May 21, 2019
Hugos 2019: The Lodestar
(Note: The Lodestar, for young-adult science fiction and fantasy, is technically Not-A-Hugo along with the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, although it is presented during the Hugo ceremony.)
I read quite a bit of young-adult SFF, so these books were part of the first load of Hugo nominees I checked out of the library. Only one of my nominees made the ballot (although I was a bit surprised that Tomi Adeyemi wasn't nominated for Best New Writer). I'm going to be wielding the scalpel of No Award a bit more this year, starting with this category, as I did not like two of these books at all.
7) The Belles, Dhonielle Clayton
I couldn't even finish this. The worldbuilding was thin and made little sense, and the characters were shallow and petty. To the extent I could understand the book's premise, the characters--or at least the protagonist--were meant to come across this way, and maybe she had a nice redemptive arc by the book's end, but the protagonist turned me off enough that I really didn't care. If I can't get interested in a story by the first 100 pages, I'm moving on.
6) The Invasion, Peadar O'Guilin
I finished this one, but I didn't like it any better. The characterization and pacing--particularly the latter--were the two big problems with this, and the book never overcame them. There's also a lot of gore and body horror in this story, far more than I would have expected for a young-adult novel.
5) No Award
4) Tess of the Road, Rachel Hartman
This was....okay. It's more of a deep character study than anything else, an inner journey echoing the outer one, hesitant and meandering and one step forward and two steps back, until the end. The world opened up a bit, but I preferred the two books about Seraphina, Tess's older half-sister.
3) Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi
This book just won the Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult SFF at the Nebulas, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it come out on top here. I thought this fast-paced fantasy based on Nigerian culture, gods and mythology was very good, but it's still the author's first published novel, and it shows in the uneven characterizations (and especially the ill-advised romance between two of the main characters). I can't place this one on top, but I expect the next book to be better.
2) The Cruel Prince, Holly Black
This book draws you in slowly, and you wonder why on earth the protagonist is doing what she is doing...but as more layers to her character are revealed, you understand perfectly.
None of the characters are likable, but they are fascinating. This is not a cute and treacly Faerie, not at all: for the most part, the Gentry are beautiful, charming, ruthless sociopaths, and our main character is perilously close to becoming one as well. This world is harsh and the story is cruel, and the book is the epitome of the phrase, "Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it." But damned if I'm not going to snap up the next books in the series.
1) Dread Nation, Justina Ireland
This is the only one of my nominees to make the ballot, and it's definitely going on top. This Civil War-era alternate history zombie story, which starts with the dead rising after Gettysburg, is so much more than a zombie apocalypse: it's a searing commentary on racism, colonialism, and white supremacy, and the white supremacist culture that the protagonist and her friends are navigating turns out to be more dangerous than the zombies. The author is using SFF tropes to explore today's society, and it's damn near perfect.