As the year ends, people start rolling out their lists of the best whatevers of the year. Why should I be any different? So, like I did last year, I’ve compiled a list of the ten best books that I read in 2008 (even if they weren’t published in 2008).
1. The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, by Paul Malmont
The reason I like reading historical fiction is the chance of seeing actual historical figures popping up in the story. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. It works in Malmont’s novel, which tells the story of some of the greatest pulp authors of the ’20s and ’30s coming together to solve a mystery worthy of the Golden Age of Pulps.
2. City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare
I’d never have read City of Bones if it hadn’t been recommended to me. I’m glad it was. Clare’s novel–about a girl who finds herself thrust into a world of magic, demons, and demon hunters–appealed to the Buffy, Harry Potter, and Harry Dresden fan in me. City of Bones is the first book of a trilogy, and I’ll be coming back for books two and three.
3. Vagabond, by Bernard Cornwell
The sequel to Cornwell’s The Archer’s Tale (which made last year’s list), continues the story of Thomas of Hookton, archer and unwilling seeker of the Holy Grail. Again, Cornwell doesn’t skimp on the brutalities of war (and life) during the Hundred Years’ War.
4. The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, by Robert E. Howard
As a child of the ’80s, Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer have a certain place in my heart. But, as much as I love these movies, they can’t compare to the original source material. Howard’s Conan is the shit, pure and simple. If Lord of the Rings is a classical symphony, than Howard’s Conan stories are thrash metal–Conan punches, strangles, stabs, or slices anyone (or anything) that gets in his way. He’s also not above thieving or dallying with the occasional maiden.
5. The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell
There’s a reason that Vowell’s book is the only piece of non-fiction on this list. That reason is this: Sarah Vowell is awesome. No, I’m serious. As a history dork how could I not love Vowell’s historical dorkiness? Plus, she’s not afraid to make liberal references to popular culture. It also doesn’t hurt that she was the voice of Violet in The Incredibles. This time around, Vowell turns her particular brand of historical analysis upon the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
6. DC: The New Frontier, by Darwyn Cooke
I’m not really sure where to start with Cooke’s New Frontier. It’s the story of DC’s Silver Age heroes, with none of the “gee-whiz” nostalgia often ascribed to the era. No, Cooke’s story is a Cold War story, with all of the paranoia one would expect from the McCarthy Era. Also of note is Cooke’s art, which balances detail and economy of line.
7. White Night & Small Favor, by Jim Butcher
Butcher’s Dresden Files series is, hands down, my favorite book series currently in print (possibly of all time, I’ll get back to you on that). These two titles, the most current of the series, continues the tale of Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only practicing professional wizard, as he deals with the escalating war between the wizards and the vampires, demons, faeries, as well as a possible traitor within the White Council, the governing body of the wizard community. How much do I love these books? Well, I broke my rule about not mixing paperback and hardcover books within a series and actually bought Small Favor in hardcover.
8. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman’s newest book tells the story of Nobody Owens, a boy raised by the ghosts of the eponymous graveyard. Early reviews of the book described it as being a retelling of Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Now, the only exposure I’ve had to Kipling’s stories is from the old Disney movie, but I think it’s a valid comparison–from Nobody’s stern guardian (clearly a revised Bagheera) to the menacing figure stalking the Owens boy (can you say “Shere Khan”? I knew that you could).
9. The Shadow: Crime, Insured, by Walter Gibson & Doc Savage: Dust of Death, by Lester Dent
I’d heard about the re-issued Shadow and Doc Savage stories for a while, and I’d wanted to check them out. Then I read Malmont’s Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, and I had to read them. Both of these are just good, old-fashioned fun. If you like a darker, noir-inspired crime story, check out The Shadow. If two-fisted, globe-trotting do-goodery is more your speed, then you’ll love Doc Savage. Hey, would I steer you wrong?
10. X-Men: Messiah CompleX, by Ed Brubaker, Mike Carey, Peter David, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost
I’d given up on the X-Men around the time that Grant Morrison was writing them. I’d tried to keep up with the basic premise of what was happening, until I had enough of Marvel all together. Then something funny happened: DC pissed me off and I gave Marvel a second chance. I really liked what Brubaker was doing in Uncanny X-Men, so I thought I’d give Messiah CompleX a shot. I wasn’t disappointed. After the events of House of M, mutants are a species rapidly approaching extinction, until a mutant child is finally born. That sets off a race to find the baby and, depending on who succeeds, either protect or destroy it.