2017 could easily be nicknamed the year of Tansy Rayner Roberts, because I read a bunch of her books and they all ended up on my ‘best of the year’ shelf on Goodreads. Compared with previous years, my favourites list is a lot shorter. Though that does make writing this post easier! I was finishing my degree in Midwifery in 2017 and because that was so demanding, mostly I read an immense amount of fluff. I regret nothing, it was what I needed. So understanding that what appealed to me was largely fluff, in no particular order here’s my best of list for last year:
Musketeer Space and the prequel novella Joyeux by Tansy Rayner Roberts
I loved both of these books, they were filled with adventure, plotty political intrigue, friendship and found family and involved consistently strong character development so of course I fell in love with the characters right from the start. This gender-flipped retelling of The Three Musketeers is an excellent tribute, and space opera is a brilliant setting to do so. I can’t tell you much about this that sounds intelligent and well thought out because I’m just head over heels for it all. I loved it so much I think it will likely become one of my regular rereads (as in both of them, because why wouldn’t I? They’re both excellent)! What Joyeux does slightly differently is introduce us to the original trio of musketeers, take liberties with festivals and the mayhem that can be caused around them, and set you up for the events that happen in Musketeer Space itself. For all of you with goals of reading more space opera, reading more creatively gender flipped stories, more ladies in space who are awesome and diverse, this is an excellent choice.
Trade Me (Cyclone #1) by Courtney Milan
I’ve appreciated Courtney Milan‘s historical romances before, but this book is what got me interested in considering reading contemporary romance again. It was excellently written (of course), and the characters and their falling in love story won me over completely. Although the plot seems to be a simple ‘swap lives’ tale, the execution is masterful and the story is a lot of fun, and has some lovely depth in surrounding relationships as well. The characters live and breath, including the supporting characters which can be rare.
These novellas are ones that I haven’t actually reviewed yet, (oops) but they were definitely among my favourite reads of 2017. Also it’s worth noting that Nnedi Okorafor is a favourite author, as so far I’ve loved everything of hers that she’s written. The first novella tells the story of Binti, the first from her family and from her people to go offworld to university. Tragedy befalls the trip and it changes Binti forever. The second novella tells of Binti’s return home after being at the university for some time, where Binti further uncovers the truth about herself, her family’s history and starts to confront ideas about her future. I have a pre-order for the third novella in this series and am counting down to it’s release (and will likely review all three at once properly then).
Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
I have been a fan of Kate Forsyth’s writing for many years, which meant that when she shifted to writing historical fiction and less fantasy I kept up with her work. Her historical fiction is lush, well researched and brings to light unexpected figures from history – often women featured in fairytales or art. Beauty in Thorns looks at a group of Pre-Raphaelite artists and their muses, telling the story of their romances and gives life to famous paintings that many of us admire today. Beauty in Thorns is not a typical retelling of Sleeping Beauty instead it is focused on how the characters in the story are taken with the fairytale and their inspiration from the story for creating art. It’s a beautiful novel that is thoughtfully written, the characters come to life and it’s easy to fall into the prose. If you enjoy historical fiction this is well worth your time, as are Forsyth’s other historical fiction novels.
This was one of my December reads and it’s getting a lot of attention – richly deserved! This novella is fantastic, bringing the reader back to the universe of Cookie Cutter Superhero (one of the excellent stories from the anthology Kaleidoscope a few years back). I love the Australian backdrop to the stories from this universe, it makes so much sense to me that it almost seems like a near-future alt-universe. I know that sounds like an oxymoron but I’m sure someone else who’s read these will agree with the sentiment – there’s so much about this universe that is true to life. I adore Friday’s character, she reminds me of my favourite Booktubers and her fannish delight over the superheroes is endearing. I love that she admires her mother but also struggles to feel taken seriously, I love the friendships and romance and the various interplay in this novella. It’s filled with snark, optimism, and is an awesome tribute to various fictional journalists such from Lois Lane of Superman to Lynda Day from Press Gang.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
I resisted this early on because ‘murderbot’ does not immediately sell a book to me (although it does sell to most of my various friends on that basis). But once I was reassured of the relative fluffiness of the story I picked it up and am so glad I did! Wow! I love stories about AIs where they’re not ‘the bad guys’ and where they explore the notions of personhood in ways that make me think and also give me some kind of hope that AI sentience doesn’t immediately spell certain doom. Murderbot was adorable and I love that their focus was wanting to do their job efficiently enough so that they could go back to fannishly watching their favourite tv show. Martha Wells does an amazing job in storytelling because the plot in this novella really grabbed me, in addition to the light hearted moments, the significance of what happens in the novella (and I can’t say much because spoilers) was really well executed. I can’t wait for further murderbot novellas, but I also want to read more of Wells’ work.
This is another of the books I really need to review properly, and it deserves the time and effort involved because this was a stand out collection of short fiction. That will be one of my tasks in the coming weeks. I am much more interested in the eco-punk style of fiction than dystopias because generally there’s more optimism involved with a combination of building, fighting, growing and with a focus on change and transformation generally. That’s definitely true of this collection, and it also makes me think about various things in current society and directions we’re going, turning points we’re approaching, and ones that have passed as well. This is a book not just of stories, but of art and poetry, it’s beautifully curated and this tiny summary does not do the book justice – I highly recommend it.
This book is a follow up to An Accident of Stars which I enjoyed immensely last year, and I think overall it is a better book. It picks up not long after where the first book leaves off and it does something that few other portal fantasies tackle, namely the difficulty in coming home, the where have you been, why are you so changed, what’s wrong with you, etc. This is pretty traumatic for Saffron and I’m not surprised that she quickly wants to return to Kena. Meadows writing in this novel is much more solid, everything flows more smoothly in the narrative. Once again I really enjoyed the insight into the characters and how they grew and changed. I also enjoyed the direction of the plot and how intricate it was. I am happy where this novel left things, but if there were to be more novels in this universe I’d love to read them.
Last but not least on my list of favourites, includes the novellas that I listened to through Tansy’s podcast. These included Dance Princes Dance, which is one of the novels from the Castle Charming universe. Twelve Dancing Princesses was never so snarky or queer and filled with banter as this novella is, there’s so much to love and the underlying mystery that Tansy keeps tantalising the reader with continues to unfold. The Bromancers is the third novella in the Belladonna University universe and I swear I keep loving these characters more with every book! This novella features the band members running off to a music festival in the middle of a magical deadzone on the same weekend when a massively popular television show being followed by some of the band members airs their season finale. There’s also a body-swapping mystery, competitive hearth magic and the kind of friendship and relationship interaction that puts hearts in my eyes. There was also Did We Break the End of the World, a short story that was originally published in the anthology Defying Doomsday (also on my reading list, I’m so behind but I’ve heard that it is excellent) . This novella was so thoughtful and really considered survival post dystopia uniquely – scavenging and what is valuable and why, and to who. Also the gradual unfolding of the whole reason behind the end of the world – I don’t want to say too much, I’d be spoiling it and it’s way too good a story for that – go read it in Defying Doomsday or listen to it on the podcast, you won’t be sorry.