This is the time of year when shortlists are announced for prestigious prizes, and I am always keen to see what kind of books are on those lists. Here are some of the books contending for book prizes that I’ll be reading this year.
Last year, I did a whole challenge in celebration of 25 years of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, reading the past twenty-four winners and then the shortlisted books for 2020. I’m reading the shortlist again this year!
The six shortlisted books for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 include:
- The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennet
Synopsis: The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities.
Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ story lines intersect?
- Piranesi – Susanna Clarke
Synopsis: Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has. In his notebooks, day after day, he makes a clear and careful record of its wonders: the labyrinth of halls, the thousands upon thousands of statues, the tides which thunder up staircases, the clouds which move in slow procession through the upper halls. Lost texts must be found; secrets must be uncovered. The world that Piranesi thought he knew is becoming strange and dangerous. The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.
- Unsettled Ground – Clare Fuller
Synopsis: Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different from other people. At 51 years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. Inside the walls of their old cottage they make music, and in the garden they grow (and sometimes kill) everything they need for sustenance.
But when Dot dies suddenly, threats to their livelihood start raining down. Jeanie and Julius would do anything to preserve their small sanctuary against the perils of the outside world, even as their mother’s secrets begin to unravel, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake.
- Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi
Synopsis: As a child Gifty would ask her parents to tell the story of their journey from Ghana to Alabama, seeking escape in myths of heroism and romance. When her father and brother succumb to the hard reality of immigrant life in the American South, their family of four becomes two – and the life Gifty dreamed of slips away.
Years later, desperate to understand the opioid addiction that destroyed her brother’s life, she turns to science for answers. But when her mother comes to stay, Gifty soon learns that the roots of their tangled traumas reach farther than she ever thought. Tracing her family’s story through continents and generations will take her deep into the dark heart of modern America.
- How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House – Cherie Jones
Synopsis: In Baxter’s Beach, Barbados, Lala’s grandmother Wilma tells the story of the one-armed sister, a cautionary tale about what happens to girls who disobey their mothers. For Wilma, it’s the story of a wilful adventurer, who ignores the warnings of those around her, and suffers as a result.
When Lala grows up, she sees it offers hope – of life after losing a baby in the most terrible of circumstances and marrying the wrong man. And Mira Whalen? It’s about keeping alive, trying to make sense of the fact that her husband has been murdered, and she didn’t get the chance to tell him that she loved him after all.
- No One is Talking About This – Patricia Lockwood
Synopsis: A woman known for her viral social media posts travels the world speaking to her adoring fans, her entire existence overwhelmed by the internet – or what she terms ‘the portal’. Are we in hell? the people of the portal ask themselves. Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die? Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: ‘Something has gone wrong’ and ‘How soon can you get here?’
I’m going to be reading these over the next few months, starting with The Vanishing Half, which I already own and have been meaning to get around to for ages. Lots of people have written dazzling reviews of this book, so I really shouldn’t have waited this long!
The other reading challenge I gave myself last year was to rediscover my love of sci-fi by reading the shortlisted books for the Hugo Best Novel award. I had already read (and loved) Gideon the Ninth, so it was hardly a difficulty! And it was in fact a great idea – I have since been reading more SF and I won’t stop talking about the sequel to last year’s winner and how great it is.
The six shortlisted books for the Hugo Award for Best Novel include:
- Black Sun – Rebecca Roanhorse
Synopsis: In the holy city of Tova the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as “harmless” the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
- The City We Became – N. K. Jemisin
Synopsis: Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five. But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.
- Harrow the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir
Synopsis (for book 1): The Emperor needs necromancers. The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman. Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.
- Network Effect – Martha Wells
Synopsis (for book 1): In a corporate dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company supplied security androids, for their own safety. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid – a self aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as ‘Murderbot.’
- Piranesi – Susanna Clarke
Synopsis: see above
- The Relentless Moon – Mary Robinette Kowal
Synopsis (for book 1): It’s 1952, and the world as we know it is gone. A meteorite has destroyed Washington DC, triggering extinction-level global warming. To save humanity, the world unites to form the International Aerospace Coalition. Its mission: to colonise first the Moon, then Mars. Elma York, World War Two pilot and mathematician, dreams of becoming an astronaut – but prejudice has kept her grounded. Now nothing – and no man – will stop her from reaching for the stars.
That’s right, Piranesi is a double shortlister! (Actually, it was included on at least two other award shortlists which is impressive and tells me I should read it urgently.) It’s also very exciting to see Gideon the Ninth‘s sequel on the Hugo list again, which is another book I already own and will finally get around to reading.
It’s a bit striking how many of these books are sequels, actually, but that’s SF&F for you! I’m not reading The Relentless Moon, because it’s the third of the series (the first won the Best Novel Hugo in 2019!), and I also won’t be reading Network Effect, because I haven’t read the previous Murderbot books yet either. They are all now on my TBR though!
I know there are only two prize shortlists here but a) these are my favourites and b) knowing myself, I’m going to read all the previous books in those Hugo-nominees and that’s… a lot of books. Happy reading to me I guess!
Have you read any of these books? Do you plan to?