T10T: Auto-Buy Authors

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is Auto-Buy Authors.

To not make this simply a list of “favorite authors”, I will only include an author if I’ve read two of their novels/novellas (short stories don’t count).

As I don’t know that many authors I would really describe as “auto-buy”, I wrote a list of five auto-buy authors and five almost auto-buy authors.

Auto-Buy List

Authors I would actually describe as auto-buy.

Yoon Ha Lee

Yoon Ha Lee is the author of my favorite series, Machineries of Empire (Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, Revenant Gun), and of some of my favorite short stories as well – both inside the collection Conservation of Shadows (Ghostweight was the best one) and outside of it (The Knights of Chains, the Deuce of Stars). He also wrote Dragon Pearl, a middle grade that was a really fun read.

On my TBR I have his flash fiction collection The Fox Tower and Other Tales. The only thing I’ve read by him that I really didn’t like was The Vela, a serial novel co-written with Rivers Solomon, S.L. Huang and Becky Chambers (which I kind of saw as “a seamless blend of all the weaknesses of the authors involved”).

Things that are common in Lee’s stories that I love:

  • emphasis on worldbuilding, or, there is a very complex, detailed worldbuilding, but you have to piece it together yourself, as there’s usually very little exposition or direct explanation about how things work (this is toned down in his middle grade for obvious reasons)
  • blurred lines between magic and science: from magic systems based on calendars and mathematics to ancestry-erasing guns explained with a little of physics, there’s almost always either magical science or scientific magic, which are tropes that really appeal to me
  • descriptions that rely on the feel and sound of words just as much – and in some cases even more – than on the visual aspect; a feel of an object rather than the shape of it. Helpful if you’re second-language and my kind of synesthetic, not always helpful in other cases (from reviews, it’s very polarizing)

Aliette de Bodard

She’s the author of one of my “underrated favorite” historical fantasy series, Dominion of the Fallen (The House of Shattered Wings, The House of Binding Thorns and the upcoming The House of Sundering Flames) and of the Xuya series, a series of short stories and novellas about a Vietnamese-inspired space society (my favorite being The Tea Master and the Detective). She also wrote my favorite f/f romance, the Beauty and the Beast retelling In the Vanishers’ Palace, and I can’t wait for the new novella in Of Wars, Memories, and Starlight.

I struggled with her books at first, because the worldbuilding in the Xuya series confused me (I started it in a place that assumed I knew a little more about that universe), but I’m so glad I kept trying, as the only one that truly didn’t work for me was On a Red Station, Drifting.

Things that are common in Aliette de Bodard’s stories that I love:

  • wonderful, atmospheric and really unique settings: from a series set in the ruin of Paris following a magical apocalypse to a palace that feels like a very dangerous version of an Escher litograph, her books always have very vivid settings I’d like to spend more reading time in, even though they’re often the kind of horrible place I’d never want to visit.
  • developed female characters in “unusual” roles: Sherlock Holmes retelling in which Holmes is a competent, somewhat cold woman? Women in many positions of power? Or, are you tired of stories about dead mothers in fantasy and want to read stories in which the main character is herself a mother and still has adventures? Queer women of color in SFF? She wrote all of these things.
  • quieter stories: in her books, there’s often a war in the background, or there has been a war, but she never actually follows the war. Her stories are quieter – I think she described Xuya as “domestic space opera” – and more focused on the characters’ lives than on the exploding parts. I love quiet SFF.

Anna-Marie McLemore

If you’re ever looking for quality YA magical realism, she’s the author you’re looking for. She wrote what might be the best standalone YA novel I’ve ever read, When the Moon Was Ours, and other solid novels like Wild Beauty and Blanca & Roja. Her short fiction is also noteworthy and can be found in the anthologies All Out, Color Outside the LinesThe Radical Element and Toil & Trouble.

The only book by her that didn’t work for me is her debut The Weight of Feathers; it had a lot of elements that reminded me of her later books, but was far weaker than them. I don’t recommend starting from it. On my TBR, I have the upcoming Dark and Deepest Red and Meteor, which she’s co-writing with Tehlor Kay Mejia.

Things that are common in her stories that I love:

  • emotional, romantic, quiet-and-yet-hard-hitting stories: her books are usually quiet stories about latinx girls finding love, which at the same time deal directly with colonialism, transphobia and self-acceptance, colorism and misogynistic stereotypes, or toxic masculinity and abuse. Her stories are lovely and pretty and they have a lot to say, with so much heart.
  • stunning writing: no one writes quite like her. Her style is flowery without becoming heavy, it’s atmospheric and beautiful, and the attention to detail she puts into everything (it’s never just a pumpkin. It’s that specific cultivar of pumpkin. And it might also be a metaphor if you think about it) makes it feel even more special.
  • developed family relationships: in far too many YA books, family isn’t as much an important part in teens’ lives as it is in reality. And I get that, but it’s refreshing to read books talking about extended families in which everyone is close and people help each other, or stories in which the mother-son relationship is wholesome and beautiful and relevant to the story, or even stories which explore the dynamic of a toxic family like The Weight of Feathers.

