Best novels of 2014

Happy New Year everyone! 2014 was a great year for reading, especially after a somewhat lacklustre 2013. As I think back, it seems that this was a year for making much-needed changes, challenging myself, and trying new things. That made it a tough year, at times, but also an exciting one that sets the stage for an even better year in 2015 🙂

I can only hope that there’ll be just as many great books as I read in 2014. Here are my favourites, in the order that I read them:

The Broken KingdomsThe Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

It feels like such an age since I did this read-along that I was a bit surprised to see this on my Goodreads list of 2014 reads 🙂 N.K. Jemisin’s Interitance Trilogy showed me that I actually should be reading epic fantasy because it can be so, so awesome. In this sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Jemisin expands on the mythology, adding new perspectives to a story that seemed clear cut at first. The protagonist is a blind artist whose had a lot of gods in her life, because their magic is the one thing she can see clearly.

Besides being simply amazing fiction, The Inheritance Trilogy is also the perfect option for anyone looking to diversify their sff reading.

 

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

Andy Weir must be the biggest self-publishing success story – The Martian started as a free serial on his blog, got picked up by major publishers, and is now being made into a big Hollywood blockbuster directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon (due to be released in 2015).

At first, I wasn’t sure this would be the book for me – a survivalist story set on Mars with lots of hard science? But I wanted to challenge myself and it paid off in spades. The Martian is a fantastic page-turner, and although there is a lot of hard science, the author makes it palatable enough for any reader. I was worried that it’d get boring, with most of the narrative focused on a man alone on Mars, but Mark Watney’s endlessly optimistic and humorous personality kept me entertained. I can’t wait to see the movie.

 

Six-Gun Snow White

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente

Valente! Her name is enough to sell me a book, and I snatched up a copy of this Subterranean Press limited edition when it came out. Valente’s writing and imagination is like nothing else out there, and I particularly like her use of myth and fairy tale. Six-Gun Snow White is dark, brutal and just as strange and beautiful as I hoped it would be.

Now can someone please do special editions of the rest of her books? I will just give you my money.

 

 

The Girls at the Kingfisher ClubThe Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

It’s the fairy tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses set in 1920s New York. The twelve Hamilton sisters are forbidden by their father from ever leaving the house, but Jo, the oldest, takes them out every night to go dancing in the city’s speakeasies. It’s the best life she can give her sisters, until their father decides to solves his financial problems by selling them off in marriage. Historical fiction isn’t normally by thing, but stepping out of my comfort zone has been one of the best things about 2014. Valentine’s book was sheer joy to read.

 

City of Stairs

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Out of 2014’s favourites, this one was the most thrilling, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring… It was extremely fucking impressive. I love gods and mythology, and like N.K. Jemisin, Bennett has created his own to make one of the most amazing fantasy worlds I’ve ever read. I also love it because its protagonist is a skinny, bespectacled, unassuming woman who turns out to be the only one badass enough to save the world specifically because she’s a total geek. That said, I also have a very soft spot for her assistant Sigrud, a hulking berserker who is single-handedly responsible for the best action scene in the book.

 

Devilskein and DearloveDevilskein & Dearlove by Alex Smith

I’m very picky with YA, but I was thoroughly enchanted by this South African take on The Secret Garden. It’s set in one of my regular Cape Town haunts – Long Street – with characters who are charming, belligerent and despicable (occasionally all three). It’s rather dark, with its friendship between a grief-stricken young girl and a demon who wants her heart, but that’s why I like it.

 

 

 

Bird Box

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Now THIS is the kind of horror I like. Tense, disturbing, and gets gory only when it really means something. Horror stories often falter when the monster is revealed, but Malerman neatly eschews this problem with creatures that people have to avoid looking at, because one glimpse will cause them to commit gruesome suicide. The characters blindfold themselves whenever they’re outside, knowing they could be surrounded by monsters at any time. It’s not flawless, but it scared the hell out of me.

 

 

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

This book was so good I decided not to read another novel after it just so I would end my year’s reading (of novels) on a perfect note. Like Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, its protagonist lives his life over and over again, but this book is so much better because Harry August remembers everything about his past lives. The way his experiences build on one another makes for a fascinating personal struggle in itself, but the main plot of the book is an impending apocalypse – one of these time travellers is causing the world to end, and it’s happening faster and faster. Harry is in a position to do something about it, but his first question is why he should do anything at all; the world will end eventually.

To explain what he ultimately chooses to do, Harry relates the story of his many lives. His introspective journey eventually builds into quite a nail-biting thriller, but the real beauty of this book is the way all Harry wrestles with ethical questions, influenced by the weight of centuries of accumulated knowledge and experience. It’s one of the most accomplished new novels I’ve read. I want to re-read it right now, and it feels like it could become one of my long-term favourites.

 

So tell me, did you have a good 2014? And what were your favourite reads?

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10 thoughts on “Best novels of 2014

  1. Thanks, those sound worth checking out. Although, I have tried and tried to like cat valente 😦 I feel like she ought to be right up my street, but somehow I just can’t get on with her

    • You’re not the first person I’ve heard say that. I’ve wondered if it might be her writing style. It’s a major part of her appeal for me, but if it fails to charm then perhaps the rest might not either?

      • Yeah, it is definitely her writing style. I gave up on the Girl who Circumnavigated… after a few chapters cuz it really wasn’t doing it for me. A year or two later I thought I’d give her another shot, so read Deathless. There was stuff I liked, and I managed to get to the end this time, but I was frequently irritated. I find her style a bit arch – a strange mixture of smug and whimsical :-/

  2. Thank you very much for this list, your brief reviews helped me a lot to decide to pick up The Martian and City of Stairs as soon as I finish current reading. You just know how to persuade people to read a book! 🙂

  3. Yey! I loved Six-Gun Snow White, too. It was probably my favorite read of 2014. Going to make a note about Devilskein & Dearlove by Alex Smith, that sounds like something I might enjoy. Here’s to a great 2015!

    • It really was just amazing, and so short that I read it twice before writing my review 🙂 And yes, do try to track down a copy of Devilskein and Dearlove! It’s got a local and UK publisher, and is available on Amazon.

  4. Pingback: Mind-Bending Reads of 2014 | Violin in a Void

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