My Top Ten Reads for 2018

2018 has been one hell of a year for fiction, with a ton of great novels and comics from a variety of genres.  Throughout this year I have had the pleasure of reading a huge number of outstanding novels and now I have the hard task of deciding what my favourite books of the year were.  So below, in no particular order, are the books I believe were the best of 2018:

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Skyward Cover

This is one I only just reviewed a few days ago, but it is easily one of the most incredible books of 2018.  Legendary science fiction and fantasy author Brandon Sanderson has created another captivating read set in one of his trademark intricate new worlds.  Skyward was pretty much the best piece of young adult fiction that I read this year, and I cannot speak highly enough of the high-speed dogfights between human pilots and alien fighters.

Tombland by C. J. Sansom

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Another book that I only just recently read, but I found it to be one of the best historical murder mysteries of the year.  Readers who get into this latest book in the Matthew Shardlake series will find a novel filled with an incredible amount of historical detail, a focus on an underutilised event from history and a deeply intriguing mystery.  All of these come together into a massively compelling narrative that proves pretty damn hard to put down for any substantial length of time.

Deep Silence by Jonathan Maberry

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The 10th book in Maberry’s fantastically over-the-top Joe Ledger series, Deep Silence contains a wonderful mixture of weird science, thrilling espionage and some crazy science fiction elements.  All of these are pretty darn entertaining by themselves, but together they form a really fun novel that I really enjoyed, and which got me really hooked on Maberry as an author.  Deep Silence also had to be my favourite new audiobook of 2018, and I loved the expert and humorous narration by the amazing Ray Porter.

Planetside by Michael Mammay

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The science fiction debut of 2018 that came out of nowhere, Planetside was an incredible thriller set on and above an alien planet.  Featuring a pretty cool mystery with some amazing twists, as well as an epic and memorable conclusion to the entire story, this was an absolutely fantastic read.  Another one with a pretty amazing audiobook, this was an awesome debut and I am already looking forward to the second book in the series.

Star Wars: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith Volume 3 – The Burning Seas

Darth Vader - The Burning Seas Cover

Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith has to be one of my favourite ongoing comic book series out at the moment.  While this third volume of the series is not the only one that came out this year, it was definitely my favourite, with a range of awesome storylines that continue to set up Vader as one of the biggest villains in all of fiction.  With some incredible action, some great additions to the Star Wars lore and some intriguing references to the movies, this volume had a little something for everybody and is well worth checking out.

Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

Bloody Rose Cover

The follow-up to Eames’s wildly successful 2017 debut, Kings of the Wyld, this is an extremely fun and highly action packed fantasy adventure.  Featuring a fantastic band of fantasy characters as they tramp across the landscape in a journey reminiscent of a rock group tour, this book lives up to its substantial hype and is one of the most straight-up entertaining reads of 2018.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies Cover

From fellow Canberran Sam Hawke comes this outstanding piece of fantasy intrigue in what was probably one of the best fantasy debuts of 2018.  Featuring an incredible poison based storyline, this was an amazingly compelling read that contained a number of outstanding mysteries and conspiracies, as well as setting up a new fantasy world for a great new fantasy series.

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruochhio

Empire of Silence Cover

Debuting science fiction writer Christopher Ruochhio came out of the gate swinging this year with this epic space opera.  Featuring a massive new universe in the future and focusing on the adventures of the man destined to kill a sun, Empire of Silence is a really impressive first outing from this author and an excellent introduction to a bold new science fiction series with a lot of potential.

The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso

The Defiant Heir Cover

The follow-up to one of my favourite debuts of 2017, The Tethered Mage, Caruso continues the adventure of her two mismatched companions in this fast-moving sequel that contains all the elements I loved about the first book.  Caruso doubles down on the insane magical action and presents a new range of intriguing fantasy adversaries.  An epic second book and a fantastic magical adventure.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle Cover

This was another awesome debut for 2018 as author Stuart Turton comes up with an outrageous original concept and uses it to create one of the year’s best mysteries.  Essentially a combination of Groundhog Day, Inception, Downton Abbey and one of the old classic murder mystery series, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle was an extremely clever read that proved very hard to put down.

Honourable Mention:

Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

Salvation Cover

Deceit by Richard Evans

Deceit Cover

Pandora’s Boy by Lindsey Davis

Pandora's Boy Cover

Happy New Year Everyone!!!

Pandora’s Boy by Lindsey Davis

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Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication Date – 5 April 2018

 

Ancient Rome’s premier female detective returns in the latest Flavia Albia mystery from veteran historical crime author Lindsey Davis.

