Top 5 Wednesday – Auto-Buy SFF Authors

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s theme is: your auto-buy authors that write SFF.

I used to buy a lot of books on their release date without reading samples or consulting reviews. But I racked up enough buyer’s remorse to be a lot pickier about them nowadays. The following are authors whose books I’ll not only auto-buy, but buy (sometimes multiple) physical copies of.

1. Pat Rothfuss

Pat Rothfuss
Pat has only published two novels and The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle (which is an…experience and a category in itself) in the past 10 years, which might be considered low compared to some on this list. But his writing style makes my brain cells do happy little jigs. There are so few epic fantasies that laud such lyrical prose while still being entertaining and addicting–like vegetables and junk food all in one–so his books are always a must-buy.

2. N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin

Jemisin never fails to bring something different and important to fantasy with each book that she writes–an Egyptian-inspired setting, bi/pan-sexual gods, a mostly PoC cast, polyamory, and plots that brim with righteous anger. Her books remind me just why I love this genre so much.

3. Patrick Ness

patness
Another Patrick! Ness’ SFF stories never fail to be unique and/or emotionally gutwrenching. I read through the Chaos Walking trilogy more times than I could count and his work has only gotten better and better.

4. Seth Dickinson

Seth Dickinson
Okay, so the guy has published one book to date (with a second coming in Fall), but The Traitor Baru Cormorant whisked me up to the highest of heavens, smiled, and dropped me like sack of rocks. Years later, I’m still rummaging on the ground, trying to pick up the pieces of my body. If that’s not a great first impression, I don’t know what is. I’ll buy anything that Seth writes.

5. Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb portrait

And, of course, the Queen of Fantasy. I dream of one day writing a book that contains even 1% of the magic that her stories have. If tomorrow Robin Hobb decides that she wants to write Dickensian erotica starring anthropomorphic animals, I will support her all the way and smash the pre-order button to smithereens. Because Hobb at her worst is better than many at their best.

 

flourishes

And there you have it! Do you see any of your favourites featured on the list? And tell me some of your auto-buy authors!

 

Top 5 Wednesday – Favourite Mentors/Teachers in Books

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s theme is: favourite mentors/teachers.

I had a lot going on this past week, so this was compiled kind of at the last minute. Which means it’s slightly less wordy than usual (yay!) Also, my first version of the list got scrapped because I wrote it and then promptly realized what a sausage fest it was. So I replaced a couple of dudes with women (sorry, Gandalf). Maybe my memory is just wacked, but why are there so few notable female mentor figures in fiction? For every eight men, I could think of maybe one woman.

Anyhow, here are the five!

1. Elodin (The Kingkiller Chronicle)

Name of the Wind2
Ah, Elodin. He’s just slightly ahead of Auri as my favourite character in the series. Genius. Kinda crazy. Mysterious. Tragic. The Master Namer is one of those profs that you constantly complain about at the beginning of the semester, because the lectures are so weird and unorthodox and there’s no sense to the grading system, but by the end you’re calling their lessons the most transcendent experience you’ve ever had in your academic life. Plus, he’s also one of the few people who’s able to ground Kvothe in humility.

“Re’lar Kvoteh, he said seriously. “I am trying to wake your sleeping mind to the subtle language the world is whispering. I am trying to seduce you into understanding. I am trying to teach you.” He leaned forward until his face was almost touching mine. “Quit grabbing at my tits.”

2. Jasnah Kholin (The Stormlight Archive)

The way of kings
One thing that is most definitely, sorely, lacking in fantasy is master-apprentice relationships between two female characters. But Brandon Sanderson does his best to remedy that with Jasnah and her ward, Shallan. Jasnah is a scholar and a self-proclaimed atheist. She doesn’t doesn’t suffer fools but is patient with her teachings. Serious, but possesses a wry sense of humour. Her discussions of philosophy with Shallan are some of the best scenes in the first book.

 

Shallan: You killed four men.
Jasnah: Four men who were planning to beat, rob, kill and possibly rape us.
Shallan: You tempted them into coming for us!
Jasnah: DId I force them to commit any crimes?
Shallan: You showed off your gemstones.
Jasnah: Can a woman not walk with her possessions down the street of a city?
Shallan: At night? Through a rough area? Displaying wealth? You all but asked for what happened!
Jasnah: Does that make it right? […] Am I a monster or am I a hero? Did I just slaughter four men, or did I stop four murderers from walking the streets? Does one deserve to have evil done to her by consequence of putting herself where evil can reach her? Did I have a right to defend myself? Or was I just looking for an excuse to end lives?

