We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
This is a short, spooky novel. It’s the story of two sisters and their uncle who live in an old house away from the rest of their village, and who are shunned by the other townsfolk. As the novel goes on we are given more of their backstory and we learn the horrible truth about how they came to be in their situation. It’s a novel with lots of grey areas; Jackson avoids portraying either the family or the townsfolk as entirely good or bad. What keeps the pages turning is the air of tension, and mystery. Even if you figure out what has happened, the air of menace remains, largely because the narrative voice of the central character, Merricat, is so well done.
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
Okay first things first. This book is a thousand pages and it’s the first book of a projected ten book series. If you’re looking for a minimalist read, you may want to bear that in mind. We’re talking serious epic, slow worldbuilding fat fantasy here. If that hasn’t put you off, then pick this book up and give it a try. Sanderson is a smart writer, and an inventive one. The world-building is interesting and original, and there are just enough new ideas to bend your mind without being totally overwhelming (though don’t be surprised if the first description of the magic of lashing feels a little dense). The Way of Kings really works though, because of two things. Firstly, Sanderson’s characters are believable, and complex, and they change in convincing ways. Although this book is the first book of a long saga, there is development within it, and each of the three or four central characters undergoes their own journey within this book itself. Secondly, and what really made the book above average for me, is that this is a book of philosophy. I don’t want to make that sound dry; all of it is character-based and easy to grapple with. But The Way of Kings is a book of conflicting ideas, ideals, and beliefs. It is a book where characters wrestle with what it means to live a good life, how best to live in the world. And that is really interesting to me. Sanderson doesn’t load the cards, at least in this book; opposing viewpoints are portrayed with equal intelligence. My favourite sections of the book were those where two characters argued about their philosophies. I won’t lie; in the 1000 pages here there were a few sections which dragged, and could perhaps have been cut. But I thought it was well worth the read and I will definitely continue reading the series. Highly recommended.