T10T: Favorite Book Titles

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 Extraordinary Book Titles.

Before getting to the list: The Drowning Summer by Christine Lynn Herman gets a honorable mention because of how ominous it is. I have no idea whether it represents the book well, but I love it.

Muse of Nightmares


I love this one on so many levels. I have a thing for vaguely ominous titles, but also: the juxtaposition of the figure of the muse (who inspires, classically positive) with nightmares, the idea of the nightmare-bringing magical figure (so many “evil spirits” and similar things in various mythologies were said to bring nightmares, mainly), the idea of that nightmare-bringing figure being… well, if you’ve read the first book, you know who I’m talking about, what kind of person she is. The whole idea is dissonant in all the right ways.

Ancestral Night


Mysterious and elegant, as something ancient rising from the dark; it feels vast like everything in this book does, in a way things in other books set in space never do. After all, this is about space archaeology (with pirates and ancient alien civilizations), and I think this title is perfect.

This Is How You Lose the Time War


Is it, though. 😀

I mean, short fiction (novellas and shorter) gets all the best titles, but this is so… intriguing. And odd, honestly. Also, if you’re not a person who gets tired of lyrical writing and if you think my opinion is worth listening to, you should really really read this book. Find out how to lose a time war with us!

Conservation of Shadows


Oh I love this one so much. There’s no such thing as a conservation of shadows, the back cover tells you straight away, and I wanted to know what that meant the moment I saw it. I thought of beautiful destruction and a rising star as much as I thought of the law of conservation of energy, and since “science words, but make it poetry” seems to be my favorite kind of writing, of course I love this.

The Haunting of Tram Car 015


This is the best kind of weirdly specific and I love everything about it. Haunted houses? Boring. Haunted castles? Also boring. Cabins? Shacks? Manors? Mansions? Boring. Tram cars? I’m so here for it. What is that even supposed to be like.

And you know what makes it even better? It’s a haunted steampunk aerial tram car. Yes, it was just as amazing as it sounds.

The Gallery of Unfinished Girls


This sounds like the beginning of a gruesome murder mystery, but no, it’s a coming-of-age story about art and being a teenage girl and how perfection is unattainable in reality, even more so when you’re unfinished as a person because you’re 17 and there’s no way you know what to do with your life or your art right now, and there’s so much confusion on this cover as well. I love this book, I love its title, I wish more people read it.

Master of the House of Darts


This is the only book on this list I haven’t read (yet? I’m as terrible as backlist as I am at series and this is the final book of a series I haven’t even started that came out in 2016) but I love this title so much. It’s ominous and it has something about the way it sounds that makes me want to know what exactly is this House of Darts immediately.

Dusk or Dawn or Dark or Day


Again, short fiction gets the best titles. This might be the only book I’ve ever read just because of a title? I kept repeating it. Duskordawnordarkorday. After reading it, the title still is the most memorable thing about the novella, which was disappointing, but the way this sounds is everything. The whole dark-light-dark-light thing going on is also a nice touch. The title doesn’t tell you anything about the story, but for once, in a way that actually made sense to me, because it made me want to know more.

Under the Pendulum Sun


What is going on with that sun. Why is it a pendulum. And, most of all, what is going on with that cover was my whole thought process before I bought it. Instant cover buy, and the title did its part. It’s unusual and weird and intriguing and makes sense for the story, which can’t be said about many titles.

A Song for Quiet


We love oxymorons just as much as we love evil eldritch music taking over people and summoning Lovecraftian Old Ones in the middle of the night!

What are your favorite titles? Have you read any of these?

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

38739562With the Fire on High follows Emoni Santiago, an Afro-Puerto Rican teen mother, during her senior year of high school. She has always dreamed of being a chef, and this is the story of her finding out what she wants from her life through her Culinary Arts class. It’s a story about learning to believe in yourself and taking the steps to pursue your dreams even though they feel impossible; about finding a balance between your interests and needs and those of the people around you.
I loved every moment of it.

