FictionFan Awards 2022 – Modern Literary Fiction and Book of the Year

A standing ovation please…

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2022.

For the benefit of new readers, and as a reminder for anyone who was around in previous years, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…


All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2021 and October 2022 regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.


The categories tend to change slightly each year to better reflect what I’ve been reading during the year.

This year, there will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories:


Vintage Crime

Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

Modern Literary Fiction


Book of the Year 2022


For the winners!

I guarantee to read the author’s next book even if I have to buy it myself!

(NB If an author is unlikely to publish another book due to being dead, I will read a book from his/her back catalogue…)

For the runners-up!




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So, without further ado, here are this year’s runners-up and winner in


Modern being defined as anything published after 1971. Sadly this has been yet another year of victimhood narratives, and again I have abandoned nearly as many new releases as I’ve finished. I remain heartily bored with the contemporary obsession with identity politics of all kinds, grief-soaked tales of misery and the plethora of self-indulgent, narcissistic books about how people “feel”. And even more bored by the many authors who disguise their lack of anything substantive to say by saying it “creatively”. Good stories well told, dear authors, are the ones which will become future classics. For every Finnegan’s Wake, there are a thousand books people actually enjoy reading…

So it is neither coincidence nor chance that all of my shortlisted books are historical fiction, a sub-genre that still occasionally manages to revive the moribund skills of plotting and story-telling, and that often has far more to say about the world we live in than an entire recycling plant full of contemporary “literature”.


The Clockwork Girl by Anna Mazzola

Paris, 1750. Madeleine is desperate to escape from the brothel that her mother runs, so when one of the brothel’s clients, a policeman, offers her money to take a position as a maid in the house of Doctor Reinhart in order to spy on him, she accepts. Doctor Reinhart is an automaton maker, already famed for his life-like creations of birds and animals which he animates using clockwork. Soon Madeleine becomes convinced that the doctor is indeed involved in a secret project, but despite her best efforts and the pressure being applied on her, she can’t find out exactly what. Meantime Paris is in an uproar over the disappearances of several children. At first the missing children came from amongst the many homeless waifs living on the streets, but now the children of tradesmen are disappearing too and rumours are flying as to who is taking the children and why…

The historical setting of Paris in the reign of Louis XV is wonderfully portrayed. Mazzola takes us into the poorest and darkest corners of the city and to the dazzling court of the king, and shows us the huge inequities that only a few decades later would lead to bloody revolution. She touches on many issues – women’s lowly status and lack of agency, slavery, prostitution, poverty, and so on. But in every case she shows us these things through the characters’ lives and actions – she doesn’t preach and she doesn’t get polemical. The story itself is wonderfully creepy, with Mazzola making great use of the settings and the doctor’s automata to create an atmosphere of mild Gothic horror. An excellent book – great setting, well-drawn interesting characters, and a story that intrigues and chills and takes us to the edge of the supernatural, but ultimately stays on the right side of credible.

Click to see the full review

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The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews

It’s 1643, and England is in the midst of Civil War. Thomas Treadwater has been injured and is temporarily unfit for fighting, so when he receives a worrying letter from his sister he makes for home. Esther has written that their father has fallen under the influence of a girl he had taken in as a maid – Chrissa Moore. Hard for Thomas to believe since his father is a staunch Puritan with impeccable morals – not at all the type to fall into the clutches of a seductress. But Esther hints that Chrissa may have bewitched him. On arriving home, Thomas finds all the sheep on the farm dead or dying, his father struck down by apoplexy, and Chrissa in jail on the basis of Esther’s accusation of witchcraft. But is Esther telling the truth? As Thomas learns more he begins to suspect that evil has come to his father’s house… something more evil even than witchcraft…

At first this seems like a fairly standard witch story, well written and well researched. But suddenly, about halfway through, Andrews takes it into a whole different direction – full-on supernatural horror, but soundly based on the superstitions, religious beliefs and mythology of the time. I found this a wonderful book – thrilling, thought-provoking, brilliantly achieved. I loved that Andrews put herself and her readers so firmly in the mind-set of the time and never let 21st century beliefs or attitudes distort the picture. I thought her horror writing was fantastic, creating some truly marvellous imagery. And despite my own strictly rational outlook, she immersed me in the beliefs of the time so well that I found the story credible within the world in which its set, and the ending entirely satisfactory.

Click to see the full review

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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Barcelona, 1945. Young Daniel Sempere is the son of an antiquarian book dealer, struggling to scrape a living in a city not yet recovered from the ravages of civil war. Daniel’s mother died when he was very young, and on the day that he suddenly discovers he can no longer remember her face, his father, as a kind of distraction, takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books – a mysterious place full of labyrinthine corridors where rare and banned books are piled randomly on shelves. There, Daniel is told he should select a book and it will then be his responsibility to ensure that his chosen book survives. Daniel selects a book called The Shadow of the Wind by a forgotten author called Julián Carax. That night he reads the book…

In my review I used a quote from the book itself to describe my reaction to it, and I still feel Zafón said it better than I ever could…

Under the warm light cast by the reading lamp, I was plunged into a new world of images and sensations peopled by characters who seemed as real to me as my surroundings. Page after page I let the spell of the story and its world take me over, until the breath of dawn touched my window and my tired eyes slid over the last page. I lay in the bluish half-light with the book on my chest and listened to the murmur of the sleeping city. My eyes began to close, but I resisted. I did not want to lose the story’s spell or bid farewell to its characters just yet.

