5 Favorite Speculative Fiction Books with Under 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads

The prompt for this post is for Top Ten Tuesday from That Artsy Reader Girl.

So…this list turned out pretty queer. 3/5 of these books have queer main characters. Apollo in Thalia’s Musings is bisexual. One of the three protagonists in The Bone Palace is trans. I think something like four of the protagonists in Fire Logic are gay.

Granted, this isn’t everything I loved that’s under 2,000 Goodreads ratings–I selected the five that were easiest to talk about, and ignored multiple works in a series. And maybe Thalia’s Musings should be exempt since it’s also a web serial, and those aren’t usually huge on Goodreads, but still. The works that happened to be on this list all have unusually prominent queer characters for sci-fi/fantasy novels, and this list is specifically for books that haven’t received that much attention.

Which is a little disheartening to think about, so I’m just going to get on with the list. In no particular order:

The Final Formula

A woman with a vial and candles standing before a rundown hallway. The text reads "The Final Formula, Becca Andre".
Image: Becca Andre

This is an urban fantasy novel, the first in a series of five books. It’s only barely under 2,000 ratings, and I imagine that’s due to lower exposure as an independently published project. It’s certainly got enough charm to succeed. Here’s an adaptation of my review:

Our main protagonist is Addie, short for the Addled Alchemist. That’s a nickname given to her by the guys she works for, because she showed up one day with no memory of who she was, and an inability to say anything that wasn’t an ingredient for a potion.

The author (Becca Andre) is a chemist, which I could tell from pretty much the first page. (Proper lab terminology tends to give it away fast.)

One of my favorite things about this story is the main protagonist’s power set, if it can be called that. She’s an alchemist, which means she crafts potions that can explode, or heal people, or cause memory loss–so things that real life chemistry can do, but way more effective, controlled, or specific, because magic. That means her skill set is high in versatility but must be prepared ahead of time. And it’s really, really cool. Seriously, this is one of my favorite kinds of powers in fiction.”

Thalia’s Musings

An image of chains and a round shape. The text reads "Unraveled, Thalia's Musings, Volume Three, Amethyst Marie".
Image: Amethyst Marie

This is a mythological fantasy series featuring Thalia, the Greek Muse of Comedy, and her eight sisters–who are under the supervision of Apollo. It’s been a while since I’ve read the first volume, but the third volume is fresher in my mind, and I’ve loved how much the story has grown since its beginnings. The series manages to be both comedic and serious, delving deep into the mythology and putting a more modern spin on it. And progressing the story to the point where it has reached pretty epic proportions. I’m eagerly awaiting the continuation.

This is what I wrote about it some time back, when I’d only read the first volume:

I like the retellings of the Greek myths included in this series, and how much information the author (Amethyst Marie) manages to put into this. I like the tone, I Iike the characters, and I think this is just a fun read. The utter ridiculousness of some of the situations created by the so called “glee club of the gods” (the nine Muses) is hilarious, and putting a figure of moderation and self-restraint in charge of them is great irony.”

The Terrans

A woman floating in a spaceship, forming a ball of energy in front of her with hands. The writing reads "The Terrans, First Salik War, Jean Johnson."
Image: Ace via Jean Johnson

A first contact sci-fi story featuring telepaths and telekinetics. This is adapted from my review:

The main protagonist is Jackie, a stern and dedicated professional who wants to do the right thing–and wants to be the one making sure the right thing gets done almost as badly. She’s thrown into the center of a new and complex cultural interaction, one where both sides face difficulty and frustration in getting over their preconceptions. One nice touch is that both civilizations have advanced their technology differently–which means each of them has made progress that the other hasn’t. There was this illustrative moment where one person was rescued by the other side, and yet couldn’t help but think of his rescuers’ technology as primitive.

This book is great for people like me–detail-oriented, and interested in hashing out complexities. The complexities in question are culture clashes, governmental checks and balances, transparency, applications of science.”

The Bone Palace

A masked figure stands before a spire. The words read "The Bone Palace, Amanda Downum, The Necromancer Chronicles".
Image: Orbit via Amanda Downum; Artist: Larry Rostant

This can easily be read as a standalone, despite technically being the second in a series (different location, with an almost completely different cast, and no continuity between the plots of the two books). Mystery, politics, and danger mix in this fantasy work with three main characters: Issylt, a necromancer playing detective. Savedra, the mistress of a prince, whose loyalty is tested by her family. (She’s also a trans character.) And Kiril, a retired spymaster with one debt left to pay.

Here’s what I said in my review of the book:

“It’s initially staged like a mystery for the characters, but for the audience, it’s more of an unfolding tragedy or political drama–the viewpoint characters all have different information that doesn’t necessarily overlap, giving the readers a clearer idea of the big picture. So while the characters are discovering new information, the readers know much sooner who committed the crime and the general motive for it. The interesting part is that we see what the story is poised for, and what the repercussions of these actions threaten to be.

What is the villain going to do next? When will these different characters find out about this particular thing, and how are they going to react? What will this character do, when this other character gets involved? And of course, how much destruction will the villain cause before the story ends?

We get to watch as these characters with their disparate motivations and emotional entanglements head for conflict, and wonder how they’re going to resolve their conflicting loyalties as they get closer to the truth.”

Fire Logic

A woman with a sword standing before a canyon. The words read "Fire Logic, "A deftly painted story of both cultures and magics in conflict."--Robin Hobb, Laurie J. Marks".
Image: Tor

I read this book back when I was a teenager. It was like nothing I’d ever read before, a philosophical kind of fantasy that swept me away. Fire Logic won the Gaylactic Spectrum Award (for LGBT representation in speculative fiction) in 2003, and its sequel won the same award in 2005.

This is what I’ve written about it before:

Shaftal has been invaded, leading to periods of war as the natives and the new settlers clash. It’s been a while since I’ve read these books, but the image that remains in my mind whenever I think of it, is of the main cast all huddled on a floor while planning their next move. They don’t aim for battles, being generally more inclined to conflict resolution. And while they don’t all agree with each other, or even like each other, there’s still ties of loyalty enough that they’re a strong core group.

My high school self remembers this as being an absolutely brilliant series, and I believe my current overly-critical adult self will agree, but I can’t be sure until I go back to it.”

I do really need to hurry up and reread this book, because if it’s anywhere near as fantastic as I remember, it deserves a proper review from me.

11 thoughts on “5 Favorite Speculative Fiction Books with Under 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads

    1. Theo Promes

      I have read Thalia’s Musings multiple times now, it is comedy worthy of the muse herself, and I love how the author reconciles often completely contradictory myths into a single narrative with consistent characters and plausible behaviour. I fully endorse the recommendation 🙂

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  1. JJ Crafts

    Oooh. I’m going to go look up the bone palace. That sounds cool. And the terrans sounds similar to a sci fi I have on my top ten underrated list too (failure to Communicate!)

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  2. Ooh, these all sound so great! I need to add them all to my TBR I think and expand my horizons. I am definitely intrigued by what you mentioned re: The Final Formula. It always helps knowing that the author is a chemist and the proper terms are used. Anyways, this is definitely something I am going to have to get my hands on in the future! Thanks for sharing.

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