I loved it for Emoni’s character arc, her growth, for how she learns to believe in herself and make difficult choices about her future. I’m two years older than her, and making this kind of choices is still really anxiety-inducing; I can’t imagine how it would be to have to do that while dealing with the college application process in the US, which sounds like a nightmare.
I loved it for how it talked about the link between food and culture and memory, which is a topic I love to read about, and that matters a lot to me and that I’d love to see more of in books. I had never read of a main character who loved to cook as much as Emoni does, especially not in a book with the smallest maybe-magical twist (Emoni’s food awakens memories in other people and she has a sense for what a dish needs) and it was so refreshing. Also, I loved the inclusion of recipes. Be careful, though – apart from the recipes, the descriptions of food in the story itself are perfect and this is the kind of book that will make you hungry.

Another thing I appreciated was how this book portrayed a romantic relationship in which the love interest had no problem with waiting, with taking things slow, because Emoni needs that after the failure that was her previous relationship. She has responsibilities that the average teenager doesn’t have, as well – babygirl – and that also changes the whole dynamic. While I love reading about messy romances with complicated sides, showing that relationships like this can exist is important.
However, I wish the book had developed Malachi a little more. I did like him, but I never got a sense of who he was as a person apart from being a good boyfriend for Emoni.
Of the side characters, my favorite was Angela – she’s a lesbian and now also in a relationship and I loved her and Emoni’s dynamic, it felt real to me.

Overall, this was a beautifully written and heartwarming read that also encouraged me to learn a little more about my family’s recipes and cooking in general, so I really recommend it.

My rating: ★★★★¾

Acqua and Cooking

For an Italian, I know embarrassingly little about it. Because of past circumstances we’re not going to get into, my cooking skills pretty much stop at “how to hard-boil an egg”, and this book reminded me just how much I’d like that to change. I want to be able to do something more by myself, and I want to learn to cook like my family does. (I’m sure there are many great and easy recipes for beginners on the internet, but this isn’t only about the food.)

When I was eleven, I tried to convince my grandmother to teach me some of her recipes, which I still have written down. I never got around to actually trying them myself, and eight years later (and with help, of course), here we are:

This is called “pesce serra in zuppa“. I’m not sure how to translate that. “Pesce serra” is the Italian common name for Pomatomus saltatrix, known in English as “bluefish”, so this would be “bluefish in soup” if translated literally, but I don’t think this is the kind of thing people think when they hear the word “soup”. Anyway, it was good, so that’s something.

Have you read any of Acevedo’s books?


The Productivity Book Tag

I was tagged by Sahi @My World of Books. Thank you!

It only seems fitting to do this tag (created by Sam @fictionallysam) while I’m procrastinating on The Beautiful – which, by the way, I’m really liking – and on the rest of my October TBR.

1. Planning: a book that is completely thought out.

More often than not, this is the kind of thing you can’t truly appreciate until you reread, which I don’t do often. For example, I think the Shadow and Bone trilogy is really well-plotted and has amazing foreshadowing as far as a YA fantasy series goes, but I have to say that I also reread it many times, and that’s why it stands out to me. The symbolism, the scenes at the beginning and end that mirror each other, inside the same book and with the two other books… what best way to evoke such a fairytale feel? I think many people hate on it for not being Six of Crows instead of appreciating that, for what it meant to be (a simple, almost fairytale-like story about power, the call and the dangers of it), it’s really good. I still have to reread Ruin and Rising to see what I think of the resolution of the thematic arc now (a few years ago, I hated it, but I also didn’t understand what it meant to do). But I still get the feeling that there’s not a scene out of place.

2. Focus: a book that kept your undivided attention


Difficult to do that, when I barely have the time to read! (And when I do, I write posts instead. Apparently.)

Anyway. I read it in May, in which I had more time to read, but In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire is a remarkable example of this, because I usually lose focus completely when it comes to audiobooks, and with this novella, I never did, because both the story and the narration were really good. Also, since I read it while traveling, I associate it with a lot of good memories and nice places.

