The 20 most influential fantasy novels of the past decade


In years with a boring and undistinguished number, such as 2023, I think it would really be best to round it off: the most influential fantasy novels since 2010, say. Also, I’m resigned to the notion that I won’t have read any of the books mentioned. Probably — this is just a guess — I’ve never heard of half of them and the other half are on my TBR pile.

Also, separate issue — I’m not sure you can pick out anything as “most influential” a mere decade after it was published. Maybe? But for influence, maybe you can’t tell yet? I mean, maybe you can say, “Look, The Hunger Games spawned this ocean of first-person-present-tense YA dystopian SF trilogies between this year and that year, a fad that burned itself out about here and left no particular influence on YA science fiction in general.” I seems to me something can be influential in producing a fad, but won’t look particularly influential if you wait another ten years.

Fine, though: what are these recent influential fantasy novels?

First, let me count the ones I’ve never heard of. Eight. Not quite half, but not far off.

1) The Jasmine Throne by Suri — Exiled by her despotic brother, princess Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while imprisoned in the Hirana: an ancient cliffside temple … the secrets of the Hirana call to Priya … [who] works as a servant … cleaning Malini’s chambers. When Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess desperate to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze.

2) Children of Blood and Bone by Adeyemi — They killed my mother. They took our magic. They tried to bury us. Now we rise.

3) An Ember in the Ashes by Tahir — Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

That’s a good tagline for the description. I was pretty tempted by this one, but then this: “Tahir’s world-building is wonderfully detailed and the setting is an unusual one for fantasy novels. All of her characters, even minor ones, are fully realized….For fans of Game of Thrones and of Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock.” That’s from School Library Journal, but the point is, I hated Game of Thrones and Marchetta’s Finniken trilogy was too dark for me and I gave it away. I can’t remember if I read the third book or just couldn’t face it, but I know it was dark, dark, dark and I just couldn’t. Plus this was years ago, when I was much more tolerant of grim fantasy than I am now. The reviews are all, “brutal world,” and “This novel is a harrowing, haunting reminder of what it means to be human—and how hope might be kindled in the midst of oppression and fear” and I’m thinking I’m just not up for this.

4) Pet by Emezi — There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

This sounds interesting and maybe kind of a magical realism story.

5) The Gilded Ones, by Forna — Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs. But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death. Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

My favorite cover

I like some of what I see in the description here. The setting sounds very cool. The plausibility … oh no, I’m semi-immortal! … I’m having trouble with this notion. Then I see some of the reviews say things like, “If you’ve read any fantasy books, you’ll know Deka is in trouble. How much trouble is probably beyond what you imagine. Her trials are brutal. This book is not for the fainthearted. The story contains torture, mutilation, rape/sexual assault, child abuse, and human/child trafficking.”

6) Black Leopard Red Wolf by James — Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.

A lot of these novels seem to be revenge fantasies. This one, not so much. I was thinking of picking it up, until I saw this header for a review:  Dark and cynical, punctuated by horror and lost hope. “Everything seems corrupt and meaningless, and every once it’s as horrific as Mama June in a car crash. There are a few moments where hope seems possible for some more redeeming characters, but fortunately the author slams the door shut on that with gusto.”

Okay, so I’m like, um, nope. I don’t care how cool the setting is, I’m not up for this.

7) The Midnight Library by Haig — Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better? … Nora finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

Whew! A totally different type of story! A complete departure! “A feel-good book guaranteed to lift your spirits.” “Charming.” “Uplifting.” You know what, I’m picking up a sample out of sheer relief that I’ve hit finally a book on this list that does not sound grim, grim, grim.

8) Circe by Miller — In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child — not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power — the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves. Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus. But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

This sounds good! But a few days ago, commenter Kriti pointed to this Reddit thread where Circe is specifically mentioned as a story where everyone is mean to everyone else and particularly to Circe. “Every single character besides Circe is unbearably and unendingly cruel, rude, and spiteful. It feels like an abusive relationship in book form. Why is everyone so awful?!?”

