It’s that time again…the time when all the book bloggers are posting their year end, best reads of the year. So yeah, I have to add my batch into the mix. 2020 sucked in so many ways, but for me it was a really good year for reading. I enjoyed the vast majority of the books I read, and there were only a very few I didn’t. I still feel like we are experiencing that new golden age of science fiction and fantasy with so many great books to choose from both in traditional publishing or from indie/self-published authors and I hope it never ends.
So here it is, my top reads of 2020. Note, this is my list of top reads of 2020, meaning it is a list of my favorite books I read during the year, not necessarily my favorite books published in 2020. I managed to read 42 books this year (exceeding my Goodreads Challenge) and this list comprises those I rated as 5 Stars. I’ve arranged them in order the they were read.
Legacy of Ash
Legacy Trilogy #1
In this action-packed epic fantasy debut, three heroes scarred by old hatreds must find a way to overcome their pasts if they are to have any chance of saving their crumbling Republic from complete destruction. Perfect for fans of George R. R. Martin, Brent Weeks, and Brandon Sanderson.
A shadow has fallen over the Tressian Republic.While the armies of the Hadari Empire invade the borderlands, the Republic’s noble families plot against each other, divided by personal ambition.
But as Tressia falls, heroes rise.Viktor Akadra is the Republic’s champion and conqueror of the rebellious south. A warrior without equal, he also hides a secret that would see him burned as a heretic.
Josiri Trelan would gladly see Viktor condemned to the flames – vengeance for a rebellion crushed and a mother slain. And while Josiri plots fresh insurrection, his sister, Calenne, is determined to escape their tarnished legacy and break the shackles of the past.
As dark days beckon, these three must overcome their differences to save the Republic. Yet decades of bad blood are not easily set aside. Victory – if it comes at all – will command a higher price than they could have imagined. – Goodreads Blurb
With one of the best use of a prologue I’ve read in ages, Legacy of Ash started strong and never let up. I was captivated and found myself bound up in this new fantasy world. A world wherein I get the sense only the surface has been scratched; A world in which many more secrets will be revealed; A story which has many more roads to be traveled, places to be explored, and characters to meet; A tale with many more twists and turns that will surely leave me guessing and wondering what comes next.
If you like really good epic fantasy put this one on your list today. You can read my full review here.
Blood of Heirs
The Coraidic Sagas #1
Lidan Tolak is the fiercest of her father’s daughters; more than capable of one day leading her clan. But caught between her warring parents, Lidan’s world begins to unravel when another of her father’s wives falls pregnant. Before she has time to consider the threat of a brother, a bloody swathe is cut through the heart of the clan and Lidan must fight, not only to prove her worth, but simply to survive.
Ranoth Olseta wants nothing more than to be a worthy successor to his father’s throne. When his home is threatened by the aggressive Woaden Empire, Ran becomes his city’s saviour, but powers within him are revealed by the enemy and he is condemned to death. Confused and betrayed, Ran is forced to flee his homeland, vowing to reclaim what he has lost, even if it kills him.
Facing an unknown future, and battling forces both familiar and foreign, can Lidan and Ran overcome the odds threatening to drag them into inescapable darkness? – Goodreads Blurb
You know that feeling you get when you’ve read a book you thought you were going to like but it ended up being SO MUCH BETTER THAN YOU EVER EXPECTED? Yeah…that’s the feeling I had when I finished Blood of Heirs. Truth be told that’s the feeling I had while I was reading Blood of Heirs...Blood of Heirs is a dark, page turning, coming of age, character driven novel packed with emotion, heart, and pain that never loses sight of hope.
Again and again I’m finding great self-published fantasy that holds up to what you get from the big publishers and this one is no exception. I hope you love it as much as I did. You can read my full review here.
We Ride The Storm
The Reborn Empire
In the midst of a burgeoning war, a warrior, an assassin, and a princess chase their own ambitions no matter the cost in Devin Madson’s visceral, emotionally charged debut.
War built the Kisian Empire. War will tear it down.
Seventeen years after rebels stormed the streets, factions divide Kisia. Only the firm hand of the god-emperor holds the empire together. But when a shocking betrayal destroys a tense alliance with neighboring Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down.
In Kisia, Princess Miko Ts’ai is a prisoner in her own castle. She dreams of claiming her empire, but the path to power could rip it, and her family, asunder.
In Chiltae, assassin Cassandra Marius is plagued by the voices of the dead. Desperate, she accepts a contract that promises to reward her with a cure if she helps an empire fall.
