Every year on April 1, r/Fantasy releases a new board for their annual Bingo challenge. Completing it requires filling 25 squares with 25 different books by 25 different authors. Each square has an optional hard mode, for added challenge, and some participants will also do themed cards (for instance, I filled out a card last year with only books written by women). As someone who used to binge a few favored authors, Bingo is a wonderful way to expand to new authors and often new subgenres as well.
This year, I plan to fill out two cards: one with hard mode completed for every square and one themed card with a sequel on every square. That will definitely make for the most ambitious reading challenge I’ve undertaken, but I think it’s doable. I know this plan will change quickly as more books come across my radar–I already have a few library holds on books that don’t obvious fit into the board, and other books that aren’t on my TBR now will be later in the year–but I certainly have the outlines of a Bingo TBR. However, there are plenty of squares where I don’t have many obvious choices, and I’m always grateful for recommendations. So what’s the board look like this year?
Five SFF Short Stories
Hard Mode (read an entire anthology or collection): The Best of R.A. Lafferty. I’ve read all the stories in this collection, but I haven’t read the collection with the new introductions to each story. As Lafferty is my favorite short fiction author, this is an easy call.
Sequel: At first, I thought that finding short stories that served as sequels would be difficult, but Martha Wells’ Stories of the Raksura at least partially serve as sequels to the initial trilogy of The Books of the Raksura. I really enjoyed that trilogy, so this is a natural choice.
Recommendations: I’ve been writing monthly round-up posts with my favorite short stories, but last month’s was especially fantastic. I also included some excellent short stories in my Hugo nomination draft post.
Set in Asia
Hard Mode (author must identify as Asian): I have several on my TBR that fit this description but none that stand above the rest. The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, and Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri all seem like reasonably good choices. I’m sure there are plenty more, and I’m open to recommendations (or pitches for one of these three).
Sequel: As far as I can tell, I’m not in the middle of any series in Asian settings, so if I like the book I choose for hard mode, I might just read its sequel here. That said, I do have The Empire Trilogy, by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts, on the TBR, and while it wouldn’t fit hard mode, the sequel would fit here if not used elsewhere.
Recommendations: Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet has an Asian setting and is an all-time favorite. Also, M.L. Wang’s The Sword of Kaigen is absolutely tremendous and set in a fantasy analogue of Japan.
r/Fantasy’s A-Z Genre Guide
Hard Mode (BIPOC author): In this case, I have several pretty high on the TBR that would fit. I hate to see them all competing for this same square, because I was hoping to read all of these this year. Hopefully I can find other excuses to read whichever ones I don’t use for this square. Because Rosewater by Tade Thompson, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, and The Changeling by Victor LaValle all seem excellent choices. And as if I didn’t already have too many choices, this might be the only hard mode square that fits the opener of Michelle West’s Essalieyan series, whose sequel could be used for at least four.
Sequel: If I decide on Rosewater, I could read the sequel here. I’m also in the middle of the Inda, Six of Crows, and Machineries of the Empire series, which could also fit, if I don’t use them for another square. Or I could start a whole host of other series that seem intriguing and use a sequel here.
Recommendations: There are too many to chose here. The Murderbot Diaries, Kindred, The Vorkosigan Saga, Inda, and The Broken Earth Trilogy are all favorites, and there are plenty others that are very good. Hard to go wrong.
Hard Mode (an LGBTQ+ character in the Found Family): People have been recommending Becky Chambers’ A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet for ages, and this seems like just the time to finally give it a read.
Sequel: If I like Chambers enough, I can read another here. Or I can read Leigh Bardugo’s The Crooked Kingdom to finally climb off the Six of Crows cliff.
Recommendations: Apparently Martha Wells is good at this, because The Books of the Raksura and Network Effect (Murderbot book #5) both fit quite well.
First Person POV
Hard Mode (multiple POV, all first-person): This hard mode seems ridiculously hard, but I’ve heard that Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater fits, and that’s been on the TBR for a couple months now, which makes it the obvious choice.
Sequel: A ton of options here, but the sequels to either Chasing Graves or A Deadly Education jump out at first glance.
