Oh I am so on time with this.
Let’s pretend my time management skills aren’t spectacularly obvious to everyone, and just go through the list. In no particular order, THE BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2012.
Girl of Fire and Thorns, Rae Carson
I mentioned this in another blog post, when I wrote a full review for Scape. Elisa is chosen by God, but she sure can’t see where he’s leading her. Right now she’s been married of to the king of another kingdom, the marriage is being kept a secret and literally everyone hates her, and horrifying wizards from the north are attacking.
That makes Elisa sound whiny. I can’t emphasize enough how much Elisa is NOT whiny. She is intelligent, (so intelligent), loyal, cunning, (so cunning), and struggling very believably. I loved this book. If you are interested in an intelligent heroine, a thoughtful treatment of religion as a cultural force and a personal motivator, wartime intrigue/tactics, and/or the ending to a love triangle you never saw coming, you should read it! Also note: Crown Of Embers, by Rae Carson. The sequel, where Elisa becomes queen and no one is trustworthy. DAMN GIRL YOU GO GIRL.
The Magic Thief, by Sarah Prineas
Pickpocket accidentally steals a high muck-a-muck wizard’s magic focus. OOPS. But instead of being sent to prison, the wizard takes him on as a servant? Nope, pickpocket’s gonna learn to be a wizard. And he’s gonna blow up stuff and make friends with dangerous sword girls along the way. If you are interested in clever awesome thieves making good, stubborn people succeeding despite everyone’s expectations, and/or happy endings bought at a cost, you should read it!
The Wizard Test, by Hilari Bell
I think my initial review to this one was something along the lines of “why do I even try to write, I’ll never do anything like this”. My friends talked me out of that hole, but I continue to be impressed by this book. It’s so SMALL, and it talks about so many THINGS. (Loyalty, belonging, betraying people to keep them safe, who owns the land, respect for foreigners, what you do when people lie to you, friendship, etc etc etc.) I don’t care what you like, you should go out and read about Dayven, who’s found out he has the powers of a wizard, the people he despises most in the world. (And while you’re at it, read everything else by Hilari Bell.)
Flora Segunda, by Ysabeau Wilce
Being the Magical Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog. That is the actual subtitle of the book, you guys. It rather gives you an idea of the voice, which is dense enough I almost gave up. And then it clicked and I spent the next 200 pages biting my nails over Flora, her side-kick Val, and their very real danger of being eaten. It’s set in an alternate history fantasy California, with Spanish, Latin (and by that I mean Roman/Italian), English and Aztec elements all jumbled together in a very believable creole.
If you like representations of militaries which include both bad people AND good people, crazy insane believable worldbuilding which I can’t even build a metaphor for, a tone similar to boys-adventures of the last century with all their tropes subverted, magical beings which want to eat you, a story which develops more levels as it sits in the back of your head, and/or a magical house with seven thousand rooms where the corridors don’t dependably lead in the same direction twice, you should read it! This was a Norton Nominee and it deserves it.
Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi
Juliette has been locked up by the Reestablishment because she accidentally killed a person. She can kill with a touch. She’s a monster, inhuman. She hasn’t seen another human being in 264 days. And a young man has just been shoved into her cell. (Side note: no one ever hire me to write trailer voiceovers, I am the most cliche.)
Like Flora Segunda, this is another heavily voiced book, and I do love it for that. But I love it more for its incredibly thoughtful construction. It uses a lot of tropes we’ve seen before, but in a way which feels like they’ve been considered before use, not picked from the quick-use toolbox. So there is a totalitarian government, but it’s not just one end of the political spectrum run amok. Instead, it’s modelled on actual fascist states. Juliette is a born weapon, but she’s not a born warrior. She’s a gentle soul who hates violence and is horrified by what she can do. And there isn’t just steamy romance, there is romance that is LITERALLY steamy because it takes place in a hot shower.
If you like dystopian futures which simultaneously make you glad for what you’re eating and sniffly over the beauty of a desolate winter scene, snarky sexy boys who the MC isn’t interested in so you can make sassy remarks at them with a clear conscience, angsty shower scenes, killer girls who just want to read all the time, and/or fashion as a plot point, you should read it.
Barrayar, by Lois McMaster Bujold
At Christmas time I decided to take a break from the YA fiction and read some SF intended for adults. EXCELLENT DECISION, self. This book features Revolution! Romance! Incredibly kick-ass women! Incredibly kick-ass men! Peril! Babies! A culture caught between feudal systems and the future! I want to be Cordelia when I grow up! (I will not spoil you for what she’s holding in that bag on the cover, but oh my word Cordelia is so awesome.)
