Three books from the Hugo packet

Hugo voting is over for this year, and the winners will be revealed in three weeks. The Hugo voter packet included several books that were not themselves on the final ballot (though their authors or editors were). I’m therefore giving myself a bit more licence to write up those that I read in the last couple of weeks.

Winter’s Orbit, by Everina Maxwell (who is an Astounding finalist). Second paragraph of third chapter:

Kiem had the photo in his head, but it was still a shock to see that grave stare right in front of him. Jainan’s dark eyes gave a hidden spark of electricity to an expression that was otherwise entirely proper and neutral. His clothes were Thean, a half-sleeved tunic with a blunter, looser cut than Iskat styles, in a muted blue that split the difference between a formal outfit and mourning grays.

A space empire tale with full marriage equality and gender diversity. Yet at the same time there are arranged marriages, and the two chaps at the centre of the story are forced into one at the very beginning (and inevitably discover that they quite like each other by the end). Inventive and entertaining, but I struggled a bit with the empire’s political and diplomatic structures, which are completely inflexible up to the point where the plot needs them to be suddenly flexible. You can get it here.

Soulstar, by C.L. Polk (third in the Kingston Cycle, one of the Best Series finalists). Second paragraph of third chapter:

Marlon handled the Windweaver shifts and sent two of them to board the train’s engine car. It looked strange to see its stack smoking with the leavings of burning coal, but all trains could run on coal if there was an emergency. People gathered on the platform, some gathered in clumps organizing their roles on the trains, others getting in the way with their gawking.

I could not get into this, not having read the first two volumes, and gave up not very far into it. This illustrates one of the real problems of the Best Series category, as I have repeatedly argued; a diligent voter cannot possibly familiarise themselves with all of the relevant material, so most votes are cast from imperfect knowledge of the finalists. Though if I had been the author, I think I would have included the first rather than the third volume of the trilogy in the Hugo voter packet. You can get it here.

Swordheart, by T. Kingfisher (part of the World of the White Rat, also a Best Series finalist). Second paragraph of third chapter:

A man just came out of the sword. I drew the sword and he appeared.

This was much easier to grasp. A fantasy world with, again, gender diversity, but where old gender roles remain strong and our protagonist, a young widow, discovers that she has inherited a sword which summons a long-dead warrior when it is drawn. The warrior may be long-dead but he is perfectly vigorous when he needs to be, and they have a very satisfying confrontation with the forces of conformity and greed. I enjoyed this one a lot. You can get it here.