I have no tolerance for this kind of story, as I found out again fairly recently by reading a book where I kept thinking, “For crying out loud, is anybody EVER going to be nice to the protagonist?” Eventually someone sort of was nicer, but I had a really hard time with this story and I’m now going to more trouble to avoid reading anything like that. I fully realize that the Greek gods were like that, but I just don’t want to read about it. Kriti also suggested Ursula K LeGuin’s Lavinia as an alternate novel, also based on Greek mythology, but with far more kindness rather than such an unrelenting focus on unkindness. I picked up a sample of Lavinia instead of Circe.

Next, how many have I heard of, but haven’t ever actually looked at? Two.

1) A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab — Kell is one of the last Antarimagicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

2) Shadowshaper by Older — Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of making art and hanging with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears . . . Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on. … With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. 

Both sound interesting and potentially good. Oh, look at that, the two top ratings for Shadowshaper are a detailed five-star review and a detailed one-star review. This is a great moment to just mention that no book appeals to everyone. This made me skim through three-star review, and for me, here is the decisive critique: “Every assumption Sierra makes, every mystery inexplicably solved, every chance encounter- none of it is a red herring. So basically, the villain is the villain with no surprises, and Sierra’s pure assumption about this stranger’s motives turn out to be totally true and no one is surprised.” I’m seldom okay with this particular weakness.

Next, how many do I have on my TBR pile? Three:

1) A Marvelous Light by Freya Marske — Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known.

This one starts off really grim, so I haven’t quite gone past the torture-and-murder prologue to the actual book. Eventually I will, given the steller things I’ve heard about this book.

2) The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune — an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

You all have provided mixed reviews about this one.

3) Jade City by Fonda Lee — Jade is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. It has been mined, traded, stolen, and killed for — and for centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their magical abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Neat concept. I hear it’s good, but a bit grim. I’ll try it when I’m in that kind of mood.

Next, how many have I actually read? To my surprise, one:

1) Piranesi by Susannah Clarke

And as you may recall, I thought it was lovely.

One more unexpected category: How many have I tried and disliked/DNF/was completely repulsed by? An unexpected and whopping six.

A) The Fifth Season by Jemisin, where I was deeply repulsed by the beginning and I don’t care that I’ve loved other books by Jemisin, I don’t plan to read this one.

2) A Court of Thorns and Roses by Maas, and to be fair, it was the first book the trilogy where I raised my eyebrows at the first page and set it aside, wondering how it could be popular. This is the one where on the very first page, Maas uses the word “parameter” where she meant “perimeter,” and I was like, nope.

3) Six of Crows by Bardugo, and here I tried the book and somehow it didn’t click for me, but I don’t know why not.

4) Benti, by Okorafor. I read the first novella, detested it for several reasons, and will never understand its appeal.

5) Legendborn by Deonn. I started it, lost interest, and set it aside.

6) The Grace of Kings by Liu. I’ve admired some of Ken Liu’s short fiction, but I started this novel, was surprised and disappointed not to be at impressed with the actual prose, then was disappointed at what seemed to be thoroughly one-dimensional protagonists, and quit.

I’m not crazy about thinking that more than a quarter of the most influential fantasy novels of the past decade are novels I personally disliked or found disappointing. I’m not keen about so many being brutal tear-it-all-down revenge fantasies either.

However, I’m not concerned at all, because whatever this post is about, it’s not about what novels are likely to be influential. I mean, Piranesi, seriously? In what universe do we expect that book to be influential? Have we seen a spate of novels that feature one character and are set in exceedingly weird settings where the world may or may not communicate with the single character through the flights of birds or other natural phenomena? No? Do we expect to see a swelling number of novels in this general vein in the future? No?

Well, then, maybe “influential” is not quite the right word.

