Just before 2016 is over, I wanted to pick a top ten books I have read this year to present. It was a pretty hard feat, trimming it down to only 10, and I had to cheat a little… I made two lists! You’ll find below my choices for both novels and graphic novels!
I couldn’t bring myself to pick absolute favourites, so the books in both lists are in no particular order.
*A note: not all these books are Indie, but some are, which is why I tagged it as Indie Love.
Gothic fantasy with LGBT themes
Did you expect me not to cheat? Sorry to disappoint. The first book in this list isn’t a book at all, but a trilogy. But it really isn’t cheating; this is a trilogy in the proper sense of the term, planned this way, as a massive story in three books. Set centuries before the author’s Nightrunner series (another one of my favourites), this tells the story of one of the land’s most famous queens, Tamir. Hunted as an infant by a mad king who feared being usurped by a female relative, she was magically hidden as a boy, even to herself, throughout her childhood and adolescence, until the day she must discover who she really is, reveal it to the world, and rise up against a beloved family member to restore order to her kingdom.
The Tamir Triad, made up of The Bone Doll’s Twin, The Hidden Warrior, and The Oracle’s Queen, is a sweeping fantasy story with gothic overtones, which deals with ghosts, betrayal, responsibility, gender identity, and sexual orientation. It’s a deep, rich story, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Modern Supernatural Suspense
Evan May is one of my favourite local writers, and I loved his first book, The King In Darkness, set in Ottawa. This sequel is set in a small village of Northern Québec, which was a dead ringer for the small village of my childhood, where I may not have lived but spent all my summers, the one where my parents got married and where my father is buried now. The things I loved from the author’s first novel were present there again: amazing, deep and complex characters (different ones from the first book, except the main character, Adam Godwinson, who is even more complex in this book), a supernatural intrigue which is creepy, slow-building which still manages moments where you’re biting your nails, and a fair bit of research in the subject matter which can be felt, but is not dumped in huge lumps of information. I enjoyed this one even more than the first book, which is saying a lot.
Subtle fantasy with LGBT themes and characters
Again, this is a slight cheat. This is not exactly a novel, but a serial, available from Serial Box Publishing. But it’s much, much too good for me not to put on this list.
Ellen Kushner is one of my all-time favourite authors, and has been for many, many years, and I wish she had dozens of novels for me to read, but as it is, I own her Riverside novels in many different formats, and revisit them every once in a while. When Tremontaine came out, I was beyond delighted. Needless to say, I came in to this serial with extremely high expectations – expectations which were not only met, but exceeded. The cast of characters is so rich, and the plot is more reminiscent of my favourite of her books, The Fall of the Kings, with even more depth and breadth. If you like subtle intrigue and scholarly pursuit, as well as a diverse cast of complex characters, Tremontaine is definitely for you!
Fantasy with LGBT themes
I’d been meaning to read Tania Huff for years, and purchased a good number of her books this year. I was in the mood for fantasy when I got to them, so I went with The Fire’s Stone, and it did not disappoint. The three main characters were so well-rounded and endearing in their vastly different personalities, and the complex relationship evolving between the three of them was moving and engaging. I do love great characterization, and this book didn’t let me down!
YA Magical realism with LGBT themes
Rainbow Rowell is another author I’d been meaning to read for a while now, especially after the success of her novel Fangirl. After giving it some thought, I decided to read Carry On, the novel over which the main character of Fangirl obsesses. I was blown away.
The novel is the author’s take on Harry Potter – a Chosen One in a magic school, who will at some point defeat a villain which may prove to be the greatest threat to the world of magic. Except this Chosen One isn’t really good at magic. Like, at all. And he might have feelings for his roommate, the one who is supposed to be his enemy.
I get why some people disliked this book; any other take on Harry Potter might be offensive to some. To me, this didn’t take away from a book series I loved – it built on it, explored things that Harry Potter didn’t really have a chance to touch, like how modern technology such as cell phones interacts with magic. I also found her take on how exactly magic works to be very interesting, how it doesn’t matter what words are said, as long as they make sense to the person speaking them. That way, it’s also possible to invent new magic all the time, which the characters do.
All in all, this was definitely one of my favourite reads of the year, and I highly recommend it.
