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2020 has so far been a truly strange, stressful and complicated year, but reading wise it has been pretty incredible for me. I’ve read/listen to 73 books during this first six months of the year and quite a sizeable chunk of these garnered 4-stars and above. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I’ve added so many books onto my favourites shelf in the same period of time. If you’re interested, you can see my year in books for 2020 right here.
Similar to my previous list, I do not limit this to only books released this year. There are simply too many great books that have been published prior and that I’ve yet to read, so there will always be older books included. Below are the parameters that I’ve set for the list.
- Rereads don’t count
- One book per author
- Not limited to books which are released this year.
None of these are ranked except for the top three, of which two are tied for first place. The rest, I’ve listed them in the chronological order of when I’ve read them this year. All of these have been reviewed by me on Novel Notions and Goodreads.
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
Published: Redhook (US) and Orbit (UK), 2019
How many of us readers have experienced the kind of immersion and connection to a story, its setting or its characters, which made us wish that it could be real? I’d gander a guess that it covers pretty much all of us. H.G. Parry’s marvellous debut novel, The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, perfectly illustrates the magic of stories and words on a page.
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is a magical, delightfully clever and fun celebration of books. I’ve not read many books about books yet, but I can safely recommend this to pretty much all bibliophiles, who appreciate stories about the wonder of reading.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (US) and Bloomsbury Publishing (UK), 2018
I love Greek mythology and have read a few simplified versions of the more well-known old Greek classics. But nothing ever came close to my experience of reading Circe by Madeline Miller. This beautifully-written retelling of the story of the witch of Aiaia was something truly special. Miller imparted much emotional depth into the story of Circe; emotions which were largely absent in most mythological writings.
Circe has become one of those books which I look forward to rereading, time and again. I’ve not read The Song of Achilles, but now I’m very keen to pick up Miller’s debut as I cannot get enough of her exquisite writing. I really hope that we’ll see more of such mythological retellings from this gifted writer. Highly, highly recommended.
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Publisher: Gallery/Saga Press (US) and Head of Zeus (UK), 2016
As with most collections, the quality inevitably varies from one story to another. Regardless, as a collective, they echo the same theme, and that is the importance of stories, regardless of which genre it came in. The majority of these short pieces were incredibly moving. That Ken Liu managed to convey so much through so few words is a testament of his immense talent and the profundity of his imagination. His writing is evocative with an Eastern-like grace which is understated yet heartbreaking. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is an enchanting collection of short stories that is meant to be savoured time and again.
Blight Marked (Ethereal Earth, #3) by Josh Erikson
Publisher: Josh Erikson (self-published), 2020
Josh Erikson has utterly upped his game in Blight Marked. A heady concoction of compelling character development, interesting worldbuilding, exhilarating action scenes and great humour, the only thing that made it even better was Erikson’s stellar self-narration.
Blight Marked has elevated the Ethereal Earth series to greater heights. It ticked all the right boxes which make urban fantasy so fun and entertaining, then knocked it out of the park with its superb character work and outstanding audio narration.
Age of Empyre (The Legends of the First Empire, #6) by Michael J. Sullivan
Publisher: Grim Oak Press, 2020
Age of Empyre proves once again that Michael J. Sullivan is a masterful storyteller that really knows how to captivate and conclude a well-crafted tale. As I turned the final page, I couldn’t help feeling that I’m going to miss all the wonderful characters that I’ve grown to love.
Sullivan’s stories have never failed to make me feel through its characters, and The Legends of the First Empire was no exception. I’ve said many times how important this is for me when I read, for a book is only as unforgettable as its characters are. I highly recommend this series, especially for fans of classic fantasy in general, and fans of the Riyria books specifically.
Night Shift Dragons (DFZ, #3) by Rachel Aaron
Publisher: Aaron/Bach (self-published), 2020
Night Shift Dragons delivered a spectacular and hugely emotionally satisfying conclusion to Rachel Aaron’s follow-up urban fantasy series set in the insanely cool, quirky and vibrant free city of the DFZ.
Rachel Aaron continues to meet and even surpass my expectations with every new book or series that she embarked in. Night Shift Dragons knocked it out of the park with a beautifully crafted resolution to the core emotional conflict of the DFZ trilogy, and wrapped it up with a spectacular climax that showcases her worldbuilding magic at its finest.
Last Argument of Kings (The First Law, #3) by Joe Abercrombie
Publisher: Gollancz (UK), 2008 and Orbit (US), 2015
I’ve been meaning to read The First Law trilogy for years, after hearing loads of accolades from far and wide across the fantasy bibliosphere. Now that I’ve done so, I could safely say that Abercrombie deserved all those praises, and I’ll contribute by heaping on more of the same.
The First Law was grimdark at its most brilliant, with Last Argument of Kings delivering a superb finale. There’s no denying that this is a dark and bleak tale, but there was enough humour to temper all that gritty darkness to make it a wholly enjoyable read. The balance of these contrasting attributes was truly sublime. And all these are achieved through some of the best characterisations that I’ve ever read.
The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers (US) and Puffin (UK), 2020
The Unadoptables is author Hana Tooke’s debut and it has all the makings of a great classic to be loved by generations to come. There’s nothing childish about the writing as well, which made it even more suitable for adults who already enjoy reading children’s fiction.
So, kick back with some Stroopwafels, a cup of coffee or tea, and let The Unadoptables whisk you away to 19th century Amsterdam for a fun and gothic adventure that will warm the cockles of your heart.
#3: A Time of Courage (Of Blood and Bone, #3) by John Gwynne
Publisher: Pan Macmillan (UK) & (US), 2020
A Time of Courage is a stunning masterpiece that proved yet again that John Gwynne is a force to be reckoned with; primed and poised to joined the ranks of the greatest fantasy authors.
A magnificent finale to a phenomenal series of books which started from Malice, I’m certain that A Time of Courage would earn itself a spot in many “Best Reads of The Year” lists (as it would be on mine). It is time to say goodbye to The Banished Lands, but I will look forward eagerly to anything that John Gwynne writes in the future.
#1 (tied): The Light of All That Falls (The Licanius Trilogy, #3) by James Islington
Publisher: Orbit (US & UK), 2019
A breathtakingly audacious masterpiece of epic fantasy, The Light of All That Falls is an emotionally satisfying and flawless conclusion to the phenomenal Licanius Trilogy.
I am utterly astounded and in awe. The Licanius Trilogy is one of the most incredible trilogies I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and I think that James Islington is an extraordinarily gifted epic fantasy writer. I almost couldn’t believe that this was a debut series as it was ambitious beyond belief, and yet Islington was able to masterfully wrap and tie up every crucial thread and loop; pulling off an amazingly perfect finale that kept me thinking about it long after I’ve turned the last page. This has become one of my all-time favourite trilogies; a rare feat for a debut trilogy of such vision and ambition, and I cannot recommend this highly enough for fans of epic fantasy.
#1 (tied): The Labyrinth of the Spirits (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #4) by Carloz Ruiz Zafón
Publisher: Weidenfield & Nicholson, Orion Books (UK) & Harper (US), 2018
The Labyrinth of the Spirits is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It has it all – evocative history, engrossing mystery, atmospheric setting, compelling characters, incredible emotional depth – wrapped up in writing so beautiful that it moves your soul. Zafón’s writing and Graves’ translation seemed to work magic on the emotions of the reader. There’s a musical quality to it that worked in cadences and tones to convey the heart and soul of the story.
With storytelling almost as perfect as it could be, The Cemetery of Forgotten Books was simply too memorable to be forgotten. Highly, highly recommended to all readers.
While it may not seem like a lot based on what I’ve mentioned in my preamble about this being a great reading year for me so far, I would like to mention that the top three books above are the conclusions to series that have made it into my favourites shelf. If I didn’t limit the books to only one author each, Joe Abercrombie, James Islington and Carlos Ruiz Zafón would have 10 books in total on this list.
I’m looking forward to continue my journey through Abercrombie’s First Law World, and intend to keep my reading choices diverse. My single most anticipated book for the year is none other than Brandon Sanderson’s Rhythm of War – as anyone who has been following my reviews for a while know that he is my all-time favourite SFF author.
What are the best books that you’ve read so far this year? Please also share your thoughts if any of the above are in your imminent TBR, and your most anticipated reads of the year.