10 Books I Refuse To Let Be Forgotten

Posted 1st August 2023 by Sia in Top Ten Tuesdays / 2 Comments


Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. Check out upcoming Top Ten themes on Jana’s blog!

This week’s prompt is Forgotten Backlist Titles, and this is MOST EXCELLENT, because I’ve read some incredible non-recent books this year that I DEFINITELY need to rave about!

A Matter of Oaths by Helen S. Wright
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Representation: Brown MCs, M/M, queernorm world

'A compelling, mind-bending future that's finally come home to the present' – Becky Chambers, author of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

When Commander Rallya of the patrol ship Bhattya hires Rafe as their new Web officer, she knows she is taking a risk. As an oath breaker, Rafe has suffered the ultimate punishment – identity wipe – but luckily for him, there's no one else around qualified for the job. Shunned by his previous shipmates, Rafe is ready to keep his head down and do his job, but his competence quickly earns him respect, admiration, and, in one particular case, love.

It's difficult to maintain the glow of acceptance however, when his past is chasing him across the galaxy in the shape of an assassin, intent on dealing once and for all with Rafe, whatever the cost.

Originally published in 1988, A Matter of Oaths is a space opera with heart, intergalactic intrigue and epic space battle.

With a new introduction by Becky Chambers, author of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

'Fast paced and inventive ... it held my attention to the end' – C. J. Cherryh

Most recently read, but originally published in NINETEEN-EIGHTY-EIGHT, is A Matter of Oaths, which deserves all the love and hype and awards in the WORLD! It was re-issued in 2017, but that doesn’t seem to have put it on the radar of everyone who will love it (as evidenced by my only reading it this year!!! HOW DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG TO DISCOVER THIS GEM???) It is marvellous from start to finish, with incredible characters, amazing scifi concepts (like controlling spaceships by hooking them up to your own nervous system!), and a deliciously twisty plot whose impetus doesn’t stop for a moment!

Shades of Grey (Shades of Grey, #1) by Jasper Fforde
Genres: Sci Fi

Hundreds of years in the future, the world is an alarmingly different place. Life is lived according to The Rulebook and social hierarchy is determined by your perception of colour.

Eddie Russett is an above-average Red who dreams of moving up the ladder. Until he is sent to the Outer Fringes where he meets Jane - a lowly Grey with an uncontrollable temper and a desire to see him killed.

For Eddie, it's love at first sight. But his infatuation will lead him to discover that all is not as it seems in a world where everything that looks black and white is really shades of grey...

Significantly younger is Shades of Grey by Jasper Forde, which was released into the wild back in 2009. I vaguely remember hearing lots of good things about Forde’s Thursday Next series – I even read the first book, although so long ago I barely remember anything about it. Shades of Grey, however, is guaranteed unforgettable – set in a world where humans are divided into castes, determined by what colour they can see…because everyone can only see one. This is a world where there is a spoon shortage, people that must be treated as invisible even when they’re naked, and everything from humans to snails are born with barcodes. It’s bonkers and SO addictive, and we’re getting the sequel next year! So really, it’s the perfect time to pick it up.

Kirith Kirin by Jim Grimsley
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: M/M

In Aeryn, where science has never developed but where magic is quite powerful, a usurper know as the Blue Queen, aided by a very powerful, very old wizard, has ravaged the land. A boy is called out of his own life on a farm to enter a legendary forest and learn magic in order to help Kirith Kirin reclaim his rightful throne to maintain the balance of order. Jessex grows strong in his magical studies and fighting skills discovering his crucial role in the battle against the evil that overshadows his land.

First published in 2000, I remember seeing Kirith Kirin on plenty of lists of queer fantasy when I started looking for that in my teens – but the blurb didn’t super interest me and I couldn’t find a copy back then anyway. Something nudged me towards it this year, and the book swallowed me whole. This is not the farmboy-with-a-grand-destiny story it sounds like…even if that description is, technically, accurate… And the magic system and worldbuilding are both incredible. Anybody looking to pick it up should be warned that there’s a pretty huge age gap between the main character and his love interest, which did make me a bit uncomfortable, but the book as a whole is so damn great I really couldn’t care that much.