The author of this post appears to be defining “influential” as “won lots of prizes, got lots of attention, and/or is really popular.” They keep saying, “This book won these awards, this book was nominated for this award, this book made various Best Of lists.” Well, I don’t care. As far as I can tell, winning awards has nothing to do with — FINE, not much to do with — being influential. Now, being popular does tend to increase the chances a book will be influential, but being popular can also mean that a book jumped on someone else’s bandwagon and rode a trend, such as (sorry, but I think this is a great example) the Divergent trilogy by Roth, which rode the popularity of The Hunger Games trilogy. I strongly suspect that if the Divergent trilogy had come first, it would have been far less noticed.

Personally, I would suggest we define influential as having a significant influence on trends in writing and publishing books, which is, you know, actually the definition.

Lots of the books above do not look at all likely to be influential to me. Circe, a retelling of mythology? In what universe would this be considered influential? We already have great heaping oodles of fantasy novels that are retellings of myths, legends, fairy tales, etc. If we see another hundred in the next twenty years, it won’t be because of this specific novel or any other specific novel. If I were going to pick out an influential fantasy series that draws on classical mythology, it’d be Percy Jackson’s popular series because that might have influenced a lot of young readers to try their hand at mythology-based fantasy. But even that looks to me like just part of a broader trend toward the popularity of retellings in fantasy.

The Grace of Kings? What are we arguing, that it may create a surge of interest in epic fantasy? How would we be able to tell? There’s lots of epic fantasy already. A surge of epic fantasy with settings that have a Chinese flavor to them? If we actually saw that, why not give GGK the credit? His novels with Eastern-inspired settings are well known, he’s a popular author, and as near as I can tell, the actual writing and storytelling in Under Heaven is a lot better. (A lot.)

Honestly, the linked post should have picked one thing and argued for that thing. Here’s what it looks to me like the author of the post started to do, but got distracted and went off in a different direction:

Claim the post should have made: We’re seeing more African-derived settings than we used to and this is likely to continue. Here are fine modern examples of fantasy novels with these kinds of settings that illustrate a trend toward non-medieval European settings in fantasy novels.

I will say, the settings for a LOT of the above books sound extremely neat. BUT, the books with these settings all sound extremely dark. If any of you have read any of these books and would like to comment, please do. Is anything here that sounds dark, but isn’t as dark as it sounds?

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25 thoughts on “The 20 most influential fantasy novels of the past decade”

  1. Of those twenty, I read and loved Piranesi, tried A Darker Shade of Magic but it was too gruesome for me, and here’s my capsule review of The House in the Cerulean Sea (from my blog, last June, but saving you a click):
    The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. Goodness, what a curate’s egg. At the beginning it read like the author had tried and failed to emulate T. Kingfisher; it wasn’t until halfway in that I got interested enough not to put it aside for other things (fanfic, web pages, a neglected monthly magazine), and even after that there was much eye-rolling. Someone had recommended it as cozy and gentle, and yes, it was: magical people who a different mindset might have cast as monsters but they weren’t, a bit of angst but resolved neatly, and a very happy ending. But argh! the weak-but-persistent fat-shaming, especially by the fat character himself, and the various instances of keeping essential information from the reader though the reader knew that the character knew it (three that I can remember now, possibly more, it’s not one of those books that I race through the first time and then immediately reread so I’m not checking). Dorothy Sayers disapproved of that. Well, so do I. It’s full of cute magical children, though, and the principal adults (Arthur, Linus, Zoe and Helen) are all right too. I’m not sure if the backdrop of dystopian England, never named but much alluded to with “if you see something, say something” and similar, is properly chilling or over the top; this is not meant as a dystopian book, I think. I described it to a friend without mentioning the supernatural elements — surprisingly easy — and it came out as something I’d read if it was mainstream, too!

  2. I’ve got The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune in my digital TBR pile, and am rather doubtful about it. The first few pages did not make me want to spend time with these people, in this world.
    If you ever do read it, I’d be interested in your opinion.

    I haven’t read or heard of any of the rest, and none sound as if I might ever be interested in reading them.

    The Gilded Ones description did make me immediately suspicious of the emperor. An innate positive difference being treated as something that people deserve to be scapegoated for, feels to me like the emperor orchestrated a PR campaign demonizing the gold-blooded folks so he can force them to serve in his army, as the only alternative to some horrible fate he’s whipped up the populace to threaten them with. If it isn’t something forced like that, as you say, it’s not logical, even if the society is full of spite and envy.
    No way am I reading anything as horrible as the rest of that description implies.

