Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
A Printer’s Choice
When Father John McClellan, an artificial intelligence expert and retired marine, investigates the murder of a covert Dominican priest on a vast space station that tries to ban faith, he does his job while shepherding the hidden faithful. McClellan’s gentle guidance focuses the fast-paced mystery: He is a strong-willed soldier for Christ whose deep well of compassion flows from a love of Jesus. Patenaude has accomplished a rarity: a science fiction story of faith that neither descends into the saccharine nor limits the power of faith in a science-driven world.
Chinese author Liu’s near-future story of an obsessed scientist is both a cautionary tale and a celebration of science’s power to reshape knowledge. When Chen’s parents are turned to ash by ball lightning, he becomes consumed with discovering the weather phenomenon’s cause. Imitating Robinson Crusoe’s confessional style, Chen relates his own musings on science in his single-minded pursuit of truth. In this story, science consumes lives. Even as its successes bring fleeting happiness, science can through failure expand our understanding of the universe. Liu’s riveting novel reminds us of the dangers and rewards of the all-too-human need to know.
Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds
Stephen Leeds solves cases of corporate espionage. He also sees people who are not there, each a representation of knowledge or a skill set buried deep in Leeds’ subconscious. His hallucinations make him the best problem-solver in the business, but they are also his greatest weakness. In this three-novella set, Sanderson’s mind-bending near-future thriller attracts readers with its relatable, misunderstood middle-manager hero, then keeps them engaged with madcap action, hilarious dialogue, and the ever-present danger of descending madness. This witty and thought-provoking story is a wonderful cross between buddy comedy and the movie Inception.
Peter F. Hamilton
Hamilton is a master at creating realistic future societies. In 2204, an investigative team tries to discover where an alien ship (discovered on a new planet) came from and what it means for humankind. Hamilton’s tense novel alternates various storylines: the investigative team’s intertwined mercenaries’ histories, corporate espionage, failed relationships, an advanced technology, a secretive alien race hidden in plain sight, and the strange far future. The reader will wonder how all the different pieces connect in this first volume of a promising series. (Cautions: sexual references and profanity)
Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Age of Sigmar, two popular tabletop role-playing games, bear the tagline “In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war.” These spawned the subgenre of science fiction and fantasy known as “grimdark.” The tone, style, and setting of grimdark are particularly gruesome, depraved, and violent. Characters embrace their baser natures, heroes are often false or self-deceiving, and most forces are malevolent.
It was surprising, then, when publisher Black Library announced it would publish a grimdark series for readers ages 8-12, beginning in February 2019. Warhammer Adventures are age-appropriate books (based on my reading of pre-released chapters) written by experienced writers, but they are still an introduction to a world of stories that prides itself on the inclusion of sex, violence, and profanity. Parents and young readers should approach them with caution. —J.O.