I started off this year with a post about the half-dozen books on the top of my TBR pile, and was only happy with one of them (When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain). What about the others? I loved some early parts of The Hands of the Emperor, but ended more disgusted than pleased. The House by the Cerulean Sea was too twee for me; The Three-Body Problem too grim. Project Hail Mary was entertaining—if you can tolerate buddy movies in space interspersed with info dumps—but far-fetched and a bit juvenile. Insta-love and the abusive sister put me off Witchmark.
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t find lots of good books this year. In no particular order, here’s the top ten of the ones I did enjoy:
- Isobar Precinct by Angelique Kasmara: Time travel, a missing father, an intricate plot, and an appealing tattoo artist for a protagonist are only part of what make this novel a standout.
- The King of Faerie by A. J. Lancaster: The fourth in the series that started with The Lord of Stariel takes us deeper into the fae lands. Hetta Valstar and her sexy fae fiancé Wyn Tempestren try to find the elusive king of Faerie before their snowballing problems (including Wyn’s murderous sister) catch up with them.
- Sanctuary by And C. Buchanan: In this ghost story, the ghosts are the ones in danger, and it’s up to the members of a neurologically diverse, gender queer, found family to protect them.
- Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell: An enjoyable read, whether you’re more interested in nicely-plotted mystery with a side of romance or a slow-burn heart-warming romance with a side of space opera and mystery.
- Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: This story starts off slowly in an artificial, nearly uninhabited world, like some sort of allegory or dream, but gradually shifts into something captivating, urgent, and strongly connected to our own reality.
- When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo: This fantasy novella uses shape-shifting tigers and a tiger/human courtship to explore culture clashes and the variability of perceptions of the same events. Domesticated mammoths are icing on the cake.
- The Rogue and the Peasant by Amberley Martin: A delightfully original fairy tale mashup laden with surprises.
- Flashback by Nevada Barr: The only book on this list with no connection to speculative fiction, this thriller, with its exploding boats and other bloody mayhem, takes place in the Dry Tortugas National Park, at the end of the Florida Keys.
- Middle Distance: Long Stories of Aotearoa New Zealand: An anthology of stories, around 10,000 words each, by New Zealand writers. Longer than a typical short story but shorter than a novella, these have enough meat on their bones to be satisfying without requiring a significant time commitment.
- Ten Acceptable Acts of Arson by Jack Remiel Cottrell: At the other end of the scale is this collection of flash or micro fiction that packs a punch in a small space. Perfect for dipping into while on hold, or while waiting for the bus.