Once a year, I review the books I read and write a brief post recommending my favorites. 2020 was a brutal, horrible year, and I had almost no mental bandwidth for reading, but I did read three books that I absolutely loved.

Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

This was on my to-read list after seeing it described as “lesbian necromancers in space,” by Charles Stross. I kept putting off reading it, however, until my friend Daniel visited (back before the pandemic), heard I hadn’t read it yet, and bought me a copy for Christmas. Once I finally started, I devoured it quickly. It’s now one of my favorite books of all time.

It’s difficult to summarize this book (aside from the brilliant Stross quote). Gideon is an orphan who was raised by the Ninth House, who live on a small planet/necropolis. Her rival in all things is Harrowhark, the Reverent Daughter and heir to the Ninth House. They are summoned to participate in a challenge to become a Lyctor, a powerful servant of the God-Emperor.

It’s hard to describe the humor of the book, which is sarcastic and clever and surprisingly full of references to memes, but I think this quote summarizes the style of the whole book:

She pulled her sunglasses out of the pocket of her robe and eased them on, which completed the effect, if the effect you wanted was “horrible.”

The story takes a little bit to get going, but there comes a point where it switches from being about Gideon being confused, bored, and horny to a murder mystery. By the time it ends you’ll be champing at the bit to read the next book…

Harrow the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

There’s very little I can say about this book that doesn’t qualify as a spoiler, so I’ll keep this simple. It follows Harrow immediately after the events of Gideon. Yes, you’ll get some answers for some of the questions the first book raised, but exciting new questions arise which lean into the unreleased third book, Alecto the Ninth.

I will warn you that this book starts out with a pretty dramatic tonal shift from the first.  Harrow is a very different narrator, and I found the first half of the book to be a bit slow. Right around the halfway mark the story suddenly pops into focus and starts going 90 miles an hour. Stick with it, the payoff is absolutely worth it.

I have a selection of highlighted quotes, and I can’t tell you how many times I laughed out loud at a particularly absurd turn of phrase. For example:

Ianthe only slurped angrily at her soup, making a sound like custard going down a flute.

Network Effect, by Martha Wells

I’ve recommended the Murderbot series before. This is the fifth book in the series, but the first full-length novel. You don’t have to read the first four to understand this one, but I recommend it, both because they’re delightful, and because there are lots of callbacks that you’ll appreciate more as a result.

If you haven't read any of the books before, this blurb from the back cover sums them up nicely:

You know that feeling when you're at work, and you've had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you're a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you're Murderbot.

In this novel, we find Murderbot working as a security consultant for PreservationAux, the group it’s worked with in the previous stories. Things get complicated when Murderbot’s old friend ART shows up and causes a scene. As usual, Murderbot grumbles throughout the process of saving everyone when it would much rather be watching its shows. Without spoiling anything, this feels like a bigger-budget version of the story, with some really interesting things happening that feel like a natural payoff of the idea of “rogue” SecUnits and AI.