TOP PICKS – April 2023
Welcome to this month’s Top Picks!
Every month, we’re going to share with you our favourite reads of the month. We’ve rounded up our contributors and asked them each to recommend just one favourite read of the month. Somehow, it’s the end of another month already!
A big thank you to Nils for coming up with this feature, and our contributors for taking part!
Nils: Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson
I read two absolutely fantastic fantasy books this month, one of which was The Bitter Twins by Jen Williams, which made me laugh and sob in equal measures! However, I also read Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson and with its stunning worldbuilding and cosy atmosphere, it has to be my favourite pick! We follow our young protagonist Tress as she leaves the safety of the island she has spent her entire life on and goes on a daring adventure to rescue her beloved Charlie. There’s a sea of dust-spores, pirates, a talking rat, a dragon and a witch and of course an intricate magic system. If you love the tone of The Princess Bride then you’ll love this. It certainly sets the bar high for Sanderson’s four secret projects.
Julia: Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace
This month it’s pretty much impossible to choose. I have finished 8 books so far, with two more I think I’ll finish in a few days till the end of the month, and no less than three of them will go on my favourites shelf… What a month! The Jaguar Path by Anna Stephens was even better than the first in the series, and my soul still hurts. Redemption’s Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky was both hilarious, dark and thought provoking.
I’ll just go with the probably least known title, as I definitely couldn’t pick one favourite: Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace. I’ve had this in my queue for ages, but somehow always shoved it back, which is a shame, as I’m loving it! It’s a dystopian story that has some LitRPG vibes, as our main characters earn money by streaming from a video game. But in a dystopian world you can also expect evil corporations and less than ideal living conditions. A war has been going on for ages, and two warring factions don’t really care about collateral damage and dead bodies.
I really enjoyed the tone and the setting, which blended the real world and virtually in a very smooth way. While it decidedly has a lot of similarities with other dystopian books I read, it still felt fresh, fast paced and engaging.
Scarlett: The Bone Shard War by Andrea Stewart
That’s some fantastic reading month you both had! Don’t you love it when you’re on a roll with great books and reading time? It’s the best My month was pretty awesome too. I have 2 books going right now, one buddy read of The Shadow of What Was Lost by J. Islington and The First Ancestor by J.D.L Rosell. I finished the Sci-Fi novel Hellfire by Rhett C Bruno and M.B. Vance, highly recommend it. It’s a mesh–up of The Expanse and the Murderbot series, very engaging!. I read 2 other books that were captivating but didn’t make it to the top as favorites, Acts of Desperation by Magan Nolan and The Curator by Owen King. The latter is one with cats revered as religious figures and it had some clever moments in it. Then I read Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee, a gripping little novella involving mythical creatures and birds of prey. It’s definitely a contender this month and a great nugget for inbetween those big books. And besides reading through the manga series, Seraph of the End, I am stuck between two amazing novels for this prompt: The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by S.A. Chakraborty and The Bone Shard War by Andrea Stewart, the last book in The Drowning Empire trilogy. Let me tell you [not gushing or anything here], these books were stellar. Holy Moly, these writers nailed it! Both books are doorstoppers filled equally with amazing characters, adventure, and great fantasy aspects. While Amina is a fictional story set in a realistic timeline in our past, The Bone Shard War is all fictional with a captivating world of islands and animal companions. Both novels take place mostly at Sea, which I love, but ultimately, I chose The Bone Shard War for my best read this month because diving back into the familiarity of the characters just took the cake for me.
Jonathan: Conquest by Nina Allan
In some ways, the task of choosing a favourite read this month is as hard as ever – I read some absolutely amazing books, including Kelly Link’s new collection of re-imagined fairy tales White Cat, Black Dog and Izumi Suzuki’s second translated collection of short stories published in English, Hit Parade of Tears. However, in other ways it’s a no-brainer for me – my favourite author of all time has a new book out, and this month I got to read an advance copy. Nina Allan’s Conquest is an incredible work of speculative fiction, combining the excellent writing and daring formal experimentation we’ve come to expect from Allan with a storyline that’s part Roadside Picnic, part detective novel. It’s absolutely masterful, and takes the top space for me this month with ease.
Review to come | Pre-order here
Theo: House of Gold by C. T. Rwizi
My speculative reading this month has included two cli-fi (Daniel Kramb’s From Here and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water-Knife) one sci-fi (C.T.Rwizi’s House of Gold) and a graphic novel (Alan Moore’s Watchmen). All were very different but also entertaining. From Here is cli-fi meets romance. The Water Knife is cli-fi meets (brutal) crime thriller. Watchmen well deserves its reputation as an outstandingly written (and drawn) example of its form. However, my pick month goes to House of Gold with its African aesthetic, far future setting, creative world building and yet very contemporary relevance as one wonders whether a corrupt establishment should be pulled down from without, or subverted from within! (I think the answer might be both!)
Hil: Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans
I’ve strayed away from fantasy reading in recent months. TJ Klune’s Wolfsong got me back on the path in March, (he usually makes me proper ugly-cry at the end of the book, this one got me sobbing at 10% in!) but I’m going with Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans.
Similar setting and feel as Patrick Samphire’s Mennick Thorn series, the story is set in Bezim, a city sundered by an alchemical cataclysm 300 years ago. It follows Siyon Velo, a petty criminal who knows enough about alchemy to be dangerous, and is prevented from learning more by an elitist hierarchy. Well the status quo and the whole “alchemy is illegal on pain of exile/death”. Unfortunately for him, following an incident in one of the neighbouring planes of reality where he was “visiting”, Velo performs an act of alchemy which is impossible in front of a large number of people, and is suddenly front and centre for alchemical workings. Oh and the planes of reality are fracturing and none of the alchemists know why. The new golden boy can save the city from a second cataclysm, right? The follow-up, Shadow Baron, is out in November.
Beth: Gods of the Wyrdwood by RJ Barker
I didn’t read a great deal of fantasy this month, but hands down my top pick of the month is still RJ’s upcoming novel Gods of the Wyrdwood. It’s the first of a brand-new trilogy from RJ, called The Forsaken Trilogy, and wyrd is definitely the right word for it! In a good way, obviously. RJ has really made a name for himself as a writer who creates incredible worlds brought to life with the most beautiful prose – and Gods of the Wyrdwood is no exception. This is a harsh world, where it’s people rely on religion to help them through their existence in a forested world that just seems to want to kill them. But religion and belief is ever a fractious, unstable being; as different factions rise and fall, you could spend your life training to become the ultimate tool for one god, only for another to raise in its place. What then follows for Cahan is a life lived on the edge, just trying to survive and escape his past.
Review to come | Pre-order here
What was your favourite read of the month? Share with us in the comments!