On top of all the enormous thicc books we read, we also read a number of novellas that we would love to talk about. Novellas tell intriguing and often very specific stories, and with such a treasure trove of short(ish) fiction out this year, we want to recognize some of the amazing stories that emerged. We are by no means novella experts and we cover way fewer releases in the category compared to full books. Yet, we still came across some real gems that we would love to get into more hands. So, here’s our list of the top 5 best novellas of 2022. We encourage you to check all of them out, as their short size makes them great breaks to any of the huge epics we recommend.
5) Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky – Tchaikovsky seems to be a man with a thousand ideas because he is positively leaking novellas every year. Chasing down all the publishers that he leaps to in order to find his stories is getting increasingly difficult. But I recently managed to grab a copy of his anti-capitalism short Ogres and had a good time with it. The story is about giant Ogres who represent the upper class who own everything and eat you if you fall out of line. It’s a clever, if slightly blunt, criticism of capitalism in a terrifying dystopian world. It does that really juicy thing some novellas do where the ending snaps your neck and you suddenly see that you have been reading the story wrong the entire time… but I didn’t enjoy the journey nearly as much as some of the other Tchaikovsky novellas I have read. It feels a little unfair to compare Ogres to something like Elder Race from last year when Ogres still stands tall over most of the other novellas I read from 2022. But at this point, I simply have sky-high expectations for Tchaikovsky’s shorts and this just missed the cloudline. Regardless, this short is still fabulous and definitely feels very topical to the current socioeconomic situation we find ourselves in. Check it out for yourself and see if you agree.
4) All The Horses of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie – Novellas are the perfect place to experiment with narrative forms. I came for the ironic horse girl marketing but stayed for the Icelandic saga delivered by Tolmie. The writing takes on a weird yet beautiful cadence as Tolmie takes you across the landscape of dark ages Europe and Asia. She dives into the intricate trade networks and the various cultures that scrape out their existence. Eyvind’s tale as he travels, learning new customs and collecting horses is enrapturing for its short stay. Tolmie expresses her desire to remain true to history as we understand it while delivering an epic adventure that reproduces the feel of a Norse epic. It is the perfect kind of novella if you’re looking for something new and interesting that experiments with the form a little bit to deliver something you haven’t experienced before. Go on and take a ride, the horses are calling. You can find our full review here.
3) These Prisoning Hills by Christopher Rowe – Rowe’s novella is a transportation device. I know that a lot of people read science fiction or fantasy to escape, but that doesn’t feel desirable here. Instead, Rowe takes you somewhere thick and heavy with ideas about language and how we choose to construct societies. It’s set within the mysteriously haunting backdrop of Appalachia, a place I’ve visited but never lived in. And while it doesn’t feel inviting, I was enthralled by Rowe’s vision of the place. The militia who dress up as birds mixed with giant semi-organic mechs is a weird combination that I haven’t stopped thinking about. With a vague plot about the need to rebuild Appalachia after a devastating internal war between the government and a self-aware AI, Rowe creates a world in which the reader is enticed to ask their own questions. My favorite part is that Rowe doesn’t really try to answer them. The story is also delivered by one of the most clearly fleshed-out protagonists in a novella, and peppered through with wonderfully amazing side characters. Take a hike and get lost in Rowe’s future. You can find our full review here.
2) Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo – Into The Riverlands by Nghi Vo, impressed me a lot. This isn’t particularly surprising, given that Vo is one of the best new voices in fantasy and Riverlands is the third in a novella anthology that all have been fabulous. But the thing that really resonated with me about Riverlands, and The Singing Hills Cycle in general, is that in the evolving and exploding realm of novellas, this series feels like the gold standard of what to do with the space. Each entry in this series focuses on and examines mythology, storytelling, history, and personal truths. Each novella has these foci and each one knocks it out of the park. But they also all have their own specialized themes, ideas, locales, and cultures that they explore to great effect—and the stories can be picked up, put down, and completed in any order and still completely work. In particular, as a dungeon master who has been running campaigns for Dungeons & Dragons for a while, I am just blown away by Vo’s ability to explore narrative, myth, worldbuilding, and storytelling in such a small space to such great effect. You can find our full review here.
1) And Then I Woke Up by Malcolm Devlin – If this book taught me one thing, it’s that I need more horror novellas in my life. Since the form is so short, so many things can be easily condensed so that the terror feels concentrated. Devlin’s story about the weaponization of one’s perspective is so thoroughly laced with paranoia, confusion, and deep anxiety about one’s place in the world, I still get excited chills when I look at the cover. Set in the ongoing “aftermath” of a plague known as “the narrative,” the story follows Spence as he tries to come to terms with the nature of reality. Was he really fighting hordes of zombies in a ruined urban hellscape, or did he only think he was while he murdered innocent people around him? Devlin unearths some uncomfortable truths about the plasticity of reality while also tearing into the well-worn tropes of the zombie genre. It’s also a strangely compassionate piece that doesn’t try to hold one over you after pulling back the curtain. Devlin knows it hurts, but he’s there for you, as we should all be there for each other. So if you’re looking for a spooky psychological horror that serves as one of the best epitaphs for a genre, I recommend you pick this one up. You can find our full review here.