With many people are stuck at home and quite possibly in need of new reading material, it’s probably a good time to talk about my favourite books out of everything I read last year. There’s no better place to escape to than the worlds within a good book, so here’s my Top 10 countdown. I am hoping some of you will be inspired to pick up one or two of these great books and read them yourselves! It’s great to keep supporting artists any way you can in times like these.
#10 IF I WAKE by Nikki Moyes.
Moyes’ novel IF I WAKE is a story like few others I’ve read. There’s a lot of really good things about this book. It’s powerful, it’s accessible, it’s written well. Lucy is a bullied teen, and she’s only happy in her dreams, where she travels back in time. Each time a different location, a different century, but there is always one constant, Will. Look, I’m not a huge fan of time travel stories, because they are often predictable – people meet Napoleon, kill Hitler, or help some American president. But IF I WAKE handles it differently. Lucy finds different incarnations of Will in each of her dreams; Wu, Walker, Villius, Wilhelm, William, Billy and Willis. They are all regular people, struggling with the dangers of their time, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it.
#9 JOURNEYS by Aussie Speculative Fiction.
JOURNEYS is an anthology of speculative fiction stories themed around ‘Journeys’ with each story written by an author from Australia or New Zealand. There are sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian and horror stories, and each one gives a unique interpretation of the theme. My favourites are ‘Lebensqualität’ by Alice Lam, ‘Pilgrimage to Earth’ by Nick Marone and ‘The Fury’ by Faran Silverton, but each tale has something unique and memorable about it.
#8 THE END OF THE WORLD NEWS by Anthony Burgess.
To me, THE END OF THE WORLD NEWS is bizarre and crazy in the best way possible. It displays ingenuity and creativity in literature in a way that I’ve never seen before. Three completely different stories and three completely different styles of writing entwined together; the story of Freud developing and establishing his career and eventually fleeing Nazi Germany, a broadway musical of Trotsky in New York encouraging revolution but falling in love, and a sci-fi adventure where a rogue planet causes the utter destruction of planet Earth.
#7 THE RISE by Sue-Ellen Pashley.
This is a tale of community, hope persecution and survival in the flooded world of Deadset Press’ ‘Drowned Earth’ series. Pashley’s story is set on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, and revolves around Katie’s investigation the attempted murder of her friend Mason – a crime unheard of in their community. Trying to solve the mystery of who had stabbed Mason and why, Katie soon learns that the people she can trust in her close-knit community are few and far between. The characters in THE RISE are wonderful, Katie and Ellie stood out for me, their friendship felt real and their unique personalities really came through. And Alex, a Territory leader, just gave off creepy and untrustworthy vibes. I thought all the characters were well written, and they stay with you long after you’ve finished reading the story. The suspense, action and tension is really well done, and the new world Pashley has described in THE RISE feels so real.
#6 FOUR DEAD QUEENS by Astrid Scholte.
FOUR DEAD QUEENS is the superb debut of Astrid Scholte, and was an absolute delight to read. This book is the story of Keralie, a young thief. And it’s the story of Quadaria. In a stunning opening, Keralie steals a case containing valuable memory chips, and – caught in a trap between her victim and her boss – she ingests the memory chips in a desperate attempt to escape, resulting in her seeing vivid images of the murders of Quadara’s queens; Marguerite, Stessa, Corra and Iris. From there we’re treated to chapters from the points-of-view of each queen and learn their stories, and secrets. But what’s happening? Aren’t they dead? Have we gone back in time? And that’s one thing that makes FOUR DEAD QUEENS so good – Scholte keeps you guessing until the end.
And here begins the Top 5. I’m excited – are you?
#5 TIDES OF WAR by Marcus Turner.
This debut novella is a fantastic and gripping story of survival and vengeance in a post-apocalyptic world. Like THE RISE, this is also part of the ‘Drowned Earth’ series, except TIDES OF WAR focuses on the plight of Maria and the survivors of what used to be Melbourne. They are struggling against famine and disease, until one day Maria discovers that there are floating cities out there on the ocean who knew that the destruction was coming, and turned their back on the rest of the world.
