2014 Reading Retrospective: Year of the Female SFF Author

A year ago, I decided to balance the scales and devote 2014 to reading 18 books by female science fiction and fantasy authors. In 2012 and 2013, the ratio of male to female authors on my reading lists was about 2:1. You can check out my previous series of blog posts for the details:

If you’re looking to expand your own reading habits, check out the lists and articles on women science fiction and fantasy authors at the bottom of this post.

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Year of the Female Sci-Fi/Fantasy Author

20 books by female SFF authors started, 17 books by female SFF authors finished!

Although I didn’t read the same 18 books I’d originally planned, I finished reading 17 books by women science fiction and fantasy authors. It’s not uncommon for me to leave a few books unfinished from my planned reading list. I learned a few years ago that there are too many good books out there to waste time on one that’s not to my tastes.

A few books certainly stood out.

The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke was hands down my favorite novel of 2014. I had a tough time preventing myself from diving right into the sequels, but I wanted to keep with my original goal for the year.

I would say I learned the most from the Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. The control of tension and the descriptions during fight scenes were masterful.

I enjoyed delving into so many unique worlds this year. Some of them were certainly out there, while others had many familiar elements viewed from a different lens with fresh characters. Though the handful of YA novels I read this year were entertaining, easy reads, I’m not sure how many more I’ll read in the near future. As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of romantic subplots, especially when they overwhelm the main plot.

After finishing my goal, I rounded the year off by rereading a book by one of my favorite authors so I could start the next book in the series and catch up to what +David Dorian Granruth has read. I’m still reading it, so I’m not counting it as one of the unfinished in my stats below.

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Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels I Read in 2014

The stats are:

  • 22 science fiction and fantasy novels read, total
  • 21 previously unread
  • 20 written by female authors
  • 19 finished
  • 18 by 18 authors I’d never read
  • 5 YA novels
  • 4 by 3 authors I’d read previously
  • 3 left unfinished
  • 2 written by a male author
  • 1 reread
  • Possibly none written by indie authors… not quite sure

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Reviews of Sci-Fi & Fantasy by Women Authors

You can see excerpts of my reviews below (without spoilers) below.
See full reviews on my Goodreads 2014-read shelf.


Osiris (The Osiris Project, #1)Osiris by E.J. Swift

A unique world, where the city itself is a character. Told from two points of view.

While this does work as a standalone, the ending felt curiously unresolved to me, as though the events in the book might be doomed to repeat over and over.

As someone who doesn’t enjoy reading romance, I appreciated that the relationships were kept tightly controlled as subplots. It’s one of the few books I’ve read brave enough to resolve the love interests in this way.
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BlackdogBlackdog by K.V. Johansen

The story is unique, the worldbuilding and political structures are interesting and fresh, and the man who becomes Blackdog is a good character to follow. I also enjoyed the way gender was treated in this novel, with certain gods preferring certain genders for their priest/esses, and how women were warriors as often as men were.

But just as I was starting to enjoy one character’s story, the POV shifted again. I guess the problem is that I’m used to POV shifts being more chapter-by-chapter, where I get to know the characters gradually but at the same time, rather than in big chunks, where it feels like I’m being flung back and forth through the story.

This lack of clarity in the narrative even prevented me from enjoying the climax, because I couldn’t figure out whether the antagonist was alive or dead.

So overall, I think the author told a great tale, which I enjoyed at several points, despite not being immersed most of the time. I wish more books had this kind of treatment of gender. The author created a unique world, interesting characters, and a satisfying storyline. The fault, in my opinion, lies with the [developmental] editor.
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Downbelow Station (Company Wars, #1)Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh

As much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t get anywhere with this book. Sometimes you just have to surrender and admit that a book just isn’t to your taste. I started getting intrigued a little once we found out who Josh really is, but wherever I’d put the book down, I just felt no inclination to pick it up again. Time to move on.
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Origin (Corpus, #1)Origin by Jessica Khoury

Typical YA fare–I enjoyed it. Plot centers on a girl’s coming of age. She must choose to follow one of two paths: the future she always thought she wanted, or the future she now wants. Fairly fast-paced, with just a few too many characters to really keep track of all the aunts/uncles. She pulled off the ending very well!
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Steel City MagicSteel City Magic by Wen Spencer

Warning: Sexual violence.

