The featured image above was specifically designed by Felix Ortiz for Novel Notions’ Top 20 List.
Hello everyone! This is the first time I’m listing my top reads for the year 2019. Initially, I wanted to opt for Top 10 but having read 100 books and rated a lot between 4.5 and 5 stars, I felt that I would struggle to limit it to ten. The parameters for my list are as follows:
- Rereads don’t count
- One book per author
- Not limited to books which are released this year. Those not published in 2019 will be specified.
With exception of #1, none of these are ranked. I’ve merely listed them in the chronological order of when I’ve read them this year. I’ve also included my favourite classic read of the year as we’ve started the Novel Notions Classic Club in July. All of these have been reviewed by me on Novel Notions and Goodreads.
Master of Sorrows (The Silent Gods, #1) by Justin T. Call
Publisher: Gollancz (UK), and Blackstone Publishing (US) – to be released in Feb 2020
A remarkable debut which I simply cannot put down, Master of Sorrows is a brilliant and riveting tale of having the courage to find and choose one’s path, and it left me wanting more. This book also recalled so much about what I loved about classic epic fantasy and yet felt modern. I gravitate towards compelling and empathetic storytelling; a story that can capture and retain my attention, as my mind takes flight and wanders into the imaginary world with its characters. Master of Sorrows gave me that experience as I devoured the novel in just two days.
The Gutter Prayer (The Black Iron Legacy, #1) by Gareth Ryder-Hanharan
A truly extraordinary debut, The Gutter Prayer strikes an intense chord with its powerful worldbuilding, vivid imagery and evocative prose. This is a world where divine powers and alchemical advancement co-existed on an uneasy balance, the history behind the creations and eldritch horrors was dark, twisted and perversely captivating. Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan has developed a unique voice with his unconventional style and created something extraordinary in the realm of modern dark fantasy.
Deadhouse Landing (Path to Ascendancy, #2) by Ian C. Esslemont
Publisher: Tor (US), and Bantam (UK) (First published 2018)
Deadhouse Landing was another fantastic novel in this prequel trilogy of two of the most notorious characters from the Malazan series. This sequel continued to expand on the origins story of Dancer and Kellanved, by bringing us to the infamous Malaz Island – where it all began. For readers of Malazan, some of the names in the Dramatis Personae were enough to make one incredibly excited for what’s in store. Esslemont’s writing managed to achieve a remarkable balance to the tone of the story. It was grim, epic and, most oddly, fun at the same time.
14 by Peter Clines
Publisher: Permuted Press, & Kavach Press (ebook) (First published 2012)
A fascinating and engaging genre-bending novel with excellent characterisation, elevated by the narrator’s superb voice-acting – 14 is a blend of mystery and science fiction, with a touch of horror and even fantasy. This is the kind of book best experienced going in with as little information as possible, All I knew about the story then was that the building was strange and mysterious. A potent and thrilling combination, and yet I was still pleasantly surprised with the direction the story took.
Underlord (Cradle, #6) by Will Wight
Publisher: Hidden Gnome Publishing (Indie)
Such insane power. Such insane fun. That, in a nutshell, is the Cradle series, and Underlord is its current pinnacle. I cannot commend Wight enough for the worldbuilding and magic system he created for Cradle. In the many years of reading epic fantasy, I have had my exposure to extraordinary sorcerous powers, but I have yet to come across one so well-conceived as a magic cum martial arts system. What differentiated Underlord from most of its predecessors was that it has the most well-balanced narrative. Amazing action scenes are a given, but we also get emotional and contemplative moments.