Leigh Bardugo

She’s been one of my favorite, auto-buy authors since I read Shadow and Bone in 2015. That was four years ago. It almost feels longer. She’s still my favorite YA fantasy author, both for her first series and for Six of Crows. She’s also really good at writing short fiction, and I loved both her collection The Language of Thorns and her short story in Summer Days and Summer Nights.

The only thing I’ve read by her which I didn’t like was Wonder Woman: Warbringer, which was overall mediocre, but I don’t like superheroes to begin with. I still have to read King of Scars and I’m really anticipating the upcoming Ninth House.

Things that are common in her stories that I love:

  • clear, easy to read, and yet atmospheric writing: this is something many YA fantasy authors fail at. She has a very readable style which almost feels ordinary, but she writes atmospheric settings better than many YA authors who tend to over-write. Her style is never too dry or too purple.
  • morally gray characters: what she did with the character of the Darkling might sound obvious today, but at the time, it really wasn’t; and years after, he is still considered one of the best morally gray characters of YA. Then she wrote from several morally gray PoVs in Six of Crows, and I can’t wait to see how messed up Ninth House will get.
  • perfect foreshadowing: with my reread of the Shadow and Bone series, something I noticed more and more was how some of her scenes mirrored and called back to each other, and how flawlessly the foreshadowing was woven into the story since book one. Thinking about it, it’s also true for her short stories and the Six of Crows duology, to a degree.

Kameron Hurley

She was my introduction to space opera with her novel The Stars Are Legion, made me like a subgenre of it I always thought I would hate with The Light Brigade, and surprised me multiple times in her short story collection Meet Me in the Future.

Not everything I’ve read by her worked for me – some of her short stories, when read individually, don’t stand out that much, and I don’t love her Bel Dame Apocrypha universe – but I’ve never disliked anything she has written either, which is something, considering that I’m not that much into gore or violence.
I haven’t read her Worldbreaker saga and I’m not sure I want to, but her upcoming novel Losing Gravity is one of my most anticipated releases for the next few years.

Things that are common in her stories that I love:

  • biopunk horror: I’m not that into gore, but I’m absolutely into everything which is weird and biology-related, and from body modifications to people living inside biological cephalopod-spaceships, there’s a lot of that content in her books. It’s so gross. I love it.
  • discussions of gender, gender roles, and gender-related stereotypes: from stories about all-female worlds to stories in which the main character’s gender isn’t stated until the end or stories about matriarchies, worlds in which there are multiple non-binary genders recognized by the society, I can always expect her to do something interesting with this aspect.
  • the way she talks about war and the role of violence in society with her books and especially in her short stories – it’s often distinctly unenjoyable, which it probably should be, but it’s not depressing, and it’s so interesting to read. So many angles, so much ugly.

Almost Auto-Buy

Authors from which I loved multiple books, and I’m likely to love others, but I either haven’t read enough books from them to be completely sure about the “auto-buy” aspect, or I’m really not interested in their old ones.

Nicky Drayden

I have only read two of her novels so far and I will soon read the third, which I hope won’t disappoint either. She’s the author of three standalone SFF novels, The Prey of Gods, Temper and the upcoming Escaping Exodus, out in October (but I got an ARC!). She’s very high on my list of “authors who deserve far more hype than they get”, but at the same time I understand why her novels are very polarizing. (What is not polarizing are their covers. Just look at those.)

Things that are common in her stories that I love:

  • genre-bending: are these fantasy? sci-fi? Both? Neither? I can’t put them into a box, I can only say that The Prey of Gods is an afrofuturistic apocalyptic sci-fantasy novel in which gods walk side-by-side with AIs and that Temper is an alternate history fantasy novel with steampunk aspects and demonic possession, and that I’m not sure what Escaping Exodus will be.
  • pure weirdness: as you might imagine from the previous point, these books are weird, “WTF did I just read” kind of weird. From flying librarians to dik-dik invasions and religious AI uprisings, there’s… a lot here. I love it.
  • and it’s also great that they don’t take themselves too seriously! The humor is amazing, and Drayden’s books can get dark, but they never fail to make me laugh at some point.

JY Yang

They’re the author of my favorite novella series, the Tensorate (The Black Tides of Heaven, The Red Threads of Fortune, The Descent of Monsters and the upcoming The Ascent to Godhood), and I think they’re also writing a novel at the moment, which… yes, I’d read that for sure.

Not every short story I’ve read by them worked for me, but they wrote some of my favorites, like Waiting on a Bright Moon and Circus Girl, The Hunter and Mirror Boy.

Things that are common in their stories that I love:

  • beautiful descriptions: I love so many things about the Tensorate series, but what made me love right from the first page was the atmosphere. The setting is so vivid, the magic so interesting to read about and… just pretty. There’s something about the way this author writes descriptions that captivates me.
  • they often blur the line between magic and science, and I especially liked how they talked about a conflict between the two in their Tensorate series. I feel like in this sort of stories magic is usually characterized as good, technology as bad, but here they’re really not: they’re tools, and magic has historically been used by the powerful to oppress others.
  • their stories are really queer: Waiting on a Bright Moon is a bittersweet story about lesbians in space, and in the Tensorate, the characters’ concept of gender is different from our society’s, as every child is brought up the same way until they choose a gender. It’s still not flawless, as it’s deeply binarist, but this is explored by the novellas.

