Looking back to 2020 calling it a bad year is an understatement. For me personally, 2020 started out great with me starting a new job and a planned trip to see my boyfriend in Canada. The trip got cancelled and work became an uncertain part of my life, like everyone else, I was afraid I might lose my job. To distract me from all the bad in the world, I dived back into my comfort activity that is reading. When speaking of my past experiences with reading, in the past I’ve only read 1 to 5 books a year. Most of them are YA contemporary romance. I did not know that Good Reads exist. So, I’ll leave it to your imagination how undeveloped my reading taste are. In 2019, I discovered my love for D&D by that I mean Critical Role, a group of amazing voice actors playing Dungeons & Dragons. This helped me to reach forward and try reading a few fantasy books. Fast forward a few months since then here I am writing this post of all the best books I’ve read in 2020. (Disclaimer : almost all are fantasy.)
Before we start the list, I would like to send my love and gratitude to all the authors that wrote these stories. All of these books have saved me from falling back into a deep hole of nothingness and despair enduring each day of the treacherous year. To all the book bloggers, Good Reads reviewers, book tubers, book tweeters, and friends that recommended me the books; I would like to thank you all as well, all of you play an essential part in me finding my love of books through your thoughts and reviews.
❁ Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #1) by Tamsyn Muir
Lesbian necromancers in space. First of all, the cover looks so exquisite and beautiful. It would be better if Gideon on the cover have bigger biceps. There is no such thing as too much biceps. I’ve read many mixed reviews about this book, people either love it or hate it. For me, I loved it. The murder mystery that fueled the plot of the story is entertaining and fun, whilst maintaining a tone of urgency and increasing tension between the characters. Gideon Nav, the Ninth House cavalier, is quick witted-charming-confused lesbian with big biceps and explosive skills with the long sword that I didn’t know I needed in my life. Harrowhark, the heir of the Locked Tomb, with all her imperfections she is disarmingly vulnerable tsundere that compliments Gideon’s personality so perfectly.
Have you ever felt that obsessive urge to read a book that you just can’t get it out of your head? I felt that for this series. It is hard for me to pick just one book from the series because the quality of each book is consistently amazing. Book of the Ancestor is a coming of age story of Nona Grey, an orphaned child’s journey after being taken in by the nuns of Sweet Mercy finding her true self in a world full of evil. What I love about this book is that it is a coming of age story that has adult tones and serious themes. It is still maintains a level of pure innocence because of the main character’s age, whilst still tackling themes such as friendship in a more serious manner. Nona Grey’s growth into becoming a Sister of Sweet Mercy is remarkably heart warming, raw, and certainly emotional to witness. If you ever wonder what a story about assassin nuns with deadly skills set in a world where the moon is a mirror with intriguing politics this is the book for you.
❁ Kings of the Wyld (The Band #1) by Nicholas Eames
Clay “Slowhand” Cooper, Golden Gabe, Ganelon, Arcandius Moog, and Matrick Skulldrummer are the members of the legendary band of mercenaries in all of Grandual called Saga. They’ve slayed monsters, saved princess’, paraded their trophies from their adventures in the Heartwyld, saved multiple towns or villages, and so on. They were giants once but now they are old, fat, drunk, and a bit rusty. They are back together for one last tour into the Heartwyld to save Gabe’s daughter Rose in Castia, a city under siege against the horde led by their old foe, Lastleaf. Kings of the Wyld is a heartwarming fantasy story with themes about friendship, brotherhood, family, and the dynamics in a father-daughter relationship. This book will bring you to tears, might be from cry laughing at the utter ridiculous acts done by the band or could be from the heart touching moments. Prepare your tissues friends! Damn, Clay and Gabe will surely make you cry. The sequel, Bloody Rose, I am hoping to read this year, it follows Rose and her band of mercenaries; which I’m thoroughly excited about!
