Reading the Hugos 2020: Best Novelette

Welcome to the second instalment in my Reading the Hugos project. This week, we’ll have a look at the finalists for Best Novelette.

Previous categories and what’s coming up:

Links to the upcoming categories will go live every Monday. Depending on when you read this, they may already be clickable. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait a bit longer (I’m still reading and gathering my thoughts on some of these categories).

I may not read short stories unless they are in a collection by an author I like, but I do stumble across the very occasional novelette on my own. This year, I had read one of the finalists and it was mostly a joy to catch up with the rest. Unlike the short stories (and the novellas, which I’ll talk about next Monday), this was a more balanced ballot for me, in that I didn’t love everything. I also didn’t hate anything, which is nice, but I’m having a much easier time ranking these novelettes than I did with many other categories.

The Finalists for Best Noveletta

  • Caroline M. Yoachim – The Archronology of Love
  • Sarah Gailey – Away With the Wolves
  • N. K. Jemisin – Emergency Skin
  • Ted Chiang – Omphalos
  • Siobhan Carroll – For He Can Creep
  • Sarah Pinsker – The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye

N. K. Jemisin is a master storyteller but not just when it comes to novels. She’s also really good with shorter works, as is shown in her novella Emergency Skin. This story is interesting for its narration – a first person narration by an AI implant in a space traveler’s brain – as well as its themes. While I agree that the point may be very on the nose and the message  obvious, I didn’t mind that at all. In fact, I thought it showed a lovely glimpse of a possible future for humanity if we only behaved differently.
I think it’s best to go into this story blind, so I won’t say anything about the plot. But you can expect Jemisin’s trademark writing (meaning to say, it’s brilliant) and her characters dealing with diversity and social justice. This was definitely a very hopeful story that left me feeling slightly better about the world.

Ted Chiang’s collection was my first foray into his writing and, boy, was I impressed! That said, the nominated novelette Omphalos was not my favorite. It’s about a version of Earth that was created by an all-powerful being (like God) and where there is scientific proof of that – bones that are fully formed without signs of having grown, ancient mummified humans without navels, etc.
When one archeologist finds out that there is more to this than the world thought so far, her belief is called into question. Like the rest of the collection, this story deals with big questions of free will, the importance of one’s actions, and the meaning of life. You know… the usual. The reason I didn’t like this story as much as the others in the collection was the style. While it fits perfectly with the setting and world building, it just wasn’t as enjoyable for me to read. That’s purely a matter of personal taste, however, and says nothing about the quality of the novelette.

I had high expectations for Sarah Gailey’s Away With the Wolves but it was… kind of disappointing. Gailey wrote a fresh take on werewolves, with a young girl living openly as a shape shifter in a small village. When she spends time as a wolf, she feels free and right. When she’s in human form, her body is plagued by constant pain and things just aren’t what they’re supposed to be. Trying to bridge these two identities make life pretty hard for her.
There is a lovely female friendship at the heart of this tale and I loved how the village dealt with the werewolf in their midst (not as you’d expect). But this story felt so repetitive after a while. We learn right away that being in a human body physically hurts the protagonist and this point is hammered home over and over again, to the point where I wondered if there would be any pages left for actual story. It also never became quite clear why staying in wolf shape forever and living in the forest was out of the question – or maybe I missed a line that answers this question? So I wasn’t super thrilled with this story but I did love the ending very much! It’s a good novelette but with this competition, it still goes somewhere near the bottom of my ballot.

The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye by Sarah Pinsker was both unexpected and super fun to read. It’s about a mystery writer who spends some time every year in a remote cabin where she finishes the next novel in her book series. She also has the World’s Best Assistant and, of course, a keen eye for clues. When a dead body shows up, she can’t help but try to figure out what happened…
This may sound like your average murder mystery and it certainly uses the tropes of the subgenre to its advantage. But rest assured, this does have a speculative element and it is super cool! The writing was so much fun and would have entertained me for many more pages. Like in a murder mystery, we get the solution to all our questions at the end. In this shorter format, that felt almost a little overwhelming, but since things fit together so beautifully and I got so much enjoyment out of it, so I’m ranking this one pretty high.

