The end of the year is upon us, and it’s time to take a look back at what turned out to be my most productive reading year for over a decade. Having set myself a modest target of ten books to read in 2018, I surpassed that goal by reading a total of twenty-seven books. To mark that achievement I am hereby going to share with you the best of these books that I read because, much to my surprise, I had the pleasure of reading five novels that I awarded 5 star ratings to. That many 5 star reads in a single year is unheard of for me.
In reverse order, I present to you my top five reads of 2018; and before anyone asks why “this book” or “that book” released this year isn’t on my list, the answer is that it’s very rare for me to read a book in the year it is published.
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LEGEND by David Gemmell
I had never previously read anything by David Gemmell, but when an author has an award named in their honour it’s safe to assume there’s a good reason for it. Legend is Gemmell’s most well-known and highly regarded work, and now that I’ve read it I understand why. It is a must-read tale, telling the story of a jaded, legendary warrior (long past his prime) enlisted for one last hurrah against insurmountable odds: to lead the last stand of an outnumbered band of soldiers defending the military outpost standing in the way of an overwhelming invasion force.
Compelling from beginning to end, Legend is a genuine page-turner, featuring a great cast of characters. The stakes are high, the tension never let’s up, and as a reader who likes unpredictable stories, I really appreciated that I was never certain what the final outcome would be. There’s plenty of surprises along the way, and I didn’t even mind the contrived happy ending for one of the main characters.
PALADIN OF SOULS by Lois McMaster Bujold
Before I read The Curse Of Chalion in 2016, I had always viewed Lois McMaster Bujold as a science fiction writer. Although I shouldn’t have been, I was surprised to discover that her fantasy writing is arguably even better than her sci-fi works. Paladin Of Souls is the sequel to that book, and it had a lot to live up to once I got around to reading it because The Curse Of Chalion is one of my all-time favourite novels.
Though it occasionally references people and events from its predecessor, Paladin Of Souls is its own self-contained story that can be read as a standalone novel. The main character does appear in the first book, in a minor role, but she makes for a very compelling protagonist this time around. It’s not often that a middle-aged woman plays the hero in a fantasy tale, probably because of an assumption that such a character couldn’t believably carry a story in the view of male readers, but Bujold proves there’s no reason for it to be a detrimental narrative choice.
While the story didn’t draw me in nearly as quickly as The Curse Of Chalion did, once it hit its stride it was easy to become fully invested in the book. Paladin Of Souls is a great read with a number of clever twists that caught me completely by surprise. Needless to say, this multi-award winning novel further cemented Bujold’s status as one of my favourite authors and biggest influences.
SABRIEL by Garth Nix
To say that Garth Nix’s novel exceeded expectations, and completely shattered all my preconceptions, would be a major understatement. Sabriel was unquestionably the biggest reading surprise I had all year. I was aware of the book’s reputation as a classic children’s fantasy tale, but I had assumed (incorrectly) that I would be too old to appreciate it.
The story blew me away, becoming an instant all-time favourite. I can honestly say I’ve never read another fantasy book quite like it. Nix’s world-building is unique in its inventiveness, and I really appreciated how much thought obviously went into creating the setting and lore. I was also greatly impressed with the book’s titular protagonist, Sabriel. She is a fantastic character, and I developed a genuine attachment to her while reading her perilous adventure.
Now that I’ve had the privilege to read the book, I have to say that I can’t understand for the life of me why Sabriel is considered to be a children’s story. This is genuinely a dark fantasy tale, and I wouldn’t let pre-teens read it; The Chronicles Of Narnia it is not.
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger
I don’t recall why I decided to read this back in January, but I’m so glad that I did. I knew nothing about J.D. Salinger’s defining work other than its status as a modern literary classic, and now I know why. Reading it with no expectations going in no doubt contributed to how surprised I was to enjoy The Catcher In The Rye as much as I did, but that said, I found the narrative utterly riveting. Once I had finished I knew I had just read a ten-out-of-ten book because I could find no fault with it.
The book is certainly not for everyone, so I understand why it is such a polarising one; people either love it or hate it. I think The Catcher In The Rye is one of those books of which a reader’s response to it is entirely dependent on their reaction to the protagonist, in this case, Holden Caulfield. Readers who find the character relatable will enjoy the story, whereas those who can’t relate to Holden will have great difficulty in doing so.
DUNE by Frank Herbert
I’m almost ashamed to admit that my childhood memories of watching the eighties movie adaptation of Dune put me off reading the novel for many years. The film is truly terrible, even by Hollywood standards, so despite being fully aware of the book’s reputation as Frank Herbert’s Magnus opus (and the highest selling science fiction book of all time) I was convinced it couldn’t possibly that good. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
If you’ve already had the honour of reading the novel, I don’t need to tell you what a unique science-fantasy epic Dune is; I know I found it to be an amazing read. The originality of the story and its setting is a testament to Herbert’s imagination, while the quality of writing demonstrates what an accomplished wordsmith he was. In addition to all that’s great about it, the book has a timelessness about it that makes it hard to believe it was written half a century ago.
When I had finished reading Dune I was unable to write a review of it because I didn’t know how to do the book justice. As with The Catcher In The Rye, I consider this book to be a perfect ten; the story is flawless to me. For the purpose of this blog post, I’ve made Herbert’s masterpiece my top read of the year over Salinger’s book because Dune is much more ambitious in scope.
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So there you have it, my favourite reads of 2018. If you’ve read any of these books let me know what you think of them, and if you’ve posted a “best of 2018” list of your own feel free to leave a link to it in the comments.
Thanks for reading,