Anthony Ryan

Anthony Ryan, author of the Raven’s Shadow series, writes:

“One of the greatest crimes committed in Victorian theater was giving King Lear a happy ending: fortunately it didn’t last. As far back as ancient Greece, audiences have found something oddly satisfying in the notion of the sombre conclusion, the acceptance that some stories can only end one way. Everyone in Hamlet dies or goes crazy, Gene Hackman falls to his death at the end of the Poseidon Adventure and John Wayne catches a bullet in the final scene of The Sands of Iwo Jima. All proving the truth that not all stories need a happy ending. In fact, as in the case of the four books I’ve chosen, each representative of a different genre, many a book is made all the better for its absence.”

Use of Weapons
By lain M. Banks

“Possibly the darkest of the late Iain M. Banks’s science fiction novels set in the Culture Universe. The plot centers on former rebel general Cheradenine Zakalwe and his recruitment by the utopian Culture’s Special Circumstances Division to perform a variety of morally ambiguous interventions in the affairs of potential member worlds. This is a bleak and entirely unsentimental look at the dehumanizing nature of war through the prism of space opera. Zakalwe is somehow made worse by being likeable, at first glance a hero with a tragic past ultimately revealed as something else entirely via one of Banks’s trade-mark twists. A thoroughly compelling read, just don’t expect flowers and rainbows at the end.”

The Dead Zone
By Stephen King

“Anyone who ever thought it might be cool to be psychic should read this book. After waking from four years in a coma the brilliantly named John Smith discovers he has the ability to see a person’s future just by shaking their hand. Far from being the path to fame and riches, however, Smith’s ‘gift’ is essentially a life-ruining curse. Hounded by tabloids, religious fanatics, and desperate relatives, Smith is forced into isolation only to be dragged reluctantly into the hunt for a serial killer. Despite his success, however, Smith’s story doesn’t conclude with a triumphal return to normality. As the end of the world looms, his tale becomes one of sacrifice and unavoidable fate. A wonderfully sombre end adds much to a truly great horror novel.”

Wolf in Shadow
By David Gemmell

“The late and greatly lamented David Gemmell’s most effective exploration of the persistent western influence found in much of his work. This is the story of post-apocalyptic gunslinger Jon Shannow, dubbed the Jerusalem Man due to his obsessive quest for the now fabled biblical city where he imagines he will find peace after a lifetime of violence. Shannow ranges across a future earth where geological upheaval has reversed the position of the world’s oceans. Shannow is a gun for hire, isolated by his fearsome abilities with the antique six-shooters he carries, cleansing settlements of marauding outlaws before being politely asked to move on. However, the advent of the Hellborn, an army of Satan worshippers intent on conquest and human sacrifice, places Shannow at the forefront in the war of salvation, rediscovering his humanity in the process. As in many of Gemmell’s stories, however, the rewards of heroism are meager and Shannow’s ultimate destiny proves to be as heartbreaking as it is entirely fitting.”

The Big Nowhere
By James Ellroy

Three doomed detectives uncover a tangled web of psycho killers and police corruption amid the grim underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles, here depicted as a soulless vice-ridden sprawl, hence the book’s title. The second and longest book in Ellroy’s LA Quartet outshines the others in its scope and depth of characterization. His three heroes are flawed and often unlikable, particularly the initially odious and hopelessly compromised disgraced ex-cop Buzz Meeks. However, they eventually manage to find a form of redemption, if not survival, through their individual obsessions. The climactic storm of bullets is depicted with Ellroy’s typical gusto whilst being infused by a pervasive sense of dread, as it becomes clear that in this Big Nowhere, there’s no such thing as a happy ending.”