This is probably my favorite post to write. I love writing the other list too, but while I like unpopular opinions sometimes, that’s a post about negativity and disappointments.
This is a post about what I did right. About the books that not only didn’t disappoint, but also surprised me.
It was difficult to narrow this list down, which is a good thing – and some “honorable mentions” which I omitted just because I didn’t want the list to be longer are: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour (a beautiful, short contemporary about grief), Paris Adrift by E.J. Swift (a 2018 contemporary fantasy release about time travel you don’t want to miss) and Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab (a really good ending, even if I liked This Savage Song more).
My favorite book is at the end of the list.
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Strange the Dreamer is a fantasy book about alchemy, a lost city, and the aftermath of a war, but more than anything, it’s about dreams – in both the literal and metaphorical sense. It’s mythical, atmospheric, and Laini Taylor’s writing is flawless.
I love when books manage to be at the same time heartbreaking and hopeful, and when authors do not take the easy way out. And this book never did; I mean, look at that ending, I need The Muse of Nightmares now.
I loved most of the characters (Sarai is my favorite), but even the ones I didn’t love, I understood. But what surprised me the most is the setting – this is not your typical fantasy setting in any way, and its mysteries and history are truly memorable.
The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley
The Stars Are Legion is a biopunk adult space opera with an all-female, all-lesbian cast, set in a system of alien cephalopod planet-ships who are fueled by people but are slowly rotting. Doesn’t all of this sound totally absurd? Yes! And it’s great.
It’s also really messed up. This book has the most disgusting descriptions I’ve ever read (let’s open a vein of the big cephalopod ship and walk through it!), which is usually not something I would consider positive, but here it works. There’s also one of the most messed up love triangles ever (f/f/f with included heroine/villain ship, because why not) and it’s great.
What I loved the most was the worldbuilding, because I had never read anything similar in a sci-fi book and I wanted to know more about it.
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
Look, another sad one.
I don’t usually like sad stories. Most of them feel manipulative – you can feel the effort the author is making to make the reader cry.
But this? They Both Die at the End didn’t feel manipulative at all. You know what’s going to happen from the start, and the author is exploring the concept – and the result was hopeful, in an unusual way. I didn’t cry, and I love this book because of that.
Everything felt real, natural, effortless. I believed in the near-future sci-fi setting, in Rufus and Mateo’s relationship (and they fell in love in less than a day!), in all the friendships. I fell in love with the writing and the characters, even some of the secondary ones who got only a chapter from their PoV.
A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi
A Crown of Wishes is the companion sequel to The Star-Touched Queen, one of my favorite fantasy books ever. I didn’t like this exactly as much because of the main character (Gauri grew on me slowly, too slowly) but everything else was perfect. The writing is beautiful – this whole book is beautiful, and it has some of the best food descriptions I’ve ever read. The competition aspect was more developed than I thought it would be and I loved every moment of it. But what I love the most about this series is the magic – the setting is inspired by hindu mythology, and it’s different from everything I had ever seen before.
Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
The more I think about Wild Beauty, the more I like it. When I first read it, I didn’t think it would get to my list of favorite books of 2017, but part of my initial not-completely-positive reaction was due to the fact that is book isn’t When the Moon Was Ours.
I loved reading about the magical, terrifying story of the Nomeolvides women and the place they live in (and can’t let go), La Pradera. I also loved how this book explored both racism and biphobia without being a story about racism and biphobia, and I loved how the manipulative, entitled character was irrelevant by the end.
Anna-Marie McLemore’s writing is unique and evocative, perfect for this magical realism story, and Estrella is a truly memorable main character. I still can’t get over how beautiful everything in this book was. The only thing I didn’t really like is the love-is-a-curse trope, which I’m not a fan of.
A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo
I didn’t expect this book to be on this list, and I almost didn’t read it. But apparently, books made up of different parts that feel like different books are my thing. I loved the halfway first-third person switch – not only it made sense, but I also found it a very clever idea, it increased the tension.
A Line in the Dark is one of the few contemporary books in which I was able to visualize the setting, and one of the few in which I actually cared about the characters. They’re all flawed, terrible – the main character is kind of a stalker and the other two girls are… worse? – and I love them all so much. I’m so happy I can find ownvoices books about flawed queer girls that aren’t demonized for their flaws, and queer books that aren’t about a romance or a failed romance (I care about neither, but failed f/f romances actively bother me, there are too many of them). Also, I love reading from the point of view of characters who are observers and kind of outsiders to what’s actually happening.
The ending was rushed and I didn’t even care.
Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
Another book I almost didn’t read! I read it just because I liked the illustration on this cover and because I was seeing it a lot on my goodreads feed.
It was one of the best choices I have made this year.
Red Sister is about a convent of assassin nuns, and a girl accused of murder who joins them. For most of the book, Nona isn’t even a teenager, but this doesn’t read like middle-grade at all – it’s adult fantasy, and it has the best action scenes I have ever read.
I loved reading about an all-female cast in a “school” (with lessons about poisons and killing!) setting – there are friendships, rivalries, betrayals, unexpected allies, and crushes – and I loved all the girls.
The worldbuilding was also really interesting and unique.
