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Nathan lists his top 25 reads of 2023!

I absolutey adore year end lists. I will read every single one, I don’t care if it is for books, movies, tv shows, music, theatre…whatever. I read year end lists for things I don’t usually care about. I find them a great way to reflect on the year and think about everything that has happened over the past twelve months, as well as being a fun way to get a quick snapshot of what different niche subcultures and engaging with and enjoying.

However, as I sat down to write my own year end list, I immediately struggled. How many books do I list? Am I forgetting anything? Will I make an author feel bad that they didn’t make my list? How do I rank books and put a numerical value on an emotional and qualitiative experience like reading?

So, I decided to throw out the rules. I just started to go through my Storygraph account and list the books that I genuinely loved this year. I didn’t care about ranking them or how many books to list (it was just luck that I ended up with a nice rounded number like 25!). So, without further ado, here are my top 25 books of the year. Some of these will likely go down as literary greats in the genre. Some are a lot of fun. Some are messy with engaging characters, exciting ideas, or beautiful prose. Since I couldn’t rank all of the different experiences I had reading this year, here they are presented in alphabetical order by author’s last name.

 

Salt in the Wound + Blackcap + The Blackcap Christmas Special + Secret of the Thistle by Benjamin Aeveryn

In the Rainfallen series, Aeveryn imagines a postapocalyptic world where demons live in the rain and if you get got in a shower, you are dead. Society crumbles as human society is forced to live under protective awnings and coverings, crafting an entirely new world order. The main series (starting with Salt in the Wound) follows Galahad as he seeks a mysterious and mythic treasure of salt as he battles the rainwights for his survival. Aeveryn’s true strength is in developing fascinating character arcs; as the reader I was always unsure of how I was suppossed to feel about Galahad. He is a man broken by the world and the system, and many of his actions will deplore you as you root for him. As the series continues in Secret of the Thistle, Aeveryn dives more deeply into political class issues, emphasizing the myriad ways in which people take advantage of disaster for political gain, even if this very much leads to a “have/have not” situation. Come for the character arcs, and stay for some of the most harrowing and nail biting fantasy scenes I have read in fantasy this year.

If you are not ready to immediately jump into a new series and want to get a feel for Aeveryn as an author, start with Blackcap. While Salt in the Wound is set in a more rural area of England, Blackcap is set at the same time in New London. This gives a fascinating look of what urban society looks like (it resembles Victorian times) as we follow a detective in a fantasy noir adventure. This is followed by The Blackcap Christmas Special, a short story that is as exciting as it is cozy.

 

The Lost War + The Bitter Crown by Justin Lee Anderson

SPFBO champion The Lost War was traditionally published by Orbit Books this year and I finally got around to checking out this book everyone was talking about….and it didn’t dissapoint. Feeling both fresh and familiar, Anderson transported readers to a Scottish inspired world that is ravaged by the undead and other dark and dangerous forces…both alien and human. The Lost War is famous for its ending twist, and I can tell you that it absolutely lived up to the hype as well. The sequel, The Bitter Crown, was released earlier this month and I was excited to see what Anderson had in store for us. Fiction is full of big twists and cliffhangers, but creators mostly fall flat when trying to rebound from the twist. The twist either breaks the story, or creators try to find a way to quickly re-establish the status quo, diminishing any relevance that the twist had. I can tell you that Anderson doesn’t do this, but instead uses the big twist to deepen our understanding of the characters as they deal with the fallout from the relevation of The Lost War. This makes The Bitter Crown a bit of a quieter book, and you won’t leave it with your jaw on the floor, but it is also a more complex, deeper, thoughtful, and assured book. There are two more books coming in the Eidyn Saga, and they cannot come soon enough.

