He, what would you know, it’s January again (aka, wow, where did all the time go, and arggggggg I am so late on things!). The main thing I published in 2015 was my novel (I know, kind of hard to miss :p), The House of Shattered Wings, aka magical intrigues, deadly creatures and elusive wonders in a decadent turn-of-the-century Paris ravaged by a magical war.
It won a British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel, as well as being on the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2015. It also got starred reviews from Publishers’ Weekly and Library Journal. It’s eligible for the Hugos.
I can’t provide a copy of the complete text, but I have put together a short sampler of the first three chapters: bits and pieces of this have appeared online, but this is the first time that you can actually read all of it (I think? The kindle sampler is shorter than this, ending mid-chapter two). You can download it here in EPUB, MOBI, or PDF (if you need DOC or RTF, drop me a line via the contact form, and I’ll be quite happy to provide a copy. I just am not a big fan of putting Word formats online–too easy to modify them by mistake…).
If you came here wanting whole stories (which I can understand!), I do have a Xuya short story online, “Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight”, which won a British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Short Fiction, and is at Clarkesworld (and is getting reprinted in Dozois’s Year’s Best). You can also download EPUB or MOBI.
And if anyone is interested and a Hugo or Nebula voter, contact me and I’d be quite happy to email you a copy of my novella “The Citadel of Weeping Pearls”, which appeared in Asimov’s Oct/Nov and is now a tad hard to find.
And now for the bulk of this, aka, the stuff that I read from 2015 and want to recommend. (this list is a slightly modified and expanded version of one I wrote for the Book Smugglers. I would urge you to go read it: these recs for 2015 are more up to date, but the Book Smugglers post also has my 2016 TBR pile, and it really looks awesome. I made a slight headstart on said TBR pile thanks to friends, and so far I haven’t been disappointed!).
“Variations on an Apple”, Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, October). It’s no secret that I love Yoon Ha Lee’s stuff, and this clever retelling of the Trojan war is no exception. Tackles mathematics, desire, and the consequences of decisions that aren’t always wisely made. Also, Illium and Helen are both awesome in different ways.
“Milagroso”, Isabel Yap (Tor.com, August). In a future where food is grown in labs and always perfect, there is still room for the miracles of saints… By turns exuberant and heartbreaking, this is a story of what we take for granted, how we seek to protect our children, and the price we pay.
“The Star Maiden”, Rokshani Chokshi. Tala’s grandmother used to be a star maiden, annd tells her granddaughter stories of longing for the sky. But Tala grows up and starts questioning the veracity of the story–and becomes ashamed of her grandmother’s oddness. There’s nothing really surprising in this one, but it’s very very well done (as in I broke down and cried at the end), and encapsulates the heartache of growing up.
“The Monkey House”, Tade Thompson (Omenana, March). The narrator returns to work after a breakdown–and finds that everything is *almost* normal. I love the sense of creeping unease of this one, the feeling that everything looks almost quite right (and that 1% “not right” that is downright unsettling). I’m not usually much of a reader for horror or dark, but this is perfect.
“If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler”, by Xia Jia (Clarkesworld, Nov). I love Xia Jia’s stuff, and this short story about a poet and her legacy–and how people handle it in the age of the internet and social media–is lovely and sharp.
“City of Salt”, Arkady Martine, (Strange Horizons, March). This one has stuck around in my head since I read it: the story of a man who comes back to a deserted city, to face the woman he once knew and what she has become… Poetic and elegiac in all the best ways.
“The Discomodious Wedding”, Christopher Kastendsmidt (self-published on amazon). This is part of Kastensmidt’s ongoing series, The Elephant and Macaw Banner, which is set in colonial Brazil and draws from local folklore. Yoruba warrior Oludara wishes to marry his native sweetheart Arani; but various supernatural beings have other ideas…
“Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds”, by Rose Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, June). The narrator, her outcast brother Kimi and friend Gitit set out in the desert, to find the fabled cloth of winds and make their fortune. Family bonds, kickass old women and wonderful worldbuilding.
“The Oiran’s Song”, Isabel Yap. In a wartorn land, a boy develops a friendship with an oiran who may be far more than she seems. Harsh and violent. I love the depiction of war as bloody and confusing and destructive. (trigger warning for strong content).
“The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn”, Usman Malik (Tor.com, April). Everyone has been talking about this one, and quite justifiably. It’s a really great and haunting story that shares the theme of inheritance and fantastical tales with “The Star Maiden”, above, but uses its greater length with great efficacity. The American narrator comes back to Pakistan to look for his family’s ruinous legacy–and comes to term with his grandfather. It’s about the weight of the past, the things you put aside as you emigrate, and what must be done for the future. Also a healthy dose of the mystical and esoteric (which I found quite lovely).
“Night Flower”, Kate Elliott (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers). A novella that’s a prequel to Elliott’s YA fantasy Court of Fives. In a city colonised by the Saroese, a Saroese soldier fresh off the boat falls in love with a local girl, and they must both decide where their future lies. Let’s be fair: this is the kind of story you don’t read for the plot twists, but for the worldbuilding and the characters. And both are excellent. I really like how Elliott packs in a wealth of things about gender, class, emigration, coloniser/colonised relations in a pretty slender format. Also, after reading the descriptions of food in the night market, I want a persimmon.
