The Trickster and the Storyteller – The Top Ten Reads of 2012

A good book should leave you…slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it.

– William Styron

What a year of books it has been! To choose an arbitrary number for my favourites is an act of self-inflicted frustration – I mean, I could have made it the top twenty instead – but for some reason that feels dishonest (and dangerously open-ended, I told you I can’t trust myself where lists are concerned) so I have instead honed the brilliance of a year’s reading down to a choice of ten. Each book on this list displays a combination of superb writing, excellent characters and mind-blowing imagination. Some of them I own, and treasure. Most I don’t, and covet. Whoever is reading this, wherever and whenever you are, I would love to know your top ten too. This is literary cross-pollination, and the flowers can be wonderful.

  1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  2. The Tricksters – Margaret Mahy
  3. The Shape-Shifter’s Wife – Sharon Shinn
  4. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – Catherynne M. Valente
  5. The Scorpio Races – Maggie Stiefvater
  6. The Courier’s New Bicycle – Kim Westwood
  7. The Demon’s Covenant – Sarah Rees Brennan
  8. White Cat – Holly Black
  9. De Luxe – Lenny Bartulin
  10. House of Suns – Alastair Reynolds

Review No.24 – The Shape-Changer’s Wife

The Shape-Changer’s Wife – Sharon Shinn
Ace Books, 1995

The Shape-Changer’s Wife was Sharon Shinn’s first novel and highly acclaimed, which regular readers of this blog may recognise as a potential kiss of death with me. I’ve read many of Shinn’s later works and liked them, including Heart of Gold, Troubled Waters, and the Twelve Houses series, but had never come across this one, though I’d heard about it. Finally getting hold of a copy meant a slightly complicated interlibrary loan – many thanks to the librarian in question if she’s reading this, because it was so worth it.

Knowledge is Aubrey’s addiction. Young, charming and immensely talented, he has never encountered a spell he cannot master and despite the obscure warnings of his old tutor is determined to learn the art of shape-changer Glyrenden. Even the strangeness of the wizard’s house and its occupants fail to deter him. In Glyrenden’s remote wife Lilith, however, he discovers there may be mysteries even the greatest of spells cannot resolve.

I started reading this book in a quiet green nook of the Queensland State Library, under a tree so sprawling it needs to be held up with metal struts. It turned out to be a strangely appropriate choice. The Shape-Changer’s Wife is without question my favourite of Shinn’s books; it is beautifully and poignantly written, with every character an enigma to be slowly revealed. Nothing they do feels in any way contorted to fit the services of the plot. As for Lilith, she is quite honestly one of my favourite characters in any book, ever. Thank you, libraries of the world, for buying books like this and passing them into the hands of people like me.