Time Warp Book Bingo: 25 Books for Two Cards (2015, 2023)

As I have each year since the pandemic, I’ve not only completed a full card in the r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge, I’ve completed one with its own special theme. I love the way the challenge churns through my TBR and brings to my attention books I otherwise would never have noticed or would have let languish forever at the bottom of the TBR. 

For this year, I chose a Time Warp theme, reading 25 books that not only filled the 2023 Bingo card, but that also filled the card from r/Fantasy’s first ever Bingo Challenge in 2015. I didn’t realize when I started that the challenge implicitly excluded sci-fi in 2015, so I have some sci-fi on my board here, but I made sure to read a fantasy novel whenever “fantasy” was specified in the square. I also didn’t realize that the 2015 board prohibited the use of novellas and anthologies for all but the short story and free spaces. Because following that rule would’ve made my challenge literally impossible, I conveniently ignored it. 

Interestingly, there were six squares that were almost identical between the two cards, with the permanent Five Short Stories, Book Club, and Self-Published spaces joined by Literary Fantasy, Retellings, and Portals. To add an extra challenge, I decided to avoid using the same book to fill the repeat spaces on the two cards. 

Overall, it was a fun experience. I don’t think I realized quite how many of the 2015 squares would limit me by publication date. In addition to the annual “published this year” square, there was a pre-Tolkien square, a pre-2000 square, and multiple “pick a book from an r/Fantasy list (that was published in 2015 and thus only has pre-2015 works on it)” squares. Throw in the Published in the 00s square from the 2023 challenge, and it forced a lot of deviations from a reading list usually dominated by new releases. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—I liked a lot of those books that I wouldn’t have read without Bingo—but the volume of squares requiring older books definitely cut into my already-limited mood reading. Will I try a Time Warp theme again? I don’t know. But this was pretty fun! So let’s take a closer look at the cards (links in the titles go to full reviews, or in the case of “The Bone Swans of Amandale,” a free copy): 

The Last Dragoners of Bowbazar by Indra Das: Literary Fantasy (2015)/Multiverse and Alternate Realities (2023, hard mode) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: Literary SFF or Magical Realism (hard), Novella (hard), POC Author, Mythical Beasts, Self or Indie-Published (hard), Title with a Title (hard), Published in 2023. 
  • Mini-review: At its heart, this is a literary-leaning coming of age story about the experience of an immigrant in a new land who barely remembers their parents’ home. But in this case, the parents’ home is a magical realm of dragon riders. Lovely prose and excellent characterization—a hair plot light for my tastes, but still my favorite novella of the year to date. 
  • Rating: 17/20.

Unraveller by Frances Hardinge: Standalone Fantasy Novel (2015)/Young Adult (2023, hard mode) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: Title with a Title (hard), Queernorm Setting (hard), Coastal Setting (hard), Mythical Beasts (hard). 
  • Mini-review: A young adult novel with nary a romantic subplot in sight, taking place in and around a mystical forest full of wondrous creatures and Fae-like bargains. The main plot offers enough little mysteries to keep the momentum going, and there’s plenty of fantastic meditation on trauma and recovery, guilt and punishment. 
  • Rating: 18/20.

He Who Drowned the World by Shelley Parker-Chan: Historical Fantasy (2015)/POC Author (2023) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: Myths and Retellings (hard), Published in 2023, Sequel. 
  • Mini-review: The sequel to She Who Became the Sun is just as dark as you’d expect, with multiple self-loathing characters spiraling further and further in ways that very much affect the balance of power in Mongol-occupied China. Wonderfully written but very heavy, this should appeal to fans of the first book in the duology. 
  • Rating: 17/20.

The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal: r/Fantasy Women in Fantasy List (2015)/Book Club (2023, hard mode) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: Queernorm Setting, Features Robots.
  • Mini-review: This murder mystery on a space cruise ship is a lot of fun—especially for cocktail nerds, as the main character has opinions and each chapter starts with a new recipe—though I’m not sure the clues are laid out well enough to deliver that head-smacking “oh of course” feeling that you want at the end of a mystery novel. 
  • Rating: 15/20

The Surviving Sky by Kritika Rao: Debut (2015)/Druids (2023, hard mode) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: Mundane Jobs (hard), POC Author (hard), Queernorm Setting, Published in 2023 (hard).
  • Mini-review: I love how the book portrays the two perspective characters in a fractious marriage that can’t be entirely blamed on either one of them. As for the fantasy? The worldbuilding is interesting, but the magic gets increasingly mystical as the story progresses, making it hard to get a satisfying payoff for all the magical research in the early stages. 
  • Rating: 14/20.

