This can cover any bookish topic you want: tropes, characters, TBRs, genres, anything!
When I started reviewing, I thought I hated sci-fi. In 2017, it became my favorite genre, and while it’s still not my most-read one (that will probably always be fantasy) it’s the one in which I find most books I love.
Why did I change my mind so drastically? Because I was reading the wrong books.
Here’s the thing: until 2017, I read almost only YA novels. And while YA fantasy convinced me that I needed to try adult fantasy at some point, I hated YA sci-fi, so why would I ever try its adult counterpart?
If you have been on this blog for a while, you might know that I still, for the most part, don’t like YA sci-fi, because YA sci-fi’s worldbuilding is usually weak, unoriginal and also falls apart into nonsense if you look at it twice (especially in the ones set in space). There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part…
Adult sci-fi, however, has been a revelation.
There’s so much that you can do with space. Societies that have rules and norms completely different from our own and from every fake!historical fantasy setting you’ve ever read. Science that is so advanced that the book doesn’t even try to explain it, to us it looks like magic, but the characters talk about it like you’d talk about science (blurred lines between magic and science is one of my favorite tropes).
Space opera doesn’t have to feel like a story following characters that are clearly 21st century white American teenagers in space, and I love that. I love how complicated and dense and weird and alien (even without having aliens! I don’t really care about aliens) it can get.
The first book that made me realize how sci-fi had a lot more potential that “YA m/f romance set on some vaguely-described spaceship” was The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley, which is basically biopunk horror set in living world-ships following an f/f/f love triangle and featuring a villain romance. It has a lot of gore in it and I had no idea what I was going into when I started it but I’m so glad I did.
We love to hate on them, don’t we? I did, but I don’t anymore. I actually want to read more of them.
In 2018, with the anthology Three Sides of a Heart, I realized that novels haven’t explored even half of the potential love triangles have, because so far, they’ve mostly been about straight white people (usually girls) choosing between two other straight, usually white people – usually boys, but it’s not like the “boy has to choose between two girls” combination is any more appealing.
I want messy love triangles that end with no romance, love triangles that end in polyamory, same-gender (especially f/f/f, see The Stars Are Legion) love triangles, and love triangles following marginalized people in general. I have read a few of these, and it’s amazing how fresh and… not cliché it feels when the people at the heart of the story aren’t always from the exact same demographic.
This trope isn’t dead. This trope has the potential to be so much more, and the messier it gets, the happier I’ll be. Please give me feelings and complicated situations instead of the usual “person meets another person who is clearly the love interest and you know that from chapter two, watch me as I try to spin the most deeply uninteresting will-they-won’t-they in history as if we didn’t all know that they’re going to get their monogamous, romantic happily ever after”. (This, also, can be done well and there’s nothing wrong with it, I just want variety.)
- Polyamory is the way: The Wicker King by K. Ancrum (m/m/f), Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton (f/non-binary/m), some short stories in the Three Sides of a Heart [editor Natalie C. Parker] and Twisted Romance [editor Alex de Campi] anthologies.
- Same-gender love triangle: A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo (f/f/f), Empire of Light by Alex Harrow (m/m/m), the short story Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong (f/f/f) and of course The Stars Are Legion.
- All three characters are people of color: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova (f/f/m, all-latinx triangle), Odd One Out by Nic Stone (f/f/m, two of the characters are Black and one is East Asian). The aforementioned Alyssa Wong story is also an all-Asian love triangle.
The Way I Review and Read Reviews
We’ve all read those reviews. Those that, to make two examples, more or less say things like “this book had a love triangle, so it was bad” or “I loved this, but I can’t give it five stars because it was predictable“. I have, because I wrote them, on a blog that doesn’t exist anymore, and in my opinion, this is a really superficial way to review.
Neither predictability nor love triangles make books inherently bad. I’ve already talked about love triangles, they can be bad but they aren’t always – and about predictability, I wrote a whole post about how penalizing books for being predictable often doesn’t make sense, “On Ratings and Being Critical“, of which the TL;DR is “sometimes a book is predictable because you wanted it to go in that direction, which is the most interesting one to you or even the only one that makes sense for the story, and that’s not a flaw” (basically what happened to me while reading The Fever King by Victoria Lee).
The more I read, the less I’m interested in hating on things – on throwing around buzzwords like “instalove” (this word is pretty much meaningless at this point) or “not like other girls” (oh do I love how we use a word created to criticize misogynistic portrayals of women to hate on gender-non-conforming women) where they do not apply. Because they usually don’t, and chances are that if a review of a book published in 2019 uses these words, I won’t trust the review.
I also don’t feel as much the need to justify everything, especially when it comes to my love for weird, for villains and for villain romances. I’m not interested in engaging in purity culture and describing how my reasons for liking villains are Healthy Ways To Like Villains and not like those other women who like villains the wrong way and are sinning, of course. I’m here to have fun, read about terrible people, and unfollow those who engage in the whole “if you like this characters it means that you endorse abuse”, because really, that’s not how I like to spend my free time.
Sometimes I Change My Mind About Books
…because sometimes I’m wrong, because my mood influences how I feel about a book significantly, and because sometimes I just read something at the wrong time.
- I tried to pick up Jade City by Fonda Lee, couldn’t get into it no matter how many times I tried to reread those first few chapters, and DNFed it. I tried again at the end of the same month, still struggled with the writing at times, but ended up loving the characters so much that I rated it a strong 4 stars anyway.
- I read The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi for the first time in summer 2016, and felt “meh” about most of it – I rated it 3 stars. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it stayed with me, and when I reread it in 2017, it became one of my favorite YA fantasy books (and, of course, I changed the rating to 5). That’s what happens when you try to read heavy books during a reading slump!
- Something that has been true for both The Stars Are Legion and Monstress, is that I went into them without knowing they were horror, liked the story but felt so… disgusted by the end that I rated them 3.5 stars. Time and rereads raised the rating of both at a 5. Content warnings are important, especially when it comes to these levels of gore.
I can’t watch horror movies, I don’t even like the idea of getting scared for fun as a concept (why… would I want that. I have anxiety. No thank you.), and yet there are some horror books I absolutely love.
Because that’s what good horror does for me: it makes me think about fear, not only feel it. I’m not here for the shock value, I’m here for what it says about human fears. It’s not a case that one of the novels that has been the most important to me, The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé, is horror – a horror book about anxiety that made me realize some things about my own.
But for the longest time, I thought horror was something that people read to get scared. Which in a way it can be, but that’s not all it is? I don’t like being scared for fun but I’ve discovered that’s not all I can get from horror, and so I reach for it a bit more often than “never”. (Still not often, because it is often emotionally exhausting, I have to say.)
Are there any genres you changed your mind about? Have ever tried to convince yourself you liked a book just because you felt like everyone else did?