Down to single-post rounds! And it's going to be awkward numbers from here on out, with a bunch of those dreaded three-book contests at the end of each bit. I did not read a number of books this year that lends itself easily to this type of tournament.
Railsea vs. In The Night Garden
This is painful. With this pairing, I think I knock out the last book by one of my favourite authors in this tournament. There were three I read, this year, and now they're all gone. (Multiple books might actually make it harder, as I'm sometimes inclined to let one go, knowing the other ones are still around.) However, if you asked me to choose between my inner China Mieville and Catherynne Valente fangirls, in this case, it has to go to Railsea. I am a sucker for books that show me that I secretly wanted something I never even imagined, and a land-bound Moby Dick science fiction on trains is apparently something I craved without ever having an inkling. It's an amazing ride, full of Mieville ingenuity and prose. It hurts to let Valente's storytelling, and stories within stories go, but I will, in search of my own Philosophy. (That only makes sense if you read Railsea. Go ahead, I'll wait.)
Wolf Hall vs. Tooth and Claw
Winner: Tooth and Claw
Tudor England vs. Victorian England! Dragons vs. Thomas Cromwell! Machinations of power vs. eating the children of the poor! I feel strange picking the dragons, but this was yet another book that filled a deep-seated desire I didn't know I had. I wasn't crazy about Among Others, but with Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton has cemented herself as someone whose works I must devour. Like a dragon. A very Victorian dragon. Mantel's Wolf Hall is arguably a great book, but this is a competition for my favourite books of the year, and Tooth and Claw wins there.
Red Seas Under Red Skies vs. A Civil Campaign
Winner: Red Seas Under Red Skies
When I realized that these two books were coming up against each other, my reaction was both audible and pained. Oh, gods. How can I choose? What was probably my favourite Miles Vorkosigan book up against Locke Lamora. Seriously. Miles vs. Locke. Other than the fan fiction that that immediately spurs, it also causes me deep pain to knock Miles out of the competition. Right when he's in the middle of courting, no less. I loved A Civil Campaign. But I loved Red Seas Under Red Skies too, and that one has the added bonus of emotional evisceration at the end. Okay, Locke. You can steal this one.
How The Light Gets In vs. Republic of Thieves
Winner: How The Light Gets In
Ha! Easy! Locke Lamora took the last battle, so he doesn't get this one! Plus, while Red Seas Under Red Skies wrecked me emotionally, Republic of Thieves didn't quite have the same finishing blow. The culmination of books of build-up for mystery writer Louise Penny, on the other hand, reduced me to a weepy mess. Rosa! Rosa the duck forever! And everything else that finally pays off in the most beautiful and heart-wrenching of ways.
The Imposter Bride vs. Black Swan Green
Winner: Black Swan Green
This is an oddly difficult contest. These are both mainstream fiction, a little melancholy, although about vastly different subjects. We have the aftermath of a family being ripped apart that was never really whole, vs....Wait. Actually, that could describe both books. Huh. Okay, well, one is about the aftermath of the Holocaust, and the inability to stay, while the other is about boyhood in England. I liked them both a lot, and found their quiet restraint a lot more effective than something more emotional might have been. It comes down to this. Which would I sit down to read again right now? It's actually close, but that gives it to Black Swan Green.
Memory vs. Komarr vs. The Broken Kingdoms
Are you kidding me? We come up to the last battle of the round, and have two Lois McMaster Bujold and one N.K. Jemisin? I liked all of these books so much! So, so much! But the Vorkosigan books were one of the highlights of my reading year, and so that entirely unfairly knocks Jemisin out of the competition. Of the two Miles books, the self-inflicted pain of Memory, and its meditations on disability, success, and expectations have stayed with me the more. Although the mere introduction of Ekaterina almost tips the scales in Komarr's favour.