And on the border between nations, Captain Rah e’Torin and his warriors are exiles forced to fight in a foreign war or die.
As an empire dies, three warriors will rise. They will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood. – Goodreads Blurb
Absolutely riveting! That was my intro line for We Ride The Storm. I didn’t take many notes when reading We Ride The Storm. They only came to about a half a page in my notebook. I’d been sucked into the story and I didn’t want to set the book down long enough to jot anything down. That’s because Devin Madson is an amazing storyteller.
Madson knows how to ratchet up the tension. Each chapter was intense, not just the overall narrative arc, but EACH AND EVERY CHAPTER. I’d finish one and have to start the next. Sometimes I’d have to pause a moment to catch my breath before getting right back in it when chapters would slowly build their way to a stunning end and I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat before exclaiming out loud (or on Twitter) at their conclusion. At times I was holding my breath and sweating. The reader rides the storm of the story right along with the characters. Madson hooked me and I stayed hooked from the first page to the last.
You can read my full review here.
The Sword of Kaigen
A mother struggling to repress her violent past,
A son struggling to grasp his violent future,
A father blind to the danger that threatens them all.
When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores?
High on a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful warriors in the world, superhumans capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For hundreds of years, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their frozen spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’
Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies.
Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface. – Goodreads Blurb
The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang is one of the most unique books I’ve read this year. Any one of the following is reason enough to read it; It’s imaginative and defies expected norms; It has elemental magic and one of the best set piece fight scenes I’ve ever read; It is one of the best non-western/Asian inspired fantasies I’ve come across; It’s very much a character driven book for those who love character driven books; It will hit you in the feels; It won the Fifth Annual Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (#SPFBO).
The Sword of Kaigen took me by surprise, sucked me in, and punched me in the gut. But it didn’t leave me there breathless. Instead it gave me time to recover and heal even if it left me with a little scar much like the characters I followed in the narrative. It shook things up, made me work and made me think, and said “here’s something different” for you to chew on. And in the end I felt fulfilled and content.
You can read my full review here.
This Is How You Lose The Time War
Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal-El Mohtar and Max Gladstone.
Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?
Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.
This Is How You Lose The Time War is poetry in prose. A Sapphic love story embroiled amidst war and time. That sounds cliché I know but it’s true. Few books I’ve read have as much heft packed into so few pages as this exquisite novella. Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone have given us something beautiful and worthy of all the praise it has received.
This Is How You Lose The Time War won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards for Best Novella, plus a slew of others. I can tell you I agree wholeheartedly with the selection. It’s a book that is genre fiction yet transcends it. It is lyrical and seductive and fun, yet also brutal and poignant and heartfelt. It’s both a sunrise to begin your day, and a sunset to close it out, all filled with light and beauty and fire, portending joy and sadness, good and evil, life and death. This is on my list of best reads of 2020, and also my best reads period.
You can read my full review here.
The Once And Future Witches
Alix E. Harrow
In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.
But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.
There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be. – Goodreads Blurb
I laughed, I raged, and I cried. The Once And Future Witches is magic on the wings of Autumn, ash and roses on the air, and the promise of a new world birthed with will, and words, and way.
Alix E. Harrow has done it again. Fresh off the heels of the beautifully written The Ten Thousand Doors of January, comes a book that is even better! If you had any doubt as to whether Harrow could deliver a second time around you should take them and toss them into the fire. The Once and Future Witches is at the top of my favorite reads of 2020. Put this one on order and put it at the top of your reading list. Then sit down next to a comfy fire with a warm autumn drink, open the book and know, “There’s still no such thing as witches…but there will be.”
You can read my full review here.
Of Honey And Wildfires
Songs of Sefate #1
From the moment the first settler dug a well and struck a lode of shine, the world changed. Now, everything revolves around that magical oil.
What began as a simple scouting expedition becomes a life-changing ordeal for Arlen Esco. The son of a powerful mogul, Arlen is kidnapped and forced to confront uncomfortable truths his father has kept hidden. In his hands lies a decision that will determine the fate of everyone he loves—and impact the lives of every person in Shine Territory.
The daughter of an infamous saboteur and outlaw, Cassandra has her own dangerous secrets to protect. When the lives of those she loves are threatened, she realizes that she is uniquely placed to change the balance of power in Shine Territory once and for all.