YA Steampunk fantasy with sci-fi elements
I’m cheating again by mentioning this entire series, because the books can’t really be read individually; it is one long story, though it is complete now with six books: The Dragons of Dorcastle, The Hidden Masters of Marandur, The Assassins of Altis, The Pirates of Pacta Servanda, The Servants of the Storm and The Wrath of the Great Guilds.
The Mechanics Guild and the Guild of Mages have ruled the world for centuries, each dismissing the other as frauds and charlatans, forbidding their guild members to speak to each other. When circumstances force a young mechanic and a young mage to work together, they will form bonds that will shake the great Guilds, and the roots of the world itself.
The characters of the Pillars of Reality are endearing and very well developed, but it was the world-building which really did it for me in this story. It was intricate and well thought out, and full of surprises. This story is engaging, compelling, and I kept getting frustrated because the next book was not out yet every time I finished an installment. If you enjoy stories about faith which are full of surprises, young love, and rich, carefully built worlds, you’ll love these!
Young Adult modern fantasy with LGBT themes
This was another one of these books which belongs in my top three of the year, and where I am now going to read all of that author’s other books. Being a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where kids with (or sometimes without) special abilities are chosen for a purpose, to save the world from one threat or another (and often many, week after week), I absolutely loved this idea of writing about the OTHER people, the ones who just try to go on with their normal lives while this is happening all around them.
The characters in The Rest of Us Just Live Here are dealing with mental illness, their parent’s careers impacting on them, and trying to sort out on which side of the line between friendship and love they want to stand. The long chapter titles give us a basic breakdown of the threat the so-called Indie Kids, the ones who are special, are dealing with, but we then never see them again in the chapter, following instead the main protagonists of the story as they deal with their lives and sometimes witness snippets of what the Indie Kids are doing, or live through the impacts of the struggle. You also get the impression that this happens very often, as the characters discuss hoping the school doesn’t get destroyed before they graduate, like the last time when the Indie Kids were fighting vampires or ghosts.
I absolutely loved this book, and I can’t recommend it enough!
A lot of the classic fantasy I read tends to be epic. Large stakes, constant danger, etc. This was a very different read for me, but oh so enjoyable. When the Emperor and his three sons die in an accident, his half-goblin fourth son is summoned from exile to take the throne and rule over a huge empire. This isn’t the tale of a peasant bumbling through a higher society he doesn’t understand, though; it’s a tale of a well-educated, highly intelligent young man whose goal is to make the empire a better place to live for its citizens, and whose main obstacle is racism and prejudice.
This book is amazingly well-written. The author really concerns herself with use of language, and the impact of word choice. This is reflected in both the narration and dialogue, of course, but also in the huge importance that names have. If you enjoy a lot of subtlety and political/social intrigue in your fantasy, this book is for you!
Modern fantasy with LGBT themes
How can you ever get back to a normal life after having spent months or years in a magical world? How do you adjust to a world which works by rules you are no longer familiar with? In Every Heart a Doorway, the author proposes a boarding school for such people, to help them readjust, but mostly so they can provide support for each other, as most of them deeply miss the magical worlds they visited. But when murders begin to occur, their entire school is threatened with closure.
This is another book which would definitely be among my top three of the year. I loved it to an amount which defies description. The writing is amazing, the characters are so varied, well-rounded and touching in their struggles, despite their vastly different personalities, and I loved the casual representations of both a transgender man and an asexual girl. All in all, this was an absolutely fantastic book.
When Yeine is summoned from her homeland to the city of Sky to become one of the heirs to the throne, she quickly discovers that she is not expected to survive the trials to decide which one between her and her two cousins will inherit the throne. But what starts off as a petty political squabble quickly becomes much more complicated, involving the world and its odd relationship to their gods and the family of mortals who somehow rule over them.
This book presents a fantasy which is unique, because it is based on a completely different mythology and relationship of man to power than most other fantasies do. Its characters are complex and well-rounded, and the intrigue compelling. I was fascinated and delighted by this read!
