Text saying www.beyondthebig5.com, Lodestar-eligible books - my favourites of 2020. Below this are 8 book covers - Hold Back The Tide, Dangerous Remedy, Queen of Coin and Whispers, The Scapegracers, Jennifer Strange, Blazewrath Games, Elatsoe and Cute Mutants v1.

Potential Nominees For Lodestar 2021

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So, nominations for the Hugo Awards, and the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book, are open until March 19th. For those unfamiliar with them, the awards are given at WorldCon and honour outstanding SFF books. I’m sadly not a WorldCon member (moving to the USA cost a fortune and hasn’t really left me with much disposable income for stuff like cons!) but I wanted to highlight some YA books that are eligible. If you’re a member who hasn’t decided on your five nominations for the Lodestar yet, please consider reading some/all of these.

Earlier in the week, I posted on the 11 books in my logo illustration. They include Hold Back The Tide, Queen of Coin and Whispers and Dangerous Remedy. Rather than repeat those bits here, I’ll direct you to that post for my thoughts on them. These are the other 5 sci-fi/fantasy/horror books from last year from non-big 5 publishers that really impressed me. (In my initial draft that said ‘loved’. To clarify, I loved four of them. Jennifer Strange scared the hell out of me too badly to finish it! Definitely worth reading, horror fans.)

Elatsoe cover

Elatsoe lives in an America similar to our own in many ways, but different in some fairly major ones. Vampires exist, you can travel through rings of fungi, and Elatsoe herself can raise ghosts. When Elatsoe’s dying cousin appears to her in a dream, she sets out on a dangerous mission to avenge him.

Lipan Apache heroine Elatsoe is wonderful – smart, courageous, and deeply loyal. (Also yay for asexual rep!) The world-building here is especially superb and the ghosts, vampires and other supernatural aspects perfectly work with the otherwise contemporary setting. It’s a surprisingly funny read in parts, too (as noted by Stephanie Burgis, awesome author of many of my favourite fantasies, in a stunning review which was the thing that made me originally request it at my library.) And the ending is perfection, although my heart was in my throat for the last few pages! Oh, one more thing – Rovina Cai’s illustrations are GORGEOUS. They complement Little Badger’s writing wonderfully and I’d love to see the pair team up again!

When the popular girls at school pay Sideways Pike to cast a spell at their Halloween party, she’s shocked. She’s even more shocked when she becomes good friends with them, forming a powerful coven. But with witch hunters trying to steal their magic, life just got extremely dangerous.

This is a stunning paranormal featuring an absolutely outstanding lead in Sideways Pike. A witch who’s always been a loner devoted to her magic books, I was a big fan of her intelligence and quick wits. I loved both her actual family – her two dads are adorable – and the found family of the coven.

As well, I’m in awe of the way Hannah Clarke juggles the ‘standard’ teen drama of navigating friendships and crushes with the threat of the witch hunters. Both threads are perfectly judged and feel just as important as each other. Clarke had me desperate to know not just whether they’d survive the witch-hunters, but also if Sideways would get the girl she’s crushing on. In addition, I don’t want to give details because of spoilers, but a character introduced later on in the book is one of my VERY favourites for ages. The Scapegracers is breathtaking and atmospheric, building to a stunning climax which left me desperate for The Scratch Daughters.

Cute Mutants v1 Cover

This is a novel about a group of teens who all get mysterious powers after kissing the same girl at a party. (Side note: it’s not a graphic novel, despite the ‘vol 1’ initially making me think it was.) Lead character Dylan can talk to certain objects, while her boyfriend Lou glows and heats up when turned on. Insecure Alyse’s face changes with her mood and ice queen Dani Quinn is telekinetic. Finally, emotional support himbo Bianca has weird creatures living inside her chest.

I was hooked on this from page 4, in which Dylan deals with a drunken guy in a deckchair coming onto her by snapping back “Go fold yourself” to the chair, which follows the instruction and takes him down hard, slamming his head into the concrete. Dylan’s creative uses of her power are awesome. What makes it stand out, though, are the personalities of the ragtag group she forms AND of the objects she talks to. (I love her pillow, which has a hilarious crush on Leo.)

Despite the fun nature of much of the book, it’s also high-stakes. The group try to stop an evil villain who’s destroying parts of their town, and the ending in particular is incredibly hard-hitting. In addition, SJ Whitby captures the struggle the teens have to control their powers and work out how to use them to do good really well. It’s incredibly tense, and builds to a heart-stopping (and heartbreaking!) climax. As well, it’s super-diverse. (Leo’s a trans boy, Dylan’s parent Pear is non-binary, and the entire gang is queer.) The first three books in the series are out now. Whitby will release book 4 in April, and book 5 in October.

Blazewrath Games cover

The sport of Blazewrath sees Runners try to take an iron scale up a mountain, while dragons and their riders fight to stop them. MC Lana has always wanted to represent Puerto Rico as a Runner in the Blazewrath Games.  and is shocked to be given the chance. But when a dragon-turned-human, and a former Blazewrath superstar team up to call for the games to be cancelled, she’s thrown into a situation more dangerous than she could ever have imagined. As the pair burn down dragon sanctuaries, she’s embroiled in a conspiracy which could be deadly.

I wasn’t sure how much of the actual sport we’d get here, given the summary. Thankfully, we get a decent amount of description of Blazewrath training and games, despite everything else going on. And there’s a LOT going on here! Lana is a fantastic heroine and I loved the found family aspect as she bonds with (most of) her teammates. The characters are perhaps the book’s strongest part; as well as Lana and the other Puerto Rican players I loved rival Scottish player Andrew, Lana’s best friend Samira, and – of course – the dragons!

Additionally, the theme of belonging is very well-handled; Lana’s the only PR player not to live on the island. (She moved away when she was five.) This means she’s constantly fighting self-doubt over whether she’s Puerto Rican enough to represent the team. Oh, and I LOVED the world-building here! The narrative is supplemented by chapter-opening quotes from books and other documents explaining the history of Blazewrath. This is highly recommended as an exciting read with a superb ending. I’m incredibly hyped for the upcoming sequel, Bloodbath Ring.

Jennifer Strange cover

I don’t generally post about stuff I DNF’d, but I bailed on Jennifer Strange because it was too scary for me. That has to count as a recommendation for a horror, right? Fifteen-year-old Jennifer is The Sparrow, cursed with the ability to give ghosts and demons a body. She’s dumped in the care of her older sister after her powers awaken. The pair have to try and decipher their father’s journals. Can they do it before the veil that separates the living from the dead gets torn apart. 

This novel – illustrated by the author – is a gory, terrifying and action-packed read. The pages from the girls’ father’s journal really add to the world-building and the creepy atmosphere here. People with stronger stomachs and minds than me, who made it all the way through, have praised it as a dark and violent book. (I’d definitely agree from what I read!) 

Anything Else?

I know there’s a bunch of other books out there from non-big 5 publishers! What YA sci-fi, fantasy and horror did you read last year that you loved? If you’re a WorldCon member, what are you nominating for the Lodestar? Leave me a comment and let me know!

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