Tuesday, 16 December 2014

My Top Ten Favourite Books (Of All Time) #5 - #1

 This is a continuation of my previous post Top Ten Favourites #10 - #6. I'm going to dive straight into the final five!

5. The Hero of Ages (Mistborn Series Book 3) Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson is a relatively new author, who I am convinced must be part machine, to write as many quality books as he does each year. While I've enjoyed every book of his I've read so far, his Mistborn series is still my favourite, and the culmination of the first trilogy occurs in The Hero of Ages. Sanderson's strength comes from his incredible magic systems, which are so different when compared to the usual fare. He also excels at mysteries.

I've never had as many aha! moments reading any other book. Each revelation explains so much. What seemed like a plot hole - why a particular character could use a particular form of magic better than anyone else - turns out to be incredibly important to the story's mysteries, and make perfect sense in context. The Hero of Ages explains everything, and it all seems so obvious that you wonder why you didn't realise it, and has many epic moments besides.

4. Lost in a Good Book (Thursday Next Series Book 2) Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde has a breadth of wit surpassed only by Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams in the genre world, though his books are typically found in the vaugley titled 'Fiction' section. What Fforde beats them at is his fast and fun crime-fiction style plots, which weave in and out in a delightful fashion. You see, the Thursday Next series takes place in an alternate 1980s, in which George Fornby is the president of Britain, the Crimean War is still being fought, the true identity of William Shakespeare is hotly argued in place of who'll win the next X-factor, and genetically recovered Dodos make a great designer pet. That's barely breaking the surface of the crazy but always interesting world of Thursday Next (which is the name of the main character).

Thursday is a great heroine, and many of her exploits take her jumping into the Book World, which would take several blog posts to explain in full. Suffice to say she butts heads with her mentor Miss Havisham, resists the charms of Heathcliffe, and interacts with many more real and made up literary characters (the latter being made up likely only for copyright reasons). If this all doesn't appeal to you, it's unlikely I'll be able to convince you otherwise. Thursday Next feels real, despite the bizarre nature of her world, and Lost in a Good Book is merely my favourite example in a crazy tapestry of time travel, murderous demons, fictional doppelgangers and nefarious megacorporations.   

3. Guards Guards (Discworld Series) Terry Pratchett  

Terry Pratchett is my absolute favourite author of all time. So why is this book third on the list? Well it's for one reason only - Terry Pratchett has written around 50 books, ranging from good, to great. But I'm not sure if any one book of his has quite captivated me as much as the top two books on the list. For those not familiar, Pratchett deals in fantasy and humour. His books hold a mirror up to our world, albeit with horns and a silly moustache drawn on in red pen. There's something so familiar about Pratchett novels, that doesn't just come from the fact that I've read most of them several times.

Guards Guards is my favourite of his books, my a very minor margin. Some day for my own amusement, I'll rank the Discworld novels from favourite to least favourite. Maybe after reading them all again. But anyway, Guards Guards introduces us to the City Watch, who became my favourite group of characters in Pratchett's stable of interesting and amusing people. Vimes, Carrot, Nobby Nobbs, Colon. All brilliant in their own right. There are so many hilarious character moments in this book, which is probably why it ranks among my favourites. This book is also an excellent jumping on point for new readers of Pratchett.

2. A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire Book 3) George R. R. Martin

This is the only book on the list I'm confident I don't have to explain. I must admit, I hopped on to the series after The Game of Thrones phenomena started taking off. I watched the entire first season in a week, then instantly bought the first four books, reading them all within a month. Then the fifth book came out, and I consumed it in about a week. There's something so compelling about the novels, about the characters and the politics. Very few other books inspire the same level of theorising that people have done for this series. I read entire essays predicting events, seeking to explain characters motivations or accusing others of being involved in secret plots - the sort that Martin clearly likes to work in to the series.

A Storm of Swords remains my favourite simply because of the wealth of things that happen in the book. I'm keeping it spoiler free for those luddites who have not yet read the books or watched the series, but damn, some crazy things happen. I also think this is when many characters plotlines were at their prime. Things have started to drag down a bit after this book, and I, like many others, are hoping that the next novel is going to bring down the hammer with all the running plotlines, and force things to move forward again. But it still remains that A Storm of Swords is an incredibly tense, fun, heartbreaking, fist pumping and altogether entertaining read, with twists that only the most pessimistic of readers could have predicted.

1. Skin Game (Dresden Files Book 15) Jim Butcher

For those not in the know, Dresden Files is series of fantasy novels set in the modern day, revolving around a private investigator/wizard called Harry Dresden, operating in Chicago. These books cannot really be read by themselves - well, they can, and they come off as pretty good pulpy novels. But read them in order, and you see the grander scheme of things. Mysteries within mysteries. Recurring villains, allies and others in-between. The series is made by the main character. Harry Dresden is an excellent POV character, noble but flawed, wisecracking and continually tempted by his darker impulses. Magic in this world has laws, but is not quite a science, and terrible creatures hide in the dark places, kept in check only by the accords, and the threat of retribution by the Wizards Council.

Skin Game is the latest novel in the series, and has some of the best parts of the previous novels. It has the best villain: Nicodemus, a man who holds a pact with a fallen angel, and who's lived at least a thousand years (so he's been around a bit). Also many of my favourite supporting characters are present: Karen Murphy, Dresden's faithful cop friend; Michael Carpenter, former knight of the cross, frequent foe of the fallen angels and Butters, the medical examiner who's becoming an unlikely hero. Add to that a heist plot where Harry has to assist Nicodemus in retrieving something from the hidden vaults of Hades himself...
Weeelll, let me just say that things get incredibly interesting.

The Dresden Files works best when Dresden is working in an area of murky morality, and this has that in spades. The book manages to make the series feel fresh by playing into new territory. The heist angle is brilliantly entertaining, and getting to see more of Nicodemus is both interesting and disturbing. Plenty of twists abound, and the ending is one of my favourite endings I've read so far. If you do read this series, I recommend trying to speed through the first two books, as the second can drag a fair bit. Also, the audiobook version is excellent - James Marsters (aka Spike from Buffy) turns in a great performance. In particular, his voices for Dresden, Murphy and several other of the main 'good' characters are very well nuanced. 

In short, Skin Game is an awesome book, made more so by the books that came before it.

Want to talk about the books on my list? Got your own list of favourite books? Feel free to share and discuss below.

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