Honorable mention: Life in the ‘Cosm by Cait Gordon
Sci-fi comedy/romance with LGBT themes
Cait Gordon is just a delightful human being, and a talented author. Her debut novel Life in the ‘Cosm tells the tale of Virj Ofreesin, a technical writer who is in love with one of his co-workers – well, the female half of them, anyway – and goes on a desperate quest to get a cure to their ailment. It was a fantastic read with both funny and tender moments. I loved the fact that the lives of the aliens are very ordinary, but the author uses their being aliens to explore issues of gender. This was a truly terrific, entertaining read, and I highly recommend it!
Kurtis J. Wiebe
Rat Queens is probably one of my favourite graphic novels series of all time, and I just discovered it this year. It is a sword-and-sorcery type of fantasy, and tells the adventures of the Rat Queens, a group of adventurers made up of four women. Rat Queens is funny, engaging, and has a diverse cast of rich characters, which you should know by now is one of the things I like best in a story.
S. K. Weaver
This was also a recent discovery of an online comic which is now available in print. It’s about two strangers going on a road trip after they both suffer a crisis in their personal life. While they are on the road, they get to know each other and themselves. It is just a tiny bit of a love story, but mostly, it is about journeys, both the physical trip that they take, and how they navigate their lives turning out to be less than satisfying.
A. K. Summers
Reading this made me immensely happy. This is about a woman who is outwardly extremely masculine, defining herself as a “butch”, and her journey through pregnancy and the very gendered expectations people have toward pregnant women. Having been through very similar struggles with expectations and gender expression myself with my pregnancies and motherhood in general, I loved reading about someone else’s similar experiences.
Gavin Aung Than
I’ve always had a thing for inspirational quotes. What? Sometimes they can make you feel better. In Zen Pencils, these quotes are transformed into a short comic which supports them or extrapolates on their meaning. I’ve been following the online comic for a long time now, and really enjoy it. This year, I got my hands on the two paperback anthologies, which allowed me to read quite a few I’d missed. I think this is one of the books that most people will love!
Definitely one of my very top recommendations for this year! This is a comic about two women sharing their passion for BDSM and discovering their love for each other at the same time. If you think this is a kinky lesbian erotica comic, think again! This story is much more than this. First of all, it is a (finally) accurate representation of BDSM, and the relationships built on trust which it involves. Mostly, it’s about the characters being honest with themselves, discovering who they are, facing their pasts, and developing a relationship. The art is gorgeous, and the characters are endearing.
What’s not to love about the story of a princess who gets locked up in a tower so a prince can go rescue her (this is how you find good husbands, don’t you know?) but then decides that she’d rather take matters into her own hands, and rescue herself as well as her sisters who are all also imprisoned in their own towers? Princeless is funny, witty, and delightfully diverse in its cast. I loved it!
I don’t know that this title is available in English, but I loved it too much not to talk about it. I’ve always appreciated graphic memoirs, and I found this story about a father whose first child is born with Down’s syndrome to be deeply moving. He has to face his own misgivings and prejudices before he’s able to deal with the ones coming from other people, and come to see his child as the wonderful gift that she is. If you read French, I highly recommend it!
This book was simply amazing. Warning: it’s definitely a tear-jerker! I started reading it on my break at work, and I knew I couldn’t finish it there. I’m glad I didn’t; when I finally read it later at home, I was sobbing nearly the whole way through. A deeply moving story about a man who loses everything, except his faithful dog.
Walter Dean Myers, Guy A. Sims
Monster is an adaptation of the novel of the same title by Walter Dean Myers, and tells the story of a young man standing trial for murder and robbery, though his part in the actual crime was definitely not instrumental. The young man uses film, a passion of his, to process what is happening to him. The story deals with the racism inherent to the American justice system.
John Allison, Max Sarin
Giant Days starts off like an ordinary, slice-of-life comic about three college girls who are unlikely friends, but quickly grows into a funny story about love, friendship, and self-discovery with a great cast of characters, witty dialogue and fun stories.
Honorable mention: Adventures of Superhero Girl
Faith Erin Hicks
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a fan of superheroes, but Superhero Girl is not your typical big-syndicate tight-suit hyper-feminine heroine. She is a young superhero concerned about the lack of crime in her town, not-so-genius villains, and the fact that being a superhero doesn’t actually pay that well. The book is a collection of the online comics, which are one-page gags and truly funny.
That’s it! Have you read any of these? What did you think? Do you have any recommendations for me for my 2017 reading list? Please comment below!