 

Hills of Heather and Bones by KE Andrews

This book should become your next cottagecore obsession. If you like cozy fantasy but wish it was just a bit more dramatic and dark (so not really cozy but more “cozy-ish”), pick up Heather and Bones immedately. On one hand this book is tense and anxiety-ridden; the main character is is being chased because of her necromancy magic. As readers we join the main characters in not knowing who to trust, and being nervous at every turn. However, on the other hand there is so much that is comforting about this novel. The core relationship is one of the most stable and mature romantic relationships in fantasy without unnecessary obstacles for the main couple. We get many scenes of gentle gardening and a cranky chicken companion. This is a book full of love and necromancy while exploring deep themes like grief, loss, and exclusion.

 

Claws and Contrivances by Stephanie Burgis

I will admit that I have always prided myself on not being into romance. What I have found out over the past two years ago is that this is an absolutely bonkers thing to be proud of! While romantic fantasy/fantasy romance are still not my preferred generes, there are so many amazing fantasy books centered on romance that I was missinsg out on! One of my favorites from this year was Claws and Contrivances, sequel to the SPFBO-finalist Scales and Sensibility. While I recommend reading this series in order, Claws took everything wonderful about Scales and made it that much better. Claws has at least twice as many dragons, a witty and delightful cast of characters that you will want to spent a Wheel of Time’s worth of pages with, a nerdy main love interest,  a fake engagement, and more. If you like the comedy of manners genre or shows like Bridgerton or Sanditon (particularly the latter), run to pick up these delightful Regency romances. Your heart will thank you.

(Oh, and don’t miss the optional epilogue that Burgis released after the book was published!).

 

The Fall is All There Is by CM Caplan

A dystopian science fantasy about a succession crisis amongst a set of quadruplets. I had an absolute BLAST with this book. The main character, Petre, is autistic and Caplan brilliantly puts us in his head. It is rare that a character’s voice is so distinctive, and that mental health/disability rep is so effortlessly and fully realized in fictional prose. Petre definitely ranks as one of my top characters of the year (and perhaps one of my favorites of all time!). This book has everything that you would want; it’s got action, politicing, romance, and themes of family. I was wowed by howeffortlessly funny and heartbreaking (all at the same time) this book was. At the end of the day this is about family, and our simultaneous pull to want it and to run from it. Plus there are cyborg zombie horses, so read it for that if nothing else!

 

The Many Shades of Midnight by CM Debell

This book was probably my biggest suprise of the year. It came out of absolutely no where (I picked it up on a whim when nothing on my TRB fit my mood) and my love for this book was a slow burn. I have been quite vocal that the first 20% or so of this book didn’t really work for me as well as it could have. It was a bit drawn out and slow moving. However, what this first chunk of the book did was lay out some of the best character arcs in fantasy – past or present, indie or traditionally published. Debell puts both her characters and readers through the wringer as we see their world collapse around them. Debell respects her characters enought to let them fail, be selfish, and be tunnel-visioned. Your heart will break in all the best ways as we learn that our best intentions don’t always mean that we will be successful. In this virus-zombie fantasy land, everything is darker, more political, and more dangerous than the characters could even realize. A famous quote goes “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy”, and no quote better encapsulates what this book felt like when reading it. It’s a standalone, so not too much of a commitment – add it to your 2024 TBR!

No Heart for a Thief + No Safe HavenDon’t Bloody The Black Flag by James Lloyd Dulin

Colonialism in fantasy is all the rage these days, but most fantasy authors use it as window dressing for a white-centered narrative. Fantasy as a genre still hasn’t tackled the ways in which it trivializes institutional and global forces, or the ways in which it continues to “Other” non-Western peoples and cultures. If you want to tackle a book about colonialism that is a searing critique of institutional and historical colonizing forces, look no further than the Malitu series (starting with No Heart for a Thief). Dulin explores the ways in which colonialism is not always about violence against individual bodies (although it often is), but is instead a more nefarious force that steals your homeland and culture out from beneath you. Dulin couples this with a gruff mentor character, a complex coming of age narrative, elemental magic, and plenty of action. The second book in the series, No Safe Haven, dials up the emotional intensity – be ready for some pretty gut-wrenching character deaths!

