Friday, January 10, 2014

Top 3 of 2013

Owing mainly to my relative poverty, I've elected to, in lieu of screenplays, chronicle my favorite three books I've read this year. Only one of this year's list was actually released this year, but it turns out I've as little money for new books I do for movie tickets.

(Mild spoilers for the books mentioned, two of which are several years old.)

3. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
Announced in 2007 and released in 2013, I was fortunately ignorant of Mr. Lynch's work until a friend (surprisingly cognizant of my tastes, as the same friend also recommended me Transmetropolitan) pointed me in his direction in 2010. As a result, I was only subject to half the anticipation as his original fans and, I will say, the book fulfilled about 90% of that hype.

A much more introspective, much less swashbuckling adventure, the novel covers a substantial swath of the Gentleman Bastards unseen origins and, subsequently, relegates what would otherwise by the "A plot" – rigging an election on behalf of their hated enemies, the Bondsmagi – to the "B" plot. An interesting structure, but not, I'm forced to admit, a wholly satisfactory one. The book, at parts, feels a tad uneven – an imbalance aided by the need to tie up a few loose ends from Red Seas Under Red Skies that clutter the opening somewhat.

All that said, the book's overall a blast; another fantastic tale of adventure, trickery and wit, with some of his freshest, most enjoyable dialogue yet. By and by, Sabetha doesn't disappoint, though she may carry some August Fenwick Syndrome – that concealing her this long serves no practical purpose – and I've very anxious to see where Lynch takes her in the future.

2. Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
What will probably make 2013 memorable for me in future years of reading is the advent of this author into my awareness. I'd heard the name China Miéville and specifically Perdido Street Station previously and been intrigued and I couldn't possibly be more glad that I finally followed that hunch up and snagged a copy.

In addition to being the purest example I've yet read of Miéville's madcap, insensate worldbuilding, his trademark addiction to vocabulary is thickest here as well, the combination of which satisfied a long-ignored hunger in my brain-stomach. It's not, of course, without fault – some of the characterization's pretty bland, a reoccurring problem of his, but the final reveal was so masterful, that the missus and I continue to debate its merits, one of the few times we've disagreed respectfully about literature without dissolving into impassioned argument.

The Miéville I've read since then (Embassytown, Railsea and The Scar) have consistently been rewarding, but none as much as Perdido. My life now needs this poster.

(drum roll)

1. Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon
Is it the greatest book ever written? Certainly not. Is it the greatest book I read this year? In the company of the above two selections and other such luminaries as Fight Club, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and even Where The Wild Things Are, definitely not? Is it my favorite book ever? Maybe.

The confluence of setting (Dark Ages Eurasia), characters (a superstitious, implicitly immortal Abyssinian with a Viking axe and a Frankish surgeon-turned-cutthroat smitten with a hat and a horse) and language (a baroque, put-upon grandiloquence that keeps me grinning the entire read) have conspired against me. The tale of a pair of luckless highwayman tangling themselves in the politics of kingdoms, armies and empires, the story's just fun, an endless series of captures-and-escapes, populated liberally by elephants, horse thieves and Vikings. Due to a brace of very generous Christmas gifts, I now own the paperback, the audiobook, the ebook and still I lust after the hardcover. I think, in the short year, I've read the book (mostly listened, to be frank) a total of seven times?

The only real criticism I can level is that Chabon didn't indulge in the original title; Jews With Swords.

As for 2014, I'm halfway through Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge and there's a substantial chance already it'll make next year's list, is how much I love it. For those of you in the know, Saracen. Saracen forever and always.


  1. I fucking adore both Fly By Night and the sequel, and I do love Saracen, but I also feel the only flaw in the books is a tendency towards Anser Ex Machina.

    Also clearly I need to read Gentlemen of the Road.

    And you need to read White Cat by Holly Black, which is modern-day gangster film noir about a world where prohibition forbade not booze but magic. Trust me, it's right up your alley.

  2. Gentlemen of the Road is boss hog. Can't recommend it highly enough.

    "Timothy J. Meyer added White Cat by Holly Black" to his "to-read" shelf.