Faves From the Last Decade

Posted 26th August 2021 by Siavahda in Best SFF Of Each Year, Lists, Recommendations / 3 Comments

As well as having written a whole bunch of books, author Alex Acks writes Book Riot’s SFF newsletter, and for last week’s Free Association Friday, they shared their Faves From the Last Decade – one book a year, from 2011 to 2020. I thought it was a cool idea, so I thought I’d do the same!

(To make it a tiny bit easier on myself, I’m only going to list books that were published in each year, rather than including for consideration all the awesome books I read that I discovered in a particular year but were published earlier.)

(Yes, I do have two separate goodreads shelves for that; best-read-and-published-in-[YEAR], and best-read-but-not-published-in-[SAME YEAR]. I like to keep my reading organised!)

2011

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1) by Catherynne M. Valente
Genres: Fantasy, Portal Fantasy
Goodreads

Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.
 
With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online. For readers of all ages who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s known me for 0.2 seconds – or spent five minutes on my blog. Circumnavigated arrived just as I was exploring my own Fairyland – I’d just moved away from everything I’d ever known to make a new start in Finland – but honestly, even if I’d been surrounded by the familiar, this book would still have swept me away. Equal parts whimsical, original, and poignant, Circumnavigated stole my heart before I’d finished reading the first page and never gave it back. And that’s more than fine with me.

2012

And All the Stars by Andrea K. Höst
Representation: Queer secondary characters, secondary PoC characters
Genres: Sci Fi
Goodreads

Come for the apocalypse. Stay for cupcakes. Die for love.

Madeleine Cost is working to become the youngest person ever to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture. Her elusive cousin Tyler is the perfect subject: androgynous, beautiful, and famous. All she needs to do is pin him down for the sittings.

None of her plans factored in the Spires: featureless, impossible, spearing into the hearts of cities across the world – and spraying clouds of sparkling dust into the wind.

Is it an alien invasion? Germ warfare? They are questions everyone on Earth would like answered, but Madeleine has a more immediate problem. At Ground Zero of the Sydney Spire, beneath the collapsed ruin of St James Station, she must make it to the surface before she can hope to find out if the world is ending.

I think this might actually have been the first book I read by Host, although it definitely wasn’t the last! And All the Stars is a kind of First Contact story, in that aliens arrive on Earth. They’re not interested in world domination, though; they just want a neutral location to play some very elaborate games that are related to their politics. As long as no one interferes, no one will be harmed. Unfortunately, it rapidly becomes clear that the ‘games’ require human game pieces, which leads to Madeleine and a bunch of other teenagers on the run from the aliens who want to use them.

The tagline for this book is ‘Come for the apocalypse. Stay for the cupcakes.’ And that captures the vibe pretty well. There’s plenty of high-action, scary stuff going on – the apocalypse doesn’t play nice with anybody – but it’s wrapped up in a really wonderful expression of the Found Family trope, as Madeleine and the friends she finds build an out-of-sight life for themselves. It’s not a simple story, it’s complicated and twists in ways I absolutely wasn’t expecting – the narrative went in one particular direction that I have still never seen another author risk, but it worked so well here.

It’s such an amazing book that when I finished it I immediately went and bought everything Host had ever written, and none of her books have let me down yet.

2013

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Representation: Secondary trans character
Genres: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Goodreads

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown's gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

I’ve loved a lot of Holly Black’s books, but The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is my favourite. I adore the worldbuilding – of course vampires would become instant celebrities, if they were outed to the world! – and I love the blood and the jewels and the beautiful horror, and the monster-boyfriend who really is a monster. And while I usually don’t like endings Like That, this one was delicious.

2014

Turn of the Story by Sarah Rees Brennan
Representation: Bisexual MC, several gay secondary characters
Genres: Fantasy, Portal Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads

Elliot Schafer has been carried off to a magical land and called to fight… but he has no intention of doing so. He is a little disappointed by the facilities on the Border, but he gets to meet Serene-Heart-In-The-Chaos-Of-Battle, an elf warrior, and Luke Sunborn, an annoyingly brave human warrior native to the magical land he’s crossed into. There are also mermaids, unicorns, harpies and assorted battles and political issues, with Elliot alternating between diplomatic genius and saying the completely wrong thing.

