It’s that time again! These are my favourite 2010 prose releases, in varying detail; I’ll hopefully come back to the comics later.
Young adult fiction
Life Swap (Abby McDonald) was a book I was not expecting to enjoy as much as I did. An English and a Californian girl ‘swap places’ – they’ve both applied for an exchange program at the last minute, and are accepted with the proviso that it is a direct swap – so Tasha, who has been a bit of a slacker, is doing political theory at Oxford, and Emily is taking film studies. There’s a great deal of culture shock, and struggling to meet people’s differing expectation. I loved both parts of the story: Tasha’s coming to a sex-positive understanding of feminism, in the face of more judgemental attitudes, struggling to do well when no one thinks she can; Emily learning to loosen up, to look outside the life she’s always had lined up for herself, and discovering other things she’s good at.
There’s romance for both of them, which does and does not work out, but which are important for what they learn about themselves in the process. They befriend those they hadn’t thought they could relate to, and they befriend each other too, messaging each other, trying to figure out how to not feel so alone.
I was expecting this to be a light read, and it is, but it’s also a fine character study, smarter and more satisfying than the cover would lead you to believe. It’s sold as YA, but it’s set at university/college, and it was nice to read about people closer to my own age and stage in life.
A book I did have expectations for, on the other hand, was the sequel to Anna MacKenzie’s Sea-Wreck Stranger, a gorgeous, low-key post-apocalyptic novel. Ebony Hill did not disappoint.
(This spoils the ending of Sea-Wreck Stranger, but I don’t know that’s a big deal – that book ends in a pretty inevitable way.)
Having left the island she grew up on, Ness is still trying to find her place in a new society, that while more technologically sophisticated, is not having an easier time of it. Trouble strikes when the farm Ness is staying at comes under attack.
The novel deals matter-of-factly, unflinchingly with the consequences of these attacks – not just the loss of life, but the threat to the city that rely on the farms for survival. The community fleeing isn’t an option: people need that harvest. And Ness gets caught up in this.
The novel doesn’t valorise fighting: Ness does what she needs to, but her skills are elsewhere, and just as necessary for survival. The story has a very practical focus, which is one of the things I appreciate so much about it. This isn’t a bleak or romantic post-apocalypse story, it’s people doing their best to thrive as well as survive; it’s the rebuilding of society, and how fragile that is. I think it’s a kind of story there should be more of.
Honourable mention: Sarwat Chadda’s Dark Goddess, the sequel to The Devil’s Kiss. Even more of an adventure story, and with a less Abrahamic focus. More female characters too. Billi is a marvellous heroine, struggling to deal with conflicting loyalties, determined to do her best and do her job and save the world while she’s at it. I enjoyed this a lot.
Mira Grant’s Feed I have already written about a bit. Zombies as science fiction rather than horror. I feel like I need a second copy of this so I can give it to more people. I got a text from my mother while she was away saying, “I never thought a book about zombies would make me cry.” Me neither.
Tansy Rayner Robert’s Power and Majesty was fabulous secondary-world fantasy, in a classical rather than medieval setting, with fantasy elements that felt fresh, a focus on female friendship, the kind of fucked-up secondary characters you hate to like, and a heroine who is able to save the day because of her feminine qualities, and be a better leader because of them.
NK Jemison’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms managed to hit a lot of my story kinks beautifully, in a way that reminded me of my favourite Tanith Lee stories. I love love love stories that are really mythic, so I raced through this. The sequel is also very good, though less id-y and maybe not as well structured. On the other hand, Oree was more memorable to me than Yeine, even if Yeine’s story-arc hit me more, and I enjoyed the different perspective it gave to the world.
Honourable mentions for new books in continuing series: Tanya Huff’s The Truth of Valor kept it fresh, and Michelle Sagara’s Cast in Chaos went even more epic than before. Seanan McGuire’s An Artifical Night was probably my favourite new urban fantasy book for the year, in a year which really solidified my love of the genre.
Short story collection
I picked up Angela Slatter’s The Girl With No Hands at Worldcon, after I heard her putting a copy of The Secret Feminist Cabal aside and deciding that meant her stories were probably ones I’d be interested in. My favourite is ‘The Living Book’, which despite beginning in a fairy tale setting, perfectly fulfills my robot kink. Many of these stories are drawn from fairy tales, finding other ways to look at them. It’s other ways to look at things in general, including a disturbing antidote to all these zombie love stories I cannot believe exist. There’s a lot that verges on horror here, all beautifully told.