Book review of 2017

A year ago today I posted my Book review of 2016 and here we are again – time flies when the days are filled with books. So far this year I have read 165 books, far fewer than last year but the total doesn’t include a fair few novels that I read as part of my happy duties as one of the judges for the HWA Endeavour Ink Gold Crown award. I’m also so pleased to have continued my historical fiction roundups for the Sunday Express. There’ll be another on the way in January.

I must thank the wonderful publishers and their lovely people for keeping my habit fed over the last year. I am so grateful and can’t thank you enough. Every week feels like Christmas to me and that is a fabulous thing. Thanks to all of you for taking the time and trouble to read my reviews. It’s so good to share the love of books and reading with you (with chocolate and wine, ideally).

While reading my book review of 2016, I realised that I said I would be doing author spotlights during 2017 and I never did that and I’m cross with myself because it’s such a good idea! I read lots of series of novels, especially historical and some science fiction, and each new addition to those series is such a highlight of my reading year. I’d like to talk more about that in 2018. I also need to read more! I’m asking for extra eyeballs for Christmas. Like most reviewers, I lament the books I haven’t been able to read yet. They surround me and they look at me with their sad and neglected eyes. But, just because 2016 is ending, it doesn’t mean that’s the end of 2016’s books. A fair number stay on my TBR pile and I will read them. As well as books older than that.

So on to my books of the year! These are drawn from books published in 2017 (quite a bunch of which seemed to be about Nero). I’ve read some corking 2018 titles already but they belong on next year’s list. I must mention one of them here though – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turtin (published by Raven Books on 8 February 2018). Do look out for this book. It’s every bit as brilliant as people are saying. My review will be up in January.

Top reads

I was aiming for 15 but had to go for 20 books and they’re presented here in no particular order, covering all of the genres I read, with the exception of the top spot which belongs to my favourite books of 2017, and the runner up which is just before it. Now if only I could decide…

Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey
This is the seventh novel in the superb Expanse series and once more it takes us into new territory. Persepolis Rising is a superb novel, an immersive reading experience, particularly for those with any kind of affection for Holden and his crew. I find it incredible that the two authors who combine to make James S.A. Corey can maintain this momentum and originality year after year but they do. Likewise the quality of the writing is always tremendously high. Persepolis Rising is one of the very best of the series. It marks a new beginning in some ways, due to the years that have passed, but it points clearly ahead and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Full review.

The Vanishing Box by Elly GriffithsThe Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths
This might be the fourth and latest novel in the Stephens and Mephisto series but it was my first and I instantly fell in love with it. I bought the others straight away and now I am thoroughly enjoying catching up. In some ways this novel could be described as cosy crime and, as far as I’m concerned, that’s no criticism. I love this sort of mystery and its setting in a bygone time. It reminds me in some ways of an Agatha Christie detective novel but that’s largely because of the period in which it’s set. Just as police technology was very different in those days, the police force is also as affected by manners and social mores as the rest of society, and this is especially seen in the character of DS Emma Holmes. I really, really liked Emma. But there is something so wonderfully old-fashioned about her character and that of Edgar Stephens – or, not so much old-fashioned, as from a different time. I love it. Elly Griffiths writes beautifully and the characters she creates are full of colour and life. I had no desire to put The Vanishing Box down and read in two sittings. Full review.

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen KingSleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King
Even though Stephen King had a co-author (his son) for Sleeping Beauties, this marvellous book really appealed to me and it reminded me of classic King – the American small town stricken down by something otherworldly and horrifying. And also the impact of such extraordinary events on the ordinary. Often the most terrifying elements of such a novel aren’t the supernatural, ghostly or monstrous, but the men and women whose base characteristics thrive when normality breaks down. This is what we get here and I loved it. Sleeping Beauties is a tale of two worlds – the sleeping world of the women and the waking world of the men and it is the society of men that breaks down almost completely. That doesn’t mean that all of the men are to be hated. Most are just frightened and lonely. Others are doing the best they can in awful circumstances. Sleeping Beauties is rich in people’s lives. There are so many strands to follow. Some end in tragedy while others are almost comical and grotesque. But at its heart is the devastating impact of a world of sleeping women. This affects people in different ways but it strikes at the core of them all, whether they are male or female. And that is just one of the many reasons why Sleeping Beauties feels like a significant book – Stephen and Owen King make us take a good look at the human condition. Full review.

