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Granted that the first five months of 2021 were mostly focused on writing my uni dissertation so most of my reading up until May was of an academic nature, I had an incredible year SFF wise, and I tried to narrow it down to 10 top reads. Let’s see me fail, shall we?

In no particular order:

The Licanius Trilogy by James Islington

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This is an epic fantasy trilogy with lots of homages to classic fantasy behemoths such as LOTR, but it stands solidly on its own two feet as one of my favorite series of all time now because of how brilliantly the plot was woven and how deeply attached I grew to its characters and all they go through. With some of my favorite tropes, such as time travel, immortality, found family, and memory loss, this series sank its hooks into me and did not let go until the very end 2,223 pages later.

What it is about?

It has been twenty years since the end of the war. The dictatorial Augurs—once thought of almost as gods—were overthrown and wiped out during the conflict, their much-feared powers mysteriously failing them. Those who had ruled under them, men and women with a lesser ability known as the Gift, avoided the Augurs’ fate only by submitting themselves to the rebellion’s Four Tenets. A representation of these laws is now written into the flesh of any who use the Gift, forcing those so marked into absolute obedience.

As a student of the Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war fought—and lost—before he was born. Despised by most beyond the school walls, he and those around him are all but prisoners as they attempt to learn control of the Gift. Worse, as Davian struggles with his lessons, he knows that there is further to fall if he cannot pass his final tests.

But when Davian discovers he has the ability to wield the forbidden power of the Augurs, he sets into motion a chain of events that will change everything. To the north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated begins to stir. And to the west, a young man whose fate is intertwined with Davian’s wakes up in the forest, covered in blood and with no memory of who he is…

Race The Sands by Sarah Beth Durst

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How would you lead your life if you knew that your soul would then reincarnate based on how good or bad you were? The worst of the worst come back as terrible monsters. It’s a fun question to ponder and one that went through my head more than once while reading this standalone led by a fantastic main lady and her fighting against the world if necessary to make sure her daughter is safe. Monster racing, a mystery that could reveal a much larger conspiracy, and an amazing amount of heart all in one neatly wrapped up novel that I could not put down

Check Out Eleni’s Review

What it is about?

In this stand-alone fantasy, Durst introduces an imaginative new world in which a pair of strong and determined women risk their lives battling injustice, corruption, and deadly enemies in their quest to become monster-racing champions.

Life, death, and rebirth – in Becar, who you are in this life will determine your next life. Yet there is hope – you can change your destiny with the choices you make. But for the darkest individuals, there is no redemption: you come back as a kehok, a monster, and are doomed to be a kehok for the rest of time.

Unless you can win the Races.

After a celebrated career as an elite kehok rider, Tamra became a professional trainer. Then a tragic accident shattered her confidence, damaged her reputation, and left her nearly broke. Now, she needs the prize money to prevent the local temple from taking her daughter away from her, and that means she must once again find a winning kehok…and a rider willing to trust her.

Raia is desperate to get away from her domineering family and cruel fiancé. As a kehok rider, she could earn enough to buy her freedom. But she needs a first-rate trainer.

Impressed by the inexperienced young woman’s determination, Tamra hires Raia and pairs her with a strange new kehok with the potential to win – if he can be tamed.

But in this sport, if you forget you’re riding on the back of a monster, you die. Tamra and Raia will work harder than they ever thought possible to win the deadly Becaran Races – and in the process, discover what makes this particular kehok so special.

Master Artificer by Justin T. Call

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A further reaching, more mysterious, bloodier, darker, and bad ass sequel to Master of Sorrows, with surprises around every corner and more worldbuilding than even your grandfather’s tall tales. Master Artificer lays more of the foundation in this long epic fantasy following the baby dark lord coming into his powers, and I keep on being extremely excited (and only mildly scared) for what is to come next. I’m often quoted as saying that returning to this series was like riding a bike on fire, down a steep hill, without gears, and if you haven’t read this yet you’ve no idea how accurate that statement probably is.

Check Out Eleni’s Review

What it is about?

The fabulous sequel to 2019’s hit debut novel: Master of Sorrows.

Annev has avoided one fate. But a darker path may still claim him . . .

After surviving the destruction of Chaenbalu, new mysteries and greater threats await Annev and his friends in the capital city of Luqura. As they navigate the city’s perilous streets, Annev searches for a way to control his nascent magic and remove the cursed artifact now fused to his body.

But what might removing it cost him?

