I’m perpetually behind on things, constantly catching up on reading, writing, and a myriad of other things and this should come to no surprise to anyone who knows me well, but writing this post has been on my list of things to do for several weeks now. Anyway.
Most of these books were not published in 2017 (because when you have a TBR pile the size of a small mountain, you don’t often get to books the year they are published) but rather I read them for the first time in 2017. Without further ado…
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
This was my first Claire North book, and I think it’s a good introduction to her writing. Harry August is born, lives his life, and then dies. And then he is born again to the same time, the same parents, and as the same person. And whenever Harry dies again, the same thing happens. At some point during his childhood he begins to remember that he’s lived this life before. And because he’s lived it before, he knows the future. Eventually, during one of his lives, he learns there are others like him and some of them have formed a group–The Chronos Club. And because they are born during different times, and they always remember their previous lives, they’ve devised ways of passing messages back and forth from the past to the future through each other. Certain events in history are set, and to mess with them would be *very* bad, Harry is warned.
For a lot of the book not much happens to advance the plot. It’s just Harry living his lives, meeting different people, fellow ‘Chronos’ members and regular people alike. But over the course of his lives he meets some people time and again and he makes some friends. It isn’t until late in the book that things start taking a turn and the actual plot kicks in and you realize the groundwork has been laid for things to go down a certain way. I love that it felt, for a while, very slice of life (or slice of lives!) and then suddenly things are happening. I also love the end which was so emotional on so many levels. I also thought the time travel device was pretty interesting, even if it hurt my brain trying to think about how it worked without creating parallel universes.
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
This is definitely one of the strangest books I read last year (and ever). Sometimes it felt like a dark fairytale where most of the main characters have been horribly abused and have god-like powers and the end of the world is nigh. Our main character is Carolyn, abducted as a child and raised with a bunch of other children in the depths of a vast library where each were given to learn a specific catalog and only their catalog, by a man they only know as Father. When Father goes missing Carolyn sets out to find him, thus our story begins.
What I loved most about this story was how much the author makes us empathize with Carolyn, only to turn that on us late in the story. This is a dark story, and there’s a lot of weird stuff that happens (a LOT of weird stuff) but it’s also a reminder of what it means to be human. If you like reading books that make you wonder what in the hell is happening and why is everything so very weird and kind of fucked up, then this is a book you’ll probably enjoy.
The Future Falls by Tanya Huff
Ok, so this is a bit of a cheat because it’s actually the last in Huff’s Gale Women trilogy, but I thought I’d include it here because even though I didn’t read the entire series last year, I did read the last book in 2017 and I loved the entire series.
The first two books in the series are The Enchantment Emporium and The Wild Ways and all three center around various women of the Gale family, a clan of magic users that are a little unusual (to say the least) and not entirely human. These books are Urban Fantasy but not in the ‘noir’ sense that has taken over the genre as of late. There are encounters with various fae and other magical creatures and, oh, by the way, one of their cousins is part dragon. Yep.
The Future Falls continues the story of Charlie, one of the Gale women that is unusually restless for a family that is all about putting down roots. She’s a musician and a wanderer, and a bit wild with her magic. But because of this, it’s up to her and her dragon cousin to save the world from an impending meteor strike. These books are just such fun romps and I’ll admit this one especially gets a bonus from me for a) angsty romance sub-plot and b) dragons that transform into human shape.
The Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers
Oh, I absolutely adored both of these book so much. They’re the kind of books that made me want to hug them after reading them. In a world filled with grim and dark and also grimdark, it was so lovely to read such a fun space opera infused with a sense of hope.
The first in the series is The Long Way to a Small, Angry, Planet and it centers around a rag-tag crew of a small space vessel that essentially builds space roads (ok, it’s slightly more technical than that) as they journey toward their next job. There are a lot of different aliens on the ship, and a lot of different personalities. Not everyone gets along all of the time, but everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and recognizing that and working together is what makes them such a strong crew. I loved the camaraderie and relationships between the various characters.
The second book is A Closed and Common Orbit. In the sequel we depart from the characters of the first book and get to know an entire new set of people, this time planet side. This story alternates between two main characters; Lovey, an AI system who has been implanted into an android type body, and Pepper, a determined engineer who befriends Lovey. Both character’s stories are equally lovely, hopeful, and also filled with tragedy. But these books aren’t about the tragedy, they’re about rising above it, and carrying on. At first, I was upset to have left behind the other characters only to meet new ones with this book, but I have to say I ended up falling in love with these characters just as much if not more than those in the first book.