❁ Hollow Empire (Poison Wars #2) by Sam Hawke
An intoxicating sequel to end all sequels I’ve read this year; Hollow Empire is the stunning continuation to a fantastic debut City of Lies by Sam Hawke, the story raises the bar with its mystery and conspiracies that will pull you in as we follow Jovan and Kalina to save Sjona once again. I can’t describe how amazing this sequel is, it amplified all the good things I loved from the first book elevating it to a whole new level. Sam Hawke completely caught me of guard with Hollow Empire, the character development of Jovan and Kalina is emotionally heart wrenching. The representation in this book is staggering starting with the two main characters and the array of stunningly written side characters in this sequel. From start to end this book was the best slow burn that kept me on the edge of my seat shivering with anticipation. As of today there is no news if there will be a third book to the series, please show your support for Sam Hawke by purchasing the books. The continuation of this series depends on it!
❁ The Rage of Dragons (The Burning #1) by Evan Winter
The Rage of Dragons is a African-inspired epic fantasy debut by Evan Winter, and the first book to a four part series, The Burning. Tau Solarin an ordinary man of low caste hell bent on avenging his father’s unjust death by entering the military academy to exceeds the skills and strength of any noble. During his journey he discovers a way for him to achieve his goal, he trained day and night like a mad man as his rage consumes him body and soul. The Rage of Dragons certainly has it charms with explosive one on one combat sequences, multi combat or war scenes, and countless amounts of raging moments from Tau. The prologue of this book certainly sets the tone perfectly on how high the stakes are. I read this book after a month long reading break and with every chapter I was floored by how sheer raw intensity of the story. I am hoping that I could read the second installment of this book, Fires of Vengeance, this year. If you’re looking for a story that knock you off your feet with non stop battle scenes, political intrigue, dragons, and A LOT of military training; The Rage of Dragons is the perfect choice!
❁ The Final Empire (Mistborn #1) by Brandon Sanderson
The Final Empire is the first installment to a very well know trilogy, Mistborn, by the most renowned fantasy writer, Brandon Sanderson. When I started reading adult fantasy this book was on top of my TBR list, I read The Final Empire to end my 2020 and it came to be one of my best reads of the year. In this book we follow Vin, a skaa thief girl living in the slums of Luthadel capital of The Final Empire, trying to survive day by day as part of thieving group scamming nobles or government officials. One day a job went wrong as she is almost captured by the Inquisitors, deadly fighting machines in charge of policing The Final Empire. Before Vin is captured, Kelsier, a renowned thief in Luthadel, saved her and from then on her fate is entangled with Kelsier and his rag-tag group of thieves. The magic system, Allomancy, is hands down the most intricate and well thought out magic systems that exist in this genre. The found family aspect and well fleshed out main characters made the experience even more enjoyable. I can’t say anything more or it will become a full review, all I can say is pick this book up. The hype is real! You will not regret it.
❁ The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) by Rebecca F. Kuang
The Poppy War is an amazing debut novel by R. F. Kuang. I highly recommend reading this book if you’re a fan of grim dark fantasy especially if you’re looking for an Asian influenced military fantasy. The action sequences are vivid, fast-paced, and badass. Whether its hand to hand martial arts, military warfare, or military tactics, this book does it all with finesse. As an extra precaution, if you’re interested in reading this book, it contains various triggering moments (check trigger warning above). We associate coming-of-age stories with school, friends, and, of course, crushes. This book includes all of those things but is set during a war. It is a grim dark fantasy at its core and R. F. Kuang doesn’t hold back from describing the horrors of war and the tragedies that comes with it. The world the author created heavily contains both Chinese and Japanese influences. There are many more of these tid bits of real world history that you will stumble upon while you read. As someone of Asian decent, these references are an absolute treat and are sprinkled throughout the book.