3. Delegating: a book that should have been a series


I would have loved to get more from The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta. My main complaint, when it came to this book, was the open ending: it even hinted at f/f/f polyamory and now, you can’t just hint at that sort of thing and leave me not knowing whether it will happen? Also, it’s about a group of six girls, there’s definitely enough material for another book at least, for developing them and their dynamic more.

4. Small goals: name a book below 150 pages that you loved


So many of them? To talk about one I haven’t talked in a while, The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard is only 96 pages and yet so memorable. Genderbent, Vietnamese Sherlock Holmes in space! Bots, magical tea and talking spaceships! Terrifying alternate layers of reality! There’s a lot in here and I love this universe.

5. Peak hours: a series you could only read at a certain time


I tried reading Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant almost only while I was at the beach, because with marine horror, that’s the best way to get into the atmosphere, and because nothing is that scary in open sunlight. And it worked! If I ever reread it (or if there will ever be a sequel, I hope so), I will do that again.

Also: if paranormal horror isn’t something you hate, read the book! It’s a really good example of sci-fantasy.

6. Lists: a book that you finally crossed off your TBR


I’m really proud of myself for actually having read The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin this year, after it was on my TBR for at least two years. I didn’t end up liking it, but I’m still glad I managed to read it.

7. Proactive: a book that is/was ahead of its time

I don’t have a real answer, because I almost never read older books. For every older book that sounds vaguely interesting – and most don’t; it probably doesn’t help if your favorite range to pick books up from is “queer SFF that has nothing to do with homophobia”, in which most books are really recent – there are at least ten newer books that sound a lot more interesting, so I never reach for anything old.

However, I hate when people act like queer SFF is an invention of the last three years, so here are two older and explicitly queer SFF books I know of: A Matter of Oaths by Helen S. Wright (1988, I wasn’t even born ten years later) and Carnival by Elizabeth Bear (2006; I was six). I haven’t read them and I don’t know if I will, but (as far as I know) they’re not tragic, and they exist.

8. Declutter: a series you wish you could unread


I almost never finish series if I don’t love the first book, and my reaction to a bad ending is usually “I wish I could change it”, not “I want my time back” – that usually happens with standalones.

Anyway, a series that really wasn’t worth my time back in 2016, when I still tried to finish most things, was Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch. Such a generic, weak YA fantasy with cookie-cutter everything and no depth to it, coming to an even weaker and formulaic conclusion.

9. Multitasking: books that you read at the same time

I… don’t remember? I have done this, but it’s not something that I register, not really.

Now I’m going back to maybe reading The Beautiful! Are you, too, procrastinating on a book?

Book review · Fantasy · Young adult

Review: Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist

40221949Now I have feelings, book, how dare you.

I love ghost stories. It’s not so much about wanting to believe in the paranormal or wanting to talk about what is after death; that’s not what draws me in. It’s that haunting stories are stories about isolation. There’s something inherently detached from reality in this kind of paranormal. They are stories about the word’s hidden pockets, the in-between spaces, for the lonely and the lost. They are about the weight isolation has on a person, and seeing Lexi’s journey with that, seeing how what the story does with this theme, meant so much to me.

Lexi is a bitter and deeply pessimistic person. The first impression I had of this story, before I really got to know her and her past, was that it really was a downer. And it’s not. I’m not saying this just because there is humor – dark and sarcastic, often, but it is funny – but because whether something ends up being depressing is about what a story does with its premise, and this might be dark, but it’s all but hopeless.
And, after all, how could Lexi not be the way she is? She can’t touch people without seeing the time and the cause of their deaths, and she avoids (and is avoided by) people for that reason. Stories often understate how much loneliness can affect a person. What matters is that she is not static in this, and the way the book ends up dealing with all of this was both original and right for the story. (Ghost therapy? Ghost therapy.)
By the way, giving your haunted and isolated main character a power that can double as a metaphor for significant touch aversion, and showing how people often don’t respect that kind of boundary, which only reinforces something that already is really isolating to deal with: great and painful content.

