Back in June I set myself the goal of reading as many of the finalists for this year’s Hugo Awards as possible, and in the end I was pretty happy with what I managed. So on the awards night at Worldcon I bustled into the auditorium, ready to cheer for my favourites… and not a single of my top picks won! I wasn’t too crestfallen, since I also liked the ones that did win, but it goes to show you how varied tastes are when it comes to awards. Apparently some of the categories were decided by a slim margin of votes, so there was stiff competition.
In light of this, and since everyone always talks about the winners, I thought I’d take this opportunity to give a shout out to some of the finalists which didn’t win, but which I personally thought were fantastic.
If you want to see my full reviews on Goodreads you can click the title links:
The Calculating Stars won best novel – a well written, unique and very enjoyable book, even for the few quibbles I had with it.
My personal favourite for this category, however, was Spinning Silver – which is even better than Naomi Novik’s previous book Uprooted in my opinion. It’s thick with a moody, wintry fairy-tale atmosphere and full of great characters with unexpected gifts. I loved that the main character’s talent was being a good at numbers and making money (unusual in a fantasy), and how this tied in with the fairy tale elements, as well as showing what it would be like to be a Jewish money lender in a hostile town.
Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book
Children of Blood and Bone was the winner of this category, which I sort of expected, and although I enjoyed parts of it, there were three other reads that vied above it for top place amongst the nominees for me, all of them 5-star reads in my opinion:
The Call is actually the prequel to the award nominee, The Invasion (which I haven’t yet read) but I’m mentioning it anyway since they’re in the same series. This YA dystopian novel is set in Ireland and has strong horror elements, and I was impressed by the sheer creativity of it. The premise was thrilling from the get-go, and the terrifying Sidhé world was captivating too. I didn’t expect to be this drawn in by this book, but it was so suspenseful it had me up late at night reading.
Tess of the Road had an incredibly well-drawn main character with a heart-wrenching backstory. It explored society’s obsession with female purity and the double-standards that are so often applied in religious contexts when it comes to women, and in a very moving way. It was light on fantasy elements and had quite a slow pace, but it was so emotionally rich and engaging that I adored it anyway.
The Cruel Prince was my first ever Holly Black book, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found it very entertaining and fun to read. I liked the less-than-perfect morals of its main character and the rules and tricks and political manoeuvrings of the fairy world, not to mention the sexual tension and the inclusion of one of my favourite romantic tropes: enemies to lovers.
I should also mention that I enjoyed The Belles, which was entertaining and had a rich and interesting world, and while it didn’t quite hit the same level as the others for me personally, it still got a solid 4 stars.
Best Short Story
I did enjoy the story that won this year’s short story category – “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” – but there were others that wooed me more, so I wanted to give them a shout out:
“The Court Magician,” by Sarah Pinsker – this was a haunting tale about the cost of magic that stayed with me and reminded me a bit of creepy Roald Dahl short stories I used to read as a teen. I expected it to win… but hey, the other contenders were good too.
“The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat,” by Brooke Bolander – this story was so very bizarre that it made me laugh out loud many times. Admittedly it got a little strange at the end, but the beginning was so hilarious I was hard pressed choosing between it and The Court Magician when voting.
“The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society,” by T. Kingfisher – while not my absolute favourite, this story was cheeky and short and fun, so I thought it was worth a mention.
It turns out the only film I didn’t manage to watch won this category: Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. From the images and clips I saw though it did appear to have some great animation.
My top pick ended up being Annihilation, just for the sheer creativity of the film, both in terms of cinematography as well as story. I tend not to be a fan of gory horror, and this had its fair share of that, but it also had moments of more concept-based, chilling, sinks-into-your-bones type horror that I’m more partial to. I’m being vague to avoid spoilers but there’s a scene where a monster starts making certain noises and… it’s just incredibly haunting.
A Quiet Place was also a great piece of filmmaking, especially considering it had a lower budget than many of the others. I remember the novelty of sitting in the cinema in near-absolute silence for long periods and enduring many suspenseful nail-biting scenes. Definitely not one for the faint-hearted.
My top choices didn’t win the best professional artist category (I was particularly impressed by Victo Ngai’s and Yuko Shimizu’s work) or fan artist category (I loved Sara Felix’s work) but all of the artists were amazing, and I was ooing and ahhing while leafing through the images in the voting packet.
So those were my personal favourites, but I thought the quality in general of the nominees I read was high, and there were only a few I disliked. Having read many of them also made the award ceremony more suspenseful and made it fun chatting to other people about which ones were their favourites.
To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll attempt this kind of nominee reading again unless I’m going to another Worldcon, simply because I’m a slow reader and it meant I didn’t read a lot of other books on my to-read list these past months (and I don’t think a book has to be award-nominated to be worth reading – plenty of my favourites have never been nominated for anything), but I’m glad I did it, and it was a fun reading experience.
If you want to see a full list of this year’s Hugo finalists and winners, you can find them here on the Hugo website.