As 2019 tipped into 2020, readers started compiling their lists of the best books of the decade. I thought long and hard, but the only book I had any certainty about was the decade’s best: a debut novel from Erin Morgenstern called The Night Circus. With a tenacity matched by few other books, The Night Circus has not left me since I first read it years ago.
The Night Circus is a classic novel that will sit on the highest shelf of my bookshelf, right next to The Hobbit and The Shadow of the Wind. … There’s magic in this novel and it deserves to be read by anyone wanting to be reminded that there is more to life than meets the eye.
Usually when I liken a book to two all-time classic, the comparison begins to show its age as the days, weeks, and years pass?—but not so with The Night Circus. If anything, the comparison seems more fair to me now than it did then, especially after having read Morgenstern’s much awaited follow-up, The Starless Sea. Like Tolkien and Zafon’s novels, The Night Circus is a book for the ages.
This was a lighter year of fiction for me as I focus on completing the first draft of my novel project, The Thousand Shattered Gods, with just one piece eligible for “Best Short Story.” I am also personally eligible for “Best Fan Writer” for the reviews, essays, commentary, news coverage, and other non-fiction work I produced for Tor.com, Barnes & Noble SFF Blog, Uncanny Magazine, here on my blog, and via Twitter. I also had notable (but ineligible for “Best Fan Writer”) work in Kotaku and EGMNOW.
It feels like hype for Tamsyn Muir’s debut novel about necromantic lesbians, bone citadels, rockin’ adventures, tantalizing mysteries, wicked sword fights, and many, many reanimated corpses has been building for YEARS. It was earlier this year, however, when it really started to catch my attention. Isabel Yap, who’s been championing the book since its earliest days, popped onto Twitter and blew my socks off by callingGideon the Ninth “the closest thing to a JRPG in novel form.”
One of the benefits of being a part of the vast SFF community is making great friends. One of the benefits of those great friends is the opportunity to read their books early. I consider myself fortunate to count Sarah Gailey among those friends. They’re smart, funny, dynamic, and have a range to their writing that few other authors can match. I had an opportunity to read their first novel a couple of years ago, back when it had a different title, and it’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve been on the edge of my seat WAITING until it was released ever since then so I could scream at everybody I know to read it. It’s out now, called Magic for Liars, I’ve read the final version, and, y’all, it’s GOOD.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I felt my previous involvement with the novel meant it would be in poor taste for me to review it for a professional venue—but, here on my blog, I can say whatever I want. So:
That one-eyed drake swam up from the ‘glades one stormy night—big as a house, silent as a mouse. Might’ve been the same one that killed my third husband. Who knows? Was watchin’ my stories, mindin’ my own when I saw it through the window. Rose up by the riverside pen, shadow over the moon, wings drippin’ mud, scales blinkin’ star-like, teeth long as a dagger.
“Grandmother Kills Massive River Drake After It Ate Her Goat” is a 630 word flash story about a grandma who rediscovers the thrill of moon magic and embarks on a quest for vengeance after an enormous river drake eats her favourite goat.
The Books of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin Le Guin’s dragons, which Hugo-nominated author and B&N SFF Blog favorite Max Gladstone once described as “the gold standard,” are next to none. They are complex, beautiful, powerful, and melancholy, and they serve many purposes throughout Le Guin’s work, far beyond the standard “gold-hoarding monster” trope. More recently, legendary artist Charles Vess described how it took him years to get Le Guin’s dragons just right. There’s a deeply rooted sense of wisdom in all of Le Guin’s books, but it is perhaps through her dragons that this element of her writing is best embodied. Le Guin redefined what a dragon could be, and we’re still experiencing the rippling effect of her influence over the genre in series like Robin Hobb’s The Realm of the Elderlings or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire.
It’s no secret at this point that I’m a big Magic: The Gathering fan. I’ve been playing the game since I was a wee one in elementary school (I think my first booster pack was Ice Age), and it still holds a large chunk of my attention. (I’m working on a Selesnya Tokens deck on Arena as we speak.) I’m also a pretty big Brandon Sanderson fan. So, Sanderson’s latest novella, a Magic tie-in called Children of the Nameless, is a huge confluence of my favourites.
As a Magic fan, I loved Children of the Nameless, but the best thing about it is that you don’t have to be familiar with the game or its ongoing story AT ALL to enjoy Sanderson’s work.
An excerpt from my review:
By this point, if you’re familiar with Magic or Brandon Sanderson’s fiction, it’s probably safe to say that you enjoy certain elements of fantasy: lots of magic, big set pieces, huge casts of characters, and epic stories. Children of the Nameless is a great coming together of all the things that make Magic, epic fantasy, and Brandon Sanderson’s fiction so great—all in a concise, energetic, and fun package that will appeal to all sorts of readers.
Let’s get this out of the way: Children of the Nameless is a terrific gothic fantasy story regardless of your familiarity with Magic. In fact, for the first third of the book, you wouldn’t even know it was set in a universe that Sanderson didn’t create himself, and even by the end the connections to the game’s ongoing storyline are light and more portentous than anything. Anybody can read and enjoy Children of the Nameless.
I’ve made no secret of how much I adore Avatar: The Last Airbender. I didn’t discover it until a few years ago (after a friend bugged me endlessly to watch it) and my eventual experience bingeing it was life-changing. I wrote at length about what I think makes Avatar: The Last Airbender so magical, but the gist is that Avatar was able to imbue levity and colour into every facet: from its humour and character building, to its plot, worldbuilding, and visual design. It’s an absolutely delightful show, which makes it so much more effective when it hits you with an emotional hammer. I discovered Avatar at a difficult time in my life, and it helped me through a period of (what I now recognize as) depression.
My praise was high:
Avatar: The Last Airbender is a remarkably consistent piece of storytelling that retains its quality from the first episode to the last. In fact, even if pressed, I’d find it difficult to find a point in the entire series where pacing is ever an issue. Every episode, even the sidestory episodes that don’t directly involve Aang’s plot against plight against the Fire Nation, like the previously mentioned “Tales of Ba Sing Se,” all serve a purpose in the tale, revealing more about the characters and their world. There’s not a wasted frame, not a wasted word, and that’s something that can be said about so few pieces of fiction, no matter the medium.
A season of The Legend of Korra (a follow-up set in the same world with some of the original creators involved) was already out when I finished Avatar, and I unabashedly jumped on board, expectations unfairly high. Korra did many things right (and its third season is particularly good), but it’s much more of a roller-coaster in terms of quality compared to its predecessor. Though I enjoyed it in its entirety, and appreciate many of the elements it introduced to the series (Korrasami <3), it failed to capture me in the same way as Avatar. In a lot of ways, Korra was missing the heart and soul that made Avatar so special. It took itself a bit too seriously at times, its storytelling was fraught with melodrama, and thanks to never quite knowing if it would get another season, the pacing of the overall narrative was rocky.
One notable exclusion from the Korra staff was Aaron Ehasz, and now, with hindsight, I realize how many elements of Avatar likely originated with him. Ehasz (along with Justin Richmond) has returned to the world of YA fantasy with a new show on Netflix, The Dragon Prince. In many ways it’s the follow-up to Avatar that I’ve been waiting for.