As Annev grapples with his magic, Fyn joins forces with old enemies and new allies, waging a secret war against Luqura’s corrupt guilds in the hopes of forging his own criminal empire. Deep in the Brakewood, Myjun is learning new skills of her own as apprentice to Oyru, the shadow assassin who attacked the village of Chaenbalu – but the power of revenge comes at a daunting price. And back in Chaenbalu itself, left for dead in the Academy’s ruins, Kenton seeks salvation in the only place he can: the power hoarded in the Vault of Damnation . . .

The Eli Monpress series by Rachel Aaron

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The perfect mix of funny, sassy, and magical, with ever increasing stakes and memorable characters that endear themselves to you in ways you don’t even expect. This was the kind of feel good fantasy that is good to have once in a while as a palate cleanser, or to get you out of a reading slump, since the first two books feels more like introductory standalones and then books 3-5 turn a tad heavier and more intense but by no means less entertaining and fun.

Check Out Eleni’s Review

What it is about?

Eli Monpress is talented. He’s charming. And he’s a thief.

But not just any thief. He’s the greatest thief of the age – and he’s also a wizard. And with the help of his partners – a swordsman with the most powerful magic sword in the world but no magical ability of his own, and a demonseed who can step through shadows and punch through walls – he’s going to put his plan into effect.

The first step is to increase the size of the bounty on his head, so he’ll need to steal some big things. But he’ll start small for now. He’ll just steal something that no one will miss – at least for a while.
Like a king.

Artifact Space by Miles Cameron

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A magnificent sci-fi debut, with character work you live for and worldbuilding to match. The varied cast of characters, brought to life by immersive and witty writing, is the shining star of this book but Cameron’s evocative prose definitely made sure that even the settings felt like characters themselves as well. It was the perfect read for someone like me who’d previously avoided literary sci-fi, due to a common use of heavy science/math or sociopolitical commentary that weighs a book down for me.  This novel instead had it all, action, character work, fun, cool tech, wonder, and tension. Also swords in space.

What it is about?

Out in the darkness of space, something is targeting the Greatships.

With their vast cargo holds and a crew that could fill a city, the Greatships are the lifeblood of human-occupied space, transporting an unimaginable volume – and value – of goods from City, the greatest human orbital, all the way to Tradepoint at the other, to trade for xenoglas with an unknowable alien species.

It has always been Marca Nbaro’s dream to achieve the near-impossible: escape her upbringing and venture into space.

All it took, to make her way onto the crew of the Greatship Athens was thousands of hours in simulators, dedication, and pawning or selling every scrap of her old life in order to forge a new one. But though she’s made her way onboard with faked papers, leaving her old life – and scandals – behind isn’t so easy.

She may have just combined all the dangers of her former life, with all the perils of the new . . .

For The Wolf by Hannah Whitten

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This was an author debut which borrowed from some of my favorite fairy tales (Beauty and the Beast & Little Red Riding Hood for example) and then molded them all together to create something new, fresh, and oh so atmospheric. I loved the ongoing narrative of consent throughout the whole thing, and not just in a sexual/romantic context either. Furthermore, the trope of a sentient magic forest is one I always love to read. Tired Man TM Eamon is also very dear to my heart; he just needs rest and a drink, and I can always relate to a tired and done character ahaha.

What it is about?

The first daughter is for the Throne.
The second daughter is for the Wolf.

For fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale comes a dark fantasy novel about a young woman who must be sacrificed to the legendary Wolf of the Wood to save her kingdom. But not all legends are true, and the Wolf isn’t the only danger lurking in the Wilderwood.

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.

Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood-and her world-whole.

The Shadow Campaigns by Django Wexler

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This was a reread because I wanted to go back to one of my top five favorite series of all time. It has the right mix of a varied cast of characters, intrigue, high stakes, razor sharp humor, darkness, magic, and tension. Inspired by the Napoleonic campaigns and the French Revolution, there are also a ton of history easter eggs for the historically passionate out there.  Every book changes in tone and keeps things fresh while also seeing so much character development for the protagonists, which is always chef’s kiss. Plus the writing is optimally paced and atmospheric to fit the kind of action at any given moment.

What it is about?

Enter an epic fantasy world that echoes with the thunder of muskets and the clang of steel—but where the real battle is against a subtle and sinister magic….

Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.

To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men and lead them into battle against impossible odds.

The fates of both these soldiers and all the men they lead depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning. But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural—a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.

War for the Rose Throne books 1 & 2 by Peter McLean

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My kind of grimdark right here. I turned to the first two installments of this series when I needed a change of pace from high fantasy, and it was just what I needed to clear my head after a reading slump. The characters and all their flaws are brilliant, and the unreliable narrator is the cherry on top of a grim and unforgiving world that is also incredibly full of hope for a better future and loads of wholesome found family dynamics. There are also plenty of plot twists to keep you on the edge of your seat!

