T10T: But What About the Plants??

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 Settings I’d Like to See More Of (Or At All).

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might already know that I care about atmosphere, and a detailed setting really helps with that. You might also already know that I care a lot about plants – if not, get ready for the inevitable botany-related rants, because today I’m going to talk about what I think is missing from bookish settings, especially fantasy settings.

(Plants. It’s plants. You know me.)

All pictures in this post are mine.


specifically, not-snowy mountains

I don’t know what it is about fantasy books, but apparently their mountains and mountain ranges are either non-existent or always snowy, and the landscape goes from “prairie” to “rocks and snow” immediately. And… that’s not how mountains are, at least, not in all the places I’ve been? Also, I get that snowy mountains are cool as an idea, but if your characters live near them, they should probably know that going on a hike there can be really dangerous, and fantasy books almost never reflect that. (There is, generally, very little about mountain life and what people did to adapt there before modern technology in fantasy books.)

Also, there’s a good chance that in the summer the fantasy snowy mountains should actually look like this:


Which, to me, looks a lot more interesting. Generally, the more there’s plants, the more they’re interesting – ok, I’m studying botany and I’m biased, but the thing about rocks and snow is that there’s usually nothing but rocks and snow and cold, and gazing at the stars at night gets a lot less romantic when your characters are freezing to death. Mountains that aren’t snowy are just so much better as settings, and I wish fantasy reflected that.

Mediterranean shrubland

Do American authors know that the Italian peninsula is a place that existed before and after the Reinassance and also outside of Venice? One wouldn’t think so, from their books.

One thing that really amuses me about Italian-inspired American books is that they’re so obsessed with what they think is the ~Italian atmosphere~ that they will place something you can only find in a very specific place everywhere – like gondole in a fantasy city inspired by Sicily or Florence – but they will never, ever bother to give their settings something that actually feels Mediterranean, because the author only visited the cities (if they’re even ever been here) and didn’t pay any attention to the “macchia mediterranea”, the shrubland biome that is everywhere on our coasts; no, you get generic “woods” or even “plains” instead (which, where? If you’re not writing something inspired by the Po Valley – and why would you, really [sorry, had to] – nothing is ever that flat here).

How does the mediterranean shrubland look like? Here it is:


I might be biased, because part of this year’s botany course involved learning how to tell apart all the shrubs in there, but to me this is far more interesting that anyone’s 100th fake fantasy version of the soulless tourist trap named Venice.

I’d love to see a book that gets the shrubland’s sounds and smells right, that knows what happens to it when it burns (our shrublands have the stressful habit of burning down every twenty years or so) and what happens to it after it burns. A book that knows that the characters living there don’t just see the place as “shrubs”, because some plants are resources – as food, as spices, as fiber – and some can be dangerous. And this goes also for other kinds of settings: more characters in fantasy should know the place they live in. Their lives depend from that.

Interesting coastal settings

There is, overall, a dearth of coastal settings. My city is basically sandwiched between the sea and not-snowy mountains, so I can’t not notice how both are almost absent in fantasy books. And the Mediterranean shrubland, even though it’s beautiful, is far from the only interesting coastal setting. I know – and really appreciate – that I have read some books that got how beautiful tide pools can be, but there’s more, so much more. I am Italian, so I mostly know of fishing villages (you’d think someone would set a book there seeing how well-known the Cinque Terre are?) based on many different kinds of fishing, but I know there are so many ways a coast can look. It’s the boundary between two worlds, and I want to see it more often.

From the overwhelming homogeneity of fantasy settings, I almost think that authors are most likely to base their settings on things they’ve liked in other fantasy books than on real places. Otherwise, I can’t explain why you never see something like this:


[plant life! It tells you all things about the setting, like the fact that this picture, unlike the previous two, was definitely not taken in Italy, but in a place with a completely different climate. There are other non-plant hints, but they’re not as clear.]

Detailed Forests

I love a creepy wood just as much as anyone else, but the fact that the author usually doesn’t bother to describe which trees there are in the creepy forest is disappointing. And lazy writing, I’d say, because a beech forest is radically different from a larch forest, which is different from a chestnut wood (which needs far more human maintenance than a beech one) and not only for the trees but for what grows under them, the lighting, and the overall atmosphere.

These two pictures are of a beech forest and of a larch-and-mountain pine (I’d say Pinus cembra and Pinus mugo?) forest. They look really different, in many aspects, and the atmosphere of the hypothetical books set there would be completely different.

Anyway, a shout-out to Wilder Girls by Rory Power and Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé for actually telling me which trees there were in the creepy forests, even though I didn’t love the books themselves.

Pine Forests

(that actually tell me which kind of pines there are)

I could tell you that I love pine forests – and I do, because there’s something about conifers that makes them unlike other trees in many ways – and that I wish more books were set there. However, “pine forest” is an extremely vague descriptor. Look at Pinus hwangshanensis and how different it is from a Pinus pinaster and from a Pinus longaeva. There are more than a hundred species in the genus Pinus. While one can’t exactly throw around binomial nomenclature in a fantasy novel, one could at least attempt to describe the plant/the wood. From now on, every time I see a only vaguely-described “pine forest” that is supposed to be mysterious, I’ll just assume that it’s made completely of Pinus mugo plants out of spite.