The Spellkey (Spellkey, #1-3) by Ann Downer-Hazell
Genres: Fantasy

The heart of the story is a journey made by two outcasts: Caitlin, a wild girl-child accused of witchcraft and sentenced to exile in the Abbey of the Ninthstile; and The Badger, a disapointing ward of the Abbot of Thirdmoon See, who has been ordered to escort her. As they travel through the Thirteen Kingdoms, they are pursued and observed by a myterious man with red hair who seems to defeat them at every turn and by Caitlin's own dark visions, which haunt her with the fearsome destiny they predict. The answer to it all seems to be Spellkey; finding it and solving its Mystery may mean destruction for the cruel rulers of the Pentacle and a solution for Caitlin an The Badger, who need one desperately since they are falling in love...

The first book in the Spellkey trilogy came out in 1987 – just a year before Matter of Oaths! – and the omnibus, if you can find a copy, contains the author’s preferred versions of all three books. There’s a beautiful fairytale-esque style to the writing and the world Downer created, but it’s a massively non-traditional fantasy – there’s no conflict as we’re used to seeing it, no battles, no big evil to be defeated. It’s delightful, and strange, and occasionally wry, and I cherish my battered old paperback. I hope it gets reissued sooner rather than later so more people can get their hands on a copy!

In the Eyes of Mr Fury by Philip Ridley
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: M/M

On the day Concord Webster turned eighteen, the Devil died. The Devil’s real name was Judge Martin, but Concord’s mother called him the Devil. She said he boiled babies for dinner and made lampshades out of human skin. So why did she, who hated him so venomously, have a key to his house?

The key will unlock more than just Judge’s front door. It will also unlock a multitude of stories - where magic children talk to crows, men disappear in piles of leaves, and James Dean lookalikes kiss in dark alleys - and reveal a secret history that will change Concord’s life forever.

Philip Ridley’s second novel (following the sexually charged tour de force Crocodilia) was an instant cult classic when originally published in 1989. Now, for this new edition, Ridley has reimagined the story, expanding the original short novel into the world’s first LGBT magical realist epic. A vast, labyrinthine, hall-of-mirrors saga, its breathtaking imagery and stunning plot twists – covering over a hundred years – reveal Ridley to be one of the most distinctive and innovative voices in contemporary fiction.

Originally published in 1989, this is another book that got a new edition in a time that should have been more friendly to it – 2017 – but has not received the attention (and accolades!) it deserves. It’s odd! REALLY odd, like magical realism without the subtlety; we have a baby delivered by crows rather than a stork, memories that play on a projector, and potentially-magical biscuits (cookies to yon Americans), and two interwoven love stories binding it all together. I originally tracked down a copy for a friend, and then got curious enough to read it myself, and, just – WOW. I want to twirl this book around the room until everyone agrees to read it. And then everything else of Ridley’s, as well!

The Tale of the Five Omnibus by Diane Duane
Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Queernorm world, bi/pansexual MCs, major nonbinary character, polyamory

A sorcerous swordsmith desperately searches for the Power that will make him whole. A prince who fled his kingdom and the throne to which he was born now seeks the courage to return in the face of those who want him dead. A woman warrior scarred by her tragic past stakes her future on the strange new life that comes to share her mind. An outcast dragon abandoned by his kind to a solitary fate is drawn into the heretofore-forbidden territory of the conflicts of humankind. And a fire elemental determined to find out about the peculiarities of being human discovers far more than it ever expected. Together they will cross the Middle Kingdoms in pursuit of the single goal that binds them... and discover their destinies, and a world's.

