Nils’ Top 20 for 2020
This year has been a tough one to say the least, but I wanted to end it on a positive note by looking back at all the great books I’ve read. I’d also like to highlight two fantastic features which I‘ve really enjoyed being involved in with The Fantasy Hive – Women in SFF month, and an ongoing feature, Cruising the Cosmere. I also need to mention how much I’m enjoying being a judge in this year’s SPFBO competition too.
I’m extremely grateful to so many authors and publishers who have provided hours of entertainment and escape during times of stress and anxiety, particularly during lockdowns. Just know that your books have helped me through.
So, let’s dive into my list of favourite reads and see who I would recommend them to, shall we? I’ll also link my reviews in case anyone is interested to find out more.
A Time of Courage by John Gwynne
This is the outstanding last book in Gwynne’s Of Blood and Bone trilogy and an end to our time in the Banished Lands. I’m also awarding this book as my favourite ending to a series, ever. If you’ve never read John Gwynne before then I’d start with Malice.
Recommended for people who like: epic fantasy, exciting world-building, realistic battle scenes and animal companions. Oh and fair warning, you’ll cry, many times!
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow
Wow, what a beautiful standalone this was!
Recommended for people who like: stunning lyrical prose, emotive reads, feminist fairytale retellings. witches, magic, and folklore. Basically ALL THE GOOD STUFF!
Priest of Lies by Peter McLean
This is the sequel to the amazing Priest of Bones, so I’d obviously suggest starting with that.
Recommended for people who like: grimdark, the Peaky Blinders series, and a gangster fantasy with a nuanced narrative voice.
Code of the Communer by Kai Greenwood
This was a fantastic Fantasy Hive SPFBO semi-finalist.
Recommended for people who like: a Tolkien-esque fantasy, atmospheric prose, a slow burn narrative, dark forests, nature, and creepy creatures.
Lancelot by Giles Kristian
What sets this novel apart from other retellings is the depiction of Lancelot, rather than the more well-known characters such as Arthur or Merlin.
Recommended for people who like: Arthurian retellings, atmospheric prose, and those who are looking for a character driven tear jerker.
Sorcery of a Queen by Brian Naslund
This is the thrilling sequel to Blood of an Exile, so I’d start with that one!
Recommended for people who like: grimdark, environmental themes, lots of banter, a touch of craziness and most importantly DRAGONS!!
Ravencaller by David Dalglish
This is the exciting sequel to Soulkeeper so do start there.
Recommended for people who like: high octane magical battles, an action packed story with diverse characters, and unique imaginative world-building.
The Councillor by E. J. Beaton
I read an early arc of Beaton’s debut, it’s due for release on the 2nd March 2021, but I’ve included it on my list because I really loved it.
Recommended for people who like: lavish, vivid world-building, complex intriguing characters, political intrigue, and a strongly diverse world.
Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
I erm… became a touch obsessed with Sanderson this year as I started my Cruising the Cosmere feature in which I’m reviewing all the novels set in the Cosmere universe. Oathbringer turned out to be my favourite so far.
I’m sure I don’t need to say this but this is the third book in the series, so if you’re new to Stormlight Archives, then I’d start with The Way of Kings.
Recommended for people who like: epic/high fantasy, depression/PTSD portrayal, immense world-building, complex magic systems and character driven stories.
Queens of the Wyrd by Timandra Whitecastle
This was another highly entertaining Fantasy Hive SPFBO semi-finalist.
Recommended for people who like: action packed reads, strong well rounded female characters, positive motherhood representation, Norse mythology, and lots of awesome banter.
God of Gnomes by Demi Harper
This was one of my first reads of the year, and my first ever LitRPG.
Recommended for people who like: Perfect for fans of LitRPG – obviously!! I’d also recommend it to anyone looking for a wholesome, fun read with a dash of snarkiness and cuteness.
The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky
I found Tchaikovsky’s prose to have a captivating quality to it, one that slowly drew me in and allowed me to vividly visualise the scene and the characters.
Recommended for people who like: mind-bending surreal sci-fi, with creepy creatures and wonderfully diverse characters.
We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson
Political warfare, thrilling action scenes, endearing characters and a twisty twisty plot, this ticked all the right boxes for me.
Recommended for people who like: Heads rolling and guts spilling! It’s grimdark and twisty, and it needs to be read!
A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie
Although this is the first in a new trilogy by Mr Lord Grimdark, I’d only recommend this to those who have read all his previous books including the standalone’s. I’d start with The Blade Itself.
Recommended for people who like: morally grey characters, low key magic, humour and violence aplenty.
Shadows of Ivory by TL Greylock
Greylock describes this book as ‘Indiana Jones meets Renaissance Italy’, and if ever there were a description that could entice me into wanting to read a book, that would be it.
Recommended for people who like: Indiana Jones, archaeology, puzzles, a compelling narrative and well-fleshed out, endearing characters.
Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire by Dan Hanks
Become captivated by car chases, boobytraps, risen corpses, enclosing walls, spiders, and many puzzles too. The pacing in this book is relentless and Hanks’ storytelling is one that keeps you consistently glued to the pages. This book really needs a sequel!!
Recommended for people who like: Indiana Jones (can you tell I like Indiana Jones?!), archaeology, cinematic prose, a fast paced, breathless, escapist read.
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
The Devil and the Dark Water is nothing short of a remarkably turbulent mystery from Stuart Turton, an author who has firmly established himself as a twisty, mind-bending devil, himself. Prepare to set sail on a journey across the high seas; it is a journey where you’ll question every action and speculate every motive, a journey where nothing is as it seems.
Recommended for people who like: Sherlockian-esque reads, mystery, a touch of supernatural, intriguing characters and a very twisty plot.
My next two reads are short stories I have loved this year. The first is from the anthology Heroes Wanted, edited by Laura Hughes and the second is taken from Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warnings.
All Ends by Quenby Olsen
A dark and gritty story surrounding the mystery of a murdered woman in a brothel.
Recommended for people who like: dark Victorian mysteries, ominous atmospheric prose and low-key magic.
Heroes Wanted is free to download on Kindle.
The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
A fairytale retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I always have a soft spot for Neil Gaiman’s retellings, they’re just so satisfying.
Recommended for people who like: fairytales, atmospheric prose, dark twists, quirkiness, whimsical and feminist stories.
Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson
I know I’ve already featured my favourite Sanderson book already, but I’d like to end this list with my new favourite disabled character – Rysn. Dawnshard gives a lovely reflection on what it’s really like living with a disability and I wanted to highlight how much I appreciated that.
This novella should only be read after Oathbringer.
Recommended for people who like: The Stormlight Archives series! Epic searfaring fantasy, detailed characterisation, Cosmere revelations and humour.
I hope you have enjoyed my list and that it’s helpful to you if you’re stuck on what to read next.
Unfortunately there were many books which came out in 2020 which I didn’t manage to read or haven’t finished reading yet but you should definitely check them out. They are; The Boneshard Daughter by Andrea Steward, Legacy of Steel by Matthew Ward, Fires of Vengeance by Evan Winters, The Stone Knife by Anna Stephens, Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson and A Fool’s Hope by Mike Shackle. Rest assured though, they’re all on my to-be-read for 2021!
Happy New Year, folks!