Rees Brennan is an expert storyteller than can have you laughing out loud one moment and in tears the next. Her characters are tridimensional and varied and nobody is without good reason to do good and terrible things. "The Turn of the Story" was inspired in the magical worlds of Tamora Pierce, Diana Wynne Jones’s Witch Week, Harry Potter, Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic, Eva Ibbotson’s Which Witch? and Jill Murphy's Worst Witch but it's an original piece which awknowledges and comments in its influences, engaging with its predecessors both with the joy of a reader and the critical self awareness of a writer. Elliot is marked by SRB's distinctive voice and the reader is constantly delighted by his referencing of a world that, accross the Border, it's as fictional as the Border is for us, creating a metafictional loop in which the reader and Elliot are the only ones aware of the implications of the plot in its context in our reality.

So far magic school was total rubbish.

Elliot sat on the fence bisecting two fields and brooded tragically over his wrongs.

He had been taken away from geography class, one of his most interesting classes, to take some kind of scholarship test out in the wild. A woman in odd clothing had ‘tested’ him by asking him if he could see a wall standing in the middle of a field. When he told her “Obviously, because it’s a wall. Walls tend to be obvious” she had pointed out other people blithely walking through the wall as if it was not there, and told him that he was one of the chosen few with the sight.

“Are you telling me that I have magical powers?” Elliot had asked, extremely excited for a moment, and then he added: “… because I can’t walk through walls? That doesn’t seem right.”

I know this is the year that also gave us Goblin Emperor, but I flat-out lost count of the number of times I reread the novel Sarah Rees Brennan serialised and published for free on her website! A snarky bisexual with so much internalised emotional trauma who is Not Impressed by magic school??? All the traditional fantasy tropes turned inside-out and upside-down??? Being deep and meaningful and Saying Important Things while also being absolutely hilarious??? ALL THE YES.

2015

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Representation: Bisexual MC
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Science Fantasy
Goodreads

Radiance is a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own, from Catherynne M. Valente, the phenomenal talent behind the New York Times bestselling The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Severin Unck's father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1946 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father's films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

But her latest film, which investigates the disappearance of a diving colony on a watery Venus populated by island-sized alien creatures, will be her last. Though her crew limps home to earth and her story is preserved by the colony's last survivor, Severin will never return.

Told using techniques from reality TV, classic film, gossip magazines, and meta-fictional narrative, Radiance is a solar system-spanning story of love, exploration, family, loss, quantum physics, and silent film.

I told myself I wasn’t going to choose a Valente book for every spot on this list, but… I’m sorry, I can’t not give Radiance the 2015 spot. It was (is) just so incredibly unique and weird and wonderful, movie-making and space-whales and all the planets being habitable fantasy worlds that humanity reached before they figured out coloured film, jumping between first-person and -third and interview transcripts and editorials and gossip columns – and it’s not a mess, it’s just stunning. It’s so completely out there and still so beautiful; it’s like a promise that you can be as weird as you want and there will still be people who love you and want you art. I HAVE MANY FEELS ABOUT THIS BOOK, OKAY?

2016

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home (Fairyland, #5) by Catherynne M. Valente
Genres: Fantasy, Portal Fantasy
Goodreads

This final book in the New York Times-bestselling Fairyland series finds September accidentally crowned the Queen of Fairyland. But there are others who believe they have a fair and good claim on the throne, so there is a Royal Race--whoever wins will seize the crown.

Along the way, beloved characters including the Wyverary, A-Through-L, the boy Saturday, the changelings Hawthorn and Tamburlaine, the wombat Blunderbuss, and the gramophone Scratch are caught up in the madness. And September's parents have crossed the universe to find their daughter.

Who will win? What will become of September, Saturday, and A-Through-L? The answers will surprise you, and are as bewitching and bedazzling as fans of this series by Catherynne M. Valente have come to expect.

