This took me quite a bit longer to complete than I had expected but luckily I’ve found time to finish my list of favorites from 2007. Unfortunately, the number of novels I read was considerably fewer than usual, and it was also littered with a number of books I really didn’t care for. But there were some that I just couldn’t have done without, and I expect all of those are listed here.
10 – HORNBLOWER DURING THE CRISIS by C. S. Forester: Who knew that I’d enjoy age of sail novels when I started reading the Hornblower series? But I do. I really do. This particular selection is book four, I believe, in terms of chronology. And while I enjoy the main story, the fact remains that it’s incomplete (sadly, Forester died) and what really makes this one fun is the inclusion of the short stories “Hornblower’s Temptation” and “The Last Encounter” which offer us glimpses of Hornblower when he was still with Captain Sawyer and also after he’s Admiral of the Fleet Lord Hornblower. The last story, in particular, I found quite humorous. I am sorry that the main story in the book was not completed, however, as I would have truly enjoyed getting to read about Hornblower being a spy in Spain.
9 – THE BONE KEY by Sarah Monette: I hate short stories, but I love Sherlock Holmes. This might not make any sense at first because, clearly, the book I have listed here is not Sherlock Holmes. The stories in The Bone Key, however, have the same feel to them, not to mention the fact that they can best be termed “mysteries” (a fact which quite surprised me when I first started reading, as I had almost no idea what The Bone Key was really about when I bought it). The book itself is a series of short stories, all from the point of view of Kyle Murchison Booth, a quirky museum archivist with a penchant for attracting the supernatural. He’s quite a fun character to read about, and the fact that he’s nothing at all like a gung-ho hero, ready to take on anything, makes him more accessible to those of us who, though we think we’d like to run out and solve nifty and intriguing problems, would probably be quite put out and uncomfortable if actually put in that position. I’m not sure which story I would term my favorite of the ones in this collection, but without a doubt the one that sticks out in my memory most clearly is “Elegy for a Demon Lover.” It’s undeniably one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever read. Knowing that Booth’s actions in the story are necessary makes it all the more tragic. I cried. But, to wrap this up, I truly enjoyed The Bone Key, and if Monette writes anything else with Booth, you can expect I’ll be hunting it down.
8 – AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman: Call me behind the times, but I finally finished reading a Neil Gaiman novel. I had purchased Good Omens a number of years ago, along with several other of his books, but I never got around to reading them. But I suppose that’s fitting enough since this particular book is wonderful, and I’m just as glad that it was my first Gaiman story. I recall trying to review it, and it rather defied explanation. Suffice it to say that this book is chock full of stuff, and if you’re not paying attention, then you’re likely to miss something. Of course, what I find really great about American Gods is the imagery. It’s just the kind of thing you’d hope for from a book about gods from world mythology. Parts of the story felt like I was reading a folk myth, which was incredibly fun. Initially, I thought the book moved a bit slowly, but somewhere between page fifty and a hundred, I realized that I kept picking it up out of some kind of compulsion. Next thing I knew, I’d been reading for three hours and had passed the halfway point a long time ago. I’d say this book’s reputation is well earned. [Read the Review]
7 – CARNIVAL by Elizabeth Bear: It took me two trips to the library to get through Carnival. When I initially picked it up, I was in the middle of two or three other books, and something about the language was driving me nuts. I couldn’t visualize what I was reading. As it turns out, this was probably because I hadn’t read a proper science fiction novel in a very, very long time, and I’d forgotten what it was like. I had to return it to the library but I left a little piece of paper to mark my page and, after a week, the fact that I’d returned it without finishing it was absolutely plaguing me, so I checked it out again. On the second reading, what I ended up with was a really good story that I thoroughly enjoyed with political intrigue, clashing cultures, new worlds, and gender issues all wrapped together and peppered with action. The two main characters (both ambassadors to the matriarchal New Amazonia), Vincent Katherinessen and Michelangelo Kusanagi-Jones, are what made this book really fun for me. Their dynamic was fascinating, particularly in the way they played on each other to achieve their ends in the political sphere. And, of course, the gender issues laid out in this book were well done, particularly where it concerned the main characters, who were out of place both on New Amazonia and in their own society. In the end, I’m really glad that I went back to this book as quickly as I did.