The Tale of the Five Omnibus contains the first three critically-acclaimed volumes of mature fantasy fiction in the Middle Kingdoms series by Diane Duane: The Door Into Fire, The Door Into Shadow, and The Door Into Sunset. All three appear here in the author's preferred texts, updated and revised from the previous print editions. "Good strong stuff with the right light touch," said Terry Pratchett, adding his voice to the praises of reviewers at Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly ("Expands the limits of the swords and sorcery genre. Exciting, magical, intelligent.")

Reader advisory: All three volumes contain adult / mature themes and situations set in a sexually diverse culture.

The Door Into Fire, the first book of the Tales of the Five, hit shelves in 1979, but it – and the rest of the series – were reissued with the author’s preferred text when she got the rights back. Like Matter of Oaths, this is a masterpiece of queer SFF I would have expected readers to pounce on when queer fiction started becoming more mainstream… And yet. I will grant that the first book in particular is a little gender-essentialist re human magic, but we also have a nonbinary fire elemental, in a world where group marriage is common and non-monogamy is the default – all of which is arguably less important than the sheer, magical poetry of Duane’s prose. It looks like very traditional old school fantasy at first glance, but it’s no such thing – AND has my joint-favourite take on dragons EVER.


The Fifth Sacred Thing (Maya Greenwood, #1) by Starhawk
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists, Science Fantasy
Representation: QBIPOC MCs, Jewish MC, polyamory

Imagine a world without poverty, hunger, or hatred, where a rich culture honors its diverse mix of races, religions, and heritages, and the Four Sacred Things that sustain all life - earth, air, fire, and water - are valued unconditionally.

Now imagine the opposite: a nightmare world in which an authoritarian regime polices an apartheid state, access to food and water is restricted to those who obey the corrupt official religion, women are property of their husbands or the state, and children are bred for prostitution and war.

The best and worst of our possible futures are poised to clash in twenty-first-century California, and the outcome rests on the wisdom and courage of one clan caught in the conflict.

The Fifth Sacred Thing came out the year I was born – 1993 – which I’m unreasonably pleased about. It’s a beautiful, soul-stirring book that made me believe a working utopia might actually be possible – which no other book has ever done – with a story that confronts the complexities of human nature, violence, and justice unflinchingly and unapologetically. It’s queer as fuck, which I love, but more importantly, it’s the book I come back to every time I start to lose faith in humanity. And I think that’s the kind of book a lot of us need right now.

My review!

Havenstar by Glenda Larke, Glenda Noramly
Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Representation: Minor gay character, minor F/F

The Eight Stabilities are islands of order surrounded by lethal chaos—and the order is being swallowed by the unstable. The religious leaders of Chantry try to maintain the Stabilities by ordering the necessity of a once in a lifetime pilgrimage across the chaos. And in that ever-changing world, the most important person is a mapmaker who can make a chart of secure pilgrimage routes…

Keris Kaylen is a mapmaker's daughter. When her father is murdered and a mountain disappears, Keris is betrayed by her brother. Forced to flee into the Unstable, she finds her safety is in the hands of a man bonded to the Lord Carasma, the Unmaker…and her ordered life is turned upside-down. Her survival will depend on a map and a place called Havenstar—but she can't reproduce the map, and Havenstar may not even exist…

Havenstar was the victim of a publishing nightmare, which resulted in it getting buried shortly after its first release in 1999, but I was lucky enough to stumble upon it when Larke managed to self-publish it decades later. This is a genuinely stand-out standalone, set in a world where reality is fluid and the areas where it isn’t are shrinking generation by generation. It’s wildly original, and I dearly love it for revolving around a skill/art I know so little about – mapmaking! It also refuses to take a simple approach to the good guys and the bad – even the people and institutions you want to hate have damn good reasons for what they’re doing, and the ‘heroes’ are not always perfectly heroic. I adore that kind of realistic moral complexity, and I know a TON of other readers would enjoy the hell out of this if they just knew it was out there!

Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells
Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Representation: Brown MC, brown cast

Every year in the great Temple City of Duvalpore, the image of the Wheel of the Infinite must be painstakingly remade to ensure another year of peace and harmony for the Celestial Empire. Every hundred years the sacred rite takes on added significance. For it is then that the very fabric of the world must be rewoven. Linked by the mystic energies of the Infinite, the Wheel and world are one. Should the holy image be marred, the world will suffer a similar injury.

But a black storm is spreading across the Wheel. Every night the Voices of the Ancestors--the Wheel's constructors and caretakers--brush the darkness away and repair the damage with brightly colored sands and potent magic. Each morning the storm reappears, bigger and darker than before, unraveling the beautiful and orderly patterns.

With chaos in the wind, a woman with a shadowy past has returned to Duvalpore. A murderer and traitor-an exile disgraced, hated, and feared, and haunted by her own guilty conscience--Maskelle has been summoned back to help put the world right. Once she was the most revered of the Voices, until cursed by her own actions. Now, in the company of Rian--a skilled and dangerously alluring swordsman--she must confront dread enemies old and new and a cold, stalking malevolence unlike any she has ever encountered. For if Maskelle cannot unearth the cause of the Wheel's accelerating disintegration-if she cannot free herself from ghosts of the past and focus on the catastrophe to come-the world will plunge headlong into the terrifying abyss toward which it is recklessly hurting. And all that is, ever was, and will be will end.

An intricate, tautly plotted adventure, Nebula Award finalist Martha Wells' fourth novel is her most captivating and exquisitely textured work to date. Follow the many turnings of the Wheel into a realm of danger, fear, darkness, and hope. And prepare to believe freely and fully in the inconceivable and the fantastic.

Okay, so we all agree that it’s criminal that it took Murderbot to make Martha Wells a household name, yes? As EPIC as Murderbot is, Wells has been writing masterpieces since day one, and Wheel of the Infinite is a breathtakingly beautiful, and unique, standalone that ought to have topped the bestsellers when it was first published in 2000. A no-nonsense, older, hyper-competent MC gradually develops a romance with a younger man – how often do we see that dynamic?! – although that comes a firm second to, you know, saving the world. The worldbuilding is so original – I didn’t recognise any real-world influences anywhere – and Maskelle is a badass you cannot help but go heart-eyes for. If you’re looking for an introduction to Wells’ fantasy, this is a great place to start!

Vellum: The Book of All Hours: 1 by Hal Duncan
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Science Fantasy
Representation: Gay MCs, M/M

An extraordinary, incendiary debut from a rare new talent, Vellum showcases a complex and sophisticated level of writing coupled with a fecund imagination that defies description.


It’s 2017 and angels and demons walk the earth. Once they were human; now they are unkin, transformed by the ancient machine-code language of reality itself. They seek The Book of All Hours, the mythical tome within which the blueprint for all reality is transcribed, which has been lost somewhere in the Vellum–the vast realm of eternity upon which our world is a mere scratch.

The Vellum, where the unkin are gathering for war.

The Vellum, where a fallen angel and a renegade devil are about to settle an age-old feud.

The Vellum, where the past, present, and future will collide with ancient worlds and myths.

And the Vellum will burn. . . .

If you like your fantasy with sharp teeth and no-holds-barred magical weirdness, then good GODS is Vellum for you! When the blurb says Duncan has an ‘imagination that defies description’, they are NOT kidding – this completely blew my mind when it came out in 2005, and 18 years later, I can confidently say that I still have not come across anything else remotely like it. (Except the sequel, which you should absolutely also read.) Vellum does not hold your hand – the story jumps between timelines and alternate realities in a decidedly non-linear fashion – but it so, so worth the effort. It’s chilling and breathtaking and vicious and full of wonder, and I want to get down on bended knee and beg more people to give it a try. This book singlehandedly and fundamentally changed my understanding of what a story could be and do, and you deserve that experience too.

There you have it – 10 books that I will never stop yelling about, no matter how old they get!

Have you read any of these? Do you want to? Let me know!


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