    I really hope this list will not be influential, because if most of what gets written in the next decade is like this, I won’t be buying many new books. It seems quite unlikely, unless maybe you’re talking of a specifically grim subgenre.

  3. I really liked Ember in the Ashes, but haven’t been able finish the series in my current low stress reads only mode. The initial setup is definitely dark, but the characters are all trying to make it better.

    Shadowshaper’s plot was straightforward, but I thought the characters, setting, etc were interesting enough to balance that out, and I liked that it didn’t get too heavy handed with its themes.

    I’m a sucker for a beauty and the beast retelling, so I liked Court of Thorns and Roses. The later books go in some interesting directions, too. I dunno how influential it is, but it’s clearly heavily influenced by the Black jewels books.

    Six of Crows was a really fun heist story, with great characters.

    Fifth Season is entirely a place-setting book and is pretty bleak. It involves a lot of parents killing their kids – rough stuff, definitely couldn’t read it in my current state.

  4. I’ve read Circe. I quite like it. I don’t feel it was dark. She certainly has a difficult life, but she figures things out. Maybe it’s the tone? It never felt hopeless.

    I certainly wouldn’t file it among grimdark. I avoid those as much as possible.

    Most of the others from this list sound too dark or depressing. I was never even tempted to read/watch Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, The Fifth Season, A Darker Shade of Magic, etc.

  5. I haven’t read many here, either. The Sarah Mass book, sure, it was fine. Piranesi, yes, very good. I love Ancient Greece and Roman novels, but not mythic retellings: Gillian Bradshaw for sure, but Madeline Miller, just no, bc I grew up on Mary Renault and Robert Graves. I liked An Ember in the Ashes, but the revolution books are all the same, especially in trilogy form, and it’s hard to finish with them. I tried NK Jameson and could not finish. I don’t understand why people love grim so much. Why is it so popular?

  6. It was a long time ago that I read Circe so I don’t remember too much about it. But I do remember that I really liked it. Keep in mind I’m not into grim or dystopian. So, I’m guessing it either really wasn’t that grim, or that I liked Circe the character so much that it was still worthwhile despite the dislikeable characters that surround her. From what I recall, it ends well, so there’s that too.

    I don’t think Cerulean Sea is that special or influential (unless it’s that a lgbtqia+ novel hit the mainstream and did quite well?). But I did enjoy reading it.

    Once I got past the (very!) grim beginning, I did enjoy reading A Marvelous Light. So maybe you could just skip over that part? :)

    As for Maas, I usually just give the benefit of the doubt and assume errors like the one you mention are typographical errors unless it happens enough (say 3 times) that it becomes clear that it’s an authorial issue instead of a typographical issue. I have noticed that typos are really proliferating with the advent of ebooks and self-publishing. For example, I’ve read ebooks that introduce errors that were never in the hardcopy version. And I know from personal experience and from author blogs that, no matter how many times a manuscript is reviewed, there will be at least one typo revealed after the book is published. Everyone has their personal tolerance but I would hate to have a single typographical error put me off an otherwise wonderful book. End rant, lol.

    As for the Maas story itself, I’m not sure whether to recommend it to you despite the grammatical or typographical error. That’s because it does deal with some dark stuff. But, for what it’s worth, the Maas series (plural) managed to suck me in despite the darkness the characters face.

    I didn’t care for Midnight Library, partly because I didn’t like the main character.

    I hesitate to admit it but I also didn’t enjoy Piranesi. Not because the author did anything wrong, or because I couldn’t appreciate what she was trying to do, but just because it wasn’t the literary device for me.

    Legendborn is an Arthurian-based YA tale that did not grab me at all for whatever reason. Too much teenage angst?

    I liked the original Binti to begin with but read the next two sequels with less and less enjoyment. They just ended up being too depressing, and they also made me re-think my like for the original novel.

