r/fantasy bingo is this awesome reading challenge that happens over on reddit each year. 2016 was the first year I joined and it was a great way to expand my SFF reading habits. The 2017 bingo challenge is now live and will be running from April 1, 2017 – March 31, 2018 if anyone is interested in joining.
I didn’t actually think I’d finish this challenge. I was on track to do so, planning to knock out the last three books while recovering from a minor surgery. Then I got a horrific cold, had trouble getting into one of the books and started to panic about graduating. Technically I only needed to finish 25 books for the challenge but I’d made a goal of 75 and was feeling down about failing to reach it. But the last day of the challenge I finished a book I’d put down for two months, realized it counted for my unfilled square and quickly rearranged everything.
In 2016 I’d just gotten out of a three year reading slump and was trying to find books I enjoyed. r/fantasy bingo seemed like a fun challenge and so I jumped in part way through the summer. The thought process behind this overly large amount of books was that I wanted to really diversify my reading so I did a full card of books written only by women and a full card of books written only by people of colour or Indigenous people, plus an additional card of random books (which will turn into a card of small press books in 2017).
An additional rule was that a minimum of 50% of books must be written by people of colour and Indigenous authors. I met that goal with 47% (35/75) of books by people of colour and 4% (4/75) of books by Indigenous authors, for an total of 51%. Gender wise the books broke down to 28% men (21/75), 67% women (50/75), and 5% both (4/75), either in the 2+ authors square or short story anthologies.
I loved this bingo challenge. I learnt so much about my reading preferences (deep characterization all the way), discovered so many good books I might have passed up or never gotten too, had a lot of good conversations and got so many great recommendations. This was such a great experience and I’m looking to expand the 2017 bingo with a small press/indie/self-published card and a queer and trans characters/authors card.
Top Six Books (2 for each card although it was very hard to choose)
- Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft: Senlin Ascends is exactly the type of fantasy I love, cultural mashups filled with mythology and blending genres, and well-written characters that develop and grow over the course of the book. I could barely put it down near the end.
- The Devourers by Indra Das: Every time I try to describe this book it ends up getting boiled down to werewolves in India. But it’s so much more than that, it’s a compilation of history and mythology all wrapped up in beautiful and brutal prose.
- The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff: I know this book isn’t going to be everyone’s favourite but it took me completely by surprise. It’s a fast-paced, paranormal romance urban fantasy full of genre tropes set in Calgary with deadpan Canadian humour. The sequels weren’t as solid as the first book but The Enchantment Emporium was one of the best and weirdest books I read last year.
- The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker: I couldn’t believe how much Wecker brought The Golem and the Jinni to life. Every character was compelling and I could have sworn I was walking down the streets of New York in 1899.
- Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee: It’s really hard to explain just how much I love Ninefox Gambit. I’m new to reading sci-fi and never though I would come to enjoy a military space opera but wound up crying uncontrollably half-way through the book, unable to put it down.
- Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam: This was just such an original, beautiful, weird, compelling collection short stories. It grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let go until the end.
- A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
- Kalpa Imerial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was by Angélica Gorodischer
- King’s Shield by Sherwood Smith
Top Three Disappointments
- The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson: Sanderson appears to be almost universally loved and so I had a really hard time figuring out why I didn’t enjoy Mistborn until I realized that his characters tend to be very cardboard-like. One of the benefits of reading so much SFF over a year is learning your reading tastes and unfortunately/fortunately I need deep characterization and Sanderson just doesn’t do it.
- Octavia’s Brood, edited by by Adrienne Maree Brown & Walidah Imarisha: I was really excited for this anthology but found in the end it just fell flat. The concept was really cool, to have a collection written by activists from social justice movements, many of which were first time writers. But that was also its downfall in my opinion. A lot of the stories just didn’t go anywhere or left me hanging in a bad way and months after reading it I can’t remember a single story from the collection that stood out to me.
- A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files: Normally when I don’t like books it’s due to the writing style, but my dislike for A Book of Tongues is purely content related. I had to finish this one because I was using it for two reading challenges and was running out of time, but would have put it down immediately otherwise due to the colonial racist genre tropes and anti-semitism. Do not recommend.
Self-published/Indie – Accessing the Future: A Disability-Themed Anthology of Speculative Fiction, edited by Kathryn Allan & Djibril al-Ayad/ Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was by Angélica Gorodischer/ Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, edited by Adrienne Maree Brown & Walidah Imarisha
Five Fantasy Short Stories – The Sea is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia, edited by Jaymee Goh & Joyce Chng/ The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter/ Filter House by Nisi Shawl
Weird Western – A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files/ Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman/ Are We Having Fun Yet? – American Indian Fantasy Stories by William Sanders