It goes without saying that 2016 wasn’t a great year in a lot of ways, and it wasn’t a great year for me personally, either. I had to spend part of it moving yet again (I’ve moved in 2014, 2015, and 2016 now), and the only major thing that happened this year that was actually good was visiting Ireland. (Although that was amazing—I went on a Game of Thrones Tour of filming locations and “met” a couple of the Northern Inuit dogs who were direwolves in the show, and I also visited a lot of other interesting places while I was there!)
It’s actually quite surprising to me that I read more this year than last and actually managed to stay ahead of my Goodreads reading goal for most of the year (until November, when I started falling behind). In the end, I did meet my goal of reading 40 books, although I attempted to read several more and read somewhere between 100-200 pages in quite a few. Since there are so many books to read and so many older books I’ve missed, I’m trying to do better about just dropping books that aren’t working for me and moving on.
Part of that is due to a new feature this year, reading and reviewing one book per month based on a poll on Patreon. Although some of the books were fairly recent, none were released in 2016 and some were older books. This has helped me get to some of the books I’ve been meaning to read for awhile despite the allure of shiny new releases, such as Forerunner by Andre Norton and Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee. All the books reviewed for Patreon in 2016 can be seen here.
In addition to these and other reviews, April 2016 was the fifth annual Women in SF&F Month, a month dedicated to highlighting women’s contributions to speculative fiction. Renay and I updated the list of favorite SFF books by women with 2015’s contributions and collected more recommendations, and there were many guest posts about a variety of topics related to equity, favorite works by women, or writing and speculative fiction in general, such as:
- Fonda Lee’s decision to write under her own name despite advice to write under a male/gender neutral one
- Kari Sperring’s examination of Justina Robson’s Quantum Gravity series and why it’s important when discussing women in SFF
- Strange Charm’s Joanna’s analysis of the tomboy princess trope
- Ilana C. Myer’s discussion of the depth a religious system added to her world
Looking back, it’s been a busier year than I’d thought! As always, I discovered a lot of great books over the last year, and today I’d like to highlight some of my favorite books of 2016, both new releases and some released before last year.
Favorite Books Released in 2016
1. The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2) by N. K. Jemisin
N. K. Jemisin is one of the most consistently excellent authors I’ve read, and The Obelisk Gate is my favorite of her novels yet. The first book in this trilogy, The Fifth Season, was on my 2015 favorites list for its brilliance and uniqueness but wasn’t my top favorite since I didn’t find it as thoroughly engaging as other books I’d read. However, The Obelisk Gate has all of those qualities and I could hardly put it down! It’s both personal and epic, and the characters are complex people shown at their best and worst—people with complicated views and emotions. This is a fantastic story with lots of depth, and I especially loved the exploration of how individuals are shaped by their experiences and each other. Even though I was fortunate enough to read a couple of older books I enjoyed just as much as The Obelisk Gate, this is the BEST book I read this year regardless of publication date: a thoughtful, perceptive, phenomenally written book that’s also a page turner.
2. The Masked City (The Invisible Library #2) by Genevieve Cogman
(Not Yet Reviewed)
I just finished reading this not that long ago so I haven’t reviewed it yet, but I found it to be every bit as delightful as the first book in this series, The Invisible Library (my review). It follows the adventures of Irene, a Librarian Spy with an organization existing outside of space and time that has the primary goal of collecting books from alternate worlds. Like the previous installment, it’s immensely fun with a delightful narrative voice, and I enjoy how practical, matter-of-fact, and clear-thinking Irene continues to be, even when facing great peril—including fae plots, potentially angry dragons, and a dangerous rescue mission to a chaotic alternate Venice!
3. Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda
My (Brief) Review of Issue 1
This graphic novel is bleak and violent yet absolutely gorgeous (well, when it’s not too gory for me since I’m incredibly squeamish!). Sana Takeda’s artwork is stunningly beautiful with exquisite details, and this may be the first graphic novel I’ve read in which I spent as much time gazing at the graphics as reading the story. Issue one made me curious about Maika’s history and her connection with the monster, but I found it worked much better for me when I was able to immerse myself in the story by reading multiple issues back to back in this volume.
4. The Lyre Thief (War of the Gods #1) by Jennifer Fallon
The Lyre Thief was my first book by Jennifer Fallon but it definitely will not be my last! This is an incredibly entertaining book featuring two of my favorite tropes: false identities and meddling gods. Though it includes several perspectives, the majority of the story focuses on a princess and her friend Charisee, an illegitimate daughter of the king born a slave. The princess’s mother fears for her daughter’s life and arranges for her to be married to a foreigner—but her actual plan is for her to escape during the long journey to her husband’s land and for Charisee to pretend she is the royal bride-to-be. In doing so, the false princess attracts the attention of the God of Liars, who is incredibly pleased by her service. It’s so much fun, and I loved reading about many of the characters, especially Charisee.
