Final post for my 2016 reading roundup! Now I have to come up with new content to post. I saved fantasy for last, since it can compete with sci-fi for sheer volume I read per year, and is further complicated by containing bits of several series. And while my love for the genre persists, I this year’s showing was less impressive.
Howl’s Moving Castle | Diana Wynne Jones
I’m really inviting hate here, but this book felt very much like a Neil Gaiman novel, but more effective. The best part of the writing is that humor and whimsy, and its meta acknowledgment of the tropes of fairytales. Occasionally the characters personalities grated on me (as trope, inequality in romantic relationships bugs me, especially when one character is falling for another over the course of a whole book and the other just sort of reciprocates at the last moment). But I was still very invested in how each mystery and misunderstanding would unfold. Of course, world building and side characters were also fun.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child | Not J.K. Rowling That’s For Sure
What the fuck did I just read? This play is a rollercoaster of bizarre from start to finish. Before I read it, I clung to a shred of hope that I would feel that spark I did with the books. Cedric was the only death (apart from Harry’s ‘death’) that made me cry in the books, so I was predisposed to forgiving the insane plot to save him. But this made no damn sense and the characterizations (particularly Ron) were so strange. Also, they should have just had Albus Severus and Scorpius fall in love. It was time.
Wildwood Dancing & Cybele’s Secret | Juliet Marillier
Wildwood ended being the second book about Transylvania and vampires I read this year without knowing that’s what I was getting into. I enjoyed the core story about a witch’s curse setting into motion a subtle plot that helps the main character fulfill her destiny without her realizing it. Unfortunately, both the story and the protagonist were bogged down with Tati’s subplot about falling in love with a not!vampire, both of whom were weak characters.
After Sarah recounted the plot of Cybele’s, I decided to give it a go since it was available as an audiobook from the library. I vastly preferred this to Wildwood, mostly because of the setting (Turkey) and historical context. Apart from the fact that once again a Marillier heroine chose the wrong boy, I felt uncomfortable with the plot twist about who the villain was. It was Dan Brown-esque, for one thing, and I don’t love the trope of feminazi villain. It had a lot of charming Marillier trappings, and was a pretty read. It’s hard not to compare everything she writes to Sevenwaters, but I found this duo fell short of her best.
The Historian | Elizabeth Kostova
I totally forgot that this book was about Dracula until I started reading it. I would have put it down after the disappointment of Sunshine, but I found myself thoroughly entertained. So much so, that I checked reviews to make sure it wasn’t outrageously popular and I just missed it, and that’s exactly what happened. Something about the mystery and the mood Kostova evoked was compelling enough that I even went along with the anti-climax. I’m someone who loves a lot of gothic sensibilities, but find myself less-than-impressed with many of things that describe themselves as such. So it was all the more pleasant to find an exception in The Historian.
The Magician King & The Magician’s Land | Lev Grossman
I finally finished the sequels to The Magicians, and am upset that I let myself wait so long to do it. I let myself believe people when they said they weren’t worth the time, but as flawed as these books are, I found and enjoyed so much in them that I simply cannot see anywhere else. Yes, sometimes the pacing is strange and there are some patterns with characterization that need straightening out. But at its core its about people whose identities are very tied to certain fantasy series from childhood, and is a realistic representation of what it is like to approach life from the lens of someone who thinks in those terms. It’s the level of meta I want to engage with constantly, and allows me to appreciate that the author started out as a critic.
Apart from the occasional overly edgy line, they’re also genuinely funny. Janet’s emotional arc was incredible, and Eliot will always be my favorite. Even Quentin, who was as annoying as people said he was, grew in a satisfying way. I was surprised at how well I liked Julia’s journey with Reynard, and also how much I needed to confront Ember and Umber for their BS. As world-building goes, this series approaches the rare glory of Harry Potter, with less whimsy but fantastic bite.
Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony & Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox | Eoin Colfer
It was a total joy to return to Artemis Fowl, which also merits a comparison to Harry Potter in how formative it was for me. (I am forever seeking clever modern fantasy, and am forever disappointed in recommendations.) I was worried about returning to the series, since many of my friends and I gave up on it for losing its way, but the low time investment combined with the genuine charm they still have made it worth it.
Seeing the reverse-Holmesian structure to Artemis’s schemes was a great nostalgia trip into the beginning of my predilection for the Tony Stark/Dr. House rude genius archetype. I also enjoyed the introduction of the world of dogmatic demons, which felt very Douglas Adams, and look forward to the antics of the rebelliously sweet No1, now that he’s joined the team. Aside from one of the villains being a bit cartoonishly evil for a kids’ series that is about moral gray areas, I totally respect where Colfer is taking the series. I decided to save the final two books for 2017, since a little middle-grade goes a long way.