I wrote a list many years ago about my favorite self pubbed books…. well that list is now wildly out of date as I’ve read many hundreds of self pubbed books since. Narrowing this list down is going to be utterly insane…. and I’m going to add five honorable mentions as I imagine there are going to be ties. I’m going by my ratings through the years. I suspect this list will only have room for those who scored 90 or higher. There will be a theme to this list, and that’s humor. There are a couple on this list that will buck that trend, but almost all of these are books that made me laugh from time to time and/or have an overall cheerful/sarcastic/witty tone. These are also all series that I have completed. I almost never, ever do that. I will sometimes continue on to book two, but by book 3 I almost always drop out. Here are my exceptions (the titles link to Goodreads):
The Top 10
Arcane Ascension Series by Andrew Rowe
This was an SPFBO Finalist in 2017, and it came in second place for its year. Mark Lawrence’s Blog will provide you with 10 more blog opinions on the book if you want to click through the table in that link.
I’ve listened to this book over and over as kind of a comfort book to help me with anxiety, it’s become that much of a favorite. The main character is just such a good person and so easy to root for. His friends are also easy to relate to which compelled me to invest in their stories just as much as Corin’s story.
On top of that, this just as has so much neat magic in it. If you want a ton of wildly different classes of magic that adhere to rules and work sort of video game based, this would be for you. If that doesn’t sound good — hear me out, it doesn’t read like a video game. This is not LitRPG, it’s more like progression fantasy. There aren’t giant walls of stats that make you drool and zone out as you read through them and then forget them as soon as you move on (if you’re not into those sorts of stats, which many aren’t).
It’s based around magic academy geared at older teens who are ready to start their adulthood/professions, so it read more like a college atmosphere than a high school. Corin is kind of an unusual character in that his “quirky”, especially about being touched, he really does not like it. There’s a mix of abuse and potentially a character type that’s on the ASD spectrum? I don’t want to guess too much about the latter. The author himself actually addressed this very issue on reddit when it was posed. Like a typical young adult he’s still prone to impulsive behavior, but unlike most characters that fall under that umbrella, he amused me rather than annoyed me. I think this is because he takes his chastising genuinely most of the time. He wasn’t arrogant about most of his mistakes, he understood when others pointed out his recklessness that he should indeed strive to do better, and that makes a big difference for me.
The world building is extensive, there’s lots of talk about other lands and potentially going to war. There are various gods, deities, monsters, magic types. I mean there’s just so much going on and so much of it is thought out. There’s also tie-ins to other series this author has written which just takes the world and explodes it outward.
This is an excellent series and the audiobook narrator is Nick Podehl. I’m making myself want to re-read this even though re-reading is the last thing I should be doing with a TBR as massive as the one I have now.
Heartstriker Series by Rachel Aaron
This is a story about a dragon who sucks at being a dragon. He’s far too nice, he’s much too much of a pushover, and his mother has had it with him. She’s given him an ultimatum after kicking him out of the lair — prove to me you can be a proper dragon, or die. She’s been known to eat her kids so this is no small threat. This is actually a borderline comedy, lol. Julius is the smallest dragon in the youngest clutch from Bethesda Heartstriker, the dragon that rules the southwestern region of America. This is actually kind of a mix of sci fi and fantasy since this is set in America in the future, there’s lots of future tech and the world gets much more built up, it’s super neat.
So, he runs into and starts working with a mage name Marci who is just delightful and weird. She’s a great foil to Julius since she has more of a backbone. She’s been fending for herself for a while now after her father’s death and so she’s got more grit than he does. She also spawns a talking ghost cat who becomes a bigger and bigger part of the story as the series goes on.
I think my favorite character in the whole series are actually side characters, Amelia and Bob, who are both Julius’s siblings. They are just so amazingly weird and mysterious and fantastic. As I am sitting here typing out all the reasons I adore these books I’m making myself want to do a read fest of all my favorites but this is such a terrible idea. This post was a terrible idea, lol.
World of the White Rat/Saint of Steel series by T. Kingfisher
From her own Goodreads bio, “T. Kingfisher is the vaguely absurd pen-name of Ursula Vernon. In another life, she writes children’s books and weird comics, and has won the Hugo, Sequoyah, and Ursa Major awards, as well as a half-dozen Junior Library Guild selections.” I was introduced to this by my friend/SPFBO ride or die buddy, Kristen. She’s very much into romance and by a general rule I’m not. Except when I am.
This author definitely as a “type” of story she tells, many of them follow the same themes and character types which for me is fine since sometimes when I finish a book I’m like, I NEED MORE OF THAT IN MY LIFE. Each time I finish one of these books that’s my thought, and so I’m always excited to start another. These are older female characters, usually in their 30’s or 40’s. They don’t tend to follow typical character types, they can be perfume makers, or female warriors, or widows, but they all eventually learn to love themselves and someone else. They’re all romance stories, but the world it’s set in just draws me in each time. And honestly, so do the romances most of the time. The characters are usually witty, there’s banter that’s always bringing a smile to my face, etc. This definitely falls in line with the witty/funny tone that most on this list have in common. It’s one of my favorite things is that I laugh from time to time with all of her books, again, not really a straight comedy, but has a lot of humor infused in it.