Recommendations: In addition to the two I mentioned, The Nothing Within by Andy Giesler is absolutely fantastic, as are The Murderbot Diaries, which seem to fit a whole bunch of squares that I can’t use because I’m already using Wells’ Raksura books on my sequel card, and there’s still the “no reuse of authors on the same card” rule.
r/Fantasy Book Club or Readalong
Hard Mode (participate in an ongoing book club or readalong): This isn’t really something that can be planned in advance. If a readalong pops up for something intriguing, I’ll jump in. That’s how I finally decided to pull the trigger on The Long Price Quartet last year, and it became a favorite. I’m pro-book club.
Sequel: There aren’t many book clubs that going through full series, but there are a few. I will probably use King’s Shield, the third book of Sherwood Smith’s Inda Quartet.
Recommendations: There are a lot of really amazing books that have gone through the r/Fantasy book club. If you aren’t doing a theme, this is almost as good as a free square.
New to You Author
Hard Mode (an author you haven’t heard much about before reading): I suspect that I’ll come across this square organically, perhaps when I try to read Hugo finalists this year. But feel free to pitch favorite authors I’m not likely to know.
Sequel: It’s a bit tricky to start a sequel of a new-to-me author, but there are some series that don’t have to be read in order. Maybe I could start somewhere in The Craft Sequence? What’s a good starting point that isn’t the beginning?
Recommendations: This is a personal square, but there are a lot of good authors that many people haven’t heard much about, from self-published authors like Ben Galley, Andy Giesler, and M.L. Wang to traditionally published authors like Carol Berg and Daniel Abraham.
Hard Mode (not listed in this Book Riot article): I honestly don’t have many ideas here. We’re told that Gothic Fantasy is characterized by elements of horror, fear, death, and gloom, as well as romantic elements, like nature, individuality, and high emotion. I do have a library hold on a horror novel, The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher, but I don’t know if it’s exactly Gothic. Someone on Reddit suggested that Martha Wells’ The Death of the Necromancer would fit here, although I don’t know enough to comment. I do like Wells as an author, so perhaps that’s an option. Suggestions very welcome, as well as opinions on whether the books I’m considering actually count.
Sequel: My mental picture of Gothic Fantasy is Victorian Gothic, and it’s hard to make a judgment on books that don’t fit into that stereotype. Two years ago, I read and loved the opener of a YA Fae horror survival game duology. It’s gloomy, tense, and has plenty of death. Are we counting that as Gothic? Because if so, I’ll read Peadar Ó Guilín’s The Invasion. If not, I still need suggestions.
Recommendations: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the obvious choice. If we’re counting Ó Guilín’s The Call, it’s really good.
Hard Mode (published before 2000): Daughter of the Empire by Feist and Wurts is the one that I could just pull off my shelf today, but I imagine there are other options if I think a little more.
Sequel: Honestly, this feels like a free “continue whatever series I feel like continuing” square–I’m reading quite a few series that aren’t the author’s most recent project. Shadow Gate by Kate Elliott and Revelation by Carol Berg are the first two that come to mind, but I have a lot of backlist series on the TBR that I could get into without much nudging.
Recommendation: Some of my all-time favorite series have moved into backlist territory. The Long Price Quartet, The Lighthouse Duet, and The Broken Earth Trilogy are the first three that come to mind.
Hard Mode (revenge is central to the plot): Is this the point where I finally bite the bullet and read Evan Winter’s The Rage of Dragons? I have been told that Daughter of the Empire works here as well (if I don’t use it for the Backlist square), as well as Jordan Ifeuko’s Raybearer, which I’ve seen praised a lot lately.
Sequel: I’m not usually big on revenge fantasies, so I’m not sure I have any open series that fit. If I like whatever book I pick for hard mode, I might read its sequel here.
Recommendations: Like I said, I don’t love revenge storylines, but Fortune’s Fool by Angela Boord is pretty good.
Hard Mode (not primary world urban fantasy): Another category with five books I could read with no problem. I’ve already committed to picking up The Imaginary Corpse by Tyler Hayes, which means that City of Stairs, Six Wakes, The Spirit Lens, and Construct may languish on the TBR.
Sequel: I believe Authority by Jeff VanderMeer should serve well here–Area X is quite mysterious. Or I could eventually get around to a Dresden Files sequel.