You can @ me when you come across another portal fantasy series with as perfect an ending. I’ll wait. But you won’t find one – this was so perfect it made me cry. In a good way. In the best way. So there!

2017

The Dragon’s Legacy (The Dragon's Legacy #1) by Deborah A. Wolf
Representation: Matriarchy, secondary characters of colour, East-Asian coded secondary MC
Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Goodreads

The last Aturan King is dying, and as his strength fades so does his hold  on  sa  and  ka. Control of this power is a deadly lure; the Emperor stirs in his Forbidden City to the East, while deep in the Seared Lands, the whispering voices of  Eth bring secret death. Eight men and women take their first steps along the paths to war, barely realizing that their world will soon face a much greater threat; at the heart of the world, the Dragon stirs in her sleep. A warrior would become Queen, a Queen would become a monster, and a young boy plays his bird-skull flute to keep the shadows of death at bay.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
Representation: Bisexual MC, secondary gay characters
Genres: Fantasy, Portal Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads

“What’s your name?”

“Serene.”

“Serena?” Elliot asked.

“Serene,” said Serene. “My full name is Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle.”

Elliot’s mouth fell open. “That is badass.”

The Borderlands aren’t like anywhere else. Don’t try to smuggle a phone or any other piece of technology over the wall that marks the Border—unless you enjoy a fireworks display in your backpack. (Ballpoint pens are okay.) There are elves, harpies, and—best of all as far as Elliot is concerned—mermaids.

Elliot? Who’s Elliot? Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands.

It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likeable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world.

I couldn’t choose between them, so here are my joint-faves from 2017; The Dragon’s Legacy, which I’d been looking forward to for years before it was finally in my hands, and In Other Lands, which is the polished and expanded (and traditionally published) version of Turn of the Story. (Yes, I guess that kind of means the same book got two spots on this list. IT DESERVES THEM BOTH.) Legacy and Lands are both incredible, and incredibly different: Legacy is set in a completely unfamiliar world, where matriarchal warriors bond with telepathic sabre-tooth cats and a dragon sleeps under the earth (and must be kept asleep at all costs), while Lands takes a lot of familiar tropes and subverts them, makes the reader question them. Lands is luxuriously slow – although I’d rather call it life-paced – with a lot of poignancy and so many moments that made me laugh till I cried; Legacy is very serious, much darker, rich and breathtaking.

So no, I couldn’t choose between them!

You can read more about why I love Dragon’s Legacy so dearly over at my review!

2018

Another set of very different books!

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
Representation: Nonbinary pansexual MC, Desi MC
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Goodreads

IN SPACE EVERYONE CAN HEAR YOU SING

A century ago, the Sentience Wars tore the galaxy apart and nearly ended the entire concept of intelligent space-faring life. In the aftermath, a curious tradition was invented-something to cheer up everyone who was left and bring the shattered worlds together in the spirit of peace, unity, and understanding.

Once every cycle, the civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix - part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Instead of competing in orbital combat, the powerful species that survived face off in a competition of song, dance, or whatever can be physically performed in an intergalactic talent show. The stakes are high for this new game, and everyone is forced to compete.

This year, though, humankind has discovered the enormous universe. And while they expected to discover a grand drama of diplomacy, gunships, wormholes, and stoic councils of aliens, they have instead found glitter, lipstick and electric guitars. Mankind will not get to fight for its destiny - they must sing.

A one-hit-wonder band of human musicians, dancers and roadies from London - Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes - have been chosen to represent Earth on the greatest stage in the galaxy. And the fate of their species lies in their ability to rock.

Space Opera is a queer glitterpunk delight that is equal parts whimsy, bonkers, and fierce defiant hope. It’s so weird and so wonderful – just the premise, which is Eurovision in space except if Earth places last, all humans will be wiped out – I mean. WHAT. And that could have been grim, in another writer’s hands, but here it’s just – life is messy and existence is messy and taking that mess and making beautiful things out of it is never, ever worthless or a waste of time. So SING!

The Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence, #1) by K.D. Edwards
Representation: Gay MC, bi/pansexual love interest, queernorm world, background group marriage/polyamory
Genres: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads

Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Court, is hired to search for Lady Judgment's missing son, Addam, on New Atlantis, the island city where the Atlanteans moved after ordinary humans destroyed their original home.

With his companion and bodyguard, Brand, he questions Addam's relatives and business contacts through the highest ranks of the nobles of New Atlantis. But as they investigate, they uncover more than a missing man: a legendary creature connected to the secret of the massacre of Rune's Court. In looking for Addam, can Rune find the truth behind his family's death and the torments of his past?

The Last Sun blew me away – and continues to blow me away every time I reread it – despite the fact that I don’t consider myself a fan of urban fantasy. But the worldbuilding is so detailed, the plots so carefully layered and intertwined, and I defy anyone not to fall in love with Rune and Brand and the rest of the cast! If you have spent any time on my blog and somehow missed the fact that I’m a huge fan of this series, my review is over here.

The Empress of Timbra (Hidden Histories, #1) by Karen Healey, Robyn Fleming
Representation: Brown cast, very minor M/M and F/F
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Goodreads

Fourteen-year-old Taver didn't know he was a nobleman's bastard until his real father died. Eleven-year-old Elaku has always known she was the bastard daughter of the same nobleman - and the Empress's Witch. When the two siblings meet in the Empress of Timbra's palace, neither is aware that treachery and war threaten their home - and that they must rely on their magic, their wits, and each other to have any chance of victory.

Empress of Timbra is a book that doesn’t fit neatly into any one niche; its characters are both under 15, but it doesn’t read like Middle-Grade or YA, and it has some serious feel-good, comfort-read vibes despite the politics and pirates. I understand why the authors chose to self-publish; it would give any traditional publisher fits, trying to figure out what label/s to put on it! But it’s pure magic, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve reread it.

2019

It is NOT MY FAULT that 2019 was an incredible year for fantasy books!!! I started writing this post last Friday, and I have wrestled with it like mad, but I just cannot whittle 2019 down to one book, or even two. Sorry-not-sorry.

Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner
Representation: Non-human genders, gender nonconforming MC
Genres: Fantasy
Goodreads

Onna can write the parameters of a spell faster than any of the young men in her village school. But despite her incredible abilities, she’s denied a place at the nation’s premier arcane academy. Undaunted, she sails to the bustling city-state of Hexos, hoping to find a place at a university where they don’t think there’s anything untoward about providing a woman with a magical education. But as soon as Onna arrives, she’s drawn into the mysterious murder of four trolls.

Tsira is a troll who never quite fit into her clan, despite being the leader’s daughter. She decides to strike out on her own and look for work in a human city, but on her way she stumbles upon the body of a half-dead human soldier in the snow. As she slowly nurses him back to health, an unlikely bond forms between them, one that is tested when an unknown mage makes an attempt on Tsira’s life. Soon, unbeknownst to each other, Onna and Tsira both begin devoting their considerable talents to finding out who is targeting trolls, before their homeland is torn apart…

Unnatural Magic is the trolls-not-gender-roles book I have talked about before and will no doubt talk about again. It’s kind of fantasy-of-manners, except not??? It has that sort of setting, kind of regency-ish, but there are academies of magic and trolls run the world, and our characters are a half-troll, an ex-soldier who maybe likes to be bossed around, actually, and a magical genius who scares the system because she’s a girl. It has really cool worldbuilding and a truly excellent cast and I love everything about it.

Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney
Representation: Trans secondary character, group marriage/polyamory
Genres: Fantasy, Portal Fantasy
Goodreads

In Desdemona and the Deep, the spoiled daughter of a rich mining family must retrieve the tithe of men her father promised to the world below.

On the surface, her world is rife with industrial pollution that ruins the health of poor factory workers while the idle rich indulge themselves in unheard-of luxury. Below are goblins, mysterious kingdoms, and an entirely different hierarchy.

