Nils’ Top 20 Books for 2021
It’s that time of year again where I look back at all my favourite reads of the year. It seems that 2021 has been the year of sequels and endings for me, which is rare because I’m usually one to procrastinate reading them because I rarely want to say goodbye to the characters. Yet I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and found comfort in being back in familiar worlds, with characters I know I love and I have to say they’ve all been cracking reads.
There were many books I immensely enjoyed this year, so it was hard choosing my overall favourites, but to all the authors I read this year thank you for your stories and the hours of entertainment and escape you gave me. Thank you also to all the publicists and publishers who sent me ARCs this year, I truly appreciate them all.
Without further ado, here’s my Top 20, starting with my three outstanding books of the year.
The Empire of Gold by SA Chakraborty
This is the explosive conclusion to The Daevabad trilogy. I must be drawn to authors who cause me pain because by the end of Empire Chakraborty left such an ache in my heart, I loved this world and its characters so much.
Recommended for people who like: The previous books in the series! Egyptian and Middle-Eastern mythology, Djinn, morally grey characters, magical world building & creatures, and high octane action scenes.
The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne
This is a new series set in a completely new world and it is nothing short of magnificent. A tale of monsters and magic, Gods and legends, friendship and oaths, blood and vengeance – Gwynne has certainly done it again, if not raised the bar even higher.
Recommended for people who like: Norse mythology, action packed reads, themes of found families and friendships. Also for anyone who likes dragons!
The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie
This is the conclusion to The Age of Madness trilogy and to put it bluntly everything fucks up in this book and I absolutely loved it. In this finale the oppressors become the oppressed, and anyone with wealth and prosperity are brought under a knife’s edge.
Recommended for people who like: Joe Abercrombie’s previous books, grimdark with humour, themes of rebellion and uprising, morally grey characters and low-key fantasy elements.
A Spindle Splintered by Alix E Harrow
This is the first novella I’ve read from Alix E Harrow, and damn does it pack a real emotional punch. She made me see the tale of Sleeping Beauty in a whole new light.
Recommended for people who like: Fairytale retellings, a genre blend of urban fantasy/magical realism inside a fairytale esque setting. Princesses who refuse to die.
Fury of a Demon by Brian Naslund
This is the emotional rollercoaster conclusion to The Dragons of Terra trilogy and what a gem of a finale it was! I laughed and cried in equal measures and felt our characters got the ending they all deserved.
Recommended for people who like: The previous books in the trilogy! DRAGONS, dark humour, sweary banter, hilarious shenanigans, strong friendships, and a lot of magic/science.
The Fires of Vengeance by Evan Winter
This is the sequel to Evan’s debut The Rage of Dragons and gosh does Evan make the stakes even higher! From the very first page to the very last there is non stop action which held me on the edge of my seat with my heart racing. The main character, Tau, really did need a nap by the end!
Recommended for people who like: The First book! DRAGONS (can you tell I like dragons yet?), an African inspired world, high octane action sequences, flawed yet heartfelt characters and strong friendships.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
This book left me awed by its charm and beauty, Clarke whisked me away on a journey quite like no other. It’s a surreal, magical and somewhat sinister novel written with such grace. One of those books where it starts out perplexing but comes together beautifully at the end, but also leaves some doors wide open.
Recommended for people who like: Short standalones, magical surrealism, a highly fantastical setting, mystery, slow burn plot, a gentle scholarly, quiet and innocent main protagonist.
The Righteous by David Wragg
This is the conclusion to the Articles of Faith duology. This has to win the award for the funniest book I’ve read this year, I swear I laughed from beginning to end. Wragg elevates the silly shenanigans and his trademark sweary banter, but also manages to leave things on quite a poignant note.
Recommended for people who like: The First book The Black Hawks, hilarious humour, silly shenanigans, political intrigue, found families, a plot where everything that can go wrong does go wrong.
The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman
Buehlman was a new author to me, but damn was I really impressed with this book. It’s one of those novels which blends fantasy and horror seamlessly, injects a lot of humour and a very cleverly executed plot. Plus a blind cat who is simultaneously creepy and adorable.
Recommended for people who like: Genre blends, cleverly witted humour, surreal bizarre settings and characters, and did I mention a blind cat?
