This list makes no claim to comprehensiveness, even as far as I, the reviewer, am concerned. It’s just a list of books I liked and wanted to talk about at the end of the year. Most have been perhaps a little overlooked. “I think these books are good and that you should read them” is the only uniting factor, and if you think something’s missing, that’s okay! I would like to hear about your books, too!
Light from Uncommon Stars (Ryka Aoki) – Aliens. Demons. Donuts. A sci-fi and fantasy meditation on the sublime power of art and a powerful meditation on families both born and found, this queer-af book will make your heart sing.
Little Thieves (Margaret Owen) – It’s a lovely day in the village, and Vanja is a horrible Goose Girl. Although, to be fair, the whole village made her that way. Enduring a childhood of neglect, abuse, and privation has left Vanja with a bone to pick, and she does it by stealing from the rich and giving to…herself. But when all her many deceptions come back to haunt her, she has to start making amends. Well, that’s what people tell her. Vanja, though, is pretty sure she just needs to scheme bigger.
Black Water Sister (Zen Cho) – Jess and her family know all too well that chasing the American Dream can sometimes lead to heartache and poverty instead of fame and fortune, and they’re moving back to Malaysia to cope. Jess isn’t even sure how life works lately, and she definitely doesn’t know how to handle the dead. Too bad: her grandmother is a spirit who’s back with a literal vengeance, and she demands the use of Jess’s body to enact her revenge. Jess has to figure out how to stand at the crossroads not just of her heritage and her upbringing, but also of the living and the dead, the gods and the mortals, and plenty else besides if she wants her life to be her life at all.
We Have Always Been Here (Lena Nguyen) – Dr. Grace Park, psychologist, understands people, but it doesn’t mean she gets along with them. Preferring the company of androids marks her as the odd one out on an already tense ship, but it may be her only hope once things go very badly sideways. Trapped on a distant planet with no communications and a creeping madness affecting the human crew, Grace is an amazing protagonist to follow through a space survival story. There’s also some very interesting commentary about the future of the human race, which at the outset seems dismally linked to profit and military power, but…well, just read to see where it goes.
Annie and the Wolves (Andromeda Romano-Lax) – Annie Oakley ought to loom larger in our collective consciousness, and Romano-Lax wants to restore her to greater prominence. Obsessive researcher Ruth is our guide to Annie’s life, but as Ruth falls even further into her fixation on a hypothesis about Annie’s inner world, her own world–and maybe time itself–begins to unravel. As usual, Romano-Lax writes with aching tenderness for trauma and grief, but still shows her characters–and us–a way forward.
Last House on Needless Street (Catriona Ward) – The Last House on Needless Street isn’t a book with a twist. No, this book takes so many sharp turns it’s a work of origami, every fold and layer laid out so sharply it’s like a razor’s edge. But when you get to the end, it’s clear why everyone loved this not just for the suspense, but for its astonishing artistry and innovation. The end result is a book like a thousand paper cranes, born from tragedy, ready to soar.
The Absolute Book (Elizabeth Knox) – Another genre-bender, this has demons, fairies, and a cursed text that haunts Taryn long after she’s left her childhood behind. She thought that quietly arranging to avenge her sister’s murder was enough of an end. It was just the beginning.
Star Eater (Kerstin Hall) – Are you missing Gideon and Harrow? Yeah, me too–so come meet Elfreda, a magical nun in a cannibalistic order who is having apocalyptic visions. Is she going insane? Aren’t a runaway revenant and political unrest enough? I loved this utterly original world floating above a nightmare planet, and as long as you can endure the darkness, you will too.
With the hopefully-long and hopefully-relaxing break you have coming, there’s no better time to start in on a nice series. Here are standout books from this year that are part of a series that yes, you probably have to read first, but we promise it’s worth it.
The House of Always – A Chorus of Dragons #4 – Jenn Lyons – Here at Geekly, we’ve reviewed these books, started book groups to rave about them, and even started a podcast about them (look for it in 2022!). We really like these books. So you should read them! Everyone should. They’re amazingly complex books that understand the fantasy genre so well that they turn every trope inside out, and still manage to have so much heart that you want to hug every single character you don’t want to murder (and maybe a few that you do).
Paladin’s Hope – The Saint of Steel #3 – T. Kingfisher – Kingfisher can do horror, YA, and straight fantasy, so it’s no surprise that she can also do romance. These are somewhat angsty, eventually steamy, occasionally violent, and always sweet romances to make you Feel whether you’re a hardcore fan of the genre or not normally someone who dabbles.
Gilded – Rumplestiltskin #1 – Marissa Meyer – The prose and premise may be YA, but this is older YA at the very least. Murder, horror, and yet more murder are the foundation of this otherwise rather sweet romance wrapped in a centuries-old mystery. It shouldn’t work, but it does. That’s Meyer for you, though, so just embrace it, but get ready for quite the cliffhanger ending (the reason this is grouped with the series).
Across the Green Grass Fields – Wayward Children #6 – Seanan McGuire – Even though every other book in the Wayward Children series is technically a standalone, it really helps to have the context of at least the first book in the series. But you’ll want to read all of them once you start, and since they’re novellas, you can definitely make your way through them at a good pace. The sixth book is about a Horse Girl in a world in which every horse-related mythic creature exists, which is both a dream and nightmare come true.
The Last Graduate – The Scholomance #2 – Naomi Novik – Bad-tempered El and good-haired hero Orion are back, and their many, deadly problems have multiplied even after they saved the school in the last book. They’re about to face graduation, only now El has friends she needs to protect. Friends! What a pain! Not at all convenient for a dread mistress of evil! Ugh, I love El so much.
How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories – Folk of the Air #3.5 – Holly Black – Though technically it’s a standalone novella, that’s more because it doesn’t extend the central narrative of the trilogy. You really have to have read the other books for it to make sense, but once you have it’s a wonderful way to revisit Jude, Cardan, and their deadly-lovely world in Faerie.