Also: I know the English language likes to apply the world “pine” to basically every conifer, like firs, spruces, junipers, cypresses and even araucarias, which makes the “pine forest” description even more useless.

For example, none of these are actually pines:


[Left to right: a fir (Abies sp.), some spruces (Picea sp.), and an araucaria (Araucaria bidwillii). Not pines, but if someone wrote a fantasy book set in an araucaria forest, I would die of happiness.]

This, instead, is a pine tree – a mountain pine (with a friend):


Underwater Settings

Underwater settings are really uncommon. And in a way I get why, because before modern technologies the sea was a complete mystery – and in part still is even now. However, the thing about fantasy is that you can make everything up, and you don’t need to write a mermaid story to write a story that takes place at least in part underwater.

But I’d love if someone did write a story set underwater, especially if there were no coral reefs involved – I get it, they’re beautiful, but if you’re writing something in a setting inspired by Europe, they’re also out of place, and it’s not like the rest of the underwater world isn’t interesting, or all looks the same (it doesn’t). And you don’t even need to go into the abyss to have an interesting setting; I loved that Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant did, but it’s not necessary – there’s something magical even only about how the light looks when you’re underwater.


Another thing I know from being an underwater photographer: sand, when underwater, is often covered in rainbows. [insert a “the ocean is gay” joke.] You really don’t need coral reefs to make your underwater setting pretty.

Seagrass Meadows

The overly specific underwater setting I’d like to see? Seagrass meadows. I could act like this has to do with the ecological importance of Posidonia oceanica meadows in the Mediterranean sea, or even with the fact that I’ve never even seen them mentioned in fiction (the only book I know that mentions seagrass is A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, but there, it’s the name of a character), but the main reason I’d like to see them in a novel is that I think they’re scary.


When you’re swimming over them, you can’t see anything of what’s under you. And while the chance of anything dangerous being able to hide in something that, after all, doesn’t reach 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) in height is very low, something in my brain is disagreeing.

Kelp forests

I don’t have a picture for this one because they don’t exist in my country and because I’d be far too afraid of them anyway, but I’ve been fascinated with them for so long. They’re algae but they look like trees, and I don’t know if it’s my dendrophobia speaking, but this is the perfect place to set a horror book in. A really aesthetically pleasing horror book, someone who actually has seen a kelp forest in person please write it

Fantasy Cities that Actually Have Plants in Them

Of all the things to complain about, you could say. However, I can think of only one book that actually bothered to describe plant life in a city (a shout-out to The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad for all the gulmohar descriptions).

This doesn’t make sense to me. Many real cities are full of plant life, but fantasy authors seem to think that the only plants that exist are roses, which only grow in beautiful gardens where the main characters can kiss. They don’t see how pretty buildings can get when they’re overgrown with creeping plants, they don’t see the beauty of what can grow over the ruins. Talk me about weeds and unkempt overgrown flowerbeds and what grows in the cracks on the side of the road and I’ll love you.

I walked for a few minutes in my city and took two pictures of the most remarkable plant life I could see. If my city can have them, so can the invented ones in fantasyland.

Schermata da 2019-06-05 13-53-45.png

Interesting Spaceship Design

Finally a part of the post in which Acqua isn’t going to talk about plants!

…joking. As Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee showed me, you can have plants, trees and even koi ponds in your spaceships even when you’re writing military sci-fi. Not only you could, you should.

Apart from the plants: from biological spaceships that are basically an excuse for more gore to more realistic ships in books that actually talk more or less “realistically” about what humans would need to function in space, I really appreciate when it’s clear that the author put some thought into what they were doing, instead of only thinking “yes they vaguely look like the ones in Star Wars”.

TL;DR: Less Generic Settings, More Plants. What do you want to see from SFF settings?


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?


T10T: Favorite Non-PoV Characters

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 Character Freebie. I decided to talk about Non-PoV Characters that I remember just as vividly as (if not more than, in some cases) the PoV ones; some of them might be popular, but far too many don’t get enough appreciation.

The Darkling

Technically, we see his PoV in The Demon in the Wood, but back then he was a preteen, so to me it doesn’t count. Anyway: he is a powerful magician from Shadow and Bone; you probably have already heard of him, but if that’s not the case, the explicit spoilers are blacked out.

  • sometimes, between rereads, I forget just how dramatic he can be
  • the obvious solution would have been (spoiler-y)

    Trying to seduce Mal too, and yet

  • I’m not saying it would have worked but I am saying that it would have been far more entertaining to read and far harder for everyone to disentangle themselves from! I’m disappointed that he didn’t even try
  • But I mean, what can we expect from someone who goes around the country in a Dark™ carriage with Dark™ horses and calls himself the Darkling™ and can cut people in two with his Magical Darkness™ and then acts surprised when people living in a world where darkness can spawn man-eating monsters assume him to be evil
  • also I’ve met characters who made one of his ideas sound more rational than he did. 5/10 try harder (spoiler-y)

    said idea is “let’s save the world with mass murder

  • 10/10 for the aesthetic, however
  • I love him, and I will never not love characters who are competent manipulators but have one (1) functional brain cell when it comes to certain topics [Alina. Alina is the topic, especially the more you go on with the series]

Nineteen Adze

A major side character from A Memory Called Empire, and probably my favorite I’ve met so far this year. I still remember that, when I was trying to write my review, I was trying to say at least a few things about all relevant characters, but for her at the time my brain was still going “!!!!!!!!!!!” and I couldn’t come up with anything coherent for a while.


