It’s time for a compilation of the best books I had the pleasure of reading in 2017! The challenge in making this list was that rather than describing these book’s qualities, I just felt tempted to gush incoherently in all caps. I tried my best to rein that desire in.
And now — drumroll please!!! — we begin the countdown!
10. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee: This book was just good fun. It’s the rare exception to the Journey trope that I actually liked! It never got boring, it was a wild ride from start to finish, with great characters, vivid descriptions of various European cities, unabashedly queer characters (anachronism be damned), and a critique of white male privilege. I zipped through this in a few days; it’s a light, cheerful, fun read!
9. The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst: This book is somewhat reminiscent of the Hero’s Journey in 80s fantasy, but it’s actually written really well and is set in a woman-centered world. It’s got it all: lush and unique worldbuilding, an exciting and comprehensible plot, many memorable and likeable female characters, female friendships, solid writing, a romance that doesn’t make me gag and doesn’t overwhelm the plot but complements it, and a fantastically fitting ending.
8. Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali: This book is so important, and so, so, delightful. It portrays a Muslim community in a way that upends all stereotypes you might hold of them, while also examining the trauma of sexual assault. It’s narrated by clever and witty young Muslim girl whose compelling and unique voice was one of the best things about the novel. It’s such a great book for Muslim people to see ourselves represented, but it’s also a wonderful book for non-Muslim people who don’t know anything about the community. It’s funny and surprisingly moving. Note that it’s the only YA contemporary on this list, as I don’t generally like YA contemporary. I find it too childish or badly written. This book disproves both those notions.
7. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: From now on I’m going to call Leigh Bardugo the Queen of Plotting, because both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom feature complex and thrilling heist plots that left me in awe of Bardugo’s tactical brilliance. But not only is the plot fast-paced and suspenseful, the characters are incredible! They are all realistic and complex and lovable, despite how morally gray they all are. And the romance! Well-written, slow-burn romance that makes you literally squeal. Bonus: I got a critique from Leigh Bardugo once and she was the nicest omg I adore her!
6. Now I Rise by Kiersten White: The sequel to White’s And I Darken continues the story of Ladu Dracul, a genderbent Vlad the Impaler. The second book improves on the first by being more fast-paced and developing its characters further. Not only is Lada a bloodthirsty, ruthless badass, a truly unlikable but well-written female character, she continually shirks romance for her ambitions. Her brother Radu (who is gay and married to a lesbian!! I love this solidarity!) is her foil, and his growth over the course of the book is astonishingly well-done.
5. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden: I’m a huge fan of books that are atmospheric. Arden wields words like a painter, crafting a lush atmosphere that makes you feel warm, as though you are reading a book by the fire. That is what I first noticed about this book; it immediately drew me in and made me feel cozy. She tells the tale of Vasya, a willfull and spirited young girl who defies the traditions and expectations of her cold, isolated Russian village. There’s magic and sibling bonds and a fanatic and arrogant priest and it all coalesces into a beautiful tale that feels timeless.
4. A Gathering of Shadows by Victoria Schwab: I enjoyed the entire Shades of Magic trilogy, but I think A Gathering of Shadows was the very best Victoria Schwab has ever written. The book starts off with Lila Bard pulling off a spectacular heist and then it just gets better and better. Schwab builds tension masterfully and rewards her readers with a satisfying payoff. She gives us (2) romances that I could actually root for, including one that literally made me squeal with anticipation (this almost never happens). Plus she gives us Lila Bard, an arrogant, reckless, and ambitious young woman who shatters all stereotypes of female characters. Rather than fearing her power or being reluctant to use it, Lila leans into her powers almost recklessly, because she is determined to be the best. I would say it is worth it to read this series just for the wonder that is Lila Bard.
3. The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Reading this book was basically like reading a Jane Austen novel that was 1000x more interesting and better written, and also featuring telekinetics. Basically it’s a novel of manners with a touch of the fantasy element, and it’s not something you’d think would work, but Moreno-Garcia pulls it off so damn well. This book is kind of unassuming, kind of quiet, but it really sneaks up on you with how great it is; the more I think about it, the more I love it more. I can see myself re-reading it in the future just to savor the elegant prose and the slow-burn romance.
2. The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty: I’m just gonna say it. This was the best fantasy debut of the year. I can’t remember the last time a book left me a babbling, incoherent, sobbing mess. Chakraborty made me fall in love with her characters and empathize with them so much that their tragedies became my own. It took me weeks to recover from this book, which features Nahri, an Egyptian con artists, who is whisked off to Daevabad, the land of the jinn, and discovers her heritage is not all that it seems. One of my favorite things about Nahri’s character is her rational pragmatism and that she struggles so much using her powers. The other character who destroyed me was Dara, a contrary man who is essentially a war criminal but who falls in love with Nahri. There is so much exquisite detail in the world Chakraborty has crafted; even though this is a fantasy you can see her knowledge of history shining through in her realistic representation of political and ethnoreligious conflicts. It is a dense, rich novel, with a very high quality of prose.
1. The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman: Boy, did these books sneak up on me! I hadn’t expected a Regency-era supernatural YA book to sweep me off my feet like this! You know that feeling you get when you just…fall into a book? Like, the author has established the world and its character so well that the reading experience feels cozy, like coming home? That is what The Dark Days Club, and its sequel, the Dark Days Pact, was like. I just felt so happy and delighted when reading these books; I literally could not put them down. Just thinking of them lifts my spirits! The books star Lady Helen Wrexhall, who discovers she has powers necessary in fighting the demons that exist in her fashionable London society. It sounds campy, but it’s actually rather elegantly depicted. The books are absolutely thrilling!
Have you guys read any of these books? Comment and let me know!