It’s the last day of the year which means it’s time for my Best Reads of 2019 post! I’d hoped to write one more review before the end of the year but that isn’t gonna happen. That’s fine though because I have what I need for this list already. And while I didn’t read as many books as I’d hoped this year I did read some really good ones!
2019 was another great year for speculative fiction. I’ve heard it said by many readers that we are in a new golden age of spec fic. I think that’s true. Much of that has to do with some great new authors being published by traditional publishing houses, but a lot of that has to do with the rise of really great books coming out of the self-published/indie publishing realm.
What follows below are those books I read this year (regardless of publication date) that I rated a 4.5 or 5 out of 5 stars. There were a total of eight books to make the list. Of this group there was one self-published title, and two formerly self-published titles that were picked up by a major publisher, one of which hasn’t actually been published yet but I read the ARC. I’ll start with the 4.5 group, move to the 5.0 group, and finish with my favorite book of the year. Apart from the final book there is no particular order to this list other than the two main groupings.
4.5 Star Reads
Seven Blades In Black, by Sam Sykes
The Grave of Empires Book 1
April 9, 2019
Seven Blades In Black is the dark, gritty, sarcastic, epic, guns, swords, and sorcery revenge story you’ve been wanting, even if you didn’t know it. I absolutely loved Sal The Cacophony and she’s become a new fav protagonist. This read was both brutal and poignant, and filled with humor, vulgarity, and all the stabby-stabby and shooty-shooty you could want. A story about love, friendship, and betrayal that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
You can read my full review here: Seven Blades In Black
The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter
The Burning Book 1
July 16, 2019
The Rage Of Dragons is an intense, thrilling, and brutal African inspired debut fantasy full of blood and vengeance. It kept me up at night. I didn’t want to put it down. I was reading until 2 AM. I just wanted to keep turning the pages. I didn’t want it to end. When I did set it down, I caught my breath, and wondered how long until book two. This is the kind of action fantasy I long for; fantasy that is intense, and brutal, and gritty and doesn’t let up the pace; a book that will grip you and never let go. Evan Winter has made me a fan.
Note: The Rage of Dragons was originally a self-published novel.
You can read my full review here: The Rage of Dragons
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, by K.S. Villoso
Chronicles of The Bitch Queen Book 1
February 18, 2020
I loved The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. I was drawn in from the very first page and didn’t want to set it down. If you like really good character driven novels that are filled with betrayal, mystery and great action well this is a book you need to read. If you’re looking for really good non-western fantasy this is a book you need to read. If you want a book with “the feels” this is a book you need to read. Hell, if your criteria is just, “give me some damn good fantasy” this is a book you need to read.
Note: The Wolf of Oren-Yaro was originally self-published and was recently picked up by Orbit and won’t be published by them until February 2020. I was lucky enough to have read both the original self-published version and the new ARC which contains some new material.
You can read my full review here: The Wolf of Oren-Yaro
Fortune’s Fool, by Angela Boord
The Eterean Empire Book 1
June 25, 2019
Angela Boord’s Renaissance inspired debut is simply fantastic. A character driven tale of mystery, political intrigue, warring noble houses, and a woman at the center of it all who will stop at nothing until the wrong done to her is avenged. Oh…and did I mention the slow burn romance? Yeah, it has that too. Fortune’s Fool will rank as one of the best self-published fantasies to come out this year. It should also rank as one of the best fantasies to be published overall this year. I can’t wait to see what’s in store with book two.
Note: I was fortunate to be asked by Angela to host the cover reveal for Fortune’s Fool prior to publication. Fortune’s Fool is also one of ten finalists in this year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (#SPFBO) hosted by Mark Lawrence, a contest that takes 300 books and whittles them down to one winner.
You can read my full review here: Fortune’s Fool
5 Star Reviews
Red Sister, by Mark Lawrence
First Book of The Ancestor
April 4, 2017
“I WANT MORE!!!”
Those were the words that came out of my mouth the moment I finished Red Sister. I stayed up late to finish it and felt cheated I didn’t have book two in hand and another day to devote to reading. From opening line to closing page Red Sister grabs you and doesn’t let go. Dark, mysterious, and gripping, this First Book of The Ancestor is imbued with tense action weighted in vengeance, bonds of friendship forged and broken, and layers of secrets slowly peeled back with revelations that will shock and thrill you.
You can read my full review here: Red Sister
The Bear And The Nightingale, by Katherine Arden
Winternight Trilogy Book 1
Del Rey Books
January 10, 2017
Oh man…this book. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know if I was going to like it when I set out to read it. Yeah I’d seen a lot of reviews rating it highly but I still wasn’t sure it was for me. Boy was I wrong…this was so me. Arden weaves a modern story that feels like a fairy tale set in medieval northern Rus. It is atmospheric and bewitching, with captivating prose and compelling characters that will transport you to another time and place. A place so richly described you can smell the earth, feel the cold, and sense the spirit world around you.
You can read my full review here: The Bear And The Nightingale
The Winter Road, by Adrian Selby
November 13, 2018
When I finished The Winter Road I set the book down, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. I had to collect myself a moment – had to pause and digest it. The Winter Road is a story of the pain and heartbreak that underlies human achievement. It’s the kind of book I haven’t read in a while, like you’re drawing back the curtain on some grand event in history where everyone knows the glorious result, only to discover the grim truth about how it came to be. One where the reader is pulled through the wringer along with the characters…you may be new on the other side, but the pain and disfigurement of the experience lingers, some parts of you are left in the bucket, and you’ll never go back to the way things were before.
It isn’t often I can clearly see what’s coming in a story and have it impact me the way this one did. Because truth be told I only saw a part of what was coming. It’s like Selby feinted with his left which was still a straight shot to the face, but then when my head snapped back down and I raised my arms to block the next punch he hit me with a blow to the stomach which sent me to my knees. Then he left me there struggling to catch my breath, allowing me to contemplate all of what just happened, and as I got back to my feet still a little wobbly he was gone, having left me with not a lesson but a gift…a heavy one that will weigh on me a while.
You can read my full review here: The Winter Road
Top Read Of The Year
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow
September 10, 2019
I don’t have words to convey how gorgeous this book is. The story, the writing, the imagery, the cover; every bit of it is a literary feast for the eyes and mind. Yet one metaphor isn’t enough to describe it, and any attempt to adequately do so on my part is bound to fail. It’s a tale of love and heartbreak, adventure and suspense, myth and legend. It’s a portal fantasy opening a door into ten thousand worlds. It’s a a love letter to lovers of stories. It’s a metaphor itself for what all stories really are, doors into another world, and heralds of change.
The Muses who themselves strode through a Door in our ancient past bestowed a gift upon Alix E. Harrow. What Clio, Erato, and Calliope gave her she has gifted back to us in The Ten Thousand Doors of January. It is safe to say it will be one of the best books to be published this year, not just in fantasy, but in any genre. Hell, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a decade, a book to go on my list of top “must reads” for anyone asking not just “what’s a good book you’ve read recently”, but “can you recommend a great book?” I urge you to pick this one up, open the cover, and step through a Door.
You can read my full review here: The Ten Thousand Doors of January
Well, there you have it, my best reads of 2019. Have you read any of them? If so what did you think? If not I can’t recommend these enough, and if you do pick them up I hope you love them as much as I did. Here’s to 2020…let’s hope it’s filled with even more great books!