The Zealot's Bones by DM MarkThe Zealot’s Bones by D.M. Mark
David Mark is familiar to many as the author of the McAvoy contemporary police detective series but in The Zealot’s Bones he picks up the reins of a historical murder mystery for the first time – and I am so glad he did. The Zealot’s Bones is nothing short of brilliant and is one of the finest historical novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year. The writing is superb. This is a dark, gruesome and twisted tale and through it walk the damned and the afflicted. And David Mark brings both the locations and characters to life with the most gorgeously vivid prose. The dialogue is wonderful and often extremely witty as we know well that what a character says need not be at all what he or she means. This is an age of manners and etiquette and sometimes not even murder is allowed to interfere with that. There are some fantastic characters in The Zealot’s Bones, whether they’re good or evil. The murders are horrendous, their victims utterly pitiful and the murderer an abomination. This is gruesome stuff and I found it impossible to tear my eyes away. And all is set against the most perfectly described backdrops of a city devastated by death and mourning and a wonderfully creepy country house, likewise caught in the grip of something dreadful and disturbing. Full review.

Munich by Robert HarrisMunich by Robert Harris
With Munich, Robert Harris proves yet again, as if more proof were needed, that he is one of the finest writers of historical and contemporary thrillers you can read, if not the very best. The ingenious Conclave was my favourite novel of 2016, Dictator (completing Harris’s superb series about Cicero) was one of my top three books of 2015, and Pompeii is, I think, my favourite historical novel of all time. As before, with Munich Harris doesn’t go for the obvious. Instead of focusing on 1939 and the actual outbreak of war he takes us to the previous year and into the painfully tense conference room of Munich, via Chamberlain’s flight from London and Hitler’s train journey from Berlin. This is reminiscent of the worried claustrophobia of Conclave – the idea that something is going on behind closed doors that will affect the whole world and yet, for the moment, is utterly secret and confined. There is a ritual to the drama. It’s quietly spoken. There is etiquette. And yet this is all skin deep, as we are reminded by the unwelcome presence in Munich of the despised Czechoslovakian representatives. The brutality of the Nazi regime lurks in dark corners and it oppresses the mood.

Munich is a relatively short novel and not a page of it is wasted. History tells us how all this was to turn out but this in no way damages the impact of the book, which is increasingly tense and dramatic as you realise how differently events could have unfolded. It also reminds us of history’s warning – and relevance – to the present day. There is a play-like feel to the novel’s structure as we move from room to room, or from vehicle to vehicle. Its dialogue is of paramount importance. Every uttered word must be studied for its hidden intention – the world’s future is at stake. Full review.

Treason's Spring by Robert WiltonTreason’s Spring by Robert Wilton
It is 1792 and the age of the mob has brought violence and chaos to the streets of Paris, in particular the Place de la Révolution where Madame Guillotine holds centre stage. These are the early days of The Terror, the King and Queen of France are only recently imprisoned and the National Convention, the revolutionary ruling body of France, doesn’t quite know what to do with them. As the Ministers juggle for power and safety, their wives play the society game – politics now plays out almost as much in the drawing rooms and ballrooms of the fashionable as in the governmental hall of the Tuileries Palace. Intrigue competes with flirtation, and spies hide in plain sight. And behind the glamour and wit, there lurks the dirty reality of revolution – the torturer, the murderer, the joy of the hunt. Treason’s Spring is an enormous achievement. It is immensely clever, controlled and ambitious and it succeeds in all of its aims. I was engrossed. I admired its intellectual brilliance while also being moved to tears by the horror and sadness of events. Personal tragedies were played out time and time again during The Terror and this novel captures so well the fear and uncertainty of these bloody, chaotic months. Revolutionary Paris is itself brought to life. This opening novel suggests that we are embarking on a trilogy of significance. Full review.

