Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Reviewing the 2019 Hugo Nominees: The Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

Hugo Award voting opened at the start of May and continues through the end of July.  For those of you new to the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre, the Hugo Award is one of the most prominent awards for works in the genre, with the Award being given based upon voting by those who have paid for at least a Supporting Membership in this year's WorldCon.  As I did the last two years, I'm going to be posting reviews/my-picks for the award in the various categories I feel qualified in, but feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comments.

Other Hugo Award Looks:
My Picks for Best Novel:  See HERE.
My Picks for Best Novella:  See HERE.
My Picks for Best Novelette:  See HERE.
My Picks for Best Short Story: See HERE.
My Picks for The Campbell Award for Best New Writer: See HERE.

The Lodestar Award is in its second year at being awarded with the Hugo Awards, although it's the first year it has actually been a named award.  It's the Hugo equivalent of the Norton Award, for the Best Young Adult (YA) Science Fiction or Fantasy Book of the year, and I'm really glad it was added, because YA has added a ton of excellent works to the genre - and deserves extra recognition for it.  In fact, my favorite books of last year (Sarah Rees Brennan's "In Other Lands") and this year (see below) were YA.

So yeah, there's a lot of great works to be nominated for this award, and this year's shortlist contains some pretty good works, including one book again that was one of my favorites from all of last year, one book that I really really liked, one I enjoyed a good bit which will probably win it all, and two other books that are at least solid - really only one nominee of the bunch do I think is unworthy, although I can understand why it's nominated.  All in all, this award will give recognition to a work that definitely deserves it, which is the point of the matter.

 7th on my Ballot: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (Freeform / Gollancz)

This Book was reviewed by me HERE.

Additional Thoughts: The Belles is the only nominee that I've ranked below No Award, as while I get why it earned a nomination, it didn't really work for me.  The book is certainly ambitious, telling the story of a world in which beauty is everything, and girls with magical abilities to alter one's beauty - both externally (outward appearance) and inwardly (altering someone's mood) exist and are prominent as important parts of the world's culture - the titular Belles.  But the book is so ambitious in setting up different plot threads using this premise that it fails to develop really any characters other than the lead, and none of those plot threads really pay off in this novel, as they're saved for the sequel (which I liked slightly better, but it still had the character problem).

The premise is interesting enough that I'm not surprised to see it get award recognition, but the execution just was not there for me.

6th on my Ballot: No award

5th on my Ballot: Dread Nation: by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray)

This Book was reviewed by me HERE.

Additional Thoughts:  Like the Belles, Dread Nation has an interesting premise that made its nomination pretty easy to understand: in this case, it's the premise of an alternate history where the civil war is broken up by a zombie uprising, and Black (and Native) Americans are trained to fight them.  The result is a story of young black women trying to not only fight for their lives, but to fight off racism and oppression in a US that is still as openly racist as ever, and one which deals with interesting deeper issues such as those of people trying to get by through "passing."  Unlike The Belles, Dread Nation is executed well, and it works, forming a satisfying novel in and of itself while still leaving sequel hooks for future books.

Still, for some reason - and maybe this is just my feelings towards zombie novels in general - it just never really found itself clicking for me.  The villains are blatantly evil and uninteresting and outside of the two main characters - who are great don't get me wrong - there aren't really any others that are interesting.  But this book earned its nomination and it's not surprising to see it here after it also was nominated for the Norton Award earlier in the year.

4th on my Ballot: The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin (David Fickling Books / Scholastic)

This Book was reviewed by me HERE.

Additional Thoughts:  The Invasion is the one of two books on this shortlist that is not the first book in a series, and the only direct sequel on the ballot: the book is the sequel to O'Guilin's fantasy horror novel, "The Call."  Horror is not my thing usually, but I loved The Call, which I only picked up to read due to The Invasion's nomination, so I had high hopes for The Invasion.  And well...I'm kind of sad this award didn't exist back when The Call would've been eligible, because The Invasion is a bit of a step down, with this book losing quite a bit of the intense momentum of its predecessor.

Instead, The Invasion tells of the resolution of the conflict between the Irish and the Sidhe, with the story focusing upon two stories: that of our heroine from The Call, Nessa, and of her love-interest from that book, Anto.  As you might imagine from its place on my ballot here, The Invasion is still a very solid book and I greatly enjoyed reading more of these absolutely terrific characters, but it never reaches the high of its predecessor, and never truly hit the highs needed for it to surpass the top 3 books on my ballot.

3rd on my Ballot: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt / Macmillan Children’s Books)

This book was reviewed by me HERE.

Additional Thoughts:  Children of Blood and Bone won the Norton Award - the Nebula Award for Best YA Novel - and is the most popular novel on this ballot by a good bit,* so it's undoubtedly the favorite to win here.  I liked this novel quite a bit, with the plot featuring again interesting themes of race and oppression, characters on a fantasy adventure that take various twists and turns, and several characters who I really enjoyed as a whole.  The book was just a bit below my grade for "truly great" (a 9 out of 10 or better), mainly due to one major character whose final story-arc just did not work for me.  But it's an excellent book overall - I apologize for the briskness of my description here, I read this a while ago and I recommend for more details going back to my linked review above.

*One minor complication for this book winning was that the author found herself getting panned for claiming NORA ROBERTS stole her title to leach off her own publicity, which was hilariously stupid....but that episode didn't stop her from taking home an award awarded by other writers who seem more likely to me to have taken offense from that episode than Hugo voters, so yeah I'm pretty sure this will win.  

2nd on my Ballot: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (Little, Brown / Hot Key Books)

This book was reviewed by me HERE.

Additional Thoughts:  If Children of Blood and Bone doesn't win, I expect the Cruel Prince to take home the award, as the other really popular book on this list.  And I'll be very satisfied if it does - this is an excellent book and the first in a series I've enjoyed quite a lot.  Like The Invasion, this is a fae fantasy story, although it's not so much a horror story as that book as much as simply dark fantasy.  But more specifically it contains one of my favorite main characters, in the human girl Jude who simply wants to carve a place for herself in matter the cost.  Which is not to say the other characters in the story aren't excellent - they definitely are, but Jude is the driving force of this novel, and she's a fascinating character to follow as she gets further and further into the mess that is Fae politics, in a world in which her human frailty should be a weakness.

It's a slow burn at first, leading to an explosive second act, which ends with a tremendous crescendo.  Is the final twist of the book completely surprising on an abstract level?  Absolutely not - but how the book gets there is indeed a mix of surprises that all work, which put this easily 2nd on my ballot as a result.

1st on my Ballot: Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman (Random House / Penguin Teen)

This book was reviewed by me HERE:

Additional Thoughts: Tess of the Road is one of my favorite novels of last year, and one of the few novels to which I've ever given a perfect (10 out of 10) score.  Technically this is the third book in this world written by Hartman, following earlier novels Seraphina and Shadow Scale, but this book requires no prior knowledge and focuses upon a new main character in Tess.  And what a book - this is the journey of a young woman traumatized by the results of a past relationship (minor spoiler: rape is involved), and who finds herself trapped by a family that doesn't seem to understand...and thus she runs away to try and find an answer.

What makes it such a great story, as I detail in the above linked review, is that the book doesn't suggest that there is a simple answer, or even that finding one answer for Tess will be possible.  In fact, a central premise of the book is a life of contradictions, of finding and not finding, and the book exemplifies that in Tess' journey, as she finds people and beings along the way living in ways she could never have expected, and callings she could not quite have imagined at the beginning.  Its a fantastic story, and while there may be a sequel coming in a while, it really doesn't need it: it is tremendous as a whole.  So it's an easy choice for this award for me.  

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