Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (2013)

Rooftoppers
Rooftoppers

Katherine Rundell's Rooftoppers (2013) is charming to the point of Disneyfication, a collection of adorable figures and improbable coincidences that would be utterly saccharine if it didn't work so damn well.

Sophie is an orphan - the survivor of a shipwreck, found floating in a cello case and claimed by an eccentric bachelor, Charles. Charles raises her in the best goofily cinematic fashion: they write on the walls, eat jam for every meal, climb on the roof and replace formal schooling with lots of Shakespeare. Sophie doesn't even wear dresses - Charles gives her trousers instead, the crazy fool.

Well, naturally the Welfare people (a YA novel where the state is the villain? What are the odds?!) don't like this arrangement. Charles isn't raising Sophie as a lady and they're going to put her in an orphanage instead. Charles and Sophie do the sensible thing and scamper over to Paris, prompted, in part, by Sophie discovering a Parisian address in her cello case.

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The Rental Heart by Kirsty Logan (2014)

The Rental Heart
The Rental Heart
Kirsty Logan's The Rental Heart (2014) is a slim volume that packs a whale of a punch. Although the collection's 20 stories are all (to generalise wildly) on the theme of 'love', it captures a huge variety of emotional nuance: from heartbreak to resentment to loneliness to pure, unwatered desire.

Logan's style is deceptively ephemeral - the stories are often phrased like fairytales or delivered like children's stories, but they're neither: they're meaty, visceral and, on most occasions, utterly ruthless. Virtually all are genre-inflected: Logan captures twenty worlds where relationships are unbounded by the 'rules' - physical or otherwise.

A personal favourite is "Underskirts", the story of a beautiful countess who hand-picks peasant girls to become her lovers. Told from a dozen different points of view, the tale is alternately horrifying and uplifting - is the countess the saviour or the villainess of the piece? The story spirals in closer and closer, with every perspective adding something new to the mix.

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The Knife That Killed Me by Anthony McGowan (2008)

The Knife That Killed Me
The Knife That Killed Me

Paul is a loner. He's made an art out of invisibility, knowing exactly what to do, what to say, or where to go in order to remain completely unnoticed by his school's brutal powers that be. This is in stark contrast to his father's life. His dad, a truck driver, attended the same school, and likes to boast of his glory years. Paul's given the impression that these are supposed to be the best days of his life - and, frankly, they suck.

Anthony McGowan's The Knife That Killed Me (2008), however, doesn't let Paul stay invisible. A pair of incidents bring him to the attention of two different factions at his school. He stands up to a bully (in, that, in a fit of rage, he rather ineptly brandishes some scissors at one of the bully's cronies), and he helps one of the 'Freaks' (in, that, in a fit of ill humour, he rather ineptly feigns a seizure to distract an awful teacher). The first incident means that Roth, the school's cruel, bullying overlord, sees Paul in a new light. The second leads Paul to make new friends - especially in Shane, the 'leader' of the Freaks.

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The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie (2011)

The Heroes
The Heroes

The Heroes is Joe Abercrombie's fifth book, and what a book it is. Unlike the sprawling epic format of The First Law trilogy, or the lengthy structured sequence of Best Served ColdThe Heroes focuses on a single event. 

Following the unification of Styria, the Union has a great need to reassert itself on its Northern border. Unfortunately, the Northern lands are under the rule of Black Dow, as dark a bastard as ever sat on a throne. Due to some rather clumsy military maneuvering on both sides, the Union/North war has been distilled into an awkward siege in the previously insignificant Valley of Osrung. 

On one hand, this is vastly important. The Powers and Dominions that rule these lands are deeply involved - including many familiar faces from the previous books. Will the Union prevail? Will the North win out? The importance of this three day confrontation will rapidly become clear, even to the new readers of the extended series.

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Announcing

...and we're off!

Details on how to submit stories here, and more about the 'brief' in this week's newsletter:

A moment of back-patting. This ticks a few items off the bucket list, specifically, editing a 'best of' and getting to work with NewCon's Ian Whates, who is a publishing legend. When Anne and I were setting up Jurassic London, Ian was very generous with his time and advice. This is (another) opportunity I can owe him.

Now, on with the over-thinking. 'Best' 'British' 'Fantasy' is a brief, and if there's one thing I love to do, it is dissect a brief.

Look forward to reading...