A Column of Fire by Ken FollettA Column of Fire by Ken Follett
How I have longed for this book, the new Kingsbridge novel – mostly set during the reign of Elizabeth I. There is nothing about A Column of Fire that isn’t a joy to read. Huge ideas and swathes of history are covered, including the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Day, the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots, the Spanish Armada, but all in the most accessible yet immersive fashion. There are many characters but they all seem individual and each has a fascinating part to play in the bigger picture. Ultimately this is a novel about love and hate and trying to find the middle ground, the path of tolerance and peace. It isn’t easy to find and the characters here often fail but following Ned and Marjory through these years is a wonderful thing to do. These Kingsbridge novels don’t come along too often and when they do they’re very special indeed. Arguably, A Column of Fire is as fine an achievement as Pillars of the Earth, I certainly loved it as much. Full review.

All the Wicked Girls by Chris WhitakerAll the Wicked Girls by Chris Whitaker
All the Wicked Girls is quite simply a work of genius. And that’s no exaggeration. Its story is astonishing and complex and it is driven as much by heart as it is by puzzles and surprises. Tall Oaks, Chris Whitaker’s previous novel, is one of my favourite novels of recent years but, incredible as it seems, All the Wicked Girls leaves it behind. But what drives All the Wicked Girls beyond its wonderful plot and its fantastically atmospheric sense of place, is its people. In Tall Oaks I fell for Manny (like everyone else!) but here we have Noah and Purv and it’s fair to say that I can think of no other characters in recent years that I have fallen for quite as hard as this. Just thinking about Noah, his courage, wisdom, kindness and deep heart, makes me want to weep. This is a novel that takes us into some very dark places. The melancholy of Grace goes far deeper than the storm that hovers over it. It is disturbing at times, there is no doubt of that, but it is also filled with a humanity despite its subject and I was held spellbound. There are so many reasons to read All the Wicked Girls but if I had to give you just one – well, two reasons – it would be to read it for Noah and Purv. Full review.

Eagles in the Storm by Ben KaneEagles in the Storm by Ben Kane
Eagles in the Storm completes Ben Kane’s magnificent trilogy on the the Battle of Teutoburg Forest and its bloody aftermath. It’s been six years since Rome suffered its most infamous defeat in AD 9. Three legions were destroyed and their eagles stolen by German tribes united under the leadership of Arminius, a man who once served Rome. The loss of the eagles and the betrayal by Arminius continue to grieve Rome, so much so that the few survivors of the defeat are no longer allowed within the walls of Rome. Senior Centurion Lucius Cominius Tullus didn’t just survive the battle, he saved more Roman lives than anyone else, and now he is doing what he can to atone for the shame he continues to bear. Tullus has taken the fight back to the tribes, he helped to restore one of the lost eagles. But it wasn’t his. Although Tullus is now an important member of the Fifth legion, promoted higher and higher, and worships its eagle, it’s the eagle of the Eighteenth that Tullus is determined to kneel before once again. This is brilliant storytelling from an author who is steeped in the history of the Romans, and he fills it with all the details, military and otherwise, you need to make it feel real.This has been a wonderful trilogy – one of the very best that I’ve read. Although I’m sorry it’s finished I can’t be sorry about the way in which it’s been finished – it concludes perfectly. Full review.

The Outcasts of Time by Ian MortimerThe Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer
It is December 1348 and the Black Death ravages England’s terror-stricken population. The bodies of men, women and children fill great death pits in the towns and cities while more corpses rot where they fell. Brothers John and William are travelling by foot to Exeter but they see the work of pestilence everywhere and know it is only a matter of time before they too are stricken. And when the inevitable happens, they seek to make peace with God in a sacred place. But instead they are made an offer: they can either return home to live out the six days remaining to them or they will experience each of those six days, 99 years apart from the one before. They would move through the centuries with all sign of the plague removed. But at the end of those six days they will face the Final Judgement. And so begins an extraordinary journey for two men whose lives have been lived firmly within the medieval world of the mid 14th century. The Outcasts of Time is an astonishing novel, not least because it combines a fascinating, irresistible Faustian tale with a clever scrutiny of the transition from the medieval to modern worlds as it would have affected an unexceptional everyman from the 14th century. It’s a personal story and, as such, it is moving, heartfelt and often tragic. But it also tells the broader tale of humanity’s progress (or lack of it) through 700 years. This marvellous novel engages the heart and mind and, when finished, it’s not one you want to forget. Full review.

