Though 2017 was a terrible year in many ways, it was an extraordinarily good reading year. When looking back, I found that about half of the 40 books I completed are particularly memorable, and I think that’s largely because I’ve gotten a lot better at dropping books that aren’t working for me and moving on to another book I want to read. There are many more books that I attempted in 2017 and set aside after reading the first 50–100 pages: I’ve learned that if there is nothing about the writing, characters, world, or plot that intrigues me by that point, the chances of it being a book worth reading when there are so many books out there waiting to be read is pretty low. In a couple of cases, I do plan to go back to books I set aside because there was something worthwhile about them even if I wasn’t currently in the mood to read them, but the vast majority of them did not seem compelling enough to revisit.

Without further ado, here are my personal highlights of 2017!

Favorite Books Released in 2017

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Book of the Year
1. The Girl in the Tower (Winternight #2) by Katherine Arden

The first two books in Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy were both released this year and are both phenomenal, and The Girl in the Tower is my favorite of the two. It’s beautifully written, atmospheric historical fantasy set in a wintry fourteenth century Rus’ in which Slavic folktales come to life—though most remain unaware of the mythical figures living among them, unlike Vasya. In The Girl in the Tower, Vasya travels to Moscow astride her extraordinary horse, posing as a boy in order to freely be herself without question, and reunites with her brother the warrior-monk and her sister the princess. It has all the strengths of the previous novel, plus it’s more focused and has more excitement than the first. I absolutely loved it, and I just barely managed to read this December release in time for it to be part of this list!

Book of the Year Runner-Up
Epic Fantasy of the Year
(Also, That Book I Kept Recommending Throughout 2017)
2. Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1) by Mark Lawrence
My Review

Red Sister topped my list as Book of the Year for most of 2017, although it was a close call between this and the next book on this list! This trilogy opener is the story of Nona, a young girl who would have been hanged for murder had she not been rescued at the last minute by the abbess of the Convent of Sweet Mercy. As she trains in subjects including fighting and poisons, she also can’t escape her mysterious past that she attempts to keep secret from everyone—including the reader. Her obvious unreliability is part of what makes her such a compelling protagonist, as are her fierceness and devotion to her friends, and I was incredibly invested in Nona and her story. Though she herself was the highlight, I also enjoyed just about everything else about it including the other characters, the friendships, the sharp dialogue, and of course, the badass nuns.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Debut of the Year
Author of the Year

3. The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight #1) by Katherine Arden
My Review

In addition to writing my very favorite 2017 release, Katherine Arden also wrote another book that I thought was among the very best of the year: her lovely debut, The Bear and the Nightingale. It’s a beautifully written, atmospheric novel that brings to life the wintry rural setting of fourteenth century Rus’ and the spirits that inhabit it—as well as it’s wonderful heroine, Vasya.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

YA Book of the Year
4. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
My Review

Laini Taylor is one of my favorite authors due to her creativity and characters and, most of all, her exquisite prose: beautifully phrased writing infused with wit and wisdom. Strange the Dreamer features everything I’d expect from one of her books, and though the individual elements of the story are not necessarily unique, they are combined into a unique whole. It’s the tale of a kindhearted librarian (who “couldn’t have belonged at the library more truly if he were a book himself”) obsessed with a magical city whose inhabitants have not been seen or heard from in 200 years—and the vast depths of its mysteries and a problem faced by its residents that turns out to be larger than they realize. The fairy-tale-like first part and Lazlo (the titular Strange the Dreamer himself) are particular highlights of the novel—in addition to Taylor’s gorgeous prose, of course!

The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard

Atmosphere of the Year
Dragons of the Year

5. The House of Binding Thorns (Dominion of the Fallen #2) by Aliette de Bodard
My Review

The House of Binding Thorns is an incredibly atmospheric work of mythic art with gorgeously written descriptions of its alternate version of Paris lying in ruins, and Aliette de Bodard particularly excelled at capturing the wonder and decay of the dragon kingdom beneath the Seine. It’s both thoughtful and different (in a very good way!) as it follows the struggle for survival in this devastated city populated by fallen angels and other powerful individuals. In particular, I enjoyed exploring the dragon kingdom and reading about Thuan, a dragon posing as a teenager in order to investigate House Hawthorn’s potential involvement in the affairs of his kingdom. (I liked the dragons. A lot.)