A Time of Dread (Of Blood and Bone, #1) by John Gwynne
Publisher: Orbit (US) & Pan Macmillan (UK) (First published 2018)
A Time of Dread served as a brutal and stunning reminder that Gwynne is one of the greatest modern fantasy writers. The Faithful and The Fallen was a superb epic fantasy series with one of the most well-written stories about prophecies and good vs evil that I’ve read in a very long time. And judging from what I’ve read in this book, I believe Gwynne is on track to surpass what he did in the earlier series. AToD is the stamp of a great writer that never stops learning and always keeps improving. While Malice was a great debut that any author would and should be proud of, AToD demonstrated that Gwynne has once again upped his game.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1) by Becky Chambers
Publisher: Harper Voyager (US), & Hodder & Stoughton (UK) (First published 2015)
This is one of the most endearing and charming novels that I’ve ever read. I absolutely adored this captivating story of individuals just interacting with each other, and as a tight-knit multi-species crew they are as a whole much bigger than the sum of its parts. If you are looking for plot, villains, and epic space battles, look elsewhere as this book does not have any of those. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet fulfilled the most important thing that I look for in every book I read – to make me feel.
Last Bastion (FFO, #2) by Rachel Aaron & Travis Bach
Publisher: Aaron/Bach (Indie)
Empathetic and kickass characters, geek lore and humour, fantastic fighting scenes, Last Bastion has it all in a compulsive page-turner. It is testament to Aaron and Bach’s ability to spin a story that was so engrossing that I was barely able to put it down. This is not a short book by any standards, but I finished it in under 2 days as it was super addictive. What made Last Bastion so enthralling? I can boil it down to three elements; the worldbuilding, the action and most importantly, the characterisation. Great characters have always been the hallmark of Rachel Aaron’s books, and I’m delighted to see that it remains as such in this co-authored series.
Age of Legend (The Legends of the First Empire, #4) by Michael J. Sullivan
Publisher: Grim Oak Press
A brilliant sequel which fulfilled my eager anticipation and high expectations, Age of Legend takes the First Empire series to the next level of greatness with the promise of a showstopper by its finale. Sullivan became one of my favourite authors with the Riyria series through his innate skill of creating and writing characters that feel like good, old friends that you would want to revisit time and again. In the First Empire series, such intimate characterisation continues to be the hallmark of Sullivan’s writing. He created real heroes from those whom you least expected; not heroes of might and magic, but of steadfast courage born of compassion and loyalty. What I enjoyed most about this series was getting the unvarnished account of the events and true heroes that shaped the legends that were told three thousand years later.
The Poison Song (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy, #3) by Jen Williams
One word. INCREDIBLE. The Poison Song not only lived up to its astoundingly good prequels, but it also delivered an exquisitely emotional and satisfying conclusion. I loved everything about these books – from the enthralling story to the eldritch worldbuilding and amazing characters, and the earnest writing – everything! The Winnowing Flame Trilogy hooked me right from the start. It then lured me ever deeper with its bewitching siren song and finally left me in a wreck of emotions. It is very rare for me to rate a trilogy 5-stars across all books, but this one truly deserved all of it. I highly recommend these books to every fantasy fan, especially if you are craving for that spark of originality.
Ghosts of Gotham by Craig Schaefer
Publisher: 47North (Indie) (First published 2018)
Ghosts of Gotham is my first book by Craig Schaefer, and it definitely will not be my last. A fast-paced and tight narrative, filled with cleverly-crafted mysteries, which simply begs one to keep turning the pages.
Jade War (The Green Bone Saga, #2) by Fonda Lee
Jade War is a magnificent sequel that brilliantly showcases the immense potential of urban fantasy, without resorting to typical mythological elements. The second novel in The Green Bone Saga excelled over the first in every possible way. From the plotting to the worldbuilding to the characters, every component worked so well in the sequel that it gave me sheer joy reading Jade War.
The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell
Publisher: Ballantine (US), & Transworld (UK) (First published 1996)
The Sparrow is a multi-award-winning science fiction novel about first contact. After reading it, I could understand why. This much-disdained genre amongst the literary circles has so much more to offer aside from space operas and cyberpunk fiction (which I also love). With excellent novels like The Sparrow, I’m learning to appreciate the layered subtleties of great science fiction writing better.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
Incredibly lush, exquisite and enchanting, The Ten Thousand Doors of January has all the makings of a classic. One which I’m certain will be well-loved and much-read. And I dare say not only by those who enjoy fantasy, for this novel is pure joy in literary form that is a tribute to almost every reader out there. This is unlike any fantasy book you would’ve read before. Almost literary in flavour but eminently magical in essence, The Ten Thousand Doors of January will transport you into another world within the world we know of. Do not miss entering this Door to an amazing and wondrous journey through a magical landscape of words and stories.