Siobhan Carroll’s For He Can Creep is a story told from the point of view of a cat. Immediate brownie points for that – I am a sucker for cat characters, especially if they feel properly cat-like. It’s also the story of the cat’s owner who is a poet in an asylum struggling with his art. When the devil appears one night to make a deal, things don’t go so well for cats and humans alike and our pawed protagonist Jeoffrey has to ask some friends for help in setting things right again.
I didn’t dislike this novelette as such, but compared to the others, it felt generic and flat. The plot was super predictable, right from the start, the cat characters were great but not intersting enough to set them apart from other fictional cats I’ve read about. It’s nice that this story is based on an actual poem about cat Jeoffrey but overall, this one was only okay.

The final novelette, The Archronology of Love, deals with grief in a science fictional setting. A colony on New Mars has been completely wiped out. On that colony was protagsonist Saki’s lifelove M. J. and wehil she may just be doing her job as a xenoarcheologist, trying to figure out what happened to all the people, she also can’t let go of the hope that she might see her love just one more time. In this story, humans make use of the Chronicle – a way to sort of time travel and look at a place how it was at a different time. But, as with all scientific observation, simply looking at something already changes it.
This was another nice story but one that didn’t do anything very special with its premise. The mystery at its core – what alien disease killed the entire colony? – never interested me that much because the book focuses more on Saki’s way of dealing with her loss, of never having been able to say goodbye properly. While that is something I sympathise with and generally like reading about, there wasn’t really enough time in this shorter work to delve into it deeply enough. We didn’t get to see the couple when they were together, we are simply informed that Saki is grieving, so I was missing the emotional impact. It’s a good story but, for me, not a Hugo Award worthy one.

My ballot (probably)

  1. N. K. Jemisin – Emergency Skin
  2. Sarah Pinsker – The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye
  3. Ted Chiang – Omphalos
  4. Sarah Gailey – Away With the Wolves
  5. Siobhan Carroll – For He Can Creep
  6. Caroline M. Yoachim – The Archronology of Love

Whew! That’s my ballot and I’m pretty sure it will stay that way. Jemisin’s work just resonates with me, so it sits firmly in my top spot. Pinsker’s murder mystery was so much fun and so clever that it has to come next. While Chiang’s story may not have been my favorite in his collection, it still has a brilliant premise and makes me think – I always appreciate stories that impact me so much that I tell others about them and mull them over long after reading.
I’m also quite certain about the ranking of my bottom three spots. Gailey’s story had some pacing issues but otherwise does interesting things with a well-known genre trope, Carroll’s story of Jeoffrey the cat was predictable but still fun. And Yoachim’s novelette, while an okay read, would have worked much better as a novella or even a novel.

Up next week: Best Novella

Friendship is Magic: Sarah Gailey – When We Were Magic

After their amazing debut novel Magic for Liars, I knew I had to read whatever Gailey decided to publish next. While their novella Upright Women Wanted wasn’t the right fit for me, they are back in top form with this YA (?) novel about six friends, the bonds that tie them together, and their troubling adventures disposing of a body…

WHEN WE WERE MAGIC
by Sarah Gailey

Published: Simon Pulse, 2020
Ebook: 352 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8/10

Opening line: I didn’t mean to kill Josh Harper.

Keeping your magic a secret is hard. Being in love with your best friend is harder.
Alexis has always been able to rely on two things: her best friends, and the magic powers they all share. Their secret is what brought them together, and their love for each other is unshakeable—even when that love is complicated. Complicated by problems like jealousy, or insecurity, or lust. Or love.
That unshakeable, complicated love is one of the only things that doesn’t change on prom night.
When accidental magic goes sideways and a boy winds up dead, Alexis and her friends come together to try to right a terrible wrong. Their first attempt fails—and their second attempt fails even harder. Left with the remains of their failed spells and more consequences than anyone could have predicted, each of them must find a way to live with their part of the story.

This book starts with death by detonating penis. It took exactly two paragraphs for me to know I would love this novel and although it’s about much, much more than just that opening death scene, I did end up loving every bit of it. Alexis just wanted to have sex with a boy for the first time, to get it over with. So Josh seemed as good a pick as any but the prom afterparty ends with an exploded penis, a dead Josh, and a desperate and shocked Alexis, not knowing what to do. So naturally, she calls her five other magical friends to help. Together, they try to reverse whatever spell gone haywire caused this grisly scene, but they only succeed in removing some of Josh. Certain body parts remain and now need to be gotten rid off.