6 – ANANSI BOYS by Neil Gaiman: Of course, I immediately followed American Gods with Anansi Boys. How could I not? And to be honest, this is the kind of story I was expecting when I first picked up Gaiman’s other book. Anansi Boys has a different style, which is no less intriguing than that found in American Gods, but which is a little more direct and a lot more…how should I say it…light. And what I mean by that is…well, you remember the stuff that I said was in American Gods? There’s a little less of that. Anansi Boys is centered around one main character, more or less, and that would be Fat Charlie Nancy. He’s a fairly ordinary guy with a fairly ordinary life who gets a little more than he expected when he discovers one particular family member that he never knew he had. This book is fun and humorous and a really quick read. While not directly related to American Gods, it’s got some of that same imagery and deals with the descendants of one of the gods. So it’s not necessarily a must read for those who have read the other novel, but it’s still a should-really-and-probably-will. [Read the Review]
5 – FLESH AND SPIRIT by Carol Berg: If there’s ever a time when I don’t enjoy a Carol Berg novel…. Oh wait. That won’t happen. And there are very good reasons for that, most of which are given example in this book (and especially in the sequel, Breath and Bone, which will be on my top ten 2008). In this particular novel (which reminds me a little of her Rai-kirah series in terms of themes) the main character, Valen, finds himself amongst a group of Karish monks when his compatriot leaves him wounded and abandoned outside the gates of their monastery. What follows for him is a series of unexpected revelations and situations (most of which he’d just as soon avoid) that finally leave him in the place he least expected and least wanted to be. It’s a little difficult to say more without giving away potential plot, but I can say that one of my favorite aspects of this novel is watching Valen progress as a person and witnessing the evolution of his sense of loyalty toward others. This goes even further in the novel that follows, but I’ll refrain from commenting on that one until it’s time.
4 – THE PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD by Ellen Kushner: This novel is a wonderful return to the setting of Riverside. The Duke Tremontaine has called for his niece Katherine to come to the city, but rather than introduce her as a lady of his family, he intends to make her a swordsman. This addition to the collection of Riverside novels was extremely fun to read, serious in moments and humorous in others, following Katherine as she deals with the situation into which her uncle has placed her as well as the problems she causes for herself. Overall, it’s probably my favorite Ellen Kushner novel to date. It’s easy to read and very exciting for fans of the other books as we get to see the return of several characters from Swordspoint. [Read the Review]
3 – THE GOLDEN COMPASS/THE AMBER SPYGLASS by Philip Pullman: Oh. My. This series is amazing. Yes, I’ve only listed the first and last books of this series solely for the purposes of space on the listing, but the trilogy as a whole is remarkable. The characters are vibrant and unique; Lyra, in particular, is a wonderful character, and the way she interacts with everyone else in the story is half the fun of reading these books. I realize that there are people who won’t read Pullman or who tear the books apart based solely on some philosophical or religious position. To those people I say: ridiculous. To have a position on the underlying meaning in the story and to want to debate it is one thing, and I can accept that, but to be unable to let that go long enough to at least appreciate the books on a more surface level, that being great characters, a beautiful setting, lovely writing, and a plot you go trailing after like a toddler to her favorite auntie, is truly sad. Part of me wishes that I had read The Golden Compass back when I received the book in the 1990’s, but I’m just as glad that I waited until 2007 so that I could better appreciate it. [Read the Review]
2 – THE CRIMSON LABYRINTH by Yusuke Kishi: A renewed interest in reading more works from Japanese authors led me to this novel of Yusuke Kishi’s at the end of 2007 (the only one that he currently has published in America, sad to say. I’m hoping the publisher of this book will pick up some of his others). I was surprised by the premise, which is what caused me to purchase it initially: Fujuki wakes up to find himself stranded on a foreign landscape, equipped with only a few necessities and a portable computer pad with a message. He soon discovers that he’s been dropped into the middle of a game, and he and the other people he meets are expected to follow the instructions given to them or else have no chance of making it to the end. Think Battle Royale meets Choose Your Own Adventure (and I’m not joking when I say that. The actual novel references choose your own adventure novels). This is a survival thriller with several fun twists and turns.
1 – MÉLUSINE/THE VIRTU by Sarah Monette: My crown jewels of 2007, I read these two books back to back within less than 72 hours. The Virtu I read straight through, even while I was working, despite the fact that the shop owners were visiting and I could have gotten in trouble. These are the books I talked about all year and which I’ll probably talk about again when the fourth book of the series comes around sometime next year. There are many aspects of these novels that I could point at and say: that’s why I love it! But above any of those I have to claim the characters as the most engaging. Without Felix and Mildmay these books wouldn’t be the same. It’s the play between them that makes it so interesting, though even on their own, both characters are quite a lot of fun. They’re complete opposites and yet so similar at the same time, each existing in a different level of society and neither really accepted anywhere they go. I look forward to seeing the conclusion of their story. After the third book (The Mirador) there are a number of things I’d like to see resolved before it’s over. [Read the Review]
And that’s it! Hopefully 2008 will bring me a number of excellent choices for my next list.