Catherynne M. Valente

Saying that she’s an auto-buy author for me would be a stretch, as I’m actually not interested in a lot of her older stories and not sure if I’m ever going to read her middle grade ones. However, if she puts out something new, I will probably read it, since she wrote three of my favorite books – Deathless, Radiance and Space Opera.

A reason I’m not interested in a lot of her older books is that I’ve already tried and disliked some of them – like In the Night Garden or most of the short stories in her collection The Future Is Blue (The Lily and the Horn being the main exception.) Also, some of her older books like Six-Gun Snow White are known to have really problematic representation in them, and I don’t want to read that. On my TBR, I have Palimpsest, which I’m hesitant to try but I’m also really interested in.

Things that are common in her stories that I love:

  • beautiful writing. Some could say that it’s too much, because I won’t lie, it is heavy, but I don’t mind. It’s pretty, and it works, and it’s recognizable – memorable in a way writing often isn’t.
  • the way she talks about the relationship between art and society. Deathless is about the role of stories and what “immortality” might mean, Space Opera is about a musical competition to determine sentience, and Radiance is as much of a decopunk mystery as it is a letter to filmmaking.
  • they’re really interesting to take apart! “What does this even mean” is something I often think while reading her books, which makes them really weird the first time around and even more interesting on reread. I really should reread Space Opera, by the way.

Nina LaCour

After a list of mostly adult SFF authors, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite contemporary authors, Nina LaCour. She wrote one of my favorite contemporaries, We Are Okay, which I’d love to reread this year. I also really liked her light, summer-y f/f romance Everything Leads to You, one of the most well-known (and first) f/f YA contemporaries, and the novel about Pride Month she co-wrote with David Levithan, You Know Me Well.

But the real reason I will always remember her is The End of Love, the short story in the anthology Summer Days and Summer Nights, which was the first thing from the point of view of a girl who liked girls I had ever read (and it was a cute, happy f/f romance). I’m not that interested in her older novels, but if she writes something new, I’ll add it to my TBR instantly.

Things that are common in her stories that I love:

  • atmosphere: one of the main reasons many contemporaries fail to work for me is that American authors usually assume that the reader doesn’t need to read descriptions of how the setting looks like: they already know that. Nina LaCour’s books, however, have always a very vivid atmosphere and never feel like they’re floating in blank space.
  • queer characters: as I said before, she was both my introduction to f/f and one of the first authors to get an unapologetically happy f/f romance traditionally published. Not all her stories have a focus on romance, but all her most recent books have been queer – and if they weren’t happy (We Are Okay is not a happy book), the unhappiness had nothing to do with homophobia.
  • emotional stories on the quiet side: her stories are usually quiet and somewhat slow-paced, and… they give me a lot of feelings. Which is another thing contemporaries often fail at, and hers never have.

P. Djèlí Clark

He is the last on this list not because I don’t love his writing (I do. A lot.) but because so far all I’ve read by him were short stories and only two novellas. Recently, it has been announced that Tor.com will publish at least two more novellas and one novel by him in the next few years, and… I can’t wait. So I had to put him on this list.

He is an author of alt-history novellas and short stories, some set in America (The Black God’s Drums, in New Orleans to be specific, and The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington) and some set in a magical Cairo (A Dead Djinn In Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015).

Things that are common in his stories that I love:

  • vivid atmosphere: as I already said before, this is really important to me, and this is also something that is never missing in Clark’s stories. You can feel the setting as if you were there with the characters, which I will always appreciate.
  • his stories usually blend steampunk with the supernatural: for example, gods and airships in The Black God’s Drums, or djinn and ghosts and tram cars in The Haunting of Tram Car 015.
  • another thing I love about his stories is the diversity, specifically how he portrays diverse cities. It’s sometimes depressing how homogeneous the average fantasy city feels like, and in his stories, many different kinds of people coexist. Not always peacefully, but that’s life, and immensely better than erasure.

Who are your “auto-buy” authors?

18 thoughts on “T10T: Auto-Buy Authors

    1. I see why they’re divisive – they are… weird and sometimes more gory than they need to be, and some of her older books also weren’t that great. But I know that the premises of her stories always sound like something I would hate, and she makes them work. Anyway, I hope her books work for you if you decide to try them!


  1. I bought the Ninefox Gambit trilogy when it was on sale one day and because it was highly recommended by the author of The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang, but I have yet to read them! I do plan to however, and I’m definitely even more intrigued now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve got several authors here that I’ve read and enjoyed too (Lee, de Bodard, Valente, Yang, Clark). I really appreciate how much information you included about each author’s writing–makes it easier to decide if I’d like to try them myself.

    Liked by 1 person

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