Luke Winch’s Top Five
Greetings readers! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all who celebrate it and I hope you have all had a restful holiday break.
2022 has been an incredible year of reading for me. I shall be writing a year review blog sometime this week for release on the 30th, but its safe to say, I have had the most rewarding year in terms of being involved in the fantasy and sci-fi community, making so many new friends with authors and bloggers and being an active reader of self-published books. I have read so many incredible fantasy and sci-fi books this year and to try and distil them all into a top five as been notoriously difficult.
Before I do my top 5 countdown I need to have some honorary mentions that pained me to leave out, but of course, there is only room for 5 books…
My first honorary mention is The Skin and The Pact by J. E. Hannaford. This is a duology that every fantasy reader should have on their TBR. Set in a distant future, when the rising sea levels have radically transformed the Earth, filled with fascinating folklore and creatures such as selkies, sirens and sprites, it is an enchanting and moving story of found family, love and adventure. Hannaford’s prose is gorgeous and I loved the way she made me feel as though I was on board the Barge experiencing the adventure alongside Selkie, Zora, Sal, Eden, Cor and Theo. The author imbues the story with a love of the ocean and companionship. I fell in love with the characters and it was bittersweet saying goodbye.
My second honorary mention is Burn Red Skies by Kerstin Espinosa Rosero. With a fascinating take on dragons, a world brimming with incredible locations and lore and a group of characters who linger in my mind, Burn Red Skies is superb. Kerstin’s prose is vibrant and fluid and her dialogue snaps write off the page. Her ability to immerse you, not only the world, but in the mind of our protagonist, Dove, is second to none. Dove is one of the most unique characters I have come across in fantasy literature and it was pure joy to get to know her.
And now, let us countdown my top 5 sci-fi and fantasy reads of 2022…
A Drowned Kingdom by P. L. Stuart
I had not read a fantasy book like this before. Stuart’s unique and poetic prose swept me away to a world now lost to the sea. Transporting us to an ancient world of legendary cities consumed by the ocean, to pagan beliefs clashing with monotheistic religion, to fallen princes leading a lost people, to a world of the displaced, the homeless and the spiritually hurt, A Drowned Kingdom is an immersive reading experience like no other.
The first person perspective and framed narrative is perfect to make you believe this is a lost history to us. Much like Tolkien did with Middle Earth, Stuart gave me that same feeling, that same immersion. It is a profoundly introspective and personal book. Character is number one and his skill at feeding the reader our narrators inner turmoil is brilliant. If you want a totally different fantasy reading experience, look no further than A Drowned Kingdom. The saga continues with The Last of the Atalanteans.
The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan
I finished this book early December after hearing so many good things about it. The Justice of Kings deserves all the praise. It is a phenomenal debut novel of murder, political intrigue, religious fanaticism and supernatural mysteries. We follow Justice Vonvalt as he investigates a murder that has serious consequences in the halls of power. Written in first person through the eyes of Vonvalt’s clerk and protégé Helena, Swan creates a vibrancy to the narrative, propelling this story at a perfect pace to it’s conclusion. I was hooked from chapter one, found it an utterly compelling read and await the sequel eagerly. I have an ARC early, so expect a review a couple of weeks before release.
Illborn by Daniel T. Jackson
Empire Of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio
The only science fiction book to make it into my top 5, but rightly so. This towered over all my sci-fi reads this year, by a good mile.
At 600 pages it had perfect pacing. Not a single glimpse of sagging and even in the quieter more introspective moments, and there are plenty, the pacing never let up. And the prose? Some of the most beautiful, poetic and philosophical prose I have read in a very long time. Ruocchio writes in first person from our main protagonist, Hadrian’s, perspective and his voice is strong throughout. From the outset we know how his story ends, and the story is about how he gets there, how he has to fight his own legend, to us, the readers, is a fascinating and immersive read. I really am excited to revisit Hadrian’s story next year.
So, my number one read of 2023 is…
The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang
No other book this year has emotionally ruined me more than this masterpiece. Yes, I said masterpiece and I am standing by it. M. L. Wang will take your heart, rip it out and stamp on it repeatedly before setting it on fire. This book made me angry, it made me happy, it made me cry and it made me sob like a baby. A really ugly baby.
Set in an alternate world, not unlike feudal Japan, The Sword Of Kaigen follows the Matsuda family, leaders of a warrior clan of the mountain village, Takayubi. The distant rumours of war invades their doorstep and what follows is a profound, deeply moving and heart rending meditation on family, war, grief and pain. Feminism, social status, propriety, love, loyalty, rage, the effects of war, age old tradition and modernity are all intricately explored in detail and expertly embedded in the narrative. By the end of the book I felt I knew these characters on such a deep level and dearly wanted to know the rest of their stories. With a brilliant scientific approach to the magic system, using Samurai culture as a base for exquisite world-building and weaving a tapestry of characters that will never leave me, Wang has created, probably, my favourite fantasy book of all time…
There you have it folks, my top 5 books of 2022. It was really, REALLY hard to leave out books that I dearly loved and, to be honest, I haven’t read any books this year that were below 4/5 stars, so its been a brilliant year. Also, my top 5 books were 60% self-published and I am over the moon about that.