Surviving Twenty Something

The Best Fiction I Read In 2017

BooksJordanna Rowan
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2017, while being an absolute dumpster-fire of a year in so many ways, was actually an outstanding reading year. I read (according to my 50 Book Pledge page) 79 books, and quite a few of these have become new favourites. I won't lie: the highlight of my year was probably the first installment of Philip Pullman's Book of Dust being released (a part-prequel part-sequel trilogy to His Dark Materials), after a paltry seventeen years of waiting.

I haven't quite decided yet if I want my yearly favourites to be strictly comprised of books published in that year, or simply books that I've read that year and loved (leaning towards the latter), but in any case, I didn't read enough books actually published in 2017 to be worth making a blog post about.

Without further ado: here are some of the greats.

 

1. A Darker Shade of Magic

V.E. SCHWAB

V.E. Schwab's second novel for adults (and my first experience reading) had me entranced from the first page.

"The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed."

A Darker Shade of Magic tells the story of four Londons— one like our own, one alive with magic, one ashy and decaying, and one consumed and forgotten. Kell, one of the last magicians to be able to travel between worlds acts as an ambassador for the royal family— until he stumbles into a trap and finds himself in possession of a forbidden and dangerous item.

An impeccably crafted, richly woven and imaginative fantasy (a bit like the love-child of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora) with one of my new favourite female-leads; I'm already looking forward to picking up this one again (after I've crushed the next two, of course).

 

2. The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

PHILIP PULLMAN

ASOIAF fans, you have no idea. No idea. The last proper book from Philip Pullman set in this universe graced us with its glorious, shimming presence back in 2000 (The Amber Spyglass). Since that year, we've got a pair of lovely novellas (Lyra's OxfordOnce Upon A Time In The North) and a fabulous tease of an audio short story (The Collectors), but mostly, His Dark Materials fans have been waiting for The Book of Dust.

17 years. Needless to say, my expectations were a bit high— how could such a project not be a masterpiece?

The Book of Dust is now comprised of three parts, the first, La Belle Sauvage, released this past autumn.

"'Ah, it's a proper canoe,' said Lord Asriel, as if he'd been expecting a toy. Malcolm felt a little affronted on behalf of La Belle Sauvage, and said nothing as he turned her over and let her slip quietly down the grass and on to the water."

It wasn't what I expected— the first book features the hero of His Dark Materials, Lyra, as a mere baby— but nonetheless I wasn't disappointed. Pullman's writing is as concise and evocative as ever (a combination I seriously prize in a writer), the story impeccably told.

Our new lead, Malcolm, is curious and self-reliant and not a little unlike His Dark Material's Will Parry— but Malcolm stands alone as his own character, certainly. As in his previous works, I adore Pullman's skill in both portraying children as intelligent and complex, and expecting the reader to be equally intelligent and complex. He never panders, never avoids a controversial or difficult topic, but honours the imagination and subtlety of readers of all ages.

 

3. Turtles All The Way Down

JOHN GREEN

My god, did this book make me feel things. While The Fault in Our Stars was like a little iron fist around my heart, this one had both lungs in a pressure chamber, holding my breath as the words pulled me equally willingly and unwillingly into Aza's thoughts.

In Turtles All The Way Down, Green shades a lot of his own experience with OCD and intrusive thoughts through the novel's protagonist Aza Holmes. For me, a lot of Aza's experience was all too familiar— the tightening spiral of thoughts you don't want, thoughts that don't even feel like they are your own— and Green captured this feeilng in a way that left my heart aching.

While the overarching story of friends on the hunt for a fugitive billionaire has all of the usual John Green wit and quick, what won me over again were the characters and how close I felt to their thoughts and struggles and hopes, and how much of myself I saw reflected there.

And I'd expect nothing less.

 

4. Monstress: Volume One, Awakening

MARJORIE LIU & SANA TAKEDA

The art. My god the art. I know, it's a graphic novel, but the stunning meeting of Eastern and Western styles in Monstress is like nothing I've ever seen before.

I'd gladly make up the story myself, except the narrative is as strongly crafted as the visuals, a beautifully told fantasy that meets horror head on and excells where it does.

Monstress follows Maika Halfwolf, a teenage girl on one side of the ongoing war between humans and the hated Arcanics, as she searches for answers about her past, and the mysterious link that connects her to a monster of unknowable terror.

Oh, and for what it's worth, Neil Gaiman said it had some of the best cats in comics— I'm inclined to agree.

 

5. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth

ISABEL GREENBERG

Despite having heard recommendations for this book for years, I was still a bit hesitant I'd enjoy it as the art isn't really my usual style (typically I go for the more realist stuff).

Yadda, yadda, I was terribly wrong— Isabel Greenberg, please accept my apologies and this sacrificial goat.

Once I started reading The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, I couldn't stop, and finishing this gem in a couple of hours with more than a couple cups of tea. Early Earth is a series of beautiful told, loosely connected myth-stories about a sort-of alternate past, like our world, but not quite. It is, at its core, a story about stories (one of my favourite things this side of Nepture), and the power and importance of storytellers.

According to the back, this book contains "Gods, monsters, mad kings, wise old crones, shamans, medicine men, brothers and sisters, strife, mystery, bad science, worse geography, and... true love"— and it doesn't disappoint.

The art, though still not my favourite, grew on my in a homey, familiar kind of way, but the stories pulled my heart out. 

 

6. The Shadow of the Wind

CARLOS RUIZ ZAFÓN

Endless libraries, mysterious books, ghost stories, and gothic post-war Barcelona— I'm pretty sure that's all my criteria for a magic realism masterpiece checked— and it's not surprising.

The Shadow of the Wind is a modern keystone of the genre, and I'm honestly a little embarassed it took me this long to getting around to reading it (I've had an ebook copy for years but, come on— read that description again and tell me this isn't a book that deserves to be held).

In The Shadow of the Wind, Daniel, the son of an antiquarian bookseller encounters a mysterious volume by an even more mysterious author— of which it is the only known copy. As he sets out to find out more about the author Carax and his works, he discovers something else: someone is systematically destroying all of the author's works, and now Daniel is in danger, caught up in a delightfully gothic tale of "murder, madness, and doomed love."

Zafon's writing is artful, compelling, and at times darkly humerous. I'm so looking forward to reading the next two (The Angel's GameThe Prisoner of Heaven)— here's hoping I get to them faster than I did this one.

 

7. The Wolf in the Attic

PAUL KEARNEY

There are few things in life I love as much as Oxford (as I write this, I have a tattoo of Oxford on my thigh that is partially healed). So when I came across The Wolf in the Attic, a tale about a young Greek refugee living in Oxford among the likes of Tolkien and Lewis, I was essentially already in love.

Anna Francis comes to Oxford with her father and lives in an old, tall house with only stories and her imagination to distract her from her loneliness; until one day, she discovers she is not the only one who takes refuge in the attic. There, she finds Luca: a boy with yellow eyes and not a few secrets of his own.

The Wolf in the Attic is a gorgeous, haunting read for the dark of the year, brimming with dark towers, cobblestone streets, warm pubs, and deep forests. Get yourself a cup of tea, yeah?