Top Ten Tuesday: new-to-me authors in 2020

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Top Ten Tuesday 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. Today we’re looking at the authors we read for the first time in 2020.

More than half of my favourite 2020 reads were by authors I hadn’t read before (which is always exciting), but it turns out nearly half my 2020 reading was by authors I hadn’t read before – so I shall celebrate ten other authors today rather than repeat myself.

While I didn’t manage as much backlist as intended in 2020, I did finally get around to reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and Nova by Samuel R Delany. I loved Jackson’s prose – she has a beautiful turn of phrase and a talent for atmosphere that had me jumping at shadows from the get-go. I confess she lost me in the final act: I have no bones with ambiguous endings, but I found all the interpretations I could see dissatisfying. That said, I can see this being a book I revisit and get more out of – and I’d like to read more of Jackson’s work (I have already picked up a copy of We Have Always Lived In The Castle).

I found Nova more frustrating than enjoyable: at its core it’s about a vendetta between two self-absorbed, over-privileged young men, which is a theme I struggle to generate much interest for. I initially enjoyed the jazz rhythms of the prose, but the absurdly mannered speech became annoying (as did the faux science infodumps). While it’s good to see a more diverse cast and it feels implicitly (if never textually) queer, its the usual sorry showing for female characters. It’s a shame: I had high hopes for Delany, but I can’t see me reading more of his work unless I approach it as an academic exercise.

Kate Elliott is an author I’ve been meaning to read for years (decades? Gosh, maybe). I finally took the plunge with gender-swapped Alexander the Great space opera Unconquerable Sun. After a frustratingly slow start, I got swept up by the narrative once Persephone Lee began to dominate it and settled in for an entertaining ride of politics, warfare, world-building and complex family relationships. I’ll be watching out for the sequel later this year.

Like Kate Elliott, Juliet McKenna and Kameron Hurley fall into the bucket of ‘authors I’ve been meaning to read for ages’. I picked up The Light Brigade as part of my catch-up reading prior to making Subjective Chaos nominations. It’s very much not my cup of tea (milSF) and in conversation with classic SF works that I haven’t read (and don’t plan to), and I enjoyed it about as much as I expected to (…not at all). However, I admired it a great deal and recommend it to readers who enjoy conspiracy thrillers and can stomach the horrors of war.

The Green Man series by Juliet McKenna proved a far less complicated pleasure. This is contemporary British fantasy, following the adventures of a dryad’s son as he solves supernatural problems plaguing the English countryside. Dan Mackmain is an earthy hero who I often roll my eyes at, but who grows on me with each instalment; and McKenna has fun weaving local folklore into her modern setting. I’ve inhaled the first three books and am here for Dan’s future adventures.

Patrick Edwards is an author whose debut passed me by, but I was immediately intrigued by the pitch for Echo Cycle (a Roman time-slip conspiracy thriller). Edwards amps up every Remainer’s worst fears for his post-Brexit dystopia, but the focus is on a world trying to re-open doors – and on the vested interests determined to prevent it at any cost. I found this very hard to put down; Edwards is now an author whose work I shall follow keenly.

Triggernometry is everything you would hope and expect from the cover alone: a Wild West where the most feared gunslingers are mathematicians, who carry deadly scientific apparatus (like protractors, ahem) to help them figure the angles. Stark Holborn has far too much fun bending familiar tropes in service to alternate world-building, and the result is highly entertaining regardless of the reader‘s mathematical skills.

Rena Barron won a Subjective Chaos Kind of Award for Kingdom of Souls, an African-inspired coming of age fantasy about battling (literal and metaphorical) demons in a god-haunted world. I admired the complexity of Barron’s tale and enjoyed the simmering friends-to-lovers romance (with no hint of a triangle in this first book, hooray) and focus on difficult family dynamics.

…speaking of difficult family dynamics, it must be time to mention The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. More fantasy melodrama than epic fantasy perhaps, but KS Villoso serves up a tasty dish of politics and marital difficulties set in a Filipino-inspired world. Queen Talyien – short-tempered, stabby, not very subtle but plenty smart – was easy to enjoy, and if I found the villains a little Too Much I could still delight as she disappointed them. I’ll be seeking out The Ikessar Falcon at some point this year to see if Rai gets what’s coming to him.

Last up is an older novella – it’s taken a long for me to finally get round to reading Sunset Mantle, but I’m ever so glad I did. Alter S Reiss delivers a story that is dense in world-building and rewards patience with its core conceit. I’m always here for older protagonists and I enjoyed Cete’s stubborn competence and his uncompromising relationship with visually-impaired master weaver Marelle. This is one of those novellas that leaves you convinced you’ve read a book twice its length, and wishing for more stories set in this vibrant world.

What authors did you try for the first time in 2020?