Sci-Fi books of the year, by David Barnett:' Faint hearted? Get to a bunker'

David Barnett
Sunday 13 December 2015 13:20
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Fantasy is a broad church and 2015 has seen some crackers published, all with very different ideas. Adam Nevill’s Lost Girl (Macmillan, £7.99) is bleak, disturbing and terrifying – and horribly compelling.

Horrors come at the narrator searching for his missing daughter in a Britain of the mid-21st century racked by climate change – a devastating heatwave, crop failure, refugees flooding into the country, and under-resourced authorities clinging on to law and order as gangs take over towns and allow an ancient evil to take hold.

Brutal in different ways is Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor (Tor, £12,99). Baru Cormorant is just seven when the Empire of Masks annexes her people, imposing its will and homogeny on them. Baru nurses her hatred to adulthood, but rather than taking up arms or organising a rebellion, she endeavours to change from within, joining the Empire’s civil service. Sound dull? Don’t you believe it. The Traitor is heart-stopping and utterly harrowing, and makes Game of Thrones look like Jackanory. Not for the faint of heart.

Another secondary-world fantasy, but earthed in the folklore of Eastern Europe, is Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Macmillan, £16.99). It’s a beguiling novel that starts gently, with a young girl living an almost idyllic pastoral life, save for the corrupt, dark wood that borders the village, and the wizard who exacts a high price from the villagers for his protection against the forces of evil.

Back in the real world is Natasha Pulley’s excellent debut The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (Bloomsbury, £12.99). A lowly Victorian-era Home Office employee is saved from a terrorist bomb by a pocket-watch he is mysteriously given, which draws him into a world of clairvoyance, plots and Japanese watchmakers in a story as intricately plotted and as beautifully crafted as the most accurate timepiece.

In the confines of the ultimate survivalist bunker, S L Grey – writing partnership Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg – presents a wholly different, yet equally satisfying, world from their creepy “Downside” trilogy, in Under Ground (Macmillan, £12.99). A disparate group gathers to sit out an apocalypse and becomes trapped in the place that should be its salvation. Cramped, claustrophobic and menacing, with a climax that kicks the stuffing out of you.

Published in June, but the perfect book for long winter nights, Stallo by Stefan Spjut (Faber & Faber, £14.99) is Nordic Weird, a slow-burner bringing together a lot of strands to form a narrative braid that ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable level as a woman who runs a website on mysterious phenomena is convinced that trolls are stealing children in present-day Sweden. An astonishing piece of work showing just how diverse today’s fantasy genre is.

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