I’m late on this! But I figured better late than never. 2015 has been a fantastic reading year for me. There are some years where any one of these top ten would have my favourite book of the year, and there are plenty of books that didn’t make it on this list that were truly excellent.
A couple of notes. I’ve kept descriptions short, so check out the full reviews if you’d like to read about details of plot and premise; they are always spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.
And an admission: I cheated by way of including a trilogy as a single entry on this list, so there are 12 books, not 10. The trilogy in question is so ardently adored by me that it would have dominated the top five otherwise, which just seemed unfair when there were so many other great books.
10. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The Goblin Emperor is the story of a naïve, well-meaning young man suddenly thrust into a deadly world of court etiquette, political machinations, and social and racial tensions. This could describe a lot of books, but TGE is set aside by a genuinely lovable, well written protagonist and a warm, optimistic tone. If you want courtly intrigue and creative world building with a sympathetic hero, this is your book. Full review here.
9. Iron Night by M. L. Brennan.
M. L. Brennan’s Generation V was ever so much fun. It had all the campy appeal of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but for a nerdy, under-employed, post-liberal arts degree crowd instead of misfit high schoolers. Then Iron Night took everything about Generation V and made it even better. The characters become more complex, the plot more intense, the relationships more interesting, protagonist Fort the vegetarian vampire more hilarious. Fort’s struggles to balance his vampirism and family ties with his own pacifist inclinations make for a darkly comedic and highly entertaining read. Full review here.
8. Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach
It’s hard to compare a book like Honor’s Knight, second in the Paradox trilogy and my favourite of the three, with others on this list. It’s a romantic action-packed space opera, and it isn’t exactly life-changing – but it does what it sets out to do perfectly. And by that I mean have a truly ridiculous amount of fun following the antics of a spacefaring crew trying to save the galaxy with powered armour suits and many, many guns. Full review here.
7. The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling
The first book in a dark, character-driven trilogy about a young girl disguised as a boy from birth to protect her from a femicidal uncle – and by disguised, I mean that she literally walks around in the skin of her dead brother after a blood magic ritual. Aside from the typical epic fantasy story arc it follows (a hidden queen fights to restore her throne and set things right), the series deals with her gender dysphoria, her confusion at the family secrets and betrayals, and the question of whether the ends justify the means. It’s creepy, dark, has a charming romance, a diverse and interesting cast, and was completely riveting from start to finish. Full review here.
6. The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
This is Ken Liu’s English translation of the Chinese science fiction phenomenon that won the Hugo this year – very deservedly so, in my opinion. Despite some exposition dumps and awkward dialogue, this book is so wildly fascinating and imaginative that it easily makes the top ten. It is a fantastic read – and noteworthy because I actually had to stop reading it before bed for a while because it gave me weird nightmares about physics. True story. Full review here.
5. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Dark, twisted magic. Victorian era setting and spelling. Gentlemen and ladies exchanging polite witticisms. Endless (but also endlessly entertaining) footnotes. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is enormous, utterly unique, laugh out loud hilarious, terribly creepy and atmospheric, and wonderfully memorable. Full review here.
4. Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier
A dark folklore and fairytale-inspired fantasy novel set in ancient Ireland and nearly impossible to put down. Dreamer’s Pool focuses on two grieving, flawed protagonists, both dealing with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and trying to move on with their lives. The first novel I’ve read by Juliet Marillier, this blew me away with amazing characterization, a moving portrayal of platonic love, a masterfully crafted plot, beautiful writing, and a nuanced and compelling portrayal of trauma and it’s impact. Full review here.
3. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Set twenty years from now after the collapse of civilization, Station Eleven skyrockets near to the top of the books I’ve read this year based on the incredible artistry of the writing—this is the book on this list I would most recommend to someone who generally prefers literary fiction to spec fiction. The vision of post-apocalyptic life created by Emily St. John Mandel is so vividly tragic and eerily beautiful, and the storytelling haunted me long after finishing the book. Full review here.
2. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
This beautiful, wonderful book is so near and dear to my heart, and Ursula K. Le Guin is my queen. That is all. Full review here.
Is anyone surprised? (No. No one is surprised.)
Three very different and equally extraordinary books – rollicking revenge space opera Justice, political and social commentary Sword, and the hilarious and moving Mercy – create one phenomenal trilogy. I love everything about these books, from the ambiguous treatment of gender to the singing to the unrelenting fixation with tea. An evil expansionist space empire run by a clone! Themes of classism, colonialism, determinism, free will, the nature of sentience. Alien races about whom everything is actually completely alien, down to their very conception of identity. A protagonist who is an actual spaceship. The Imperial Radch trilogy is all the most awesome tropes of science fiction, brilliantly and originally executed.
Ann Leckie took an ambitious central concept – what would it be like to be a multi-bodied artificial intelligence? She made that character work as a first-person narrator, in spite of the enormous difficulties that presents. More than making her work, she made her relatable and compelling without ever sacrificing her distance, her alienness. And she followed up on every question and theme that came out of this (how is identity constructed? what defines personhood? who are we really?) to create three of the most exciting, thought-provoking, mind-bending books I’ve ever read, period.
Which makes them easily my most-loved reads of 2015.