Secrets breed more secrets. Somehow, Arlen and Cassandra must find their own truths in the middle of a garden of lies. – Goodreads Blurb
I sat down one Wednesday night to start reading Of Honey And Wildfires. This would be my third read for Self-Published Fantasy Month and the first book from Sarah Chorn I’d ever read. I was relaxed, in a good mood, and looking forward to the read because I’d seen nothing but great reviews for Sarah’s books. But I also knew from those reviews that I might be in for some feels. Reader…I wasn’t prepared.
I only managed to finish a few chapters and had to stop. I couldn’t read anymore. I just couldn’t. I had to set it down and walk away. Why you ask? Well…my post to Twitter was this…
“Holy f—! If I could write a review of just the first Cassandra chapter. I’m gutted. I want to quote half of it. Deep breath and maybe a drink before I carry on.”
Yep. Gutted. And the book had just started. It just hit me hard. I seriously got up, poured myself a finger of bourbon, sat down and sipped a while. I don’t claim this was healthy, but <sigh> I did it anyway. I was thinking of picking the book up again but Sarah replied to my comment with this…
“Brace yourself. Writing this book flayed me emotionally.”
So I stopped for the night.
It isn’t often that an author has an impact with their writing and use of language and emotion in such a short span of pages. Those kinds of authors are out there. Alix E. Harrow comes to mind. But they don’t show up every day and plop down in your favorite reading chair with you and settle in. Sarah Chorn did it on that Wednesday night and I was wrecked.
You can read my full review here.
Fire & Rain
The Fearing #1
John F.D. Taff
Grey Matter Press
John F.D. Taff’s highly-anticipated epic supernatural thriller, The Fearing, begins with Book One: Fire & Rain where humanity faces a series of catastrophes spawned by a worldwide event that unleashes all of mankind’s greatest fears.
In the American high desert, vacationers returning from a road trip are thrust into a heart-stopping flight from death as they try to avoid a cataclysmic end. In rural Missouri, the lives of a group of high school students are destroyed after their small town is devastated and they’re forced to confront the end of everything they’ve ever known.
And on the eastern seaboard, there’s someone else. An enigmatic man who thrives on despair and embraces all fear. A man with his own dark and sinister goals. Someone who wants to ensure humanity goes out with the biggest bang possible. – Goodreads Blurb
Whoa…that was a hell of a read.
Very few books that I’ve read have packed as much of a scary punch in so few pages as John F.D. Taff’s The Fearing – Book One: Fire & Rain. If you’re into modern horror and like getting it in small thrilling doses you’ll love this novella. The whole time you’re wondering what the hell is gonna happen next, and what the hell is happening in general. By the end of the book you know you’ve only gotten a taste of what’s to come but you’re so very hooked. I mean I want all three of the remaining books now! Coming in at 110 pages this book can easily be read in one sitting and perfect for a read by the fire on a cool dark night. I highly recommend you pick it up.
You can read my full review here.
The Space Between Worlds
An outsider who can travel between worlds discovers a secret that threatens her new home and her fragile place in it, in a stunning sci-fi debut that’s both a cross-dimensional adventure and a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging.
Multiverse travel is finally possible, but there’s just one catch: No one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive. Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying—from disease, turf wars, or vendettas they couldn’t outrun. Cara’s life has been cut short on 372 worlds in total.
On this Earth, however, Cara has survived. Identified as an outlier and therefore a perfect candidate for multiverse travel, Cara is plucked from the dirt of the wastelands. Now she has a nice apartment on the lower levels of the wealthy and walled-off Wiley City. She works—and shamelessly flirts—with her enticing yet aloof handler, Dell, as the two women collect off-world data for the Eldridge Institute. She even occasionally leaves the city to visit her family in the wastes, though she struggles to feel at home in either place. So long as she can keep her head down and avoid trouble, Cara is on a sure path to citizenship and security.
But trouble finds Cara when one of her eight remaining doppelgängers dies under mysterious circumstances, plunging her into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and her future in ways she could have never imagined—and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse. – Goodreads Blurb
I just finished this The Space Between Worlds Wednesday night and I haven’t had a chance to write up a review yet. But let me just say now that this is such a beautifully written book. Johnson has such a great way with simile and metaphor and uses them in such heartfelt and at times gut wrenching ways. It’s a character driven story about belonging with sapphic romance, and trauma, and some sudden twists and turns that leave you wondering what the hell will happen next. I absolutely loved it and didn’t want it to end.
Check back later this weekend for the review.
Well, that’s it, my best reads of 2020. How may did you read? How many made your best of list? Are you planning to read any of these in the new year? Let me know in the comments below.