    Which is not to say that thought-provoking or grimdark books are not important or worthwhile, but I am looking for cheerful escapist fun in my downtime, especially in these trying times. :)

  7. I liked The House in the Cerulean Sea. The trope of “person living obedient dull life breaks free” often works for me.

    The original Binti was a “meh” for me. I read the second one but have no interest in continuing.

    I read The Midnight Library and … don’t remember it. I know I finished it, but I’m blank on anything that happened. I think that’s a first for relatively recently after I read it.

    I bounced off Piranesi but plan to try it again. There was nothing I actively disliked, I just set it down to read something else and never went back to it.

    Of the rest, the ones I’d heard of were described as too grim for me. A blurb touting the main character’s search for revenge will almost always turn me off.

    I mostly liked A Marvelous Light. The grimness of the prologue was an issue and if I hadn’t kept seeing people recommend it I probably wouldn’t have tried again. Also, one of my dislikes are families that are bullying to one of the members, so that almost did me in too. I did finish it. I also read the second book – which did the same darned thing with the prologue and if I read the next book in the series I’ll skip the prologue. I’m not sure I like the parts I like enough to make up for the parts I don’t like.

  8. I don’t understand why they’re supposed to be “influential”.
    Murderbot is influential, though not fantasy.

  9. I had the same problem as you with Binti, although I loved and would recommend Okorafor’s earlier YA science fantasy Zahrah the Windseeker which is a wonderful friendship story in a unique setting with some very cool bio-magi-technology (computers growing on trees!)

    I am going to push back a bit on your question about why Guy Gavriel Kay didn’t get credit for an increase in the amount of Chinese-influenced fantasy, though- besides that they’re writing in different subgenres where Kay is more historical fantasy than epic fantasy, I would argue that part of the appeal and influence of Ken Liu’s series is that it is possibly the first time in the genre we’ve gotten an epic Chinese-influenced epic fantasy that is actually by an Asian author with a large marketing push and that matters because you have someone with a different, more personal, and often less reverent relationship to the source material and they’re going to do different things with it that we wouldn’t otherwise get to see. In terms of influence, I would say its success also carved out some market space for more recent series by Asian authors like R.F. Kuang’s Poppy War trilogy or Shelley Parker-Chan’s Radiant Emperor duology which are more fantastic and deconstructive takes on Chinese history also, quite a different feel from both Kay and the earlier “Oriental” pastiches in the genre like Barry Hughart.

  10. Pete, that’s why I think the author of the post just forgot that they were supposed to be focusing on “influential” completely and did something else.

    Sandstone, good point, but I wasn’t so much saying GGK was influential as that I couldn’t see why what looks to me like an inferior book ought to get credit for being more influential. I think I’d resist that idea less if I thought the book itself was better. I agree it got a big, big marketing push because of the author and that probably does mean it’s more influential.

    Jeanine, the author/editor/copy editor/proofreader ALL missed it OR the author insisted on stetting back to the wrong word, and either way it was just really off-putting for me personally. Wrong word choices on the first page are much, much harder for me to pass over than the same wrong word choices once I’m actually engaged. I definitely think the turnoff for me in Legendborn was way too much teenage angst.

    Interesting that several of you are saying Circe didn’t strike you as all that dark! Maybe I should give it a try!

    I like heist stories, so I guess I should try Six of Crows again!

  11. I should clarify that Lavinia is based on Roman mythology (she’s from the Aeneid), but since Aeneas is supposedly from Troy, it all goes back to Greek mythology anyway.

    I read and enjoyed The Midnight Library but I noticed that a lot of people didn’t like the protagonist. I found the portrayal of depression very authentic, which means she is very passive and no matter what happens, her mood doesn’t improve. It does have a happy ending, but she’s very tiring to read about. I found it enjoyable anyway because I’ve been there and I get annoyed by how easily depression is “solved” in feel-good media, I thought this was more relatable.

    I also (of course) loved Piranesi.