This makes it sound like this book is all about gore and covering up an accidental murder but it’s really not. Sure, that’s part of it but it’s really about a group of friends who happen to be able to do magic, each in her own way, each a little different from the others. We see these amazing young women through Alexis’ eyes and so it becomes very clear very early that while she may love all her friends, there is one among them that she may love in a different way.

I can’t tell you how enjoyable it was to get to know these six girls over the course of this story. The plot became almost not important anymore because I just wanted to know who these people are, how they met, what they can do, and watch them just be wonderful, loyal friends to each other. Whether it’s Marcelina with her plant magic, Paulie (the cheerleading Taylor Swift lookalike) and her fierceness, Iris who can create new spells out of nowhere, Maryam who takes make up artist skills to a whole new level, passionate Roya who is a champion swimmer even without magic, or Alexis herself who – even in her own narrative – constantly sells herself short, worries whether she even deserves these friends and whom I wanted to hug the entire time.
The diversity in this cast was just beautiful to read. Not only are the girls from different social, ethnical, and religious backgrounds, some of them are queer, Alexis has two dads and an adopted brother, and they are each just amazingly different people who came together to form this beautiful found family that just works.

Covering up a murder for your best friend is one thing. Actually taking a body part and trying to get rid of it is a whole different story. But they all agree to it, without hesitation, because that’s what magical friends do. Of course Josh’s absence is noted soon and eventually the police start investigating, so there is the plot keeps its tension until the end. But again, that’s not what made this book so good. It wasn’t even Alexis’ obvious pining after Roya and my hope that these two would finally get their shit together and make out, the best part of it was really just watching these girls respect the hell out of each other. They are so different and they react to trauma in different ways. One of them may want to be alone, another one may need to vent and shout out her feelings, yet another one could just want to pretend everything is fine – and the others all respect that and do what needs to be done so their friends can be okay. I absolutely loved that!

The more we learn about the six girls (who are represented pretty amazingly on the cover by the way), the more we also get to see of their magic. While small magic can be done with a handwave and a smile – like changing your nail polish or cleaning a spot off your shirt – the big magic they’re trying to do now to somehow bring Josh back to life or at least keep Alexis from being called a murderer is different. It has a cost and it’s not cheap. But they deal with this as they do with everything else. If one of them is not okay because of the terrible things they’re faced with, then they will all be not-okay together.

The book’s ending wasn’t exactly a revelation but it still felt incredibly right for this story. As much as I wanted to hug Alexis throughout the book, I also kept wondering if I should even sympathise with her. She did after all kill a person, whether by accident or not! And while she feels all sorts of remorse, the fact remains that Josh has been murdered. Even if the girls manage to somehow bring him back, that guy can never be the same… But because this isn’t the kind of book that focuses on the murder investigation or the group trying to make up clever lies to cover it up, that didn’t bother me too much. It was there, in the back of my mind, the entire time but the friendships and potential romance took over pretty quickly.
I’m impressed with Sarah Gailey’s ability to write stories that put such different weight on certain aspects. While Magic for Liars had a lot more focus on the actual murder mystery, characters were still highly important to that book. Then in her novella Upright Women Wanted, there was almost no plot and the characters, while important, were mostly there to transport a message – an important one, but one that didn’t particularly work for me. Here, it’s neither message nor plot – it’s characters all around. If you like the way Becky Chambers’ characters treat each other, then definitely pick this up. There’s no aliens here, just believable witchy characters who can teach all of us a thing or two about friendship and respect and love.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

Sarah Gailey – Upright Women Wanted

Ever since I read the brilliant Magic for Liars, I have been determined to pick up whatever else Sarah Gailey publishes. Their newest novella is a post-apocalyptic western with gunslinging librarians, so there was no way around it. And although the book wasn’t at all what I had hoped for, I liked it for other reasons. This may not end up as one of my favorites but I can see how this book could be meaningful to so many other readers out there.

UPRIGHT WOMEN WANTED
by Sarah Gailey

Published: Tor.com, 2020
Ebook: 176 pages
Standalone novella
My rating: 6,5/10

Opening line: As Esther breathed in the sweet, musty smell of the horse blanketsin the back of the Librairans’ wagon, she chewed on the I-told-you-so feeling that had overwhelmed her ever since her father had told her the news about Beatriz.