Now We Are Dead by Stuart MacBrideNow We Are Dead by Stuart MacBride
Now We Are Dead is a stand alone novel featuring the one and only Roberta Steel. Now if that isn’t enough to grab your attention, I don’t know what will. If you’ve met Roberta Steel before then you know what to expect from Now We Are Dead and that’s just what you get, although totally undiluted because there’s no Logan McRae here except in wee walk on spots. This is Roberta Steel loud and proud and she is wicked! But in such a good way. Her relationship with her sorry team of PCs is utterly fantastic. The dialogue is so fabulous I could eat it all up and I laughed and laughed while still remembering that really I should be shocked by Roberta’s outrageous behaviour. I loved the other characters, especially Tufty, and even Owen. Poor Owen. The book is packed full of bits to treasure, although I think the daily vote for swear word of the day is chief among them, or how Steel likes to call on her Native American Chief spirit guide during police interrogations – Big Chief Lionel Goldberg. But the tender side to Roberta is here, too, hidden though it may be, and that reflects some of the pitiable and awful crimes that she must investigate. These stay on the mind and, we know, they’re on Roberta’s mind as well. How could they not be? Read some of this and weep. Stuart MacBride with every novel reaffirms my conviction that he is the best crime writer out there today. The mix of humour and tragedy, the finding of humour in tragedy and vice versa, the alluring Scottishness of it all, the wickedness of Roberta Steel and the charm and strangeness of her underlings and overlings, and the evil of what she must confront, is irresistible. Full review.

The Collapsing Empire by John ScalziThe Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Mankind has spread out from Earth, dispersed by the Flow, extra-dimensional pathways that move between planets, connecting worlds. The settlers have no say in which planets will be connected. They are randomly ‘selected’ and at great distances from one another. They are also largely uninhabitable, with humans having to live in sealed habitats underground, relying on other planets along the Flow for resources. As a result, the Interdependency has developed. The Flow might seem stable and constant but it isn’t. Long ago Earth was lost when the Flow shifted. And now the signs indicate that the Flow might be about to undergo an even more drastic change, a change that could throw each colony along its course into an isolation that would mean its death. The story is absolutely fantastic and fully lives up to its glorious premise. Wormholes, conspiracies, colony planets, angry nobles, battles, pirates, impending apocalypse, sin and rage – all of these are promised and many more and each is delivered. I love John Scalzi’s writing as much as I love his imagination – the prose is so easy to get along with, so descriptive and perceptive, but, above all, it is so witty! There are some great lines in these pages and they are delivered by some enormous personalities. And so the superb worldbuilding meets its match in the quality of the dialogue. Full review.

Glory of Rome by Douglas JacksonGlory of Rome by Douglas Jackson
It is 77 AD and life is going well for Hero of Rome, Gaius Valerius Verrens. Valerius is a prosperous landowner, living with his much loved wife and son in their villa a few miles from Rome’s city walls. But Valerius has a dangerous enemy in Domitian, Vespasian’s younger son. When Domitian goes after Valerius’ little son, Valerius knows he must remove his family from Rome. The opportunity comes from Vespasian who orders Valerius to Britannia where he will serve as the emperor’s legate, a position second only in importance to Britannia’s new governor, Julius Agricola. It’s seventeen years since Britannia was burnt and torn in the Boudiccan Revolt but enough time has past for some of the tribes to grumble and for the power of the druids to re-emerge, focused upon the island of Mona. Inspired by Gwylm, his chief druid, the High King of the Ordovices, Owain, wipes out a Roman fort in the north Welsh hills. The governor responds and prepares his army to march. But he needs help. He gets it from Valerius Verrens, one of only two men to survive Boudicca’s infamous assault on the Temple of Claudius in Camulodunon all those years ago.