The most recent entry in the Malitu series is Don’t Bloody The Black Flag (coming out in January 2024), a prequel novella that explores some of the political landscape that leads into No Heart for a Thief. If you are eying this series for your 2024 TBR, it is a great place to start to dip a toe in Dulin’s world and writing, although I personally recommend reading it after No Heart for a Thief.

 

The Battle Drum by Saara El-Arifi

In this second book of the Ending Fire Trilogy, El-Arifi takes a pretty good series and makes it an absolutely great one. Fantasy readers like to talk about the dreaded “second book syndrome”, but none of that is to be found here. Rather than using this second book to simply languish around and set up the pieces for Book 3, El-Arifi masterfully expands her world while maintaining the focus on our favorite characters from The Final Strife. She packs the book full of new relevations, secrets revealed, characters betrayed, and more. If you would have told me this was the series finale while I was reading it, I would have completley believed you. It was that good and I was that blown away by it. Much of The Battle Drum benefits from leaving the more YA-“tournament” elements behind and really allowing its characters to grow and breathe. Complex characters, exciting worldbuilding, blood-based magic, and a 500+ page book that still feels too short – what more can you ask for? If you haven’t started this series yet, jump in now because the final book comes out Summer 2024.

 

Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans 

And the award for the most underrated book I read in 2024 goes to…..

In Empie of Exiles, Evans takes readers on a journey that merges and mixes genres into a fantasy whodunnit. This fictional world is ravaged by Changelings – magical creatures that can turn into and resemble anyone or thing that they choose. To protect themselves, humans have fled and congregated into a small isthmus behind a giant protective wall. However, anxiety and paranoia still reign. Could a Changeling have gotten through the wall? Is your best friend or closest loved one actually a monster? Through four POV characters, Evans explores the ramifications of diverse peoples from all over a continent being forced to live together in harmony while their homelands are being absolutely ravaged. Evans also brings pure magic into her book with a twist; there are magic users, but at times the can “Spiral”, making their magic dangerousa and destructive. This creates an additional wrinkle and complication in everything else that the characters are dealing with! As Empire of Exiles concludes, many of the direct mysteries are tied up, and I am excited to see where the series as expands as the sequel comes out in 2024!

 

Boys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi

Boys in the Valley is a horror novel that dives into the trauma of abuse and what one is capable of during release. Set in a Pennsylvania boy’s school in the early 1900s, Fracassi spends the first half of the book creating a slow burning yet chilling atmosphere. He introduces readers to a group of young boys and the religious leaders who torment them…and a demon that enters the school grounds. Then in the second half of the book Fracassi turns everything up, taking us from an atmosphering style of horror to an all out slasher. The two aspects of the book marry well together, as do the four main POV characters representing both the students and the adults. Readers get a multifaceted sense of the trauma these boys have endured, as well as the ethical quanderies of getting revenge for that trauma. Scary and thought-provoking, this was by far my top horror novel of the year.

 

A Quiet Vengeance by Tim Hardie

Set in the same world as his Brotherhood of the Eagle series (but stands alone perfectly by itself), A Quiet Vengeance may just be Hardie’s best book yet. A Quiet Vengeance tells the story of Dojan and Nimsah, former childhood friends who get embroiled in complex political maneuverings involving invading empires, powerful banks, and long lost magical cities. In a world inspired by West Asian cultures, while feeling completely original, this is a book that explores the interplay between politics and money, and their combined uncaring agenda of taking what they want. And what they want here is a long locked away magical power that can change the world.Nimsah in particular is a compelling character, and Hardie uses the dual timeline structure of the novel to both develop her while keeping her distant. The first half is a bit slow (but never plodding), and then the final act brings everything together in a jaw dropping climax. Whether you have read Hardie’s books before or not, this is a great read.

