Welcome to Smugglivus 2016! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2016, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2017, and more.
Next on Smugglivus 2016, please give a warm welcome to SFF author Aliette de Bodard, prolific author of incredible short stories and novels, the most recent one, The House of Shattered Wings.
In 2016 I was surprised to find myself reading a lot more novels than I expected (I guess that trying to stay awake while breastfeeding a baby at 3am does create a need for thrilling reads *grin*).
I had really high expectations for Yoon Ha Lee’s NINEFOX GAMBIT, and I wasn’t disappointed.
A space opera set in a repressive religious empire called the Hexarchate, NINEFOX GAMBIT follows soldier Kel Cheris as she is tasked with the impossible: retaking the fortress of needles from a rebel force, and survive the invasion of her mind by Shuos Jedao–a master tactician infamous for slaughtering two armies, including his entire command. This is brutal, relentlessly inventive in its uses of mathematics, calendrical oddities and theory of warfare–and it’s also beautifully and evocatively written.
This is cheating a bit as I didn’t read it in 2016, but Tade Thompson’s ROSEWATER is also mindblower. Set in a Nigeria where aliens have established a dome–the eponymous city of Rosewater–the novel follows Kaaro, a character with psychic powers, two jobs, and a past that might just be troublesome enough to swallow him whole. This is a very strong noir story: Kaaro is a great character with a strong voice, and the alien invasion itself is one of the more original scenarios I’ve come across, its implications meticulously and thrillingly worked out.
At first glance, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s SPIDERLIGHT might seem like a conventional fantasy: a party seeking to slay the dark lord are in search of a map to help them infiltrate his lands and find out his weaknesses. Instead of a map, however, they get Enth, a giant spider turned human by magic, who struggles to understand how humans work and sets off various conflagrations, both within the party and without… This is sometimes hilarious, sometimes sharp; and draws to a perfect but bittersweet close.
Ken Liu’s THE WALL OF STORMS is a great continuation of his Dandelion dynasty trilogy: Kuni Garu, now Emperor Ragin, must face the greatest obstacle of all nascent dynasties–how to pass on power to the next generation. But, while Ragin’s wives intrigue on behalf of his two sons, invaders from beyond the fabled Wall of Storms are readying their forces… One of the criticisms I had of the first volume was the dearth of women: this is amply remedied in this book, which has a wealth of women characters at all levels of society. It’s a great book with amazing detail and characters, and meticulously worked out science–the sections where characters race to make new weapons are masterful.
Michelle Sagara’s CAST IN FLIGHT is a great continuation of her Chronicles of Elantra, though it is most definitely not a starter book. Private Kaylin Neya gets into a world of trouble when she invites the injured Sergeant Moran to share a house with her, and finds herself embroiled in deadly Aerian politics. A lot of favourite characters returned in this one (I just love the dragons in human shape, especially Bellusdeo), and this has possibly the funniest dinner party ever.
In novellas, I didn’t read much, but I enjoyed Fran Wilde’s JEWEL AND HER LAPIDARY: set in a universe where gems hold magic but can drive people mad, JEWEL concerns itself with the fall of that kingdom, and the desperate straits in which it leaves its princess and her companion. This is a heart wrenching tale of power, friendship, and two women’s struggle to survive
Cassandra Khaw’s HAMMERS ON BONE is set in a dark, smoky London haunted by Lovecraftian entities: its main character, John Persons, just happens to be one such entity, with a set of “principles” that lead him into conflict with others. He might just have found more than he could bargain when a kid walks into his office and asks him to kill his stepfather… Khaw blends noir and Lovecraftian mythos to perfection–Persons isn’t a pleasant narrator and this isn’t always a pleasant read, but it’s atmospheric, and all the shades of dark.
Conversely, I read much less short fiction this year than I usually do, so I only have a couple of recs. Nghi Vo’s “Dragon Brides” is lovely: years after being kidnapped by a dragon, a princess returns to the dragon’s lair and finds herself dealing with the past. Marjorie Liu’s “The Briar and the Rose” (which I suspect is a novelette) is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty with a twist: a swordswoman falls in love with Rose–but Rose is only herself one day of the week, when the witch who occupies her body has to rest… I loved the characters and their relationship, and the quest undertaken by the swordswoman to free Rose.
In media, the most striking thing I watched this year is actually from last year: it was the masterful Doctor Who episode “Heaven Sent”, a tour de force by Peter Capaldi that slowly starts making horrifying sense throughout its length (and that I actually paused and rewatched just to make sure it all hung together–it does and it’s even more impressive on a rewatch). I haven’t had time to consume things from this year: most of my watching has been old things, like Black Orphan (I can’t believe it took me this long to find out about it, it’s so good, and Tatiana Maslany is just amazing playing all the clones), and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, period mysteries featuring the awesome Phryne Fisher (and her amazing wardrobe).
What I’m looking forward to:
Kate Elliott’s final book in the Court of Fives trilogy, BURIED HEART, comes out this summer. I was lucky enough to read a draft of it, and it’s definitely a keeper. Jessamy now leads the resistance against the Patron colonisers, while the boy she loves, Kal, finds himself in increasingly uncomfortable situations due to his link with the royal family. In the end, to make her own country rise, Jess is going to have to make the hardest choices of all… Elliott’s worldbuiling is masterful: this is an incredibly nuanced book that repeatedly keeps surprising the reader, and a fitting conclusion to the trilogy.
Yoon Ha Lee’s RAVEN STRATAGEM, the sequel to NINEFOX GAMBIT.
Vic James’s GILDED CAGE (which I got an ARC of) kept me awake way past my bedtime. Set in a dark and twisted version of Britain where magic is reserved to the aristocracy, and where all commoners have to serve for ten years in exchange for privileges, Gilded Cage focuses on Abi, who serves one of the grandest aristocrat families of Britain and finds out their terrible secrets; on Luke, who serves his time in a manufacturing town and dreams of rebellion; and on Silyen, an aristocrat with his own terrible plans. It’s fast-paced, with smart worldbuiling and memorable characters, and I imagine it’ll make much of a (deserved) splash when it’s published.
Leena Likitalo’s THE FIVE DAUGHTERS OF THE MOON is fantasy inspired by the fall of the Romanov dynasty and sounds really intriguing.
Also worth mentioning: Cindy Pon’s WANT, a thriller set in a future Taiwan, Karin Tidbeck’s first novel, AMATKA (which came out last year but which I haven’t had time to check!).
And finally, I don’t know if this still releases in 2017, but Elizabeth Bear’s first book of the Lotus Kingdoms was meant to come out–I absolutely adored Range of Ghosts, her epic fantasy inspired by the Silk Road, and the Lotus Kingdoms os going to take place in the same universe, but further south. I can’t wait.