Ok, so as I noted, I read mainly fiction, with a heavy emphasis on Science Fiction, usually the pulpier the better. I also really like historical fiction. I probably read a book a week so this is by no means the complete set, instead representing books that struck me.
Looking back on 2015 to me the standout historical fiction book was Warriors of the Storm by Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell at this stage has a body of works that span several series, with memorable characters in each. While his most famous is Sharpe to me his best drawn is Uthred of Bebbanberg. In Warriors we see an older Uthred. Cornwall is not shy of ageing his characters. Uthred is creakier, crankier, and if possible even more consumed by his desire to retrieve his inheritance. A few long standing plot threads are drawn together here. His first love, Brida and his eldest son Oswald, whom he calls Judas the Priest play prominent parts and their stories move on. We pay a brief visit to Carlingford, and the scene is overall set for a conclusion in the next couple of books. Uthred is a flawed, violent, deeply conflicted man, a hard character to like but compelling. My fiction book of the year.
Not as violent, but equally conflicted is Harry Bosch. Bosch has, in the Crossing, again and this time for good, left the LAPD. Michael Connelly has him teamed up with his half brother and defence lawyer, the Lincoln Lawyer himself Mickey Haller. Bosch is not keen on working for the other side of the fence, but can he ignore the possibility that his input might free an innocent and identify a guilty? Its a good read, but not at the peak of Bosch, who really works best in but not of the bureaucratic and political milieu of the LAPD. For completists.
Having avoided his work, I started reading some Douglas Richard. SciFi? Technothriller? Both? Hard to characterise . Quantum Lens is those, as well as geopolitical thriller with a caper story thrown in. Its by no means great literature, but has very bad baddies, good goodies, a plucky scientist lady.. you know the drill. Of its kind, its great fun , well plotted and well paced. Yes, the characters dialog makes it sound like George Lucas wrote them and the overall premise is ridiculous, and yes the book will never win prizes for intercultural sensitivity but its a fun way to kill a flight. For what its worth, I have also this year read his books Wired and Split Second and this one is considerably better.
If you crossed John McLain with the Punisher you might get close to Joe Ledger, the hero of the DMS series by Jonathan Maberry. In Predator One we see drone terror. One of the Seven Kings is back (and it doesnt take too much to work out whom) and the threat is notched up another few levels. While one can drop into the Ledgerverse from any book as the series goes on, and this is book 7, the need to be clued into the backstory gets more prominent. This series appears to be converging on the Dead of Night series which itself is an apparent prequel to the Rot and Ruin series. Ledger appears in the latter and we can see him having to get involved in the former so buckle up!
In Scourge of Rome our hero Gaius Valerius Verrens is in deep trouble. He is running for his life having been saved for uncertain reasons. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Roman history knows that a minor military hero who has annoyed Domitian, still a murderous youth but destined to become Emperor, well, they have a hard time ahead. Verrens has one hope to get Domitian off his case, literally, and that is to get his onetime friend Titus to talk some sense to his younger brother. But Titus has aged, as has Verrens, and the two are no longer as close as they were. Titus in effect maneuvers Verrens into a spying operation in besieged Jerusalem, with unexpected effects. We meet Josephus, as unpleasant a character as one could meet in the pages of fiction, and see ancient siege warfare far too close for comfort. Jackson is not shy about ageing his characters, and their flaws and foibles are ossifing now. Where Verrens will go next is anyone’s guess but one imagines he is back on the upswing, having aided Vespasian and now Titus. But Domitian lurks.. This is a great series, book 6 in same, and well worth starting from the start.
Still in Rome we meet up again withMarcus Falerius Fronto, onetime legate of Caesar and now a bad wine merchant in Gaul. SJA Turney writes really well, in a variety of styles, but to me Fronto is his standout character. Irascible, mutinous, blunt to the point of rudeness, but devoted to his family and friends and nobodies fool, he finds himself drawn back into the fray. Turney must have struggled hard to not have him say “just when I thought I was out, they drag me back in again!”. Fronto finds himself being hunted by a mysterious group of assassins, and in evading finds a wider plot. The book is a bit uneven, serving mainly to keep Fronto busy until he gets embroiled in the Roman Civil War, whose thunderheads build throughout this book.
Finally in What could possibly go Wrong, by Jodie Taylor, we return to the timetravelling idiots of St Mary’s. The answer, if you have been following the series, is everything. There are not enough faces nor enough palms. Max is now in charge of training and trying to manage that as well as a new life as a married lady. This, if you have been reading, is not a promising combination. In line with the rest of the series, and its a cracking fun light frothy romp, this is funny and just a tiny bit sad in parts. Its not as serious but in the same vein as To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. There will be more.
In his Ciceronian trilogy of Lustrum, Imperium and now Dictator Robert Harris has brought us to the heart of highest politics through the eyes of Cicero or more accuratly Tiro, his secretary and the man who invented shorthand. Taken together they are a great read, and show us a world both alien and familiar. Cicero is a towering figure in history but this shows us a man, flawed and human, too in love with his own intellect and voice to see others and in the end unable to bend with the political winds.
Some other books I have read : the Warlord and Anarchy series by Griff Hosker are moving along, Hosker seeming to put a book out every few months. Short, not high literature but decent fare for those interested in The Anarchy. Chess Team novels by Jeremy Robinson have gone into several sidebranches which flesh out the team members. David Weber continues to write lots but nothing about the Honorverse which is pretty much his core franchise so why hes left that hanging is hard to fathom. That said the war on Safehold is grinding along to a fairly apocopyptic conclusion via Hell’s Foundations Quiver. Christian Cameron takes to the waves with Salamis, where Arimnestos of Plataea, the Killer of Men, shows his mettle. This long war is not over yet though. Cameron’s Red Knight series is also well worth looking into, for a more fantasy take on derring do. Finally, no book list is complete without Zombies. Two great ongoing series are Nicholas Sanbury Smith Extinction Cycle and Michael Stephen Fuchs/Glynn James series, both of which saw new entries this year.