The world building is expansive. There are many series set within the World of the White Rat. The Order of the White Rat is a group of priests who’s whole purpose is to solve problems. Oh my fucking god do I wish these people existed in our world, we need them so badly. They are like Vulcans almost, but with emotions, just very scientifically driven and not so politically motivated. They do what makes the most sense when a problem arises, not what might benefit them the most, per se.
Anyway, most of the books in this series are stand alones, like in the Saint of Steel series each book is set around the same characters very loosely, but each book focuses on a different member of the Saints of Steel. So, there’s overlap and references between the books in the series, but they each read by themselves as a complete story. You could start with any of them.
The Iconoclast series by Mike Shel
This is not a fucking comedy. You wanna be depressed but also enraptured? This is your series. This was also an SPFBO finalist from 2018. This is going to be for people who like dungeon crawl type books. This story follows a more classic fantasy book style in a medieval world with mysterious magic and monsters. The MC is broken, and that’s what I love about his story arc, he’s just so well written and believable. I don’t doubt that part of the reason for the accurate portrayal of PTSD is because the author himself is in the mental health field for his occupation. It brought about an intense realness to his characters and their problems. He’s just lived through too much, he’s seen too many people die. His own son died on a quest similar to what he does for a living, or used to do, and his wife blamed him. She killed herself. He lives with all of that daily and doesn’t even escape it in his dreams.
This is also a series that gets even better as it goes along. I had mild issues with the pacing in the first, but not with the second two. There are emotional punches that still hurt from later on in the series, and characters I won’t forget. I also think that it’s the main character that kept this series from being too dark for me. A dark person in a dark world and I would have set it down. But someone who’s trying his best to do the right thing, you just want to keep reading to see if he can succeed.
This is also available on audiobook and it’s narrated by Simon Vance — a big name, award winning narrator, so if that’s your thing I’d give it a shot.
Ethereal Earth series by Josh Erikson
Okay back to comedy. This is straight up an urban comedy and it works so well for me. This is a story about a modern day swindler who got swindled himself. He was lured into a trap by some demons and ended up with one stuck in his head, and one bound to his person. The one stuck in his head could kill him if he doesn’t get it out, and the one bound to him happens to be a succubus. She’s not evil, though, and I think that’s one of the first if not only times I’ve ever seen a succubus portrayed as a ‘person’.
He’s got not a lot of time to figure out how to dislodge this demon king from his brain or risk losing his sanity or his life. It’s a fast paced action packed adventure full of snark. It’s written as if the main character was speaking to you directly at points, because it’s framed as an autobiography, a book he calls “Con-science” lol… get it… because he’s a con man who’s not all bad?
This was an SPFBO semifinalist but unfortunately, like so many good books, it didn’t get the tap to move forward. This also has a fantastic audiobook that I can’t recommend enough!
Yarnsworld Series by Benedict Patrick
This series is just so wonderfully, refreshingly, amazingly different from any other series I’ve ever read. It’s very heavily influenced by folk tales and it takes on this other worldly tone, which I know is probably a common descriptor for fantasy books, but this is well and truly different.
It’s a series of stand alones set within the same world, and they all follow vastly different characters. They all have these interlude chapters that are stories within a story which help fuel this feeling of an ancient world with an ancient lore. Each book has sort of a different tone to it, I really don’t know which one is my favorite. Perhaps it’s Where the Waters Turn Black because the setting was just so wonderful. It’s based on an atoll, a group of islands not too far spaced out so that people canoe from one place to the next. It’s just such a gorgeous lush setting, and there’s a god of sweet potatoes, so, ya know.
Something that ties all the books together is the capacity for Knacks, which are enhanced abilities. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say like, super advanced, but if you have a fishing Knack you’re more likely to catch a fish than the next person over in the same boat. If you’ve got a cooking Knack your food will taste just a little bit better than your neighbor’s, things like that.
The Wildfire Cycle by DP Woolliscroft
This is a series revolving around this world’s first democratic election. The king and queen have died, they were murdered because they were fucking terrible. There’s been a wizard that’s lived for thousands of years that’s tried to “tend” to this country by picking the kings and queens and when they get too horrible he offs them and tries again. Well, he’s sick of doing that. So, why not let the people chose their leaders?
This is just a really neat concept I haven’t seen attached from this angle before or since. This isn’t a genuinely fair election, you have to be able to buy your vote so it does favor the wealthy — but that honestly just sounds very realistic, however depressing. The poor do have the choice of banding together and pooling everyone’s money to buy a vote, though, much to the noble’s distress.
Not a ton of people here have magic, it’s acknowledged that the wizard does, but this isn’t a world like Sufficiently Advanced Magic where almost everyone in the story has magical abilities, it’s there, but it’s in the background.