 

A Necromancer Called Gam Gam by Adam Holcombe

A young girl on the run from an unknown (to the reader) threat. A kind elderly necromancer named Gam Gam, her skeleton cat named Nugget, and their ghost companion. Intense action sequences. LOTS of yarn. A story of empathy, resilience, and the pain of letting go. In just a short little novella, this is what you should expect from A Necromancer Named Gam Gam. While Holcombe wades around in the cozy fantasy waters, he masterfully steps around many of the issues inherent to the subgenre. Too many cozy fantasies want to tackle serious issues and genuine emotions without tackling the pain and the heartache. Look at any TJ Klune novel – they are deadened by their use of serious social ills (queerness, colonialism, death) without fully engaging with those ills. Holcombe doesn’t do this. He allows Mina to grapple with the ethics and realities of her situation; she wants her father back but also understands why there are ethical and magical constraints that make that an impossibility. The sense of loss, reunification, and then loss again pervades the novella as we follow Mina through her unpacking and “repacking” her grief. A Necromancer Called Gam Gam is an exciting new entry into both the death-magic and cozy fantasy subgenres. As much about life as it is about death, in a short novella Holcombe endears us to a wide cast of characters you cannot help but love. Throw in some fun action sequences and this book is a real winner.

 

The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw

An immersive body-horror retelling of The Little Mermaid, Khaw’s novella is atmospheric, visceral, heart-warming, and tragic. A mermaid escapes her abusive husband and encounters a plague doctor who has a dark past and a foreboding future. Khaw slowly reveals the many complex layers of these two characters, and through all of the body horror, the sinister surgeons, and the violent villagers, this is a story of love between two broken people crossing a shattered landscape together. This novella is also perfect for you if you value the prose of the books that you read. Khaw’s prose is beautiful and transportive. Their prose is evocative of the old fairy tale style, but with an elevated and modern twist. Khaw took the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, and more and somehow further twisted their narratives into the gothic and horrifying. It is obvious that Khaw carefully selected each and every word to achieve just the right connotation; just the right emotional response; just the right poetic beat.

 

Thornhedge by T Kingfisher

Fairy tale retellings are all the rage these days, and no one does them better than T. Kingfisher. A retelling of Sleeping Beauty that drastically deviates from its source material, Thornhedge is a delightfully dark novella that poses the question – what is Sleeping Beauty was put to sleep for good reasons? What results is a book that has many of the features that you would expect from a Sleeping Beauty retelling – a sleeping princess locked away in a tower, a strapping young prince trying to save her, a dangerous protective wall of thorns, and a kind fairy over-looking our fairy maiden. Readers quickly figure out, however, that this is not the traditional version of the story they have seen many times over.  Simultaneously sinister and sweet, Thornhedge subverts the traditional Sleeping Beauty story without feelings its only point of existence is to subvert. Toadling is a wonderful protagonist who is thoughtful and kind while also demonstrating temerity and strength. Readers will be transported for a short afternoon of quickly turning the pages to see what happens next. Definitely a novella fairy tale fans should check out.

 

Lone Women by Victor LaValle

Stories about the American West are difficult to write well. The idea of the West has been over-romanticized to the point where it is only too easy to gloss over the horrors, violence, and struggles inherently tangled up in Westward expansion across North America. As pop culture icons like Yellowstone become the most popular symbol of the modern Western U.S., and shows like Deadwood or the popular Westerns of the middle twentieth century for the historic West, we continue to white-wash the history of the West, making it solely the domain of the White man. Luckily, this is starting to change as we have new stories about both the modern and historic West that are setting the record straight and telling the stories of history’s ignored and erased peoples. Victor Lavalle’s latest novel, Lone Women, explores the tensions of both race and gender in colonization of Montana through the lens of a Black woman, Adelaide, as she tries to keep a mysterious secret while also starting a new life for herself. What results is a powerful historical-horror-thriller that explores the challenges of attempting to escape one’s past, while also adding richness and texture to the homesteading movement in Montana in the early 1900s. If you are a fan of historical fiction with light speculative elements, you cannot hesitate to pick this book up.