Filled with action, intrigue and memorable characters, TIDES OF WAR is not to be missed. It’s like Mad Max meets Waterworld (but if Waterworld was good). And in a book.
#4 BENEATH THE SURFACE by Rebecca Langham.
This is the story of Lydia, the governor’s daughter who seeks seclusion from the public eye by teaching at the Outsider facility, and it’s the story of Alessia, a reclusive leader of the Outsiders, the alien race who sought refuge on Earth and were hidden away from humanity. The tension that grows, the secrets that are uncovered, and the shifting relationships between the characters make for compelling reading.
What really stood out to me was the strong political elements in this piece, which I love to see. BENEATH THE SURFACE reads as a condemnation, of Australia’s offshore detention of asylum seekers. The inhumanity of placing innocent people fleeing war in a prison where they are neglected, abused and given no hope of a future is very powerfully portrayed. One great touch is the ability of the Outsiders to manipulate their body between feminine, androgynous and masculine depending on which gender they felt suited them, which explores and discusses gender and sexual identity in a new way. It’s engaging, it’s well-written, the characters are great and the twists are genuinely unexpected. A superb book.
#3 THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula le Guin.
I just can’t go a year without returning to Le Guin, whether it’s re-reading a classic or if I’ve picked up something by her I’ve never read before, I cannot help myself. THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS – like much of Le Guin’s work – can best be described as ‘revolutionary’. It’s science fiction which explores and deals with not just the science of extraterrestrial worlds and alien species, but the science of politics, of psychology, of sexuality. The protagonist is an emissary to the world of Winter, and invite them into an interplanetary alliance. The inhabitants of this new world have a biological quirk which makes them neither male or female most of the time, and their identity or roles are therefore not determined by gender. In this way it’s also a great exploration of gender roles and equality, and how political and cultural norms can force a wedge between societies. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
#2 CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by Tomi Adeyemi.
This book is something special. CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE is the beautifully written story of a young Diviner’s quest to bring magic back to the kingdom of Orisha. But it’s so much bigger than that. It’s the story of living in fear, of the oppression, violence and powerlessness that comes from living in a world that sees you as nothing, as a maggot. In short it tells the lived experience of African-Americans living in America. The characters and worldbuilding are incredible. The story is paced perfectly, and is full of excitement, danger, fear as well as love and hope. I absolutely loved this book. The characters were so well crafted and engaging, and Adeyemi’s the description of the fear, the pain and the grief was amazing. I always love it when books have that political element – no matter how otherworldly or fantastical the setting, this is a story that just needs to be read.
#1 IRON by Aiki Flinthart.
Aiki Flinthart has done a magnificent job with IRON. With her geology background she had created a vivid, rich and wonderful sci-fi world. The story is set on Kalima – a human colony on a far-flung planet – and Kalima’s history means it is short on one very important resource. Iron.
Alere is a ward of Xintou house under Mistress Li, and trains as a weishi (a warrior) and a jiaoji (courtesan). She is given the task of serving as jiaoji for Medina’s jun (ruler), who sends Alere on a mission to find her unknown father and stop a war over a hidden iron deposit. Her world is thrown into chaos when she is accused of the Jun’s murder. She battles self-doubt, and worthlessness, obligations and responsibility against her own desire of freedom. And then there’s the weishi of Madina who believe she’s responsible for the jun’s death and are pursuing her to bring her to justice, not to mention other foes they meet along the way. The story and characters are wonderful, complex and engaging, but the real highlight for me is the world that Flinthart has created. What brings the world of Kalima to life so well is the smattering of arabic and mandarin throughout. And because this is done so well, you can’t help but be transported into Alere’s world. IRON is full of gripping and incredibly well-written fight scenes, there are revelations and danger at every turn, and great characters. While technically a sci-fi piece, it reads like an exciting action-packed YA fantasy, and I simply cannot fault it.
So that’s it for my top 20 books of 2019! Let me know what think of my list, or share your own favourite books from the last year! There’s bound to be one or two books on that list which you might not have heard of, so do yourself a favour and check them out!
(Originally published April 2020)