Yes, in case you haven’t guessed it’s time for the annual roundup of what I’ve been reading this year. I’ve picked out a handful of what I think are the most original and fun to read books I’ve come across in 2013.
Shadowmagic by John Lenahan
What’s it about? Loosely based on Celtic folklore, Shadowmagic follows the story of Conor, a typical American teenager whose world is turned upside down when his aunt appears from nowhere one day, ancient warriors in tow, to kill him.
Why should I read it? I hate to say it, but a lot of fantasy writing takes itself very seriously. This YA comedy-fantasy is a rip roaring read that packs in action, magic and all the things you want from a secondary world fantasy without bashing you over the head with Important Philosophical Points. If you’re after the fantasy equivalent of the effortless, yet fun, holiday read, this is it.
The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
What’s it about? The Gift of Rain tells the story of Philip, a half British, half Malay sixteen year old and his friendship with the mysterious Endo-San, a Japanese diplomat. Set in 1939 against the backdrop of the Japanese invasion of Malaysia, Philip comes of age as his beloved island of Penang falls into chaos around him.
Why should I read it? This isn’t a fantasy novel, so you won’t find supernatural happenings here. But for all the apparent lack of magic, Tan Twang Eng’s world building brings Penang to life strongly enough to easily rival Middle Earth or Westeros. A gripping realistic tale with a satisfyingly dreamlike feel. (Read my full review of the novel here)
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
What’s it about? Seventeen year old Li Lan is plunged into family intrigue when her father agrees to her marriage as a ghost bride into one of Penang’s most influential, yet dysfunctional families in this 1890s-set novel. The story follows her attempts to escape the clutches of the Lim family and her spectral suitor.
Why should I read it? The Ghost Bride features a cracking heroine who shows that you don’t have to be able to kick down doors or fling enemies against walls without breaking a sweat to take control of your destiny. The setting and incorporation of Chinese and Malay folklore also makes this a really original and fascinating read.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
What’s it about? Twelve year old September is voluntarily kidnapped by the Green Wind and taken to Fairyland in this charming children’s adventure, where she battles to overthrow the cruel Marquess with the help of various fantastical friends.
Why should I read it? Although marketed as a children’s book, the narrative will appeal to readers of any age. The slightly absurdist events and characters are reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland but with a much more exciting plot. And the gorgeous illustrations are worth a look on their own. (Read my full review here)
Divergent by Veronica Roth
What’s it about? In the future, a post apocalyptic society is inhabited by five different factions, each idealising a characteristic that they believe will save their society from ruin. But at sixteen, every citizen must choose a faction for themselves. Protagonist Beatrice is faced with the dilemma of whether to stay with what she knows or strike out into the unknown. And the wrong choice could be fatal.
Why should I read it? It’s true that the world is not lacking for dystopian YA novels at the moment. But this really is one of the best. It’s utterly gripping (I had to read it in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down!) with hair raising action, well drawn characters and is just a brilliant example of how this type of book should be. High on excitement, low on cliche and perfect for world weary teens.
2014: What do you want to see?
This year I’ve read and reviewed whatever appeals to me. But next year, I want to cover more of the books that you want to see. Vote below to help me decide what kinds of books I should review in 2014!