This review is just for Tinker; I haven’t yet read the second book in this omnibus (Wolf Who Rules).

I love the idea of the dimensions and how they overlap. I also especially love the blend of magic and technology.

I loved the book; I read it in two days! 

But there were a few things that bugged me about the love interests. Part of the problem is simply that I don’t like romance, but the romance wasn’t as overwhelming as other books I’ve read.

I enjoyed Windwolf’s character in the beginning, but as the book went on, he became less and less interesting. I know, normally it’s the female love interest that I’d complain about not having her own personality, but in this case, it’s the male love interest who becomes more passive and is soon eclipsed by the main character.

I have high hopes that later books in the series, including Wolf Who Rules, won’t suffer from these problems. Which means they’ll have none of the cons of the first book, while keeping all the awesome.
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Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (Moribito, #1)Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi

This was a great story about a warrior/bodyguard who is given an impossible mission to save the prince from an otherworldly predator. The prince turns out to be the Moribito, or guardian of an egg that spawns once a century. What I liked about this story was that it wasn’t a “save the world” story. The characters were aware that although their mission was bigger than any one of them, it was only important to their area of the island. I haven’t read many books where the characters are that… non-self-centered.

The dialog oftentimes felt very straightforward (that’s the only way I can think to describe it). I think because of how it was translated from Japanese. It’s also written in third-omniscient, which is pretty cool, actually. It’s been awhile since I read one, but it allows the reader to get a very rounded understanding of what’s going on in every scene.

This book is a secondary-world fantasy, set in a culture very much like feudal Japan. As a fan of anime, Japanese culture, and as a former tourist of Japan, I really enjoyed this aspect of the book. I recommend it to anyone who loves Japanese culture.
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Beggars in SpainBeggars in Spain by Nancy Kress

This is a powerful novella exploring the theme of what it means to be human, and what cultural conflicts may arise when we start to become more. It’s a very quick read, and extremely well written, so I definitely recommend it!

Here’s an excellent quote. It’s toward the end, but doesn’t spoil the plot.

Trade isn’t always linear. You missed that. If Stewart gives me something, and I give Stella something, and ten years from now Stella is a different person because of that and gives something to someone else as yet unknown—it’s an ecology. An ecology of trade, yes, each niche needed, even if they’re not contractually bound. Does a horse need a fish? Yes.

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Racing the Dark (Spirit Binders, #1)Racing the Dark by Alaya Dawn Johnson

This is a unique book. The worldbuilding is amazing, though some of it is familiar, such as the idea of the elements, including death. Unfortunately, it didn’t really have an ending, since it’s the first book in a series. I will say the plot seemed meandering at some points, as though it needed a little tightening from the editor.

Overall though, I liked the gray (not black and white) characters and plot. And the world was very interesting. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to start a series in a unique secondary world with magic.
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The Last Stormlord (Watergivers, #1)The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke

Warning: Torture. There are a few graphic descriptions of an infant’s death and a man being tortured.

This book rocks. It’s adeptly written. The world lives and breathes, as do the characters. If I hadn’t already set up the rest of my TBR list through the rest of the year, I’d be going straight onto the next book.

This is also one of the best romantic subplots I’ve ever seen, by which I mean, it doesn’t do all the annoying stuff romance novels do. Ryka and Kaneth’s dialogue is so realistic, the conflict so tragic. And yet it never overwhelms the main plot or steals focus from the actual story. Nor are there any embarrassingly graphic love scenes to skim while reading in public.