Recommendations: VanderMeer’s Annihilation is really good. And there are a whole lot of young adult or middle grade books that fit–Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn is incredible, and Darcie Little Badger’s Elatsoe, and B.B. Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers are also quite good. And, back on the adult side, Mexican Gothic continues to fit a whole bunch of squares.
Hard Mode (find a comfort read that you’ve never read before): I’ve heard that T. Kingfisher’s Swordheart may be a nice choice here. I don’t expect to have a ton of trouble finding a good comfort read.
Sequel: It has to be Through the Looking-Glass, right? I honestly didn’t expect to find an excuse to reread any Lewis Carroll this year, but it fits the square perfectly.
Recommendations: Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo seems a good candidate.
Published in 2021
Hard Mode (debut): I’m absolutely sure there will be a hyped debut that I’m invested in trying by the end of the year. No need to figure it out today.
Sequel: The Fall of Babel by Josiah Bancroft is currently set for a November release, so if there’s no delay, that will work nicely. The sequel to A Deadly Education could also work if I don’t use it for First Person POV.
Recommendations: I’ve only read Amari and the Night Brothers (which is good), although I expect great things from The Fall of Babel and Martha Wells’ Fugitive Telemetry.
Hard Mode (800+ pages): I’ve got several over 750, but the only 800-page book on my shelf that I haven’t already read is The Ruins of Ambrai by Melanie Rawn. So let’s go with that. If it ends up being a bust, I promised my brother that I would actually try the first book of The Stormlight Archive.
Sequel: When I’m not doing hard mode, this almost feels like a free space. Shadow Gate is an obvious choice (although I suppose I’d have to avoid the hardcover, which is only around 470), but I read a lot of series with long books in them.
Recommendations: The Wheel of Time is still an all-time favorite. The Sword of Kaigen is great. All of the Inda books are long. Pick anything by Janny Wurts or Kate Elliot, and it’s likely to be long.
Hard Mode (published in the last five years): Appropriately Aggressive: Essays Bbout Books, Corgis, and Feminism by Krista D. Ball is intriguing, and I’ve heard good things about The Dark Fantastic: Race and Imagination from Harry Potter to The Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas. I really don’t know this square at all, so recommendations are very welcome.
Sequel: Each card is allowed on substitution of a square from a previous Bingo. I’m not optimistic about finding a SFF-related non-fiction sequel, so this may be the place to use a sub.
Recommendations: Got me. Anyone else?
Latinx or Latin American Author
Hard Mode (book has <1000 ratings on Goodreads): I solicited advice from a book friend and have been recommended Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro, which looks intriguing enough, but I’m still open to more suggestions.
Sequel: I don’t think I have any series in-progress by Latinx authors, and Each of Us a Desert doesn’t appear to have a sequel, so I definitely need recommendations here.
Recommendations: Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the obvious name here, although Bernie Anés Paz’s self-published debut, A Cradle of Sea and Soil, was reasonably promising.
Hard Mode (<50 ratings on Goodreads): This is consistently one of the hardest of the hard modes. By the time I hear about a book, chances are it has more than 50 ratings. I have been encouraged to read Zeroth Law by Guerric Haché and Construct by Luke Matthews, which are both under 75, but neither are under 50. Either I find something later in the year or I start one of those series and use a sequel (all of which are under 50).
Sequel: I have a lot of self-published series in progress. Chasing Graves is the first priority for continuation, but I may have the chance to use that for another square. But I could continue the Ladies Occult Society or The Quest of the Five Clans or The Chronicles of the Black Gate or a host of others. I’m not especially worried about finding something here.
Recommendations: The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang and The Nothing Within by Andy Giesler are really tremendous. Hard to go wrong with those. Also, I think several of T. Kingfisher’s books are self-published.
Hard Mode (entire book takes place in a forest): I’m familiar with a lot of books with a lot of time in a forest, but I’m not sure if I know of one that’s entirely in a forest. From the Owl Queen’s Court by Benedict Patrick may fit here, but I may have to read it to be sure. Other recommendations welcome.
Sequel: If it doesn’t work for hard mode, From the Owl Queen’s Court will certainly work as a sequel. There are a lot more out here, but I’m definitely open to suggestions.
