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Allison Hewitt Is Trapped  
Further Conflicts  
Dead Bad Things  
The Enterprise of Death  
The Last Four Things  
Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute  
  The New North
  Bloody War
  A Serpent Uncoiled
  Miss Peregrines Home For Peculiar Children
  Harbinger of the Storm

The Best Books Of 2011

24th December 2011

For me, 2011 has been a pretty good year for literature. At the beginning of the year I resolved to read two books a week, and although I haven't quite managed to make this a 100-book year I've uncovered some interesting new authors as well as lots of reading lots of great books by writers I was already familiar with. So as the calendar clicks round another year it's time to look back over the past one and review the highlights. Everyone's doing it, in a sort of mass outbreak of nostalgia sanctioned by tradition and fuelled by Christmas cake hangover and not having the time to actually read and review an entire book this time of year.

Best Zombies

The year started off with an outbreak of the walking dead, and for a while it seemed like zombies were the new sparkly vampires of publishing, with less sparkle and more glistening entrails. Allison Hewitt Is Trapped by Madeleine Roux is a tense tale of survival, told in a blog written by its main protagonist. It's less of a festival of slaying and brain eating, and more of a candid and sometimes very funny examination of the human spirit.

Best Science Book

I love futurology, even though it's inevitably doomed to be skewed by unpredictable technological changes that have a big effect over long periods. Laurence C. Smith has done his utmost to account for all kinds of variables in The New North: The World In 2050, and the result is impressive. Even if Smith's predictions turn out to be wide of the mark, there's a lot of detailed research to back up his vision of a hotter, busier world which is dominated by the economic advances of countries in the northern latitudes.

Best Anthology

Whatever happened to short fiction? There's no doubt it's seen something of a dip at the beginning of the millennium, but the short form is overdue a revival. This is particularly true when it comes to science fiction, which thrives on shocking ideas that don't necessarily need long narratives to deliver their maximum impact. Ian Whates edited Further Conflicts, which looks at warfare in all its forms. Some of the stories are straight science fiction, whilst others are more horror-based, but what unites them is all their high quality.

Best Crazy-Weird Mindfuck

Amazingly, Guy Adams' Restoration isn't the strangest book I picked up in 2011. That dubious honour goes to Automatic Safe Dog, Jet McDonald's oddball satire on consumerism, a book which is every bit as bizarre as its title implies. However Restoration, the follow-up to The World House, is very nearly as strange, which is no mean feat. It's about a group of people trapped in a malevolent house with a mind of its own, and it's my favourite weird book of the year because it's so colourful and busy, yet it still comes together for a satisfyingly logical conclusion.

Best Political Read

Terry Grimwood's Bloody War is brutal, brutal, brutal. And brilliant.

Best Gritty Urban Horror

Vivid, shocking, compelling, and hard-hitting are adjectives I could apply equally to Simon Spurrier's A Serpent Uncoiled and Dead Bad Things by Gary McMahon. Whilst A Serpent Uncoiled is sharp, Dead Bad Things, which is the second in the Thomas Usher series, is horrific and sometimes gross. Both of these slick, cleverly-plotted novels are great urban horror mysteries.

Best Refuse Collection Based Fantasy

Don't we all like to root for the little guy? Well, I do, and that's one of the reasons Debris by Jo Anderton was a hit with me. It features an architect, Tanyana, who has a devastating accident just when she's at the top of her game and about to complete an incredibly prestigious project. Pride comes before a fall and all that, and in no time she ends up fighting off debt, social stigma and evil magic, all whilst she's having to adjust to her new limitations and recovering from injury. Like all great fantasy it's full of feelings we can all relate to on some level.

Best YA

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is an unconventional book, to say the least (you may be sensing a trend here). It mixes up time travel, freaks, Nazi persecution and spooky abandoned buildings, and it's all illustrated with found photographs that give the whole story an eerie charm. Lovely.

Best Historical Fantasy

Historical fantasy has a lot going for it, in my view. Not only does it teach us something about the way the world really was once, it's also an excuse to let rip with obscure myths and strange magic. Yet the genre is restrained by recorded history, so writer's can't get away with making up any old deus ex machina ending and expecting us to believe in it. And that's a good thing. In The Enterprise Of Death Jesse Bullington gives us necromancy and witchcraft in early 16th century Europe in this action-packed adventure.

In April Paul Hoffman followed up The Left Hand Of God with The Last Four Things, continuing the story of Thomas Cale, which is set in an alternate version of the late middle ages, around the time of the Battle of Agincourt. If you like hard men, fierce and historically realistic battles and dark and oppressive religion there's a lot to enjoy in this sequel.

Aliette de Bodard continued her Obsidian and Blood series with Harbinger of the Storm, based in the short-lived Mexica empire of the Aztecs. It's full of bloodthirsty yet little-known gods, and at least some of the appeal of this series is down to the novelty of learning about an obscure pantheon of jealous and backstabbing gods. Not all, though: the main character, Acatl, has a magnetic mixture of humility and unease in the face of power games, and determination to get his job done and get to the bottom of any mystery.

All three of these books make for cracking stories.

Best Use Of Tentacles

There's been a definite Lovecraftian influence this year, with Cthulhu rising in the most unexpected places. A. Lee Martinez plunged us into a world of Eldritch horrors and roving tentacles in Chasing The Moon, a comedic take on myths and legends set in the present day. However Jonathan L. Howard's Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute has been my favourite tentacular tale in 2011. The story mashes up dreams, ghouls, dark spooky woods and homicidal kittens, which the main character handles with acerbic wit and ice-cool composure. It's a comic delight but underneath that it's an intelligent book as well.

So those are 2011's best books from my point of view. Which novels would you choose?