Top Ten Books of 2015

“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”

Neil Gaiman

I feel like 2015 hasn’t been as good a reading year as 2014; there are no Perdido Street Stations, House of Leaveses or Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairylands in this list, and my top ten are more “very good” than “mind-blowingly excellent”.

These books are, as usual, all new-to-me reads, and not necessarily published in 2015.

  1. The ScarChina Mieville. I wrote in my review of this second Bas-Lag novel that “As an indication of the reading year to come, it’s pretty darn good.” While, alas, the reading year never improved from The Scar, the book has grown on me in the twelve months since I read it: a twisty, clever and atmospheric novel about the sea, about piracy, about possibility.
  2. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional UniverseCharles Yu. An experimental SF novel about time travel, family and memory, How to Live Safely felt like it was doing for SF what Mieville does for fantasy, twisting its tropes into commentary and generally juggling a host of fascinating ideas about the relationship between reality and fiction. I’d love to read more SF like this.
  3. Uprooted – Naomi Novik. I’ve seen this on a number of “best-of” lists this year, for a whole host of excellent reasons. It’s a novel set in fairy-tale country, but it refuses the black-and-white explanations of fairytale. Its heroine, Agniezka, is imperfect, hasty, clumsy and headstrong, and her relationships, romantic and platonic, are layered, solid, complex things, webs of compromise and mutual respect. Uprooted wasn’t just a good read; it was an important read, a sign of good things to come for the genre.
  4. Bleeding Edge – Thomas Pynchon. I haven’t got around to reviewing this yet, but I thoroughly enjoyed its very Pynchonian mixture of paranoia, surrealism and celebration: it’s a novel about the power of the internet to watch, to hide, to drown, a vital and uncertain read.
  5. The Clockwork Rocket – Greg Egan. A novel about a community of oppressed women carving out a scientific community of their own, touching on themes of rape, empowerment and consent. It sounds like a heavy read, but if you can ignore the physics (and I could), it’s compelling.
  6. Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel. Station Eleven won the Tournament of Books this year, which should be some indication of the kind of book it is: a gentle, contemplative, nicely-written novel set in the aftermath of a superflu which has wiped out most of the population of Earth. Despite its rather grisly setting, it’s never gruesome or violent, rather meditative and hopeful.
  7. Throne of JadeNaomi Novik. The second of Novik’s Temeraire novels, Throne of Jade is a careful, layered and very satisfying exploration of culture clash, except with Regency dragons.
  8. Fly By Night Frances Hardinge. A lovely, steampunky MG yarn with a defiantly abrasive heroine and a current of deeper thought beneath its twisty plot. Hardinge’s writing is also fantastically lovely.
  9. The Midnight Mayor – Kate Griffin. Not as potent or as true, I think, as its predecessor, A Madness of Angels, but still a fascinating, involving and joyful treatment of modernity; urban fantasy exactly as it should be.
  10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman.
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