A goblin market narrative that’s also a steep drop into an uncanny, richly painted underworld, C.S.E. Cooney combines 1920s luxury with deeply felt questions of identity and justice that strike at the heart of who we are, human or otherwise.

Desdemona and the Deep is written in such gorgeous prose that it really wouldn’t matter if the story was terrible – but it’s not, it’s excellent, and the combination is enough to make me swoon. Cooney’s take on the realms of the fae are so beautiful they made my heart ache, and Desdemona herself is fierce and flawed and will not be stopped, and I just adored how twisty and strange this was, how unpredictable and wonderful.

The Hanged Man (The Tarot Sequence, #2) by K.D. Edwards
Representation: Gay MC, bi/pansexual love interest, queernorm world, background group marriage/polyamory
Genres: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads

The last member of a murdered House tries to protect his ward from forced marriage to a monster while uncovering clues to his own tortured past. The Tarot Sequence imagines a modern-day Atlantis off the coast of Massachusetts, governed by powerful Courts based on the traditional Tarot deck.

Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Throne, is backed into a fight of high court magic and political appetites in a desperate bid to protect his ward, Max, from a forced marital alliance with the Hanged Man. Rune's resistance will take him to the island's dankest corners, including a red light district made of moored ghost ships; a surreal skyscraper farm; and the floor of the ruling Convocation, where a gathering of Arcana will change Rune's life forever.

The Hanged Man – well. I’ll just leave my review here, okay?

The Imaginary Corpse by Tyler Hayes
Representation: Nonbinary secondary characters, minor background F/F and M/M, queernorm world
Genres: Fantasy
Goodreads

A dinosaur detective in the land of unwanted ideas battles trauma, anxiety, and the first serial killer of imaginary friends.

Most ideas fade away when we're done with them. Some we love enough to become Real. But what about the ones we love, and walk away from? Tippy the triceratops was once a little girl's imaginary friend, a dinosaur detective who could help her make sense of the world. But when her father died, Tippy fell into the Stillreal, the underbelly of the Imagination, where discarded ideas go when they're too Real to disappear. Now, he passes time doing detective work for other unwanted ideas - until Tippy runs into The Man in the Coat, a nightmare monster who can do the impossible: kill an idea permanently. Now Tippy must overcome his own trauma and solve the case, before there's nothing left but imaginary corpses.

File Unders: Fantasy [ Fuzzy Fiends - Death to Imagination - Hardboiled but Sweet - Not Barney ]

I just knew I was going to love The Imaginary Corpse before I ever had it in my hands, and I was right: this is a book about IMAGINARY FRIENDS and where they go to live when their humans don’t need or want them anymore, and honestly you could have done just about anything with that premise and it would have made me happy, but Hayes created a YELLOW TRICERATOPS PLUSHIE DETECTIVE for his main character and honestly what more could you possibly need to know, go read it immediately. Or my review, if you still need some convincing (though how could you possibly???)

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
Representation: Brown MC, secondary sapphic character
Genres: Fantasy, Portal Fantasy
Goodreads

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Do I really need to tell anyone about The Ten Thousand Doors of January? If you like fantasy, you must have heard of it even if you haven’t read it. Harrow’s writing is lush and stunning and I had to keep putting this book down and taking breaks from reading it because it’s intense and I have FEELS and it’s all so good it hurts. It taps into so many of the secret dreams and wishes so many of us weird kids have (or had) that it hits almost too close to home, but it is also perfect.

2020

Again: NOT MY FAULT 2020 WAS SUCH A GOOD BOOK YEAR. These are all queer and gorgeous and honestly flawless and I cannot choose between them. Sorry-not-sorry, take #2.

Lovequake by T.J. Land
Representation: Black pansexual MC, deaf trans love interest, Black sapphic secondary character, minor brown asexual aromantic character, M/M and F/F
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Goodreads

No one knows what to make of Sunday.

He’s handsome. He’s stylish. He’s got endless amounts of cash that he splashes around like water.