I think my favorite part about this is the consistent witty tone that shied away from being an outright comedy. I don’t think a lot of one liners or jokes would have worked for a book like this, but there is so much sass from some of the characters that it’s just so endearing. There are a lot of characters, a lot of moving parts, so for a debut this absolutely blew me away. This is another example where the story just gets better with each book and I did complete the series 😀
Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide Quenby Olson
Alrighty, so this is a regency fantasy based around an older character who’s basically sick to death of her life. She’s been watching her sisters kids all their lives working as a free governess for reasons she doesn’t even really know. Where else would she go? She’s unmarried and at this point in time that’s pretty detrimental. She dreamed of adventure, but got stuck caring for their dying father while her sister got married and had kids.
Her sister is terrible, just terrible. 18th century Karen, everything is about her. Her daughter is no different and I wanted to smack the shit out of her the whole book. The dragons though, that was super fucking cool. So her uncle kicks it, and leaves her a trunk full of stuff, which includes a dragon egg.
This is a very small, intimate, character based story that also has dragons. If you’re looking for tons of magic, battles, high stakes etc., this is not that. If you like Becky Chambers, warm cozy stories, characters that are easy to root for, this is for you. It also is no without it’s humor, although it’s a bit more subtle than bold.
The writing style is the absolute highlight here. It’s some of the most polished and fluid prose that capture an atmosphere and tone so easily and consistently. The dialogue was great, everything was just great.
The Cruel Gods by Trudie Skies
I ‘read’ this via audio, and oh my, what a great performer. RJ Bayley kicked this up a notch giving a lot of life to the characters right from the start. I was hooked within the first few paragraphs. This a world where the gods are real. Praying to them is like calling them on the phone, it creates a direct line of communication to the gods and boy is that a dangerous move. The gods all have their own distinct personalities and what they consider to be blasphemous. If you pray to a god in the middle of a sin you’re likely to be punished, tortured, or executed depending on the offense. I love when fantasy elements play a pivotal role in society. It forces a domino like effect in the world building, and when it’s well done, the effects of magic and gods should ripple down on every level of every day life, which it does here, creating a vibrant breathing world. Shit like this is kind of reason I started to read fantasy in the first place.
There are 12 gods, each creating their own mortals in their own image, leading to 12 very distinct species of humanoids. There are lion people, fish people, bird people, and various less altered humanoids with varying shades of skin tone and hair color etc. Not only do each of the 12 classifications of humanoids look different, they all have unique abilities that are inherent to their domain. The Vespa can hide in shadows, the mesmer can read thoughts, the necro can do weird shit to flesh etc. All of the 12 dominions are supposed to be equals, but lol, they aren’t. There are many domains that are treated as second class citizens, (which include the Vespa), many of them living just above what would be considered slaves. Meanwhile, the Glimmers and the Diviners are more or less running the city of Chime. Glimmers are the wealthiest and also kind of prude, think super Puritan British. While the Diviners control time itself. They are fastidious and organized, and can read into the past and present of any person via touch.
One of the main POVs, Kayl, is from one of those lesser subgroups of people called the Vespa, and she’s a member of the Godless, a rebellion group. They are mostly non-violent and call for an end of suffering from the Gods. The Vespa god in particular is cruel, and disposes of her own citizens for gold, and it’s not uncommon for her to torture her own people if she considers them blasphemous. Kayl and her partner Malc are trying to form a resistance, but they being watched and trying to evade the wardens. The wardens are supposed to be a representation of police in a way, all 12 dominions are supposed to be represented in this task force that keeps the peace and the law in Chime.
The other POV is from Quentin, a warden. Not just any warden, but a very powerful Diviner warden who’s got a really bad reputation. The reputation is unwarranted, though. Both of these characters are written in a sympathetic and relatable way, which immediately creates a good amount of tension in the story, since they are on ‘opposing sides’ and the reader is intended to root for both of the POVs.
As far as the writing there is a definite style and flare to this writing that marks the author, I believe I’d recognize it again if I saw an excerpt from another book. It’s kind of hard to describe, but it’s definitely there and I personally enjoyed it. The city of Chime is run on steam, it’s a wild fantastical place and what’s great is I could see it all. I struggle with visualization so it’s always a find for me when an author can write in a way where I can see the world and people.
The Dark Profit Saga By Zachary J. Pike
This won SPFBO 2018 , I’ve linked back to the table again if you want to read the other Judge’s reviews for it.
This is going to be for people who love dungeon crawl games, but wondered what it would be like to live in a world like that for real. It falls short of LitRPG, at least to me, because there are no stats or anything like that, this is not actually a video game, but what if WoW were real kind of thing.
I always enjoy seeing common day issues we deal with in real life being brought into fantasy, so the addiction themes with one of the characters went over well with me. I liked Gorm from the start, and I became more and more attached to both him and Gleebek (an adorable goblin) as the story went on. By the end of the book, there were several moments that kicked me right in the feels. Emotional moments that go beyond humor are so important for me when reading comedy – it’s easier to laugh along with the characters if I care about them.