Holy Sister (Book of the Ancestors, #3) by Mark Lawrence
Publisher: Ace (US), & Harper Voyager (UK)
Incredibly satisfying, Holy Sister is a powerful conclusion to a remarkable trilogy that shines most brilliantly with its superb characterisation. I am truly impressed with Mark Lawrence’s ability to write such realistic and relatable female characters, and to achieve that across such a wide range of age, backgrounds and personality of all the nuns and novices. The interwoven threads of the plot, worldbuilding and the character development were well-bonded and created a seamless narrative across all these aspects of great fantasy storytelling.
The Bone Ships (The Tide Child, #1) by R.J. Barker
Bold and inventive, R.J. Barker sailed through new, uncharted waters with The Bone Ships and emerged with a brilliant tale of seafaring adventure and deeds of derring-do. If you like seafaring adventures, do yourself a favour and pick up this book, for even one who’s not normally a fan like me enjoyed it immensely. An enthralling story in a fascinating yet brutal world and its harsh seas, The Bone Ships is another winner from the author.
Death’s End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3) by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)
Publisher: Tor (US), and Head of Zeus (UK) (First published 2016)
Death’s End is an incredibly epic conclusion to the insanely imaginative and unpredictable hard science fiction trilogy, Remembrance of Earth’s Past. This incredible trilogy utterly floored me with its mind-blowing ideas that employed real world theoretical and astrophysics in an all-out epic and fascinating narrative. A highly recommended science fiction read, and practically a must-read for fans of hard science fiction.
Starsight (Skyward, #2) by Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Delacorte Press (US) & Gollancz (UK)
Another damn fine young adult novel, Starsight proves once again that Brandon Sanderson is a masterful storyteller across genres and age groups, and who simply excels at writing sequels. As far as I’m concerned, Sanderson is a genius and he has never failed to deliver a captivating story, whether he was writing adult or young adult, fantasy or science fiction. And I believed that it comes from his passion in just wanting to tell good stories. With Starsight, Spensa’s story has exploded into an exhilarating, high-stakes space adventure filled with the strange and the wonderful, but at the same time, remain grounded with compelling and loveable characters.
Favourite classic: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
This novel is a fictional autobiography which was written with such fervent passion and ardour but yet tempered with the barest touch of restraint. The story was immensely engaging and enthralling with revelations that stunned and shocked. I think that this Victorian-era story will put some modern tales to shame with its ability to keep the readers on the edge with its twists and turns. Then, there is the writing. So beautifully lush and impactful, I was completely enamoured with the way Bronte wielded the English language – the way the words are put together at every turn of phrase.
No. 1: The Sword of Kaigen (A Theonite War Story) by M.L. Wang
Publisher: M.L. Wang (Indie)
Simply phenomenal. A true masterpiece. The Sword of Kaigen is a stunning achievement of empathetic and masterful storytelling. The Sword of Kaigen is the most well-balanced stand-alone fantasy book that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. From its convincing worldbuilding and awe-inspiring elemental magic system to the spectacular action scenes and intensely emotional moments, and most of all, its stellar character development. Throughout the entire novel, there was not one moment which did not matter, and a palpable tension permeated every turn of the page.
2019 has been the most diverse year of reading that I’ve had so far (My Year in Books 2019), while still being able to keep apace (somewhat) with some of the new releases from the great SFF publishers and self-published authors. It also marked that year that I got to attend the WorldCon for the very first time, meeting both new and old favourite authors (some whom are featured in the list above), as well as fellow book bloggers. I maintain that the SFF has been enjoying the best years the genre has ever had with the plethora of new authors which are churning out books of great quality, and it can only keep getting better.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the authors (both traditional and self-published), editors and publishers, for giving us readers all these amazing books with wondrous worlds to discover and explore, and compelling characters to care about. Here’s to a fantastic 2019 and an even more spectacular 2020!