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2021 r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge: Conclusion and Thoughts

Official announcement thread with square definitions
Date finished: November 20

I really, really liked the 2021 card and I’m quite sure that this is the earliest I managed to finish a Bingo yet. For the last couple years, I know I always finished in March, and I’m not sure I managed much earlier before that either – especially the times when I did two cards. As much as I hoped it wouldn’t, writing this huge wrap-up still took nearly until the next Bingo.

Links, as always, lead to longer reviews.


  • In the end, 16 (64%) squares qualify for hard mode. Since I never try for hard mode, this is entirely incidental.
  • 20 (80%) books were by female authors, 2 (8%) by non-binary authors, 2 (8%) by authors I’m unsure how to categorise, and 1 (4%) by a mixed gender team.
  • This year, 11ish squares were the same as in the original plan.
  • 4 (16%) of the books were self-published.
  • 6 (24%) books were novellas. The rest (apart from the short story square, obviously) were novels.
  • 6 (24%) books used were ARCs.
  • Since I kept doing basic ratings, 19 (76%) squares were rated YAY, 4 (16%) squares were rated MEH and 2 (8%) were rated BOO.

Five Short Stories: From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back edited by Elizabeth Schaefer


Hard mode: Yes, I read the whole thing.
As planned: Yes. It was one of the first books I finished.

As soon as I got the ARC, I knew I was going to use it for the square. But while I really really liked the first anthology, this one was a little lackluster. Most of the stories were rather unmemorable, there were long stretches with stories focused on the same places, which gave it a feeling of stalling, and it just lacked…charm.

Bingo rating: MEH

Set in Asia: After the Dragons by Cynthia Zhang

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Hard mode: Yes, Asian author.
As planned: No, I used She Who Became the Sun for Debut in the end.

Lovely. I don’t read climate fiction as a rule, since I find it too depressing, but this, even though it deals with some heavy themes like pollution and terminal illness, was melancholic and bittersweet and very kind. Not planned or expected, but very welcome regardless.

Bingo rating: YAY

A to Z Genre Guide: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi


Hard mode: Yes, BIPOC author.
As planned: No, I think my original one was The Midnight Bargain, but this just kind of dropped in my lap.

Did I read this on a whim for a bookclub? I think I did. Someone mentioned the magical word “short” and I was in. Then I think I shuffled it around the card until I finally settled on using it for this square. Either way, I enjoyed it, and I think I might read the sequel for the next Bingo.

Bingo rating: YAY

Found Family: Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather

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Hard mode: Yes, some of the nuns are lesbians.
As planned: No, but I don’t remember what I originally planned.

The last novella I had left to finish in a collection I got for free at some point. Nuns on a biological spaceship trying to help with an epidemic. Had some of the typical novella problems, but good enough that I could easily finish it while in a slump.

Bingo rating: YAY

1st Person POV: The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth


Hard mode: Yes, two POVs, both in 1st Person.
As planned: No

One of my absolute favourite books of 2021. So melancholic and quiet and beautifully written, I just had to include it on my card somehow. If you want to read about two sisters dealing with some major trauma after their return from pseudo-Narnia, look no further.

Bingo rating: YAY

Book Club/Readalong: Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

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Hard mode: Yes.
As planned: No, it was on the card for some other square, but it got moved here after the bookclub.

Extra hard mode, I led the bookclub and organised an AMA because I loved it that much. 18th century references (I could not have read it at a better time) and unreliable narration, I was guaranteed to like it and I did.

Bingo rating: YAY

New To You Author: The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

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Hard mode: No, I’ve been following the author on twitter for a while and have Empire of Sand…somewhere in my unread ebooks.
As planned: Maybe? Probably? I don’t remember for sure, but it’s likely.

It was pretty much a given that I’d at least try to read the whole 2021 Orange Sapphic Trifecta (this, She Who Became the Sun used for the Debut square below, and The Unbroken which doesn’t feature on the card). Even though none of them really blew me away, I think this is probably my favourite of the three – solid epic fantasy with hurt/comfort vibes.

Bingo rating: YAY

Gothic Fantasy: The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

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Hard mode: Yes, it’s not on the list.
As planned: No, my tentative initial choice was Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft, but I never ended up reading it.

I haven’t had much of an idea what gothic fantasy even was – and to be honest, I still don’t, though none of the standard picks seemed very interesting. But hey, that book that’s been on the TBR forever and has a gravedigger protagonist and a skull on the cover (and later on, a creepy castle to top it off) is a safe bet, right? Either way, this was another of my favourites from the entire year – the romance subplot especially was just to my taste.

Bingo rating: YAY

Backlist Book: Lifelode by Jo Walton

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Hard mode: No, too new.
As planned: Yes.

Very much a case of “pick the book first and square second.” Lifelode has been on my TBR ever since about 2015 and I would have read it much earlier if it was available in any edition except an unobtainable hardcover back then. In the end, it did live up to the hype of the wait – but then, rural slice of life is extremely up my alley.

(Warning: Poorly formatted ebook, worse than most ARCs.)

Bingo rating: YAY

Revenge-Seeking Character: Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

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Hard mode: Yes, it’s all about revenge.
As planned: No, initially planned Baru #3 but this happen to be on sale one day and looked like an easier read.

I’ve never much liked superheroes, so I was suprprised at just how much I loved it and how fun it was. Probably helped that it was from the perspective of the villains and that the protagonist’s specialty are spreadsheets. It was lucky that I read it when I did because I couldn’t have found a better pick for that square.

Bingo rating: YAY

Mystery Plot: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

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Hard mode: I wouldn’t call it primary world Urban Fantasy so probably?
As planned: Probably not, I think this square changed quite a bit.

I disliked Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell enough not to finish it, so I was a little dubious if the author’s next book was going to work for me. Luckily, Piranesi is very very different. While I did generally enjoy it, I don’t think I’d read it again given how much it relies on the plot twist.

Bingo rating: YAY

Comfort Read: Mindline by M.C.A. Hogarth


Hard mode: Yes, not a reread of an old favourite.
As planned: No, but then, I didn’t plan for this square at all.

This ended up being probably my single most reread book of the year, which only cements that it was the right choice for this square. It’s not without its issues but slice of life with a massive hurt/comfort aspect (one of the characters spends most of the book severely ill) is like catnip to me and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Bingo rating: YAY

Published 2021: The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

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Hard mode: No, not a debut.
As planned: I think I explicitly avoided planning for this square except for “whatever ARC is handy,” so yes and no.

I wanted to like this one, I really did, but it was just so dull and lifeless. I had a little warning that I might be disappointed despite my love for The Goblin Emperor (in particular, how much of a letdown The Angel of the Crows was), but it still counts as one of the two biggest disappointments of the year (scroll down for the other one).

Bingo rating: BOO

Cat Squasher: The Diviners by Libba Bray

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Hard mode: No. Screw that.
As planned: No, my initial plan was The Hands of the Emperor but…too long. I couldn’t.

Another case where I happened to read a book, noticed that it fit a difficult square (I…have not felt like reading long books in years) and took it. The 1920s setting and the atmosphere were where it really shone, even if the pacing was a little slow at points. I have to remember to continue the series.

Bingo rating: YAY

SFF-Related Nonfic Non-Fantasy (2016): Emilie du Châtelet: Daring Genius of the Enlightenment by Judith P. Zinsser


Hard mode: There was none.
As planned: Yes. I knew I’d swap.

Right from the beginning, the idea of SFF-related nonfic seemed offputting to me. I wanted to read neither writing advice, nor any collection of meta essays, nor seek out a biography of a SFF author. But I did keep somewhat to the theme with my swap – still nonfiction, one of the best biographies I ever read, just not SFF. Émilie might be known mostly as the lover of Voltaire (whom I intentionally do not mention by name in my review) nowadays, but as one of the early female scientists and philosophers, she was plenty awesome all on her own.

Bingo rating: YAY

Latin American Author: Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer


Hard mode: It’s just a little above 1000 GR ratings, but I’m pretty sure it was below at the time I read it, so I’ll count it.
As planned: Yes, another of my early squares.

Well, this was not quite as good as I hoped for either. I tried to plan this book for Bingo since quite early on, failing each year until now but…in the end, it was nothing to write home about. The stories didn’t feel at all connected and I struggled.

Bingo rating: MEH

Self-Pub: Briarley by Aster Glenn Gray

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Hard mode: No, above 50 GR ratings.
As planned: Yes.

A quick read, a good way to cross off that square, but not very memorable in retrospect.

Bingo rating: MEH

Forest Setting: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

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Hard mode: No, only a part of it takes place in the forest.
As planned: Yes.

The other big disappointment of the year. The concept seemed so good, I’ve been awaiting it so eagerly, I planned it and preordered it specifically for this square, and in the end, what I got was a poorly written mess that I only finished because I didn’t have alternatives for this square. A shame.

Bingo rating: BOO

Genre Mashup: Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo


Hard mode: Yes, mystery, gothic, fantasy, dark academia at the very least.
As planned: No, switched after I DNF’d Vermilion by Molly Tanzer.

I thought I had a perfect pick with Vermilion…but apparently not since I lost interest completely about a third in. Even so, it all worked out for the better in the end – I may not have been sure what to expect from Summer Sons, or whether it’d be up my alley, but I enjoyed it a lot.

Bingo rating: YAY

Chapter Titles: Triggernometry by Stark Holborn


Hard mode: No. Pretty sure, at least.
As planned: Can’t remember. Probably, given that I read them in April.

A western with mathemagicians! What else needs to even be said? This pair of novellas was so, so much fun.

Bingo rating: YAY

X of Y: A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha

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Hard mode: No.
As planned: No, I planned to read The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick, but this was shorter and quicker.

An impulse read that founds its way onto the card. Another case of a book where the concept was better than the execution (boy was the pacing wildly uneven), but at least saved by being a quick read.

Bingo rating: MEH

First Contact: A Woman of the Iron People by Eleanor Arnason

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Hard mode: Yes. No war.
As planned: Yes, and with no alternatives.

I have previously enjoyed Arnason’s sci-fi and had this on my TBR about since I finished Ring of Swords, so I had high expectations. But while the alien culture was as good as always, the book left me confused more than anything in the end. The caricature Marxists among the human crew were…a choice. One I did not understand in the slightest.

Bingo rating: MEH

Trans or Nonbinary Character: When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

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Hard mode: Yes, nonbinary protagonist.
As planned: Yes.

As much as I loved, loved, loved The Empress of Salt and Fortune, the sequel didn’t quite live up. It was fine, but I liked it rather than loved it – maybe the plot didn’t work quite as well for me, maybe the novelty wore off. Not sure.

Bingo rating: MEH

Debut: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

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Hard mode: Yes, AMA here.
As planned: No, initially wanted to use it for Set in Asia.

Another highly anticipated book I simply had to try, not in the least because 1) perfect for Bingo, 2) I was curious why the hell every early reviewer I knew was making a meme out of a fisting scene. That aside, it was good – ruthless characters can be so much fun to follow.

Bingo rating: YAY

Witches: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

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Hard mode: Yes.
As planned: Yes. Saved it up for Bingo, even.

Sometimes, the moderator privilege of knowing the card early and being able to set a book aside comes in handy, or I probably would have read it much earlier. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I expected to given that The Ten Thousand Doors of January is one of my all-time faves.

Bingo rating: YAY

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