the novellas. I’ve not read as many as I’d like (I have a stack on my TBR to devour this month), but those I did read were all excellent.

Emily Foster’s The Drowning Eyes is epic in spite of its brevity, with compelling characters and exquisite world-building. Intisar Khanani’s Sunbolt stole my heart in its first chapter; I loved the heroine’s no-nonsense attitude, bravery and determination. Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway was a full frontal assault on my feelings with its tales of children who’ve stepped back through their fantasy portal into the mundane world. Paul Cornell’s Lychford novellas are bigger on the inside, packing an astounding punch. And Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Prime Meridian is one to watch for next year – I was treated to a very early review copy, and it’s a confident, moving tale of determination and rejected boundaries.

The thing is, this year has been so good for reading that I can’t help but not let the near misses miss out on a mention – because they too were excellent.

Honourable mentions for delivering exuberant adventuretastic delight go to: Emily Skrutskie’s The Edge of the Abyss (lesbian pirates vs kaiju knows the meaning of go big or go home); Alastair Reynold’s Revenger (Indiana Jones vs Space Pirate Roberts revenge opera; I’m glad I left it a while to read this because it reduces the time to the sequel, OMG); and to Sebastien de Castell’s glorious, snarky, plenty of comments to make in passing thank you (and that’s before you get to the psychotic talking squirrel cat) coming-of-age caper Spellslinger.

Last but not least, full honours to Laura Lam’s Shattered Minds for proving that stories about serial killers don’t have to be grimdark – they can be urgent with humanity and hope.

What were your favourite reads of 2017?