Debut of the Year Runner-Up
Compulsively Readable Book of the Year
(Or, That Book That Kept Me Reading Until 2:00 AM)
6. The Tethered Mage (Swords and Fire #1) by Melissa Caruso
My Review

Melissa Caruso’s Venetian-inspired fantasy debut novel was so exciting and compulsively readable that I kept telling myself I’d just read one more chapter before going to sleep—and then decided to ignore fatigue to keep reading until it was done at 2:00 AM because I really needed to know what happened right now. It’s the story of Lady Amalia Cornaro, a young woman who accidentally breaks the rules in order to save her city, also accidentally binding herself to a fire mage in the process. The worldbuilding surrounding the system for handling magic is incredibly well done, and I also enjoyed reading about Amalia stepping into her role as her mother’s heir and (slowly) learning to work together with the fire mage (who never lets anyone forget that she is not happy about the whole situation!).

Monstress, Volume 2 by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda

Beautiful Book of the Year
(Surely One of the Prettiest Books of Any Year)
7. Monstress, Volume Two: The Blood Written by Marjorie Liu and Illustrated by Sana Takeda

I finally caught up with the latest volume of Monstress on the very last day of 2017, and it continues to be extraordinary. Though Maika’s story is compelling, particularly when delving further into her relationship with her mother, it’s the gorgeous illustrations that truly make it stand out. Each individual panel is a work of art, and the exquisite details and color palettes are absolutely stunning. As beautiful as the first volume was, I think this one is even more so if that’s even possible, and this volume left me even more in awe of Sana Takeda’s artistry.

Tomorrow's Kin by Nancy Kress

Science Fiction Book of the Year
8. Tomorrow’s Kin (Yesterday’s Kin #1) by Nancy Kress
My Review

Nancy Kress’ skill as a writer never ceases to amaze me: though Tomorrow’s Kin integrates science into the plot, it’s done seamlessly without a bunch of dry infodumps, culminating in a book that is both smart and compulsively readable. In addition to being grounded in biology, it’s also about societal changes and humanity as a whole and has events unfolding in a believable way. A highlight of the novel is main protagonist Marianne Jenner, who is not an action heroine or a potential savior of the world but a geneticist, mother, and grandmother whose not-terribly-momentous (though interesting) scientific discovery leads to her being among the first to meet the aliens and learn why they came to earth.

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin

Brilliant Book of the Year
9. The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth #3) by N. K. Jemisin

When I read a book by N. K. Jemisin, I feel as though I’m reading a book written by an author who understands humanity on a far deeper level than most, one who has the skill to capture those nuances and complexity and bring them to light—and her brilliant Broken Earth trilogy does this best of all. The world, characters, and prose are all exquisitely crafted in this trilogy that tackles oppression, features complicated relationships, and revolves around a complex heroine. Though I didn’t find The Stone Sky as engaging as much of Jemisin’s previous work including both the previous books in the series (The Obelisk Gate was my favorite book last year) due to pacing, the writing and characterization is far superior to that in most of the books I encountered in 2017.

The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman

Adventure of the Year
10. The Burning Page (Invisible Library #3) by Genevieve Cogman
My Review

The Invisible Library series, which follows the adventures of a woman who collects books from various alternate worlds for an organization existing outside of time and space, is consistently entertaining. Irene (the main protagonist) is a practical, competent quick-thinker who handles even the most absurd situations with aplomb, and I particularly enjoyed her face-off with the villain in this fun-filled third installment.

Honorable Mentions of 2017

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1) by Rin Chupeco

The Bone Witch is the story of Tea, a powerful young necromancer who was unaware she had these abilities until she raised her brother from the dead, as told to a bard who finds her living alone in exile. Though it’s primarily the tale of a younger Tea, it also provides fascinating glimpses of an older, different Tea through the bard’s viewpoint. Given the lovely writing and how much I’m now invested in Tea, I’m really looking forward to the sequel—especially learning more about how Tea went from being the girl she remembers to the harder young woman with sharp edges the bard encounters.

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
My Review

Miranda and Caliban, a prequel/retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest told from the perspectives of both Miranda and Caliban, is a quiet, character-driven novel with some lovely writing. It particularly excels at narrative voice, and Jacqueline Carey does a wonderful job of making the antagonist chilling through his wholehearted belief in his own righteousness as a servant of God.