This is a story about an angry, isolated girl who can see death and the dead as she meets an angry, vengeful ghost of a murdered teenage girl (Jane), and their relationship was one of my favorite aspects of the book. In equal parts tender and raw, it’s messy and tangled and somewhat unbalanced, and the main character absolutely do say terrible things to each other, think terrible things about each other, harm each other. And yet. There is a conversation in which Lexi says that she’s not sure they’re going to work, and she thinks that trying and not making it could only hurt her more, but here’s the thing: I can see it working, and in the end, so does she. Because they finally talk about their feelings, and not wanting to deal with them was a big part of why their early interactions were toxic (so much that Lexi at one point thinks, paraphrasing, “I wish Jane would always be angry and vengeful instead of trying to make me think about my feelings”). The elephant-in-the-review I still haven’t talked about, which clearly had a strong negative impact on their relationship while at the same time bringing them together, also had a resolution.

About the relationship: (spoiler-y)

it’s so interesting to see a story about isolation through hauntings have this kind of resolution. Lexi finds friends and a girlfriend in the ghosts around her; they’re not the ones isolating her anymore, they’re a part of her world and just as human and the relationships Lexi ends up forging with them have the same value to her. She can’t be around living people the way everyone does – even though she does find some living friends as well and slowly accepts that they are in fact friends – and so she finds her people mostly among the dead.

But let’s talk about the aforementioned elephant, the reason I haven’t given this f/f ghost story about all the themes I love, following two angry bi girls I also loved, a full five stars. And that elephant is the murder mystery, the thing this book wants you to deceive it is. It’s not, really, even though the mystery drives a significant part of the tension. Get into this if you’re interested in an introspective story about isolation; as a murder mystery, it’s underwhelming. I did fall for one of the things the book threw at me, which I did appreciate, but this is the kind of book that doesn’t give you enough elements to solve the mystery along with the characters, and that’s always disappointing. Also, introducing this many (often irrelevant) male characters in the first chapters of a story meant that I kept confusing them, so that didn’t help either.

Overall, this was a really compelling paranormal read and I really recommend it to everyone who needs more queer ghost stories in their lives.

My rating: ★★★★½

Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden

38914991A biopunk horror generation ship sci-fi novel with a main f/f relationship between two black girls, a strong and well-thought-out environmentalist message, really well written body horror, and, uh, plot-relevant tentacle sex.

I loved what it had to say and what it was trying to achieve, but some things – especially in the ending – just didn’t end up working for me. I’ve said this before about Nicky Drayden’s books, but there’s always something about the pacing, about the transition from one scene to the next, that just doesn’t flow as well as it should. The result is a stilted, odd-paced book. Here, the first 70% was interesting, if somewhat slow moving; then the book both gained steam and completely lost me. Things were happening too quickly, plotlines that were set up as a big deal were suddenly abandoned with very little consequence or even discussion, plot threads were left floating… like tentacles in empty space, I guess.

And it’s a shame, because this had so much potential. Escaping Exodusis set in a giant, dying space-faring cephalopod-like beast, and not only it has all the wonderful biological horror you can expect from this kind of setting, there are also discussions about classism and environmentalism – the dying beast situation is great as a metaphor for Earth and climate change – and how the two are tied; not enough books approach environmental justice even when talking about the consequences that a looming catastrophe of this scale has on people’s behavior. I also highlighted a good portion of one of Seske’s chapters, because I found it a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be a young person in this situation and feeling disappointed by the adults around you. As far as this aspect goes, I loved how the dying beast situation was handled in the end, with a focus on fixing things instead of running away.
However, even this aspect of the novel felt forced. This book felt as if it set out with the idea of having this message, of ending in this specific way, and didn’t give as much thought to the journey: the characters were led to that point as if they were marionettes, instead of getting there themselves.

