I dove headlong into a couple of new releases in 2022, but the bulk of my reading consisted of books published these past few years. I’ve listed my favourite entries below in no particular order. You might notice they all fall under the wide umbrella of fantasy and science-fiction; maybe next year’s list will be more varied. Will it be just as queer, though? One can only hope.
A Memory Called Empire & A Desolation Called Peace
At the heart of the Teixcalaan series is the struggle between Mahit’s longing for the empire’s culture and her need to save her people from the ravages of its unquenchable appetite. As an outsider, she loves Teixcalaan for its referential poetry, its intricate protocols, and the outward elegance of its planet-wide city. Yet she must come to terms with the way it devours everything in its path, perhaps including the small colony from which she hails. Mahit is the new ambassador to Teixcalaan—her predecessor died under mysterious circumstances—and what follows is a high-stakes political intrigue and a would-be romance at the heart of which burns the same tension that draws Mahit in and away from Teixcalaan.
Author Arkady Martine was apparently inspired by the Byzantine Empire, and I also find strong similarities with Imperial China at its height. As depicted, Teixcalaan is a place I’d love to visit, despite its problems. Such is the appeal of the beast called empire.
A Master of Djinn
This magical mystery features Fatma, a detective with the Ministry of Alchemy, as she navigates a fantastical version of early-twentieth-century Cairo filled with strange artifacts, avatars of old Egyptian gods, and the apparent return of a powerful mystic who causes trouble throughout the city. And that’s to say nothing of her relationship with Siti, her on-again, off-again girlfriend.
While this is the first novel in the “Dead Djinn Universe,” it follows the events of a short story and a novella by Phenderson Djèlí Clark. There are references to previous cases, but you might think like I did for a while that the author crafted an intricate backstory. I might go back and read these titles, but you don’t need to in order to enjoy the novel.
It’s a fascinating world I hope he returns to in the future.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant
After A Memory Called Empire, switching to this fantasy novel proved a seamless transition. The Traitor Baru Cormorant is political intrigue at its finest and another struggle against a powerful empire, this time from the inside, and this one will tear the heart out of your chest and stomp it into the mud.
While the rest of the series takes a turn that isn’t for me, I can at least recommend this first novel wholeheartedly.
Nona the Ninth
After Gideon and Harrow, you’d think giving us a blank slate of a character in an entirely different environment would turn off fans of the series eagerly waiting for the next book. But pitting us in a seemingly low-stakes narrative with a bunch of kids we don’t know named Hot Sauce, Honesty, and Born in the Morning is a gamble that pays off big time for Tamsyn Muir. It helps that a couple of characters return to let us know the overall plot is still unfolding.
If you haven’t read The Locked Tomb series, it’s about necromancers in space and their sometimes thick-headed cavaliers. Cavaliers serve as both bodyguards and close partners, except for Gideon and her vile mistress Harrowhark. The first title is an enemies-to-lovers mystery dressed as a magical competition to become the God Emperor’s new top necros. There’s murder, yes, but also snark. Each page is dripping with Gideon’s sarcasm and her lack of interest in all things magical. It’s a delightful read, one to which I’ll soon be devoting more digital ink.
The Last Graduate & The Golden Enclaves
I’m tempted to say go read my recent post about the later book, but instead I’ll put it this way: No other series has held my attention or delighted me as thoroughly as Naomi Novik’s Scholomance. If you’re in the market for another helping of snark, this magical school filled with dark creatures that eat students at every turn is a must. And if you’re wondering why people even go to this school, it’s because the outside is worst for mana-filled kids who can’t defend themselves. Naomi Novik has thought through the implications of injecting magic in our contemporary world, and while it makes for compelling worldbuilding, the main character El is worth the price of admission alone, in my opinion.
Jade City & Jade War
What’s that? Non-sapphic recommendations? I had heard great things about Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga, and they were no exaggerations. This gripping narrative about rival clans fighting for control of the city of Janloon introduces us to sympathetic characters who end up doing unspeakable things. Its honour-bound gangsters, kung-fu-movie vibes, and themes of familial duty will punch you in the chest. I’ve already written about Jade City, but I suggest giving the book a try if this pitch sounds at all interesting to you.