Tag Archives: rachel bach

Top Ten Reads of 2015

I’m late on this! It took me a long time because I started playing a lot of videogames and getting elo boosting services from Elitist gaming. But I figured better late than never. 2015 has been a fantastic reading year for me.  There are some years where any one of these top ten would have my favourite book of the year, and there are plenty of books that didn’t make it on this list that were truly excellent.

A couple of notes. I’ve kept descriptions short, so check out the full reviews if you’d like to read about details of plot and premise; they are always spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.

And an admission: I cheated by way of including a trilogy as a single entry on this list, so there are 12 books, not 10. The trilogy in question is so ardently adored by me that it would have dominated the top five otherwise, which just seemed unfair when there were so many other great books.


goblin emperor10.  The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor is the story of a naïve, well-meaning young man suddenly thrust into a deadly world of court etiquette, political machinations, and social and racial tensions. This could describe a lot of books, but TGE is set aside by a genuinely lovable, well written protagonist and a warm, optimistic tone. If you want courtly intrigue and creative world building with a sympathetic hero, this is your book. Full review here.

iron night cover9.  Iron Night by M. L. Brennan.

M. L. Brennan’s Generation V was ever so much fun. It had all the campy appeal of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but for a nerdy, under-employed, post-liberal arts degree crowd instead of misfit high schoolers. Then Iron Night took everything about Generation V and made it even better. The characters become more complex, the plot more intense, the relationships more interesting, protagonist Fort the vegetarian vampire more hilarious. Fort’s struggles to balance his vampirism and family ties with his own pacifist inclinations make for a darkly comedic and highly entertaining read. Full review here.

honor's knight8.  Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach

It’s hard to compare a book like Honor’s Knight, second in the Paradox trilogy and my favourite of the three, with others on this list. It’s a romantic action-packed space opera, and it isn’t exactly life-changing – but it does what it sets out to do perfectly. And by that I mean have a truly ridiculous amount of fun following the antics of a spacefaring crew trying to save the galaxy with powered armour suits and many, many guns. Full review here.

bone dolls twin7.  The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling

The first book in a dark, character-driven trilogy about a young girl disguised as a boy from birth to protect her from a femicidal uncle – and by disguised, I mean that she literally walks around in the skin of her dead brother after a blood magic ritual. Aside from the typical epic fantasy story arc it follows (a hidden queen fights to restore her throne and set things right), the series deals with her gender dysphoria, her confusion at the family secrets and betrayals, and the question of whether the ends justify the means. It’s creepy, dark, has a charming romance, a diverse and interesting cast, and was completely riveting from start to finish. Full review here.

three body problem6.  The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

This is Ken Liu’s English translation of the Chinese science fiction phenomenon that won the Hugo this year – very deservedly so, in my opinion. Despite some exposition dumps and awkward dialogue, this book is so wildly fascinating and imaginative that it easily makes the top ten. It is a fantastic read – and noteworthy because I actually had to stop reading it before bed for a while because it gave me weird nightmares about physics. True story. Full review here.

stange and norrell5.  Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Dark, twisted magic. Victorian era setting and spelling. Gentlemen and ladies exchanging polite witticisms. Endless (but also endlessly entertaining) footnotes. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is enormous, utterly unique, laugh out loud hilarious, terribly creepy and atmospheric, and wonderfully memorable.  Full review here.

dreamers pool4.  Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

A dark folklore and fairytale-inspired fantasy novel set in ancient Ireland and nearly impossible to put down. Dreamer’s Pool focuses on two grieving, flawed protagonists, both dealing with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and trying to move on with their lives. The first novel I’ve read by Juliet Marillier, this blew me away with amazing characterization, a moving portrayal of platonic love, a masterfully crafted plot, beautiful writing, and a nuanced and compelling portrayal of trauma and it’s impact.  Full review here.

station eleven3.  Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Set twenty years from now after the collapse of civilization, Station Eleven skyrockets near to the top of the books I’ve read this year based on the incredible artistry of the writing—this is the book on this list I would most recommend to someone who generally prefers literary fiction to spec fiction. The vision of post-apocalyptic life created by Emily St. John Mandel is so vividly tragic and eerily beautiful, and the storytelling haunted me long after finishing the book. Full review here.

left hand of darkness2.  The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

This beautiful, wonderful book is so near and dear to my heart, and Ursula K. Le Guin is my queen. That is all.  Full review here.


ancillary justice cover1.  Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Is anyone surprised? (No. No one is surprised.)

Three very different and equally extraordinary books – rollicking revenge space opera Justice, political and social commentary Sword, and the hilarious and moving Mercy – create one phenomenal trilogy. I love everything about these books, from the ambiguous treatment of gender to the singing to the unrelenting fixation with tea. An evil expansionist space empire run by a clone! Themes of classism, colonialism, determinism, free will, the nature of sentience. Alien races about whom everything is actually completely alien, down to their very conception of identity. A protagonist who is an actual spaceship. The Imperial Radch trilogy is all the most awesome tropes of science fiction, brilliantly and originally executed.

Ann Leckie took an ambitious central concept – what would it be like to be a multi-bodied artificial intelligence? She made that character work as a first-person narrator, in spite of the enormous difficulties that presents. More than making her work, she made her relatable and compelling without ever sacrificing her distance, her alienness. And she followed up on every question and theme that came out of this (how is identity constructed? what defines personhood? who are we really?) to create three of the most exciting, thought-provoking, mind-bending books I’ve ever read, period.

