Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about what I wanted to see more of in books in 2018. A year later, I have read more than a hundred books… but did I find what I wanted to find?
My 2018 Wishlist
#1: YA space operas with interesting worldbuilding.
After hating so many young adult sci-fi books and loving almost all the adult ones I read in 2017, I wanted to find something I could love in the young adult range too. I can’t say science fiction (specifically space opera) is my favorite genre if I hate so many of them and I can’t even recommend a good one for YA. Having so many bad experiences, however, brought me to read only three young adult books set in space in 2018.
And – surprisingly – I found what I was looking for on the first try. I am talking about the best young adult space opera I’ve ever read, the underrated genre-bending gem A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna, a retelling of the Mahabharata set in space.
Not only A Spark of White Fire didn’t have generic YA sci-fi worldbuilding (which is always vaguely Star Wars-like), it also did some things I had never seen before in space operas: it reads like a YA high fantasy book about political intrigue, and a really good one at that, but it has also a very unique aesthetic because everything is set in space. I loved it and I wish more people read it.
My second try, Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie, fell unfortunately in many cliché and lackluster tropes both regarding the worldbuilding and the plot.
My third try, Mirage by Somaiya Daud, had an amazing, atmospheric setting and solid worldbuilding (there’s a complex exploration of the consequences of colonialism through worldbuilding in this book!) whose aesthetic reminded me of A Spark of White Fire‘s, but I liked it even more because it never broke my suspension of disbelief and the descriptions were more detailed. Unfortunately, I didn’t love the plot as much, but it was technically a YA space opera with great worldbuilding.
#2: Morally Complex Dynamics
“Villain: Bad; Hero: Good” (think Harry Potter) is a boring dynamic. “Villain: Bad; Hero: not so Good but still always far better than the villain” (think Six of Crows) is slightly better but can get boring.
If you’re wondering, I like both Harry Potter and Six of Crows, I just want more. Books that make you question the supposed hero. Villains who might be right in some aspects while very wrong in other, or who manage at least to sound very convincing.
I found what I wanted to find.
As I predicted, Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee had all the quality villain material I wanted it to have, and all the quality morally terrible “””hero””” material as well. Everyone in this universe is the worst and owns it. I love it so much.
If we want to talk about main characters who are the worst, I also read Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, which goes in that direction so much it was disturbing even for me. This book has a weird sense of humor and manages to be disturbing, very fun and overwhelmingly boring at the same time. The fun, for me, was mostly hating on the narrator. I am serious when I say I finished this book out of spite.
#3 Aromantic Characters
…yes and no.
I didn’t find any great SFF with aromantic main characters this year, but I knew it probably wasn’t going to happen, and that last year I was really lucky to find Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee. Seeing Mikodez again as a major side character in Revenant Gun meant a lot to me, anyway.
I did read some books in which I liked the aromantic representation, like the non-romance romance book Syncopation by Anna Zabo, which has great rep of an aromantic character that, for once, isn’t asexual – but adult romance is a genre I don’t really care about, so I can’t say I loved everything that didn’t have to do with the aro rep. I also read and liked Baker Thief by Claudie Arseneault, which also had great (ownvoices) aromantic allosexual representation, but I didn’t connect with it as much as I hoped – I get that writing an aro character that isn’t lonely and is Morally Good subverts stereotypes, but it’s also deeply unrelatable (and Morally Good, Wholesome fantasy is really not my kind of fantasy).
Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp also had solid aromantic (aroace) representation, which would have been so much better if only the main character had used the word only once, so that I didn’t have to read so many book reviews that said “this isn’t asexuality, the main character is aromantic!!” and “I’m so disappointed” (yes, I’m serious) when the main character is obviously both.
I also read Moonshine by Jasmine Gower, a book in which I liked the ownvoices side aromantic bisexual representation.
I also read some books in which the aromantic representation was mediocre, if not bad. The aro rep in Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie was basically a severe case of Tokenism in Space™ masked as “queerness not relevant to the plot!!”, but I’ve read so much adult SFF that does queerness not relevant to the plot well to believe it; and in The Queens of Innis Lear, the aromantic character has no emotions but anger, disdains romance and also dies (all three stereotypes in one character!). I may have liked the book but that was bad.
#4 F/F SF
I found a lot of it! Not all of it was good, but I also found some favorites, and I finally found some f/f couples I love in fantasy settings.
Two of those new favorites are books by Aliette de Bodard, the f/f Beauty and the Beast retelling In the Vanishers’ Palace, and the political fantasy The House of Binding Thorns, sequel of The House of Shattered Wings (which also had an f/f couple). I’m so glad she has written so much quality f/f fantasy content.
Another favorite has been the sci-fi horror Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant, in which an autistic lesbian who is a camera operator and a bisexual marine biologist fall in love while trying to not get eaten by mermaids. Such a great book.
I also found a great f/f fantasy book in the YA age range! It’s Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, which deserves all the hype it got and more. The fact that this book, which is about a queer Malaysian sexual assault survivor, became a NYT bestseller means so much to me.
I found some disappointing ones too, like Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns (boring) and Provenance by Ann Leckie (solid book, mediocre romance), but I’ll try not to dwell on that. There are so many great f/f books, even SFF ones.
#5 Just Give Me More Weird
I did find a lot of very weird books in 2018! I didn’t like all of them, but I’m glad I found so much unusual genre fiction.
Some of my favorites are the fast-paced Temper by Nicky Drayden, a very underhyped book which made me think “WTF am I reading, what was that” at least ten times and I loved all of them; The Wicker King by K. Ancrum, a very unique story about a codependent relationship, polyamory, and what might or might not be magic; and the wonderful, nonsensical Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente. Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko, instead, didn’t work for me as much as I hoped (…I don’t think I got it as much as I was supposed to) but it was really weird and unsettling and I’m glad I read it.
Did I Read That?
I made a TBR at the beginning of the year in which I listed the books I didn’t get to in 2017, and they are:
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – read, ★★
Radio Silence by Alice Oseman – read, ★★
Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst – removed from TBR
Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee – read, ★★★★★
In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente – to read
The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore – read, ★★★
That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston – read, ★
The Wicker King by K. Ancrum – read, ★★★★
Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson – removed from TBR
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant – read, ★★★★★
The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden – read, ★★★★
Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns – read, ★★
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake – removed from TBR
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – read, ★★★★★
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – to read
So, ten read books out of fifteen, three removed from TBR and two still to read. Not bad! Now, the books that were on my mid-year TBR (not writing down the repetitions):
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor – read, ★★★
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer – read, ★★★★
Moonshine by Jasmine Gower – read, ★★★★
Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron – read, ★★
Jade City by Fonda Lee – read, ★★★★
A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna – read, ★★★★★
Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody – to read
Final Draft by Riley Redgate – read, ★★★★★
The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones – read, ★★★
Like Water by Rebecca Podos – read, ★★★★
Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge – removed from TBR
I read almost all of them! Which means that while short-term (monthly or weekly) TBRs never work for me, long-term ones do.
Do you have recommendations for any of the wishlist categories? Have you read any of these books?