Final Reading Challenge Update

It’s the beginning of the year, so it’s time to see if I managed to complete my 2021 reading challenges! Things were looking a little dicey in my last update, but have I managed to pull it out the bag? Read on to find out!

It gives me great pleasure to say that yes, I did actually manage to complete both the Spells and Spaceships badge collection and the Hodderscape reading challenge. Whilst reading four books in a month – my target for completing both challenges in December – might not seem that difficult to a lot of people, there have been months this year in which I’ve dipped as low as a mere three books read. This has been down to a combination of factors – other hobbies, such as Warhammer 40,000, gaming and so on have all played a part, but the biggest factor has been starting a full-time job (at last). I really knuckled down in December though, as well as craftily picking a graphic novel for one of the prompts, which I was able to polish off in a couple of hours.

I’ll start with the trickiest prompt to fulfill (at least from my own experience). Yes, it’s the Fairy Tale Retelling one for the Hodderscape reading challenge, and anyone else who has been doing this but A – doesn’t read YA and B – has already read The Bloody Chamber probably struggled just as much as me to find something. I probably should have picked Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples for this, as that’s a genuine retelling that I might have enjoyed, but there were no copies in stock at the time. Enough dilly dallying though – I went with Sleeping Beauties Volume One, which collects the first five issues of a comic based on the Stephen King and Owen King novel of the same name. It was adapted by Rio Youers, with art by Alison Sampson, colours by Triona Tree Farrell, and letters by Christa Miesner and Valerie Lopez. I forget how many people there are to credit with comics, jeez. Anyhoo, they all put their names to this and it’s… passable. A mysterious sleeping sickness, dubbed Aurora, starts affecting women around the world, with men occasionally horrifically trying to take advantage of the situation (of course). When the women fall asleep, this webbing stuff appears over their faces; if anyone removes it, they wake up, go absolutely ballistic and homicidal, then fall back asleep. There’s also this weird lady who seems unaffected by the sleeping sickness, and knows more about it than anyone else. I found the story an unfulfilling mix of repetitious and confusing – obviously, this is only the first few issues of a larger series, so doubtless things will be more explained as it goes on, but nothing about it grabbed me enough to get that far. The artwork was serviceable and the panels were laid out logically enough that I never read any out of sequence, but there were some odd choices of single character panels that seemed to be done for emphasis or drama that felt out of place, and I didn’t really care what happened to any of the characters.

Let’s go through the Spells and Spaceships badge collection now, which I’m doing second because it’s the one that gives me the most satisfaction, and because I didn’t really want to finish this final challenge post with Sleeping Beauties if I’m completely honest. This is also the order I actually read everything in this month, as an added chronological bonus.

Tasty tasty completion

I earned the Epic Fantasy badge for reading the second book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, Obelisk Gate. With the fate of the world and the entire human race in the balance, this definitely fits the bill, despite it often being labelled as science fantasy. It can be both, alright? Anyway, I really enjoyed Obelisk Gate, which has been sitting on my shelf for a few months – honestly, I’m not sure why it took me as long to get to it as it did, as I enjoyed The Fifth Season, the first book in the trilogy. Sadly, it’s pretty much impossible to discuss it without dropping spoilers for the first book, but if you like the sound of a wholly original world where orogenic manipulation is a thing, look no further.

I snagged the SPFBO badge for reading a book that made it to the final (in any year) of the Self Published Fantasy Blog-off. I opted for Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike, which won the contest in 2018. The core concept, if you haven’t tried this one yourself, is that the D&D/Warcraft style economy would in fact be pretty horrific were it to actually be implemented, with orcs, goblins and the like forced to seek non-combatant papers if they don’t want member of the Heroes Guild rocking up and slaughtering them in order to ascend the ranks. Disgraced former guild member Gorm Ingerson finds himself on a quest with an unlikely posse of misfits in a desperate bid to get his life back, but quickly discovers his mission isn’t as straightforward as he thought. I wasn’t sure what to make of this one for a while – it started fairly well, but some of the D&D and gaming related aspects seemed a bit heavy handed and unsubtle, with not all of the jokes landing particularly well for me (and yes, I know that the D&D stuff is deliberately overt). However, I warmed to the characters, and found the finale quite affecting. I genuinely might pick up the second book in the series after reading this one.

The last badge to get was the Collector badge, for reading any book of my choosing. I went with Far From the Light of Heaven, the new book by Arthur C. Clarke award winner Tade Thompson. I’d heard middling things about this one from some other reviewers, but I ended up really enjoying it. It probably helps that it includes one of my favourite sci-fi topics, artificial intelligence, as well as some pretty gritty scenes. It’s also very pacey, which I was really in the mood for. The setup is your standard colonisation mission – Michelle Campion is the first mate of Ragtime, its cargo of a thousand sleepers destined for the planet Bloodroot. But when Michelle wakes, she discovers that some of the passengers have been murdered (and that the murderer has made a pretty messy job of it too). Soon, an investigator is sent, with other players entering the game for their own reasons too. I really liked the mix of characters, as well as the different settings; not just the gradually disintegrating Ragtime itself, but also the afrofuturist haven of Lagos space station and the alien-friendly world of Bloodroot. I suspect some readers might find Joké slightly grating, but for me she was just on the right side of slightly obnoxious even in the face of grave danger. Some events felt slightly skated over, with significant moments occurring without the expected level of fanfare, but maybe I just wanted more time with this thoroughly enjoyable take on the locked room mystery.

And with that, both reading challenges are complete, with only the smidgiest bit of cheating! I will say it again though, if other people consider Red, White and Royal Blue an acceptable book for the LGBTQIA+ prompt in a science fiction and fantasy reading challenge, I’m sure I can be excused for bending the rules slightly. Incidentally, the other possibly bent rule looks like it’s straightened out now – the first episode of the TV adaptation of Station Eleven (which I used to tick off the 2021 adaptation prompt) aired on the 16th of this month. I’ve had an absolute blast with these challenges, particularly Alex’s badge collecting one, and am hugely grateful for the work that went into both of them. Thank you to everyone who created them, and thank you to everyone who has read these updates – I hope you’ve found something interesting to read off the back of them. So long for now!

5 thoughts on “Final Reading Challenge Update

  1. Congrats on hitting beating the challenges! I managed 20 books last year (a personal best) and I’d love to read three books per month, so I wouldn’t worry about ‘slowing down’.

    The Obelisk Gate has been on my TBR for a few months now and I’m in the same boat as you were – I have no idea why I’ve not gotten around to it yet because I loved Fifth Season as well.

    I’m hoping to read even more in 2022, but there’s a big pile of Age of Sigmar miniatures that need painting too…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I know that feeling, most of a Start Collecting CSM set stares at me balefully from my windowsill every day!

      Obelisk Gate is really good, I think I actually enjoyed it even more than The Fifth Season. If you haven’t read it already too, I would definitely recommend The City We Became, it absolutely blew me away.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I started getting the Mortal Realms magazines in 2020; the models that came with each issue were pretty much 50% or more cheaper compared to RRP so it was a great way to get back into the hobby. Only problem is those were weekly magazines, and sometimes I bought multiple copies, so my backlog is pretty extreme now!

        I haven’t read The City We Became, but I’ll add it to the list!

        Liked by 1 person

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