There were two other books/series that were also favorites, but I already reviewed them elsewhere.
The Vampire Empire trilogy by Clay and Susan Griffith
Oh, these books were just so much fun! Every once in a while I come across a book or a series and wonder if it was written with me in mind because it ticks so many of my ‘I will probably like this book if it has x’ boxes. This was Vampire Empire for me. First, there are vampires. It’s steampunk. There’s romance. There’s adventure. There’s a badass vampire that fights for humans who is also somehow the lord of a castle and, by the way, he’s a bit of a cat lady. No, seriously. My heart. *swoons*
So, basically the set up is that in mid to late 1800’s a vampire plague swept over most of the world. The vampires can’t deal with the heat (it makes them weak and slows them down) so what was left of mankind retreated to places around the equator. That is how we come to find the royal family of the Equatorian Empire (regrouped from the British Empire) is now living in Egypt. The princess, Adele, has a bit of Not Like Other Girls going on, but I forgive it because these books are so much fun to read. They’re kind of pulpy in a way, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. The Greyfriar is a sort of vigilante who fights against the vampires, but no one really knows much about him. Honestly, one of the things I loved so much about this series is the character of The Greyfriar. He’s almost a bit of an introvert, other than his vampire slaying. He kind of just wants to sit home with his cats in peace and read a good book. I get it, man. I get it.
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
I’ve been told this draws on Hindu mythology, but I’m not at all familiar with it so most of the things it reminded me of were of Greek myths–in particular the tale of Persephone and Hades as well as Eros and Psyche. No doubt that this is love story. All her life Maya, the protagonist, has been told she’s been cursed and that her marriage will bring destruction. Despite this, it’s in a marriage she finds herself, newly made queen to a strange and mysterious land. Her husband is kind, but secretive, and she has a natural curiosity about her (as is natural when finding oneself in such a situation) that threatens to undo everything.
The prose in this was especially lovely, and the story felt haunting at times with a sense of other-worldliness. Because this reminded me so much of two of my favorite myths, I instantly fell in love with this story. It was perhaps a little too neatly wrapped up at the end, but overall it was a great read.
The Lighthouse Duet by Carol Berg
I’ll admit that one of the reasons I loved these books so much was because I participated in a group read-a-long on reddit and that made reading them quite fun. But if the writing hadn’t been so clever, with so many clues and some misdirection, then speculating about what was happening twice a week probably wouldn’t have been as enjoyable an experience.
These books focus on Valen, a mage who has been on the run from a very strict organization that controls mages, and his family, for a long while now. He can’t use too much magic or he risks being detected, so he’s found his way in the world by not always the best of means. It’s to this end that he winds up half-dead, betrayed by his partner, and abandoned outside of a monastery where he seeks shelter and sanctuary. Inside the monastary life is different, and he grows to like it, even as his shadier side wants to cut and run while betraying the trust of the monks. Valen isn’t presented as a good man, but he’s not irredeemable.
One of the great things about these books are the pace. It doesn’t really feel like there’s not much happening, even when there’s really not that much happening. There’s just so much you’re trying to figure out and there’s always new information to process. The other great thing is Valen’s character arc. This is a strength of Berg’s, as I’ve enjoyed it in her Rai Kirah trilogy as well (the last of which I also read last year and loved).
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
This is the second of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series of novellas, which are about kids that went to portal worlds and then returned, and were sent to a boarding school to learn to re-adjust to this world. This one can be read on its own but it’s probably best to read the first one for some context.
Now, I didn’t really love the first book. It started out with some really lovely and atmospheric prose, but then at some point became a murder mystery and I didn’t really enjoy the shift in tone. But I decided to give the second book a chance anyway and I’m so glad I did because this one just blew me away.
This book chronicles the lives of twin sisters Jack and Jill–their lives growing up with parents that think of them more as accessories rather than children with individual wants and needs, and then later as they travel to a portal world that is the place where horror characters exist. Mad scientists, vampires–the lot of them exist in this world.
Overall this book, I felt, was much more consistent in tone. I also really loved the theme–that you shouldn’t try to make people fit into pre-determined boxes and should instead let them be themselves. And the horror aspects were also very well done.
Radiance by Grace Draven
I didn’t expect going into it that I would get as swept up into this book as I did. I love fantasy. And I also love romance. This is probably one of the best fusions of the two genres that I’ve come across.