Rome, 89 AD.  Flavia Albia, the daughter of the legendary investigator Falco, is now a proficient private investigator and informant in her own right.  When the ex-wife of her husband, Tiberius, brings a case of family drama to her, Flavia is tempted to refuse, but when Tiberius disappears she needs a distraction.

The case revolves around a teenaged girl found dead in the prosperous Quirinal Hill district of Rome.  The girl, Clodia, was the apparent victim of a poisoned love potion, and her parents and grandparents are blaming each other for her death.  What begins as a simple investigation quickly becomes complicated when the witch accused of supplying the potion turns out to be the sister of the city’s biggest crime boss.  No-one is talking, and everyone in the Quirinal Hill has a secret.

Flavia is forced to seek the truth from a variety of people, including warring grannies, concerned parents, criminal lawyers, secretive slaves, a lettuce salesman with an interesting religious statue and, worst of all, the overprivileged offspring of Rome’s elite.  However, as Flavia’s investigation continues and a friend of hers dies, it soon becomes apparent that a vicious gang war is imminent.  Can Flavia solve the crime without getting caught in the crossfire, especially when she has a terrible history with one of the gangs?

Pandora’s Boy is the sixth book in the Flavia Albia series, which acts as a direct sequel series to Davis’ Marcus Didius Falco series.  Davis is one of the most prolific authors of historical whodunits and has a particular focus on novels set in ancient Rome.  For example, her Marcus Didius Falco series contains 20 books, and she has produced some stand-alone books set in the same period.

Like the previous books in the Flavia Albia series, Pandora’s Boy takes a contemporary look at Roman culture and lifestyles.  The inhabitants of Davis’ books act in a very modern way despite their ancient surroundings, and this results in a very humorous interpretation of the ancient Roman characters.  Davis also uses this book to parody a specific group in modern society: the millennials.  Throughout the story, Flavia is forced to follow, interview and generally endure the victim’s friends, who are the offspring of the city’s rich and powerful.  These friends are exceedingly selfish, have sordid love lives and get into all sorts of mischief.  In other words, they act in a very similar way to how modern day millennials are often perceived and portrayed.  Their appearance is quite jarring in the ancient Roman setting and leads to a lot of the books humour.  In all, it is a fun, quirky addition, and an amusing examination of modern society through very ancient eyes.

The core of the book is the death of a young woman and its investigation by the main character.  This is a well-done mystery that takes many twists and turns to keep the attention of the reader.  Flavia’s investigation is done through interviews, trickery, observations and undercover work, and, like many other parts of the book, is infused with Davis’ trademark humour.  The investigation is wrapped up in a final scene that is a throwback to classic murder mystery dénouements.  All the interested parties are gathered together in one place and the investigator reveals their conclusions, eventually leading to their solution to the crime.  Davis provides a perfect parody of this, infused with her own unique touch.  As a result, there are several jokes about this well-used literary device, including discussions around the necessary prep work and tricks to keep the gathered parties’ concentration of the speaker that will greatly amuse many murder mystery buffs.

One of the more diverting and memorable aspects of the Flavia Albia series is Davis’ tendency to include big action sequences that devolve into near absurdity and provide some of the best laughs in the entire book.  For example, in Davis’ previous book, The Third Nero, the climactic scene was a battle in the heart of Rome that featured, among other things, a war elephant, Parthian cataphracts and one of the most improbable chase sequences in all of fiction.  While nothing will quite top this, Davis has striven to include one such scene in Pandora’s Boy, featuring an interrupted séance, an all-out brawl between legionnaires and Vigiles at a collapsing temple, all of which serves as a backdrop to a fight between two warring grannies.  This is an extremely entertaining scene and definitely a highlight to watch out for.

Another notable feature of the books in the Falco universe is the deeper examination of the Roman criminal justice system.  The investigators in these books often deal with the Vigiles and the Aediles, the ancient Roman equivalent of the police and magistrates, many of whom turn into key characters.  This is a unique feature, as most Roman historical fiction books neglect to focus on these institutions, only mentioning them if in the context of political gain.  Pandora’s Boy includes a detailed look at the Vigiles who patrol the Quirinal Hill district and their investigation into the death and other serious crimes.  Loaded up with a suitable modern twist, the inclusion of these characters is an intriguing addition that highlights an often-neglected side of ancient Roman life.

Pandora’s Boy is a wonderful addition to one of the best ancient crime series currently on the market.  Davis once again creates a fantastic murder mystery and infuses it with outrageous humour and a modernistic take on ancient Roman life.  This is an exceedingly fun and deeply absorbing novel that will appeal to a very wide audience of readers.

My Rating:

Five Stars