The later Foreigner books by C.J. Cherryh: Cherryh’s Foreigner books continue to be some of my favorite science fiction out there. With their emphasis on character, political diplomacy, and a clash of cultures, they’re more intimate and engaging to me than explosiony SF. But they’re still exciting, not to say nerve-wracking; Cherryh’s writing here is a masterclass on how to write heart-stopping books without much plot.
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho: I can’t even tell you much much I loved this book. It’s one of the mostly purely enjoyable things I’ve read all year. It’s smart, thoughtful about issues of gender and race, funny, and empathetic. I loved Prunella and Zacharias and can’t wait to re-read this book, and read more set in this world.
Jaran by Kate Elliott: I’ve read several books by Kate Elliott, but not nearly all her backlist. I kept hearing good things about this one, though, so I gave it a try. Loved the evocative description of the setting, the characters and romance, and the interesting worldbuilding.
Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand: The first full length book in Florand’s new Provence series, I found this one entirely delightful. Matthieu is such a grumpy, warm-hearted bear, and I loved Layla and her journey a lot. Plus, there are gorgeous descriptions of Provence and the rose harvest.
A Wish Upon Jasmine by Laura Florand: This is the second in the Provence series, and I might have even loved it a little more than the first one! I found Jess and Damien to be really strong characters and the way they have to work past their issues really made the book for me. (It’s a plotline that could easily be done really badly but wasn’t here.) Plus, more gorgeous descriptions!
The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein: My friend Jenny had read this one and her review sounded so interesting that I knew I had to pick it up. The idea of the steerswomen is such a different one, and I thought Kirstein showed its implications really well. Rowan is a great character, and her world is by turns beautiful, sad, and surprising.
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie: A lot was riding on whether Leckie would be able to pull off this final book in her first trilogy. She did, with ease. It’s a wonderful look at identity, and community, and family. It’s by turns hilarious and heart-breaking–sometimes on the same page. I can’t wait to read whatever she publishes next.
True Pretenses by Rose Lerner: I loved this one a lot! It’s a historical romance featuring two people with secrets, which sometimes annoys me but which worked really well here. I love Lerner’s books in general and this one in particular because they’re aware of the actual historical moment (no dukes here!), while still being enjoyable to read and having a satisfying conclusion.
Dandy Gilver by Catriona McPherson: These are not in any way great books, but they were exactly what I was in the mood for at one point: fairly well written historical mysteries, featuring a smart female detective. By the later books they’re sometimes a big predictable, and yet I don’t really care.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik: Reading Uprooted felt like reading an old friend for the first time. A friend said that on Twitter (I think it was RJ Anderson) and it’s so true. This is a lovely book in the tradition of my favorite YA fairy tale retellings, and yet not quite. I love Agnieszka and the lovely descriptions of magic, her village, and her friendship with Kasia. I know others have had issues with the romance; for me it worked somehow. This was a joy to read and I’m hoping to re-read it soon.
The Water Devil and The Serpent Garden by Judith Merkle Riley: I absolutely love Judith Merkle Riley’s books, which are great antidotes to the kind of grimdark reading of medieval women. The characters in her books are vital and flawed and funny and totally human. There’s so much wit and warmth and humor in these stories, although they also deal with some important things. I have one of her books left unread and I almost don’t want to read it because then I’ll be done.
Point of Honour by Madeleine Robins: Towards the end of the year, I got into this mood where all I wanted to read was really good alternative histories by and about women. Robins’ Sarah Tolerance mysteries were perfect: Sarah is a wonderful main character and at the same time, Robins conveys a sense of her very human limitations and biases. I wish there were one more book, mostly because I’d love to get a bit more.
Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones: I first heard about this via Liz Bourke, and it sounded like the perfect thing to follow up from Robins’ books above. It’s a great story, set in a fictional European country, with a really interesting system of magic. I especially liked the way Jones treats the relationship between religion and magic here. Margerit and Barbara are wonderful characters and I enjoyed their journey a great deal.
A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar: It took me too long to get around to this one, because when I finally did read it, I loved it! Jevick’s voice is so perfect, and the language and pitch work beautifully. It’s a book that looks at colonialism and racism in a subtle but pointed way. There’s a sequel out next year, I believe, and I’m looking forward to it.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: Augh, this book is full of feels. I almost had the sense that it was written for the Tumblr generation–and I’m including myself in that. So many secrets and betrayals and heartbreaking revelations–and yet it all works! The writing is lovely, especially the sense of the different Londons, and I’m already waiting to be punched in the heart with the next book.
Persona by Genevieve Valentine: This is so different from last year’s Girls at the Kingfisher Club, which I loved, and yet it’s also fantastic. Valentine is clearly a writer to watch out for. Persona takes place in a near-future world, and I liked the way this played out. Mostly, though it was Suyana and Daniel and their story that engaged me immediately and didn’t let me go until the end.