2021 Recap

For this end-of-year review, I’ve come up with a baker’s dozen of books, or set of books—some old, some new—that were most memorable or most fun for me this year. There’s lots of engrossing fiction being published, so winnowing them down isn’t easy. In no particular order, the top thirteen were:

  • A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher: Fourteen-year-old Mona stretches the limits of what a bread wizard can do with dough in an emergency. Her defence of her city is at times darkly funny as she goes from naive optimism to weary acceptance of responsibilities that the adults around her have mostly avoided.
  • Ghost Bus: Tales from Wellington’s Dark Side by Anna Kirtlan: A collection of stories, ranging from dark to whimsical, that form a love letter to New Zealand’s capital city.
  • Night Sky by Clare Francis: A World War II spy novel/thriller, wth an unscrupulous Frenchman selling out his fellow citizens, and a young woman in the French Resistance, a non-sailor desperate to escape the Germans, taking to the seas in a small boat with her small son and an ill passenger.
  • The Interdependency series by John Scalzi: Starting with The Collapsing Empire, a three-part space opera involving a civilisation facing a calamity that has parallels to our climate crisis. The saga includes a properly hissable villain and a surprisingly likeable foul-mouthed, sex-crazed, egocentric protagonist.
  • Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger: A YA urban fantasy/mystery drawing on the author’s Lipan Apache heritage, with a protagonist who has a ghost dog and healthy, supportive relationships with her relatives and friends.
  • The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal: The third book in the award-winning Lady Astronaut series takes place mostly on the moon, as astronaut/politician Nicole Wargin races to uncover the saboteurs before they make the newly-established moon base uninhabitable.
  • The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo: An atmospheric and female-centred history of a rebellion, led by the scorned and apparently powerless wife in a political marriage.
  • The City We Became by N K Jemisin: A celebration of urban diversity and gusto, as avatars of New York City’s five boroughs fend off attackers trying to prevent the city from coming fully to life.
  • The Witchy Fiction stories: A collection of novellas by Kiwi authors and set in New Zealand, combining fantasy and sweet romance with an optimistic outlook.
  • These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong: An outstanding debut novel, this is a Romeo and Juliet retelling with monsters, set in 1920s Shanghai. Lots of gore, violence, and horror, so not really my thing, but it is certainly memorable, and I found the romantic tension in this version much stronger than in the original.
  • Too Like the Lightning and Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer: The first two of the four-book Terra Ignota series, exploring a possible 25th century with flying cars, non-geographic nations, and several other ideas that make them challenging, mind-boggling, and extremely ambitious. Fascinating, but you have to work to make sense of it.
  • Blindsight by Peter Watts: Superficially about first contact, this hard SF novel is more deeply about the complexities of the human brain and the nature of consciousness. Another quite challenging but memorable book.
  • Cotillion by Georgette Heyer: This Regency romance was just fun. It contains one of Heyer’s most appealing male characters: an apparently dim-witted clothes horse who turns out to be a good deal more than he seems.
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