2017 Reading List, Part 1

I’m getting closer to finishing Time Pratt’s The Wrong Stars, and I expect to have my review up on the site by the beginning of next week, so keep an eye out for that.  In the meantime, I thought it’d be fun to write a little bit about the books I’ve read so far this year.  I’ve put together a list of the twenty-six books I can remember reading this year, minus Artemis, which will be broken up into five posts over the course of the next five days.  My 2017 reading ranged from Russian science-fiction to Polish fantasy, history to self-published, a breakdown of the video game industry to a fan guide for a long-running web series.  These won’t be full reviews of the books, just brief thoughts meant to give a general idea of my reading experience and, hopefully, help you to find that next novel.  Today, I’ll be focusing on some great works out of Russia, Poland, and France.

Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro series has spawned three novels and two video games, with a third releasing in 2018.  Beginning with the novel Metro 2033 (continuing with Metro 2034 and Metro 2035), Glukhovsky showed us a world where civilization had been wiped out by nuclear war.  The remnants of Moscow live trapped in the expansive metro system, developing stations into towns and fighting to protect the hermetically sealed doors which block the radiation of the surface.  After wiping out a burgeoning community of mutants who evolved to withstand that radiation, protagonist Artyom has come to regret his mistake in the final novel, Metro 2035, and makes regular excursions to the surface.  He hopes to contact some other leftover of humanity.  His journey takes him through the hidden parts of the metro system and leads to the discovery of a conspiracy with potential to change the metro’s entire way of life, or even free the people from the confines of the subway.  The novel is bleak, the writing is dense, and a sense of dread follows Artyom everywhere he goes as radiation poison wreaks havoc in his body.  The world of Metro is not a happy place.

The Witcher series is Poland’s national treasure, so much so that the Polish president Donald Tusk gifted a copy of the video game The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings to Barack Obama during a visit in 2011.  The final book in the series, The Lady of the Lake, was published in English earlier this year, wrapping up a series 15 years in the making.  Two collections of short stories, a standalone novel, a series of five novels, and three video games later, and the world has one of the most expansive and intriguing fantasy adventures.  Andrzej Sapkowski’s tales follow the exploits of Geralt of Rivia and his adoptive daughter Ciri on the Continent, heavily based on Eastern Europe in both geography and folklore.  Geralt is a Witcher; a mutated human bred and trained specifically to hunt the monsters that threaten people’s livelihoods.  His life changes dramatically once he encounters Ciri, a girl bound to him by destiny and possessed by the power to travel between worlds.  The series combines monster hunting, political intrigue, action, adventure, philosophical ruminations, and the lesson that the scariest monsters may very well be your neighbors.  These are books one could easily get lost in.

Frédéric Dard was one of the most prolific authors in modern literary history.  Over the course of his life, Dard wrote over 300 novels.  173 of those follow the adventures of Detective Superintendent Antoine San-Antonio, a member of the French secret service.  However, this year I decided to check out three of Dard’s standalone novels: Bird in a Cage, The Wicked go to Hell, and Crush.  All three are thrillers, but very different in their execution and plot.  Bird in a Cage follows a man, alone on Christmas, as he meets an alluring woman and her young daughter.  Of course, not all is what it seems.  In this book, everyone is hiding something and using the others for their own schemes.  There are no heroes here.  The Wicked Go to Hell takes its story to an even darker place.  A French detective is placed undercover in a prison; his mission is to extract information from an inmate by any means necessary.  A prison break ensues, and the two men are forced to trust each other even as both accuse each other of being the mole.  The reader is right there besides them the entire time; it’s not until the end do we learn who was the criminal and who was the cop.

Crush is very different from the other two of Dard’s novels.  The main character is not some grizzled man walking dark, city streets, but a teenage girl in a small town who dreams of a better life.  Her mother is uncaring, she has no friends, and she wants nothing more than to leave her life behind.  Everything changes when an American couple moves into a large house in the area.  Now, this girl has an escape route.  Every day she walks by the house, looking in their windows and fantasizing about their life.  Eventually, the girl works up the courage to approach the couple and offer herself as their maid.  This is Frédéric Dard, however, so there are no happy endings to be found in this book.  The life of the American’s couple is not what it seems, and soon our protagonist finds herself falling for the husband as thoughts of him consume her mind.

That’s it for today’s recommended reading!  Check back in tomorrow for the next set of five as I move into the fantasy genre with two series, and an author most people are already familiar with.  Now, go read some good books.

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