After some debate, we decided that instead of doing one short (top 3 reads each which would have been downright cruelty to ourselves), or one very long (top 10 reads each, squeezed together) post on our favorite reads in 2020, we’ll do three separate ones. Mainly because we’d like to highlight as many books as we can, regardless of when they were released, if they are indie, self-published, or traditionally published. The only criteria were that we had to read it in 2020. And maybe like it too. A tiny bit. Maybe. First up is Arina’s Top 10 Reads of 2020.
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee
“Dragons. Art. Revolution.
Gyen Jebi isn’t a fighter or a subversive. They just want to paint.
One day they’re jobless and desperate; the next, Jebi finds themself recruited by the Ministry of Armor to paint the mystical sigils that animate the occupying government’s automaton soldiers.
But when Jebi discovers the depths of the Razanei government’s horrifying crimes—and the awful source of the magical pigments they use—they find they can no longer stay out of politics.
What they can do is steal Arazi, the ministry’s mighty dragon automaton, and find a way to fight…
“Artistic expression always takes center-stage, highlighting its importance in the construction of society and culture, and how it can be appropriated for either resistance to occupation or its promotion.“
Starving Ghosts in Every Thread by Eric LaRocca
Teddy has a secret.
She’s so consumed with guilt that it compels her body to literally unravel unless she feeds off the emotions of others. Teddy’s parasitic condition is usually tempered easily and is invisible to most, unless she feeds from them. However, her insatiable hunger has already begun to threaten her safety. Trapped in her tiny Connecticut hometown thanks to a careless mistake which cost her a prestigious scholarship, Teddy grieves her father’s death and cares for her neurotic mother, Mercy, who is convinced scorpion venom is the only remedy for her own peculiar skin ailment linked to her daughter’s sadness.
Once an aspiring songwriter, Teddy now merely alternates between shifts at the local market and visits to the house of her eccentric neighbor, Mr. Ridley, for fresh scorpions to bring to her mother. It’s during one of her routine visits to Mr. Ridley’s subterranean grotto of exotic animals that Teddy meets an unusual young girl named Kiiara. Immediately enamored with one another, Teddy soon discovers that Kiiara is hiding a gruesome secret, too – a secret that will threaten to undo everything Teddy has ever known and loved, and violently touch all those who cross their path with disaster.
“It has an unsettling atmosphere, Teddy’s literal and metaphorical hunger to consume emotions in order to heal her own soul is beautifully written, and the ending is a tense affair that will quite simply leave its mark on you.“
Guns of Liberty by Jamie Mauchline
““First rule of piracy: be in the wrong place at the right time”
Pirate Captain Genevieve Jones puts this rule to the test when she and her ship, the Heart of Gold, attack an airship carrying the recently betrothed Duchess of Albany, Lalita Laffel. When the final war of the Old Gods destroyed the seas, the Liberty Empire rose from the ruins and conquered the skies- but its control may be slipping as pirates roam, occultists dabble in profane magics left by dispossessed gods and disgruntled colonies ferment trouble.
Magic hunter Rachel Masters has been dispatched to Albany by Talon’s Inquisition, to recover a legendary and dangerous magical weapon left by the gods before it can be used against the Empire. When the archbishop refuses to allow Rachel access to the Sanctus Treasury, she realizes that she will need assistance from the Duchess Lalita, who unfortunately must first be rescued from the mercenary clutches of the elusive pirate Genevieve Jones.
Before turning to piracy, Genevieve served in the Liberty navy, but her experiences left her with old scars and a terrible burden to carry.
Finding a rich bounty for her renegade crew is now Genevieve’s priority- but fate has set these strong women on a collision course as they uncover ancient rivalries and treacherous magic’s that threaten not only the Empire, but the world! “
“Three unstoppable women fight for their home, their loyalties, and their beliefs as each chapter peels back another layer of this well-crafted, unpredictable world that completely stole my heart. “
Lords of Asylum by Kevin Wright
“Waylaid in the wilds, they left him for dead…
Sir Luther Slythe Krait is a bad man. He tried outrunning his past, but vengeance is swift and tireless and rides on unceasing wings.
