It’s that time of year again! I am not a huge fan of the book I’m reading right now, and with three days left in the year it’s not likely that I’ll finish anything that merits addition to the list, so here are the 10 best new books I read this year, where “new” means “I never read it before,” and not “it came out this year.” I read 89 books this year, a bit off my usual pace, which I blame on my job and the general “wouldn’t dying be easier?” tone that 2017 left all over absolutely every single thing in existence. As always, once we get past the top 3 or so, don’t pay huge amounts of attention to the specific ranking.
(Also, are you my friend on Goodreads? You should be my friend on Goodreads.)
Before we get started, though, the list from previous years:
#10: THE DESERT OF SOULS, by Howard Andrew Jones. I have a weakness for Conan books, and the sword and sorcery genre in general, and Howard Andrew Jones’ DESERT OF SOULS seriously scratched an itch for me. I found it through Twitter, recommended by Saladin Ahmed, who tends to know his Arabian Nights-inspired prose pretty damn well. There’s at least one more book in the series, which didn’t hit me quite as hard as the original, and some other pieces after that that I’m having some trouble tracking down for some reason. The story is set in the real world– 8th century Baghdad, to be specific– but there’s magic and evil monsters and all sorts of fantasy fun to be had, and the voice of the main character is a pleasure to read.
#9: WHAT HAPPENED, by Hillary Clinton. One thing that is sorely missing from this year’s list is nonfiction; I tend to swing back and forth on how much I’m reading (my book collection is probably at least 40% nonfiction) and this year definitely represented a marked swing away from nonfiction and toward escapist fiction. WHAT HAPPENED was one of a very few examples to the contrary. I almost didn’t read it, as politics makes me ill enough on a daily basis without reading an entire book about the worst, stupidest election America ever had, but it turns out that Clinton is good at a lot of things, and one of those is writing books. I would not have been strong enough to write this after going through what she did, and if I was strong enough, my book would have featured many times more uses of the word “motherfucker” than hers did. It also would have been called “You Morons,” not “What Happened.” There’s a good case to be made that everyone who voted for Clinton ought to read the book in the pure interest of history, but it’s still a good read on its own merits, especially if you’re able to temporarily disconnect yourself from the terrible consequences of the events it describes.
#8: THE STARS ARE LEGION, by Kameron Hurley. I keep seeing pictures of this book with LESBIANS IN SPACE as the title instead of the actual title, and I honest to God don’t know if they’re real or not. I definitely want one if they are. The hook of the book is pretty simple; there are no men, none at all, anywhere, and everything and everyone in the book identifies as female, but while that’s initially intriguing it’s not quite enough to hold an entire book together. Luckily, it doesn’t need to be, as the story is typical Hurley Weird: dueling worldships hurtling through the void, decaying societies, rebirths and reincarnations, time loops, and genocide. Y’know, YA stuff. This book’s meaty as hell and is probably going to get a reread sometime this year.
#7: KILLING GRAVITY, by Corey J. White. This year’s winner of the Warren Ellis I Want To Eat Your Brain And Steal Your Writing Powers award, KILLING GRAVITY is the book whose pure wordsmithery blew me away the most this year. I am admittedly mostly a story guy; I can overlook workmanlike writing if the story is awesome, but it isn’t terribly often that beauty of language can overcome a bad story. Luckily, this book has both; the tone and voice of the book are phenomenal, and the story itself, involving psychic assassins, cloned squirrel-thingies, and a shitton of just general badassery is absolutely enough to keep me enthralled. This is somehow the only exemplar of Tor’s novella line on the list, which surprises me, as I liked their output a whole lot, and at 160 pages it’s probably the best pound-for-pound read on the list, if that phrase means anything.
#6: AUTONOMOUS, by Annalee Newitz. I’ve read one of Annalee Newitz’ books previously, SCATTER, ADAPT AND REMEMBER: HOW HUMANS WILL SURVIVE A MASS EXTINCTION. I bought this having forgotten I’d read that book, as once an author gets slotted in my head as a Nonfiction Person I don’t always remember they exist when and if they switch to fiction. With respect to Ms. Newitz, I don’t want any more nonfiction from her, because AUTONOMOUS is so Goddamn good and I want lots more stuff like it instead. I wouldn’t think that patent law and pharmaceuticals would really make for one of the best books of the year, but I guess that’s why I didn’t write it. The main character is a pirate who lives in a submarine in the bottom of the ocean and produces illegal generic versions of patented drugs. One of her drugs goes wrong and produces instant addiction, followed by unpleasant consequences, and we’re off to the races. Throw in a romance between a human and a war robot and one of the more subtle takes on global warming I’ve seen in a book lately and I’m a happy reader.
