In which we Book Smugglers present our top 10 books of 2018 and other assorted goodies…
Another year, another top 10 list! 2018 was one of huge developments and change for us Book Smugglers–in 2017 we ran our very first kickstarter, and in 2018 we began the daunting task of fulfilling all of our kickstarter rewards and work. Our reviewing output, naturally, went down as a direct effect–but our reading still continued. Today, on this first day of 2019, we are delighted to present you with our Most Excellent Books of 2018!
MOST EXCELLENT BOOKS OF 2018
Ana’s Most Excellent List
I read across a multitude of genres and categories and I think my top 10 shows that beautifully. Here are my favourite reads of the year, in no particular order:
10. Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
I read Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman as early as March and I already knew then it would be part of this list. A YA Fantasy set in the same world as Hartman’s Seraphina, Tess of the Road is a fantastical road trip that ends up being less fantastical and more realistic as it offers an examination and a deconstruction of rape culture as experienced by its main female character. It is a topical book, a beautiful book, an important book.
9. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
I also read Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi back in March and also knew it would be here (wow, March was such an excellent month). If Avatar: the Last Airbender and Black Panther had a baby, this book would be it. This is a book about magic, about oppression, about the roles of allies when fighting for justice, about two young women finding their place in the world – all disguised as an adventure fantasy quest.
8. Circe by Madeline Miller
Circe is Madeline Miller’s long-awaited follow-up to the wonderful Song of Achilles and a reimagining of the Odyssey from the witch Circe’s viewpoint. Starting out life as a lesser immortal, the story follows Circe’s arc of empowerment and self-understanding. Circe turned out to be an examination of heroism, mortality, and divinity as well as a feminist, female-focused poetic and beautiful story.
7. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
The books I talked about so far are all awesome and feminist but also dark as fuck. Enter The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee, an unexpected pleasure of awesomeness and feminism and also the funnest book I read in 2018. A reimagining of the Monkey King tales from the perspective of one of its fabled companions now reincarnated as the snarky, super powerful teen girl Genie Lo as she is tasked to save the world from invading demons. Genie’s voice and narration, her adventures in saving the world as well as her epic crush on the Monkey King (now a super hot teen boy) are so much fun to read. Please note: F.C. Yee will be writing a novel about Avatar: the Last Airbender’s Avatar Kyoshi in 2019. I SIMPLY CANNOT WAIT.
6. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
A super fresh and unique take on Urban Fantasy, Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse mixes a heroine’s journey of looking at herself and a Quest for answers against the backdrop of Navajo legends, mores and history. It has a fantastic pair of protagonists who embody power, trauma and the potential healing nature of love and friendship. The sequel cannot come soon enough.
5. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
The book equivalent to a warm embrace, Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik is a gem of a novel, the kind that reminds you of all of your favourites whilst still feeling fresh and new. An exquisitely written and smart retelling of Rumpelstiltskin with a side of Slavic folklore, featuring amazing women and lovely romantic storylines, I loved this book so much.
4. Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott
Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott is a twisted and twisterific psychological thriller where the author once again turns her eyes to women, mastering a story that intersects their lives, their struggles, their successes and failures, and above all, their darkest, deepest secrets. No one writes thrillers about and featuring women like Abbott.
3. Damsel by Elana K. Arnold
Ok, so it looks like 2018 was the year of Dark!Angst! for me and Damsel by Elana K. Arnold is another one that fits the dark, harrowing feminist mood board I was digging. If Spinning Silver was a warm, familiar embrace of Fantasy tropes, Damsel is its direct counterpoint with a warm, familiar slap in the face by deconstructing some of the worst Fantasy tropes like the Damsel and the Hero who saves her. The ending of this novel is everything I never knew I wanted. It is an exhilarating ending to a disturbing journey.
2. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Epistolary narrative? Check. Unreliable narrators? Check. An AI on a journey to become less murderous? Check? Awesome characters in SPACE and in LOVE? Check and check. The Illuminae Files trilogy had all of these in spades and in Obsidio, the trilogy ender, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff wrapped everything up perfectly and beautifully.