And it couldn’t have felt any other way, not when the characters are so flat. I finished the book realizing that I still knew nothing about the two main characters, rich, privileged Seske and beastworker Adala, apart from them being young teens and… loving each other? At times? It’s really messy, and I might have appreciated that more, if not for the fact that a lot of things in here didn’t have the space and time to grow.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot to love about Escaping Exodus. I might have been annoyed that this book, after deciding that making sense was overrated, also deliberated that consistency was for the weak, but I thought the worldbuilding was amazing. I love reading about world-ships, and the book goes into enough detail about the anatomy to make me want to know more (so, a primary heart, branchial hearts and tentacles, like cephalopods? But it has bones? Are those tentacles or arms or both? I have questions) and the society that inhabits it was just as fascinating. In Escaping Exoduspolyamory isn’t just accepted, it’s expected, and just as the society has many layers and rigidly assigned roles, so do people in the family; one can see both where these things came from and why they’re damaging or stifling to many people. It’s a matriarchy, which was interesting to see as well. I did like that it talked about what happens to trans people in these circumstances, but I didn’t love how the major trans character basically paid the price for what happened in a way that the cis main characters didn’t.

If I had to describe this in a few words as a tl;dr, I would say that Escaping Exodus feels as if The Stars Are Legion and An Unkindness of Ghosts had a charmingly messy child that takes itself far less seriously than either of them. It reminded me of both, but it’s entirely its own, very weird thing. Not my favorite book by this author, and it had enough material in it that to properly address it I think it should have been a duology, but worth reading nonetheless.

My rating: ★★★


September 2019 Highlights

Welcome to a new post in the Monthly Highlights series, in which I talk about the books I read this month, what happened, and some book-related news.

What I Read

In September, I read five books, which is probably my lowest number ever. This is somewhat less concerning if we consider that all of them were novels and one of them was longer than 1000 pages, but, well: this month was what it was. As there are only five of them, I can take the time to talk about all of them a little.

I spent the first half of the month reading The Ten Thousand Doors of January and Mo Dao Zu Shi (the >1000 novel, of which I also watched two adaptations, see my “out of my comfort zone” post). While the second one definitely took up a lot of my time, together with having to study for the zoology exam, I struggled more with the first; the more I think about it, the more I realize that the only thing I liked about January’s book was the beautiful writing and the parallels I kept drawing in my head between the book’s magic system (doors as bringers of change, instability seen as necessary for the worlds to thrive) and the intermediate disturbance hypothesis (wikipedia page) in ecology. I wish there were more books that talked about the theme of stability as stagnation or atrophy, because I find it really interesting, and that was definitely my favorite aspect of the book.
If you want to know what went wrong (pretty much everything else), my review of this one is already up.

About Mo Dao Zu Shi, all I wanted to say has already been said in the post I linked above, but one more thing I didn’t mention is that I’m not used to reading things that have a big fandom anymore – what happens when you read a lot of ARCs – and being able to consume it while also seeing fan content was a refreshing experience. (Also, it might look like I’m over it? I’m not. You don’t know how much I need more gay necromancer fantasy in my life now.)

I ended the month with Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden. It was even weirder than I expected, which is of course a fault on my part, because I should have known better after reading Temper and The Prey of Gods. But I really didn’t expect the plot-relevant alien tentacle sex scene, and now that I’ve read this book, all I have to say is that I greatly admire The Stars Are Legion‘s restraint in setting a book on a cephalopod-like world-ship like Escaping Exodus did, but not putting any actual tentacle sex in it.
For a more serious review, in which I talk about how much I loved the environmentalist message, what I thought of the f/f romance, and what really didn’t work for me: it should be up tomorrow.

Now, to the books I loved this month. Surprisingly – or maybe not much so, as I’m going through a stressful time and these are always easy to follow – they’re both contemporary-set YA with a magical twist. I have yet to post reviews for both, because I’m bad at scheduling, but I am going to soon.

Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist surprised me because of how addicting it was. I’m struggling to read books in a few sittings lately, and when I read them quickly it’s usually a bad sign (it probably means I’m skimming), but not here. It still took me a few days because real life, but every time I had the time to read, I flew through it. I love ghost stories so much, and stories about gay haunted girls, and I think this would be a great spooky October read for YA readers. I mean, paranormal murder mystery with a dash of romance and lots of angst? Perfect recipe.