If you have any liking at all for Roman historical fiction, or indeed any historical fiction, then there’s a very good chance that you’re already a devoted fan of Douglas Jackson’s Hero of Rome series. What a fantastic writer Douglas Jackson is! But his fine words are backed up by two other strengths: the innate ability to tell a marvellous story; and meticulous and thorough historical and military research and insight. Glory of Rome is a thrilling novel from the outset and culminates in a brilliant battle sequence that had me on the edge of my seat. Full review.

Incendium by A.D. SwanstonIncendium by Andrew Swanston
It is 1572 and Elizabethan England is threatened as never before. Mary Queen of Scots might be locked away in Sheffield Castle but she remains the focus for Catholic plotters, their fire fuelled by the Pope’s support and by bloody violence done to Protestant Huguenots in Paris and across France. Spanish and French ships are poised to invade, to steal the crown from the heretic queen. Assassins hide in London’s crowded streets. As the summer heat intensifies and the fear of plague stirs, London, England and Elizabeth herself look ready to ignite and explode. And there is competition to be the one to win the eternal glory of lighting that fuse. Dr Christopher Radcliff is a lawyer in the service of Elizabeth’s longterm favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Leicester more than anyone wants to protect Elizabeth, and Radcliff, a man with agents hidden across the city, is just the person to help him, particularly now with rumours of a new plot, codenamed ‘Incendium’. This is a novel full of character and life and I loved its portrait of Elizabethan London, in the heat and later in the snow. Incendium faces head on the ugliness of Elizabethan spying and counter-spying. Swanston also doesn’t shy away from the Catholic slaughter of the Huguenots in Paris. Incendium perfectly combines history and fiction, historical figures and those that aren’t, and together they paint such a colourful and compelling picture of Elizabethan London at a crucial time for its Queen and her servants. As a historical thriller it works perfectly. Full review.

The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret GeorgeThe Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George
Many of us have our own ideas about Nero, some of which may have been informed by Hollywood. Margaret George cleans the slate and builds up her portrait of Nero from scratch, focusing on Nero the boy and young man, to show how he became a madman to history. Much of book is narrated by Nero himself, drawing us even closer into the machinations of his mind as the years pass and the shadows descend. The Confessions of Young Nero is not just a beautifully written portrait of the painful corruption of a young man, it also depicts power at its most cynical and evil. At times it is embodied – in Messalina and Agrippina and later in Nero himself. But at other times it exists as a general shadow over Rome and the imperial family that darkens and darkens as the novel goes on, reflecting the gradual shadowing of Nero’s own character. All of this is set within a vividly realised Rome, full of palaces, gardens, country retreats, lakes and ships. Margaret George has done this before, with her stunningly perceptive and insightful ‘autobiographies’ of such figures as Cleopatra, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. I’ve loved all of these and I was so excited to learn that one of my very favourite authors would be turning her attention to Nero, one of the most charismatic and intriguing figures in history. Full review.

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys
It is the summer of 1939 and Lily Shepherd is escaping her tedious life in London for a new beginning in Australia. With her fare fully paid by the government, Lily boards the ocean liner Orontes, which sets sail from England on a month-long voyage to Sydney. Lily’s eyes are to be opened as never before. At sea, with only brief stops on land along the way, the passengers of Orontes have been separated from the world outside and it is a world in which the lights are going out – war with Germany is close, Chamberlain is conducting last minute talks with Hitler for peace, people aboard hope for the best but some fear the worst. The passengers include Jewish refugees and a large group of Italians and some already view them with suspicion. Not everyone who embarked in England will survive the voyage. The writing is absolutely stunning. Rachel Rhys seemingly effortlessly carries us back to 1939, a world in some ways still innocent and yet poised on the edge of blackness. Life aboard the Orontes, with its galas, dinners, parties and gossiping on deck, is brilliantly portrayed, as are the descriptions of the excursions that the passengers undertake, in such inviting places as Naples, the Pyramids and Ceylon. It’s a terrific blend of claustrophobic life aboard the ship and then the excitement of experiencing new places, the heat intensifying as the ship voyages southwards. It feels like these are the dying days of the old world. But the appeal of A Dangerous Crossing doesn’t just lie in its locations and historical detail but also in the passengers themselves. Superb. Full review.

