Welcome to the Little Yellow Birdie Indie Fiction Awards 2018!
According the GoodReads, this year I have read (or DNF’d – that’s Did Not Finish, because life is too short for books you don’t enjoy) over 250 books. Many will have been short stories, and the vast majority have been indie authors who I’ve found via various giveaways or recommendations. I do “honest” reviews (because let’s face it, what’s the point of a dishonest review?) whether good or bad, because good work need celebrating and just because I thought something was “bad” doesn’t mean everyone else will – but if it’s got issues that bothered me it might help other people decide if that book’s the right one for them. No one sets out to write a bad book, but there are certain styles and themes that will appeal more to people who are not me. I won’t love everything, even if it’s technically very good.
Here I want to celebrate my personal top indie author reads from this year. I can’t write an essay on everyone, but there are a special few books/authors I just really adored as well as those that are wonderful pieces of work.
The “Making Me Believe Indie Fiction Was Worth Reading” Award
Anne Bohannon, for her “Tales From Hessia” series
Confession: the first Hessia-related story I read left me a bit… confused. Confusion usually means I should drop a series and move on, but something made me want to know more. This story of love and betrayal amoungst fractious royals in a fantasy kingdom gave me pause and, despite being terrified, I decided to play ask the author. Ms Bohannon was kind enough to respond and humoured my ramblings about her characters. Then I started reading the serial “Tales from Hessia” and I was hooked. They detail bits and pieces of the lives of people who will become important in the political machinations of the realm. There’s a touch of ease of conflict resolution about a few of the earlier stories, but the characters and the prose really draws you in. I found myself looking forward to my daily reading session (and boy was I glad to have two stories with me when I was stuck in hospital!) Meet Arden the assassin with a heart of gold (well, gold-plated maybe), Irenia the lady of shadows, Eian the stern but fair captain, and Hisan the insufferable (yet suffer him you will). If you like themes using dashing rogues and daring deeds, forbidden love, murder and mystery in the seedier side of low-fantasy politics, you may well enjoy these snippets of Hessian history in the making as much as I did.
The “Zombies! Run! But First Grab the Sanitary Supplies!” Award
Isla Jones for her “Plague” series
There’s something off about protagonist Winter Miles. She’s an American who writes (the story is narrated loosely as her journal) British-English and muses like a literature student rather than a high school educated sort-of hairdresser. She’s also managed to survive the zombie apocalypse while toting nothing more dangerous than her precious Chihuahua and understanding that it’s not so much knowledge is power, more that knowing where the canned food, meds and tampons are is power. Yes, you read that. Winter may be odd, but she’s a down-to-Earth realistic female with all the biological worries that come with it thrown in to horrifying circumstances. She can’t kick butt like your average urban fantasy heroine; in fact she’s a self-confessed coward. All she wanted was to visit her sister, but then the end of days happened and… She kept going. Then she runs into a band of soldiers known as the Deltas. They and their civilian followers are also on a journey, heading in the same direction as Winter with their convoy of secured R.V.s. How convenient… Conspiracy, tension, simmering romance, and zombie-based action keeps this series moving apace, and it really keeps you guessing at everyone’s motives and aims.
The “Oh My Conspiracy Theories And Character Complexities” Award
Robin D. Mahle for their “World Apart” series
I can’t even begin to explain this one. I’m not usually a mystery person, as there’s just so much going on and my brain has limited capacity for so many different characters… But this, this has style. Dieselpunk for one thing (think if steampunk had a baby with cyberpunk but just preferred the Art Deco aesthetic), the range of characters and their emotional complexities for another. Protagonists Clark and Addie are obviously destined for each other, because they hate each other at first sight and are thrown together in strange circumstances. So far, so YA trope. Bring in the side characters, particularly Clark’s brothers, and we start to add a whole new dynamic. Life is so much more complicated than people declaring their love/hatred for each other. Family ties run deep, love doesn’t run smooth, and no one is 100% predictable even if you know them well (if you’ve ever watched the TV show Empire, you know what I mean). This cast of characters reflects reality, and it’s that emotional grounding that allows the fantasy to work. Read the prequel “The Silent Explosion” for a taster. I kept notes; that’s how involved this one is!