“That girl’s got more wrong notions than a barn owl’s got mean looks.”
Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her–a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda.
The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.

When I read, I love putting myself in other people’s shoes. I like pretending I’m a character from a different place, a different gender, even from a different species. I also like reading books where the protagonist has sexual preferences that differ from mine – because that’s what makes books so great. You get to be all sorts of people, you get to live with them through amazing stories, have great adventures, and experience so many emotions. I don’t believe that certain books are specifically for a certain type of person, but in this case, I felt like Sarah Gailey not only wrote a very personal book but also one specifically for people who struggle with similar things as the protagonist, who maybe haven’t found their place in the world yet or even think that there isn’t one for them.

With that out of the way, let me tell you about this book. It’s about young Esther who has run away from home and hidden in the cart of a traveling librarians’ group. When she is found out, to her surprise, the three women allow her to ride on with them for a while. Because Esther’s reasons for running away, it turns out, are very, very good. Her secret girlfriend was hanged for possessing Unapproved Materials – and Esther is supposed to be married off to some man her father picked for her. You can see how that’s not a prospect she’s looking forward to. So out into the unknown she goes, in the hopes of becoming a librarian herself.

Sarah Gailey gives us many glimpses into the world she has set up, but sadly that’s all we ever get. It becomes clear that this wild west is a post-apocalyptic one. There used to be cars everywhere, now we’re back to horses and carriages. We’re also back to executing gay people. And let’s not forget that people only get to read Approved Material… It doesn’t take more than that to make it clear that America is not a very nice place to live in. And although what little world building we get is enough to set the scene, I always kept hoping for more.

But this book isn’t really about the world, nor is it about the plot which wasn’t very strong either. Esther travels with Bet, Leda, and Cye, three queer librarians with the task of picking up a parcel and taking it to the insurrection. So far, so exciting. And of course, trouble is hot on their heels, the law wants to hunt them down, and they have to keep many aspects of their personalities secret when they reach a settlement. But for Esther, this is the first time seeing a lesbian couple just living happily together. Dangerously, sure, but happily nonetheless. And Esther also can’t help but feel attracted to Cye, who makes clear from the very start that they are “they” on the road but “she” in town. It was both beautiful and heartbreaking to read about these characters. Carving out a little place in the world where they can be themselves, but having to hide who they are when other people are around…

While the book deals with a certain amount of adventure, it really is about Esther accepting who she is and being happy with herself. If all the books you were ever allowed to read were about husband and wives, and all the people you know are straight, it’s only understandable that Esther feels like something is wrong with her. Learning that that’s not the case, that in fact it’s the world that’s wrong, is what it’s all about. So you might call this a book that’s more about the message than the actual plot and I know some people have an issue with that. I don’t. Because if the message is this clear and told through great characters, then why the hell not? All of that said, I am white and cis and straight, so I don’t pretend even for a second to understand what Esther might feel like. I can try and imagine, of course, but I know very well that’s nowhere near the real thing. But even doing just that, putting myself in her shoes, I felt for her. I wanted her to be okay and I wanted her to see that she is fine the way she is.

Despite afterwords and acknowledgements, we readers can never really know how much of themselves an author puts into their work. But whether it’s true or not, this felt like a very personal novel. Sarah Gailey definitely can write and from the dedication and acknowledgements, I got the feeling that this is the book they wrote for their younger self. Maybe I’m totally wrong and they’re just really good at making up fantastic and diverse characters, but it’s definitely a book I would put into many young people’s hands. Not just queer ones, not only ones who seem to struggle with their identity, but everyone! Because the message that, no matter who you love or what color your skin is, you are valuable and you deserve to live a happy life – that’s something everyone should know.

I will be looking for reviews of this book from queer people because I suspect that this novella resonates with the LGBTQ community way more than it did with me. All things considered, I liked the book for its characters and the message of hope it sends, but I thought the plot wasn’t particularly strong and I would have liked more world building, more fleshing out of its science fictional setting. But this is a hard one to rate. For its importance, I would give this book 9/10 points, but I rate all the books on my blog first and foremost by my own personal enjoyment. So here goes…

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Quite good

Murder at Magic School: Sarah Gailey – Magic for Liars

There were so many buzz words in this book’s description that I knew I would read it soon after publication. Magic school, twins where one got all the magic and the other – though non-magical – became a private investigator, teenagers who are murder suspects. I mean, it sounded like the perfect mash-up of tropes and genres. And guess what! It delivered everything I had hoped for plus a little more.

