I cannot believe it’s that time of year again, friends. I can also hardly believe I read as much awesome SF/F (and related things) as I did in 2016. I read so much that today I get to bring you not only ten of my favourite novels from this year, but a list of my favourite short fiction pieces, collections/anthologies and even some non-fiction!
Now, I didn’t want this list to end up being epically long, so I’ve split each list into two posts. That’s right, you get twice as much awesomeness!
Without further ado, here are my top ten novels* of 2016.
*Technically, nine novels and a novella. But it’s my list and I can do what I want.
I began this series as part of what quickly became a group read over Twitter, and the collective reviews (mine and others) that helped me dig deeper into every book have been an absolute joy to be a part of/responsible for this year. I fell fiercely in love with this series, with its noble (if frustrating) heroes, historical setting, and the marvellous twist on it that lets dragons not only exist but be a part of the world, as invested in the Napoleonic War as any human soldier. And I got to ship some of the characters, which always pleases me. My readthrough is ongoing, and the livetweeting will continue in January! (More news on that very soon.)
This is the series that began what Temeraire continued for me, this year. I’d first experienced this fictional world when I subscribed to Serial Box and got into Tremontaine upon its debut last year, and decided the original novels – Swordspoint, The Privilege of the Sword and The Fall of the Kings (co-written with Delia Sherman) – would fill the gap between seasons nicely. This led to not only a richer understanding of the world, but a much fiercer love of/emotional attachment to the serial when it returned back in October. I am so enamoured of this world and its people that I intend to return to Swordspoint for a reread when Season 2 of Tremontaine ends, to see how my perceptions of it might change…
If I’m a guaranteed sucker for anything, it’s the fantasy work by this author. She writes amazing science fiction as Mira Grant as well (more on that in a bit!), but that’s for my mind. My heart belongs to this kind of thing. Portal fantasy as a trope is all over the genre, but this novella shines thanks to a fresh twist on it, paired with Seanan’s obvious love for the trope itself. Add to that the diversity of sexual representation to broaden its appeal, and it’s no wonder this was a hit with me.
Having read and loved Laura’s YA fantasy with the Micah Grey books (trilogy, soon to be completed!) previously, picking up her first science fiction novel was a no-brainer – and it did not disappoint me. It blends influences beautifully, reading like “Inception meets Orphan Black” with a dash of Blade Runner for good measure. More than just being stylistically impressive, though, this is an emotional heavy hitter, mixing sympathetic MCs with a beautifully tense storyline involving mind-altering drugs, murder, religious cults and Mafia-esque intrigue. As first forays into science fiction go, it’s been a tough one to beat for me this year.
… Though that’s certainly not to say there haven’t been worthy challengers. Take this one, for example. If it’s insane-sounding, genre-blending SF you want, you could do a hell of a lot worse than to pick up this bit of home-grown talent. Ren is a British author I’ve been familiar with (and Twitter-friendly with) for a while, so when her debut novel came out, I snapped it up. Later, as part of this year’s Sci-Fi Month in November, I gave a copy away. I loved it that much. It’s post-apocalyptic cyberpunk, with hackers, gangsters, assassins and pixellated sharks coming out of the god damn walls. Yes, I said pixellated sharks. See the cover? Read it and see, friends. Read it and you will see.
Speaking of worthy challengers, this one will not only hit hard, there’s a good chance it’ll kick you in the nuts and take your money while you’re down. The writer formerly known as Karina Cooper first impressed me with her alt-history urban fantasy (thought I was getting romance, I did; imagine my pleasant surprise!). As Kace, however, she knocked my socks right off with her first SF novel. Riko is not a protagonist who gives a damn what anyone thinks of her, and it shows throughout this book (the first in the SINless series). This one holds absolutely nothing back, and for that alone you might either love it or hate it. Me, I fucking loved it. Count me in for the next book.
A fantasy debut (on the novel list anyway) this time, and it is an absolute cracker. My number one favourite novel is yet to come on this list, but I’ve got to say that this one fought it pretty freaking hard for the top spot. Let’s say that if I had a favourite fantasy novel of 2016, it would be this one. It’s another portal fantasy, but it’s one with another refreshing twist: what happens when your heroic coup attempt fails? Do you get another chance? If so, what will it cost you? For that matter, what will it cost those who side with you (again)? These are the questions Foz Meadows explores the answers to here, and there is a stunningly built secondary world (with wonderful cultures to go with it) to enjoy while we get those answers. Not to mention some pretty sweet f/f romance that I will not say any more about here. You want to know? Get the book. You’re welcome.
Alternate historical fantasy is one growing weakness I am happy to be a victim of, if it brings books like this into my life. Set during World War One, with the twist being that women can enlist as part of the Spirit Corps – mediums who can communicate with the dead. Consider that concept for a minute, and you might see why this book is so intriguing. There’s a tragic romance element as well, as our protagonist gets involved in a murder mystery/espionage plot when her fiance is killed and she’s confronted with his ghost. Whodunits can be great stories in the right hands, and Kowal handles this one – not to mention her setting, both fantastical and historical – beautifully. I read this book in damn near a single sitting, and can’t recommend it highly enough.
Emma Newman got in on the fantasy-to-SF switching act last year with Planetfall, to which After Atlas is her 2016 follow-up – and it is every bit as mind-blowingly amazing as its predecessor. She definitely has a knack for pushing my emotional buttons, and it’s entirely to her credit as well that she explores themes of mental illness and anxiety – another common element in these books – so deftly, with a genuine care for the subject. It results in one hell of a gut-punch in her stories. If unflinching humanity in your science fiction is what you’re after, then this is one writer whose work you should be reading.
I read this book twice this year, once upon buying it and again this month, as part of a Read Along. I don’t have space here to go into all the reasons I love it, but you’ll get that if you check out my Read Along posts. I’ll stick to the facts here:
This is the sequel to last year’s standout, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.
It follows a couple of supporting characters from that novel, and tells their stories in a different but equally interesting narrative style.
That review blurb from the Guardian (lookit the cover, see it?) is on the money.
OH GOD MY FEELINGS. They still have not recovered.
You need this book. You don’t even need to have read the first Wayfarer book, though of course I recommend doing so anyway. You. Need. This.
So that’s it for the long form stuff! Come back tomorrow (that’s New Year’s Eve!), when I’ll be unveiling my favourite short fiction and collected works!