Top Ten Tuesday: novellas

Text only: top ten TUESDAY

Top Ten Tuesday is was created by The Broke and the Bookish, and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s all about books, lists and sharing the love we have of both with our bookish friends. This week, we’re talking about novellas – a dear love of mine, so I’m excited to share some recent favourites.

I adore bite-size books, whether they’re (collections of) short stories, novelettes or (linked) novellas. My job is often a mental full-contact sport that leaves me too tired to concentrate in my downtime, and I commute for up to 3 hours a day. So a novella is perfect – they often fit into a single day’s reading, and give me plenty to grapple with in terms of character and themes without having to keep track of characters and details from day to day.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve usually got one or more novels on the go too – but novellas are things I turn to as palate cleansers and to relax. Let’s get to some of my favourites…


All Systems Red – Martha Wells

Book cover: All Systems Red - Martha Wells (a battle droid)

I expect to see Murderbot on a lot of lists this week. Marvin P. Android set the stage for my love of anthropomorphised robots, and Murderbot’s social anxiety won my heart on the spot. I think Murderbot has more compassion than they admit to; but I still think in a cross-over universe, Murderbot trolls the comments on Hemiola’s drama fan-edits.


Witches of Lychford – Paul Cornell

Book cover: Witches of Lychford - Paul Cornell (3 silhouettes walking down a misty avenue, in sepia tones)A vicar, a witch and an atheist defend a rural English town from mobile phone masts, black weddings and Brexit supernatural assaults – it sounds like a bad joke, but the results are brilliant. These novellas are uncomfortable and yet comforting, with a TARDIS-like ability to seem bigger on the inside. Easily my favourite works by Paul Cornell, and possibly my favourite novellas full stop.


River of Teeth – Sarah Gailey

Book cover;

Alternate history goes wild as a hardbitten ex-rancher takes on a government contract to clear hippos from the Mississippi, hoping to even a score with an old enemy along the way. Come for the hippos, stay for the brilliant cast of queer characters and the rapid escalation of ways things can go wrong when you’re herding small sentient tanks. Fast, fierce, fun and definitely not a caper.


The Drowning Eyes – Emily Foster

Book cover: The Drowning Eyes

Wind magic, invasions, self-worth, love, too old for this shit ship’s captains – this is an epic fantasy novel somehow delivered with aplomb (and with lashings of feelings to boot) in bite-size form. There’s enough world-building, plot and character to make you think you read a saga. The trick is to sketch in just enough: hyper focus and clever use of detail makes this novella feel bigger than it is.


Book cover: Prime Meridian - Silvia Moreno Garcia (a young Mexican woman in a space suit)Prime Meridian – Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Freshly-pressed (on general release just last week), this is a tale from tomorrow of a frustrated young woman trying to earn enough money to go places. I loved its acerbic tone and evisceration of the gig economy.


Echoes of the Ascended – Mark Gelineau & Joe King

Book cover: Faith and MoonlightI miss the Echoes of the Ascended. Gelineau & King explored their dark world of Aedaron and the rise of 5 unlikely heroes through interlinked novellas released in phases. Each Echo is perfectly bite-sized and lots of fun, but the second phase. I’m excited that Gelineau & King are working on a novel in this universe, but gutted that I still don’t know what happened to Kay. Warning: yes, that means the Echoes were never completed. HEARTBREAK.


The Murders of Molly Southbourne – Tade Thompson

Book cover: The Murders of Molly Southbourne - Tade Thompson (blood trickling down the bottom half of a woman's face)I keep talking about it because it was so good. If Molly spills a drop of blood, it grows into a new Molly. Some of them just want to be friends initially, but in the end they all want to kill her and take her place. Written with a keen eye for logical consequences and psychological impact, this is a tense, horrifying thriller that I will never stop recommending.


The Red Threads of Fortune – J Y Yang

Book cover: The Red Threads of Fortune - J Y YangAnother epic universe related through inter-related (but stand-alone) bite-size installments, I love the Tensorate novellas for their Chinese flavour, handling of gender and emotional intensity. Threads deals with grief and love and nagas and inevitable destinies against a backdrop of an empire being torn apart by competing ideologies. Deeply satisfying.


Passing Strange – Ellen Klages

Book cover: Passing Strange - Ellen Klages (two people dancing in a ballroom at night)

If you don’t love it for that gorgeous cover art, love it for the quiet romance and peek through the historical keyhole. Like Prime Meridian, this is low-key genre: the focus is f/f romance and the challenges of being gay in war-time San Francisco – with the magic as much its evocation of time and place as the charms deployed to bend both.


The Food of the Gods – Cassandra Khaw

Book cover: Food of the Gods - Cassandra KhawThe Rupert Wong novellas are an exercise in showing that just because something is hideously squicky doesn’t mean it can’t be written in the most evocative, lyrical, heart-rending prose. Whether that’s a good thing probably depends on how you feel about tentacles. Remarkably unpleasant, in the best way.


Honourable mentions:

The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal, which I read so long ago I don’t have a review of it, just an overriding memory of melancholy and tugged heartstrings. I’m looking forward to picking up The Calculating Stars.

The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho – a tale of love in the afterlife, where the dead await in the circles of hell until they can be reborn. I adore Zen Cho’s writing, and look forward to the next novella that can give me so many feelings.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, which I’m sure will be on every list this week. I cried my way through it on a plane, and remember it fondly – but somehow have hesitated to pick up the sequels. Still: as a reflection on what happens to the kids who survive portal fantasies, it will always have a special place in my heart.


What are your favourite novellas?