Which makes them easily my most-loved reads of 2015.

Full review of Ancillary Justice here.
Full review of Ancillary Sword here.
Full review of Ancillary Mercy here.

Book Review: Heaven’s Queen (Rachel Bach)

Review: Heaven’s Queen by Rachel Bach
Space Opera / #3 of 3, Paradox Trilogy

“Trouble was, I’d stopped being a merc at some point over the last week. I wasn’t sure what I was anymore exactly, but on one thing I was absolutely certain: I was not going to throw anyone to the wolves on this… I didn’t care if it was nigh impossible.”

In the final book of the Paradox Trilogy (go back to reviews for book 1 or book 2 if you’re not here yet!) Devi has learned more about the danger and potential power of the virus she is carrying. Everyone has a different idea of what to do with her, and everyone is after her to try and make it happen… but Devi is tired of being jerked around. She’s ready to solve things in her own way, on her own terms, and heaven help the person who tries to stop her.

The first half of Heaven’s Queen disappointed me. The second half surpassed my highest expectations! A most talented book.

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Tough Traveling – Forbidden Love

This week on Tough Traveling with Nathan at the Fantasy Review Barn: FORBIDDEN LOVE

Even in Fantasyland parents are not always happy with their children’s choice of partners.

Ahhh forbidden love.  Not always my favourite trope – but at least in a couple of examples on this list, done really well!  Though I’ve gone in a more sci-fi land direction than fantasyland.

fortune's pawnRupert and Devi, Paradox Trilogy (Rachel Bach)

Devi just can’t stay away from the attractive, mysterious “cook” (who can best anyone in single combat) on the Glorious Fool, in spite of the best attempts of everyone (including him) to warn her away.  But when Devi wants something she’s not inclined to give up, and she definitely wants this tall, handsome man with a sexy accent and dark past… and also, who may not be altogether 100% human.

palace of illusionsPanchaali and Karna, The Palace of Illusions (Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni)

Panchaali has five husbands, but only one man she loves – Karna, the sworn enemy of her husbands who they will eventually go to war with.  She could have ended up married to him, as well, if she had held her tongue at a key moment in time. Her life would be considerably less tragic if she had .

Saga1coverByFionaStaplesMarko and Alana, Saga (Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples)

On opposite sides of an intergalactic war, Marko is a prisoner of war and Alana his guard… until they fall in loooooove and decide to hell with the war.  Hunted by both sides, they struggle to protect themselves and their newborn daughter. It’s amazing! (Thanks again for the recommendation The BiblioSanctum!).

left hand of darknessGenly Ai and Estraven, The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K. Le Guin)

This might not exactly be forbidden love… but certainly strongly discouraged love at best, since first contact with Gethenians is hardly the ideal time for romance.  They start out the book as entirely alien to each other, and grow from suspicious and untrusting allies to respectful companions to genuine friends. Genly and Estraven have my favourite love story ever, and without a single scene of physical intimacy.


Book Review: Honor’s Knight (Rachel Bach)

Review: Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach
Space opera / #2 of 3, Paradox Trilogy

“The truth is that there are no heroes. We’re all villains excusing our actions by hiding behind a greater good.”

I have, through some miracle of vagueness, avoided any spoilers in this review for either book in the Paradox series, so feel free to read on.  That said, to get a better idea of the premise, you may wish to start with a review of book number one Fortune’s Pawn.

Honor’s Knight is FANTASTIC. It took everything I liked about the first book and made it BETTER. So much better that I’m having to resort to caps lock to express myself. The same great characters I came to care about from the first book, but the stakes are higher now, the plot is more challenging, and the romance was comparatively deemphasized. I couldn’t have been more thrilled with this book.

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Tough Traveling: Otherworldly Creatures

Today… is not Thursday. I am late for Tough Traveling at Fantasy Review Barn this week, but here nonetheless! This week’s topic: OTHERWORLDLY CREATURES

Creatures not of our world or even our plane of existence, perhaps living in another dimension. Preferably, though not required, with tentacles.

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Book Review: Fortune’s Pawn (Rachel Bach)

Review: Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
Space Opera / #1 of 3, Paradox

“Did I pick safety or ambition? The slow and steady or the gamble? I smiled. Put like that, it wasn’t even a question.”

Mercenary Devi Morris is determined to become part of an elite fighting unit called the Devastators, and as soon as possible.  She takes a position on The Glorious Fool, a spaceship whose infamously high death rates have left it with the reputation of being cursed, after being told that surviving one year on the Fool is worth ten on a normal spacecraft in terms of experience.  But while on board, she begins to discover that The Glorious Fool is not the innocuous trading ship it appears to be, and its captain is harbouring a dangerous secret.

This book is solidly addictive space opera fun. It’s like if Pacific Rim and Firefly had a baby: an adventuring spaceship crew, combat between people in mechanized heavy armour, and a no-nonsense, gun-toting hero.  It’s the latter of these things which really sold me on this book.  Devi is close to how I imagine my version of Mass Effect protagonist Commander Shepard, and since I love playing the Mass Effect games more than most things in life, that is a really good thing.

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