“Witches of Lychford”, Paul Cornell: three women, an old witch, a vicar and a new-age shopkeeper who was once abducted by the fairies, must come together to defend the sleepy town of Lychford against the incursion of a supermarket that would utterly destroy it. I loved the details of village life and the strong characters on this one–and the theme, not that often seen in SFF, of faith and loss of faith.
So, hum. Yes. I read a lot of novels in 2015. Mostly because a lot of the reading was happening on my ebook reader, and I still haven’t quite got the hang of doing short stories on this unless I’m feeling really really motivated (basically it’s a bit of an effort to download a file to it, and I just always feel too lazy to do it for short fiction).
Black Wolves, Kate Elliott. This is easily the best book I read in 2015. It’s thick, and it’s a sequel to Elliott’s Crossroads trilogy (which I hadn’t read, and I confirm you don’t need to have read it). Captain Kellas left the palace in disgrace following the death of his charge, King Attani–but is called back to protect the new king. Meanwhile, Dannarah, Attani’s sister, fights the creeping influence of a misogynistic religion. It’s hard to summarise the book in a few sentences, so I won’t–but it’s a great meditation on power, on change, on what it means–and on how even the smallest things can end up changing the course of kingdoms. Also, giant justice eagles. Just saying.
Glorious Angels, Justina Robson. “glorious” is about the right word for this. Set on a planet colonised by humans a long time ago, and where an intriguing mix of science and magic dominates, this focuses on the Empire, a loose confederation of cities ruled by Empresses who control their subjects through pheromones. But the Empire is enmeshed in a deadly war; and trouble might soon come from within… There’s so much in this–tremendously inventive world building done matter-of-factly, a kickass family (Tralane and her two daughters are just awesome), and mysterious and deadly beings in the shape of the Karoo, creatures who absorb each other to gain knowledge. And an ending that is both satisfying and immensely frustrating (aka I want to know what happens next!).
Making Wolf, Tade Thompson: a dark and bleak tale set in a Yoruba country that never existed, Making Wolf sees Weston Kogi come back to the country of his birth for his aunt’s funeral–and get drawn into a spiral of violence and death when he meets his old buddy/tormentor Church. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s darn powerful.
Silver on the Road, Laura Anne Gilman. Set in the Territory, an alternate part of the West ruled by the Devil (who may or may not be the Christian one), the book follows Isobel, who slowly grows into her power and position as the Left Hand of the Devil and protector of the Territory. I loved the mythology Gilman weaves, the power of crossroads and of the winds, and Isobel has a wonderfully endearing and distinctive voice.
Cast in Honor, Michelle Sagara. If you’re new to the Elantra series (urban fantasy set in a medieval-ish cities where different races co exist), this is probably not the best book to start with, but I loved this new installment, which sees Kaylin face beings from Ravellon, and a mysterious spate of murders with corpses who might not be human or even human-shaped… (if you want to start with something, I highly recommend Cast in Shadow, which I recently reread). Also, I was reminded of how much I liked Dragons in human form, which is apparently a trope weakness of mine…
Grace of Kings, Ken Liu. Also a very strong book. Liu draws on Chinese epics to write this tale of two men who rise up against a tyrannic empire–and finds that a successful uprising does not necessarily mean everything is over… The politics are wonderful in this–sharp-eyed, clear and with a very healthy dose of realism on what people’s desire for power or stability will lead them to do. I eagerly await book 2, The Wall of Storms, which is coming out in 2016.
Updraft, Fran Wilde. In a city above the ground, where traders fly from tower to tower, Kirit dreams of earning her own wings–but her nascent powers destine her for something quite different… I loved this one because of the flying–Wilde has put a lot of thought into worldbuilding, and it shows–the monstrous skymouths are suitable terrifying, but it’s the sequences where Kirit takes wing that are truly memorable (and almost make me wish I could fly, no mean feat for someone with a fear of heights!).
Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho. Zacharias Whyte, the protagonist, is the first Black Sorcerer Royal, and must battle the prejudices of the establishment as he seeks to find the source of Britain’s penury of magic. He hasn’t bargained, however, for Prunella Gentleman, a mixed-race woman with her own ideas of independenence–and a treasure that might well be the key to Britain’s salvation…
This is a hilarious fantasy set in the Regency era, but it’s also one that touches on quite a few heftier subjects–colonialism, and racism, and the stilfying class system. Also, Malaysian witches bent on interfering with British politics are the *best*.
Guns of the Dawn, Adrian Tchaikovsky. I actually wasn’t expecting to enjoy this that much–the issue isn’t that it’s a hefty tome, but the blurb and excerpt I heard Adrian read made it sound quite focused on soldiers fighting a war, and I wasn’t really keen on something that was going to be battle scene after battle scene. But it actually really works: in tone, it’s a bit like Jane Austen meets All Quiet on the Western Front, a gruelling ride into the futility of a war fought by soldiers who have little idea of what’s going on where–but also a great character study with a great voice. And the ending is pitch-perfect–the right “ah-ha” surprise with the hindsight realisation that it had always been inevitable.
Other people to consider: SB Divya, Alyssa Wong, JY Yang, Isabel Yap (all second year), and Fonda Lee (first year)
Best Fan Artist
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Likhain, whose art has been gracing the cover of Zen Cho’s Spirits Abroad and numerous anthologies and magazines (all semipro markets). Here’s an example of a 2015 piece.
Best Fan Writer
Natalie Luhrs has been doing a stellar job of collecting links and covering SFF stuff.
Liz Bourke‘s reviews are also equally great, and I always discover new books while reading them.