3. Chade Fallstar (Realm of the Elderlings)

Assassin's Apprentice
As the series progresses, we see Chade in many roles–assassin, spymaster, a secret relative, chief diplomat–but he was, and always will be, our protagonist’s first teacher. Chade enters Fitz’s life and imparts all sorts of higher learning–history, language, politics, comprehension and observational skills, herbery– alongside, of course, ways with which to kill. He teaches Fitz not to be a mindless killer but a scholar with a penchant for the deadly arts. His first and most valuable lesson, though? Your thoughts and opinions are valuable and it’s okay to express them.

“Learning is never wrong. Even learning to kill isn’t wrong.”

 

4. Helen Justineau (The Girl with All the Gifts)

The Girl with all the gifts
I don’t want to say too much about this one because spoilers, but Miss Justineau is our protagonist’s most favourite teacher. And for good reason. She truly cares about her students and exhibits compassion and understanding in a world where such things are deemed weaknesses. The relationship between Justineau and Melanie is one of the most heartwarming things I’ve encountered in recent memory.

 

 

5. John Keating (Dead Poets Society)

Dead Poet's Society
Is this cheating? Probably. But, then again, there is actually a book adaptation of the movie, so it totally counts. When I was in middleschool/highschool I always felt that this was the one movie they should show to all teachers at the beginning of each year. Mr. Keating shows that being a teacher isn’t just about teaching a subject. It’s about nurturing talents, broadening worldviews, encouraging students to carve out their own path in life, no matter how ludicrous others may view it.

 

He (and Robin Williams) will forever be “Oh Captain, My Captain.”

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

And there you have it! Feel free to tell me some of your favourite mentors/teachers in books!

 

“Champions of the Genre” – Explanation and Examples

As I write more and more reviews on this blog, you’ll see a small notation/badge (that I’ve yet to design) sometimes appear beside the review score: “Champions of the Genre.” You’ll also notice an identically-named shelf on my Goodreads page. It’s a designation plagiarized from inspired by video game critic Jim Sterling from the Jimquisition. And it means what it sounds like it means: the best of the best.

Many books feature beautiful prose, complex characters, dazzling worldbuilding, and deep exploration of human issues. But only a few among them shatter barriers with the violence to make the sky tremble and take notice. The barrier around the pre-conceived limit of a genre. The barriers of pre-packaged societal constructs. The barrier to the core of your heart.

These are books that I (read: subjective. Don’t send me angry messages) believe represent the best of what a genre can do.

They are the pathfinders. Ones that elevate the field to heights previously unimagined.

They are the defiant. Ones that look at all the injustice in the world and respond with simmering anger and purpose.

They are the clingers. Ones that tear through to the center of your being, latches on and stares into you, daring you to pull it away.

They are books you would buy multiple copies of without a single look of remorse for your weeping wallet. One to read to tatters. Two to read sparingly. Another to just lounge on your shelf looking pretty and pristine. And let’s not forget all the different editions. Before you know it, your shelf has become a shrine.

And today I present to you ten nine and a half examples of such stories.

~.~.~

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The first time I read this, I nearly stopped after the first three chapters. Everything was vague and strange and confusing. But I’d bought it with what measly pocket money I had as a 15-year old, so, swallowing buyer’s remorse, I forced myself to continue. One of the best book-related decisions I would ever make, it turns out.

Imagine for a moment that you’re walking through the woods. Not quite lost, but just drifting…exploring. You let the world fall away from you until all you see and hear is the pulse of the moment. The moment where the past, the present, and future tangle all about you in a flurry of warmth
and then
just

stops.
And time settles around you in quiet repose. And in that moment you feel such a oneness with the world it’s enough to make you weep and laugh aloud at once.

Melina Marchetta takes that feeling and weaves it into an entire novel.

I disagree with Printz award selections more often than not. But On the Jellicoe Road deserves every accolade and more.

~.~.~

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Warchild takes your classic space opera plot–a war between the aliens and the humans, with pirates muddling things up in between–and swivels the focus onto the foremost victims of any war–the children. It can be read as a story about a young boy who gets trained to be a soldier and a spy. And it can be read as a story about child soldiers and the traumas of war and how they linger with deadly tenacity in someone so young. Karin Lowachee juggles many difficult subject matters and pulls them off with astounding realism. Her characters are compelling and multi-faceted, all of them being so much more than what they first seem. I absolutely adore it when a book makes me do a complete 180 on my feelings towards a character, and Warchild had two such moments.

Brutal. Heartbreaking. And necessary.

~.~.~

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At Swim, Two Boys is one of those books that makes you think, No human could have written this. And, Only a human could have written this. It’s probably the most beautifully-crafted piece of work I have ever read. O’Neil manipulates the English language with the finesse of a god and the pathos of a mortal. He has been (rightly) compared to James Joyce, but I find his work much more accessible than the latter (though no less groundbreaking). Because although story is a historical one–one that slides a lens over the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland–at it’s core, it’s a story of the endurance of love, friendship, and youth amidst violence and hatred. And anyone, regardless of sexuality, nationality, age, or gender, can relate to that.

