by Kris Vyas-Myall
This year our SCKA awards had a larger number of women and non-binary people and as such I wanted to give my thoughts on the categories:
For me this has been the strongest category this year with none of them being particularly weak.
I was least impressed by The True Queen by Zen Cho but I think this was predominantly due to my aversion to sequels rather than any lacking quality in the book. It was still very well-written and had interesting comments to make on colonialism but compared to the other nominees in the category it didn’t have quite the same wow factor.
A not dissimilar book which impressed me more was Tasha Suri’s Realm of Ash, a sequel to Empire of Sand which manages to achieve the rare feat of outdoing the original. This also addresses ideas of colonialism and control but this manages to delve deeper into the characters and make you feel emotionally invested in a world filled with scheming characters.
Silvia Moreno Garcia is a recurring nominee in the SCKA and someone whose career I have been watching with much interest even if none of her works have yet to be one I consider a future classic. Gods of Jade and Shadow is the work that I think changes that and marks a leap forward in her writing. What this has is the brilliantly evoked atmosphere of jazz age Mexico transporting the reader in the way the best historical fiction does.
Talking of transportation, The Ten Thousand Doors of January was one of the most buzzed about books in 2019 and I can see why. First of all, Harrow brings a great amount of skill in her character work to really draw you in. Secondly, this has a really literary style and a clear intent to be in dialogue with works of the late 19th & early 20th century. Finally, this all comes together to help explore ideas around identity and who has control of a narrative.
However, none of these I loved quite as much as my top two. Gilded Wolves is a fully 3 dimensional fantasy. It has great world-building and atmosphere in an alternative Paris. It has real depth allowing for exploration of colonialism and resilience in the face of racism. But, most importantly, it is also just a great fun heist story which I adored.
But my number one pick, far and away, has to be Kingdom of Souls. This one has everything. Great characters, wonderful mythology and world-building. Loved the journeys and culture and messages about family dynamics and history. Often the fantasy genres can be regurgitating the same old tales in new clothing. This one felt brilliantly fresh in a way I haven’t experience in quite a while.
Additional Nominee: The Bone Ships by RJ Barker
Science Fiction Novel
Velocity Weapon is a novel with a good concept that fails to quite deliver on it. The setup of Sandra suddenly waking up and believing it might be the future and her entire world is dead but not knowing if she can really trust this information sounds great. Unfortunately, the characters and plotting ended up losing me as it went on. Not terrible just not as great as I would have hoped.
Much like The Ten Thousand Doors of January, A Memory Called Empire has been getting a lot of buzz and I can certainly see why. It has a great mystery and the world building and themes are excellent. I am always a sucker for intrigue and political shenanigans, so combining these with themes of imperialism and identity work really well.
All City was a book I got recommended to me early in 2019 and I was absolutely enthralled by it. What this essentially is, is a character study of very different people put into unusual circumstances but DiFrancesco does this with such skill that it elevates into embracing much broader ideas and creating something harsh but beautiful.
Finally, one that consumed me completely. I ended up reading The Outside in almost one sitting, only taking short breaks to calm down from all the tension. Everything was just wonderful. The setting, the mystery, the handling of difficult issues, the character work, the writing of action scenes. Even the sciencey stuff I was interested in. A truly staggering achievement.
Note: With recent allegations against Elizabeth Bear I am taking a personal decision not to discuss her novel in this post.
Additional Nominees: Steel Frame by Andrew Skinner; Fleet of Knives by Gareth Powell
Blurred Boundaries Novel
The Infinite Noise is an interesting one in that it is telling the stories of The Bright Sessions podcast from a different perspective, instead focusing on the romance plot. I am a big fan of the podcast so, unfortunately, this probably worked against me. As such I knew a lot of what was coming and spent too much time recalling the session these parts related to. I enjoyed it all but didn’t wow me the way some others did.
Unlike the other books on this list getting a lot of hype, Gideon The Ninth didn’t live up to it in my mind. It has a good aesthetic and the setup is standard good one. However, the characters and mystery didn’t weld together. Also I felt it had pacing issues in the second half. Still very enjoyable.
From a dark gothic tale, to one that is light and dreamy. The Strawberry Thief, in spite of how tightly put together it is and complex the ideas are, ends up being a charming read. This largely goes to Joanne Harris’ writing which is masterful.
I was a big fan of the first two stories in the Rupert Wong series, so was more than happy to dive into the final story. This moves the setting to America and deals with the Old Gods versus the New. Whilst not quite as strong as the previous volumes it is still one I thoroughly enjoyed.
An interesting story of Disneyland meets Westworld, The Kingdom brings together fairytale elements into ideas around AI rights and what it means to be human. Really grabbed me all the way through.
But the one that stands out for me by far is The Migration. This really hit it all right notes for me. It was a beautiful mediation on the nature of grief and health and using really clever allusions and mythology to really illustrate the themes. It also managed to combine a beautiful dream like atmosphere with some darker twists.
Additional Nominees: The Institute by Stephen King; David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Coming soon: Part 2: Novellas, Short Stories and Series