It was Christmas Eve,
And all through the bookshop,
PEOPLE WERE PANICKING AT THE HAPLESS STAFF AND SCREAMING INTO THE VOID “I WILL NEVER LEAVE MY CHRISTMAS SHOPPING THIS LATE AGAIN I SWEAR! JUST PLEASE HELP ME FIND THE PERFECT BOOKS NOW!”
Well, panic not! Geek Syndicate is here to help. With our rundown of our favourite 10 books of 2015, we guarantee you’ll find the perfect book for your loved ones, whatever their brand of geek.
A small colony on a faraway planet seem to be leading tranquil lives, until their peaceful routine is interrupted by the arrival of a visitor whose very existence should be impossible. It’s clear from the very beginning that something is rotten in Planetfall, but it’s only slowly that we begin to understand the cancer of deceit and obsession which is silently eating away at the community. The visitor’s arrival triggers a breakdown of both faith and trust in the community and our protagonist Ren (the colony’s 3D printer engineer) is unable to keep the colony’s secrets, or her own, any longer. Ren is an incredibly compelling and complex character who proves it is possible to be both strong and vulnerable. Told in the first person from Ren’s perspective, Newman cleverly allows Ren to only gradually reveal what she knows as she is forced to confront her own fears and walled off memories. Planetfall is especially notable both for its intelligent use of plausible science fiction to explore faith and spirituality, and for its unflinching yet sensitive look at forms of mental illness. The good news is there will be a follow up. The bad news is it won’t be available for simply ages.
You can read our full review here.
When a science project to infect primates on an earth-like planet with a nanovirus designed to speed up their evolution is hijacked, it ends up infecting a species of spider instead by accident. We then follow their evolution through the centuries. In a genius move, Tchaikovsky uses names for around four different personalities of spider which recur throughout the different generations, making us feel as though we are following character arcs instead of evolution. Meanwhile, it’s all gone wrong for humanity, with the surviving remnants of a catastrophic war looking for a new home before their spaceship falls apart. We switch perspectives between the two species as the centuries pass, allowing for some fascinating and often uncomfortable comparisons between humans and arachnids; Tchaikovsky uses our differences to explore everything from sexism to religion, and forces us to ask some really hard questions about our undeniably arrogant belief in our superiority. When the inevitable war for the spiders’ home does take place, you may be surprised at who you find yourself rooting for. Intelligent, thought-provoking and ultimately very uplifting, this is epic science fiction which should not be missed. Even – or perhaps especially – if you’re an arachnophobe.
You can read our full review here.
This is the second in the swords-and-sorcery Copper Cat trilogy, so unless the lucky recipient already has it, you’ll need to pick up The Copper Promise to go with it. In their second outing, word has spread of the derring-do of the Black Feather Three – the incorrigible Wydrin, moody prince Frith and brooding knight Sebastian – and they’re hired by the city of Skaldshollow to bring back a stolen item. It all sounds very straightforward, so naturally it all goes horribly wrong straight away. Soon our gang are fighting off wyverns, giant centipedes, hordes of possessed, and facing off against the marvellously bonkers mage, Joah Demonsworn. It’s bloody good fun, with emphasis on both the bloody and the fun; there’s plenty of gore and darkness but with more than enough banter and wickedly sharp dialogue to balance it out, not to mention some brilliant characterisation as each of our group deal with the fallout from The Copper Promise in their own ways. Williams deftly takes traditional fantasy tropes and brings them bang up to date. The Iron Ghost is a rollercoaster of a fantasy adventure which will leave you wanting more. Luckily for you, The Silver Tide is out in February.
You can read our interview with Jen here.
Cho’s delightful take on the Regency fantasy subgenre (yes this is a thing now) combines the charm and wit of a Georgette Heyer novel with the imagination and world building of Susanna Clarke. The delightfully feisty Prunella Gentleman combines forces with Zacharias Smythe, England’s first African Sorcerer Royal, to defy societal expectations of their class, gender and ethnicity, and solve the mystery of the country’s dwindling supply of magic. Zacharias must navigate the shark infested waters of politics and personal attacks on his reputation, while Prunella refuses to take no for an answer when she asks him to teach her magic, despite this not being seen as a proper thing for a young lady to do. It’s a frothy, funny candyfloss confection which pays homage to both the Regency and fantasy genres while simultaneously making razor-sharp observations about the classism, racism and sexism often found in both – not to mention society today, for these are all problems which are far from being conquered. Both enchanting and very relevant, Sorcerer to the Crown also boasts one of the prettiest sleeves we’ve seen in a long time, making it a cover worthy to be judged by, and a shiny addition to any bookshelf. You can read our full review here.
Toby is a normal teenage boy living a normal teenage life until a blood test reveals he is “defective” and harbours an unknown disease which could take hold at any moment. There is no cure. He is taken from his family to an institution nicknamed the “death house” where he and other children like him wait for their symptoms to manifest, at which point they’re taken in the night to the mysterious sanatorium on the top floor and never seen again. Admittedly this doesn’t sound like the most uplifting of reads for the depths of winter, but the bleakness of the world only serves to highlight a beautiful story of hope and love when Toby falls for fellow inmate Clara. Clara is an incredibly compelling character, overcoming her fear of the future to find joy in the present. Together she and Toby teach each other about secrets, sex, life and letting go. As heartbreaking as The Death House can be, it’s ultimately a reminder that we all have a finite amount of time in this world, and rather than allowing fear to hold us prisoner we should take what moments of happiness we can find, and make the most of them. So eat those Brussel sprouts and be grateful.
