The Opposite Book Tag

A pair of burgundy boots rest on a bookshelf of fantasy novels

I became aware of this tag when Mayri tackled it last autumn on BookForager. Mayri got it from Beatrice at Dreamlands Book Blog, but it started out over on BookTube long enough ago that the original vlogger no longer has a public channel. Old book tags never die, they just find new readers to get excited about them.

This started out as a fast fun tag, turned into an introspective dive into my bookshelf and resulted in an impromptu photo shoot so be warned: this is fun, but might take you longer than you expected!

First book in your collection/Last book you bought

A few years ago, my Mum decided to clear out her basement and evict the books I’d left behind when I moved out <cough> rather more years previously than we’ll count <cough>. Frankly, I was amazed we hadn’t got round to this sooner given she’d not only moved house but moved country in the interim – but as it was, several large bags of books arrived and took up residence back on my shelves. So the oldest book on my shelf – in terms of how long I’ve had it – is The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. I’ve had this so long I don’t remember being given it, because I was too young.

The Snowman – Raymond Briggs

The oldest book in my collection – in terms of how old it is – is the third volume in the first-ever collection of Shakespearean plays in French. At the ripe old age of 275, it is incredibly fragile and rather battered, but very precious to me. I rescued it on my travels, because I can’t resist truly old books falling apart at the back of second-hand bookshops or in danger of soon ending up in bits.

Le Theatre Anglois: Tome III

The book I added to my shelf most recently was The Difficult Loves of Maria Makiling by Wayne Santos – second in the new Solaris Satellites series of limited edition novellas – which I pre-ordered a few weeks back and has arrived this week. However, if we count the book I bought most recently, then it was The Phlebotomist by Chris Panatier.

The Phlebotomist – Chris Panatier

A cheap book/An expensive book

My Kindle is awash with 99p reads (most recently The Phlebotomist), but occasionally my library sells off stock for 10p a copy, which leads to random impulse buys that I inevitably release back into the wild through donations to charity shops. The only one lingering on my shelf at the moment is Sarah Bower’s The Book of Love, a tale of the Borgias from the perspective of a naive handmaiden.

The Book of Love – Sarah Bower

I have got into the habit of buying new release special editions from Goldsboro Books, but my most expensive purchase is probably my first edition of Spares by Michael Marshall Smith, picked up in a secondhand bookshop in Leicester years ago. Had I bought it as an investment, it would have been a terrible decision – I got gouged, folks – but I bought it for love, and I retain enough affection for it that I probably won’t reread it for fear of the suck fairy (a dystopian tale of human medical clones told from the perspective of a drug-addicted ex-soldier in belated search of redemption isn’t a pitch I would jump on these days). It’s not the most expensive book on my shelf, but I think it’s the most expensive that I bought.

Spares – Michael Marshall Smith

A book with a male protagonist/One with a female protagonist

I recently got given The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho for my birthday, which is both gorgeous (it even has deckled edges!) and as delightful as any story in which a stubborn nun repeatedly gets the better of some bandits sounds. Our protagonist – not the nun – presents and identifies as male, although his physical characteristics are frankly the least important or defining thing about him.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water – Zen Cho

I am one of those weirdo SFF readers who doesn’t love Adrian Tchaikovsky. I admire his work a great deal, but I rarely enjoy it. The Doors of Eden is currently the exception that proves the rule – a wild world-hopping epic of what ifs and collapsing realities – and gives us Dr Kay Amal Khan, a brilliant scientist who refuses to let transphobic nationalists get in the way of her saving the universe (cw for repeated dead naming, as the fuckers really can’t let it go).

The Doors of Eden – Adrian Tchaikovsky

And because seriously, fuck the gender binary, let’s hear it for the Tensorate novellas by Neon Yang, a silkpunk series set in a fantasy world where gender identity is a thing you grow into (or choose not to adopt), not something foisted on you by society. It’s also packed with rebels and monks and family disputes and magic and murderous handmaidens and married pirates and so much more – along with the full spectrum of gender and sexual identities. A collected edition containing all four novellas is coming out later this year.

A book you read fast/One that took you a long time to read

I think The Girl With All The Gifts by MR Carey still holds the prize for book most quickly and delightfully consumed in the past few years. I picked it up on New Year’s Eve, and put it down the next afternoon with a happy sigh. Thankfully my beloved is very understanding about this sort of behaviour and found the whole thing hilarious rather than rude.

Book: The Girl with All The Gifts - MR Carey
The Girl with All The Gifts – MR Carey

A fast read isn’t always a good thing: I inhaled The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley in two days flat because I was under time pressure to confirm my Subjective Chaos nominees and I wasn’t going to let myself off the hook. I didn’t enjoy it (although I admired it a great deal), so I pushed through it fast and moved on. See also The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stu Turton, which I finished in one sitting on a long haul flight, chuntering periodically but beguiled by the puzzle box plot.

Excluding read-alongs, a book that – unexpectedly – took me well over a month to read last year was Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I’m a big fan, but this one didn’t quite hit the mark for me so it was picked up and put down a few times before I eventually gave it the attention it deserved.

Pretty cover/Ugly cover

I have such a weak spot for gorgeous cover art – yes, I’ll absolutely read the blurb because of the cover – so I could go on and on. But if I’m going to pick just one today, I’ll go with my first Goldsboro SFF book, the eye-catching Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee.

