Jo Fletcher's Picks for 2008-09

AVILION by Robert Holdstock (Gollancz) - the first direct sequel to his WFA-winning MYTHAGO WOOD, and it remains one of the most emotive and magical settings I've come across.

LAVINIA by Ursula Le Guin (Gollancz) Published in the UK in 2009 so it counts, and I'm mentioning it again because it should be read by anyone who can piece a sentence together. It is one of the most eloquent, profound and moving novels I have ever read and it should have won every major literary award out there.

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BEST SERVED COLD by Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz/Orbit US): It's a terrific twisty, bloody, surprising revenge story, really original fantasy that packs a serious punch. Abercrombie is one to watch.

DEAD AND GONE by Charlaine Harris (Gollancz/Ace) Anyone who hasn't delved into the dark, sexy, crazy world of Sookie Stackhouse is missing a *real* treat!

DESTROYER OF WORLDS by Mark Chadbourn (Gollancz) Normally when people say 'this is incredibly ambitious' what they mean is, too bad, didn't quite pull it off. But Mark Chadbourn has, in spades. DESTROYER OF WORLDS is the culmination of a decade's writing: a monumental piece of fantasy which, I have no doubt, is one of the genre's absolute classics.

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RETRIBUTION FALLS by Chris Wooding (Gollancz): A fabulous piece of utterly unashamed fun, a rip-roaring piece of double-crossing heist-ridden action - as though all the best bits of spaghetti westerns, Firefly and heist movies were put together just to make you smile. It has its thought-provoking moments, and its touching ones, but this is also a book to make you smile even in the depths of the most miserable flu.

HATER by David Moody: It may not be the best-written book in the batch, but it is relentless and horrifying: one of the year's real page-turners.

FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH by Carrie Ryan (Gollancz) Bleak but beautiful post-apocalypse novel combined with coming of age story. Never read a poetic zombie novel before. Carrie managed something very special with this.

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THE ADAMANTINE PALACE by Stephen Deas (Gollancz) Fast-moving, action-filled fantasy. Machiavellian politics, entirely flawed, villainous characters you nevertheless came to enjoy and the most awe-inspiringly described, powerful and horrifyingly dangerous dragons.

THE STEEL REMAINS by Richard Morgan (Gollancz 2008, 2009 in US) A fantasy novel that took the current vogue for grittiness and turned it up to eleven. But as always with Richard Morgan did it thoughtfully, on the back of richly drawn characters and in a way that never failed to entertain. Supremely intelligent, gutsy writing that brings fantasy alive via a healthy dose of reality.

THE CARDINAL'S BLADES by Pierre Pevel (translated from the French by Tom Clegg) (Gollancz) What's not to like? Bad-boy musketeers going up against a dragon conspiracy that threatens France . . . forget steampunk, this is dragonpunk :) Fantastic historical setting, sharp, witty writing, an eye for character, world and plotting details and a kick-ass climax.

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THE NAMING OF BEASTS by Mike Carey (Orbit) it's the latest - and best so far of the Felix Castor series: this is terrific bleak fun, with a nasty sense of humour and a lot of pain.

KELL'S LEGEND by Andy Remic (Angry Robot) For anyone who is missing their David Gemmell fix; plus great series name: Clockwork Vampire

PATIENT ZERO by Jonathan Maberry (Gollancz): A terrifically pacy zombie/action thriller.

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THE STRAIN by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (Harpercollins) - Atmospheric and creepy take on the vampire mythology that doesn't fall back on the cliché of fanged vamps. The opening scenes are a terrific homage to Stoker's Dracula and set the tone for the rest of the book.

THE PAINTED/WARDED MAN by Peter V. Brett (Voyager) It's rare we at Gollancz are jealous that someone got there first - we have an exceptional list, after all - but we love this. It's a well-conceived, well-told creation of a legend fantasy novel with two intriguing characters at its heart. It's rare to see world-building and story-building so closely and effectively married together,

LAMENTATION by Ken Scholes (Orbit UK) a fantastic mix of fantasy, post-apocalyptic SF and steampunk, told with a sure hand and with a lovely prose technique.

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A MADNESS OF ANGELS by Kate Griffin (Orbit): SFX said "Neverwhere for the digital age"; a stunning adult debut that hangs on the very simple concept that magic is not solely a traditional-fantasy artefact of forests, mountains, and nature spirits - now that more people live in cities than in the countryside, it's logical that a new urban magic would derive from the rhythms of the city.

PROPHECY OF THE SISTERS by Michelle Zink (Atom): a wonderful YA gothic tale of two sisters whose lives are turned upside down by the discovery that they are caught in a generations-old prophecy pitting twins sisters against one another with the fate of the world at stake. Wonderfully atmospheric and hugely compelling.

TWELVE by Jasper Kent (Transworld) A debut novel, a wonderful historical horror hybrid being pitching as War & Peace meets From Dusk 'til Dawn

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THE THIRD GOD by Ricardo Pinto (Transworld) It's been a very long wait for the concluding volume in his extraordinary 'Stone Dance of the Chameleon' trilogy

DUST OF DREAMS by Steven Erikson, the penultimate chapter in the 'Malazan Book of the Fallen' Epic novel: It may be No.9, but the quality of writing, storytelling, world-building continues to go from strength to strength.

THE ANGEL'S GAME by Carlos Luis Zafon (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Anyone who missed out on THE SHADOW OF THE WIND ought to rush out now and rectify that. This book has been a very long time in the crafting. Like its predecessor it's another gothic tale about the magic of books and the darkest corners of the human soul.

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THE GIRL ON THE LANDING by Paul Torday ((Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
A modern-day Jekyll & Hyde, part psychological thriller, part ghost story and part love story, and entirely riveting.

THE BAD TUESDAYS by Benjamin Myers (Orion Children's Books): The first in the Twisted Symmetries series, by a former troop commander turned barrister, cleverly weaves the action scenes with more mystical elements, bringing magic, fantasy and science together. It positively hurtles along, brimming with menace and plot twists.

FLOOD AND FANG by Marcus Sedgwick (Orion Children's Books): the wonderfully gothic Otherhand family and their faithful guardian, Edgar the raven, and discover the dark secrets of Castle Otherhand. Gormenghast-lite, also perfect for anyone who enjoyed the Series of Unfortunate Events

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RENEGADE by Alan Gibbons (Orion Children's Books): Book 3 in the Hell's Underground series continues Paul Rector's fight against King Lud, the demon who has planted his seed within him. He has gone back to Victorian London to stop his ancestor Samuel Rector using his Rat Boys, demon-infested boys and young men, from breaking the bounds that keep the demon imprisoned.

GHOST HUNTER by Michelle Paver (Orion Children's Books): The sixth book in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness: The Dangerous Book for Boys, but with imagination, style and plot . . . Thrilling, beautifully written, strongly characterised and featuring a magical prehistoric world, they have now sold one million copies in this country without any of the advertising and film promotions you would expect.

It may not be fantasy, per se, but I'd also highly recommend OUTLAW by Angus McDonald (Sphere) - Robin Hood and his merry men meet the Sopranos!

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And we can't fail to mention

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith - the book that transformed both EngLit and the Zombie novel. It's the one new genre title that the general public has noticed, if only to say 'How dare they?! '

And finally,
TWILIGHT by Stephanie Meyer, which wins the prize for SF book that has penetrated most deeply into the minds of the non-reading public! When non-genre-reading chums start raving on about this great new book they have discovered we sit up and salute.