5. Roses and Rot by Kat Howard
Roses and Rot is an absorbing debut novel with sisterhood, art, and fairy tales at its core. It’s a contemporary fantasy about two sisters, a writer and a dancer, accepted into an art program that turns out to have a sinister purpose—and how it drives a competitive wedge between the two women when they’re starting to put the pieces of their relationship together after years of separation. It’s quite aptly titled as it’s filled with both beauty and ugliness in its exploration of the difficulty of creation and relationships, and this is mixed in with the darker side of fairy tales. Best of all is the complexity of the bond between the two sisters.
6. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
All the Birds in the Sky is a difficult book to summarize since it includes a hodgepodge of elements: adventures both magical and scientific, an AI, and communication with animals, to name a few. It follows the lives of a young witch and a young scientist destined to change—or perhaps even destroy—the world, but it’s largely about the impact each has on the other and the longing for connection. Though chaotic, I thought Charlie Jane Anders made it all work, and I especially loved the sense of humor that shines through the narrative voice, even when there’s darkness.
Favorite Books Published Before 2016
1. The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip
The Changeling Sea is enchanting, and I savored every lovely word of it. It’s a tale that mixes the legendary with the everyday: though islander Peri becomes tangled in events involving a prince who is not what he seems and a sea dragon who is also not what he seems, she spends her days working at an inn rife with ordinary village conversation (even if it does involve the mysterious appearance of a sea dragon!). It’s a small book but it has large themes of love, loss, and humanity with a memorable ending, and Peri is a wonderful heroine who surprises everyone, including herself.
2. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Kindred, the story of a black woman named Dana repeatedly sent to the antebellum South to aid an accident-prone ancestor, is an incredibly powerful novel. It’s a gripping page turner since I desperately wanted to find out what happened to Dana, and it’s also an examination of the acceptance of slavery and the reinforcement of racial inequality. Kindred offers an unflinchingly honest, harrowing view of the atrocities human beings are capable of committing through the eyes of a courageous, tough, and compassionate heroine—and it’s unforgettable.
3. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
Though intrigued by the description I’d heard—Jane Austen with dragons!—I was still skeptical about Tooth and Claw. Dragons eating the weak to gain strength sounded so literal, and it seemed like it would be difficult to imagine giant dragons riding trains. The social commentary is not subtle and it did require some suspension of disbelief to picture dragons donning hats and writing letters, and yet it was absolutely delightful with endearing dragon characters!
4. Golden Son (Red Rising #2) by Pierce Brown
My (Brief) Review
I was surprised by how thoroughly engaging Golden Son turned out to be: although I enjoyed Red Rising, I had some reservations about it and I didn’t love it. Golden Son was nearly impossible to put down since it had so many twists and turns and kept me wanting to know what the true motivations of various characters were, and I thought it was far superior to the first book in the trilogy. (Unfortunately, I’m struggling with the concluding volume about 200 pages into it, which is why that one is absent from this list despite how much fun I had reading Golden Son.)
5. The Midnight Queen (Noctis Magicae #1) by Sylvia Izzo Hunter
Sylvia Izzo Hunter’s debut novel is charming. The Midnight Queen follows two characters: Gray, a student of wizardry taken captive by one of his professors, and Sophie, the professor’s middle daughter who exudes magick even though she insists she has none of her own. It’s set in an alternate version of our world in which Christianity never became a major religion, and it has family secrets and hidden identities, a conspiracy, and romance.
6. Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
The narrator bluntly states that this is not a tidy story at the beginning, and this voice and the chaotic nature are part of its charm. Partially based on a Senegalese folk tale, it’s vividly told and peppered with humor and wit. Paama is a resourceful character, and I particularly enjoyed reading about the tales she invented to explain away the absurd situations her husband kept getting into—they didn’t fool anyone, but everyone admired her grace, tact, and quick thinking!
7. Bone and Jewel Creatures by Elizabeth Bear
This novella, set in the same world as the Eternal Sky trilogy, is beautifully written. I read the prequel novella Book of Iron first (my review) and thought Bijou was a wonderful character—and I still do after reading more about her. In this story, she’s in her nineties, surrounded by the titular bone and jewel creatures she’s created and animated throughout the years. The descriptions of her menagerie are lovely, and I also found the perspective of the feral child she saves and cares for unique and compelling.
8. Sign for the Sacred by Storm Constantine
Sign for the Sacred revolves around one key figure—the prophet Resenence Jeopardy, a charismatic man who is loved by many and feared by the Church of Ixmarity. The three main point-of-view characters are all seeking him, including one who knew him quite well when they were both slaves in the same House. His tale of being given to the Church and becoming close to Resenence before he was famous was the highlight of this lengthy novel, which explores religion and the power that an individual can have upon others.