The vast majority of books I read this year weren’t published in 2013, so this is actually a “Best Books Read In 2013” list.
Best Read: A Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge
In the underground city of Caverna the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare — wines that can remove memories, cheeses that can make you hallucinate and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. The people of Caverna here are unlike any other: they have faces as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to display joy, despair or fear — at a price.
Into this dark and distrustful world tumbles Neverfell, a little girl with no memory of her past and a face so incredible to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. For Neverfell has a face that shows her emotions. A face incapable of lying. A face that is a dangerous threat and an irresistible treasure — a face that some would kill for…
A stand-alone tale of deception, cheese-making, betrayal and strategic amnesia, this book is a shining example of why Frances Hardinge should be considered one of the best YA authors writing today. The writing is whimsical, imaginative and assured from the first page to the last, the characters varied and well-developed, the premise utterly original, the plotting as carefully constructed as any fair play mystery. I read this early on in 2013, and by the end it still stands as my favorite book of 2013.
Honorable mentions: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Best Murder Mystery: The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, by Shoji Shimada
Astrologer, fortune-teller, and self-styled detective Kiyoshi Mitarai must in one week solve a mystery that has baffled Japan for 40 years. Who murdered the artist Umezawa, raped and killed his daughter, and then chopped up the bodies of six others to create Azoth, the supreme woman? With maps, charts, and other illustrations, this story of magic and illusion, pieced together like a great stage tragedy, challenges the reader to unravel the mystery before the final curtain.
2013 was the year I was introduced to Japanese detective fiction, and The Tokyo Zodiac Murders was definitely the standout, as well as the best mystery novel I read this year. When I initially heard of this book, I was worried it was just going to be one of those slasher/serial killer novels where a disturbed psycho slaughters nubile young women. Thankfully, it turned out to be something very different. This mystery has one of the most brilliant (if gruesome) solutions I’ve ever read, but the author plays fair. If I had one book-related wish for 2014, it’d be for more Japanese mystery novels to be translated into English.
Honorable mentions: Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino, The Burning Court by John Dickson Carr, The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith/J.K Rowling
Best Sci-Fi: Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.
Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren — a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.
An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose — to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.
I’ve seen this space opera appear on almost every Best of 2013 list, and it is well deserved. There are so many complex ideas in this book: multiple bodies with one shared intelligence, what happens when that intelligence fragments, the gender neutrality, artificial intelligence and what it means to be human, and these are all explored with very little info-dumping or being heavy-handed. Instead everything is gracefully woven into the revenge plot which drives the story. A stunning debut by Leckie.
Honorable mentions: Cetaganda and Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Best YA: Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.
That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.
He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.
We are a sensational team.
Full review here. The short version: female spies in WWII, unreliable narration, and a friendship more heartbreaking than any romance I’ve read this year.
Honorable mentions: Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge
Best “Why on Earth did I not read this sooner” Read: The Queen’s Thief series, by Megan Whalen Turner
I’ve had this series recommended to me by a friend and fellow bookworm of trusted taste four years ago, and I only devoured the entire series one after the other this year. Aside from the amazing plot twists (seriously, this is one series you want to go in completely unspoiled), great characters and an unusual but extremely compelling romance, what I admire most about this series is Turner’s writing. It is precise, concise and completely assured, and yet Turner makes it seem effortless.
Best Humorous Mystery: The Shortest Way to Hades, by Sarah Caudwell
Everyone in the family had decided that changing the trust arrangement seemed the perfect way to avoid three million in taxes. However, when dreary cousin Deirdre has a mysterious accident after demanding a fee for her signature, the young London barristers handling the trust seek advice from mentor Hilary Tamar.
Julia believes it’s murder; whilst Hilary wonders why the raven-haired heir did not die. But with more deadly accidents occurring, it is Hilary who is given the perilous quest of unmasking the killer.
The second book in the tragically short Hilary Tamar series, Caudwell once again takes the unlikely combination of British tax laws, murder most foul, and a narrator of ambiguous gender and creates a soufflé of a hilarious fair-play whodunit. Caudwell’s prose is not for everyone, but I loved her witty tales of the adventures and misadventures of these four young London barristers.
Honorable Mention: He Wouldn’t Kill Patience, by John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson
Top 10 Reads of 2013:
- A Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge
- Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
- Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
- The Queen of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner
- The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, by Shoji Shimada
- The Shortest Way to Hades, by Sarah Caudwell
- The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith/J.K Rowling
- Fly by Night, by Frances Hardinge
- Cordelia’s Honor, by Lois McMaster Bujold
- He Wouldn’t Kill Patience, by John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson