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2019 r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge: Conclusion and Thoughts

So. The end of March also means the conclusion of my favourite reading challenge, my sixth in a row. Unlike in 2018, I decided to try for only one card. The reason for that was twofold: first, doing a double two years in a row burned me out. I wanted to have the freedom to read random shit again, and not worry about how every book I read could fit on the damn cards. But also, the new card was difficult. Cyberpunk? LitRPG? Tie-In? Afrofuturism? Local author?! I doubted whether I could cobble together one card, much less two.

In the end, I finished on March 12th, with more than enough time to spare 😄

My tracking spreadsheet!

As far as statistics go:

  • I completed 14 squares (59%) in hard mode out of 24 that have it. Since I wasn’t even remotely trying for it, I’m pretty happy with that!
  • 17 books were female-authored (68%), 5 male-authored (20%), 2 written by a mixed gender team (8%), and 1 by a non-binary author (4%)
  • 6 books were the same as in the original plan (24%)
  • 7 books were #ownvoices (28%)
  • 3 were self-published (12%)
  • Since I started doing basic ratings this year: I marked 15 as YAY (60%), 7 as MEH (28%) and 3 as BOO (12%)

Slice of Life / Small Scale: Sourdough by Robin Sloan

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Hard mode: Yes. It’s clearly not Record of a Spaceborn Few.

This has been one of the most pleasant surprises of 2019 for me. I didn’t plan it, not really – I picked it up on a whim, it fit the square, and I loved it. It’s the book equivalent of a hug, a simple story of a woman stuck in a hectic, shitty tech job who discovers joy again with the help of magical sourdough. Do not read while hungry.

Character With a Disability: Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox

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Hard mode: Yes. Protagonist with a disability (PTSD).

Historical romance with speculative elements, Seven Summer Nights takes place just after WWII. Rufus, a famous archeologist, is fired after suffering from a violent flashback episode, but takes one last job in a sleepy English village, where he meets a certain atheist, motorcycle-riding vicar…

Novella: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

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goodreads –

Hard mode: Yes. Not published by

With how many novellas I read in 2019 and how short they are, this was practically a free square – I just picked my favourite of the bunch. Experimental, gorgeous prose, doesn’t feel like it’s lacking anything despite its short length…what else could I want?

Self-Published: Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

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goodreads –

Hard mode: No. Far too many goodreads ratings to count.

Sadly second chance is not the kind of romance I’m into and I was annoyed by miscommunication and her family members’ constant teasing. The worldbuilding was fairly interesting, but at that short of a length, we couldn’t get anything but glimpses. All in all, meh.

Features Twins: Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

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goodreads –

Hard mode: Yes. Tess is a twin and the protagonist.

This square basically fell into my lap. I had had Tess of the Road on my shelves since months before Bingo, saw this square, perfect. I loved it as well – it’s a great character study and while the worldbuilding seems standard pseudo-European medieval, there are tons of little details most authors don’t inclide that kick it up a notch. I also love how Tess is very much not perfect, she lashes out, she can be an asshole, she gets in trouble because of it…but there is character development, too. Recommended to anyone who wants an explotation of mental health and trauma and gender roles.

Features Vampires: The Gilda Stories by Jewelle L Gómez



Hard mode: Yes. Vampire protagonist.

I’m not really fond of vampires, and UF is not a subgenre I read often (though I am slowly starting to warm up to it – The Last Sun and Los Nefilim, anyone?). So yet again, I wanted something that’s not a typical vampire book, not an obvious choice.

After reading an article, The Gilda Stories seemed like a good fit for what I wanted – benevolent vampires, a lesbian protagonist, focus on PoC, a longer timeline and dealing with history – but while I could appreciate it for what it is, I couldn’t enjoy it. The narrative style is too distant for that, to the point I thought the book was far older than it is.

Graphic Novel: The Wicked + The Divine: Book One by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

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Hard mode: No. Not new to me, I read a bit of it before.

Not a surprising choice. It’s one of the big fantasy comic series, and part of the huge pile I got off Humble Bundle a while ago. Unfortunately, while the art is gorgeous, and the premise is great – gods as celebrities – the story is meandering and aimless, and I never really connected to the characters either. A shame.

Local Author: Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popović

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Hard mode: No. There are authors that are technically closer.

Alright. Technically, this is not quite local – the author was born in Belgrade and Serbia is not even a neighbouring country, but I chose it for two reasons. First, the cultural similarities – it’s the first time a book made me feel at least halfway represented. If not the same country, it’s at least the same region. Second, because finding anything closer that I’d actually want to read has been impossible and not for the lack of trying.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like it as much as I hoped in the end. The beginning was wonderful, it made me feel seen (even if the explanations felt unnecessary) and the prose was great, but it gradually descended into every single YA trope I hate and ended on an unnecessary cliffhanger. Oh well.

Ocean Setting: The Imaginary Corpse by Tyler Hayes

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goodreads –

Hard mode: No. Ocean setting is a relatively small (if important) part.

More or less incidental as well. “Oh hey, a part of it takes place in an ocean setting,” bam, problem solved, no more struggling to find something. And it helps that I enjoyed it very much too – it’s such a warm, kind-hearted story about dealing with trauma and a plushy triceratops detective solving crimes in one hell of an oddball setting.

Cyberpunk: Central Station by Lavie Tidhar


goodreads –

Hard mode: Yes. Obviously, it’s neither Neuromancer by William Gibson nor Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.

This is the exact kind of book the Bingo is for. Would I have read it otherwise? No. But I adored it. It’s a strange, beautiful sci-fi fever dream, very relaxing to read. I expected to tolerate whatever I ended up choosing for this square at most, but I love weird books and I love slice of life.

2nd Chance: The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells



Hard mode: Square has no hard mode!

2nd Chance was one of the worst squares of 2019 for me. I don’t exactly DNF books without reason – I looked at my DNF shelf and there was pretty much nothing worth coming back to. I tried returning to a series I abandoned by reading Half Lost by Sally Green. It did not go well. So I decided to give a second chance to an author instead and this time it finally worked.

While The Wizard Hunters was the single most boring book I ever finished, I enjoyed The Cloud Roads a lot and definitely plan to continue with the series. The worldbuilding is very unique – no humans – and I’m a sucker for broken protagonists.

Afrofuturism: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

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goodreads –

Hard mode: No. Too many goodreads ratings to count.

I was very, very lucky I still haven’t read An Unkindness of Ghosts by the time the Bingo started because otherwise I’d have no idea what to read for this square. Unfortunately, it just didn’t quite do it for me. I appreciated how it handled race, gender and the portrayal of non-neurotypical characters, but the worldbuilding (why is the ship organised that way?), uneven pacing, and my least favourite trope of blatantly abusive characters who are forgiven too easily…

Published in 2019: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

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goodreads –

Hard mode: Yes. It’s Harrow’s debut novel.

This was, without a doubt, my favourite book of 2019. So it would be odd if I didn’t include it somehow. It’s gorgeously written, atmospheric, and full of an odd sense of nostalgia for a past you never had. Oh, and the ending made me cry. Both times I read it.

Middle Grade: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

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Hard mode: Yes. Not a reread.

A friend’s recommendation. An adorable and fun story about a girl who believes she’s cursed and nothing special but gets an invitation to a prestigious magic school regardless. The only thing that bothered me was the dead horse trope of the mentor who never tells the protagonist shit or helps them until it’s way too late.

Personal Recommendation from r/Fantasy: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett


goodreads –

Recommended by: u/emailanimal
Hard mode: Yes. I don’t think it’s been commonly recommended to me.

I had planned this book for every single Bingo since the first one. And yet.

In the end, I ended up enjoying it very much. One of the things I’m always looking for in fantasy are books that touch upon what happens after the big events that are usually the center of the story (here: a war and the death of the gods) and this is exactly the type. Add a smart protagonist and some excellent action scenes and the end result os one hell of a book. Recommended.

Book of the Month OR Read-along: Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones


goodreads –

Bookclub: HEA Bookclub
Hard mode: Yes. I participated in the discussions.

Given the bookclub, I thought this would be a romance book. And since I’m forever on the lookout for more f/f – hell, why not? Oh how wrong I was. It is, at best, historical fantasy. Romance barely features at all and I would have been far happier and less fucking angry at my expectations being toyed with if this was made clear to me before I read it.

Media Tie-In: Hard Contact by Karen Traviss


goodreads –

Tie-in for: Star Wars
Hard mode: No. It’s Star Wars.

Tie-in was a funny square for me. Since I already used up my substitution on LitRPG, I whined about it endlessly for months on end. Why this? I don’t do any media that has tie-ins! And don’t they suck?

Then, in December, I got insanely into Star Wars and suddenly tie-in was the easiest thing in the world. Hard Contact was the first one on my list I went for – I’m interested in clones, plus a friend spoke of it highly – and I absolutely loved it. It really digs into just how fucked up the whole concept of clone soldiers and the way the Republic uses them is, it’s an easy read, and at the same time, it somehow also has a few oddly adorable scenes too. What else could I want?

