Twice a year Simon and I choose 13 books that are coming out over the next six months and dedicate a whole episode of The Readers Podcast to tell everyone about them and why we’re curious about reading them.
This time the brief was to choose books that weren’t the obvious ones. This is definitely a list of books that are on the fringes for me and not what you might think I’d read. I’ve jotted them down in month order though they’re not chronological and may be subject to change.
River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay (Harper Collins)
In his critically acclaimed novel Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay told a vivid and powerful story inspired by China’s Tang Dynasty. Now, the international bestselling and multiple award-winning author revisits that invented setting four centuries later – a world inspired this time by the glittering, decadent Song Dynasty.
Ren Daiyan was still just a boy when he took the lives of seven men while guarding an imperial magistrate of Kitai. That moment on a lonely road changed his life—in entirely unexpected ways, sending him into the forests of Kitai among the outlaws. From there he emerges years later—and his life changes again, dramatically, as he circles towards the court and emperor, while war approaches Kitai from the north.
Lin Shan is the daughter of a scholar, his beloved only child. Educated by him in ways young women never are, gifted as a songwriter and calligrapher, she finds herself living a life suspended between two worlds. Her intelligence captivates an emperor—and alienates women at the court. But when her father’s life is endangered by the savage politics of the day, Shan must act in ways no woman ever has.
In an empire divided by bitter factions circling an exquisitely cultured emperor who loves his gardens and his art far more than the burdens of governing, dramatic events on the northern steppe alter the balance of power in the world, leading to events no one could have foretold, under the river of stars.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Picador)
They said I must die. They said that I stole the breaths from men, and now they must steal mine. I imagine, then, that we are all candle flames, greasy-bright, fluttering in the darkness and the howl of the wind, and in the stillness of the room I hear footsteps, awful coming footsteps, coming to blow me out and send my life up away from me in a grey wreath of smoke.
In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover.
Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district office Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s story begins to emerge and with it the family’s terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed.
Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human (Century)
Baxter Zevcenko’s life is pretty sweet. As the 16-year-old kingpin of the Spider, his smut-peddling schoolyard syndicate, he’s making a name for himself as an up-and-coming entrepreneur. Profits are on the rise, the other gangs are staying out of his business, and he’s going out with Esme, the girl of his dreams.
But when Esme gets kidnapped, and all the clues point towards strange forces at work, things start to get seriously weird. The only man drunk enough to help is a bearded, booze-soaked, supernatural bounty hunter that goes by the name of Jackson ‘Jackie’ Ronin.
Plunged into the increasingly bizarre landscape of Cape Town’s supernatural underworld, Baxter and Ronin team up to save Esme. On a journey that takes them through the realms of impossibility, they must face every conceivable nightmare to get her back, including the odd brush with the Apocalypse.
Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (Atlantic)
Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone – and serendipity, coupled with sheer curiosity, has landed him a new job working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead they simply borrow impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behaviour and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore…
The Golum and the Djinn by Helen Wecker (Blue Door)
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.
Ahmad is a djinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world.
The Golem & The Djinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.
Let the Games Begin by Niccolo Ammaniti and Kylee Doust (Cannongate)
WARNING: Contains Satanic cults, intoxicated supermodels, Olympic refugees and man-eating hippos
The world might be in the throes of a global recession but when an author on the brink of despair, an enigmatic musician, a supermodel and a Satanic sect meet with the cream of Italian high society at the home of a Roman property tycoon, the world outside the mansion’s walls is soon forgotten. There’s going to be one hell of a party. And you’ve got a VIP ticket.
Ammaniti’s latest baroque masterpiece is an invite to the party to end all parties. But what mayhem will ensue when the games begin?
With all the verve of The Bonfire of the Vanities and Glamorama, this calamitous, supercharged and wildly enjoyable novel pulls no punches in its satire of the excesses of modern life.
The Man with the Compound Eyes by Wu Ming-Yi (Harvill Secker)
This was a summer the islanders would never forget. It all started one gloomy morning at the cusp of dawn when hail began falling to the south of Haven. Woken out of the deepest dreams, people walked outside or stood by their windows and looked out, bewildered at a seemingly shrunken world. Lit by the streetlamps, shooting hunks of hail pounded the seashore, glowing like mini-asteroids with a silver-blue light. Although the sound of the hail battering the corrugated iron roofs, the asphalt road, the stone steps by the beach, the streetlamps and the cars parked by the side of the road must have been deafening… nobody recalled hearing a thing
Babayaga by Toby Barlow (Corvus) [ebook only in the UK?]
From the author of Sharp Teeth,
a novel of postwar Paris,
of star-crossed love
and Cold War espionage,
of bloodthirsty witches
and a police inspector
turned into a flea…
and that’s just the beginning.