If you like SF with a strong dose of historical groundwork, feeling conflicted over whether that family retainer is actually someone you should be cheering for or someone who should be shot, happily married couples who remain awesomely married, spectacularly competent people being competent when mistakes mean you die, augh I hate leadership why those poor babies, and/or foreign ladies showing everyone how very, very wrong they were to underestimate her, you should read this book. (Note, this was the year I became a Lois McMaster Bujold fangirl. I have yet to read anything by her which didn’t restore my soul in vital happy ways.)
The King Of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner
Auuuugh I can’t say anything because I’ll SPOIL you but omg omg omg THINGS HAPPEN in this book, THINGS HAPPEN. Eugenides is the King, and everyone hates him, and he hates being king, and you wonder if he’s lost his edge, and then THINGS HAPPEN. Forget GoT, if you want political intrigue played by masters I direct you to this book. I adore reading about competent people, (see above, Barrayar) and you don’t get much more competent than Eugenides and Irene.
On the one hand, I’m kicking myself for having waited so long to read this book, it’s been out for years. On the other, I’m patting myself on the back for it, because now I’ve read her entire back list and I just have to wait for probably another five years. Thankfully, I brought this book with me to Asia, where I had limited books, where I read it about five times, and I can assure you it gets even better every time. I kept reading it, discovering new things, and making incoherent sounds in the evening.
If you like competent people dancing circles around political intrigue (omg there is a scene where this LITERALLY HAPPENS), the most touching romance between terrifying people you’ve ever seen, a thoughtful treatment of polytheistic religion, and/or a reminder how happy you are to live in a society ruled by law where we do not practice torture, read this. (Bonus round, I also recommend The Queen Of Attolia and A Conspiracy of Kings. This is one of the rare series based in a historical period where more plot elements become clear if you read scholarly work about the time periods. I read ACoK and it was fabulous, and then I researched a paper about slavery in Greece and it got even MORE phenomenal. I am SUCH A FAN.)
Ordinary Magic, by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
In a world where everyone has magic, being without it makes you a menace. Magic won’t work properly around you. You’re bad luck. Abby has just found out that she’s an “ord,” (from “ordinary”), and has gone from a normal girl to an outcast. Her family rallies around her, but the community is rejecting them to the point of trying to tip-off illegal slave traders. Faced with the fact that they can’t keep her safe, her family sends her to a royal academy which teaches Ords how to survive in a dangerous world. And being ordinary isn’t going to stop Abby from facing down carnivorous goblins, slave traders, and more.
If you like school stories, awesome supportive families, a nuanced moral situation where things are clearly right and wrong, but not necessarily black and white, and/or societies full of magic in the vein of Diana Wynne Jones, you should read it. Go order it in at your library! If it isn’t there, request it! I want the sequel so MUCH! (Ahem.)
The Mark Of Athena, by Rick Riordan
Look, if you like other things Rick Riordan writes, you’ll like this. Haven’t read Rick Riordan before? Well, do you like learning to understand your heritage, even the problematic parts? Supporting your friends to the edge of beyond? Peril? Happy reunions which last about five minutes before EVERYTHING BLOWS UP? Roman mythology come to life in hilarious full colour? Then you should read this.
Unspoken, by Sarah Rees Brennan
Kami Glass has had an imaginary friend all her life. Most people think she’s weird and possibly insane, and that includes her. But she’s dealing pretty well with the voice in her head. She’s not talking to him where other people can see, she’s doing her best not to believe he’s real, etc. Unfortunately, a big wrench was just thrown into her coping mechanisms in the form of Jared Lynburn, just back moved to town, who happens to be her imaginary friend. And to further complicate things, someone is killing small animals in the woods, and looks to be upgrading to killing people any minute now.
I read this book in over a weekend when I was really missing my best friends (most of my friendships are long distance), and it kinda stitched me back together. The friendships in this book are brilliantly depicted. (I am in no way an impartial recommender, in other words.) Also, everybody seems to hate the ending, but I got to it and was delighted. It was just fit so well in the story! And it was so COZY, like White Cat and Crime and Punishment! (Clearly I am a disturbed human being, in other words.) But with that said… if you have ANY interest in fictional friendships, humour, gothic adventures, dangerous family histories, endings which make people scream nooooooooo, and/or heart-twisting romance, you should read it!