  • “she could stab me and I’d thank her” was the first vaguely coherent description of her I put together
  • in my defense, Mahit’s reaction to her isn’t too different
  • will this ever not be me with competent and powerful morally gray women who know what they’re doing when it comes to political intrigue?
  • it’s not like I got to see them often and it’s not like I get so see them often today too
  • why is this kind of character literally always a man
  • now I really want to reread this book just because of her

Andan Tseya

I usually don’t get that obsessed with side characters. But there are exceptions, and she is probably the main one.


Raven Stratagem: *is about machinations and mind games during a space war, there’s a known murderous traitor on the loose and a foreign invasion and the big bad is basically doing the space version of watching the whole thing go down while eating popcorn, just with a side of worrying about when it will catch up to him*

Acqua, every time she reads this book: …marry me Tseya

So, who is Tseya? Here’s a few non-spoilery facts about her to introduce the character:

  • she’s an assassin, and, like most people in this book, also a liar
  • while meeting her, you’d probably think that she’s intimidatingly beautiful but really nice
  • (she might or might not be trying to make you lower your guard to kill you later)
  • How could anyone not love Andan “slept with the villain out of spite” Tseya
  • actually cares about interior decor! Her spaceship has plants in it! Yes this is relevant to me
  • find yourself a girlfriend who will gift you passive-aggressive aquariums
  • Also her dynamic with Brezan is everything to me
    • Brezan: I am not going to fall for this
    • Tseya:
    • Brezan: *falls for it, and for her*
  • In case that wasn’t already clear, I am Brezan
  • she’s a trans woman [and Brezan is a trans man]
  • was this post just an excuse to talk about how much I love Tseya? yes
  • I am not sorry

Long Chau

A major character in this Sherlock Holmes retelling set in space. She’s the Sherlock Holmes figure; the narrator and main character is the “Watson” of the story, the sentient spaceship The Shadow’s Child.


  • abrasive, competent women who come off as cold: literary equivalent of catnip
  • especially if they don’t get romantic subplots to make them less cold or something like that
  • yes, narratives about “letting down inner walls” are important, but… sometimes you can also just let the character be like that
  • again, she falls in the “why is this archetype literally always a man” category, but in a different way
  • the “unintentionally rude” way, and I loved that about her
  • I really hope Aliette de Bodard will write another novella about her and The Shadow’s Child

Ilsa Flynn

She’s the main character’s adopted sister in the Monsters of Verity duology, and like him, she is a powerful monster – a Sunai, which means that she feeds on souls.

  • it’s been two years since I read these novels and yet I remember her so clearly
  • star-patterned girl with red hair, quietly beautiful
  • star-patterned monster born of a massacre
  • when August described her as “scattered”, I instantly knew I was going to love her
  • she stands out so much from all the other characters in Schwab’s novels
  • Schwab’s female characters are usually cold, sharp, and always ready to fight; Ilsa… she’s dangerous, really dangerous, but in a different way
  • Things I wish Schwab hadn’t done (spoiler-y)

    I wish Schwab would stop killing off her female characters so often. And in Our Dark Duet she did it twice. Ilsa and Kate deserved better than being fuel for August’s pain. (I think it was her who once tweeted about male authors constantly fridging women and in my head I was like “yes but you do that all the time” and that’s part of the reason I don’t read her new books anymore)

  • anyway Ilsa deserves the world


He is the love interest’s demon servant in the fantasy novel Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson.


  • Shapeshifting demon! The scenes in which he is a cat are the best scenes
  • you know the kind of distant & distinguished character who is collectively dragged into the hellish pit called “caring about humans” by the rest of the cast?
  • he is that character
  • and yet, he is still a demon, so he will care in his very demonic way
  • I’ve never read about anyone quite like him
  • and since he is a very developed and nuanced character, he ended up outshining everyone else, main characters included, even though they were well-written too


The Vathek princess from Mirage, a book I loved mostly because of her, the discussion of colonialism and the effect it has on people, and the aesthetic (space fantasy in which the space aspect is basically just there for the aesthetic? I support it.)