And since we’re talking about recipes, With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo – my favorite book of the month – managed not only to make me hungry with its food descriptions, it also made me want to learn how to cook again. I don’t think a book has ever done something like that to me before? This is about an Afro-Puerto Rican teen mother who cooks so well her food is almost (kind of?) magical, and this is the story of how she figures out what she wants in life and how she could get there. Acevedo’s writing is amazing and there was so much heart in this story, just like in The Poet X. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Life Update

There’s not much to say about my non-bookish life apart from the fact that university started again and… *sigh*.

I spent the first half of the month watching things on a screen (see the Mo Dao Zu Shi post), which is unusual for me, and spent a significant amount of time having a lot of feelings about the Fleet Foxes’ newer album, Crack Up, which I got around to listening only now – because if it’s not a book, I’m bad at it. (I don’t even know what I like in music. I have nothing resembling musical taste or something like that; I just kind of stumble on things and come back if I feel like it.) For someone who doesn’t understand the lyrics of the songs she listens to, I appreciated that at some point (I think?) this talks about ossified roses on the oceanside. Maybe it would make more sense in context, but that would make it less weird and that would be no fun, so I don’t want to know.

Also: the botany course started again. You might start getting plant updates again soon! Maybe.

Bookish News

First of all, it was announced that Yoon Ha Lee is writing another book in the Dragon Pearl universe and I’m so here for it. I didn’t keep up with book twitter as much this month, so it’s possible that I missed some interesting cover reveals. If you know some I’m not mentioning that are really pretty, tell me!

Adult SFF

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – I prefer the first book’s cover but I have to admit that they really went there with the skeleton boobplate. I love this on so many levels and I really should read Gideon the Ninth.

The Order of the Pure Moon, Reflected in Water by Zen Cho – Tor.com novellas are always unfairly pretty and this is no exception. Look at it. I’m in love with this cover and can’t wait to read more Zen Cho short fiction. I struggle with her novels, but not her with her short stories, so I hope this will work for me.


There either weren’t a lot of YA cover reveals in September or I was unusually bad at twitter. Knowing how healthy of an environment YA twitter as a whole is, that might have been a good thing.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson – cute! And with a model who actually looks like a teenage girl, on a sapphic book! I hope this is as happy as it looks.

Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran – I appreciate that we’re getting more f/f fantasy releases, but I can’t be the only one who thinks this is greatly underwhelming as a cover. The title’s fond kind of makes me sad, it looks so small and lost in the dark.

How was September for you? Have you read or are you anticipating any of these?

Discussion · Fantasy

Am I Falling Out of Love With Fantasy?

Fantasy was once my favorite genre. A trend I’m noticing – in my ratings, in my favorites, and even in what I add to my TBR now – is that I seem to like it less and less.

This is going to be long! I can’t promise it will be worth it, but here we are.

First, A Disclaimer

Defining what is and isn’t fantasy is complicated, as the line between sci-fi and fantasy can get really blurred, and as some genres are considered fantasy by some and not by others (for example, magical realism, paranormal romance, contemporary with a small speculative twist…)

In this post, I will use the word “fantasy” to mean a book set in a fictional/historical-fictional world in which magic has a significant role, and in which the technology is on average less advanced than our own.

I know this excludes a lot of subgenres, but drawing the line between what can be considered fantasy and what can’t is even more complicated in a contemporary or futuristic setting; as this post does not apply to urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, magical realism and all the subgenres and arguably separate genres one doesn’t immediately think of when the word “fantasy” is said, consider them excluded from the word “fantasy” for the purpose of this post.
I consider urban fantasy a fantasy subgenre, of course – it’s just not what I’m talking about, it’s not a genre I considered a favorite when I was younger. I also didn’t want to say “high and historical fantasy” every time when that’s what most people immediately think of when they hear the word “fantasy” anyway.