But there’s something just a little bit wrong about the way he talks – like he’s never had a conversation before – and the way he walks – like he expects walls to simply get out of his way. Though his hair and beard are immaculately groomed, he never brushes the former or trims the latter. And he talks to the sky.

All of which are very solid, sensible reasons for Zip Fletcher, cheerfully rude Welsh sex worker, not to develop a crush on him.

Zip is, however, not a sensible man.

LOVEQUAKE is an M/M + F/F romantic scifi adventure set against the backdrop of a quintillion-year-old cosmic war.

Lovequake – I was so utterly miserable and in so much pain when I picked this up, and it just made everything better. Cosmic horror-alien breaks off a piece of itself to go seek out and recover other pieces of itself scattered around Earth, and in the process gathers a really epic collection of humans. This book manages to be absolutely hysterical while also really deep, diverse, and unique; there’s sci-fi concepts here I’ve never come across before, and they’re all awesome. It’s a really clever feel-good adventure story with a heart-melting romantic arc (two, in fact!)

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
Representation: Bi/pansexual disabled MC, nonbinary secondary characters, achillean secondary character, Maori secondary character
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Goodreads

Anna does boring things for terrible people because even criminals need office help and she needs a job. Working for a monster lurking beneath the surface of the world isn’t glamorous. But is it really worse than working for an oil conglomerate or an insurance company? In this economy?

 As a temp, she’s just a cog in the machine. But when she finally gets a promising assignment, everything goes very wrong, and an encounter with the so-called “hero” leaves her badly injured. 

And, to her horror, compared to the other bodies strewn about, she’s the lucky one.

So, of course, then she gets laid off.

With no money and no mobility, with only her anger and internet research acumen, she discovers her suffering at the hands of a hero is far from unique. When people start listening to the story that her data tells, she realizes she might not be as powerless as she thinks.

Because the key to everything is data: knowing how to collate it, how to manipulate it, and how to weaponize it. By tallying up the human cost these caped forces of nature wreak upon the world, she discovers that the line between good and evil is mostly marketing.  And with social media and viral videos, she can control that appearance.

It’s not too long before she’s employed once more, this time by one of the worst villains on earth. As she becomes an increasingly valuable lieutenant, she might just save the world.

A sharp, witty, modern debut, Hench explores the individual cost of justice through a fascinating mix of Millennial office politics, heroism measured through data science, body horror, and a profound misunderstanding of quantum mechanics. 

Hench is just – Hench is JUST, and there is a pun in there that makes me cackle. It’s faster to read the book than read my review-essay on it, but it’s about how heroic superheroes are NOT and what happens when one manages to really piss off a woman whose grasp of spreadsheets might as well be supernatural. This is a book that snarls; it’s wry and cynical and queer as fuck, it’s anti-establishment in SPADES, it made me laugh so much, and it is an enormous middle finger to Nice GuysTM. I adore it.

The Scapegracers (Scapegracers, #1) by Hannah Abigail Clarke
Representation: Lesbian MC, bisexual Asian-American MC, Black MC, F/F or wlw
Genres: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads

An outcast teenage lesbian witch finds her coven hidden amongst the popular girls in her school, and performs some seriously badass magic in the process.

Skulking near the bottom of West High’s social pyramid, Sideways Pike lurks under the bleachers doing magic tricks for Coke bottles. As a witch, lesbian, and lifelong outsider, she’s had a hard time making friends. But when the three most popular girls pay her $40 to cast a spell at their Halloween party, Sideways gets swept into a new clique. The unholy trinity are dangerous angels, sugar-coated rattlesnakes, and now–unbelievably–Sideways’ best friends.

Together, the four bond to form a ferocious and powerful coven. They plan parties, cast curses on dudebros, try to find Sideways a girlfriend, and elude the fundamentalist witch hunters hellbent stealing their magic. But for Sideways, the hardest part is the whole ‘having friends’ thing. Who knew that balancing human interaction with supernatural peril could be so complicated?

Rich with the urgency of feral youth, The Scapegracers explores growing up and complex female friendship with all the rage of a teenage girl. It subverts the trope of competitive mean girls and instead portrays a mercilessly supportive clique of diverse and vivid characters. It is an atmospheric, voice-driven novel of the occult, and the first of a three-book series.