The Ghost Hunters by Neil Spring (Quercus)
Welcome to Borley Rectory, the most haunted house in England.
The year is 1926 and Sarah Grey has landed herself an unlikely new job – personal assistant to Harry Price, London’s most infamous ghost hunter. Equal parts brilliant and charming, neurotic and manipulative, Harry has devoted his life to exposing the truth behind England’s many ‘false hauntings’, and never has he left a case unsolved, nor a fraud unexposed.
So when Harry and Sarah are invited to Borley Rectory – a house so haunted that objects frequently fly through the air unbidden, and locals avoid the grounds for fear of facing the spectral nun that walks there – they’re sure that this case will be just like any other. But when night falls and still no artifice can be found, the ghost hunters are forced to confront an uncomfortable possibility: the ghost of Borley Rectory may be real. And, if so, they’re about to make its most intimate acquaintance.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
They made me kill thousands, but I only have one target now.
The Radch are conquerors to be feared – resist and they’ll turn you into a ‘corpse soldier’ – one of an army of dead prisoners animated by a warship’s AI mind. Whole planets are conquered by their own people.
The colossal warship called The Justice of Toren has been destroyed – but one ship-possessed soldier has escaped the devastation. Used to controlling thousands of hands, thousands of mouths, The Justice now has only two hands, and one mouth with which to tell her tale.
But one fragile, human body might just be enough to take revenge against those who destroyed her.
Closed for Winter by Jorn Lier Horst (Sandstone Press)
The summer cottages are closed and peace is settling over the coast of Vestfold, but the autumn fog conceals evil deeds. In the novel Closed for Winter , William Wisting has a new case to solve during the off-season. Ove Bakkerud, newly separated and extremely disillusioned, is looking forward to a final quiet weekend at his summer home before closing for winter but, when the tourists leave, less welcome visitors arrive. Bakkerud s cottage is ransacked by burglars. Next door he discovers the body of a man who has been beaten to death. Police Inspector William Wisting has witnessed grotesque murders before, but the desperation he sees in this latest murder is something new. Against his wishes his daughter Line decides to stay in one of the summer cottages at the mouth of the fjord. Wisting s unease does not diminish when they discover several more corpses on the deserted archipelago. Meanwhile, dead birds are dropping from the sky.
The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt (Bloomsbury)
It is the summer of 1940, and Lisbon is one of the only neutral ports left in Europe – a city filled with spies, crowned heads and refugees of every nationality, tipping back absinthe to while away the time until their escape. Awaiting safe passage to New York on the S. S. Manhattan, two couples meet: Pete and Julia Winters, expatriate Americans fleeing their sedate life in Paris; and Edward and Iris Freleng, elegant, independently wealthy, bohemian, and beset by the social and sexual anxieties of their class. Swept up in the tumult, the hidden currents of the lives of these four characters – Julia’s status as a Jew, Pete and Edward’s affair, Iris’s increasingly desperate efforts to save her tenuous marriage – begin to come loose. This journey will change the four of them irrevocably, as Europe sinks into war.
Equilateral: A Novel by Ken Kalfus (Bloomsbury Circus)
Equilateral is a concise book motivated by an expansive idea: contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. It’s the late nineteenth century, and British astronomer Sanford Thayer has won international funding for his scheme to excavate an equilateral triangle, three hundred miles to a side, from the remote wastes of Egypt’s Western Desert.
Nine hundred thousand Arab fellahin have been put to work on the project, even though they can’t understand Thayer’s obsessive purpose. They don’t believe him when he says his perfect triangle will be visible to the highly evolved beings who inhabit the planet Mars, signaling the existence of civilization on Earth. Political and religious dissent rumbles through the camps. There’s also a triangle of another sort—a romantic one involving Thayer’s secretary, who’s committed to the man and his vision, and the mysterious servant girl he covets without sharing a common language. In the wind-blasted, lonely, fever-dream outpost known only as Point A, we plumb the depths of self-delusion and folly that comprise Thayer’s characteristically human enterprise.
Illustrated throughout with black-and-white astronomical diagrams, Equilateral is an intellectual comedy that’s extravagant in its conception and intimately focused on the implications of Empire, colonization, exploration, the Other, and who that Other might someday be.
To come up with 13 books I had to trawl through several publishers catalogues and those aren’t exhaustive and I’ve missed some and some publishers like Solaris don’t really have catalogue. But regardless it’s a fun exercise as I definitely not have heard of some of them otherwise and I know that a new David Leavitt is coming out.
There are loads of other books I noted down along the way I’m looking forward to but I’m sure you’ll hear more about them over the next few months so I won’t list any more.
But out of the lot I’m most excited by Babayaga as I loved Sharp Teeth but I can only find an ebook in the UK so far so I might pick up the US edition if I need to.
What do you think of the list? Any that take your fancy?