2015 has been a great year for books. Below are five of my favourites that were released this year:
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
I have no idea how Ann Leckie will follow up her Imperial Radch trilogy; the first volume won almost every prize in sci-fi and become an instant classic. This year she released the third volume and it was a powerful ending to the trilogy.
The Radchaai Empire has been engulfed in civil war as its multi-body leader Anaander Mianaai has broken apart and is fighting herself. Loyalties are divided between the different factions and series protagonist Fleet Captain Breq is trying to prevent the conflict from spreading to the Athoek system. She also has to deal with ethnic tensions within the Athoek system, a hostile presence from outside the system and a visit from a Presger translator - an emissary from a violent and powerful alien race.
The story of the Imperial Radch trilogy is enormous in scale and it would be impossible for one volume to satisfactorily resolve all of the conflict in this universe. Fortunately, Ancillary Mercy does not attempt this and just resolves the story of Breq and the Athoek system. This is handled well, and all of the main characters are given a conclusion that does not leave the reader feeling cheated.
Ancillary Mercy is well-paced and the tension is high throughout. The second volume in the Imperial Radch trilogy, Ancillary Sword, was not as well-paced and suffered from having to set up a lot for the third volume. Ann Leckie ably delivers on the promise of the previous novels. There was a lot riding on this final volume of the Imperial Radch trilogy maintaining the quality of the pervious books – and it did. This secures the position of the Imperial Radch trilogy as one of the great series of science fiction novels.
The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig
Books with a message that deliver it subtly usually strike a cord with me. The Fire Sermon is a delicate and thoughtful exploration of otherness and how discrimination is built into our society.
After "the Blast" the few surviving humans can only give birth to twins. They are always a pair of opposite sexes, one strong and health Alpha and one sickly and weak Omega. The novel follows Cass, an Omega, who must learn how to negotiate the difficult post-Blast world, where Alphas rule and Omegas are persecuted.
The Fire Sermon has one simple message, that the oppressed classes in society did not choose their lot, so why should they suffer? A dominant class who are in a position of power through luck alone causes their suffering. The world of Alphas and Omegas is the perfect metaphor for this.
Author Francesca Haig’s background as an academic studying holocaust poetry means that she handles the difficult subject matter and complex emotions with sensitivity. This is a novel with a gripping story of survival, lovingly-crafted characters and an important social message at its core. I am looking forward to more stories in this world.
Poseidon's Wake by Alastair Reynolds
It is great when a trilogy ends on a high, but sometimes you are not so lucky. I was very excited to read the final part of Alastair Reynolds’s Poseidon’s Children series, which follows a family of space pioneers across six generations. The protagonists of Poseidon's Wake are the great-grandchildren of the first book's main characters and the great-great-great-grandchildren of Eunice Akinya, the matriarch of this family of space pioneers.
In this third volume, a signal is received from deep space requesting that Ndege Akinya - Eunice’s great-great-granddaughter and a key character in the second volume in the trilogy - be sent to an unexplored system. She is too old to make the trip, but her daughter, Goma, travels in her place. Here she encounters the mysterious Watchkeepers - giant sentient machines introduced in the second novel - and artefacts left behind by the ancient and power M-builders civilisation.
Part three of a trilogy seems to have been something of theme for this year and this book, like Ancillary Mercy, neatly rounds off the story. The narrative of the Poseidon’s Children trilogy covers most of a millennium and is epic in scale. As a result, this third book rambles quite a bit and lacks focus. I have included it on this list because of the strength of the first two books - Blue Remembered Earth and On Steel Breeze – which are very good and I was pleased to see Reynolds draw the series to a satisfying conclusion.
Rush Jobs by Nick Bryan
Last year saw the publication of the first Hobson and Choi book, successfully moving a popular web series into book form. This year saw the publication of two new Hobson and Choi volumes, the first of which was Rush Jobs.
Rush Jobs picks up almost exactly where book one – The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf - left off. Teenager Angelina Choi is starting her second week of work experience at John Hobson's detective agency. Straight away she is plunged into a kidnapping, supermarket slavery and drug trafficking case. At the same time, she must decide if she wants to stay on with Hobson after her work experience is over.
Rush Jobs walks the fine dark comedy/drama line of being both humorous but without the humour detracting from the gravity of the situation that the protagonists find themselves in. There are many potential pitfalls when writing a comedy that also has kidnapping and forced drug smuggling in it, and author Nick Bryan avoids all of these. The end result is both funny and dark, and a great mix of the everyday and the extremes of the criminal underworld.
Also, the bonus story at the end of the novel is brilliant and should be read by everyone.
Trapped in the Bargain Basement by Nick Bryan
The theme of part threes continues with the third Hobson and Choi novel – Trapped In The Bargain Basement - published in October this year. This time the duo of gritty hard-boiled detective John Hobson and his teenaged social-media-conscious work experience assistant Angelina Choi investigate a shopping centre exploiting homeless people by forcing them to commit crime.
This third book benefits from being one complete story, rather than several interconnected stories as the previous volume was. This means there is more time to build up tension and develop the characters. Choi is still on work experience and deciding whether she will continue working with Hobson, which leads to some interesting interpersonal conflict.
The third book manages to be both funny and a gritty crime story without having the one detract from the other. This is mainly because of author Nick Bryan’s ability to turn everyday institutions into hot beds of the criminal underworld. In the second book there was an evil supermarket, and this time the target is an evil shopping centre. The surrealism of a gritty crime story set in a feature of everyday middle class life allows the humour and the darkness of the narrative to sit side by side.
The characters are well developed and are genuinely engaging, as well as being funny. Three books in, Bryan has built up a whole parallel world, with the criminal underworld behind a whole series of staples of middle class London life. I hope that 2016 brings about more adventures from Hobson and Choi.
These are my favourite books published this year. What are yours? Also what are you looking forward to in 2016? Let me know below.