The Current Situation

43263188I have rated only one fantasy novel five stars this year. Said novel is The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore (review), and it’s a 4.5 rounded up because the buddy read with Silvia was a great experience. I don’t know if I would have rounded up had I read it on my own; it was fun, but far from flawless, and it doesn’t fully feel like a five star. It’s really the kind of book I’d actually love to have half stars for.

I have loved some fantasy short stories (The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections), novellas (The Ascent to Godhood) and graphic novels (Monstress), but novels… not so much. And I have been reading fantasy novels.

Let’s make a quick, simple list. Of the 91 books I read this year:

  • 33 are not novels (short stories, graphic novels, novellas, collections and anthologies of various genres)
  • 7 are novels I reread (of various genres)
  • which leaves 51 novels.

Of those 51 novels:

  • 17 are fantasy (of which one is a 5 star)
  • 9 are sci-fi/futuristic (of which five are 5 stars)
  • 14 are realistic contemporary or historical fiction (of which four are 5 stars)
  • 11 belong to the “contemporary with a magical/sci-fi/paranormal/horror twist” group (and three of them are 5 stars)

You see, it’s not like I’m not reading fantasy novels. But I’m not liking them, or at least, I’m constantly disappointed by them. Some of the most disappointing books I read this year were hyped fantasy books like The Fifth Season, The Ten Thousand Doors of January and House of Salt and Sorrows. And that’s just counting the ones I finished! I just DNFed Steel Crow Saga, for example, another anticipated release.

If you compare these stats with what I read in 2016 (around 100 books, of which 30+ were fantasy novels for the purpose of this post), yes, I’m also reading a lot less fantasy.

Why Is This Happening?

Here are some possible explanations, and what I think of them.

is the fantasy genre getting worse? I honestly don’t think that’s the case; if anything, I think that in the YA fantasy age range, it’s getting better; at least we’re not still stuck retelling the same 3 fairytales with straight, white main characters as we were in early 2016. I don’t know enough about the recent past of the adult part to say if it’s the same there, but I think we’re seeing a lot more women, more diversity and that’s of course positive. YA fantasy is also taking itself more seriously and that’s a double-edged sword, as some kinds of narratives and clichés just don’t work when you try to write that kind of story, but overall, I think the quality has improved.

I have read too much of it. Well, this is definitely a significant part of my recent dislike, especially when it comes to YA fantasy. YA fantasy is formulaic enough to feel stagnant, and when novels that actually feel like a breath of fresh air – like Six of Crows did back then – the genre’s response is to try and make lesser copycats of them instead of looking for more stories that branch out from the typical YA fantasy structure.
I was starting to feel “YA fantasy fatigue” in 2017, and I was 17 at the time, so I don’t even think it’s a “you’re not the target audience” problem. Teens get tired of reading the same exact story 20 times, too; I don’t think “this might be the first time a reader encounters that story, though!” is that much of a justification – it almost surely isn’t the first time, if said reader reads more than three YA books in a year, and if they don’t, they’re unlikely to reach for the midlist first! It’s almost as if this category almost only ever tries to play safe, and I don’t like that. (The “really formulaic” thing is also true for most YA sci-fi, but that genre has never been my favorite.) I understand that to some YA is kind of a comfort read, but that was not true for me as a teen; I mostly wanted original stories that didn’t go into adult territory, and I truly believe there’s space for both the cliché and the not.
Also, while I think that formulaic diverse stories have a value, I’d love to see publishers understand that marginalized readers might also want diverse stories that are not  formulaic, not “exactly the same plot as popular m/f YA fantasy book, but gayer” or something like that. You can have both. I promise.

⇝ Since I have read a lot of it, I have higher standards. Also true. I know what has been done really often before in fantasy more than I do in other genres. A lot of fantasy books I love, even books I loved this year on reread like Shadow and Bone, aren’t books I’d give five stars to today if I read them for the first time. It’s less about nostalgia (for Shadow and Bone: I read it in 2015 and that isn’t a time I’m nostalgic about, really) and more about that being the first time I experienced this kind of story, with a main character who was almost exactly the same as 15-year-old me; it carries a weight that similar stories could not today. I would still like it, of that I’m certain, but I wouldn’t love it (and would be annoyed by some things that I forgive in fantasy published in 2012 but not now). It would probably be around four stars.

