Fantastic Five: single-serve fantasy

It’s a truth rarely acknowledged that I get more out of SFnal short stories than fantasy. Novellas, on the other hand, are a favourite of mine regardless of genre. The best have just enough world-building to support their plot, and focus on characters and situation to deliver a thrilling adventure or emotionally resonant ride (or both! Both is good) – for today’s Fantastic Five, I’m sharing some favourites…

Looking at my favorites, I am forced to acknowledge that absolutely dominate the fantasy novellas I’ve read (this isn’t true in SF, where I’ve found some amazing titles from independent presses). This is neither an accolade for nor a criticism of other presses: it’s a failure of my reading – and now that I’ve noticed it, I shall be seeking out fantasy novellas from other publishers, because in my experience, reading more widely only makes things even better! This doesn’t take away from the amazing work have done in recent years, or reduce just how much I loved the titles I’m going to focus on today.

While today’s prompt was intended to describe how long it takes to read a novella – one sitting, a single serve – I’m going to double down on the idea to only talk about stand-alone novellas: single serve in every sense, although they often leave us longing for more.

The Terracotta Bride – Zen Cho

The afterlife isn’t what it used to be, but Siew Tsin is discovering that doesn’t make it less complicated. Zen Cho delivers a beautiful tale of surviving Hell that blends SFnal questions of sentience with a touching tale of love and friendship …and if you enjoy Zen Cho, dash over to Twitter to get in on my UK giveaway of Black Water Sister!

Book cover: The Terracotta Bride - Zen Cho

The Drowning Eyes – Emily Foster

A single serving of epic fantasy featuring piratical raiders, stone-eyed weather mages and a grumpy ship’s captain who is too old for this shit. I found the worldbuilding bigger than the sum of its parts, and appreciated that the story considers the people who pay the cost of what appears to be the greater good.

Sunset Mantle – Alter S Reiss

When a client settlement aspires to be independent of its f(o)unding city state, a stubborn outcast (with excellent taste in cloaks, ahem) will lead the battle for its freedom. After a shaky start, this novella delivered enough drama and distinctive world-building to leave me feeling like I’d read a chonky military fantasy – in a good way.

Book cover: Sunset Mantle - Alter Reiss (spectacular moody scene of a warrior looking down on a battlefield)

Fireheart Tiger – Aliette de Bodard

Book cover: Fireheart Tiger - Aliette de Bodard

One of this year’s Subjective Chaos Kind of Award novella nominees is the tale of a princess who must learn to acknowledge her own worth whilst enmeshed in toxic relationships that would diminish her personally and politically. De Bodard is a queen of novellas, and this is no exception to her extraordinarily strong form.

Ring Shout – P Djèlí Clark

Last year’s Subjective Chaos Kind Of Award novella runner-up is a fantastical horror of demons in the Ku Klux Klan and the fierce black women who fight them. I liked that it’s crystal clear on personal responsibility, and remain in awe of how many amazing ideas Clark routinely packs into his novellas without overburdening them. Brilliant.

Book cover: Ring Shout - P Djèlí Clark

Okay, okay, I can’t leave it at five; so here’s five favourite novella series and five favourite serialised fictions to round us out:

For series of novellas, I remain a big fan of Witches of Lychford, The Tensorate and the novellas by Aliette de Bodard that continue the adventures of Thuan from Dominion of the Fallen. I remain very sad that the Echoes of the Ascended – a series of interlinked novellas – never seems to have developed past its second arc. However, I’m very much looking forward to returning to the Singing Hills novellas by Nghi Vo.

I also love the episodic fantasy offered by Realm.FM – where each season is made up of 8-16 single-serve episodes: Tremontaine, The Dark Tome (review coming shortly!), Born To The Blade, Bookburners, and Dark Heights.

What novellas and short stories have my Wyrd and Wonder co-hosts featured this week? Check out the Fantastic Fives from the rest of the team: A Dance With Books | Dear Geek Place | The Book Nook | Jorie Loves A Story

Want to join us in sharing your own fantastic fives? We’d love to see them – check out our weekly topics and share your links in the master schedule. We’ll be sharing our Fantastic Fives each Sunday through May, but you’re welcome to post any day (and tackle the prompts in any order, because that’s the sort of super-relaxed party we like to run).

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