2019 wasn’t the best year for me in terms of sheer number of books read. But that doesn’t mean that it sucked, reading-wise. I read stand-alones, books in a series, and even finished an entire series of door-stoppers. Among them all, here are the ones I look back on most fondly now.

The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham

One day, when I have the energy, I will write a full post about this series and its point of view about power, war, and the dangers of fascism. For now, I’ll just sell it to you like this: Imagine a series as complex as A Song of Ice and Fire, with books of a similar length. Now, imagine that:

  • The author actually finishes the damn thing, to the tune of one huge brick-sized book per year for 5 years, and
  • There are multiple female POV characters, and yet they face absolutely no threat of sexual violence being done towards them.

Plus, in the end, what saves the world is the development of an international banking system. Oh, and it turns out that dragons are a thing, and they’ve also mastered genetic engineering. If none of this turns your crank, I just don’t know what to tell you.

The Outskirter’s Secret and The Lost Steersman by Rosemary Kirstein

The Steerswoman books by Rosemary Kirstein have quickly become a favourite of mine. Kirstein herself has stated that she’s almost ready to release the fifth book, and that she’s currently writing the sixth. In the meantime, these two, the second and third in the series respectively, draw upon and enhance the worldbuilding of The Steerswoman, the first volume.

What really strikes me is how both books deal with incredibly different aspects of what it means to “worldbuild” in a speculative context. In The Outskirter’s Secret, Rowan and Bel leave the Inner Lands to spend time in the Outskirts among Bel’s people. While they never encounter the clan of Bel’s childhood, they fall in with another clan, this time with Rowan being the newcomer into a strange society, rather than Bel. Rowan’s time with Kameron’s clan leads her to learn more about Outskirter customs and culture, so the book takes on a social/anthropological lens. In this case, the book investigates the idea of world-as-social-construct.

In contrast, in The Lost Steersman, Rowan’s travels lead her into a completely new frontier filled with strange forms of life. This is where astute readers deepen their understanding that while this series contains the trappings of fantasy books, this is really a work of science fiction. She calls men who deal with strange devices in the sky “wizards”, but we’d think of them as scientists. Who knows what she’d think of the word “terraforming” (the act of altering a foreign planet so that it can sustain human life) if she ever encountered it, but it’s a concept that we as readers understand – especially because Rowan is an unwitting participant in a terraforming project herself.

If the second book deals with the idea of the world as a social construct, and the third book with the idea of the world as a physical one, who knows what further territory the remaining books could cover?

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Augh, this book. When I read it last summer, I was dealing with mental burnout from work and from moving into our new home. I hadn’t finished a book all the way through in about 2 months. All of the text I was encountering in my daily life was work-related, but I just didn’t have the energy to invest in anything else despite wanting something different. Time War helped me break the slump – short, evocative, stunningly poetic, and super queer. It was the perfect antidote to my reading malaise.

The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar

This was the only book I manged to devote an entire single review to last year. I still think about the final pages, where Siski and Dasya reunite under terrible changed circumstances. It’s a slow burn like A Stranger in Olondria, but worth the effort.