⇝ finding adult fantasy without a serious pacing problem is difficult. It doesn’t make sense to me that adult fantasy is totally fine with taking 200+ pages to get to the point almost every single time, because the more I approach actual adulthood, the more I think I’m not 13 and I don’t have unlimited free time anymore, can you shut up and get there already? For example, Jade City and especially Jade War by Fonda Lee would have been such great books, if not for the fact that half of the text that isn’t dialogue could have been omitted to make a perfectly viable story anyway. Who allowed them to get that long?
And the thing is: adult sci-fi, which has just as complex (and sometimes more complex) worldbuilding, doesn’t have this problem nearly as often, or maybe I’ve been really lucky. It might have to do with the fact that adult fantasy has had a history of being long-winded since basically the beginning? I know nothing about older sci-fi, so I’m not sure how the two compare.

⇝ a lot of fantasy acts as if having a sense of humor could kill it. We‘re very serious people here! This is meant to be Meaningful! Fun is forbidden because here we are Edgy and it’s all about pain! Of course, this isn’t the case for all books, but I wish dark fantasy’s sense of humor weren’t just really occasional sarcasm. I think most of us really are here to have fun – maybe not literally, I think it’s more about being interested and captivated and that doesn’t necessarily mean that the book has to be funny, but I don’t think I’m the only one who finds overwhelming misery overrated, as it’s really easy to come by without needing a fictional world. Balance is everything to me, when it comes to these things, and adding humor to difficult circumstances doesn’t make a story cheaper.
(Though I have to say that when the book has a sense of humor I don’t actually find funny, it gets awkward. See what happened with Steel Crow Saga.)

⇝ something that I also need to remember is that it’s more difficult to tell apart fantasy that isn’t going to work for me. I’m pretty good at guessing which sci-fi I need to abandon within the first chapters; this also works – though not as much – with contemporaries. With fantasy, I struggle. I’m not sure why; I can tell that a sci-fi book does not interest me from the premise but with fantasy I’m not able to do the same as often and end up with more low ratings. However, this does not explain why there are so few high ratings.

What About the Future

I’m still going to be reading fantasy books. Of course. However, I don’t consider it my favorite genre anymore, and I think me and YA fantasy are inevitably going to grow apart, not because I’m not interested in reading about teenagers anymore – I’m not thirty either, but that doesn’t make fantasy stories with adults in their 30s as main characters automatically uninteresting – but because it isn’t doing much for me anymore. Things could change, but if they don’t, my YA fantasy reads will slowly become more the exception than the rule.

I don’t see myself growing apart from fantasy altogether. For example, if it hadn’t been for the problems I had with the romance and portrayals of female characters, Mo Dao Zu Shi (review) would have probably been a five star, and even though it wasn’t, I still couldn’t think about anything else for a week, so yes, I can still love fantasy.

A Few Fantasy Reads I Have High Hopes For

Who knows, maybe I will be able to find a full five star read in the fantasy genre before the end of this year!

⇝ The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
If I ever get to this, which might not happen because I am a coward, I’m actually pretty sure that I’m going to like it. I’ve heard that as far as books this long go, the pacing is great, and what I’ve heard about the characters and worldbuilding was encouraging as well.

Descendants of the Crane by Joan He
I’ve heard this one is slow, but slow YA fantasy is easier to deal with than slow adult fantasy, being on average shorter and lighter. I’ve also heard this has political intrigue and interesting court dynamics and I live for that. I haven’t been reading enough “backstabbing at court” books this year, and I usually like those.

The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams
I’m not completely sure what this is about but it comes highly recommended from people I trust. I’ve heard there are complex villains and queer characters in here, so that’s bound to be interesting. I haven’t heard a lot about the series in general but I’m hopeful.

Have you ever felt like you and a genre were growing apart? What are your current thoughts on fantasy?