The Scapegracers is fierce and glorious and is the only book I’ve ever come across that nails what magic and witchcraft is really like (even if Clarke’s is a bit more cinematic than what I’m used to!) It’s YA that does not for one second talk down to its intended audience, does not sanitize the teenage experience, does not simplify its language. The prose is like a cross between getting hit by lightning and being stroked all over with velvet at the same time. You can read my review here, but honestly you should just read the book.

Night Shine by Tessa Gratton
Representation: Pansexual MC, pansexual love interest, major genderfluid secondary character, pansexual secondary character, background group marriage/polyamory
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads

An orphan girl must face untold danger and an ancient evil to save her kingdom’s prince in this lush, romantic fantasy perfect for fans of Girls of Paper and Fire and Tess of the Road.

How can you live without your heart?

In the vast palace of the empress lives an orphan girl called Nothing. She slips within the shadows of the Court, unseen except by the Great Demon of the palace and her true friend, Prince Kirin, heir to the throne. When Kirin is kidnapped, only Nothing and the prince’s bodyguard suspect that Kirin may have been taken by the Sorceress Who Eats Girls, a powerful woman who has plagued the land for decades. The sorceress has never bothered with boys before, but Nothing has uncovered many secrets in her sixteen years in the palace, including a few about the prince.

As the empress’s army searches fruitlessly, Nothing and the bodyguard set out on a rescue mission, through demon-filled rain forests and past crossroads guarded by spirits. Their journey takes them to the gates of the Fifth Mountain, where the sorceress wields her power. There, Nothing will discover that all magic is a bargain, and she may be more powerful than she ever imagined. But the price the Sorceress demands for Kirin may very well cost Nothing her heart.

Night Shine was pitched as queer Howl’s Moving Castle and that was really all I needed to hear – but the book itself was so much better than anything I could have hoped for. I fell in love with the world Gratton created, and then I fell in love with this girl called Nothing who ended up becoming Everything. There’s wordplay and spirits and dragons and demons, and none of them look like what you’re used to, everything is made new and breathtaking, and I will love it forever. If you still need convincing, my review is over here, but once again – you should really just read the book.

The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska
Representation: Bisexual MC, demisexual-coded/pansexual MC, minor nonbinary character, F/F, queernorm world
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads

A gripping, dark enemies-to-lovers LGBTQ+ YA fantasy about two girls who must choose between saving themselves, each other, or their sinking island home.

Every year on St. Walpurga's Eve, Caldella’s Witch Queen lures a boy back to her palace. An innocent life to be sacrificed on the full moon to keep the island city from sinking.

Lina Kirk is convinced her brother is going to be taken this year. To save him, she enlists the help of Thomas Lin, the boy she secretly loves, and the only person to ever escape from the palace. But they draw the queen’s attention, and Thomas is chosen as the sacrifice.

Queen Eva watched her sister die to save the boy she loved. Now as queen, she won't make the same mistake. She's willing to sacrifice anyone if it means saving herself and her city.

When Lina offers herself to the queen in exchange for Thomas’s freedom, the two girls await the full moon together. But Lina is not at all what Eva expected, and the queen is nothing like Lina envisioned. Against their will, they find themselves falling for each other as water floods Caldella’s streets and the dark tide demands its sacrifice.

The Dark Tide is another one where I fell head over heels for the prose, and then the worldbuilding, and then the feral girls at the heart of the story. Jasinska writes magic that feels magical, wondrous and strange and glittering and dark, and doesn’t hold back for a second. Her witches are not tame creatures, but neither are her human girls, and, just. The Dark Tide feels like a fever dream you never want to wake up from, queer and sharp-toothed with silver shoes. You can check out my review over here.

It took blood and sweat, but there you have it: my faves of the last decade! If you haven’t read any of these, check them out – and maybe let me know what some of your favourites were!

3 responses to “Faves From the Last Decade

Leave a Reply