I don’t think I had ever voluntarily read a novella before this year. This isn’t to say that I was trying to avoid them, but I’m a chronic book buyer and I’d rather spend the same amount of money on a full length book. I also didn’t really see many of them around if I’m being totally honest.
But, in January I really started reading again and joined the bookstagram community. Suddenly the big wide world of novellas was brought to my attention. While many have left me desiring more – more world building, more character development, more relationship development, more, more, more – there have been a few that have left me feeling fully satisfied.
So here is a list of my favourite novellas I’ve read so far this year.
What are some of your favourite queer novellas?
The Tensorate Series by JY Yang
JY Yang is a queer, non-binary, Singaporean author and the whole Tensorate Series is phenomenal. This is a series I recommend every time someone is looking for queer fantasy books.
Each book is fulfilling in it’s own right, but I would recommend reading them in order. Each book builds on the last and characters do overlap between them. The books follow different characters, but the stories overlap with each other. This whole series made me reconsider what a novella can be.
The Black Tides of Heaven
The Black Tides of Heaven is the first book in the Tensorate Series. It follows Akeha and Mokoya, the children of The Protector, the ruler. Their mother sends them off to the monastery as children to repay a debt. The story follows them through to adulthood and the beginning of a rebellion in their country.
Despite coming in around 200 words, The Black Tides of Heaven tells a long spanning and beautifully written story. The world and characters feel developed, the relationships between characters feel genuine. It feels like a longer book in all of the good ways.
The Red Threads of Fortune
The Red Threads of Fortune is the second book of the series. This one follows Mokoya in the aftermath of the first book. This is a story of grief, of coming to terms with trauma, of trying to forgive yourself despite feeling like you don’t deserve forgiveness.
The world building continues to create a richly developed world with a fascinating magic system that gets further developed through the introduction of a new character.
JY Yang packs a punch in a few words, creating a world and characters that never feel flat.
The Descent of Monsters
The Descent of Monsters is totally different than the previous two books. It was a totally unexpected five star read for me. JY Yang managed to take one of my least favourite story telling styles and make it work. Told in through a mix of reports, transcripts, letters, and POV narrative, the Descent of Monsters tells the story of an institution hiding behind the facade of another.
The Descent of Monsters is a carefully crafted puzzle. It is creepy, full of building dread and horror as pieces of the story are revealed. But, it also had a great emotional kick in the gut.
The Ascent to Godhood
The Ascent to Godhood is a satisfying ending to the series. I can’t say much without giving away earlier parts of the series. The book is told as a story from one patron in a bar to another. It humanizes a character who has been a villain for the majority of the series without ever crossing the line into justifying her cruel actions.
The Ascent to Godhood tied up most of the last lingering threads of the series without treading into happily ever after territory. Obviously if you’ve read. the rest of the series, you should definitely finish the concluding volume!
Yellow Jessamine by Caitlin Starling
For me, Caitlin Starling became an author to watch out for after I finally read the Luminous Dead. She is a fantastic horror writer. While I know many people have complained that Yellow Jessamine should have been a full length novel, I thought that it was perfectly suited to the novella format. I didn’t really need more than I received. This novella is perfectly suited for a dark and stormy night with candles.
Yellow Jessamine is a horror novella with a sapphic MC. Evelyn Perdanu is a powerful shipping magnate who closets herself away behind a facade of grief. When one of her ships arrives in dock, she counts herself lucky that it made it through the military blockades slowly strangling her city. But one by one, the crew fall ill with a mysterious sickness: an intense light in their eyes and obsessive behavior, followed by a catatonic stupor. Even as Evelyn works to exonerate her company of bringing plague into her besieged capital city, more and more cases develop, and the afflicted all share one singular obsession: her.
The way the story and tension built and built before finally rupturing in a fast-paced and chaotic ending felt right. For me, Yellow Jessamine had just the right amount of detail, we didn’t need to know the background details of the world because the story was tightly focused around Evelyn.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
The Empress of Salt and Fortune was the most astounding for me out of all of the aforementioned novellas. It is a tiny book. 112 pages. But oh my word, Vo fits so much content into this novella.
The story telling style perfectly fit the novella format, it would likely have been far too repetitive in a full length novel. Vo crafted a tightly written work that still feels lush.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune has a range of different queer representation and is a deeply feminist story. Angry women will fuck you up when you have wronged them, end of story.
To Be Taught if Fortunate by Becky Chambers
I’ll be honest, I was hesitant to pick this ones up. I didn’t enjoy Chamber’s first book Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and did not anticipate enjoying her other works. But To Be Taught if Fortunate is a lovely novella. It follows a four person scientific crew on their mission, decades of light years away from Earth.
Each of the planets they explore is filled with exciting developments and cool aliens. But, more than that, this novella has a very human story. I loved all of the new aliens they discovered, but the interactions between the crew, and the exploration of human psychology in different circumstances was also fascinating.
Even if you aren’t a fan of some of Chamber’s other work, this is one I would definitely recommend!