  • another example of “completely outshining the other characters in the book”
  • part of the reason I didn’t love this book was that I felt like she was the only interesting character
  • she has a lot of internalized self-hatred and goes from vulnerable to cruel in the span of a few seconds, but knowing her background, you understand her
  • the main character does too (and kind of wishes she didn’t)
  • it’s an interesting twist on the “spoiled princess who is cruel just to be an obstacle for the protagonist” trope
  • her PoV would be really painful to read from, but so was Amani’s
  • she’s so well-written and I will always be there for books that let women be angry and hurt and… just far from perfect or even good or reasonable
  • I almost feel like female main characters are almost never allowed to be like that (can you imagine how many reviews complaining about unlikability), especially if the story it’s not a straightforward villain origin story, so I get really attached to side characters who are like that


The 17-year-old heiress the main characters kidnap at the beginning of book one. I think this is maybe cheating because I don’t remember if we got her PoV for a few chapters in Ruse, but I started loving her in Want, and I’m sure that in that one we didn’t get her PoV.

  • she does kind of feel like a teenage and less morally gray version of Tseya to me
  • rich and beautiful and also always scheming under a façade of innocence? I love this kind of characters
  • (it’s not a coincidence that in 2017 my pre-review of Want was something like “can I marry Daiyu”: 17-year-old me was also really predictable)
  • sadly, I can’t be specific at all because of spoilers
  • she’s awesome and the best character in the series

Unnamed Character from The Fever King

Said character has a name, and if you’ve read the book you know who I’m talking about. I just don’t want to spoil the book for those who haven’t read it yet, even though it is the most predictable revelation ever (and still amazing to read. Which takes skill. Please read it.)


  • me, for half of the scenes about said character: this is so fascinating, I want to know more!
  • me, for the other half: please die. right now.
  • half of the annotations on my eARC are some version of “shut up and leave [various character names] alone, what’s wrong with you”
  • the more I think about this character, the more I’m horrified
  • is there anyone who is even remotely emotionally healthy in this book?
  • the answer is no
  • and the relationships are worse!

Margot and Angie

Major side characters from A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo, a contemporary novel which is half slice-of-life and half mystery, featuring a toxic f/f/f love triangle.


  • terrible girls! always there for terrible girls!
  • especially terrible lesbians
  • and when I read it, I found Margot really fascinating, because again, she has a role in which you usually don’t see queer women, and she’s… kind of evil
  • seeing how Angie gets caught up in Margot’s clique and drags Jess (the main character) in it? Great content
  • and the way the main character was kind of hate-attracted to Margot and obsessed with Angie? Even better content
  • “no one is even only remotely healthy and the relationships are worse” is a perfect description of this book too
  • (I’d like to be more specific but… too many spoilers, I don’t feel like writing three paragraphs to black out right now, but maybe when I reread the book I will do something like that)

Who are your favorite non-PoV characters? Have you read any of these?


T10T: Books For Younger Acqua

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 technically “Childhood Favorites“, but I thought a list of either relatively popular English books (they have to be, to get translated) and Italian books no one knows outside of Italy would have been dull – and I don’t remember many of them that well.

So what I’m doing today is talking about some old favorites and what more recent books I think younger Acqua would have liked.

Younger Acqua Loved: The Golden Compass


There are many reasons I loved this novel, one of them being how much the idea of a shapeshifting animal companion appealed to me; it being about a girl who is angry and sometimes rude and yet not unhappy and rebelling against evil religious institutions was another very relevant one, due to what was happening in my life when I was in middle school. The escape from Bolvangar is still one of my favorite scenes ever.

Would Have Loved: Dragon Pearl


If I had a time machine, a translated version of this novel (no, 11-year-old Acqua couldn’t read English, but she probably knew her own language better than 19-year-old Acqua does) would be one the things I’d bring with me. Here we have a shapeshifting main character who is actually a magical fox in space, who is a liar and gets in all kinds of trouble: I know 11-year-old me would have found all of this really entertaining. On a more serious note, while this doesn’t talk in any way about religion, it has a casually-but-unapologetically-and-explicitly queer world. Which I really couldn’t find in the books I liked to read.

Younger Acqua Loved: Fairy Oak


You don’t find books like this one in the English market. This is such an Italian story, even though many of the characters have English names and it isn’t really set in Italy.

This [part-fairytale, part-historical fiction, but that feels so timeless it’s like a magical contemporary] fantasy novel is also inspired by the specific culture and language of my region (Italian isn’t the only language spoken in Italy, even though local languages are kind of dying) and my dream would be to write something like that too. Anyway, this is a story about an atmospheric small town, magical plants, and two witch sisters who have to fight an evil that is coming back. It’s beautiful and it’s magical and I’ve never seen another book use mixed media and illustrations (such beautiful illustrations, ancient-looking ones too) the way this one did.

Would Have Loved: Labyrinth Lost


I don’t know any other books that are even vaguely inspired by my region, but I do know a novel about witch-y sisters (well, brujas) and how magic can influence family dynamics. Since this is also a great middle grade-YA crossover, I do think I would have liked it more had I read it when I was younger. It talks about a young girl’s relationship with her culture and said girl is also bisexual; this could have been helpful too.

Younger Acqua Loved: Guerre del Mondo Emerso

[these are the illustrations of the three covers. Art by Paolo Barbieri.]


This is an Italian fantasy series about a girl forced to join a cult of assassins, and I loved many things about it – like the romance, or the fighting, and especially the main character Dubhe herself – but I didn’t love how it took itself too seriously then (I would have noticed certain inconsistencies less if that hadn’t been the case) and I don’t love how overwhelmigly lacking in any kind of diversity it was now. It’s important to me, but like all of Licia Troisi’s books, it could have been so much better.