With a whole bunch of great characters and a marvellously Gothic depiction of post-Civil War Barcelona, this is first and foremost a great story, wonderfully told.

Click to see the full review

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At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón

Nelson has always wanted to be an actor/playwright, and is coming to the end of his studies at the Conservatory. He auditions for a role in a touring revival of a play, The Idiot President, which once gained notoriety for Diciembre, the company who originally performed it in towns and villages during the recent civil war. Henry Nuñez, who wrote the play, and Patalarga were original members of the three-man cast, and will again play the eponymous Idiot President and his servant, while Nelson is chosen to play Alejo, the President’s son. As they tour the provinces of the country, the three men will gradually learn about each other’s pasts and develop an intricate and intimate kind of friendship. But we know from our unnamed narrator that tragedy of some kind looms…

Set in an unnamed South American country that is probably Peru, the style of the book felt to me far closer to the Latin American tradition than to mainstream US American fiction. The after-effects of the recent civil war hover over the present day, so that we see the nation and its people damaged and scarred and still in the process of anxious healing. It’s partly a coming-of-age novel, and we see how Nelson is influenced by experience and by the people he becomes close to in his formative years. But we also see the more political side of identity – how in changing political circumstances people are identified by their convictions or their allegiances. However, although I found it thought-provoking, it is written lightly, beautifully indeed, and has humour and warmth all through. A wonderful novel – I loved every word!

Click to see the full review

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Rose Nicolson
by Andrew Greig

The time is the 1570s. Mary Queen of Scots has fallen from power and fled to France, and the boy King, Jamie Saxt, is in Stirling Castle – for his protection or as prisoner is a matter of interpretation – while Scotland is being governed by Regent Morton. John Knox is dead but his Reformation is thriving. The power struggle between Reformists and Roman Catholics is ongoing, with control of the young King at the heart of it. Our narrator is Will Fowler, little more than a boy when the story begins, off to study at St Andrews, even then one of the ancient centres of learning – and politics, and plots, and skulduggery. And when Will and his new friend Tom Nicolson accidentally become embroiled in an incident in a pub, they find they have unwittingly foiled a plot and, in so doing, have aligned themselves with the Reformists, making enemies of the powerful Catholic family, the Hamiltons, and becoming friends with the adventurous and dangerous young Walter Scott of Branxholme and Buccleuch, the “Bold Buccleuch”, and his kin. These friendships and enmities will shape young Will’s future, as will his love for Tom’s lovely and wilful sister, Rose Nicolson…

Any of the shortlisted books would have been a worthy winner, but how could I resist this one? It has everything I want in a Scottish novel: an interesting period of history; a wonderful use of old Scots vocabulary, but avoiding too much hard to read dialect; exciting adventures, happening to likeable and entertaining characters; real insight into how people lived, thought and acted in the time; knowledgeable and affectionate insight, too, into the Scottish literary tradition; a touch of romance, but avoiding all soppiness; and some beautifully presented and well-timed humour, often at the expense of the religious divides that continue to plague Scotland into the present. I’ve loved Andrew Greig’s writing over several books, but often haven’t particularly enjoyed the subjects he’s chosen, so it’s a real delight for me to finally have the joy of that great writing in a story that seems custom-made to suit my preferences!

Click to see the full review

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And now…

the nominees for the Book of the Year Award are…

Best Anthology – The Origins of Science Fiction edited by Michael Newton
Best Vintage Crime – Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze
Best Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller – The Dark by Sharon Bolton
Best Modern Literary Fiction – Rose Nicolson by Andrew Greig



Rose Nicolson
by Andrew Greig

Immediately on finishing this one I knew it would be the Book of the Year – one of the outstanding books of my long lifetime of reading, in fact! Do you ever get that lovely feeling that an author has written a book specially for you? That’s how I feel about this one – first-rate Scottish historical fiction with nary a mention of Jacobites, nor Mary Queen of Scots, nor Glasgow gangs, nor dreary twentieth century alcoholics. Historically accurate with characters rooted in the attitudes and concerns of their own time, set among intellectuals, writers and thinkers rather than warriors or thugs but still full of action, and, above all, wonderfully written – a triumph from the pen of one of our greatest living writers. And the only possible winner!

Click to see the full review

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Thanks to all of you who’ve joined me for this year’s awards feature.

I hope you’ve enjoyed it – I’ve enjoyed your company!

53 thoughts on “FictionFan Awards 2022 – Modern Literary Fiction and Book of the Year

    • Trust didn’t get included because I reviewed it after my end of October cut-off date, but it’ll be in the running for next year and is quite likely to make the shortlist unless next year turns out to be stellar! Yes, all the hype about The Shadow of the Wind actually put me off reading it for years, but I’m glad I finally did – one of the few books that deserved all the hoopla!