You can read our full review here.
Yes it’s another post apocalypse dystopia, but bear with me, because this is the most uplifting and hopeful apocalypse since Emily St John Mendel’s Station Eleven. Sixteen year old Lalla is our narrator, talking us through the slow and painful collapse of civilisation in London. It’s a grim world in which martial law is rule, survivors squat in the British Museum, and if you can’t produce your identity card, then you don’t exist or have rights and you will be shot. Lalla in comparison leads a privileged existence in which she is protected by her father and his links with what passes for the government. When they can no longer ignore the chaos on the streets outside, Lalla’s father takes his family and leads them along with other carefully chosen people to freedom and safety aboard a ship. However, as the only one on board who isn’t merely full of gratitude for being allowed to be there, Lalla isn’t afraid to question her father and his increasingly messianic role when she notices things that don’t make sense. The Ship is a gorgeously written coming of age tale about how important the freedom to make our own choices and mistakes in life is.
Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg bring us a twisted mashup of Agatha Christie and Stephen King in the apocalyptic thriller meets whodunnit Under Ground. A small but eclectic group of super-rich couples and families have shares in a luxury underground bunker which they are quick to take advantage of when a super-virus sweeps the globe. Intending to hole up with all the modern conveniences until it blows over, it soon becomes clear that this won’t be the easy ride through the end of the world they expected. The only thing about the bunker which proves to be state of the art is its security, and this turns their refuge into a big coffin overnight when a body is found and they realise they’re locked in. The plot thickens as the bodies start to stack up, and food and water begins to run out. It’s a fascinating psychological study of the effects of cabin fever on the very different characters, not to mention as claustrophobic as hell. Not exactly full of the Christmas spirit, but a story many people will be able to relate to while they’re stuck with the in-laws trying desperately not to get caught clockwatching again. Hey, it could be worse.
As the author herself notes, alternate history fiction in which the Nazis won has been done before but almost always from an adult male point of view. In The Big Lie’s Nazi Britain, our protagonist is a naive teen girl struggling to deal with her forbidden sexuality. Refreshingly, our dystopian YA protagonist Jessika isn’t just another Katniss cutout; her best friend and love Clementine is the revolutionary, while Jessika wants to keep her head down. Jessika is an everygirl, the teenager most of us would be, living under a fascist regime. Secretly unhappy, she eventually tries to rebel in small, quiet ways. An enormous amount of research into the Hitler Youth movement gives The Big Lie a chillingly realistic feel, similar to the claustrophobia of 1984. This is perfectly counterbalanced by Jessika’s combination of maturity and innocence and her love for Clementine. Told by Jessika in the first person, it’s through her that we are shown the horrors of life under the Fuhrer rather than simply told. The Big Lie has the very stoic, very British message that while we may not be able to change the world right this second, we can help work towards it over time.
In this cosy rural fantasy novella, the sleepy village of Lychford is pulled apart by the proposal to build a major supermarket branch on their border. The economic benefits are welcomed by most, but there are fears that the destruction of the border will open a gateway to evil powers. Three very different women end up as unlikely allies in the fight against the ancient supernatural evil, and the rather more modern, mundane evil. This combination of everyday village life and fantasy is utterly charming, sort of like Midsomer Murders meets The Witches of Eastwick. Where Cornell really shines is his characterisation, with the new vicar Lizzie trying to reconcile her faith with what she learns, eccentric Judith struggling to be taken seriously and magic shop owner Autumn coming to terms with her past. We’re still at a point where it’s refreshing to have engaging and layered female leads, so The Witches of Lychford is a real blast. Combining fun, humour and that creeping feeling that this winter, maybe the darkness really might win, this is a wonderful fantasy story with some serious points to make about the treatment of small villages by corporations. And another Lychford book will be released in time for next Christmas!
This is the fourth in The Lunar Chronicles, so you may also want to pick up the first three while you’re at it. The Lunar Chronicles are all loosely based on famous fairy tales, only set in space, and they are every bit as brilliant as that sounds. Cinder is based on Cinderella; Scarlet on Little Red Riding Hood; Cress on Rapunzel; and Winter on Snow White. In this final instalment, our four leading ladies must join forces to rescue the prince and save both Earth and Lunar (the moon) from the psychotic and unfortunately very powerful queen. Winter is one of my favourite takes on Snow White, capturing her sweet side while her tendency to do things like hallucinate bleeding walls (as a side effect of not using her telepathic powers) ensures she doesn’t become too cloying. It’s also not afraid to poke fun at itself, with cyborg Cinder being advised to put her head in rice after she nearly drowns. It’s terrific fun to see classic stories cleverly re-told for a modern audience in such an imaginative way, and particularly satisfying to see traditionally passive characters take control of their lives while their love interests, although rounded, take second place.
Well, what are you waiting for? To the bookshop with you! You should probably treat yourself to one, too…
We hope you have a great break!
GS Blogger: Michaela Gray (@bookiesnacksize)