Last year I posted an infographic, but I feel that a chattier style is more appropriate for summing up 2013. I have a great many observations to make in this post.
I was delighted to find that my most viewed 2013 post was Jhumki Basu: The Science Educator Reformer Who Was Like A Nova . I consider this an encouraging development. I say this not just because the review deals with an inspirational and astonishing book, but because it wasn't traditionally published. In 2012 my most viewed post was a review of a New York Times bestseller by Jodi Picoult. It's still my most viewed post overall. Since it's the only book by an author of that magnitude that I've reviewed on this blog, this is only to be expected. Discovering that a review of a book published by a non-profit foundation (the Jhumki Basu Foundation) is my most viewed review of the year is actually quite extraordinary. This is yet more evidence of the paradigm shift that has taken place in publishing. It means that the content of a book is more important than who published it.
Last year I gave awards to notable books. I'm continuing that practice this year. So here is a list of the 2013 recipients of the Golden Mask Award. I admit that I am very behind on my reviews. With one exception, these are books that I am commenting about here for the first time.
Favorite Read of 2013
Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography by Stephen Knight
What I liked most of about this book is that Knight views Robin Hood as a legend rather than a historical personage. As a legend, Robin Hood evolves over time. Every period and indeed every author can have his or her own Robin Hood. Whether there was ever a historical personage by that name who inspired the legend is unimportant to Knight and to me.
Favorite Novel of 2013
City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte
I purchased this book at a local independent bookstore. Support your local bookstores! City of Lost Dreams is my favorite piece of fiction published in 2013 and I finished it on December 31st. This also happened in 2012. I felt that the last novel that I read in 2012, Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, was the best one I read that year as well. We'll see if the pattern holds in 2014.
What I liked most about City of Lost Dreams was its inventiveness. It testifies to the power of music like M.J. Rose's book, The Memorist Yet it also expanded my perception of music. Another Magnus Flyte theme is the relevance of history which is always close to my heart. This book also made excellent use of mythology. The most central myths were those of the Eleusinian and Orphic Mysteries. It's the second Magnus Flyte book. I have the first one, City of Dark Magic, on my Kindle. I hope to read it in 2014.
Favorite Indie Novel of 2013
The Company of Shadows by Zoe Brooks
My review of the previous book in this series can be found at Love of Shadows: A Novel In Praise of the Persecuted . The protagonist is Judith, an herbalist and healer in a fictional country. Some readers have virtually shelved these books as fantasy, but the author prefers to categorize them as magical realist. She is most similar to Ursula LeGuin, but in this book I noticed a strong similarity to the Aspect novels by Jeri Smith-Ready which begins with Voice of Crow . The Aspect series has been a favorite of mine for their portrayal of shamanism and their powerful support for inter-cultural co-operation. In my review of Love of Shadows I said that it stood on its own, but I now realize that I didn't fully understand the Shadows until I read this book. I enjoyed the gradual unveiling of Brooks' concept of the Shadows over the two books that I've read. What I liked best about The Company of Shadows is the portrayal of magic, its connection to dreams and the unconscious, and the relationship of healers with their animal familiars.
Favorite Historical Fiction of 2013
Beltane by Christine Malec
I won this book as a member of the Historical Fictionistas group on Goodreads. Only active members can enter Historical Fictionistas giveaways. Beltane is a historical romance that mainly takes place in Scotland. As such, it's part of a very popular romance sub-genre. Unlike the most well-known examples of Scottish romance, it takes place in the 16th century during the turbulent regency of Mary of Guise, the mother of the far more famous Mary Queen of Scots. It was a period when divisions between Catholic and Protestant were beginning to dominate the political landscape as they were in neighboring England. Lord Colin, the hero of this romance, is attempting to decide which direction would be most advantageous for him politically as the novel opens. What stands out for me in this book is that the female protagonist is portrayed as bisexual, that she was in committed relationships with members of both sexes and that both relationships are equally important. This is called polyamory in modern parlance. Some readers might think that such things didn't happen in 16th century Scotland. It seems to me that since noblewomen like Margarete weren't allowed to decide their own destinies, situations like the one described in this novel might have been more common historically than we realize. A woman of high rank who was emotionally committed to another woman in her entourage couldn't simply pack herself and her beloved off to a nunnery without the consent of her family. She would need a dowry for the nunnery and women owned nothing. So when her family arranged her marriage, she would really have no choice but to comply. I loved the in-depth portrayal of the characters in this novel and their inter-relationships. I also loved the independence of the female characters and the empathy of Owen, Lord Colin's Bard and closest friend. It's wonderful that the current publishing environment allows for the publication of novels like this one.
Favorite YA Novel of 2013
Stormwitch by Susan Vaught
Stormwitch was nominated for a Norton Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America. It is an African American historical fantasy intended for young readers. The central character is a paranormally gifted girl who was brought up in Haiti, but comes to live with her grandmother in a rather conservative small town in Mississippi in 1969. Haitians are usually portrayed as victims in fiction, not heroes. Another important aspect of this book is the revelations about the history of Dahomey which led me to read Wives of the Leopard by Edna G. Bay which is a fascinating study very relevant to the history of slavery. It also lends insight into the institution of women warriors in Dahomey which is part of the history of the protagonist of Stormwitch.
Favorite Mystery of 2013
Hard Row by Margaret Maron
This Southern novel is well written, dramatically intense and full of important issues such as immigration, the rights of agricultural workers, misuse of guns and domestic violence. I also learned why cousins can be "removed". I'd previously thought that this whole business of removing cousins sounded rather hostile, and not something I would do to a cousin for whom I had any affection. Actually, removal of cousins refers to generational differences. A first cousin once removed is the child of my first cousin which is interesting information for genealogical purposes.
Favorite Science Fiction of 2013
Angel on the Ropes by Jill Shultz, a novel of the circus on an alien world. I downloaded it from Net Galley and reviewed it here.
I like to think that I chose quality over quantity in 2013, but you can judge that for yourself.