Recommendations: Code of the Communer by Kai Greenwood is pretty good, Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer is really good.
Hard Mode (mashup of 3+ genres): I’ve been told that Seanan McGuire’s Middlegame may be a horror/fantasy/sci-fi mashup, although I’m not completely certain. I have been looking for an excuse to read McGuire though. I’ve also heard good things about the historical/fantasy/mystery The Conductors by Nicole Glover, historical/fantasy/romance The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo, and Dan Simmons’ Hyperion is an unread classic that may be the best fit for the square.
Sequel: The Sharing Knife by Lois McMaster Bujold is a really enjoyable fantasy romance series that I’m halfway through, so that seems a good choice.
Recommendations: Are we counting sci-fi disguised as fantasy? Because if so, The Nothing Within and The Steerswoman will fit.
Has Chapter Titles
Hard Mode (chapter titles of more than one word): I’ve been looking for an excuse to read Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds, and this seems like the place to put it.
Sequel: The Chasing Graves series has chapter titles, as does The Empire Trilogy, which seems to be fitting all over the place. I’ve also heard that Scythe and Dust Girl, both of which start YA series, would work, so if I want to start a new series, there are options.
Recommendations: The Wheel of Time is a classic example, and R.A. Lafferty’s The Reefs of Earth and Fourth Mansions have some of the best chapter titles around.
____ of _____
Hard Mode (____ of ____ and _____): A Song of Wraiths and Ruin? Children of Earth and Sky? I’m open to suggestions, but those are the first two that come to mind.
Sequel: I will definitely be continuing with The Steerswoman Series by Rosemary Kirstein this year, and book four being titled The Language of Power makes it an obvious choice.
Recommendations: I loved Children of Time and the Long Price Quartet closer The Price of Spring. The only hard mode book I recall reading lately was A Cradle of Sea and Soil, which I liked but didn’t love.
Hard Mode (doesn’t cause a war): I’ve heard that The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is fantastic and heartbreaking and also fits hard mode, so I suppose I’ll go with that.
Sequel: How long have I been looking for an excuse to read Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky? Too long.
Recommendations: Children of Time, naturally. And The Quiet Invasion by Sarah Zettel is extremely under-the-radar but is perfect for this square.
Trans or Nonbinary Character
Hard Mode (main protagonist): I’ve been told I ought to read Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, and it will fit here unless there’s another obvious suggestion I’m missing.
Sequel: This is probably the right time to continue The Machineries of the Empire by Yoon Ha-Lee.
Recommendations: I don’t have a lot of hard mode ideas, but The Fifth Season and Black Sun both have nonbinary side characters.
Hard Mode (has participated in an r/Fantasy AMA): It’s a shame I can only use this square once, because there are a lot of really good debuts, and r/Fantasy has a star-studded list of AMAs. I am intrigued by The Nine by Tracy Townsend, but there are so many options.
Sequel: A sequel debut? Are you kidding me? I’ll use my–wait, and I already used my sub on SFF-Related Nonfiction? So I have to find a sequel debut? I’m pretty sure that’s a contradiction in terms, but I’m committed to the bit, so. . . I have been told that Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemburg is a long fiction debut that continues a universe that the author had previously explored in short fiction. And Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett is a sequel to The Tempest. If you squint, those could be considered sequel debuts. Other ideas certainly welcome.
Recommendations: If we’re not doing the silly theming, there are so many options. Legendborn is still great, and Transformation by Carol Berg and Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft are good options for hard mode. There are a ton of other famous debuts that I haven’t read yet, and even going hard mode still gives you access to the likes of N.K. Jemisin and Patrick Rothfuss. This is an easy square if you play it straight. Or you could be me and go unicorn-hunting.
Hard Mode (witches are main protagonists): I’ve been wanting to read some of the witch books from Discworld.
Sequel: I mean Discworld works here too. Or the sequel to A Deadly Education, if I don’t use it elsewhere.
Recommendations: I’ve read a lot of books with female mages, but I’m not sure what exactly makes them witches. It’s an insult in The Wheel of Time. You’ve obviously got Harry Potter, which has already been read by anyone who wants to read it. A Deadly Education was pretty fun. But I’d certainly welcome recommendations for quality books that are explicitly witchy.