❁ A Dead Djinn in Cairo & The Haunting in Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark
Two whimsical fantasy novellas by award winning writer P. Djèlí Clark, both set in a futuristic Egypt where humans, djinns, angels, and even ghost live together in one harmonious world. I discovered these two novellas in 2020 these two stood out for the clever writing and humorous dialogue. In A Dead Djinn In Cairo we follow Fatma el-Sha’arawi, special investigator with the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, as she tries to solve a peculiar case of a dead djinn. As Fatma follows all the leads to cracking the case wide open she discovers it all lead to a sinister plot. Fatma is the Ministry’s best female investigator with killer fashion sense. Another novella set in the same world is The Haunting of Tram Car 015, in this story we follow Agent Hamed Nasr and his new partner Agent Onsi Youssef, as they investigate a simple case handling a possessed tram car. Turns out this was no simple case, it is a case full of cover ups, secret societies, and bribery. Reading both novellas I fell in love with P. Djèlí Clark’s writing, every line seems so clever, witty, and smartly done. The atmospheric imagining of a modernized futuristic Egypt while also historical is charming and exquisite to read. Both books are quite short, which is pefect if you’re looking for book to read in one sitting. I listened to both on audiobooks, both narrators Suehyla El-Attar (A Dead Djinn in Cairo) & Julian Thomas (The Haunting of Tram Car 015) helped me immerse more into the story. Suehyla did a great job in voicing Fatma, that I cannot imagine anyone else voicing her. If you’re looking for a quick fantasy read that is atmospheric, charming, and witty please pick these books up! The third book, A Master of Djinn, is set to release May, 11th 2021; I’ll make sure to keep my eye on it as I can’t wait to dive back into the world.
A Dead Djinn in Cairo is available for free on Tor’s website (link).
❁ Get A Life, Chloe Brown & Take A Hint, Dani Brown (Brown Sisters) by Talia Hibbert
Now, now, I mostly read fantasy and sci fi, but I have to include the Brown Sisters series on this list. The Brown Sisters series solidified Talia Hibbert as my go-to romance writer. The stories Talia wrote in Chloe Brown and Dani Brown felt like a hug, leaving me with fuzzy feelings and happy sobbing. Both books are wholesome without being dramatic or cheesy, it is certainly near to reality and believable. The representation and themes in both books are a fine example of romance stories I crave. I’m not much of a fan of bravado and drama, I love stories like this where characters are just struggling to figure out a relationship with real life struggles sewn into the plot. The healthy way of communicating between the two main characters became a strong point in these books, even when there are moments of miscommunication, Talia Hibbert’s execution of this trope is well done.
In Get A Life, Chloe Brown there are many themes of mental health, communication, abandonment, and toxic relationships. All these quickly remind me of my own past experiences, the story is down to earth and well written. In the story we follow Chloe Brown, the eldest of the three Brown sisters, she lives like a hermit in her apartment only interacting with her family and occasionally suspecting her neighbours, especially the buildings super attendant, Red. Determined to take braver strides in her life, she made a list of things for her to get a life and soon Red became part of this plan unknowingly. During this time they discover a mutual attraction for each other bonding and supporting each others journey trying to break away from their past.
We follow the second and middle child of the Brown sisters, Dani Brown, in the second instalment similarly titled; Take A Hint, Dani Brown. Dani is a successful PhD student on her way to be an up and coming professor. Compared to Chloe, Dani is much more brave in her exploration with love and life. She is a bisexual and very attractive woman that can attract any man or woman if she wants to. Her charms did attract one certain bloke named Zafir, the building security guard where Dani works, a sensitive down to earth ex rugby star with a traumatic past. One day during a very random fire drill she is “saved” by Zafir making them an overnight internet power couple. Dani, a woman that has lived her life guarding her heart from potential hurt crumbles slowly as Zafir patiently breaks down her walls. In this sequel, Talia Hibbert discusses themes such as : masculinity, vulnerability, and the importance of patience in a relationship.
I can gush more about this series but it will be a full review if I ramble any longer. Please read this series, it’s fun and light hearted while also weaving in serious themes into the plot and story. The audiobooks are also exquisitely entertaining!