Novel Featuring an AI Character: The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz

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Hard mode: No. The protagonist is human.

My original plan for this square was reading Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill. However, by the time I got to the square, the deadline was breathing down my neck, so I opted to panic-read something short and quick. Honestly, no regrets. It’s fluffy, it’s slice of life, it has a few cool ideas about AI, and I want more.

Title of 4+ Words: Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

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goodreads –

Hard mode: No. It’s a 5 word title, not 7.

This was not my original pick for that square either. At first, I planned to read The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, but when that ended in a DNF in January, I had to look if there was something I read earlier that’d qualify. Since I used a Wayfarers book in two previous Bingo challenges, it seemed oddly fitting.

As with all the other Wayfarers books, I naturally loved Record of a Spaceborn Few as well. It’s even more slice of life than The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet or A Closed and Common Orbit, and the society of the Exodan Fleet is interesting.

Retelling: From a Certain Point of View (edited by Elizabeth Schaefer)


goodreads –

Retelling of: A New Hope
Hard mode: Yes. It’s not a retelling of a fairytale or myth. I mean, neither is it a retelling of a previously published work, but since I don’t think Lisa predicted anyone finding a retelling of a movie, I think I found the hardest of hard modes 😉

Second tie-in on my card! Won’t lie, I decided to go with this instead of anything else just because the thought of using it instantly gave me a big, shit-eating grin. It’s unquestionably a retelling, but.

Besides, I enjoyed it a lot. While not all chapters are great, as expected for an anthology, there’s a lot more good than bad, and I loved a more slice of life perspective on A New Hope. Jawas get a POV, various stormtroopers do too…even a mouse droid!

Australian Author: The Silence of Medair by Andrea K. Höst



Hard mode: Yes. Self-published.

Another last-minute-panic-read divergence from plans – and the last book I read for Bingo. The Medair series has been on my TBR since 2015 when someone on r/fantasy brought it to my attention. The concept seemed amazing – a woman wakes up 500 years later to find the whole world has changed and the war she wanted to help win has been lost? Fantastic. Unfortunately, there was infodumping every other page, flat characters, a technologically stagnant world…and in general, the execution did not come close to doing it justice. Shame.

The Final Book of a Series: Children of God by Mary Doria Russell


goodreads –

Hard mode: Yes. First published in 1998, so just barely over the “published over a decade ago” line.

I loved The Sparrow. The sequel…I was curious, but after reading it, I prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s a mess. It doesn’t work structurally, it doesn’t work emotionally, it doesn’t work plot-wise, the worldbuilding is even worse than in the first book, it’s super pushy when it comes to religion, representation is handled terribly – in short, it’s a big hot mess and I regret finishing it. Don’t read it.

#OwnVoices: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


goodreads –

Hard mode: No. It’s #ownvoices for Mexican, but that’s it.

Another case where I used the first book I happened to read that fit. And well…it was alright. I like mythology-inspired stories, the worldbuilding was a big draw (1920s Mexico!), the ending was good…but most of it was an incredibly predictable series of fetch quests.

LitRPG Magical Realism: All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

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goodreads –

Hard mode: No. In 2016, it wasn’t a thing yet. Plus it’s a substitution anyway.

I have known from the start I was going to substitute LitRPG. It’s a subgenre I absolutely despise. The pedantic focus on stats and the magic system, characters leveling up and growing in power, the in-game setting – I don’t give a single shit about any of that. I’d much rather play a game than read about (or watch, for that matter) someone playing a game.

I ended up swapping for Magical Realism, a square I had quite a bit of trouble with in 2016, before I figured out I actually love prosey literary SFF. As for All the Crooked Saints, I adored it. It is, in a way, an exploration of trauma and mental ilness through metaphors made literal – a family of saints who can grant miracles that manifest people’s inner darkness as something physical. It’s slow and beautifully written and ugh, so good.

Five SFF Short Stories: Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens by Eleanor Arnason

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goodreads –

Hard mode: Yes. Read the whole collection rather than the minimum 5.

I had to be, uh, strongly persuaded into reading that even though The Lovers is my favourite short story of all times, but I did not regret it in the least. The hwarhath are some of the most unique aliens I’ve seen and the cultural worldbuilding is easily on par with Le Guin. It takes a simple concept – how would an alien society where heterosexuality is considered immoral function and what would be the reasons for that? – and explores its implications in depth. There is also a novel, Ring of Swords, but they can be read in any order.


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