Would Have Loved: Sorcery of Thorns


This is a fantasy novel that has a somewhat trope-y m/f romance and some creepy aspects, like the previous series does, but that doesn’t take itself too seriously and that seems to understand the concept of diversity (the love interest is bisexual, for example). I really think I would have loved it had I read it a few years ago; I really liked it now, but it doesn’t mean what it could have meant to younger me.

Younger Acqua Loved: The Scions of Shannara


The first trilogy is kind of a Lord of the Rings copycat. The later trilogies are mostly forgettable (at least, the ones I read before stopping were). This one, however, I remember it relatively well, and it’s the kind of older-style fantasy I don’t see that much of anymore, the slow-paced and… epic-feeling fantasy (this world. So many maps. So many unforgettable settings). The characters were mostly underwhelming, but they weren’t what I read these books for.

Would Have Loved: The Star-Touched Queen

This was a difficult one to find a recommendation for: epic fantasy “in the vein of The Lord of the Rings but not quite as heavy” isn’t common anymore, now everything is more Game of Thrones style, and 13-year-old me hated A Song of Ice and Fire.

However, “the characters are kind of forgettable but the settings will stay with you forever for how beautiful and slightly-creepy-to-horrifying they are” is a perfect description of the Star-Touched Queen duology. As non-western ownvoices fantasy was basically nonexistent in Italy when I was in middle school, I think this one is a solid choice. I’m not completely sure I would have liked the writing style, but I had the patience to go through the whole Silmarillion, so I won’t exclude this series just because of that.

Younger Acqua Loved: Il Sogno di Talitha


I’m only counting the first book; there are four in the series, and I read all of them as they got progressively worse (did they really get worse or was I starting to notice just how low-quality the average Italian SFF book is? That’s the question). I loved it because of the worldbuilding – cities built under and over magical trees! magic tied to air! evil magical convent! – despite its many inconsistencies, and because of the atmosphere (undeniably unique).

Would Have Loved: Red Sister


These books have basically the same premise, “girl is forced to join a convent, and the world might or might not be ending soon due to climate events and war”, but this one doesn’t have a romance with a weird power imbalance in it, and has a main character who is bisexual and not completely insufferable (Talitha kind of was). “Dangerous school-like setting but in a possibly evil monastery” is now one of my favorite very specific tropes, and while I was reading Red Sister for the first time I couldn’t stop thinking about the book that started my love for them.

Are there any recently-published books you think you would have loved when you were younger? Have you read any of these?


T10T: Summer Books

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic would be “books on my summer TBR”, but the Spring TBR I wrote this year ended up being such a failure (I read… two out of ten books in all of Spring) that I don’t think seasonal TBRs are something I want right now. Maybe I’ll try again in the fall.

Today, I’m writing a list of books I associate with summer (which I think would be great for your summer TBR, if you haven’t already read them) instead.

The Way You Make Me Feel


This is the first book I thought of when I decided which list I would have written. I have read many books I could describe as cute, summer-y contemporary stories, but none of them were as cute or a summer-y as this one. This is a story about Clara, a girl of Korean-Brazilian descent living in Los Angeles, who is known for being a troublemaker, and the way spending time with her “enemy”, an uptight girl named Rose, while working in her own dad’s food truck (the food descriptions!) helped her grow up and be more responsible. I loved this novel’s focus on family and how atmospheric it was; the main character also had a personality you don’t often see in YA.

[the only flaw: the potential for an f/f hate-to-love romance was right there and yet]

The Gallery of Unfinished Girls


An introspective coming-of-age story set in contemporary Florida (but with a magical twist!), The Gallery of Unfinished Girls has that kind of nothing-is-happening-but-everything-is-changing atmosphere I associate with the long, lazy days of summer. It’s about liminal spaces, about everything that is around you but you can’t quite reach, and it’s such a magical story. Expect this to be character-driven; there might be very little plot, but the main character, Mercedes Moreno (who is Puerto Rican and bisexual), is one of my favorite main characters in all of YA.

Everything Leads to You and You Know Me Well

For me, Nina LaCour’s books always have a season. We Are Okay is one of the most wintry contemporary books I know, while Everything Leads to You and especially You Know Me Well, which she co-wrote with David Levithan, are the perfect summer books. Everything Leads to You is an atmospheric f/f romance involving filmmaking, and You Know Me Well is a book about… the magic of Pride Month (not literal magic, but you get what I mean), friendship between queer people, and also has a cute f/f romance in it.

Wicked Like a Wildfire


This will never not remind me of summer. I don’t know what season it is set in, but it takes place in Cattaro, Montenegro, a town on the northern coast of the Mediterranean sea, and I read it in summer while staying in another, smaller town on a coast of the Mediterranean sea (in Sardinia). This speaks to me of summer the way I experience it, calm blue sea and old buildings and shrubland. It felt so much like home that I barely cared about the plot or the fact that I really didn’t like the main character (Iris was such a clueless straight person, I’m sorry, and her lesbian sister Malina deserved better. Part of the reason I’m interested in book two is her PoV).