Hardback book on table: Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee
Phoenix Extravagant – Yoon Ha Lee

Finding an ugly cover was more of a challenge. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and sure I’m thoroughly subjective about my tastes in cover art, but I have very few books on my shelf where the aesthetic is so bad I’d call them ‘ugly’. And then I remembered the 70s. I have to beg you not to judge Harvest Home by this cover, which looks like someone with no design skills whatsoever threw together a mood board for the theme ‘rural horror’ and the marketing manager decided that would do. Maybe compositing images was still tricky enough that this was cutting edge cool. Maybe they were unnerved by the colour green (why is the child green? Why?). This is a decent (if dated) horror novel, honestly.

Book on a table - Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon
Harvest Home – Thomas Tryon

A national book/An international book

I’ll follow Mayri and Beatrice’s lead and interpret this prompt to mean a book set in my country and a book set abroad. As a lot of fantasy is set in other worlds, and a lot of scifi is set on other planets, I’m going with some urban fantasy goodness here. I definitely went through a phase of avoiding urban fantasy because it was ‘another supernatural crime/romance in London or [insert big American city here]’ – but the genre has far broader horizons if you keep an eye open.

The Library of the Dead – TL Huchu

Scotland is my heart’s home, as well as being so full of ghost stories its amazing there isn’t more urban fantasy set there. Enter TL Huchu, whose debut The Library of the Dead delves into the haunts of Edinburgh through the eyes of a young medium. I’ve not yet had a chance to read this – Wyrd And Wonder ahoy! – but I can’t wait.

The Night Watch series stacked on a table
The Watch – Sergei Lukyanenko

Looking abroad – and avoiding the US – I’ll go with Sergei Lukyanenko’s Watch series, as I rarely mention it. I’ve only read The Night Watch and The Day Watch – the other two have been glaring balefully off the shelf at me for several years, ahem – but I thoroughly enjoyed their action and mythmaking when they came out.

A thin book/A thick book

Having avoided considering novellas when I talked fast reads, damn right I’m going with novellas for thin books. I mentioned the Solaris Satellites earlier, and I’m sticking with them: I now have both These Lifeless Things by Premee Mohamed and The Difficult Loves of Maria Makiling by Wayne Santos, which I’m excited to read as they’ll be my first encounter with each of these authors.

Solaris Satellites on a table (novellas)
Solaris Satellites: These Lifeless Things (Premee Mohamed) and The Difficult Loves of Maria Makiling (Wayne Santos)

I’ve never been afraid of a chonkster (although I find them way more intimidating these days than I used to) and fantasy fiction is full of them. However, the biggest book on my shelf is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (although George R R Martin isn’t far behind it), which is so weighty I could probably use it to press cheese.

Hardback book lying on a table, spine-on - Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke

A fiction book/A non-fiction book

A fiction book is such a broad prompt that I had a little panic of but how to choose (don’t ever ask me to name my favourite book, folks). So I’m going to keep it simple with the book I’m currently reading: The Unbroken by CL Clark, which comes out this week. I’m thoroughly enjoying the North African-inspired setting and its conflicted heroine Touraine – I can’t wait to see where her journey takes her.

Digital book cover on an iPad: The Unbroken by CL Clark
The Unbroken – CL Clark

While most of my shelves are loaded with fiction, I have a few business / work-related books and several shelves dedicated to history and archaeology. The latest book to be added to this collection was a birthday present that broke records for speed: I mentioned one morning that I’d like a copy, and it arrived the following day – having been ordered by my beloved and made the overnight mail from Orkney in the interim! The Ness of Brodgar: As It Stands is a review of the archaeological evidence amassed in just over a decade of excavation at this fascinating Neolithic site.

The Ness of Brodgar: As It Stands – Nick Card, Mark Edmonds & Anne Mitchell (eds)

Romantic book/Action book

While I avoid romance novels (if the central question is will they / won’t they get or stay together, I’m out), I do enjoy a big romantic arc. Enter S Jae-Jones with her German goblin fantasy Wintersong, which is both a sweeping romance and a celebration of difficult sibling relationships set in a Gothic otherworld. Yes, this Erlkönig is clearly channelling Bowie’s Goblin King, just as the set-up channels Christina Rossetti – all of which is a massive plus in my book.

Wintersong / Shadowsong – S Jae-Jones

I had a helpless moment of flailing at this prompt (“action book” really threw me for some reason), but a quick glance at my bookshelf was reassuring. After all, epic fantasy and grimdark are chock full of action (although I nearly went with a kick-ass space opera instead).

Godblind – Anna Stephens

Given my knee-jerk reaction of ‘I don’t read action books’, I’m combining it with my habitual response of ‘I don’t read grimdark these days’ and proving myself twice a liar. The Godblind trilogy by Anna Stephens absolutely shouldn’t have been my thing at all – and yes, the multitude of often visceral battle sequences and torture scenes were definitely not my thing – but I was won over by the stubborn characters and their evolving relationships. Much action, and – aha! – also a really lovely and entirely unexpected m/m romance.

A book that made you happy/A book that made you sad

Some books contain multitudes: I Still Dream by James Smythe ticks both these boxes, for reasons I can’t explain without massive spoilers (so I won’t). However, I ugly-cried at several points (much to the supportive bemusement of my beloved), because it delivers a large number of feelings in very specific ways that I am particularly vulnerable to, so I was devastated. Sad enough? I think so, although also deeply satisfying in the way it approaches and resolves its themes (which is rare enough to make me truly happy). Besides, just thinking about it means I’m now singing Kate Bush, which is always a good thing. One of my favourite SFnal reads of recent years, so do hunt it out. With a tissue or ten, just in case.

I Still Dream – James Smythe

Any good book tag is for sharing, so if you’d like a go then jump on in and tag me back so I can come read your answers!