1. The Book of M by Peng Shepherd
If I had to pick ONE book from my list that I would like everyone to read, it would be this one, The Book of M by Peng Shepherd. A high concept Fantasy Post-Apocalyptic Horror in which the apocalypse happens when people lose their shadows and subsequently (and as a direct result) their memories and eventually all of themselves. And when people can’t hold on to their memories and effectively to themselves, reality is fundamentally – and literally – altered. The Forgetting ends the world as it once was. This book asks questions about identity and memory that I am sill thinking about ever since I finished reading it. I can’t believe this is Peng Shepherd’s debut. What a book – it is devastating, tragic and heartbreakingly hopeful.
Thea’s Most Excellent List
This year, I read a lot of fantasy–to the point where I know I’ve got to up my sci-fi game in 2019–but I can’t say that I’m unhappy. Here are my favorite discoveries of the year, in ascending order:
10. Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman
Imagine a world in which death has been eradicated–disease, severe trauma, aging are all things of the past, and humans can live forever. Except… when forever is on the table, and resources are finite, some balance needs to be restored. Enter the Scythes, and Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe series. The sequel to last year’s incredible (and Printz Award-winning) Scythe, Thunderhead continues Citra and Rowan’s story, with Citra now assuming the official mantle as Scythe Anastasia, gaining clout and new followers within the Scythedom becuase of her methodical and merciful approach to gleaning… and Rowan becomes a wildcard at the edges, hunting and gleaning Scythes who abuse their power. Thunderhead introduces new characters (including a major role for the eponymous AI that controls the world) and raises the stakes a hundredfold. It’s really, really good, and I cannot wait for book 3.
9. Markswoman by Rahi Mehrotra
Markswoman was an unexpected delight: an own voices debut novel set in a south Asian alternate post-apocalyptic far future world, borrowing from both science fiction (portals and broken tech!) and epic fantasy (telepathic swords with mind-melding!) tropes and archetypes. Mehrotra creates a class of lady assassins in a Hindu-inspired pantheon, with a main character trying to save her tribe from and the result is pretty freaking awesome.
8. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
Kiersten White is a new-to-me author I discovered in 2018, and now she owns my soul. This standalone novel is a retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but from the perspective of Elizabeth (remember, the virginal, angelic ward of the Frankenstein family who Victor idealizes, marries, and then who is killed by the Monster on their wedding night). This Elizabeth is no angel–she’s a fighter and a survivor, and this particular retelling paints the entire Frankenstein mythos in a new light. Trust me: read it.
7. City of Lies by Sam Hawke
This debut from Sam Hawke was the perfect remedy for the Game of Thrones-shaped hole in my life. Imagine a city that is both culturally and intellectually advanced, and for some completely unknown reason is besieged. Three characters–Jovan (poison taster, noble, and beloved brother), Kalina (under-estimated, clever, and beloved sister), and Tain (charismatic, Chancellor, and beloved best friend)–need to figure out the truth of their world and their place in it… and it’s not pretty.
6. The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso
Last year, The Tethered Mage (the first book in this series) made this exact same spot on my list. This second book does not disappoint, continuing the adventures of Lady Amalia (heir to the Cornaro ruling seat atop the council that controls the Raverra Empire) and Zaira (a balefire mage of unprecedented power). After thwarting a conspiracy that would have led to war, Amalia and Zaira are dispatched to the Witchlord lands of
Vaskandar to prevent further ruin–of course, things are complicated and delicate, and when mages and their falconers begin to turn up murdered, the pair have even more formidable obstacles to overcome.
5. The Queens of Renthia Trilogy by Sarah Beth Durst
This is a little bit of a cheat because I’m putting the whole trilogy on the list (spoiler alert: I’m gonna do it again), but since technically Queen of Sorrow was published in 2018 it’s not *really* cheating. Imagine a world in which elemental spirits exist–wood fairies, water sprites, etc–but they are hell-bent on destroying humanity. The only thing that keeps them at bay is a Queen: one Queen whose magical abilities can control these hateful spirits, and protect her people. But what happens when that Queen falls? And a new Queen–one with weak powers–takes her place? This is the story of the Queens of Renthia, and how they will do what it takes to save their world.
4. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
It has been an incomprehensible three years since the publication of Uprooted–the lush, romantic, awesome fantasy novel that started it all. Spinning Silver is a companion novel set in the same world (but you don’t have to have read Uprooted to enjoy this one), and a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. It is a tale of powerful magic and of debts owed and paid; it is a story about women who refuse to accept the brutality of the men who seek to subjugate them; it is a story about the power of found families and the conscious choice to protect the ones you love.
3. The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
The Poppy War takes a few familiar elements–a military training academy, an orphan who doesn’t fit in but earns her place at said academy, magical powers and prowess–and then makes them as grim and dark as possible. Rin, our heroine, learns the hard way the price of magic and embarks upon a dark path to win a war. Set in an alternate fantasy version of China and the Sino-Japanese war, The Poppy War is darkly fascinating, addictive, and horrific in equal measure. I loved it, and cannot wait to see where Rin goes next.
2. The Conqueror’s Saga by Kiersten White
Another trilogy (slight cheat but Bright We Burn was actually published this year so technically it’s all good) and the second appearence of Kiersten White on my list because SHE OWNS MY SOUL. The Conqueror’s Saga spans three books and poses a unique question: what if Vlad the Impaler was born a woman? In And I Darken, we meet Lada Dragwlya–the second child of Vlad Dracul and his only daughter–who is not beautiful, but is fierce and raw and hungers for the threads of power that have been denied to her because of her sex. Lada’s ambitions are great and terrible, driving a rift between her and her younger brother Radu and their beloved best friend Mehmed, who would become Ottoman Emperor. A historical saga that is quite literally breathtaking, Lada’s saga continues in Now I Rise and concludes in Bright We Burn–knowing Vlad the Impaler’s fate, you *know* that Lada’s story cannot end with happiness. And yet, it is the only way her story could have ended, in a Walter White-style blaze of glory. I loved this series dearly, and urge everyone to read it.
1. Noumenon: Infinity by Marina J. Lostetter
Every once in a while, a science fiction book comes along that is so brilliant, so thought-provoking that it makes you remember why you fell in love with the genre in the first place. Noumenon: Infinity is that book. I read and loved Noumenon, the first book in this duology, last year–a story of humans who are sent to a far star to investigate a mysterious, half-built web created by an alien race. In book 2, we learn what happened to the humans on other ships headed toward the phenomenon, and the secrets they unfurl from the Web, the Seed, and what it means for the rest of the universe. Noumenon: Infinity is dazzlingly ambitious and answers almost all of the open questions from book one. What’s more: it is the rare sequel that wholly eclipses its predecessor. I loved this book. I loved this book. If you are craving space opera, big picture science fiction that questions the fabric of reality, mortality, and what it all means? Look no further.
Most Honorable Mentions of 2018
As with every year, we have a hard time sticking to just one list. Because we’ve read SO MANY AWESOME BOOKS this year, we feel it’s only fair that we give a shoutout to those runner-up titles on our Best of 2018 longlist.
Ana’s Most Honorable Mentions
- Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams, 8 (Science Fiction)
- Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, 8 (Fantasy, YA)
- Latchkey by Nicole Kornher-Stace , 8 (SFF, YA)
- The Murderbot Series by Martha Wells, 8 (Science Fiction)
- Semiosis by Sue Burke, 8 (Science Fiction)
- Truly, Devious by Maureen Johnson, 8 ( YA, Historical, Crime)
- Sadie by Courtney Summers, 9 (YA)
Thea’s Most Honorable Mentions
- City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, 8 (Fantasy, Historical)
- Obsidio by Amie Kaufmann and Jay Kristoff, 8 (Science Fiction, YA)
- Vengeful by V.E. Schwab, 8 (SFF, Superheroes)
- The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, 7 (Fantasy, YA)
- The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, 7 (Fantasy, YA)
- Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, 7 (Horror, SFF, YA, Historical)
- Sea of Ink and Gold Trilogy (The Reader, The Speaker, The Storyteller) by Traci Chee, 8 (Fantasy, YA)
- Muse of Nightmares by Lani Taylor, 8 (YA, Science Fiction, Fantasy)
And with that we, your Friendly Neighborhood Book Smugglers, close the books on 2018. Bring on 2019 and don’t forget:
Be Excellent to Each Other!