2012 – Book review of the year

I am currently reading my 114th book of 2012. Not all of these were published in 2012 – some belong to the future while others have been pulled from the past. All in all, though, this is just a selection from all of those novels published over the last twelve months that I managed to read. With books I still want to finish and begin, it’s difficult to compile a conventional Top Ten, not helped by the fact that I read genre and not that many of those. It’s impossible for me to compare books across genres and so here in alphabetical order by author – and in no other order – are a few of the books published in 2012 which I would thoroughly recommend you add to the teetering TBR heap. Plus some other Honourable Mentions and a few Big Disappointments. There have not been many of those. It’s been such a good year.

But before all that, a competition! I have a copy to give away of one of my Ten-ish – The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. To win it, all you have to do is leave a comment below letting me know which book you would pick as your favourite of 2012. I’ll get the hubby to pick a winner in the New Year. Thanks very much to Headline for the copy!

On with the list, which may or may not number more than 10…

Warlord by Angus DonaldAngus Donald – Warlord
Angus Donald’s superb Outlaw Chronicles – the tale of Alan Dale and his lord Robin Hood – is responsible for reigniting my interest in the Middle Ages and medieval historical fiction. This is no traditional Robin Hood adventure; his legend is given an original, sharp edge, taking us across 12th-century Europe and Palestine. In this fourth and arguably finest novel in the superb series Alan, now grown and powerful, takes us to war in France but alongside that story is another as Alan comes to terms with the consequences of his actions. I cannot recommend this series enough – you must start with Outlaw.

The Wolf's Gold by Anthony RichesAnthony Riches – The Wolf’s Gold
Marcus Valerius Aquila is back! The Empire series has gripped from its beginning but this fifth novel reaches new pageturning levels of intensity, with much of its action channelled into a thrilling siege situation in which the greatly outnumbered Romans must defend a deep valley of gold mines against vicious Sarmatians. Our heroes are placed repeatedly in situations from which one would not expect them to survive, even fighting on ice. The combination of thrilling action mixed with characters that we have grown to care for deeply and fear for – especially as we never know what Anthony Riches will throw in their (or our) path – is edge-of-the-seat storytelling.

Two Brothers by Ben EltonBen Elton – Two Brothers
Having not read Ben Elton for years, Two Brothers was a complete surprise. Following the story of two twins through the horror of the rise of the Nazis in Berlin in 1930s it never fails to command the reader’s attention, mixing horror and strong emotion. Reading Two Brothers was an enthralling, painful, emotional and glorious experience. It makes no pretences. Info dumps are avoided, instead the history is revealed through the novel’s stories and people, in the most involving way, bringing the history to life. Have no doubt, though. This book is full of historical details and is steeped in atmosphere.

Dark Eden by Chris BeckettChris Beckett – Dark Eden
If you were to ask me which 2012 novel has stayed in my mind the most the answer would be Dark Eden. Completely original, right down to its very language, this SF novel tells the story of a distant world, ironically named Eden, which is populated by the inbred offspring of two astronauts who crashed onto the planet. 160 years later, the latest generation – the New Hairs – realises that no-one from Earth is coming to rescue them. They must make a life of their own on a dark planet that is breathtaking in its creation. Hugely disturbing and utterly enthralling, a novel of the year for sure. Unmissable.

Avenger of Rome by Douglas JacksonDouglas Jackson – Avenger of Rome
A new novel by Douglas Jackson – whether Roman historical fiction or a thriller under the name of James Douglas – is always a pleasure. Avenger of Rome is the fourth in the Hero of Rome series and I couldn’t read it fast enough. It also has the distinction of being one of only two Roman HF novels of the year to move me to tears. It has all the excitement and drama that you want from a military action novel but there’s much more to it than that, contributed to by its fine depiction of the general Corbulo, our heroine Domitia and the young tribune Tiberius – as well as Valerius, the Hero of Rome himself.

