As usual, most of the books I read this year were not actually published this year. If the award nomination process for 2014 happened in, say, 2020 or so, I’d probably be golden. However, I did manage to read a few current books this year, and for the sake of (hopefully) making this post useful for folks thinking about award nominations, I’ll mostly stick to those. Just so they don’t get neglected, I’ll also include an ‘honorable mentions’ section for non-2014 books at the end of the post. Of course, now that I’ve said that, I’m going to break my own rule and start with a non-genre book that came out in 2004. After that I’ll stick to 2014 stuff, I promise.
My absolute favorite read of 2014 was Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff. This book wasn’t even on my radar until I received it in last year’s All Hallow’s Eve Book Exchange. That being the case, I went in with no expectations, and ended up being floored. The central characters in the novel are the fractured ‘souls’ that occupy two bodies with multiple personality disorder, bodies primarily known as Andy Gage and Penny Driver. The novel is a fascinating look at trauma, perception, identity, gender, subjective reality versus objective reality (and whether such things even exist), conformity, or refusal to conform, coping, and the way people choose to see or not see what is ugly and dirty and doesn’t fit happily into their world view. It is a brilliant and complex story full of characters with rough edges, sometimes fitting together, and sometimes not. It’s the kind of book that stuck with me long after putting it down, and one I suspect will continue to linger for quite some time.
As for books actually published in 2014, I recently discussed a few of them over at Weird Fiction Review. I won’t repeat myself here too much. I’ll just say I adored the relationship between the sisters in Genevieve Valentine’s The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, which is a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses set in the era of prohibition. Jo in particular is a character to fall in love with, as the sister tasked with holding everyone together. She is just as fierce and heartbreaking as you’d expect given her circumstances.
I’ll also say get your hands on copies of Kaleidoscope edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein and Long Hidden edited by Rose Fox and Daniel Jose Older because the stories in both anthologies are consistently strong and they are all well-worth your award consideration.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison was a surprise favorite for me. I never thought I’d find a novel about the intricacies of court manners and personal politics so intriguing, but the rich world made up of tiny details in this novel ended up being enthralling. There’s a mystery surrounding an assassination, but it’s entirely background to the story of Maia, the titular Goblin Emperor, struggling to fit in to his new role as ruler after a lifetime of living in exile as a bastard son, and having no exposure to high society at all, let alone experience being the center of the highest society of all.
I knew I would love Rings of Anubis: A Folley and Mallory Adventure by E. Catherine Tobler based on the author’s short fiction, and this novel did not disappoint. Aside from being good fun, full of adventure and airships, danger and daring, gods and gadgets, Tobler creates a world so rich and sensual you feel like you’re walking around touching, tasting, and smelling everything as you read. At the same time, it’s a highly visual book, one that’s just begging to be made into a movie. (Could someone get on that, please?) I cannot wait for more adventures from Folley & Mallory.
The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya isn’t remotely speculative fiction. It’s a crime/thriller, but it deserves mention here for its often lovely and poetic writing, which stands out in a genre known for generally being terse and stripped-down. It also does something that is disappointingly rare – it features a female main character who is allowed to be a human being. Frannie Mullen is flawed and angry and broken and distant and determined and strong and capable of being hurt physically and emotionally all at once, and these things aren’t seen as contradictions. Whether or not you think you like the crime/thriller genre, I suggest giving this one a read.
Fearful Symmetries edited by Ellen Datlow is another one I was bound to enjoy. I’m a sucker for horror, and a sucker for short fiction, and Datlow is the master of curating both. Like Kaleidoscope and Long Hidden, Fearful Symmetries is packed with strong stories, all of which are well-worth your time and consideration.
ETA: Steve Berman points out that his anthology, Handsome Devil, was indeed published this year, so I will add to the list… Handsome Devil edited by Steve Berman. Who doesn’t love a good seduction story? The ones in this anthology avoid falling back on tired cliches and tropes, offering surprisingly bittersweet ghosts stories, tales of first loves, tales of magnetic animal attraction, and men and women who enter into relationships with the supernatural with their eyes wide open, armed with enough wisdom to know what they’re getting into and plunging over the edge anyway. Not that one should judge a book by its cover, but it doesn’t hurt that a handsome man with horns happens to grace this one either.
Honorable Mentions (aka books I loved this year which were not published in 2014)
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Glitter and Mayhem edited by John Klima, Lynne Thomas, and Michael Damian Thomas
At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson
Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh
Lest the stories get lost in the shuffle, I’ll do a separate post focusing on short fiction soon. Stay tuned!