In a lot of romances the characters start off disliking each other and bickering all of the time (should I blame Pride and Prejudice for this, even though I love that book?). But that wasn’t the case with Radiance, and I love it for that.
In order to seal a treaty between the human kingdom of Guar and the neighboring Kai, the prince of the Kai enters into an arranged political marriage with a human noblewoman. Ultimately, this is a love story, but it’s also a story of culture clash and how people can work to overcome prejudices, get to know each other, respect each other, and love each other.
From the beginning it was clear this would not be like most romances I’ve read. When our two protagonists meet for the firs time, they resolve to make the best of things, even though they find each other physically unattractive and in some ways repulsive. They agree to respect each other and forge ahead in their new life together. I loved that the strife in the book isn’t between the two characters or misunderstandings between them but rather caused by external factors.
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip
Hands down Patricia McKillip has some of the very best prose in the fantasy genre and it’s always a joy to sit down with one of her novels.
Sybel lives alone on her mountain with only her menagerie of fantastic beasts to keep her company. One day a baby is left on her mountain. Sybel, little more than a girl herself, eventually comes to feel for the child and raise it herself. Years pass and eventually a man comes, Coren, and reveals he left the child there and he needs to be returned to where he’s from. Sybel’s life is thereafter upended once again.
Not only is the prose wonderful, but the story is great, if somewhat straight forward. Sybel is used to being left alone by other humans. Sybel is used to making her own decisions. Sybel is used to the wild of the mountain and the company of her beasts. This story is about the changes Sybel undergoes when she moves off of the mountain, starts interacting with other people, and has to decide what are the most important things she values in her life. These decisions don’t come easy, and that much is made clear in this tale. Sybel can be stubborn at times, and isn’t always concerned about manners (she’s a bit wild and skittish like her beasts), but she’s someone I could relate to in a lot of ways. I love stories with great character arcs and I feel like this is one of the best I’ve read.
Ivory trilogy by Doris Egan
I wrote an Author Appreciation post over on the r/fantasy subreddit earlier this year for Doris Egan and the following two paragraphs are excerpts from that post.
These books are fun, fast-paced science fantasy novels with just a touch of a romance subplot on the side. Far in the future humans have colonized other planets, Ivory being one of them. Our pov character is Theodora of Pyrene. Already of two worlds (born on Pyrene and a citizen and scholar of the planet Athena) she finds herself left behind on Ivory when her cruise (space) ship leaves without her. Shortly after all of her documents are stolen and she’s left trying to manage as best she can as an outsider (barbarian by Ivoran standards) without any resources but her wits. She becomes a fortune-teller working a market square. Because, you see, on Ivory there is magic. How it works and why it’s possible on Ivory is great interest to a scholar like Theodora, but she’s much too busy trying to survive to think much about it. Preoccupied with earning enough money for a return trip home, which seems an almost impossible task, this is where our story begins…
I’ve read a number of reviews of these books and most people praise them as being light and fun but with little depth, but I don’t think that’s true about not having much depth. Doris Egan finds plenty of ways to comment on society from the way Theodora reacts to Ivoran ways and compares and contrasts those with other cultures that she’s familiar with. Our own societies are reflected in these cultures. While there’s maybe not a lot of overt social commentary, I’d hesitate to say it isn’t there. Also, in the third book, there is a bit with Theodora dealing with PTSD like symptoms after nearly being killed. Still, these things never detract from the overall light feeling of the books (and the fact that Doris Egan can make stories about a society of people trying to rob and murder each other light and fun is quite a feat in and of itself). These books remain light and fun because of the way Theodora is written, and her observations and reactions to predicaments she finds herself in.
Other Favorites I Reviewed Elsewhere
The Shattered Sigil Trilogy by Courtney Schafer. Check out my review here.
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. Check out my review here.
So, that’s it, those are my absolute favorite reads of 2017. There were a few other books that I’ll call out as honorable mentions below, because I also really enjoyed them, but I didn’t add above because a) this post is already ridiculously long and b) I read 150 novels and manga last year and I liked the majority of what I read and I just don’t have time to write about all of them here. If you want to check out what I’m currently reading or some other things I’ve read feel free to follow me on goodreads.
- Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron
- Stranger at the Wedding by Barbara Hambly
- Breath of Earth by Beth Cato
- Blackthorn and Grim trilogy by Juliet Marillier
- Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
- Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle
- Dreaming Death by J. Kathleen Cheney
- The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold
- The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
- The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard