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It's just three weeks until nominations for The Hugo Awards close. With that in mind, I present my draft Best Novel ballot. There's still (barely) time to bury your faces in some of these great novels before nominations close and make your own decisions even harder. You're welcome!

Cover of The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin — The Fifth Season is N. K. Jemisin's most accomplished book to date. I think it has a good chance of running away with all the awards this year Ancillary Justice style. The world building is intriguing, the politics is highly relevant and the characters are appealing. Jemisin again proves she can write scenes which sit in the reader's mind long after the book is closed. The Fifth Season is a striking book, which will push readers to care about its world and its characters.

However, for me the book's greatest achievement is its structure. In both The Hundred Thousand Kingdom and The Killing Moon, Jemisin experimented with using structure to deliberately obscure. These forays into using narrative structure to achieve a particular goal were interesting but never quite fully gelled with their stories; leaving the reader sometimes unsure of what they were being asked to respond to. In The Fifth Season she revisits the idea of structure as a tool to obscure and reveal but this time builds the development of her whole novel around structural concerns. The way in which a sequence of stories is told is central to the novel and to the reader's reaction to the main characters. The choice to form a book around this kind of structure makes it feel, to this long time reader of her novels, that Jemisin is particularly interested in the ways structure can affect a story. And this overt concentration on structure is exciting regardless of whether or not the reader guesses the secrets the The Fifth Season seeks to hide.

Of course, the structure of the book makes it frustratingly difficult to talk about The Fifth Season without spoiling the entire experience for other readers. Suffice it to say that it's an epic fantasy about the way society is built and broken, with a core of female stories at its heart. If that isn't enough to tempt you then we're very different readers.

Cover of The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard — The House of Shattered Wings is a political fantasy, featuring fallen angels, organised into rival clans, who live in a post-apocalyptic version of Paris that has been through a Great War. Original doesn't really begin to describe this book.

Aliette de Bodard's novel is largely concerned with the personal and political alliances within the House of Silverspires, a clan of Fallen that was set up by the great fallen angel Lucifer himself. Lucifer has vanished, and his successor Selene can sense the other Houses circling; awaiting the collapse of Silverspires. Selene must simultaneously keep the confidence of her own allies, fend off the threat of outsiders, and combat a dangerous magical assassin. Luckily, she has the support of her partner, Emmanuelle, Silverspire's female archivist, but often Selene is alone trying to shore her House up with little help.

Into this messy nest of intrigue, steps Isabelle - a newly fallen angel - and Philipe - an outsider, originally from Vietnam, who despises the Houses but now finds himself yoked to Silverspires in penance. Both bring unwanted complications into Selene's life but may be crucial to saving Silverspires. Aliette de Bodard lets her plot unwind slowly, stringing out the tension of the House's precarious position. This allows the reader the chance to appreciate the complexity of the world she has created and to connect with the individual characters (of which there are many).

Aliette de Bodard has created a world that is sure to linger in the reader's mind and keep them intrigued until the next installment of this trilogy. With its dual focus on smaller personal stories, like Madeline the alchemist's drug addiction, and the larger political conflicts between the Houses, The House of Shattered Wings is perfect for fans of N. K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy and Kameron Hurley's Worldbreaker Saga. Particularly recommended for readers who enjoy stories set amidst claustrophobic political atmospheres.

Cover of Sorcerer To The Crown by Zen Cho

Sorcerer to The Crown by Zen Cho — Elsewhere, I've said a lot about the wonder that is Zen Cho's Sorceror to The Crown. I actually recorded a video about this book for work (no I'm not going to link to that here). However, I've said very little about it here at Lady Business. Time to correct this mighty wrong!

Like Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Zen Cho's début novel is a clever fantasy that weaves together Waterloo, Wellington and wizardry. Due to the similarities of setting and genre, Sorceror to the Crown is bound to be endlessly compared to Clarke's novel and I think it will work well for fans of JSAMN. Yet, as Aliette de Bodard says in her blurb for Cho's book, Sorcerer To The Crown is also very much 'its own thing'. I would particularly like to point out that Cho's novel allows its female characters much more direct power and space to develop, even as it acknowledges the restrictions its society places on women.

In an alternate Regency world, Zacharias Wythe, the first black man to be appointed Sorcerer Royal, must fend off the distrust of his peers while searching for a way to restore English magic. When he collides with the inconveniently magical Prunella, he meets a partner in crime who knows just how taxing it is to navigate both complex social convention and disobedient magical forces. Their charming and tricky partnership is the heart of this smart example of mannerpunk with a strong political core which explores issues of race, gender, and class. Which is a classy way of saying that I ship Zacharias and Prunella so hard.

Cover of Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia — Signal to Noise is quieter than your average fantasy novel. There are few explosions and the action, which centres around the life of a young magical girl and her two unremarkable friends, is often the ordinary and mundane business of regular life. Silvia Moreno-Garcia's great achievement is in using the regular detail of life to draw the reader into her story, and in creating a tale of lowkey magic that charms just as much as any tale of flashier sorcery.

Meche, the novel's protagonist, is a huge part of what makes this novel so special. The novel switches back and forth between her present and her memories of the past. In the present she returns to Mexico City in order to clean out her father's apartment after his death. Inevitably, this trip provokes memories of her childhood; a time when Meche's young life was full of vinyl, mixtapes and magic. Music is her life especially as her adored father is a small time musician. When she discovers her magic powers they naturally stem from music; from special records of power that feel hot to her touch and that allow her to influence events. Any reader with a deep connection to music will appreciate this fantastical setup.

Meche is a grouchy, at times hard-hearted, character. All of her ordinary flaws and small, unthinking cruelties are laid bare. By doing so Moreno-Garcia creates a character that the reader can not help but find fascinating and sympathetic. By giving Meche magic powers the story challenges the traditional fantasy idea that abusing magic makes a character a villain, and instead points out that ordinary people, who are necessarily imperfect, probably can't always be trusted with magic. While re-visiting Meche's memories of the past, the novel sends the reader down a winding road to discover the big tragedy that split Meche from her friends forever, and allows the reader to take a long look at a complex character who is both wonderful and awful and ordinary all at the same time.

Signal to Noise would be great for readers who a looking for fantasy with a little less flash. Recommended for fans of the character building in Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven.

Cover of Black Wolves by Kate Elliott

Black Wolves by Kate Elliott — Action, adventure, and magical eagles of justice - Black Wolves has it all! If you're looking for a new epic fantasy but you're bored with the standard epic template you need to check out Kate Elliott's newest fantasy novel. You have three weeks to cram this 780 page novel into your eyes so you'd better start now. And I bet you read it in half the time because this is an epic fantasy that moves. I was surprised by how fast I tore through this novel considering the complexity of its structure and the intricacy of its worldbuilding.

I've already written a lot of words about Black Wolves for a post appearing here in two weeks time, so I won't go into too much detail about it here. Renay is a big Black Wolves champion and she reviewed it at Barnes and Noble, and here at Lady Business. So if you want more details before my review goes up, her posts are a good place to start.

If you're planning to nominate for The Hugo Awards, drop into the comments and let me know what's on your draft novel ballot.

What a great selection...

Date: 2016-03-11 04:29 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I want to read all of the books! What a great selection.

I do have a self-imposed rule about not reading books in a series until it's written.... It's hard to stick to but I must be strong!


Date: 2016-03-11 06:41 pm (UTC)
violacea: (varric the storyteller)
From: [personal profile] violacea
At this point, I only have two must-nominate novels on my list: Laura Anne Gilman's Silver on the Road and Elizabeth Bear's Karen Memory. Because apparently 2015 was an AU Old West sort of year for me.


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