 

Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee

Who knew that the author of one my favorite big, epic, multi-generational chunky fantasy series could write a stellar novella? Fonda Lee brings everything that made The Greenbone Saga great but packages it into a deft, self-contained story that is as breath-taking as it is heart-breaking. At its most basic, pared down level, Untethered Sky is a coming-of-age tale. Ester, our main protagonist from a first-person POV, narrates her journey to become a rukher – a tamer of the large and mighty roc who are tasked with protecting the kingdom from the harrowing manticore and other dangers. But it almost seems a bit understated to call this book a coming-of-age story just because Lee brings immense depth and nuance to Ester’s journey…and is able to do it all in less time than one of Robert Jordan’s prologues. A sweeping epic fantasy in a novella package, Untethered Sky will draw you in, rip your heart out, and then give you faith in humanity in its story of one young woman and her desire for more. Lee’s worldbuilding is top notch, and she brings her characters to emotionally-gripping life, including the giant rukha, Zahra. Thrilling action sequences combine with quieter character moments to build to one of my favorite stories I have read this year.

 

The Shadow Gate by LL MacRae

The Shadow Gate takes everything that was great about The Iron Crown and cranks it up to its full potential. This book will grab you and won’t let you go as it boils over with relatable characters, messy family dynamics, magical artifacts, and spirit dragons. If you were a fan of The Iron Crown, drop everything that you are doing and dive right in. Seriously. I’m not one to either (1) read a book when I first get it, nor (2) binge read my way through a book. I did both with The Shadow Gates because I absolutely couldn’t pry myself away from it. Its absorbing and propulsive, thoughtful and intriguing, magical and transportive.

Building and improving upon The Iron Crown in nearly every conceivable way, The Shadow Gate is an absorbing and addicting sequel that simultaneously explores complex themes of family, community, and belong, while still being chock full of magical items, spirit dragons, and propulsive action scenes. The plot slows a bit down in a way common of many sequels, but the amazing characters and world will keep you turning the pages until the very last one. Highly recommended, and I cannot wait until the third and final book comes out.

 

Vevin Song by Jonathan Neves Mayers

To put it quite bluntly, if you like both high fantasy and monster invasion movies, Vevin Song is the perfect marriage between those two things. Heck, even if you just like one of those things you will find a lot to love here. Mayers creates a dystopian world that scratches some of the tropey itches readers have for the genre while also making it feel fresh and new. Humans are forced to live in these underwater pods because the Lightbirds are weak against water, and much of the human society acts as any dystopian society would. An action-packed dystopian science fantasy that still wallops quite the emotional punch. Some of the deep lore is a bit overdone and confusing, but this doesn’t detract from the rest of this intense page-turning novel. Fans of action, dystopias, and invading magical creatures will find a lot to love here.

 

Sons of Darkness by Gourav Mohanty

Sons of Darkness is exactly what you are looking for if you want that Game of Thrones feeling again. Sons of Darkness absolutely crackles with kinetic energy that throws you into the personal and political games in a South Asian fantasy world, a world that enters your ears or eyes and envelopes you in a way that few other epic fantasy books are capable of. This is the closest thing that I have ever read that feels like an heir apparent to the Song of Ice and Fire throne, all while introducing a world that feels fresh and unexplored. In drawing inspiration from Martin, Mohanty is also able to sidestep several of the problems that plagued (and still plague) A Song of Ice and Fire. While still being a big, sprawling, multi-POV epic, Sons of Darkness is much more contained and directed piece of fiction. The world still feels massive and the politics of still complexly nuanced, but Mohanty ensures that his characters are both physically and mentally in each other’s orbits. If you are a fan of big, epic, political fantasies, but maybe have become a bit disillusioned by how “same-y” or underdeveloped the subgenre has become, give Sons of Darkness a glance. Not only will it draw you into its political games of power and ambition, but it will reignite a flame within you; it will remind you why you loved epic political fantasies in the first place, and it will leave you eagerly anticipating more.