Priest of Gallows by Peter McLean
This is the third book in the War for the Rose Throne quartet. My dear old Tomas Piety, how I will never tire of his highly addictive narrative voice, I’d follow this character wherever his dark and tortured story may lead, and in this book it leads him way out of his depth.
Recommended for people who like: Addictive first person narration, gangster fantasy, close knit settings, low key magic and shit hitting the fan.
The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart
This is Stewart’s sequel to The Bone Shard Daughter and is just as mysterious, thrilling and a stressful read as ever! Stewart’s bold choice of mixed narrative POV and her unique magic system is an absolute delight.
Recommended for people who like: The first book! Cryptic, often macabre magic, morally grey characters, animal companions, Asian inspired fantasies, and intricate worldbuilding.
The Hand of the Sun King by JT Greathouse
Another new author to me, and I’m awarding this as my favourite debut of the year! In fact I can’t believe it is a debut. The worldbuilding was exceptional, the prose was my favourite lyrical kind, and the main protagonist, Wen Alder, was very compelling.
Recommended for people who like: A coming of age story arc, atmospheric lyrical prose, a slow burn plot but with the focus more on descriptive world building and scholarly learning.
Swashbucklers by Dan Hanks
A nostalgic trip back to the 80’s, The Goonies meets The Ghostbusters, parenting whilst fighting supernatural entities, yes please! This was such a fun read, one I devoured as soon as I was given the chance to read it.
Recommended for people who like: 80’s nostalgia and pop culture from that era, lots of silly shenanigans, protagonists in their 40’s, a blend of urban fantasy, horror and supernatural.
Composite Creatures by Caroline Hardaker
Hardaker was a new author to me, and although she’s published poetry I believe this was her first published novel. This is a story where Hardaker beautifully builds upon tension, it’s written with stunning prose, and more than a hint of creepiness.
Recommended for people who like: Standones, dystopian worlds, flawed characters, mystery, building tension, poetic prose and contemporary characters.
The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
Damn you Sanderson, why can’t you be a happy-go-lucky cheerful author, why do you insist on making me cry?! Whilst I’ll never forgive you for the ending of this book, I also absolutely loved this book! As you may tell, my journey into The Mistborn trilogy kicked off with a bang.
Recommended for people who like: HEARTBREAK, dystopian fantasy world, intricately detailed magic system, troubled characters, philosophy surrounding religion and basically if you like Sanderson’s other books.
Justice of Kings by Richard Swan
This is a debut which actually isn’t released until February next year, but as I read it this year, I wanted to include it. This story focuses around a captivating murder mystery in one close-knit setting but we soon discover it has bigger implications throughout the Sovan Empire.
Recommended for people who like: Sherlock Holmes, murder mysteries, epic fantasy, supernatural elements, and first person narrations.
The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft
This is the third book in The Books of Babel quartet. What a bizarre journey through the Tower we take! Bancroft really grabs you by the heart in this book and my love for the characters and this world deepened even further.
Recommended for people who like: The previous books in the series! Steampunk fantasy, surrealism, fantastical creatures and characters, eccentric and eclectic characters, and poetic prose.
One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Another novella I thoroughly enjoyed. I never knew I needed a story about a time travelling sociopath with a pet dinosaur in my life, but I’m damn glad Tchaikovsky provided one. The premise is bizarre but it’s also so much fun!
Recommended for people who like: Dinosaurs, time travel, blending of sci-fi/dystopian and fantasy genre, a short standalone, morally grey flawed eccentric characters and general bizarreness!
The Wood Bee Queen by Edward Cox
This was my second standalone novel by Cox, and although it was quite different from his previous work I was delighted by this fairytale-esque, escapist, whimsical story.
Recommended for people who like: Magical realism, fairytales, magical hidden worlds, complex villains, and atmospheric prose.
Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks Dalton
This is a tender story which stays with you well after you have closed the book. Dalton’s debut explores how much of life means anything if by the end you’re left alone with only meaningless encounters to look back on?
Recommended for people who like: Open endings, slow burn plot with more philosophy than action, thought-provoking sci-fi reads, descriptive poignant prose, and isolated cold and barren settings.
Inevitably there were plenty of other books which were released this year which I had planned to read, but the problem with being a mood reader is that plans don’t always work out, sometimes it’s better to wait than to forcibly stick to TBRs. Nevertheless books such as, She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker Chan, Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee and Voidbreaker by David Dalglish will definitely be read in 2022!
Happy New Year!