TOP PICKS – January 2024
Welcome to a new year of 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.
A big thank you to Nils for coming up with this feature, and our contributors for taking part!
Let’s find out what the team has started the year off with…
Kat: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
I absolutely powered through the first three books in the Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir this month. I initially read Gideon the Ninth when it first came out and was a little overwhelmed by the physical book, then much later fell in love with the audiobook of Nona the Ninth and only realised it wasn’t the second book in the series after I’d finished it! No wonder I was constantly a little confused! I decided I was going to listen to all of the audiobooks to refresh my memory and fill in the gaps and I could not have made a better choice. Every single character is unique and unforgivably entertaining, the worldbuilding is complex and but much easier to follow via audiobook, the twists and turns keep you on the edge of your seat, and Muir writes on a scale of laugh-out-loud funny to did-i-really-just-make-that-noise-in-public. If the tagline of ‘lesbian necromancers in space’ appeals to you then this is the series for you. I have never been more upset about having to wait for the next book in a series.
Nils: The Silverblood Promise by James Logan
I started 2024 off with some great reads, most of which were sword and sorcery. The Dragons of Deepwood Fen by Bradley P Beaulieu featured a covert thief and a perceptive inquisitor who stumble upon a cryptic mystery. I absolutely loved how this book had a classic adventurous feel to it and was packed to the brim with dragons! I also read Sunbringer by Hannah Kaner which is the sequel to Godkiller, and I enjoyed seeing more of the gods in this instalment and watching the characters grow. However I did have issues with the pacing throughout. Then there was my reread of The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, which was a buddy read with Theo and Beth. This was such a comfort to read, Tolkien’s prose is superb, there are so many layers, so many seeds planted for LotR and there was more humour than I remembered too.
My overall favourite of the month goes to The Silverblood Promise by debut author James Logan, sheerly for being so damn entertaining and fantastically blending a high fantasy with two murder mystery plots. When Lukan discovers that his father has been murdered and has left him a cryptic message, it leads him to Saphrona, a city which holds many secrets and maybe some answers too. There he meets a street urchin called Flea and the pair make for such a bantery roguish duo. This one isn’t out until April but you can pre-order it below.
Cat: Rend Me, The Wayward Knight by Mary VanAlstine
I can’t express enough how happy I am with the sheer quality of books happening at the moment. You know those reads that physically drag you in until you eventually emerge breathless? Yep.
I loved Voyage of the Damned (reviewed for TFH) especially, but my pick for the month has got to be the one that made me actually well up multiple times: Rend Me, The Wayward Knight by Mary VanAlstine. It’s the second part of a series that reminds me of first encountering Charles de Lint – modern relationships tied to magic and faery, with very real human emotions. This one was intense but so beautiful and heartfelt, it’s an indy title that absolutely deserves all the love. Plus the art is *chef’s kiss*.
Theo: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
Although I’ve had quite a busy reading month (7 books – which is a lot for me) most of them have been historical factual books or (bizarrely) romance which means I had only one fantasy/spec-fic book to put forward as my best read. However, it is a good one.
As Nils has already mentioned, three of us did a group re-read of The Hobbit. Although written in 1937, Tolkien’s themes of greedy hoarding of wealth, the awfulness of war and the heroism of the ordinary little people have many resonances for the modern day. But particularly interesting for me was to see how Tolkein revised Chapter 5 between the original 1937 and the LotR tie-in 1951 version. The change made Gollum a far darker and more sinister character.
Jonathan: Womb City by Tlotlo Tsamaase
It’s been another strong reading month. Obviously I must give a shoutout to Aliya Whiteley’s fantastic new novel Three Eight One, which I will be thinking about for some time.
Additionally, for the PhD I’ve been rereading T.J. Bass’s Hive novels Half Past Human and The Godwhale, two old favourites of mine that are fantastically inventive even as they have dated.
But the top prize probably has to go to Tlotlo Tsamaase’s bonkers cyberpunk body horror debut novel Womb City, a powerful and disconcerting exploration of pregnancy and bodily autonomy in a dystopian near-future Botswana. Incredible stuff.
Beth: The Bitter Crown by Justin Lee Anderson
I’ve had a quieter start to my year than some of the others – seven books Theo?! I loved our re-read of The Hobbit and rediscovering it, there was so much I’d forgotten! I’ve also being reading Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell for this month’s book club – it’s tonight and I haven’t actually finished it yet, it’s rich and sumptuous so not exactly something you can rush through.
My Top Pick for the month though is definitely The Bitter Crown by Justin Lee Anderson. The sequel to his unforgettable The Lost War, I couldn’t wait to return to this world and find out what was going to happen after that epic ending in the first book. It didn’t disappoint, and Anderson leaves us on yet another cliff hanger! I’ll be on tenterhooks until The Damned King comes out!
What was your favourite read of the month? Share with us in the comments!