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Globe Books editors select the year's best-reviewed fiction from around the world

A DANCE WITH DRAGONS By George R.R. Martin (Bantam) The long-awaited fifth volume in the mammoth Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series centres on the power struggles of the Houses of Stark and Lannister. The story has expanded far beyond the original characters to become a labyrinthine edifice, encompassing myriad characters, cultures, intrigues and mysteries. But by the end, breakneck ferocity has returned. – Ilana Teitelbaum

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BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP By S.J. Watson (HarperCollins) Christine, who lost her memory in an accident 20 years before, wakes every morning to a life she does not remember and must start from scratch. This is a skillfully made and satisfying novel and Christine is a woman the reader will come to care about as she struggles for a glimpse of truth in a universe that is daily alien. – Martin Levin

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BULLFIGHTING By Roddy Doyle (Vintage Canada) Almost every one of the fine, poignant and subtly humorous stories in Bullfighting is about a middle-aged man. And yet, even with that narrow focus, it is probably the finest collection of Irish short stories since James Joyce’s Dubliners, displaying delicacy of emotion, spare but elegant writing, heartbreak and humour. – John Doyle

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DISASTER WAS MY GOD A Novel of the Outlaw Life of Arthur Rimbaud By Bruce Duffy (Doubleday) Rimbaud was a 19th-century prodigy who booted poetry into the 20th century before refashioning himself as an arms dealer in Africa. This “teenaged pied piper” lured Paul Verlaine – here a depraved creature Duffy captures in all his spellbinding loathsomeness – over the cliff of propriety, sobriety and solvency. A wonderful story, with a vitality that can’t be suppressed. – Kathleen Byrne

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11/22/63 By Stephen King (Scribner) A thrilling, thoughtful, character-centred journey into the American dream. The time portal Jake Epping is shown, in a grotty roadside diner, goes only to 1958. Al, who owns the diner, has spent five years in the past, preparing to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But cancer foiled him, so he enlists Jake to finish the job. – Robert J. Wiersema

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MR. CHARTWELL By Rebecca Hunt (HarperCollins) In Hunt's first novel, the subject is Sir Winston Churchill in the 1960s, and she delivers a refreshing, strange and deeply empathetic portrait of the great man in decline, along with a jumpy, twisty, brilliantly imagined story. Her subject is actually the Black Dog, which is how Sir Winston referred to his severe periodic depressions. – Peter Behrens

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1Q84 By Haruki Murakami Translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel (Knopf Canada) In 1984 Tokyo, Aomame is a fitness instructor, massage therapist and assassin, killing men who commit violence against women. Tengo is an aspiring novelist and amiable loner. All they really need, it turns out, is each other. This colossus is expansive, enthralling, but also an over-long and occasionally exasperating foray into the lure of fanatical beliefs. – Charles Foran

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RAGNAROK The End of the Gods By A.S. Byatt (Knopf Canada) The premise for Byatt’s retelling of the Norse myths is simple and compelling: A girl is sent from the wartime London blitz to the country. At 3, she is taught to read, and her book-born life of the imagination begins. These imaginings are enormously expanded upon, and influenced forever, when her mother gives her Asgard and the Gods. – Gale Zoë Garnett

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THE CARDBOARD VALISE By Ben Katchor (Pantheon) A graphic novel from Katchor is quite unlike anything else, more surrealist poem than traditional comic strip. Every page of this book, a travelogue of sorts, boils over with invention. Katchor loves the cheap, the mundane and the disposable. His books are like fantastic window displays, and his “stories” are made up of chains of vaguely connected digressions. – Seth

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THE EMPEROR OF LIES By Steve Sem-Sandberg (Anansi) This brilliantly constructed novel, massive, detailed, teeming with characters, unfolds from 1940, when the Lodz Ghetto was created by the occupying Germans, to 1944, when the last of its inhabitants were deported to the death camps. During those few years, the ghetto was ruled with ruthless cruelty by Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski. – Anna Porter

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THE GREAT LEADER A Faux Mystery By Jim Harrison (Anansi) Retired Detective Sunderson dreams of finding enough evidence to imprison Dwight/King David, the Great Leader of a cult that offers pseudo-native-American spiritual enlightenment in return for thousands of dollars and underage sexual partners. Sunderson is aided by 16-year-old Goth girl Mona. An enthralling, exhilarating, provocative novel. – T.F. Rigelhof

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THE GRIEF OF OTHERS By Leah Hager Cohen (Riverhead) Cohen’s deeply affecting novel begins with a woman in a maternity ward, struggling to come to grips with the death of her baby, who lived for only 52 hours. A year later, the family is still reeling. This is a complex and resonant novel, a moving exploration of the ways grief can twist and maim us. – Steven Hayward

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THE MAGICIAN KING By Lev Grossman (Viking) Months as a magician king have left Quentin Coldwater paunchy and restless, so he undertakes a quest to remote Outer Island. What began as a lark turns dark and epic. One of Grossman’s great strengths is finding the balance point between the fantastic and the banal, the magical and the everyday. The Magician King is a breakneck read. – Robert J. Wiersema

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THE NIGHT CIRCUS By Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday Canada) Two young magicians compete in an elaborate game set against the backdrop of the mysterious, black-and-white-striped Cirque des Rêves. But neither realizes that the conclusion of the game could well be tragic. The Night Circus is one of those books. One of those rare, wonderful, transcendent books that, upon finishing, you want to immediately start again. – Robert J. Wiersema

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THE STRANGER'S CHILD By Alan Hollinghurst (Knopf Canada) This powerful novel about myth-making, biography and the lot of gay men is unabashedly ambitious in theme and intelligent in execution. It begins in 1913, when George Sawle brings Cecil Valance home from Cambridge, and ends in 2008. Threaded throughout is a history of the possibilities open to gay men before 1967, when homosexuality was legalized in Britain.. – Margot Livesey

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THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR By Arthur Phillips (Random House) In bright and rangy prose, endlessly playing on Shakespeare’s subjects and themes, The Tragedy of Arthur is the funny, often moving autobiography of a serial forger’s son, which becomes in turn a middle-aged writer’s stocktaking of his family, career and hateful relationship to Shakespeare, which transforms into a take on the publishing industry’s appetite for buzz books. – Randy Boyagoda

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THE UNCOUPLING By Meg Wolitzer (Riverhead) The Uncoupling – in which a student production of Aristophanes’s Lysistrata sparks a sex strike among the suburb’s women – is a smart, tender and utterly hilarious look at the fragility of desire, and the pain that so often attends its disappearance. – Cynthia Macdonald

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WITCHES ON THE ROAD TONIGHT By Sheri Holman (Atlantic Monthly) Holman jumps between pre-Second World War Appalachia and present-day New York in a tale of magic, love and deep, dark secrets. There is humour in her prose, but no camp, no ghoulish excess. Witches is a serious novel about America’s relationship with homegrown mythologies: horror B-movies, Southern black magic and, yes, witches. – Andrew Pyper

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