The Wicker King & The Weight of the Stars

Kayla Ancrum’s books aren’t summer-y for their atmosphere, as they’re… overall pretty gloomy, since they usually deal with neglected, lost, and struggling teenagers (who succeed and get happy endings, but still). I associate them with summer because they’re very short reads and because I always end up reading them around this time of the year. Of all the seasons, summer is the one that for me is less planned (because no school and  now little university) and these books are on this list to represent the strange and unexpected corners this season can have.

Also: they’re very gay (The Wicker King is m/m/f with a focus on the m/m side of the polyamorous throuple, and The Weight of the Stars is f/f). Please read them.

Summer Days and Summer Nights


It is an obvious choice and I don’t care, this is the first anthology I’ve ever read and it means a lot to me. I have so many good memories associated with it, and all of them feel like summer. (My favorite stories were Leigh Bardugo’s and Nina LaCour’s.)

The Candle and the Flame


What about some summer-y non-western fantasy? I think a desert fantasy book set in a world inspired by the Silk Road is the perfect read for the season, and if you love descriptions (especially food descriptions), stories that focus on community and healing more than they do on individuals, and don’t mind slow pacing when the book is atmospheric enough, I really recommend this.

The Lost Coast


Most of the books I associate with rainy days are novels I’d associate with spring or with summer, but not this one. This is such a “rainy summer day” book, with its witch-y atmosphere and the feeling of being near to the sea and the mist in the woods… and I love this kind of feeling so much. Also, as I said many times on this blog before, it’s gay and it has trees, so if for some reason we share priorities, you really should try this!



If my favorite book Riley Redgate has written, Final Draft, isn’t something I would describe as a summer book in any way, Noteworthy is a much lighter read, and more than anything, the narration in it is hilarious. Also, bisexual Chinese-American main character!

This is a book about a girl dressing up as a boy to join her school’s all-male a cappella group. And while it has the flaws of the typical crossdressing plotlines (I hate the naked reveal scenes so much), this book didn’t handle it as badly as it could have.

The Perfect Assassin


This list has been only YA so far, because I don’t know that many adult books I’d associate with summer (I want to read lighter things in summer, and the adult books I reach for usually aren’t), but here’s an adult fantasy recommendation: some more desert fantasy, but gayer than the average desert fantasy, and set in a city built in the sky over a desert, where water is so valuable it’s literally magical!

What are some books you associate with summer?



T10T: Most Anticipated Releases For the Second Half of 2019

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 Most Anticipated Releases of the Second Half of 2019.

When I wrote my “most anticipated list” at the beginning of this year, I decided to make it from January to August, because those were the books whose covers had been revealed. This time, I’m not making it month for month, just ten books that come out between July and December I really want to read.

First, An Update

Of my “most anticipated books for the first half of the year” I’ve read ten so far. Considering that six of them aren’t out yet, I think ten out of 24 isn’t a bad ratio.

The ones I read are:

Half of them are five stars, there are no one or two stars, and only two three stars! I think that 2019 is the first year I’ve actually written a “most anticipated” list that is working.

My Most Anticipated Books (July-December 2019)

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


I’ve had an ARC of this one since… February, I think? And I still haven’t read it, which is probably a mistake on my part, since this sounds unlike everything I’ve ever read before. There aren’t many adult fantasy novels based on Mayan mythology out there, much less ownvoices one,  and I really liked Certain Dark Things by this author, so this should be a priority for me even if it weren’t for the ARC.

The House of Sundering Flames by Aliette de Bodard


This is the third – and, I think, final – book in the Dominion of the Fallen series, one of my favorite fantasy series and probably the most underrated of them (if you like historical fantasy or paranormal fantasy, especially if diverse, you should try this). Some of my favorite characters will have PoVs in this one!

Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé


The author of one of my favorite books, The Dark Beneath the Ice, has another horror novel coming out this August, and… it looks amazing. I don’t know if it will resonate with me the way her debut did (and I’ve heard this one has an m/f romance instead of f/f, so), but I can’t look away from this cover already.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir


see the flying, screaming skull on the cover? that’s me
[I was going to write something else, but honestly, do I need to?]

Crier’s War by Nina Varela


F/F enemies-to-lovers in a YA fantasy book with dystopian elements! The “dystopian elements” part is worrying me because I’m not the biggest fan, but I’m hearing only good things so far and I’m really optimistic.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo


I don’t know what this is about.
I don’t need to.

A Kingdom for a Stage by Heidi Heilig


I don’t know why almost no one ever talks about this series – it’s amazing, the covers are so pretty, and the inside is just as good (at least, it was for the first book and I hope it’s true for the second one too). It’s just… how many mixed media YA fantasy series do you know, and how many of them have a compelling storyline featuring queer mentally ill protagonists of color? I loved the first book, and there is a small element that is worrying me about this one [can’t say without spoilers], but I hope everything goes great.

Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden


Another of my favorite authors! This should be a story about biological ships, which is already a weird concept, but knowing Nicky Drayden, she’ll make it a hundred times weirder than I can even imagine. I have an ARC and I can’t wait to get to it. Also, 2019 is gifting us such pretty covers.

Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan


My favorite girls! I’m worried because second books are never kind to their protagonists and their romances and the first book was already so… dark and upsetting. However, I can’t wait to be back with the warrior lesbians fighting against tyrannical demons in this Malaysian-inspired world.

The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore


The F/F sequel to The Perfect Assassin, which is also following assassins in the desert, and what can I say other that I can’t wait to be back in Ghadid and that I’m in love with this cover?

What are your most anticipated books? What do you think of these?


T10T: Unpopular Bookish Opinions

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 Unpopular Bookish Opinions.

I might try to keep my blog positive outside of reviews, but the truth will always be that I’ve been introduced to booktube, and then to the rest of the book community, by the unpopular opinion book tag. So I couldn’t ignore this, could I?


↠ I want adult sci-fi to be challenging; if it isn’t, I get bored

I feel like my adult sci-fi recommendations should come with a disclaimer, something like “Acqua liked it, which means that the worldbuiliding is either dense, very bizarre, or on the verge on nonsensical (but she thought it was fun)”

I’ve tried reading adult sci-fi that was more low on the worldbuilding, but… I either didn’t care about it or actively hated it. Because what I like about adult sci-fi, the reason I sometimes say that it’s my favorite genre, is that it’s the only genre that is allowed to be completely out there with the worldbuilding. Trying to figure out the world is part of the fun, and the weirder it is, the better, so throw the overcomplicated weird worldbuilding/technology at me, please.


↠ A few polarizing and/or underrated books I love:

  • Temper by Nicky Drayden: this one got so little visibility, but it’s one of the most original and funny things I’ve ever read. It’s a bizarre fantasy novel set in an alternate South Africa, and I can’t even tell you what it was about, there was so much going on. It was an experience and I really recommend it if you, like me, are always there for weird stories
  • Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee: for a NYT Bestseller, I’ve heard surprisingly little about it, and not all I’ve heard has been good, when… this is probably the only middle grade novel that has managed to keep my attention in years, and it’s such a fun read involving a gumiho in space in a casually queer world. It made me so happy.
  • A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo: the other day, I saw Tillie Walden describe why she loved this book so much, and… same. Contemporary lesbians in a story that isn’t about romance, in a story in which they get to be morally gray, in which they get to be messy and even horny without being flattened to a stereotype. However, many reviews on goodreads see this as bad lesbian rep, and do I disagree


↠ Some authors I can’t get into:

  • Sarah Gailey: I’m seeing more people talk about them lately, as their debut novel came out recently, but: I’ve tried their stories multiple times – both novellas in the River of Teeth series, some shorter fiction, and even some poetry – and I haven’t liked one of them. I almost never one-star short fiction, but the Hugo-nominated story STET even managed to make me angry, so I don’t think I’ll ever try anything by them again.
  • E.K. Johnston: after reading two of her books, I just think she’s incapable of putting together a worldbuilding that doesn’t fall apart because of inconsistencies if you look at it twice. Which makes me sad, because the premises of her (very queer) books always look perfect.
  • Jay Kristoff: I thought the writing in Illuminae read a lot like “edgy preteen”, so I tried something that he wrote by himself and that was adult, Nevernight, which ended up feeling like “edgy preteen with a thesaurus”, and that wasn’t even the worst part – that would be the cringe-y fake Italian-inspired setting. [Gladiatii? Are we serious? But to be honest I quit when a character said “mi Dona” for something that was meant to be the equivalent of “my lady”, probably inspired by the words “mia” (my, singular female form) and “donna” (woman), but “mi dona” means “it suits me” and it’s used for dresses. I… can’t take any of this seriously, I’m sorry]


↠ My problem with many fae books is that in them the fae think almost like a human would, so I don’t get the “blue and orange morality” content

In many popular fae books, the fae are either basically elves with less of an obsession for nature and more superpowers (…A Court of Thorns and Roses), or something that feels like a sad caricature of a high school bully (The Cruel Prince). In both cases, they feel a lot like humans, but I prefer faeries who don’t.

Some examples of portrayals I like:

  • Under the Pendulum Sun is my all-time favorite portrayal of the fae. All of it is a very sick mind game, and the fae in this book can’t be understood by humans, which I really appreciated. Then the book added its own… twist to it. Not going to say more because spoilers, but if you’re into disturbing novels, try this.
  • An Enchantment of Ravens is the demonstration that you can write a fae romance in a world in which the fae are monsters: Rook is more the exception than the rule, and the rest of the fair folk… well, they’re not people anyone would like to spend that much time with.
  • The fae in Never-Contented Things are kind of incidental, as it’s mostly a story about getting out of an abusive relationship, but I loved how cruel for the sake of it they were. They’re monstrous and cold and yet so fascinating (Unselle!) and this is what I want from this kind of stories.


↠ I am instantly wary of any book described as “hopepunk”

If you’ve been there before, you might know that I’m not the biggest fan of grimdark, or of grim stories in general. Hopelessness isn’t something I want from what I read for entertainment. However.

