Welcome to Smugglivus 2013! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2013, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2014.
Please give it up for Mary, everybody.
When I’m looking for a book, I want something that hits me in the feels. I want a book that is full of complex situations — either action or social or both — because those are the ones that will give the most opportunities for character’s to be illuminated. Connie Willis once said, and I’m paraphrasing here because there was drinking involved, that she thought literary fiction required characters to over-react to situations to drive the drama and that in science-fiction and fantasy, characters were presented with extraordinary situations so could therefore react rationally.
I think that’s pretty much spot on, which is why I lean towards science-fiction and fantasy as a reader. For me, I think it gives a much more honest range of character relationships. As I said, I read for the feels.
Also for the gee whiz! and the sense of wonder. So the books that I was most excited about reading this past year are books that do that and they are books that surprised me.
I was not expecting Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons. I got an ARC, opened the first page to see what it was and ATE THE BOOK OH MY GOD THIS WAS WRITTEN FOR ME IT IS SO GOOD. Swashbuckling tale of travel to foreign lands? Check. Dragons? Check. Social commentary? Check. Pathos and drama? Check and check. This reads like a 19th century travel memoir if it were written by the Dowager Duchess from Downton Abbey and she just happened to have been a naturalist specializing in dragons in her youth. Dry wit, gorgeous descriptions, and dragons.
Similarly, I was not expecting Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells. Her book and mine shared a book birthday so I picked it up in a show of solidarity and, again, had that thing where I just ate the book in one sitting. Emilie is the sort of resourceful protagonist that you wish you had as a friend when you were a teenager. Heck, even now. She gets scared when it’s appropriate, then pulls herself together and does what needs doing anyway.
In addition to that, Martha Wells has created a wonderful secondary world with strong steampunk elements that should appeal to anyone who likes adventure fantasy. This is a vibrant tale that would sit nicely alongside Jules Verne, but with all the boring bits cut out. It’s so refreshing to see characters making intelligent choices in difficult situations.
Really, that’s all I ask. I just want characters who are smart, which is why I like science fiction and fantasy so much because it gives plenty of opportunity to be smart and to have that be enough. You don’t need artificial tension from characters who won’t talk to each other when you’re twenty thousand leagues below, thank you very much.
Both books made me cry. They made me wince, and they made me wonder.