Betrayal by Anthony Riches
It is AD 68 and the suicide of Nero leads to months of chaos as ‘usurper emperors’ use Rome’s legions to fight for the throne. The first of these, Otho, dismisses the imperial bodyguard, a band of Batavi, incorruptible Germanic warriors favoured by Julius Caesar. They are sent home in disgrace to defend the upper Rhine and with them is sent Julius Caesar Civilis, a Batavi officer suspected of treachery against Nero but with the enviable gift of making mud not stick. The drama of the imperial power struggle plays out across the empire but events are taking place in northern Germany that could change everything – eyes turn to the Batavi and Rome’s generals wonder what they will do. Betrayal is the first in a new trilogy by Anthony Riches and it takes as its subject one of the most utterly fascinating periods in history – the Year of the Four Emperors – and focuses on the significant part played in it by the Batavi legions as well as the other legions garrisoned in a series of camps in northern Europe. The focus tightens further onto a small group of centurions, their officers and their men – Batavi and Roman – who are influenced by the intrigue of the times but also help to shape it.

Over the course of this novel, I became fully immersed, its story bringing me close to the history, involving me deeply in its intrigue as well as in the human lives that lay behind it. The relationships between these soldiers are complicated. You do need to have your wits about you to keep up as we move from fort to fort (some of the characters’ names are quite similar) but the effort is rewarded immensely as you get to know these men and learn what matters the most to them. The quality of writing is good indeed. This is confident, vivid and vigorous prose that gives real authority to its subject. There’s a military poetry to parts of this novel and I lapped it up. It reminded me in places of medieval, classical and Anglo-Saxon accounts of war. I love such use of language. Betrayal is a fine, fine novel. Full review.

Corpus by Rory ClementsCorpus by Rory Clements
It is the end of November in 1936 and the people of Britain are being kept in ignorance about the crisis facing the country’s monarchy. But all is about to be revealed, thanks to the independent America press and King Edward VIII himself who is determined to put life with the woman he loves above duty to his country. The upper reaches of society and government are in turmoil and matters aren’t helped by the conflict between fascist and communist which has spread beyond Germany to Spain and elsewhere, including Britain. It’s the time of rallies and demonstrations, calls to arms, idealism and cynicism, spies and treachery. The time is ripe for murder. Professor Tom Wilde teaches history at Cambridge University. His specialism is Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster who was responsible for bringing about the fall of Elizabeth’s greatest rival, Mary Queen of Scots. Wilde knows better than most the potential dangers of the time in which he finds himself living. Wilde himself will need all his skill to help Lydia, the young poet who lives next door to him. Her schoolfriend Nancy has suddenly died and then the parents of another friend have been found butchered in their home. When other individuals emerge with an interest in the murders, Wilde searches for connections and these take him into the dangerous and dark heart of Europe’s turmoil in these grim cold days of the winter of 1936.

The storyline is marvellous! Its complexity is very satisfying to unravel and it captures so much of the sinister world of 1936 Europe. Rory Clements writes as brilliantly as he plots and this is a novel steeped in atmosphere, menace and history. The fact that we know what happened after 1936 adds a certain tension and also means that we know how believable and plausible the events described here are. Full review.