The Snow Child by Eowyn IveyEowyn Ivey – The Snow Child
Magical and beautiful with winter imagery so perfect that this astonishing debut novel made me want to pack up and head off to Alaska. Middle-aged couple Jack and Mabel are enchanted by the winter’s first snowfall. For the first time in a long while they play together and build a snow girl, complete with red lips, red mittens and scarf and yellow hair. In the morning she is gone but soon they sense a presence in the cold, white woods. Eowyn Ivey’s prose is bewitching and at times you may catch your breath, smile or cry a little. The Alaskan environment is never more than a cabin wall from us, even when we read this novel wrapped up and snug in our homes. A marvellous achievement from a great new talent.

The Testimony by James SmytheJames Smythe – The Testimony
Imagine if you, and everyone around you, suddenly hears a voice. It comes out of a static noise that will make you, and everyone else, freeze in your steps. ‘My children’, the indefinable voice says, ‘Do not be afraid’. What would you do? How would you behave? What would you believe? No other premise in a novel I read this year grabbed me like this one. A thriller like no other, it presents the thought processes of over 20 distinct individuals, each trying to come to terms with what they heard or, in a few cases, what they didn’t hear, while the world itself tries to cope. Conspiracies abound and beliefs are challenged or born. A brilliant, clever novel, now equalled by The Explorer.

Earth Girl by Janet EdwardsJanet Edwards – Earth Girl
Earth Girl is my favourite Young Adult title of 2012. Set in a ruined Earth in 2788, the only permanent human inhabitants are Apes – humans who are unable to survive off-Earth among its colonies in space. Knowledge of the past is hugely important, though, and historians are honoured. Our heroine, 18 year-old Jarra, must hide the truth that she is herself an Ape while studying among the archaeological sites of Earth’s destroyed cities in the company of a fascinating mixed bag of fellow students. I adored Jarra, such a vividly real young woman, and I loved the worldbuilding. One of the few novels of this year I read twice, I can’t wait for the sequel.

Pure by Juliana BaggottJulianna Baggott – Pure
Pure is set ten years after the Detonations, when nuclear war destroyed Earth, creating pockets of grotesquely distorted towns now called Meltlands or Deadlands. The Pure live sealed away in the Dome. All the unlucky survivors outside have abnormalities, fusions created during the Detonations when they were melted to whatever (or whoever) they were touching at the time. The most unfortunate have melded to animals or to the earth itself, becoming Dusts, the most horrifying of all. Our heroine Pressia helps Partridge, a Pure, to discover the truth about the Dome. A remarkable, harrowing adventure, continued in next year’s Fuse which, I can assure you, is even better.

Rome: Eagle of the Twelfth by MC ScottM C Scott – The Eagle of the Twelfth
The reputation of Rome’s Twelfth Legion is in tatters. Notorious for its defeats, it is the last legion to which an ambitious young soldier of Rome would wish to be attached. When Demalion of Macedon, returning from a secret, dangerous assignment deep in the territory of the King of Kings of Parthia, is handed over to the unlucky Twelfth, you can feel his shoulders drop with the misery of it. And yet it is not too long before Demalion is ready to exchange his own life for the survival of this legion and the protection of its eagle. This third novel in Scott’s Rome series shows us why. Evocative, powerful storytelling with characters to remember.

Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo LanaganMargo Lanagan – The Brides of Rollrock Island
With the most beautiful prose, Margo Lanagan transports us to an island on which men live with their silky-haired wives. There are no daughters, just boys, all of whom love their graceful mams, and this relationship between the men of the island and their enchanting women gives life to the heart of this novel. The men of the island have turned their backs on the local red-haired fiery, spirited women. Instead, Misskaella, the island’s sea-witch, offers each the gift of naming the women that she can draw out from their seal skins. The price is great. This superb novel moves between narrators, cleverly shifting our empathy while painting images that bewitch. I love this novel.

Hunter's Rage by Michael ArnoldHunter’s Rage by Michael Arnold
Michael Arnold is responsible for firing in me a deep fascination in the English Civil War, so much so that I’ve tried to visit places brought to life in his Stryker Chronicles. In this third and best volume, Arnold takes the series to a whole new level. A one-eyed, brave and formidable Royalist, Stryker leads a small band of battered men on desperate missions to put a halt to the progress of rebel forces. Always, though, matters get personal. Focusing the attention on the battlelines of Devon and Cornwall, the story widens to include the horrifying figure of witch finder Hogg. This is historical fiction at its best.

