The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
Hard Mode: n/a (no hard mode for this square)
It’s kind of embarrassing to admit I’d never read LOTR all the way through before now. Of course I liked the movies in high school, but who didn’t? The Hobbit was one of my favorite books in college. In grad school, I even went so far as to read the Silmarillion and enjoyed it. I probably have read Fellowship of the Ring a half a dozen times over the years, but every time I try to read the rest of the books, I end up putting it down somewhere in the middle of the Two Towers. I felt like a sham, a fake, a poser. But no longer. Thanks to the second chance square for Bingo, I can finally claim that I have read all of the Lord of the Rings. I think the first book, Fellowship of the Ring, does the best job of capturing the cozy-yet-magical feeling that so many books after have tried to emulate. I loved reading about the hobbits in the shire, and sharing in their wonder and terror as they explore more of the wider world. However the sequels feel a bit cumbersome in comparison, and that’s probably why I struggled to get through them before. While the Fellowship of the Ring movie doesn’t quite do the book justice, I think the Two Towers movie was actually an improvement over the book in a lot of ways. Most notably, the fact that the movie switches often back and forth between points of view. In the book, we read all of Merry and Pippin’s point of view, and then all of Frodo’s point of view, as though they are two separate books. This got somewhat exhausting especially since Frodo’s point of view in that book is something of a bummer. I did enjoy some of the details from the books that weren’t in the movies, though, like the hobbits finding Shire smoking leaf in Isengard, foreshadowing the scouring of the shire that comes later. The scouring of the shire itself was probably my favorite part of the third book, and it’s disappointing that it never made it into the movie. Although at times bogged down by needless asides and uneven pacing, Lord of the Rings is an excellent trilogy and I can see why it’s such a genre-defining classic.
Other Bingo Squares
- Local Author (Birmingham, UK)
- Title with four or more words (except The Two Towers)
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Hard Mode: alas, no
Technically this falls into the realm of African Futurism, because the term Afrofuturism specifically refers to African American themes, while African Futurism deals with the continent of Africa. However I believe it still counts for the purposes of an Internet bingo game — if it doesn’t, I, uh, better hurry up and read another book! Anyway, I read the full Binti trilogy for this square, and reviewed it more in depth here. Binti is a compelling and complex character, and I loved her conflicted feelings about her home and identity as she tries to figure out who she is. Binti is definitely a more character than plot-driven story, but that doesn’t keep the plot from being interesting. I especially enjoyed the worldbuilding and would like to one day read more stories set in this universe.
Other Bingo Squares
- Local Author (Chicago or Nigeria)
- SFF Novella
SFF Novel Published in 2019
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Hard Mode: yes, Gideon is Muir’s debut novel
Lesbian necromancers in space? Where do I sign up? This book is the sort of over-the-top ridiculous gothy fun that I can just feel the author had fun when she was writing. Gideon is one of my favorite characters in recent memory. Snarky goth girl who lifts weights? Yes. AWESOME. I also really enjoyed the other main character, Harrow, and her frenemies-to-almost-lovers relationship with Gideon. It was a good thing this book had the characters to carry it, however, because the plot didn’t really draw me in as much as I’d hoped. Harrow is competing with some other nobility for some important government position in the space empire, I guess? And then there’s a bunch of murders? Overall the what of what’s happening in the story wasn’t nearly as compelling as the characters and the humor. This book had a lot of jokes and meme references that might make the work seem dated in a few years, but made me smile all the same. The worldbuilding might have been compelling, I just wish we got to see more of it. We are left with the impression that the Space Empire is not a benevolent force for good, with hints dropped about subjugating people on colony worlds, but the main characters, living within the Space Empire, never question it. The ending was also quite upsetting. I won’t say poorly written, just upsetting. Tamsyn, how can you DO that to me? Still, minor complaints aside, I very much look forward to reading the upcoming sequel Harrow the Ninth.
Other Bingo Squares
- Local author (New Zealand)
- Character with a disability (one of the side characters is chronically ill)
Middle Grade SFF Novel
Wishes and Wellingtons by Julie Berry
Hard Mode: Yes, this was not a re-read for me
I originally picked this up because it was free on Audible. I didn’t have really high expectations coming in, but it was surprisingly delightful! It did a good job capturing the magic and whimsey of stories like Harry Potter, but it was surprisingly deep, as well, highlighting the many social problems in too-often-romanticized Victorian England. I reviewed this book in more detail here.
Other Bingo Squares
- Local Author (Medina, NY)
A Personal Recommendation from r/fantasy
Tales of the Ketty Jay by Chris Wooding
Hard Mode: I don’t remember? I think it was only recommended to me once, so sure?
Awhile back I made a post on r/fantasy looking for books with dynamics similar to the Bone Ships (which I reviewed for the ocean setting square in row 2). Basically I wanted a crew of fuck-ups who don’t get along at first gradually come together to be like a family. In this, the Ketty Jay series delivers excellently. It gets compared to Firefly a lot, too, and I can definitely see the resemblance, to the extent that there’s even “The Simon” and “The Jane” but unfortunately not “The Kaylee.” It’s difficult for me to review this series because I somehow managed to both love and hate it. I suppose you can say that it’s a series I enjoyed, but with major caveats.
First of all, the main character, Darian Frey. Darian is, to put it as nicely as possible, a massive dickweed, and not a lovable dickweed, either. Now I know I said I wanted a crew of fuckups, and that means contending with their flaws, but there’s a difference between a compellingly flawed character and one that you simply want to punch in the face. Darian is a self-centered asshole who thinks only of himself, even as the crew grows to depend on him. He treats the women in his life like they’re disposable, even including his ex who he constantly pines after. I almost quit reading the series around half way through book 2 when he manipulates a different girl into falling in love with him for his own selfish ends — twice! He does undergo some character growth, but it took me until around the third book to not totally hate him. Fortunately, the other characters really carry this book. The alcoholic doctor, the demonist haunted by his past, and the fighter pilot with PTSD and anxiety all made this series a joy to read, even if the main character was rather infuriating.
I had some other minor gripes as well. For being only ten years old, a lot of things really haven’t aged well. Wooding’s representation of female characters leaves something to be desired, and the vaguely India-coded continent full of brown people was just YIKES. Still, it was a fun series as long as you don’t think about it too hard.
Other Bingo Squares
- Local Author (Leicestershire, UK)
- Character with a Disability (Anxiety/PTSD, alcoholism)
- The Ace of Skulls counts for last book in a series