3. The Windsinger, William Nicholson
Summer is the best time to embark on a new fantasy series, as heavyweight coursebooks are no longer around to spoil the fun. Nicholson’s The Wind on Fire trilogy was the second of this summer’s discoveries, following Ness’ Chaos Walking (I enjoyed that series, though the second and third books felt vastly inferior to the first). Nicholson’s writing bears a strong similarity to Pullman’s His Dark Materials, demonstrating the same flair for meditating on deep societal issues without sacrificing storytelling. Nicholson presents a world ruled by ruthless social categorisation and exclusion, and details the escape of the rebellious protagonists from this oppressive environment. I’m very much looking forward to enjoying the next two installments, which apparently become increasingly mature in theme.
2. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
The Color Purple is an absolutely heart-breaking but essential read: it’s one of those rare stories that everyone should read and keep in mind when deciding what sort of person you aspire to become. Explicit in its portrayal of suffering and segregation, The Color Purple is also earnest in its evocation of the power of the human will over all. Celie’s story will resonate with me for a long time: ‘I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.’
1. The Italian Boy, Sarah Wise
Exhaustive in its research and expansive in scope, The Italian Boy is an exemplary piece of non-fiction. Centred around a particular case of ‘burking’ (murder for the purpose of selling the remains to medical institutes), Sarah Wise presents a panorama of 1830’s London. In addition to the disreputable histories of many respectable medical practices, The Italian Boy also turns its adept eye towards the conditions of beggars, the origins of the animal rights movement, the eagerness of the public for sensational tales of bloodshed, and the dismal living quarters of the poor. This is truly astounding investigation into the not-too-distant past and one of the most informative (and disturbing) pieces of social history I’ve encountered.