I don’t see the point of hopepunk at all. I mean, the word was created to mean something that, to me, feels like it could be applied to every single book that isn’t grimdark, which makes it functionally useless (it might be that I read a lot of YA, but “as much as we have that core of malice and evil, we also have a huge capacity to do good and to take care of each other and to make the world a better place” could describe 90% of what I read). Which means that almost no one uses this word for books that are dark but human and recognize that things can get better, or even for the average funny YA in which some bad things happen but there’s a happily ever after because the characters learn to stand up for what they believe in (or something like that).

It means that the books that actually get described with it are things that fully intend to beat you over the head with how everything will be fine 🙂 and we’re going to make the world better if we’re kind to each other 🙂 and remember to breathe 🙂 – which to me is just as irritating as the novels that want to convince me that the world is inherently horrible no matter what people do.

I love hopeful stories, but the parts in which they make me feel the hope are the ones that matter, not the ones in which they constantly tell me about it.


↠ Short fiction doesn’t get half the appreciation it deserves

There are very few novels that I think “changed my life”. I can count… maybe three at most? And I’ve read 400+ novels since 2016. I haven’t read nearly as much short stories, but I know of a short story that really changed my life, and the idea that short fiction is somehow lesser or even less impactful than novels is a lie.


↠ I’m tired of certain premises that seem to be everywhere in YA fantasy lately

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about dystopian worlds or retellings of the same five fairytales, but there are three YA trends that, in the last four years, seem to be everywhere:

  • the main character goes on a quest to rescue a sibling we know nothing about
  • the princess who needs to take back the throne or the magician who needs to take back the banned magic (or the magical princess who needs to take back both the throne and the banned magic!)
  • the main character who needs to infiltrate a place where there happens to be a person of their age who works for the opposite side and they’re meant to kill each other but they fall in love instead (sounds very specific? YA is convinced this is the only way to have the enemies-to-lovers trope, so there are a lot of them.)

Sometimes, all three happen at once – looking at you, Ruined by Amy Tintera – and there’s nothing wrong with them, I’d just like YA to understand that if it takes a risk for once, its readers won’t hate it for that. We don’t need to pick three plotlines, do almost nothing but that for 4 years, and then declare them dead for the following decade (see paranormal romances).

Since I don’t believe in complaining without recommendations, a few underrated books that don’t follow any of these storylines:

  • Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton: a dark fantasy story set in an isolated town with a terrible secret, involving polyamory and a terrifying wood.
  • The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad: slow-paced, character-driven silk road fantasy involving intrigue, so many food descriptions, and surprisingly few clichés.
  • The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke: how often do you see stories about women going on a quest because they want to? I certainly never had before.


↠ Adult SFF isn’t all white men, you’re just not looking

19161852If you believe this, I’m going to ask you to look at my post about the Hugo Award Finalists (all adult SFF in various formats) of this year, count the white men, and come back here. And it’s not like it’s a new development of 2019 – the all-agender sci-fi Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie won basically all the awards it could have won in 2013. You probably also know of award-winning N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor, and there are so many others. Could it be better? Definitely, but so could YA.

There are few things that annoy me as much as YA readers who supposedly avoid adult fiction because according to them it’s “all white men”, while in reality they’re reading popular adult fantasy by women and mislabeling it as YA, and avoiding all diverse sci-fi because it’s too complicated or something (just because I like the complicated ones it doesn’t mean they’re all like that! Just… that’s what I’m going to recommend, because I have no intention to lie about what I like?)
To me, these complaints feel as absurd as would one about YA being all white men because John Green is popular.


Part of the reason I tend to avoid some adult fantasy books is that I’m tired of gatekeeping nonsense

[or: I just complained about the YA readership, now let’s complain about the adult one]

Some people will tell you that you don’t have the right to call yourself a fantasy fan unless you’ve read certain authors. If you’ve in some way interacted with adult SFF circles, you probably already have a list in your head – and that’s the fastest way to make me not want to read a book.

Also, I have tried some of them, and… they weren’t even good. Some of my most memorable reactions have been “I’ve never read a book that was so obsessed with boobs and yet at the same time so dedicated to make me understand that it doesn’t know how boobs work” and “please get someone with a sense of humor to proofread your next one”.


↠ Inconsistent and lacking worldbuilding is one of the worst things that can happen to a sci-fi or fantasy book.

I don’t really understand the idea of “the worldbuilding was bad but the characters were so interesting that I didn’t care”.

Characters should feel shaped by their world, and how can that happen if the world doesn’t feel real? I’ve seen what happens in American SFF novels in which the worldbuilding felt like an afterthought: the characters feel, act and talk like modern white Americans.

And yes, I will have a problem if in your fake renaissance Italy novel the characters’ ideas of family and concepts of ethics are those of a modern anglo protestant. at least base their hangups on catholicism. Bad worldbuilding often reminds me that there is a significant portion of Americans who still think of themselves as the default humans.

I’m not going to pretend this made sense in any way, coherence is overrated, but I’d love to know what you think of these things!