Hugos 2023: Lodestar Award for Best YA Book

I griped previously about the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) category having too many finalists where you needed to know the rest of the series to really understand them, and the same goes for the Lodestar Award; two of the six are sequels, two more are threequels, as it were, and one is the fourth in a sequence. It is great that people enjoy these series so much, and that’s why we have the Best Series category (which has only one overlap here). But it makes it more difficult for voters who may not have read previous instalments to assess the success of the latest volume. I don’t think it is worthwhile to tweak the rules in any way on this, I’m just saying that I wish voters would nominate books that stand better on their own. Having said that, some of these stand better on their own than others.

6) Bloodmarked, by Tracy Deonn

Second paragraph of third chapter:

To my left, William glances at the kneeling sorcerers, then back to me. Right. Now is the time to use the protocol I’ve studied. I clear my throat. “Rise, Mage Seneschal Varelian of the High Council and noble members of the Round Table Mageguard.”

I thought that the notion of the Round Table turning up in Chapel Hill as a phenomenon among university students was a load of rubbish when I read the first volume in 2021, and I think so still. I gave this 50 pages before tossing it aside.

5) The Golden Enclaves, by Naomi Novik

Second paragraph of third chapter:

I expect ordinarily it was a grand, dramatic space. There was a tiled mosaic floor beneath our feet, and statues lining up alongside a pool running the length of the room with a fountain at one end and a skylight overhead. There should have been an illusion of sky up there, made more believable by looking at it in the rippling water, but instead it was only the blank empty void, and the pool was still and pitch-dark, with nothing to reflect. The fountain spout was still letting a few drops fall occasionally like a leaking faucet, every unpredictable drop too-loud and echoing. This had to be the oldest part of the enclave, the one that had been built when London itself was just lurching its way towards becoming a city, and it was clearly meant to make you think of the glory that was Rome. Instead it felt like Pompeii just before the flames, a thin blanket of ash already laid down and more coming.

I was colossally disappointed with this, the third in the Scholomance series (which is also up in Best Series). I had put the first volume top of my ballot in 2021, and the second volume second last year. But I felt it would have been better left as a two-parter. Our heroine traipses around the world, through different magical enclaves which are completely indistinguishable whether in Portugal or China, and engages in a quest to rescue the man she loves while also dealing with other emotional entanglements. Compared with the previous two books, I felt it completely lost focus.

4) Akata Woman, by Nnedi Okorafor

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“Please, please, please,” Sunny had said last week to her frowning parents. They knew about her and Orlu, but that didn’t mean they were open to it. “It’s just dinner. Nowhere else.”

I am sorry to keep sounding grumpy. But this was a case where I had quite enjoyed the second book, when I read it way back in 2018, having missed the first; and this seemed to me a rather unspectacular magical training school story, if set in a slightly different culture.

3) Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, by Charlie Jane Anders

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Her barge descends past a dozen towers, blaring with candy-colored lights. Holographic gameplay swirls around the rooftops and cartoon icons run around under a skyline dominated by the crimson curlicues of the nearby Royal Space Academy. Even with Rachael’s Joiner set to “maximum introvert” mode, the shouts of a half-million players and spectators still ring out, and she can smell the fried Scanthian parsnips and bottles of snah-snah juice that everybody uses to fuel marathon gaming sessions.

Getting less grumpy now, as this sequel seemed to me independently enjoyable even if you haven’t read (or can’t remember) last year’s Victories Greater than Death. Six teens turn out to be vital to the future of humanity, and must confront various potentially fatal challenges for high stakes while dealing with the usual agonies of relationships and (interestingly) creativity.

2) In the Serpent’s Wake, by Rachel Hartman

Already reviewed.

1) Osmo Unknown and the Eightpenny Woods, by Catherynne M. Valente

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Even at an hour before midnight in Littlebridge, even with shadows as thick as coat sleeves hanging all round. You could still see the red leaves fluttering on the trees. And the red glass in the fancy windows and the red sheen on the moon reflected in the deep black water. The riverbanks ran over with red leaves, red rose hips, red zinnias, red squashes growing wild for anyone to take.

Fantasy of a boy called to save his people with a bunch of unlikely allies, which charmed me with Valente’s approach to integrating folklore with her own narrative, with vivid descriptions of people and places, and also just by not being a sequel. Gets my vote this year.

In general I have felt that the Lodestar Award has delivered more quality to the ballot, and on a good year the finalists en bloc are competitive with the Best Novel Hugo. I did not feel that this was an especially good year.

2023 Hugos:
Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Series | Best Graphic Story or Comic | Best Related Work | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist | Lodestar Award for Best YA Book | Astounding Award for Best New Writer