Finally..... my personal favourite book (ok....this is a trilogy) of the Noughties. Drum roll please...... At Number 1 is:
1. The Stoneheart Trilogy by Charlie Fletcher
I have a feeling that some people may find this a surpising choice for my Number 1 book of the last decade, but please believe me when I say that whilst I found deciding on the order of the rest of the books to be an almost agonising task, there was never any doubt in my mind what I would be awarding the top spot to. I loved every moment of this trilogy from the first chapter of Stoneheart right the way through to the last page of Silver Tongue. In this trilogy Charlie Fletcher has written about London in such an imaginative way that you will never be able to walk the city's streets and see them in the same way again once you have read these books. I challenge you to walk past the dragons that guard the main routes into the City and not glance at them nervously out of the corner of your eye! Or stand and admire the statue of The Gunner on Hyde Park Corner and not feel anything but admiration for this very great literary hero!
These books have everything: believable, endearing characters that the reader can very quickly empathise with; a particularly creepy villain; thorough research leading to a fresh re-imagining of London and its statues; realistic dialogue that adds to the story rather than detracts from it; layers within the story that allow it to be enjoyed by both children and adults (and everyone inbetween)..... I could go on and on - in my mind this is the most original fantasy series I have read since first picking up Philip Pullman's Northern Lights.
Charlie Fletcher demonstrates in Stoneheart that he has a great talent for descriptive writing - he really does make the city come alive in the mind of the reader. However, this is not at the cost of narrative pace, which is faster than Usain Bolt but with the stamina of Paula Radcliffe; Silver Tongue has more than 500 pages, the other two books approaching this number, yet most readers will not notice the passage of this many of pages as they become totally engrossed in the fast moving story. And this is the case for all three books - no slow moving mid-trilogy disappointment from this author!
As well as being able to write fast-moving chase scenes (of which there are many), Mr Fletcher is also just as skilled when it come to writing the lengthy, climactic battle scenes in the trilogy's final instalment, scenes that do justice to the rest of the preceding story. And there are so many of them - it takes great skill and imagination to be able to write so many battle and chase scenes and yet make them all very different - no lazy, repetitive writing from this author. The plotting is also very tight indeed - Mr Fletcher creates a slow-building wave of suspense, that eventually breaks in the final pages of the trilogy; a wave that keeps the reader's heart pounding due to the unrelenting tension, plot twists and never really knowing which of the many secondary characters are fighting on which side.
This is also a pretty dark story. Unlike the Percy Jackson trilogy and Skulduggery Pleasant which are in many ways akin to the earlier books in the Harry Potter series with their light tone and humour designed to appease the parents of their target audience, this story is more like the later books in Rowling's series - you are never sure through these books if George or Edie will make it through to the final page, or will Charlie Fletcher sacrifice one of his main characters in order to maintain the dark and forbidding nature of the story? This dark tone is supported by Mr Fletcher's tackling of subjects such as poor self-esteem, loneliness and abandonment, both issues that the two main characters have had to deal with in their lives. However, in doing this the author also makes the reader become more attached to the characters; you genuinely become concerned for their welfare which ups the tension levels even further.
Recent Twitter conversations have made me realise that I have missed several very worthy authors and books off my list. I have personal reasons for some of these but the omission of Robert Muchamore's CHERUB series and the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer are genuine errors - I changed my mind so many times that in the end they got fotgotten. Where they would have featured in the Top 20 I could not now say, but Charlie Fletcher would not have lost his Number 1 position to either of them. I am also not a huge fan of the more traditional fantasy stories so I don't buy many at all (e.g. Edge Chronicles, Wardstone Chronicles, etc) which may explain their non-appearance, and it also shames me to say that I have not yet read Jonathan Stroud's allegedly outstanding Bartimaeus Trilogy (something I plan to remedy in 2010, but there is no way I am going to recommend a book I haven't read just for the sake of keeping a few people happy). If you disagree with me (and I know there will be many of you who do) then so be it..... but please do go back and read the first paragraph I wrote to introduce this Top 20 before shouting at me.