The “Excellence in Character Creation (And Just About Everything Else OMGILOVEIT)” Award
Lauren Harris, for her “Spellhounds” series
Words… I haven’t got words enough to say how much I ended up loving these books. Honestly, when I started Unleash I was dubious. Action action action, not sure why I should care that violence is happening, yah yah… But then we met Jaesung and Krista. Through them we get to know the narrating protagonist, Helena, better. And boy oh boy, do you come to love these characters. They’re so real you could reach out and touch them, even if one of them is a “Spellhound” who was sort of press-ganged into being a shape-shifter by nasty Scottish sorcerers until she escaped. I didn’t so much read as devour the sequel, Unmake, in a few days. That’s despite it having those alternating POV chapters that I usually dislike, mainly because neither character tends to have a distinct voice (or else one is so dull and/or hateful they just beg to be skipped). Not so here; Jaesung couldn’t be more different from Helena, and getting a look inside Mr OTT’s head is really… Something. He’s out there alright, but you’ve met people like him. That is the power of Lauren Harris’ characters – no matter how odd they are, the feel real. Seriously, I read her other books (shout out for Siren’s Surge with all the mermaid mythology and Danish pastry goodness) and she makes characters and settings that just click. If you asked me to pick an author’s work that I read this year that I had an actual emotional OMGILOVEIT reaction, this would be the one. Like young adult that’s intelligent and doesn’t treat you like a short-attention-spanned-fool? Like magic, mythology, and characters who make you believe all this crazy stuff? Read her books. Read them.
- Blake Arthur Peel’s “Arc of Radiance” series – for being such a perfectly plotted debut YA fantasy series.
- Ben S. Dobson’s “The Flaw in All Magic” – because mystery, magic, half-orcs and steampunk never went so well together. I thought I was reading something published by Wizards of the Coast. Why has this not been snapped up?!
- Alia Hess’ “Chromeheart” – Sasha. That is all. (OK – think post-Apocalypse road trip of personal discovery by a humorous but self-depreciating Russian who finds that he may yet be capable of both love and heroism… Sort of.)
- Jon Auerbach’s “Guild of Tokens” series – for asking what if an MMO was set in a real-life as part of some huge magical conspiracy, with added geekery and pop culture references.
- H.G. Chambers’ “Windwalker” – for making dragon-rider coming-of-age tropes fun again
- Stephanie Burgis’ “Snowspelled” – oh my fluffy fantasy period drama female-run alternate reality!
- Elaina J. Davidson’s “Minstrel of the Water Willow” – for being such a sweet and magical original fairy tale
- Kory M. Schrum’s “Dying For A Living” – for services to snark, urban fantasy, LGBT representation in love triangles, and the (sort of) undead
- R.L. Sanderson’s “Dying Flame” – for being a perfectly plotted YA fantasy with just the right balance of light and darkness
- Helen Scheuerer’s “Heart of Mist” – for being both epic as a story and having amazingly eye-catching cover art
- Shauna E. Black’s “Soul In Ashes” Season 1 – episodic YA fantasy storytelling done right (that season end cliffhanger though!)
- Katherine Bennet’s “The Seers” – magic, sci-fi and YA romance all bundled up in a scarily compelling package of two warring secret societies
- K.A. Cook – look away now anti-snowflakes and lovers of non-controversial HEAs, this is deep and meaningful LGBTQIA+ issues explored via present-tense fantasy
- C.J. Archer’s “The Last Necromancer” – for giving me those Maria V. Snyder vibes with a shot of steampunk
- A.R. Peters’ “The Last Throne” shorts – because creepy short interlinked fantasies are hard to pull off, but these really do set the tone
- Hailey Griffith’s “Vale of Stars” prequels – because they set so much lush fantasy scenery that I can’t help but look forward to the main series
- Pam Hage’s teasers – no book as yet, but oooooooh that artwork
- Bill Alive’s newsletters – because no one writes them quite like he does (he has also written paranormal comedy/mystery books, please enjoy them)
So there we have it. I can’t list everyone or everything, but I hope I’ve done justice to some of these wonderful authors I’ve come across this year. Here’s to a most bookish 2019!
…Although I really need to get through my physical book stack…
Be seeing you.