MAGIC FOR LIARS
by Sarah Gailey

Published by: Tor, 2019
eBook: 336 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: The library at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages was silent save for the whisper of the books in the Theoretical Magic section.

Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It’s a great life and she doesn’t wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.
But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach.

Ivy Gamble is a PI with a pretty cliché life. She drinks too much, she discovers cheating wives and husbands, insurance fraud, the works. She’s lonely and she’s a little bitter. And then she gets robbed and her arm slashed open with a knife. As if that wasn’t enough for one evening, a new client walks into her office – the headmaster at the magic school where Ivy’s twin sister teaches – and offers her a job. A murder investigation, to be precise. And thus starts the kick-ass plot of this fantastic book!

It may be because I’m still waiting for that damn Hogwarts letter to arrive (at the ripe age of 33, mind you) but I immediately empathised with Ivy. Twin sisters, where one has magical abilities, gets to go to Osthorn Academy for Young Mages, and the other is… well, ordinary, and has to stick around to watch her mother die of cancer and her father psychologically wither away after her passing. No wonder she’s bitter, no wonder she’s got issues. I mean, who wouldn’t? But right from the start, Sarah Gailey also shows us that deep down, Ivy is a good person at heart. Her job may not exactly make her happy, but she is willing to do good. She wants to solve this murder case, although the magical authorities decided it was an accident.

Once Ivy arrives at Osthorne Academy, checks out the murder scene (a teacher cut exactly in half), and gets an apartment to stay at during the investigation, the subplots start. At a school for young mages, you naturally get teenage drama. Just with a little extra magic. There is the Queen Bee of the mean girls, there’s the weirdo kid who thinks he’s the Chosen One, there’s a decidedly sexy and friendly male teacher who keeps flirting with Ivy, there’s the headmaster’s secretary who is way overqualified for her job, and there are secrets. Secrets within secrets within secrets.

This book is essentially a murder mystery and it does the whole investigation thing so well that I would have been happy if that had been all. But Sarah Gailey adds many layers of depth to her characters and the story itself. Not only did she keep me on my toes trying to guess who the murder was and what their motive could have been (I had about 1000 theories, all of them wrong), but she also confronts her main character with her estranged twin sister and that’s a whole new can of worms. The reasons for their estrangement, for the alternating Christmases with dad, are more than just “you got all the magic and I got nothing”. Figuring out how these two women, who were quite close as girls, grew so far apart, was really exciting and at times emotionally difficult to read.

Ivy was a brilliant character throughout. Not only is she great at her job – baiting the people she interviews with just the right verbal cues to tell her what she needs to know, understanding when someone’s lying, and so on – but she’s also got so much depth. At first, you may think of her only as the non-magical half of the twins, but the more you read, the more obvious it becomes that regardless of magical abilities, Ivy has some problems to deal with. Her loneliness, her non-existent love life, her drinking, her bitter cynisism… but none of these things make her unlikeable and that’s what I found so fascinating. I kept rooting for her, I wanted her to make friends, to fall in love, to be happy!

Then there are the students and the teachers of Osthorne. Gailey focuses on a select few but they each felt like proper, real people. Sometimes, it was hard to understand why they did the things they did, what secrets they were really hiding. Is it just teenage drama like who’s going to magic prom with whom, or is there something more beneath the surface (spoiler alert: there’s totally more beneath the surface). The characters are all beautifully drawn and every time Ivy interviewed or talked to one of them, I caught myself trying to catch them in a lie – as if they were actual people talking to me and I could see in their eyes whether they were telling the truth.

Even the romance sub plot was well done. Granted, I was suspicious of everyone in this book, so I kept silently urging Ivy to be careful, not to let any information slip, no matter how hot the guy may be. But murder investigation and potential danger aside, I really liked how the relationships were handled in this book. Both between Ivy and Rahul and between Ivy and her sister Tabitha. In fact, Ivy’s and Tabitha’s relationship may have been the best part.