Favorite Books Published Before 2017

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

1. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
My Review

Patricia A. McKillip’s World Fantasy Award–winning novel The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a masterpiece of fantasy and one of my favorite books of all time. It was re-released last year with a striking new cover and an introduction by Gail Carriger, and I read this new edition for the first time and the novel itself for the second time—and still absolutely loved this elegantly written story of a mage becoming entangled in human affairs after living in seclusion with her menagerie of legendary animals. Though it contains many familiar elements—a king, mages, a dragon and intelligent animals, an emphasis on threes and sevens—it’s an imaginative, memorable story about power, love and hate, and choice that still seems fresh and unique more than 40 years after its initial publication.

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

2. The King of Attolia (Queen’s Thief #3) by Megan Whalen Turner
My Review

Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series is brilliantly executed, particularly the second and third books, and I appreciate them even more after having read them for the second time last year. (I reread the first three books in the series while exercising with the intention of refreshing my memory before reading the fourth and fifth books, but I still haven’t read the last two since I wanted to devote more attention to them when reading them for the first time.) Though The Queen of Attolia was my favorite of the three the first time I read them, I enjoyed The King of Attolia the most this time (but I did love Queen too!). Clever Eugenides is one of my favorite characters, and I savored every word of The King of Attolia and the way it read like character-driven suspense: though it’s not action-packed, it’s tense and exciting given its structure and what Turner chooses to reveal and when. When I first reviewed it in 2010, I gave it an 8/10, but today I would give it a 10/10.

Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler

3. Wild Seed (Patternist #1) by Octavia E. Butler
My Review

Like every other book I’ve read by Octavia E. Butler, Wild Seed is a fascinating novel, particularly when examining the complex bond between the two central characters. It spans 1690 to the mid-1800s, beginning with the meeting of two immortals who have similar unique abilities but are opposites in just about every other way. Doru has always done whatever he wants without letting pesky beliefs like People Should Have Free Will or Murder and Incest Are Not Okay stand in his way as he attempts to breed other people with special abilities, and no one has ever been able to challenge him in 3700 years—until he meets Anyanwu, a shapeshifter. Like Doru, Anyanwu has lived longer than the average human but she is compassionate and selfless, though she is also a survivor who can be fierce when necessary.

A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston

4. A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston
My Review

A Thousand Nights, a loose retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, is a fairy-tale-like book to savor with writing so lovely that I kept stopping to reread passages. When word reaches the nameless narrator that Lo-Melkhiin is coming to her village seeking a new wife, she knows the one chosen will meet the same fate as the three hundred other queens who came before her: she will soon die. She also knows that her dearest companion, her beautiful sister, will be the most desirable bride, and unable to bear the thought of her closest friend’s imminent death, she takes her place. The heart of A Thousand Nights is not just the bond between these two sisters but also the power of women who are undervalued and underlooked as a whole, especially when they work together.

Night's Master by Tanith Lee

5. Night’s Master (Tales from the Flat Earth #1) by Tanith Lee
My Review

Night’s Master is an unusually structured book without a central plot or a main character, though the one commonality between its tales is the titular character: Azhrarn Prince of Demons, who enjoys visiting the Flat Earth to make mischief among the mortals. Dark and fairy-tale-like with rich prose, I very much enjoyed the tales of trickery and that it added more dimension to Azhrarn by the end.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

6. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
My Review

Nimona is an entertaining, humorous, delightful graphic novel about a young shapeshifter who convinces a notorious villain to accept her as his sidekick but is rather disappointed to learn that he abides by certain rules, such as not murdering people. Given Nimona’s tendency to disobey orders and refusal to adhere to the accepted protocol for encounters between heroes and villains, she turns the life of both her boss and his nemesis upside down. Though fun and lighthearted, it also has some depth as it delves into the characters and examines heroism and villainy—and there’s more to Nimona herself than it may first appear.

In the Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip

7. In the Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip
My Review

Though not my favorite of Patricia A. McKillip’s books, In the Forests of Serre has much of what I love about her work: elegant writing, a fairy tale quality, subversion of tropes, and quiet moments of humor. The story begins with a prince angering a witch by first riding his horse over her hen and then refusing to come into her house, as all the stories warn against entering her abode. The witch curses him, and he’s driven to wander the forest in pursuit of a beautiful bird-woman while the princess he’s to marry is left without a groom—which makes it more likely that the conflict between their countries that this marriage was supposed to prevent will occur after all. I tend to appreciate McKillip’s female characters, and clever, resourceful Princess Sidonie was a particular highlight of this novel.