Two books that concern the theatre come up against each other, and both are absolutely delightful. In Station Eleven, we have theatre before and years after the world as we know it ends, while in Wise Children, we have a Shakespearean romp filled with twins and family drama on the British stage. I was so glad to be introduced to both these authors this year, and I'm sure I'll read more of both. However, only one winner, huh?
Winner: Station Eleven
This is not really a tough battle, but I do feel the need to say that the book I'm not picking is also really really good, really creepy, and you should definitely read it. That said, of the two, I just have to pick A Tale for the Time Being. It was deeply moving and stretched my brain at the same time.
Winner: A Tale for the Time Being
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett vs. The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman
These are misty cloudy covers, and if you don't think that I'm mentioning that to put off the moment where I have to choose between these two books, well, then, I don't know what to tell you. Here we have an author new to me, whose rich world and fantasy murder mystery were a complete and delightful surprise. And up against that is the third book in a trilogy that I just simply adored, possibly even more fiercely because they're deeply polarizing books. I don't know how I can choose, but the pit of my stomach keeps giving it to Robert Jackson Bennett.
Winner: City of Stairs
Two N.K. Jemisin books up against each other! That doesn't seem fair, particularly since they're first and second in the series. Let's start by saying I loved both a lot, but the truth is that it's not a difficult choice. The Killing Moon was excellent, but The Shadowed Sun was even better.
Winner: The Shadowed Sun
These choices are going to kill me, sooner or later. (But do look at this and the next three battles and see what author they have in common - I love Elizabeth Bear's work!) I responded so strongly to both of these books, for vastly different reasons. Novik's exploration of fairy tales was astonishingly good and rewarding, while Bear's exploration of pain let me inside someone's head in a way that is rare. I do not want to make this decision. Close my eyes, take a deep breath, and....
Lila by Marilynn Robinson vs. Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
This is a less difficult choice. I loved Karen Memory a hell of a lot for many reasons, and if you're looking for steampunky goodness, I highly suggest you check it out. However, Lila was the book that broke me this year, the one that knocked me flat on my ass, breathless and stunned. I cannot explain what she gets so right here - goodness knows I've tried and everything I say sounds like I'm trying to use words like a child does to describe something written by a genius. That this is the kind of genius that extends to capturing people in ways I've never seen and putting it on the page in such a way that it demands the reader bring themselves to the work? I just...Lila is just Lila, and I am just enthralled.
Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear vs. Afterparty by Daryl Gregory
Phew! It would be just ridiculous if none of the Elizabeth Bear books I loved made it through the round of 16. I can quite easily say that Steles of the Sky beats Afterparty, which I keep saying was good, but not as well developed metaphysically as other Gregory books I've read. Nope, this round goes definitively to the end of Bear's saga of tribes and necromancers and women and war.
Winner: Steles of the Sky
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng vs. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Sorry, Ann Leckie. This is another book I really thought would be in the top ten (and might still be, since I get to pick two from the eliminated this round to complete it). It's just that my favourite book in the Ancillary trilogy ended up against Celeste Ng's tour de force, and I can't possibly let it go. It has things to say about memory and understanding and material objects that still resonate with me.
Winner: Everything I Never Told You