2016 is now but a distant memory, yet I still have books that I read last year that I think are worth our attention. I had hoped to review these in a more timely fashion, maybe find some similar books for a nice rounded themed post, just like the ones Jonathan manages to produce EVERY WEEK, for Stack Overflow. I’m not sure how he does it. He plays lots more board games than I do too!
So, I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with an untimely review about books connected only by the fact they are written in the English language and appear in this round-up. But don’t let my disorganized hodge-podge dissuade you. There are some great books in the selection.
I’ll start off with a trilogy of books that has been published in the UK, of which the first two are available in the US. When I first read Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise, I was delighted by both its simplicity and its richness. As a teenager, I loved David Gemmell’s Drenai books. Williams’ “Copper Cat” books are like Gemmell’s, only better.
She has taken the accessibility and immediacy of Gemmell’s writing and added in complex characterisation and 21st Century social attitudes to make novels far stronger than Legend’s festival of testosterone. The Copper Promise and its sequels are heroic fantasy of the highest order. The first novel, in particular, is like immersing yourself in the best D&D adventure ever. For my full review of the Copper Promise, click here.
If you like memorable characters, amazing set pieces, and innovative magic systems, and are yet to check out Jen Williams, then you have no time to lose. Her first trilogy is already complete, and a new novel The Ninth Rain has just been published in the UK. Look out for a review of that soon (or at least by next February.)
Several years ago, I read the now hard-to-find Ramayana books by Ashok K Banker. I enjoyed these books so much. If you can find them, I would certainly recommend seeking them out. I believe ebook versions are available, here. After reading the books I fell in love with the vibrancy of the storytelling, and felt embarrassed that I knew so little about the legends of other cultures, and so sought about changing that. This quest ended in mixed success, but those failures are for another post.
I have read a couple of more traditional Ramayana retellings and one or two modern reimaginings. Nothing has captivated me like Ashok Banker’s stories, but I still love this epic saga. That’s how come I came to pick up David Hair’s version of events in his The Return of Ravana series.
Starting with The Pyre and continuing with The Adversaries, New Zealand-born author David Hair has brought the Ramayana into the 21st Century with his YA adaptation. This is not a straight retelling. At the series’ heart is the concept of Samsara. The modern players in the novels are reincarnations of famous figures from the Ramayana.
Part ghost story, part religious epic, and part teenage adventure, Hair’s novels make for gripping reading. The second novel even manages to weave reality TV into the fabric of this ancient religious saga. Evocative and entrancing, the Return of Ravana is an entertaining read, and I look forward to finding out what happens in Book 3.
From one legendary hero to another, for my next book, I move closer to home; Sherwood Forest. Robin Hood – Demons’ Bane is a dark fantasy series that puts Robin Hood in a world of demons and black magic. King John and the Sherrif of Nottingham become something sinister and disturbing in a macabre retelling of the legends. Robin Hood has appeared in many incarnations and this book, The Mark of the Black Arrow by Debbie Viguie and James R. Tuck (no relation), puts an intriguing new spin on an old tale.
Kubrick’s Game by Derek Taylor Kent revels in the story of an altogether more modern legend. In what can only be described as 2001 meets The Da Vinci Code, Kubrick’s Game is an entertaining novel that will delight fans of Stanley Kubrick. Even if, like me, you only have a passing interest in the films, the novel is great fun, delving into the imagery and conspiracy theories of Kubrick’s much feted and vetted films.
The plot is slightly preposterous, but stays light, fun, and stuffed full of interesting ideas and potential hidden meanings. If you like conspiracy and hidden code books, Kubrick’s Game is definitely worth a look. It’s a novel walk along a much-trodden path.
My last couple of choices are children’s books that my boys have enjoyed very much. The first, Freaks United by John Hickman, is a soccer novel about the boys (and girls) apparently not cut out to make the team.
I was probably predisposed to this novel because one of the characters comes to the soccer pitch straight from a Games Workshop, but both my son and I enjoyed it from start to finish. Freaks United is a novel both about being yourself and working together to accomplish something great. Who doesn’t like a tale of arrogant jocks losing face to a group of kids who don’t quite fit in? Better still, the novel doesn’t quite end how you expect it to. Recommended for young geeks, soccer or otherwise, everywhere.
You’ve probably seen YouTube videos that use the same concept as picture book If: A Mind-Bending Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers by David J. Smith. Through the use of engaging and detailed infographics, Smith and illustrator Steven Adams show concepts such as the size of the solar system or the span of human history when compared with the age of the Earth. There’s even a human life displayed as slices of pizza. My eleven year old who claims to be “too old for picture books” loves If. It’s great to dip in and out of, with more information to be gleaned with every visit.
So there, finally, are all the great books I read in 2016. My 2017 resolution was to read more books than last year, so it’s entirely possible that my late late review next year might be out sometime after Easter 2018! Until then, happy reading.
Disclaimer: With the exception of If, which came from the library, I received review copies of all the books reviewed. Many thanks to all the publishers who sent me copies and apologies to the authors for the tardiness of this round-up.