’Tis the season for Top Ten lists, but I couldn’t narrow things down that much (let alone do any kind of list for the entire decade), so here are my top 17 books that I read in 2019. Most, but not all, of these books came out this year. They are in no particular order. They are not meant to be a definitive take on SFF and/or YA publishing in 2019, as we are now at the point where not even the most dedicated reader can get to everything coming out. All I can say is that they are my favorites, and I recommend them without reservation. Happy reading!
The Little Snake (A. L. Kennedy)– It’s very, very like The Little Prince except that it’s about death and then friendship, and not the other way around.
Heroine (Mindy McGinnis) – McGinnis was brave enough to tackle the topic of opioid addiction, tenacious enough to do a staggering amount of research, and talented enough to get it right. Brava.
Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars (Kai Cheng Thom) – Magical realism hits hard in this story of a young femme learning how to live and love on the Street of Miracles, and how to be free in a world that wants to confine her.
The Merciful Crow (Margaret Owen) – A no-holds-barred adventure that deals with privilege and power at every turn. Many of the scenes are still seared on my brain, and Fie’s wits and bravery definitely have a permanent place in my heart.
Gideon the Ninth (Tamsyn Muir) – Charles Stross said it best: “Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted palace in space.” Yes, it is as good as that—and more.
Breath of the Sun (Isaac R. Fellman) – An exquisite meditation on love both divine and romantic, and the whole spectrum of selfishness and holiness that exists for both. How do you climb the mountain that is God, and what do you do when you come back down?
Sorrow’s Knot (Erin Bow) – This book was not new this year, but I missed it when it came out, much to my regret. Beautiful, heartfelt, and poetic, it will break your heart and then stitch it right back up again.
Armed in Her Fashion (Kate Heartfield) – The Middle Ages were far stranger than people think, and this book rushes headfirst into the weirdness and never looks back. The single solitary flaw is that it’s not longer.
The Secret Commonwealth (Philip Pullman) – My love for Lyra, her world, and the questions of daemons and Dust are undiminished after all these years, in large part because Pullman is such a good and thoughtful writer and observer of human feeling. Will I love these as much as His Dark Materials, one of the magnetic poles of my reading life? We’ll see how the third book goes, but as of right now—I actually might.
A Chorus of Dragons (Jenn Lyons) – I’m cheating and allowing both books on to my top ten because I love them equally, albeit for different reasons. Ruin of Kings blew my mind with its engaging voice and its engrossing politics. I thought, because my socks had already been knocked off, that I knew what to expect from The Name of All Things. Nope: it put new socks on me and then proceeded to knock those off, too. Also, I’d argue that both books are eligible because Lyons somehow put out two massive tomes in the same calendar year (with months to spare!). Still in awe.
Sisters of the Vast Black (Lina Rather) – This is a space opera condensed into a novella. The character work is fantastic and the universe amazingly realized, from interstellar squids to papal bureaucracy. It’s tense, tender, smart, and wise.
The Deep (Rivers Solomon) – The premise alone is staggeringly great, and the story and prose live up to its promise. Born from pregnant slaves thrown from slave ships, the mermaids of the deep have a necessarily complicated relationship with history. How they disentangle memory and wisdom from trauma and grief is down to Yetu, a highly sensitive historian struggling to balance her own needs against those of her community. Breathtaking.
The Rust Maidens (Gwendolyn Kiste) – This was such a breath of fresh air on so many levels. The setting was unusual (a declining area clinging to a manufacturing plant), the body horror was incredible (poetic and not gory), and the characters were just amazing. It was a sublime debut.
The Twisted Ones (T. Kingfisher) – Cosmic horror, but with female protagonists, good writing, humor, and engaging prose. Lovecraft has been thoroughly eclipsed, and Kingfisher is one of this year’s primary examples of it.
A Lush and Seething Hell (John Hornor Jacobs) – Another author who took Lovecraft’s ideas (and even his 1920’s and 30’s milieu) and made minorities, women, non-Americans, and others the heroes and anti-heroes rather than the horrors. This creeptastic book was the highlight of my Halloween reading.
The Queen of Nothing (Holly Black) – This was a very, very hyped series, and I am overjoyed and amazed that Black didn’t once seem to let it get to her. Her writing is just as assured and her plots just as dastardly on the first page of book one as they are in the last chapter of book three. Strong and smart and yes, sexy, these books place Black firmly on the throne as the best author of Faerie.
Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts (Kate Racculia) – An Edgar Allan Poe-inspired scavenger hunt brings up ghosts both literal and figurative for Tuesday and her fellow searchers. Tuesday is one of the most serenely DGAF feminist heroines I’ve read in a long time, and I love that the setting is a paean to Boston.