    I’m not sure I would call Circe “dark” necessarily, it’s hard to articulate the problems I had with it. A lot of the events are taken from the mythology and so I can’t fault it for all the rape and debauchery. But I feel like it relied on a stereotype of “pretty much all men are evil, and most women are evil because of the men they’re around” and the characters in the book acted in ways to fit that narrative rather than being individuals with their own backgrounds and desires. In Lavinia, the characters felt like real people, and the myths it’s based on are also more heroic. Circe is the villain in mythology, Lavinia is the hero’s wife.

    I did not enjoy A Darker Shade of Magic, I thought The Grace of Kings was all right (I actually found my original reviews of both, although I was much less articulate when I wrote them: A Darker Shade of Magic, The Grace of Kings).

    I did read the whole Jemisin trilogy, I thought The Fifth Season was really good because of its narrative structure, but it is very dark. I remember enjoying the sequels when I read them, but I have no inclination to read the series again (and I am a prolific re-reader). I also have read the whole Binti series and it had some cool sci-fi ideas but I didn’t care about any of the characters.

    Generally I agree that there’s too much grimness in fantasy these days, and even books that aren’t grim are written like an action movie (Orbit especially seems to specialize in the “action movie” fantasy), I’ve been avoiding new books for the last few years and my satisfaction with my reading has improved immensely. I also burned out as a reviewer, I was getting dozens of books a year that I felt obligated to read and I realized I was liking less and less of the books I read.

  12. Kriti, thanks for your comments! I think burnout can be a real problem for prolific reviewers. Not only do you see reviewers getting tetchy because they’re forcing themselves to read books they don’t like (Don’t DO that to yourself, I want to add. Life is TOO SHORT.), I think they often start feeling like they’ve seen something a million times, therefore it’s boring. That latter response can be a problem because more typical readers haven’t seen whatever trope NEARLY that often and do NOT find it boring, so that pushes prolific readers/reviewers/editors out of step with more typical readers. Or at least, I think that can happen.

    I noticed an “all men are evil” theme in various fantasy novels long ago, couldn’t un-notice it, and don’t like it. But beyond that, I just do not want to read books where a substantial percentage of the characters are mean, selfish, cruel, whatever. I just don’t want to watch those characters move through the story.

  13. Kriti, also —

    “Rebels replaced tyrants and became tyrants themselves, competent men and women let their competency go to their head and ended up destroying everything they’d worked for because they wanted more power. There were exceptions, but even they were tempted. It seemed like a world where ambition was expected, or maybe the story only focused on the ambitious people; I’m not sure – it is a book that’s about empires toppling, after all. I kept wishing for some nice characters, but they all ended up dead”


    Definitely not for me.

  14. Just a drop in comment to say that I really enjoy your list checks. I find them, and the comments, really useful in finding new and old things to read. Thank you!

  15. I read A Darker Shade of Magic… and I really wanted to like it, but it was too dark for me. IIRC, there was a torture scene at one point (villain POV maybe? I’m not sure about that part), and there was this undercurrent of distrust in one or two important relationships that really grated on my nerves. I didn’t trust the author to bring it around in the following two books so I didn’t finish the series.

    Midnight Library– was interesting. I liked the concept, and I agree with Kriti about the depiction of depression. However, I still felt that the character was unrealistic, not because she was depressed but because I didn’t believe that she would do what she did in each of her alternate lives. The beginning was solid (but also depressing of course), and the ending was kinda satisfying in that it’s where you want the protagonist to end up. The rest of it felt too much like the author making a point. Some nice quotes though. Full disclosure: I would not have read past the beginning if I hadn’t been reading it for my book club.

    You know what it reminded me of? “Roses by Moonlight” by Patricia C Wrede. It’s a short story in her collection “Book of Enchantments”. It is similar in that the main character has the chance to look at alternate lives.

    Sandstone, thanks for the pointer to Zahrah the Windseeker. I did want to try something else by Okorafor, and that sounds good!

  16. I think you are right to set The Fifth Season aside – I thought it was a very good book, but I was also stressed pretty much the entire time I read it.