Edit [June 2020]: after seeing Mark Lawrence’s sexist behavior and comments on the internet and his treatment of reviewers who don’t like his books or dislike his treatment of female characters – and let’s not even mention the Bury Your Gays that happens later in the series – I can’t recommend this book anymore.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
The Bear and the Nightingale was the first book I read in 2017, and it’s one I still think about almost daily. It’s a historical fantasy novel set in medieval Russia and inspired by Russian folklore – especially by the tale of Morozko. It’s magical, dark, beautiful and it feels like a fairytale.
I loved the writing and the many historical details, and the wintry atmosphere makes this the perfect book for the season (I’m rereading it right now, because I want to start 2018 with the sequel). I also really liked the focus on family, magical creatures and religious conflict. Vasilisa is one of my favorite main characters. I mean, you can’t not love this wild, magical girl.
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
I wasn’t expecting this at all. Of course, this is another book I almost didn’t read, because I decide to read a lot of things on a whim and end up liking them more than the ones I was actually anticipating (how many books on my least favorite list was I anticipating? Too many).
But this was so much fun. I dislike comedy and “funny” books, but I didn’t have any problem with the humor of this one (which is not comedy at all). I just find plots about backstabbing characters and impending doom really fun, apparently. The empire is falling apart, humanity may be ending, but the characters were terrible people just in for the money and everyone was acting on incomplete information – it was a glorious mess, I love this book so much.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Underrated backlist discovery! You’d think a book about a brown heroine having a hate-to-love relationship with a genderfluid god of chaos would be more hyped, but I had never heard of this before looking for villain ships and similar concepts. This is even more surprising considering that Jemisin’s other series, The Fifth Season, is hyped by literally everyone and you can’t ask for adult fantasy recommendations without hearing of it (after ten other people recommend you Brandon Sanderson, of course).
This is a story that explores the meaning of inheritances and privilege; what I liked the most about it, apart from the relationship (yes, for once I really liked the romance) was the complex mythology and the worldbuilding. Yes, it’s set in a castle in the sky, which, if you ask me, it’s the perfect place for political intrigue and backstabbing royals. The book delivers.
The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz
I wasn’t expecting this. I wasn’t expecting this at all. The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is one of the 2017 releases that received almost no hype, but it’s also the best YA release of the entire year.
It’s a magical realism story about family and art, it’s a book about in-between moments – all the unfinished, suspended, interrupted things, it’s about growing up and moving on. The synopsis may make you think this is a romance – it isn’t, though the book would have been even better if the f/f romance had actually happened. But I loved the book anyway, and I understand why the author decided not to go in that direction.
The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is eerie, unsettling in the best way, and its magic felt like a less dark, slightly less nonsensical version of Vassa in the Night. I loved all the characters (also: finally an Italian-American side character who isn’t an Italian stereotype!), and Mercedes is probably my favorite protagonist in all contemporary and magical realism books.
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
It’s a decopunk mystery in space written by Catherynne M. Valente. Of course I loved it.
Radiance follows the disappearance of popular actress and then documentarist Severin Unck. It’s set in an alternate version of the Solar System, in which there was life on all planets even before human colonization. As usual, Valente’s writing is flawless.
This book is told through mixed media (usually, narration and transcription of parts of movies) in a non-linear way and the more you go on the more you have no idea of what’s actually happening and what’s fictional and what is real in-universe. It’s truly, completely weird, and the many descriptions of the unusual creatures you can find on the planets make the whole thing even more absurd – with the best imagery. It’s the kind of book in which every name has a meaning, and you discover new things with every reread. I don’t know if I like this or Deathless more.
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
My favorite YA book of 2017 is When the Moon Was Ours. It’s the story of two teenagers, Miel, a latina girl who fell from a water tower, and Sam, an Italian-Pakistani trans boy who paints moons. It is, more than anything, a story about self-acceptance – about how you can be loved even if you still have trouble loving yourself.
It’s a beautiful story with a beautiful message, a magical atmosphere and perfect writing. I loved Miel and Sam both as individual characters and as a couple, and even many of the secondary characters left an impact on me. Some aspects of this book are also kind of witch-y, and that’s always the best thing.
Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
I won’t talk about the plot because Raven Stratagem is a second book, but I can say that I loved every moment, every paragraph of this, and I care about every character, even the villain – anyway, everyone is evil here.
This is a series about the ethics of war that makes you question who is right and who is the villain. It’s the only series in which the character dynamics are truly morally gray I found since Shadow and Bone – only, Machineries of Empire takes everything further, and explores it better (without any love squares).
Yoon Ha Lee’s writing is as subtle as it is powerful, and it manages to develop a complicated faction-based society like the Hexarchate with barely any exposition (which means: no infodumps). The worldbuilding is one of the many aspects I love about this series – the story is set in a space fantasy dystopian society whose magic system is based on math, and this is unlike every sci-fi universe I had ever seen.
Raven Stratagem is also the only book with an aromantic PoV character I’ve ever found.
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
If I had known that Ninefox Gambit was a space opera with an all queer-cast, a math-based magic system, and no romantic subplots whose plot hinges around a 400-year-old mass murderous ghost general, I would have read this sooner.
It was everything I didn’t know I was looking for. It takes the space that is usually dedicated to romance to develop complex non-romantic relationship which made me feel more than any ship ever would. It’s violent and dark without ever feeling depressing, full of political intrigue and space battles, beautiful in an unsettling way.
This series feels like a love letter to math, and I am always here for queer women who are scientists (so far, we have a lesbian mathematician, who is the main character of the first book, and a pan/bi woman who really loves engineering).
Have you read any of these? What were your favorite books of 2017?