      Liked by 1 person

    • All of these are going in my ‘books I want to read’ notebook… apart from The Shadow of the Wind which I’ve read. Thoroughly enjoyed your awards posts!


    • That’s the second Mazzola I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed – she’s becoming a must-read author for me! And The Shadow of the Wind is fantastic – I got so absorbed in it I’d find myself looking up and being surprised to find I wasn’t in Barcelona… 😉


  1. Well done to Andrew Grieg! I also felt like Rose Nicholson was written for me, but for different reasons – the thoughtful and sensitive way it looked at Will being caught between his parents’ different faiths, the church history, the conflicts around the education of women etc – and isn’t that the sign of a truly great book, that different people love it for different reasons?

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Scottish Reformation aspects fascinated me because I sort of studied that period at Uni and am always intrigued by how differently it played out in Scotland and England. And the Reformation still has a huge influence on Scottish society today. Yes, it really is – and it was one of those books I found hard to review, or at least to keep my review to anything approaching a sensible length, because there were so many different aspects that could be highlighted!


  2. I tend to stick to historical fiction and older books for the reasons you’ve mentioned here! Rose Nicolson was one of my books of the year for 2021 so I’m pleased to see it’s your winner. I haven’t put my own list together for this year yet, but The Clockwork Girl will definitely be on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m finding I’m reading more and more historical fiction because that’s where the storytelling is hiding out these days! Rose Nicolson is so good, and I have Fair Helen on my wishlist in your recommendation! Looking forward to seeing your list, but please don’t make it too tempting… 😉


  3. Ah, another awards event carried off absolutely brilliantly, FictionFan! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it! And you’ve had such worthy winners, too! There are a few here that I wanted to try when I read your original review, and I’m glad to be reminded of them. Here’s to many more years of great reading! Now, if you’ll excuse me, my driver is letting me know that the limo is ready for me to go to the after-party… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, Wow, Wow!!! Congratulations to the winner! You know you’ve written a stellar novel to make this list. So glad it avoided all of the landmines that encompass many novels today. And yes, it is lovely when an author writes to your heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I must say all of these are stellar novels! But Rose Nicolson really is special and of course my patriotic little heart loves to be able to give the award to a fellow Scot! 😀


    • I wish there was more Scottish historical fiction that isn’t about the Jacobites! This was wonderful partly because it was about such an interesting period that doesn’t often get covered. If you get to it sometime, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! 😀


  5. I’m loving your statement: “Good stories well told, dear authors, are the ones which will become future classics.” How very true. And it sounds as if your Book of the Year is just such a story. I haven’t read it, but your review makes is sound most tempting. Congrats to all your winners!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I do get bitter about all these “creative” books – a good story doesn’t need all that! It was a mixed year of reading for me this year, but as always looking back there were some really great books in there! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I do have your book of the year on my wishlist, but it’s The Shadow of the Wind that’s calling to me to read it. I’ll try to fit it in this next year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Shadow of the Wind is brilliant and although it’s long I found it a reasonably quick read, because it’s so absorbing. Hope you enjoy it! And then I’ll start nagging you about Rose Nicolson… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I agree that The Leviathan was the better of the two, though both are excellent. All five of these were great reads, in fact – sometimes there’s a weak one on the shortlist just to make up the numbers, but not in this category!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m not surprised by your Book of the Year! It’s been on my TBR for a while and I’m looking forward to picking it up. I’m a fan of Daniel Alarcón’s work and enjoyed Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s book of short stories more than Shadow of the Wind, but appreciate how the man could turn a phrase!

    Liked by 1 person

    • This was my first Alarcón and I’m looking forward to exploring him further, hopefully next year. And I have the second book in the Zafón series on my TBR for next year too, though I know a lot of people have warned me it’s not as good as The Shadow of the Wind. But excellent though both those books are, Rose Nicolson still stood out as the easy winner! When you get to it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!


  8. Hurrah, a memorable awards ceremony and a worthy winner! 🎉 Not that I’ve actually read it yet but I have it on my list from your original review post. Here’s to some excellent reading in 2023!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was fun but I’m feeling distinctly hungover from all that champagne! I hope you enjoy Rose Nicolson when you get to it – I think you will. 😀 Yes, indeed, lots of books and an app that writes reviews for me – that’s my letter to Santa!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Despite them both being historical fiction they’re very different in style! It was a close call in this category – really any of them would have been a worthy winner, and I suspect it was the Scottishness of the Greig that won it for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. It’s funny, I don’t remember your original review of Rose Nicolson, which is surprising given I usually make note of books that you find outstanding! Perhaps it was during one of those weeks I was on vacation and not reading other blogs.

    Anyway, glad you found a ‘best in a long while’ book, it’s always so pleasing to come across a book that stands out so obviously among the rest!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well worth purchasing, or not too late to include it in your note for Santa tonight! I’ve been glad to see it turn up on a few other Best Of lists, which reassures me it’s not “too” Scottish… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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