~.~.~

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In the latest 10th anniversary edition of The Name of the Wind, there’s a blurb by Lin-Manuel Miranda saying, “No one writes like Pat Rothfuss.” And I’m inclined to agree. The Kingkiller Chronicles isn’t perfect by any means. I have issues with Kvothe and some of the side characters, as well as the pacing. But, my god, the writing. NotW opened my eyes to the fact that beautiful, just-the-right-side-of-purple, prose has a place in epic fantasy. And not just any epic fantasy–one about a magic school. It was completely mind-blowing to me at the time, and Pat’s work has since become a big inspiration to myself and countless writers.

~.~.~

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Boy’s Life stands as the prime example of what a coming-of-age novel should be. It reaches into the heart of childhood and draws out the magic that lies entwined with the reality of growing up. The author understands so, so well that being a child is not all carefree happiness and sunshine. That there are pains and fears and uncertainties mixed in with the joy and wonder. McCammon transcribes all of that through gorgeous prose and a vivid setting that you swear you can just reach out and touch.

~.~.~

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The Traitor Baru Cormorant is many things. Less a fantasy and more of a political thriller set in a secondary world, it’s one of the few economic-centric stories that didn’t make me want to stick a poker through my eye–that made me actually invested (ha!) in the nitty-gritty details of how the flow of money controls an entire country. Its main character, Baru, is one of the most complicated protagonists I’ve had the pleasure of meeting–ruthless, clever, and often unlikable, but so determined to set the world right. It’s also one of only two book I’ve read (the second being The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue) that gives you a map with notations made by the main character. (I’m baffled as to why it’s not done more often. A notated map can show something–however small– about a character in a way that you can’t do in the actual story.)

But what really makes it an entry on this list is how masterfully the author uses the readers’ expectations against them. You think you know what’s happening and you cling hard to that belief. And then the book blindsides you. I was left physically shaking and rummaging through the pieces of my heart by the end.

~.~.~

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This book shifted the foundation of my world. It was the first time I saw words being used to create something so wholly different and yet so honest. A WW2 book like no other, it touts a weary Death as a narrator who tells the story of a young orphan girl growing up in Nazi Germany. Using a kaleidoscope of beautiful imagery, the writing juxtaposes the brutality of the time period with the beauty of kindness and underscores the power inherent in language, both written and spoken. I read it, cried a year’s worth of tears, and read it again…and again. And reread it at least twice a year for five more years. The Book Thief became the foremost inspiration for my own writing style, and a copy of the rambling letter I’d sent to Marcus Zusak, and the reply I got, is still stuck up on my wall.

~.~.~

The-Fifth-Season-banner2You can always count on N.K. Jemisin to bring something new and/or important to fantasy, whether it’s an Ancient Egyptian inspired setting, a cast that comprises mostly of PoC characters, or bi(pan?)sexual Gods. Though The Broken Earth trilogy is not my favourite of her books (that goes to the Dreamblood duology), I think it’s her most important. It belongs in the “defiant” category– a story of oppression and conquerors and motherhood. And anger. So much righteous anger. The Fifth Season not only introduces a brilliantly clever narrative structure, a unique world, and complex characters, it features diversity of all kinds–sexuality, race, gender. The series is everything that modern fantasy can–and should–be, and it deserves all the awards (Hugo 2018, here we come!)

~.~.~

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And the best for last. Technically, all of Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings books are Champions of the Genre, but I figure you don’t want to scroll through 16 additional entries, all featuring the same comment: “I will conduct blood sacrifices in Robin Hobb’s name.”

I can say with utter confidence that nothing will top this series for me (I’ve gone into details of what these books mean to me in this post). And my advice to newcomers? Don’t trust the blurbs. They make it sound like any other fantasy story where a young boy trains to become a master assassin. But it’s not.

Why? Because of the characters.

No one, in any genre of literature, writes characters like Robin Hobb does. Her characters feel like people you can pluck out into our world and have conversations with. Their relationships mirror the complexity of our own, spanning years and decades, filled with awkward bumps and painful distances. You will cry and yell and rejoice and despair alongside them. I’d heard someone say that you don’t read a Robin Hobb book, you live it. And that’s exactly it. It’s a long, winding journey through all the strangeness of life (plus magic and dragons and wolf brothers). And you sit there at the end of it a different, better, person.

~.~.~

And because I was short on time, a quick half-mention to The Isle of Blood (The Monstrumologist #3) by Rick Yancey. It’s horror. It’s beautifully philosophical. And it incorporates Nietzsche quotations without reading like a quirky contemporary indie feat. white teens. Read it.

~.~.~

And there you have it! I’ll probably compile a full list on a separate page and add to it as I go along.

Feel free to tell me some of your Champions of the Genre and throw some recommendations!