Most of the plot resolves itself by the end, but yes, it’s definitely a cliffhanger in many regards. Not because plot lines are unresolved, but because even bigger wheels have begun to turn. And you’re left wondering whether certain secondary characters are still alive. So if you absolutely hate cliffhangers, don’t read this book until you have the second in hand.
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The Killing Moon (Dreamblood, #1)The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin

It’s official. I’m an N.K. Jemisin fan. While I didn’t tear through this book quite as fast as I did the Inheritance Trilogy books, this is still a great read. I will recommend reading the Inheritance Trilogy first, just so that you learn to trust the author. This book starts off with an extremely steep leaning curve, throwing tons of terms at you that you may not even pick up on until at halfway through the novel, if not more. (Unless you realize there’s a glossary!)

So yeah, awesome world. The religion is really neat. The characters don’t have quite the charisma as some of those in the Inheritance Trilogy, but you grow to care about them anyway. Overall, a very satisfying, self-contained read. I think there’s another book, but the ending of this one is wrapped up nicely.
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City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Despite the hefty doses of teenage angst and love triangles, the romance in this book stays away from the usual romantic crutches (miscommunication and secrets) most of the time. It seemed more realistic than many YA romantic subplots.

Still, I found the amount of time devoted to romance tiresome, which is maybe more of an indicator that I should stay away from YA than anything the author did wrong.

The characters are interesting enough. What I think gains the reader’s sympathy is how much Clary and Simon care about each other. There’s a nobility in how all the characters try to protect each other.
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Incarnate (Newsoul, #1)Incarnate by Jodi Meadows

A unique story idea, world, and magic system (at least as much as we saw in the first book). The very beginning was a bit rocky for me, but then the story really took off.

Unfortunately, though, the romantic subplot really started dominating the story midway through and became unrelenting toward the end. As I’ve stated in other reviews, though, I think that’s more my problem than anything to do with the book… The YA genre seems to live and breathe strong romantic subplots, so I should probably just avoid the genre… except then I’d miss out on cool worlds like this one.

The ending was somewhat rushed, but the revelation was surprising and intriguing.

If you enjoy unique, mysterious worlds, try this book. But be warned, the mystery surrounding reincarnation and why newsouls suddenly exist isn’t fully revealed in this first book.
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The Forest of Hands and Teeth (The Forest of Hands and Teeth, #1)The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

I completely dislike the narrative voice of this book. At first I thought maybe the book just started in summary-mode and would eventually get to the point where the narrator would stop telling us stuff and start showing us. Unfortunately, that rarely happened throughout the entire novel. The whole time, you have quite a bit of distance between yourself and the story. Now, the story did get more and more interesting, and that’s what kept me reading. The world, the mysteries kept by the Sisterhood, and the mystery of the Return were all intriguing, though I was disappointed by the end.

Interestingly, the character doesn’t so much develop as gain a greater and greater understanding of her own character and how her actions affect others, which was a growth arc I haven’t seen much in fiction. Overall, I recommend that if you don’t like the first two chapters’ voice, don’t continue reading this book, because it doesn’t often go any deeper. If the narrative style doesn’t bother you, then you’re in for a fun ride.
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Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth

Better than I expected, and definitely better than City of Bones. The concept is more of a thought experiment than anything you can fully suspend disbelief over (essentially 5 political parties who each only have 1 plank in their platform and who segregate themselves from each other). But the characters are rounded, even some of the more minor ones. And the romantic subplots (which apparently every YA is required to have) seemed truer to life to me than any other YA I’ve ever read… less angst, more uncertainty. Overall, a pretty good way to while away a weekend or so.
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The Curse of Chalion (Chalion, #1)The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

This book had a much slower pace than I’m used to, nor do you see any magic first-hand until about 200 pages in. But it was worth it.

Her characterizations are flawless. I never doubted who is a main character, a secondary character, or a minor character. It’s in very close third, so close that Cazaril’s thoughts are often reflected in the narrative itself (and not in italics).