The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams: r/Fantasy AMA Author (2015)/Queernorm Setting (2023, hard mode)

  • Other 2023 Squares: Mythical Beasts, Book Club, Elemental Magic (hard).
  • Mini-review: This opener to an epic fantasy trilogy delivers fascinating research into artifacts from past wars, but the antagonists aren’t up to the quality of the other characters, and this does more to set up the series than serve as a satisfying standalone. 
  • Rating: 14/20.

Ten Planets by Yuri Herrera, Translated by Lisa Dillman: Originally in a Language Other than English (2015)/Five Short Stories (2023, hard mode)

  • Other 2023 Squares: Literary SFF or Magical Realism (hard).
  • Mini-review: If I had realized this would be almost exclusively flash fiction, I wouldn’t have read it—flash and I rarely get along. It’s well-written, but you have to enjoy very short, idea-driven SFF that hardly bothers trying to build relatable characters. There are a few enjoyably clever twists, but this is very much not my style. 
  • Rating: 12/20.

Aestus: The City by S.Z. Attwell: Novel over 500 Pages (2015)/Self-Published or Indie Publisher (2023, hard mode) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: Mundane Jobs. 
  • Mini-review: A slow-building start to an epic duology, this takes place in a postapocalyptic, underground society featuring a deadly enemy and a government with secrets to keep. Spends too much time setting up a few obvious twists, but a relatable lead and plenty of plot tension make for a gripping read nevertheless. 
  • Rating: 14/20

Dracula by Bram Stoker: Pre-Tolkien Fantasy (2015)/Horror (2023, hard mode) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: Coastal Setting (hard). 
  • Mini-review: I read this in fits and starts via the Daily Dracula email subscription, which made it hard to evaluate as I would a typical novel. I think the Daily Dracula pacing made it hard to build the tension of more typical reading experience, but it also made for an easy read that offered fascinating insight into the origin of so many vampire tropes. And the story was pretty compelling to boot. 
  • Rating: 15/20

Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce: r/Fantasy’s Underrated and Underread List (2015)/Published in the 00s (2023, hard mode)

  • Other 2023 Squares: Mythical Beasts (hard), Coastal Setting. 
  • Mini-review: Published way back in 2007, this is a throwback to the days before YA fantasy felt like it was required to have either a paranormal or dystopian love triangle. Instead, this one delivers a fun secondary world adventure with a terrifically whimsical narrative voice and a teenaged lead that refreshingly doesn’t seem to know everything. 
  • Rating: 17/20

Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher: Fairytale Retelling (2015)/Elemental Magic (2023) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: Myths and Retellings (hard), Mythical Beasts (hard), Novella, Published in 2023. 
  • Mini-review: The second Sleeping Beauty subversion I’ve read by this author, Thornhedge has a wonderful premise, lovable characters, and snappy dialogue, but it’s hurt by an ending that feels a little bit too easy. 
  • Rating: 15/20

A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow: Portal Fantasy (2015)/Sequel (2023) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: Multiverses and Alternate Realities (hard), Novella, Book Club, Myths and Retellings (hard). 
  • Mini-review: The sequel to A Spindle Splintered transports alternate universe Sleeping Beauty into the Snow White tale to help the evil queen write a new story. The main plot is quite engaging, and the writing is high quality, but too many subplots—an instalust romance, a collapsing multiverse, a friendship marred by awful communication—give the novella a rushed, overstuffed feeling. 
  • Rating: 14/20

 Tigerman by Nick Harkaway: Free Space (2015)/Superheroes (2023, hard mode) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: Coastal Setting (hard). 
  • Mini-review: A superhero novel that reads nothing like a superhero novel, this is an intensely character-driven piece about a British soldier serving as the embassy to a dying former colony. It has plenty of reflections on colonialism, authority, and what it is to be a role model. And yeah, there’s some masked crimefighting as well. 
  • Rating: 17/20

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadano, Translated by Emily Balistrieri: Adapted to the Screen (2015)/Coastal Setting (2023, hard mode)

  • Other 2023 Squares: Young Adult, POC Author, Mundane Jobs (hard). 
  • Mini-review: A whimsical children’s book at the edge of middle grade and young adult, it’s pretty wholesome but has a little too much “first thing she thinks of solved all the problems” for my curmudgeonly grown-up tastes. 
  • Rating: 14/20

Blood Over Bright Haven by M.L. Wang: Self-Published (2015)/Published in 2023 (2023) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: POC Author, Published in 2023. 
  • Mini-review: It’s the story of a young woman seeking to break into the all-male elite in magical research, but whose inquiries open her eyes to something more terrible than she’d ever imagined. A few plot twists are predictable, and the side characters are written in service of the theme, but it’s a compelling theme, and the storytelling is utterly gripping from start to finish. 
  • Rating: 18/20.

 Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold: 2015 r/Fantasy Best Of Lists, Novel or Author (2015)/Angels and Demons (2023)

  • Other 2023 Squares: Novella (hard), Self-Published or Indie Published. 
  • Mini-review: A young lord on his way to a betrothal gets possessed by a demon instead. The demon is dangerous, but not entirely unfriendly. Adventures ensure, of which this is the first. Enjoyable but unremarkable on its own, this has all the hallmarks of a series that grows on you over time. 
  • Rating: 15/20

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr: Published Before the Year 2000 (2015)/Mundane Jobs (2023) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: Features Robots. 
  • Mini-review: A deeply philosophical book about monastic practice after the apocalypse, this tells a story that spans millennia through the eyes of characters invariably on the sidelines of the major action. The moral questions about the safeguarding of dangerous knowledge are fascinating, but many readers—myself included—may prefer a bit heftier plot. 
  • Rating: 15/20.

Mort by Terry Pratchett: Comic Fantasy (2015)/Bottom of the TBR (2023) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: [file not found]
  • Mini-review: My second experience with Pratchett is much like the first—buckets of hilarity in the setup, leading into a main plot that’s fun but relatively unexceptional. I’ve heard the humor stays good and the plotting gets better as the series progresses. 
  • Rating: 15/20.

The Bone Swans of Amandale by C.S.E. Cooney: First Heard from an r/Fantasy Member (2015)/Novella (2023, hard mode) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: Myths and Retellings (hard), Self-Published or Indie Published. 
  • Mini-review: A triumph of narrative voice, told from the incomparable perspective of a lecherous rat shapeshifter. There’s a Pied Piper retelling here, mixed in with some more obscure fairy tales, but they’re told in a way that makes them feel brand new. I don’t know how this didn’t beat Penric’s Demon and Binti for all the awards (actually I do, and it’s marketing and name recognition), but it deserves to be much more decorated than it was. 
  • Rating: 18/20.

Spear by Nicola Griffith: Arthurian Fantasy (2015)/Myths and Retellings (2023, hard mode) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: Book Club. 
  • Mini-review: This is an Arthurian tale in which Arthur is a bit of a sideshow, with the focus instead on a genderbent Peretur. It never quite figures out how to handle an overpowered protagonist, but the prose and the lead’s internal journey are good enough to make for an excellent book regardless. This is one for prose fans, especially those who like lyricism that isn’t weighed down by mountains of metaphor. 
  • Rating: 17/20.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle: Award-winning Novel (2015)/Literary SFF (2023, hard mode)

  • Other 2023 Squares: POC Author, Horror (hard), Mythical Beasts (hard).
  • Mini-review: This flits back and forth between contemporary literary fiction, fairy tale, and horror, and it’s utterly compelling in all three guises. Perhaps the ending is a bit neater than I prefer, but character, plot, theme, and prose are all excellent. 
  • Rating: 17/20.

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu: Published in 2023 (2015)/Title in the Title (2023) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: Coastal Setting (hard), POC Author.
  • Mini-review: This opens a silkpunk epic fantasy tetralogy but functions as an epic on its own, with a style that feels like a throwback to classical epics than the tight POV that has typified fantasy of the last 30 years. The array of perspectives can be dizzying in the first quarter, and there’s no shortage of bad decisions by key characters, but once the main conflicts are established, it’s hard to look away. 
  • Rating: 16/20.

The Digital Aesthete, ed. Alex Shvartsman: Five Short Stories (2015)/Robots (2023)

  • Other 2023 Squares: Five Short Stories (hard), Published in 2023. 
  • Mini-review: A collection of short fiction on art and AI that delivers a whole lot of excellent work without ever feeling like too much of the same. In an anthology of this length, I’d expect to find three that really impressed me. The Digital Aesthete had five, including a newly translated (and quite wonderful) novella from Marina and Sergey Dyachenko. 
  • Rating: 17/20.

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty:  r/Fantasy Goodreads Book of the Month (2015)/Middle Eastern Setting (2023) 

  • Other 2023 Squares: Book Club, Coastal Setting (hard), Published in 2023, Mythical Beasts (hard).
  • Mini-review: This is an adventure fantasy on the seas around 12th century Arabia with an endearing—if sometimes crass—lead character, delightful narrative voice, and stunning worldbuilding. 
  • Rating: 18/20.

The Hexologists by Josiah Bancroft: Urban Fantasy (2015)/Mythical Beasts (2023)

  • Other 2023 Squares: Title with a Title (hard), Published in 2023.
  • Mini-review: A steampunk detective story with absolute buckets of whimsy, providing an engaging central mystery interrupted by bits of backstory that vary between amusing and poignant but are always entertaining. 
  • Rating: 16/20.


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