 

The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older

The Mimicking of Known Successes is a delightful little science fiction mystery set in the future after humans have completely destroyed Earth and Mars, and are now settled on the further -out planets of our solar system. The book follows Pleiti, a Classics scholar whose job is to study what little humans know about the ecological functioning of Earth to hopefully rebuild Earth for human occupation, and Mossa, an Investigator looking into the mysterious disappearance of a prominent scholar. What results is an addictive and fast-paced detective story that has real Sherlock and Watson vibes….but in space! There is so much great stuff going on in this novella, but what stands out the most is the major theme of letting go of the past. The title of the novella says it all – The Mimicking of Known Successes. Older digs into that feeling of wanting to create or recreate our past, both real and imagined. Whether it is those holiday traditions that you must do every year, the appeal of the conservative slogan “Make America Great Again’, or just the melancholy of nostalgia, we all believe that the best way forward is to look backward. But this attitude can hold us back. By always looking to our pasts, by always desiring what is behind us, we lose focus on what possibilities the future holds for us. We limit ourselves by using the past as a barometer for our success; we limit ourselves by using the past as a list of choices that we can make, versus just a summary of the choices that we did make.

Pick this one up so you are ready for the sequel in early 2024!

 

Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons + Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Welsh Moors and Feral Dragons by Quenby Olson

Cozy fantasy is obviously a huge subgenre right now, and I would put money on the fact that none of them are better than the Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide series (and yes, I’ve read Legends and Lattes!). These books follow a middle-aged woman who is a bit melancholic about her life; she is single with no children. She is content with her life, but silently craves adventure. Well, she gets it when she inherits a dragon egg from her recently deceased wealthy uncle…a dragon egg that hatches! What results is a funny and cozy adventure of Miss Percy, the local vicar, and a housmaid raising (and hiding!) a baby dragon. There is definitely conflict, but it is all pretty tame and the focus is on how our lives aren’t over just because we aren’t young anymore – we can find adventure, romance, and a sense of purpose at any point in our lives. Dive into these witty and comforting books so you can be prepared when Olson releases the third and final book in Spring/Summer 2024.

 

The Surviving Sky by Kritika H Rao

The Surviving Sky is a hard book to pin down genre-wise because it isn’t concerned about fitting into some kind of genre box. It is a dystopian book, where the Earth is ravaged by natural disasters that kill everything in its wake. It is a fantasy book where magic users can literally keep cities afloat above the Earth and its terrors. It is a science fiction book, where researchers are interested in the limits of the magic, and better understanding how the magic works, what natural forces power it, and how they can better control it. It is a romance book, where the central duo is in one of the most believably toxic relationships I’ve seen in fiction. More than anything else, The Surviving Sky is a book of ideas. Rao injects her world with Hindu philosophy and worldviews that make The Surviving Sky feel unlike most anything I’ve read before. Once you get past some of the cool window dressings of the book (IT IS A FLOATING CITY), you get to dive into Rao’s examination of some really deep and meaningful topics. Rao doesn’t shy away from asking important questions in her book and pushing her characters to grapple with the consequences of the actions. This often means that Rao has to rely on info-dumping to describe her world and these ideas, but the result is well worth it, especially after you get through the first act of the book. Toss in a fascinating dynamic between the two main characters and this book is one to keep your eye on. I cannot wait to see what comes next in the trilogy.