The Labyrinth of Osiris by Paul SussmanPaul Sussman – The Labyrinth of Osiris
The mystery at the heart of this novel is not straightforward, as no mystery in a Sussman novel is. While its origins lie in an ancient Egyptian gold mine, lost in the desert, its ramifications are far more extensive. Beginning with the murder of a journalist in Jerusalem, the investigations unearth a network of crime and abuse, covering the full strata of Near Eastern and Western society and business, encompassing the world’s oldest sins. The least archaeological of Sussman’s novels, it is instead a penetrating, emotional portrait of two men, the Israeli and Egyptian detectives. Without doubt the finest thriller of the year. Paul Sussman’s loss this year aged 45 is devastating.

Great North Road by Peter F HamiltonPeter F. Hamilton – Great North Road
A big highlight of 2012 for me has been the discovery of Peter F Hamilton’s wonderful SF. I’ve read more pages by him this year than by any other author. While his 2012 novel Great North Road isn’t my favourite of his, it is one of my chosen SF novels of the year. Long, as usual, the novel tells two stories, one a detective murder mystery story based in Newcastle and the other a thriller, a monster hunt, set on the tropical planet of St Libra. The chameleon-like figure of the heroine Angela is a real delight, complemented by the most brilliant worldbuilding. The novels are long but just not long enough.

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen BaxterTerry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter – The Long Earth
With no doubt at all, The Long Earth is my favourite SF novel of 2012. Its premise is riveting: an infinity, more or less, of earths, each no further than a step away from its neighbour, each one with the possibility of great differences or similarities, each one mysterious yet similar, and all empty of the human beings that crowd the original, Datum Earth. And all it takes to discover them? A few wires, a box, a switch and a potato. Mixing Pratchett’s humour and lightness with Baxter’s hard science and vision, the novel is as rich as its infinite layers promise. It is also less about the destination than the journey and that is important to remember.

Honourable mentions

It was nigh on impossible putting the above list together. Give me five minutes and I’ll redo it. There were plenty of other books I would like to have included but, because I want to get this list posted while it’s still 2012, here are some honourable mentions of books I recommend highly.

A.M. Dean – The Lost Library
Ben Kane – Spartacus: Rebellion
D.E. Meredith – Devoured
David Brin – Existence
Giles Kristian – The Bleeding Land
Hilary Mantel – Bring Up the Bodies
James Rollins – Bloodline
Jeremy Robinson – SecondWorld
Lloyd Shepherd – The English Monster
Nick Brown – The Imperial Banner
Peter Heller – The Dog Stars
Richard Pierce – Dead Men
Robert Fabbri – Rome’s Executioner
Robert Lyndon – Hawk Quest
Robert J Sawyer – Triggers
Sharon Kay Penman – Lionheart
Simon Toyne – The Key

Golden Oldies – or New in Paperbacks

Elisabeth Speller – The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton
Gary Gibson – Final Days
Michelle Paver – Dark Matter
Neal Shusterman – Unwind
Peter F Hamilton – Pandora’s Star
Stephen King – 11.12.63

Big Disappointments

Laurence Binet – HHhH
Jane Rogers – The Testament of Jessie Lamb
Justin Cronin – The Twelve (Couldn’t finish)

Books still to read

I haven’t finished my 2012 reading yet. Titles I especially want to read are The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, Women and Children First by Gill Paul, The Islanders by Christopher Priest, Map of the Sky by Felix J. Palma, Marius Mules’ III and IV by S.J.A. Turney and Jack Glass by Adam Roberts and The King’s Spy by Andrew Swanston. There are others which I will be sure to hit myself for forgetting.

Thank yous!
Thank so much to all of the publicists, publishers and authors who have been so kind to me, keeping me so well fed with books, and especially to everyone who has read the reviews here and taken the time to comment on them, as well as friending me on Goodreads and chatting with me on Twitter. You have made 2012 a book blogging year I won’t forget. Time to shut up and get on with 2013.

So what would be your choices for 2012?

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