The Rise and Fall of DODO by Neal Stephenson and Nicole GallandThe Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
Melisande Stokes is a lecturer in ancient and classical languages at Harvard University when she is offered a curious job by government secret agency operative Tristan Lyons. It’s likely that Mel would have taken the job anyway thanks to her patronising, arrogant and irritating boss, but it turns out to be simply perfect. Mel is given a number of ancient and more recent documents to translate as part of a test. The texts come from all six continents and from every era and they all attest to one thing – that magic is real. Or rather magic used to be real. The documents also reveal that magic died in the summer of 1851, killed by the Great Exhibition of London. Mel’s job, should she choose to accept it, is to join a top secret government project, D.O.D.O., otherwise known as the Department of Diachronic Operations. It has one mission – to develop a device that will allow its operatives to travel back in time to save magic and alter history. After all, what government wouldn’t want to have magic at its beck and call? Unfortunately, meddling with the past can have a rather adverse and unpredictable effect on the present, especially when so much depends on MUONs – Multiple-Universe Operations Navigators, better known to you and me as witches.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is quite simply spectacular. It’s almost impossible to describe or to pin down. There’s a distinct science fiction feel to bits of it – it is, after all, a novel about time travel and the descriptions of how it works are both sciencey and deliciously unfathomable. That is indeed the point. This classified government agency likes to blind us by science at the same time as confounding us with acronyms. But the science is powered by magic which is also powered by science. There is a rational scientific explanation for everything. I think. Or maybe there isn’t. I’m not sure the witches care very much. There is so much going on. There is so much potential for more to go on. I loved the characters, especially Erszebet. And it is all written absolutely beautifully and in the most intriguing manner. It’s told in a multitude of ways – journal entries, letters, emails, government documents, memos – and they work together brilliantly. As for the premise of this fabulous, clever, witty book, it is ingenious and only equalled by its execution. The competition between this and the following novel for my book of the year was intense and very close.
Full review.

Which brings me to my favourite book published in 2017 and it’s by an author we’ve already seen on this list:

A Dark so Deadly by Stuart MacBrideA Dark So Deadly by Stuart MacBride
When DC Callum McGregor is informed of the discovery of a body in the city of Oldcastle, Scotland, he makes the mistake of hoping that his luck might be about to change. Because Callum is one of The Misfit Mob, the place where Police Scotland dumps the police officers it’s not able to sack. But it appears that the proper police are a bit overstretched and this is a body too many for them to cope with. It’s all too good to be true, of course. The body turns out to be a mummified corpse hidden in the local tip. Callum knows how it feels. A Dark So Deadly is an absolutely stunningly rich and multi-layered novel. On the surface it might be a crime novel, with all of the pleasingly twisty and complex plotting you could wish for, but there is so much more to it than murder. This is a novel set in a fictional Scottish city but it is as real as any place on Earth, and not just because of the fantastic maps that adorn the inside covers, and the people who live in it are entirely believable and alive. There is so much going on, so many crimes – this is not the most contented city you can imagine – all going on at the same time and Callum and his fellow officers are deeply immersed in them all. I have no hesitation in proclaiming A Dark So Deadly to be, in my opinion, the most enjoyable crime novel that I have ever read. It’s complex, ambitious, warm and completely engrossing, tragic and funny, compelling and perfect. Do not miss it. I’m proud to proclaim A Dark So Deadly my top book of 2017.
Full review.

11 thoughts on “Book review of 2017

  1. Zuky the BookBum

    I’ve heard so many great things about All the Wicked Girls by Chris Whitaker & Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King, I definitely want to give them both a read! Fab post! 🙂

  2. Mary Mayfield

    Ooh this is an intriguing list as I’ve only read one of them – The Vanishing Box. Looks like there’s plenty of good reads, especially in historical fiction, that I’ve missed. The Outcasts of Time sounds particularly intriguing – how haven’t I heard of it??!!

  3. Grass and Vanilla

    What a great round-up, so many brilliant books this year. There was a lot of vigorous nodding in agreement as I scrolled down the list! Thank you for the effort you put into your excellent blog. Hope you have a lovely Christmas and you get those new eyeballs.

  4. Jim Bergerac

    Many thanks for all your reviews Kate, there is always something you review that I have missed on various websites that list upcoming releases that you bring to my attention and go off in search for. Think my overall favourite novel of the year was Retribution Road by Antonin Varenne (translated from his original French) a true epic historical adventure.


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