Typically, I would read about 100 – 150 books in a year…. but this year was not a year of reading for me. I’m in health care so unlike many who had too much time off work or sitting indoors… I was crushing 70 hour work weeks at times. SO, a mere 85 books were read over the course of the year, and about a third of them were not scifi/fantasy. However, I still read quite a number of memorable books that made 2020 just slightly more bearable. There should be something for everyone in the list below, there’s high fantasy, turn of the century fantasy, urban fantasy, super heroes, regency, romance, grimdark, noir, and classic epic fantasy.
These are some of my favorite books from 2020 in no particular order.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow
I picked this up when I was really in the mood for something about classic witchcraft and I got exactly what I was looking for and more. Set in America during the Suffragette movement this book perfectly captures a tone of righteous anger. There are three POVs, all of them sisters, and all of them Witches representing the Maiden, The Mother, and the Crone. I adored this book on so many levels, beautifully written and just my kind of book.
Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire
I picked this up because it was part of SPFBO and was super delighted when it made it to the finals. I am a sucker for down-on-their-luck types of characters, mages, high fantasy, and whodunnit mysteries and bonus points if the character has a likable snarkiness about them. Oh look, a book that does all of that. I loved the world building, the character’s voice, the setting – just all of it.
Half a Soul by Olivia Atwater
Color me surprised that a regency romance fairytale has made it into my top ten list. Normally none of that is my “favorite” genre, and so I was apprehensive heading into this, but I utterly adored it. It’s charming, it’s witty, it’s funny, and it’s got a lot of heart. The main character has had her soul taken and it’s left her nearly emotionless, I sometimes reference it as if the MC was a vulcan, she approaches life very differently than most people and it’s just fantastic. This is a shorter read that’s whimsical and warm.
The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso
I got this one from orbit and it was so much fun. I very much so enjoyed the magic system in this one, the main character’s magic is more of a curse than a boon, she can kill someone if she accidently touches them skin to skin. An accident happens and someone important ends up dead and Ryx has to run. I really loved her character, the world was very neat, and ancient magical artifacts are just my kinda thing.
Smoke and Stone by Michael R Fletcher
This is probably the darkest book on the list, as anyone who is familiar with this author knows, his shit gets super dark super quick. I absolutely loved the world building in this, it’s not often that a magic system and culture are so heavily influenced by drugs and hallucinogens. There are sorcerers, ancient cities, assassins, Gods, and lots of other elements that would appeal to people who like high fantasy.
The Lore of Prometheus by Graham Austin-King
This is an urban fantasy that somewhat leans into super hero powers/curses. It’s an excellently paced thriller that kept me turning pages from start to finish, I literally didn’t put it down until I finished it in one go. An ex soldier, Carver, finds himself in a totally fucked situation out in the deserts of Afghanistan. Full disclosure, the author is on my SPFBO judge team… but I read this book months before he joined the team and it’s one of my five books that scored 90+/100 for the year, so, on the list it goes.
The Bone Ships by RJ Barker
I love everything RJ Barker does, so when this came out it was immediately bought. I wasn’t disappointed, it’s otherworldly, the characters are nuanced and have so much depth. I love the prose, the culture was totally different from what I’m used to, and it has a piratey feel to it since it’s mostly set on a ship. And ya know, dragons.
The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
This is another Orbit book that I devoured in short order. The magic system in this was an instant draw for me, it’s all based on bone shards that create animal-frankenstein golem type things. They can be super simple with just a few “orders” or they can be incredibly complex works of art that can appear to have sentience and intelligence all their own. Each person in this society is required to offer up their skulls to be chisled to create these bone shard offerings to the emperor, who in turn uses them to create more golem type things. Not everyone survives this shard offering, and many children die, but it’s considered just part of your duty as a citizen of the empire. Lin is the emperor’s daughter, and she’s learning how to use this bone magic.
A Tale of Stars and Shadow by Lisa Cassidy
This is a finalist from last year’s SPFBO and I read it at the very beginning of this year, but it’s still a stand out for the year overall. I love second worlds/high fantasy and the more whimsical and unique the more I get drawn in. Naturally, a vertical city set into a cliffside populated by a winged race is going to appeal to me. I also love a strong leader who doesn’t use dominance and force to pull a group together and take charge. The main character, Talyn, is a broken person on the inside due to the death of her partner, but she’s still capable of being a competent and effective leader.
The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson
Chosen by Booknest this year for their finalist this year, I am so glad this was chosen as it’s clearly one of my favorites. This is a classic epic fantasy story that took me for quite a ride. Multi POV, an intricate and elaborate plot in a world that felt incredibly real. The magic was awesome, it was elaborate and woven into the fabric of society taking center stage. I loved the characters, there were a bunch of them and yet they all felt fully realized and different from one another. Despite it being nearly 600 pages I read through this in just a couple sittings. If I had the time I would have gotten it read in one sitting. Highly recommended for people who like high fantasy classics.