What it is about?

The war is over, and army priest Tomas Piety heads home with Sergeant Bloody Anne at his side. But things have changed while he was away: his crime empire has been stolen and the people of Ellinburg–his people–have run out of food and hope and places to hide. Tomas sets out to reclaim what was his with help from Anne, his brother, Jochan, and his new gang: the Pious Men. But when he finds himself dragged into a web of political intrigue once again, everything gets more complicated.

As the Pious Men fight shadowy foreign infiltrators in the back-street taverns, brothels, and gambling dens of Tomas’s old life, it becomes clear:
The war is only just beginning.

The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden

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There aren’t enough words for me to describe how much I loved and adored this series. Suffice it to say that I read each installment in less than a day. Arden weaves a tale of magic and change, pain and love, and old traditions being destroyed by the new in a world that is moving on, so damn beautifully and at times in such a heart rendering or warming manner. The influence of Slavic folklore and Russian mythology is mesmerizing and calling back to a culture deeply steeped in the natural movements and essences of the world. The character and power dynamics are so artfully navigated, and the prose is simply beautiful and flowing moreover.

What it is about?

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a magical debut novel from a gifted and gorgeous voice. It spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent.

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

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Another book that I finished in one day (at 3.30am in fact) because I simply could not put it down. Thanks to David S. from the FanFiAddict team who suggested it for a buddy read, I got to enjoy an absolutely hilarious novel whose essence could be described as, Doctor Who meets the characters from The Mummy (the one with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz – we respect them and them alone in this house), and with a sprinkling of the Warehouse 13 type of misadventures. And tea, industrial amounts of tea, because Britishness. I loved the prose, loved the characters, loved the found family trope, loved the fourth wall breaks, and absolutely adored the whole concept of time-travelling historians. Can’t wait to read the rest of this series, so full of heart and with an uncompromising disaster of a protagonist who is a delight to follow

What it is about?

“History is just one damned thing after another.”

Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary’s, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don’t do ‘time-travel’ – they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power – especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet.

Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document – to try and find the answers to many of History’s unanswered questions…and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And, as they soon discover – it’s not just History they’re fighting.

Follow the catastrophe curve from 11th-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake….

Honorable mentions

Masters and Mages trilogy by Miles Cameron

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Amazon

was a fantasy series inspired by the Byzantine empire which isn’t something I can say I’ve found often. It was lovely to enjoy something so culturally close to my own background while at the same time getting to enjoy a great level of character work and worldbuilding. Cameron’s work thrives on description of both setting and frank feelings and I for one enjoy that level of authenticity. I also mentioned it in my reviews for this series, but his writing and tackling of various themes was extremely elegant.

What it is about?

Aranthur is a student. He showed a little magical talent, is studying at the local academy, and is nothing particularly special. Others are smarter. Others are more talented. Others are quicker to pick up techniques. But none of them are with him when he breaks his journey home for the holidays in an inn. None of them step in to help when a young woman is thrown off a passing stage coach into the deep snow at the side of the road. And none of them are drawn into a fight to protect her.
One of the others might have realised she was manipulating him all along . . .
A powerful story about beginnings, coming of age, and the way choosing to take one step towards violence can lead to a slippery and dangerous slope, this is an accomplished fantasy series driven by strong characters and fast-paced action

The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan

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Amazon

was a reread of one of my comfort series and I will always come back to Royce and Hadrian’s misadventures and exchange of sassy quips any time I need the metaphorical hug of reassurance when real life stuff is wearing me down. It is also always great to see how one of my top favorite duos in SFF first met in this first prequel and became the powerhouse that they are!

What it is about?

TWO MEN WHO HATE EACH OTHER. ONE IMPOSSIBLE MISSION. A LEGEND IN THE MAKING.

A warrior with nothing to fight for is paired with a thieving assassin with nothing to lose. Together they must steal a treasure that no one can reach. The Crown Tower is the impregnable remains of the grandest fortress ever built and home to the realm’s most valuable possessions. But it isn’t gold or jewels the old wizard is after, and this prize can only be obtained by the combined talents of two remarkable men. Now if Arcadius can just keep Hadrian and Royce from killing each other, they just might succeed.

The Riyria Revelations and The Riyria Chronicles are two separate, but related series, and you can start reading with either Theft of Swords (publication order) or The Crown Tower (chronological order).

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