#5: WAKE OF VULTURES, by Lila Bowen. Lila Bowen, also known as Delilah Dawson, is an author who I’ve read several books by and had always bounced off of me. She runs around with a crew of other writers whose work I like a lot but after four or five of her books falling flat I was ready to declare her work Not for Me and move on. Well, okay, maybe Delilah Dawson is Not for Me, but Lila Bowen? I’mma read the hell out of Lila Bowen’s next book. WAKE OF VULTURES is basically urban fantasy, but transplanted into the Old West and with a former slave as the main character. (So, uh, okay, maybe not so urban, but I hope you know what I mean.) I’m a hard sell for urban fantasy, but the setting change makes it work, and Nettie Lonesome’s voice as a character makes for a compulsively readable book. I took way too long to get to this book– it sat on the shelf for forever, and there are now two more books out in the series. I’ll be getting to them soon.
#4: A PLAGUE OF GIANTS, by Kevin Hearne. Speaking of the cool people that Lila Bowen hangs out with, Kevin Hearne’s been on my list of faves for a while, and when I heard that he’d started work on a proper Epic Fantasy Series as a follow-up to his excellent IRON DRUID series, I was insanely excited. A PLAGUE OF GIANTS is different enough from his previous work that I’d have been hard-pressed to identify him as the author after reading the IRON DRUID books, but that versatility is a strength, and the framing device of the story– a bard basically giving a multi-day oral history lesson to a large crowd, by taking on the appearance and speech patterns of the people talking while performing, is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I’m chomping at the bit for the next installment on this one; it’s getting pre-ordered the second I find it available on Amazon.
#3: STILLHOUSE LAKE, by Rachel Caine. I read STILLHOUSE LAKE in two or three huge gulps, staying up much later than I wanted to to finish it because I couldn’t stand the idea of going to bed without knowing how it ended. I’m a big fan of Caine’s, and this is her only series without even a whiff of the supernatural about it– it’s a very 2017 type of horror novel, where the main character is both the ex-wife of a serial killer and the target of an army of relentless internet assholes who have decided she was an accomplice in her husband’s crimes and deserves to be punished for her actions. It’s a chillingly realistic type of horror and one of a very few books that genuinely scared me while I was reading it. I just finished its sequel KILLMAN CREEK, and while it doesn’t quite stand out as strongly as STILLHOUSE did (and also lacks that amazingly evocative cover, which would have sold me the book all by itself) it’s a great follow-up. There’s a third book coming soon but I think the series works well as a duology. We’ll see where they go next.
#2: THE HATE U GIVE, by Angie Thomas. While not my favorite book of the year, I think THE HATE U GIVE is probably the most important book I read in 2017, and in particular I think this book needs to make its way into a whole lot of school libraries. All of them, in fact. The title is a Tupac reference; he once claimed that THUG LIFE stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody,” and… well, we’ll just say the book is well-named. The story is about a young woman whose best friend is killed by a police officer, so it’s a bit triggery and, well, on point given the current fucked-up society we live in. It’s a hell of a book and everyone should read it, or at least see the movie when it comes out sometime next year.
(SIDENOTE: I also read DEAR MARTIN, by Nic Stone, which is a very similar book in a lot of ways– in fact, the biggest difference is that DEAR MARTIN is about a male character and not a young woman. I think DM suffered from having read THUG first, and while it’s absolutely worth your time it didn’t blow me away the way THUG did. Read them both, but read THE HATE U GIVE first.)
#1: DREADNOUGHT and SOVEREIGN, by April Daniels. Here is the most impressive thing about DREADNOUGHT: I read it in February, and it is still so much on my mind in December that there was no real competition for it being the best book of the year. As much as I loved the other books on this list– and you don’t get on this list unless I loved your book– there was never anything this year that came close to how much I loved DREADNOUGHT… unless it was SOVEREIGN, the sequel, which also came out this year and was just as good. That’s practically impossible. Superhero prose is pretty rare in general; comic books have such a stranglehold on the genre that most people don’t even really consider superheroics as proper fodder for a prose novel. Teen Danny Tozer accidentally inherits the powers of Dreadnought, the world’s premier superhero, and one of the first things Dreadnought’s powers do is reshape Danny’s body into his own personal ideal, which means Danny becomes Danielle. It’s a great superhero book, a great teenage coming-of-age book, a great exploration of how society treats trans people (the main villain of the second book is a TERF) and all around a fantastic pair of novels and the best two books I read in 2017. I finally got my wife to start reading DREADNOUGHT a couple of days ago, and she hasn’t been able to put it down much either. Go buy this, guys. You’ve got Christmas money lying around, I know it.
Honorable Mention, in no particular order: DEFY THE STARS, by Claudia Gray; YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN INNOCENT, by James Duane, HAND TO MOUTH: LIVING IN BOOTSTRAP AMERICA, by Linda Tirado; FLYGIRL, by Sherri L. Smith; THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE, by John Scalzi, THE TRESPASSER, by Tana French; A SONG FOR QUIET, by Cassandra Khaw, and DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES, by Seanan McGuire.
Worst book of the year: ORIGINS, by Dan Brown. I literally don’t think he can write a worse book than this one. Let’s all hope he never tries.