I love when an author makes me guess and theorize until the very end of a book and Sarah Gailey totally pulled that off. As I mentioned, all my theories (some of them crazy enough that they might just have worked) turned out to be wrong in the end. The realization only hit me when Ivy figured out the solution herself. It’s nice to spend 300 pages incorrectly guessing and to truly be surprised in the end. The ending, including the solution to the murder case, was also incredibly good. Ivy has grown as a person, all questions are answered, and although one thing is left open, the book closes on a note of hope.

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Damn excellent!

Second opinions:

 

Reading the Hugos: Short Story

This seems to be a really good year for me when it comes to keeping up and catching up on books I’ve been meaning to read for a while. The fact that the Hugo nominees are stellar this year doesn’t hurt. While I’m currently making my way through the novelette nominees, I’m already done with the short stories and I’m pretty sure I’ve settled on the way I’m going to rank them on my ballot.

The nominees for Best Short Story

  1. Alix E. Harrow – A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Pratctical Compendium of Portal Fantasies
  2. T. Kingfisher – The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society
  3. Sarah Gailey – STET
  4. Sarah Pinsker – The Court Magician
  5. Brooke Bolander – The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat
  6. P. Djèlí Clark – The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington

The only short story I had read before the nominee were announced also turned out to be my favorite – if only by a small margin. Alix E. Harrow‘s tale of a witch who works at a library (where else?) and who tries to improve the life of a young boy by putting just the right book in front of him when he seems to need it was moving and beautifully written. It made me remember those early reading days when I first discovered The Neverending Story or got Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as a present. Books have the power to change lives and Harrow uses that knowledge to weave a wonderful tale with just the right amount of magic.

My second favorite – and no surprise to me – was T. Kingfisher‘s tale of a group of  magical beings gathering to tell their woeful tales of a human girl who didn’t behave like she should. We all know when a handsome elf comes your way and makes you fall in love with him, the human should do the pining once he’s gone. But pesky Rose MacGregor won’t have any of it but flips fairy tale tropes on their head. This story was hilarious, refreshing, and features one of Kingfisher’s trademark practical heroines. I adored every single line, some of which made me laugh out loud.

Sarah Gailey’s STET is probably the shortest of the nominated stories but those few pages pack a punch! The story’s form is almost as interesting as its content, written as an academic paper handed in for review. The actual story comes to life in the footnotes (I love footnotes!). Whether this wins or not, I urge you all to read it. On just a few pages, this story made me gasp, think, sent me through so many emotions… Even though it’s not in my top spot, I’d be happy if it took home the Hugo.

Sarah Pinsker’s story was a strange one. I loved the atmosphere it created right from the get go, when a young boy, desperate to learn magic, is recruited to be the Court Magician – a job that takes much more than sleight of hand card tricks. The deeper this new Court Magician sinks into his job, the darker this story becomes. I really enjoyed it, sinister as it was, but while the ending definitely works, I felt there was something missing. So it’s only number 4 in my list.

Brooke Bolander wrote an impressive novelette (also nominated and currently on my number one ballot spot) but while this story was fun and cleverly written, it didn’t resonate with me as much as the others. You get what it says on the tin. The story of three raptor sisters, a stupid prince, a clever princess, some carnage, and a big adventure. I can’t say much more than I liked the story but didn’t love it.

The only story I really didn’t enjoy was P. Djèlí Clark‘s tale. I see what he was trying to do, telling a tale for each of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington, but few of those tales were interesting to me, some of them were quite boring, and there wasn’t any payoff at the end of the story. I look forward to reading his nominated novella but this short story just didn’t do it for me.

Much like the nominees for Best Novel, this is a ballot filled with dramatically different stories, which makes it all the harder to choose a favorite. All of these tales are well written, so my judgement is based much more on personal enjoyment and taste than on quality. Had I read them at a different time in my life, in a different mood, I might have ranked them differently, but for now, I’m happy with my choice. I’d be really happy for either of my top 3 to win the award, but I also wouldn’t mind for my numbers 4 or 5 to take it home. A ballot with only a single undeserving story (according to my personal tastes, I know lots of people love Clark’s story!) is definitely a great one.

I’ll continue to read the nominees and let you know what I think of them. I’m almost done with the novels (one and a half books to go, yay!),  the Lodestar finalists (3 books to go), and the novelettes – 5 to go, but they are quick reads, so you’ll probably hear about them next.