Friday, January 2, 2009

Best Book I Read in 2008

I had meant to write up a list of my favorite books of 2008 sooner or later, but in the end it would be pretty meaningless as it was sort of an off year for me. I haven't yet read so many of the books that are getting all the buzz (let alone enough of the ones that aren't). So instead, here is a very short list: the single best book I happened to read last year, even though it was published back in, I think, 1999.

Bloodtide, by Melvin Burgess!
(And also its sequel Bloodsong, to a slightly lesser extent)
I'm pretty sure many who know me in real life are already way too familiar with this book, because they had to listen to me talk about it endlessly and breathlessly the whole time I was reading. I have way too many memories of whipping it out of my bag at inappropriate moments in conversations, waving it about while ramblingly describing awesome halfman things. Also, I had to use the stationary bike in the gym instead of the treadmill for a few days so I wouldn't have to put the book down to work out.

If you don't know, Bloodtide is a futuristic retelling of the 13th century Icelandic Volsunga saga, where two families viciously war for control of London and beyond. The marriage that's supposed to join the families goes horribly wrong, betrayals abound, everyone's hanging by their heels, or eaten alive, or held prisoner, and it all leads to an amazingly complicated revenge scheme involving shapeshifting birds and cloned babies and robo-horses. The gods and mythical creatures of the original legend are brilliantly reimagined as variously genetically-and-mechanically-tweaked human/animal/machine combinations.

A warning, though: like the original story, it's plenty brutal and gory. I actually started reading it on the subway one morning when a particularly vicious scene made me so nauseous that I had to put it away and take deep breaths the rest of the commute. I didn't plan to pick it back up, but I couldn't stop thinking about it, about what was going to happen next, about that amazing pigman calling for his dinner—all day at work I was distracted. So I started in again on the way home, and it's a good thing I did. Melvin Burgess is a genius—a Cormier-level genius—and this, I think, is his best work.

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