    A Marvellous Light is really not grim once you get past the opening, but I also found it kinda boring. I felt like the main characters didn’t have a lot of personality, and I didn’t care about their relationship at all (and you’ve probably noticed that it usually doesn’t take much to get me on board with any romance). Mostly I thought it was like KJ Charles’ Spectred Isle, but worse. However, plenty of other people like it very much, so there must be something to it. Maybe I was just in a bad mood the day I read it.

    I made it to the end of A Court of Thrones and Roses and wished I hadn’t.

    Relatedly, how much longer are we going to see all these books named An A of B and C? I had hoped it was dying down, but saw several new ones at a bookstore this weekend…

    Lots of other books on this list I’ve been meaning to check out, thank you to everyone sharing their opinions in the comments!

  17. See, the title formula that bugs me the most is The X’s Daughter/Wife. If it’s a book about the woman, why make the title about whose wife or daughter they are.

  18. YES YES YES SarahZ. I detest that formula for titles, for exactly that reason.

    EVEN WORSE: The Bearkeeper’s Daughter by Gillian Bradshaw. (a) I read that as “beekeeper.” (b) It’s stupid to refer to Theodora that way. (c) Theodora isn’t even the protagonist! She’s a minor character! What was the publisher thinking?

  19. I really liked Jade City. I have to thank the Hugo nominators who voted for the Green Bone Saga for Best Series, since I would never have picked it up otherwise. I don’t know that I’d call it grim, exactly, but sad things do happen, so waiting until you’re in the mood is a good idea!

    I completely agree with you about Piranesi (positive) and Binti (negative). I bounced off Grace of Kings, meant to get back to it, and never did. I foolishly bought Black Leopard, Red Wolf without trying a sample first and noped out in the first chapter after some extremely graphic violence. It was definitely a good reminder to try a sample before buying!

  20. Linda, yep, I’m pretty solidly in the habit of getting samples, but every now and then I experience exactly that kind of reminder.

  21. Re: reviewing, I started doing it because I was like “people will send me books FOR FREE?!?!?! and all I have to do is talk about them, like I like doing ANYWAY?” but yeah, I did not realize that I was not making decisions about what to read anymore, and that took a lot of the joy out of it. And I agree that reviewers end up out of touch with more “normal” audiences, I notice this all the time with movie reviewers too.

    Re: “all men are evil”, I’ve also noticed this being a pattern. There was this one fantasy book I read once where there’s a guy that pretends to be nice to get a girl to sleep with him (and she CHOOSES to do so). Then after she sleeps with him, he is like “haha I just wanted you to sleep with me, I’m not actually nice” and later in the book she brutally murders him for doing this to her. I mean he was a shitty person, but I don’t think he deserved to be murdered because she misread him. It’s framed in a way where I think I was supposed to be sympathetic to her, and feel happy he got what he deserved or something, but I was so appalled. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to throwing a book across the room.

    Yeah, I have no interest in reading The Grace of Kings again (I never read any of the sequels either). I think the main thing I liked about it was the “silkpunk” setting and unique culture/technology, but I used to be more tolerant of interesting settings even if I didn’t like the characters. Ken Liu writes some good short stories, though.

  22. I agree that a lot of Liu’s short stories are beautifully written. That’s one reason I was not prepared to tolerate writing that just did not seem that good to me in The Grace of Kings.

    I would probably have thrown the book across the room too. If you want to make the guy a bad guy who deserves death, you have to go a lot farther than that. Kate Elliot did this right in the Spiritwalker trilogy, where the guy in question manipulates the protagonist to sleep with him and the reader thinks ick, but then he does something worse … and something worse … and something much worse … and OMG he is SCUM and also extremely dangerous and can somebody please kill him before he tears everything down. There you go, now the readers are not going to throw your book across the room when this particular bad guy gets killed. That’s how to do it!

  23. That is the #1 reason I don’t reread the Spiritwalker trilogy :( I loved absolutely everything else, but that bit just ruins the whole thing. I’ve tried skipping over it, but as you pointed out, the guy is a prominent antagonist.

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