9 books you need to read in 2016 before their TV adaptations air

From War and Peace to Beowulf and The Night Manager, the books you need to devour before they hit your telly

Lily James, Paul Dano and James Norton will bring Tolstoy’s 19th century literary classic to life for the BBC in the New Year but book lovers argue that no TV adaptation can – or ever has – done justice to the Russian author’s tome about the French invasion of Russia and the Napoleonic era, as seen through the eyes of five Russian aristocratic families.

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The 9th century poem is the inspiration for ITV’s new 13 part fantasy drama, Beowulf: Into The Shieldlands, which is billed as “an epic re-imagining of one of literature’s greatest and most enduring heroes.”

But before you delve into the “western set in the Dark Ages of Britain’s mythic past” you should really check out the original epic. And if you’re not too good with the Olde English you can always try Seamus Heaney’s 1999 translation.

What would happen if Bill Sykes from Oliver Twist bumped into A Christmas Carol’s Bob Cratchett on the street? Would Nancy and a young Amelia Havisham be best buds?

Those are the questions Tony Jordan aims to answer in Dickensian‘s 20 episodes, running on BBC1 from Boxing Day right through to the New Year.

So, if you want to know who’s who and what happened in their original tales, there’s never been a better time to pick up one of Dickens’ many literary classics.

When last we saw Outlander’s Claire and Jamie they were heading off on the high seas, but what high drama awaits them in series 2?

Dragonfly in Amber, Gabaldon’s second Outlander novel, might just provide a few helpful hints.

The first scythe-wielding series of Poldark proved a smash hit with a tale based on the first two novels in Winston Graham’s series.

And now you can prepare for series two by reading up on Book 3: Jeremy Poldark, and Book 4: Warleggan. Who knows what Aidan Turner’s wavy mop top might be up to next. We’re expecting more cliff top brooding. LOTS more cliff top brooding.

What was DCI Jane Tennison like before she became the woman we grew to respect in Prime Suspect? That’s the question ITV is hoping to answer with new prequel series Tennison, a 1970s crime drama that explains exactly how Helen Mirren’s iconic character came to be on the police force.

And while we’ve heard it won’t tell the exact same tale as the TV series, your best bet for helpful hints about what the new series might offer has to be Lynda La Plante’s latest novel, Tennison. Who better to tell the tale than the woman who gave us the Met’s most formidable DCI?

With 2015 drawing to a close and no cast yet announced it’s looking rather likely that the BBC’s adaptation of His Dark Materials could take a while to make it to our TV screens but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Because that means you’ll have plenty of time to sit down and read Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass before they’re adapted for the screen again.

And who could say no to an excuse to read about the wonderful Lyra, her daemon Pantalaimon, and their magical journeys through worlds to discover the secrets of dust and take on the might of the Magisterium.

Let’s just forget The Golden Compass, shall we?

When it comes to a novel about international espionage you can’t go wrong with a John le Carré. It’s little wonder then, that one of his brilliant books is being adapted into a six part miniseries with a stellar cast.

But before you tune in to see Olivia Colman, Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie (among others) give their take on the post Cold War tale, detailing an undercover operation to nab an international criminal, why not pick up the book and get lost between the pages?

There was much excitement when Neil Gaiman’s American Gods FINALLY got the green light from the US home of Outlander, Starz.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the novel, here’s RadioTimes.com’s resident Gaiman expert’s summaryIt follows an ex-con called Shadow Moon who’s roped into a plot by down-on-his-luck Norse god Odin to band together other fading deities from a variety of cultures to take on the “new gods” of America.

These include gods of computers, media, conspiracy (as personified by some men in dark suits) and intangible gods of the stock market who would rather let market forces take out their enemies than deal with them directly. The old gods are generally no longer believed in by Americans, so their power has faded – but with Shadow’s help, they might have a chance to rake back some of their dignity and prestige.

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We’re still not certain when the series will air – it’s looking like 2017 at the moment – but it’s the perfect excuse to pick up a copy of the book and get to grips with another of Gaiman’s glorious fantasy worlds.