 

Murder at Spindle Manor by Morgan Stang

I’ve never been a huge fan of “whodunnits”, whether it be a book, movie, or tv show. I guess I just never found the appeal where the importance of a the story is just the big twist at the end vs. the development of characters and real emotions. I completely understand I’m probably creating a false binary here, but the whole “try to figure out how the author is tricking you” thing never really landed for me. It then comes at a bit of a surprise for me then that I absolutely DEVOURED Murder at Spindle Manor by Morgan Stang. I have been in a four-month reading slump due to some health issues, and this book reminded me why I fell in love with reading in the first place. It’s witty, funny, propulsive, and populated with a wacky cast of characters that I wanted to spend many, many more pages with. Spindle Manor takes place in a Gaslamp fantasy world populated by dark and dangerous creatures. Our main character, Isabeau, is a monster Huntress, tasked by the magical and powerful Nobles to stamp out these monstrous threats. Isabeau arrives at Spindle Manor to hunt down a creature who murders its victims and then duplicates their bodies – matching their appearance and mannerisms. This evil creature has left many bodies in its wake, and it is approaching the heavily populated urban center of Lamplight. Isabeau knows one thing – that the creature is currently one of the residents of Spindle Manor, and it is now up to her to figure out who before the creature murders again.

 

The Tyranny of Faith by Richard Swan

This is another absolutely banging sequel that took a book that I liked (The Justice of Kings) and turned it into a series that I loved. This is an exciting and propulsive sequel full of dark, religious threats and ethical quandries. Swan takes his characters and world from The Justice of Kings and expands them without the series feeling like it is unwieldly and spinning its wheels. The Tyranny of Faith is a superb sequel that raises the stakes in every conceivable way. It ups the ante in terms of plot, character, and magic, while also further exploring themes of empire and colonialism. Swan further explores big ethical questions: What is the nature of law? What is the purpose of law and justice? Who benefits from the law? Is it better to follow the letter of the law or the spirit of the law? Who gets to be the final adjudicator? None of these thematic questions overwhelm the plot, but the characters are forced to grapple with these grey areas. As many nations in our world, especially the U.S., continue to question the theories and policies of criminal justice, The Tyranny of Faith feels particularly prescient. This is what I absolutely love about the fantasy genre. It allows authors to explore, think about, and comment upon our real world through fictional rules and circumstances. How does justice change when you can use magic to force someone to tell you the truth? When does that violate someone’s rights? And what is someone doesn’t know if they are lying? Vonvalt particularly has many tough choices in The Tyranny of Faith, and readers won’t always agree with what he ultimately decides.

I already have an ARC of the third and final book in the series (coming in February 2024), I cannot wait to dive in!

 

The Lies of the Ajungo + The Truth of the Aleki by Moses Ose Utomi

What can I say about these absolutely fantasic novellas that I haven’t written about elsewhere? Utomi is a genius when it comes to short(er) form storytelling, imbuing his books with a fable-like quality about them as he tells us stories from the Forever Desert. The Lies of the Ajungo follows the quest of a young boy to find water for his city and save his mother’s life. What he finds is a political scheme that goes much deeper than he could ever have imagined. The Truth of the Aleki (I read an ARC, it comes out in 2024) picks up 500 years later, and we readers get to see how the events of Ajungo have faded into historical myth; this is a much darker and more visceral novel that further explores the limits of political manipulation. Utomi is able to compact so many ideas, themes, and complex questions into to these two small ittle novellas I know that he has at least one more novella planned in this universe and I cannot wait to read it. In the meantime, try out these books for yourselves – I don’t want to say much more because the less you know about these books before you start them, the better the reading experience!

 

Thank you for checking out my top 25 reads of 2023! Here is to a wonderful reading year in 2024!

Nathan

Nathan is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology where he specializes in death rituals of the Ice Age in Europe and queer theory. Originally from Ohio, he currently lives in Kansas where he teaches college anthropology, watches too much TV, and attempts to make the perfect macarons in a humid climate. He is also the co-host of The Dragonfire podcast with James Lloyd Dulin. He reads widely in fantasy and sci-fi and is always looking for new favorites!

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