At first I thought the plot was a bit meandering, but everything had its purpose in the end. I also like the subtlety of the gods in this book. Too many fantasy novels have them coming down and directly affecting so many things that one wonders how the characters have any purpose at all. The theology and the limitations of the gods are very well explained, though sometimes the characters doubt the gods’ will and capabilities, as only makes sense.

Another interesting thing about the plot from a writer’s perspective was the control of tension. I also liked the realism of the battles, particularly the one at the end (despite the supernatural happenings toward the end of it). Cazaril is too busy with his swordfight to know anything about what’s going on around him. He doesn’t know if the royal couple obeyed his command to run. He doesn’t know if reinforcements have entered the courtyard to help him or if he’s the only man left standing. When he tries to glance back, he pays for it. He has no idea what else might be taking place throughout the rest of the palace. All of these thoughts were running through his head even while he was fighting, but described in an expert way.

This is the first Lois McMaster Bujold book I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last!
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Who Fears DeathWho Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Warning: Violent rape described throughout the novel.

A day later and I’m still not sure what to think of this book. It’s amazing, to be sure. Let’s just say that it gave me a variety of complex emotions, much more than most books’ endings.
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The Drowning City (The Necromancer Chronicles, #1)The Drowning City by Amanda Downum

A very unique world. Awesome, detailed worldbuilding. Definitely give it a try if you enjoy fantasy of any kind. No graphic violence or sex.
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The Bone SeasonThe Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Once you get past what I can only describe as an extended prologue and the main character gets captured, this book gets pretty awesome. The tension ramps up quickly and I found it difficult to put the book down. So it definitely made up for the momentary lapse in good writing at the beginning.

For a publisher as big as this one, I was surprised at how many errors there were in this book. I remember at least one typo any word processor would’ve caught (“theif”). A couple mangled sentences. And the ebook formatting was probably the worst I’ve ever managed to read.
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ResurrectionResurrection by Arwen Elys Dayton

I couldn’t get more than 20% of the way through this one. Every time a new character was introduced, the author described them in great physical detail as well as giving a lengthy amount of backstory (telling). Sometimes that backstory was then demonstrated (shown) to us just a few sentences later, leaving me wondering why an editor didn’t chop out all the telling.
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The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

A very unique world. This book definitely tested my limits. It seemed like every time I started a new chapter, I was inundated with a huge chunk of backstory for a character I hadn’t gotten to know or care about yet. Over and over. So the pace seemed really, really slow.

Then, suddenly, it picked up. Things started happening at a frenzied pace. Everybody was discovering something or doing something interesting all at once. I couldn’t put the book down. Strangely, though, this all seemed to happen before the climax.

Unfortunately, I doubt the climax will be that memorable within a couple weeks. I think the narrative even shifts viewpoints at once point and even says something like “It seemed like the three of them were just standing in the room, having a quiet discussion”.

Still, the incorporation of Jewish mysticism, the time period it’s set in, and the idea of combining a jinni and a golem into one story… These were all very fresh. It’s a great read.

Sometimes it’s the books that are so close to being truly extraordinary that disappoint me the most. For what they could have been.
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Spin StateSpin State by Chris Moriarty

Started off really cool. Kicks you in the face with awesome tech and all kinds of jargon right from the start, which made me think it was going to be wall-to-wall ass kickery the whole way through. Instead it turns into murder mystery intrigue and continues along for at least one-third of the book that way. Not sure how much further, as I stopped reading for a week and never got the urge to pick it back up again. So if you’re looking for a futuristic murder mystery, this is a great book for you.

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For the full reviews of everything above, see my 2014-read shelf on Goodreads.

View all my reviews

Did you achieve your reading goals this year? What was your male to female author ratio? Leave a comment below or find me as +Traci Loudin on Google+, the perfect place for fans of science fiction and fantasy to hang out.

 

Finding More Female Authors

If you discover you’ve skewed heavily male over the past few years like I had, here are a few resources to help you find great books by female authors.