Lord Pyotr Raachwald’s heir was murdered in a ritual rife with black witchcraft. His legacy is shattered. His purpose ruined. And with the killer at large, all he has left, revenge, lies too out of his reach.
Plunged into the civil war consuming Asylum City, Sir Luther is compelled into the service of his arch-nemesis, Lord Raachwald. Can Sir Luther play Lord Raachwald off against another power-mad lord long enough to unmask the truth behind the heir’s murder? Hunt down the killer? Bring him to justice? Or will he just die trying?
Waylaid in the wilds, they left him for dead, just not dead enough…”
“cataclysmic, nitty-gritty perfection with a good, unhealthy dose of backstabbing. I can’t wait to see where the next book will take me. “
Cradle of Sea and Soil by Bernie Anés Paz
“The Primordial Wound has festered with corruption since the birth of the world. The island tribes have warred against its spawn for just as long—and they are losing.
Burdened by the same spiritual affliction that drove the first Halfborn insane, Colibrí lives in exile with little more than her warrior oaths and her son. But when Colibrí discovers corrupted land hidden away by sorcery, those same oaths drive her to find answers in an effort to protect the very people who fear her.
Narune dreams of earning enough glory to show that he and his mother Colibrí are nothing like the Halfborn that came before them. Becoming a mystic will give him the strength he needs, but first, Narune will need to prove himself worthy in a trial of skill and honor.
Together, Colibrí and Narune must learn to become the champions their people need—and face the curse threatening to scour away their spirits with fury.”
“I loved many things about this story, but some of my favorites were the gracious introduction of LGBTQ+ elements, the wild chases across huge root-roads, the wondrous mythical influences, and the considerations of family and consent that make this story stand out in a genre that can make it difficult to do so. “
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown
“For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, as payment into the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.
But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.
When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?
The first in an fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction.“
“A kaleidoscope of myths, folktales, and legends dance through the story. It felt so alive to read them. I’m fascinated by worldbuilding that draws parallels from ancient civilizations and I don’t think I’ve seen it done quite like this.“
The Faerie Hounds of York by Arden Powell
“England, 1810. The north is governed by a single rule. Faerie will take as it pleases.
William Loxley is cursed. A pale and monstrous creature haunts his dreams, luring him from London to the desolate, grey landscape of his forgotten childhood. There, it will use him to open a door to Faerie—a fate that will trap Loxley in that glittering, heathen otherworld forever.
His only hope of escaping the creature’s grasp lies with John Thorncress, a dark and windswept stranger met on the moors. The longer Loxley stays in Thorncress’ company, the harder it becomes to fight his attraction to the man. Such attraction can only end in heartbreak—or the noose.
But Thorncress has his own bleak ties to Faerie. They come creeping in with the frost, their howls carrying on the winter wind. If Thorncress’ past catches up with him before they can break the curse, then Loxley will not only lose his soul.
He’ll lose Thorncress, too.”
“An entertaining, eldritch fairy tale with a gut-punch of a plot twist that I very much basked in reading.“
The Boy Who Walked Too Far by Dom Watson
“It’s the end of the universe, and everything has come undone. Entropy has won the war, but one last battle rages in the half-ruined city of Testament.
No one knows who created this last outpost and peopled it with billions of species. However, it is here, under a sky with no stars, that the last remnants of life in the universe live, love, and pray to their many gods. It is here where Godrich Felstrom dies.
Most residents of Testament care little for the affairs of a single, fragile human, but the event brings back bad memories for Heironymous Xindii.
It has been many years since the dreamurlurgy professor discovered his true potential and doomed four people in the process. Now, he lectures to bored students who dream of the many pleasures Testament has to offer. Xindii, on the other hand, becomes obsessed with the mysterious Godrich and his missing soul. As he and his valiant companion, the Neanderthal Solomon Doomfinger, look back at Felstrom’s last steps, they discover the shocking truth about Felstrom’s death, his destiny, and the future of Testament and all those angels, demons, liars, and dreamers who call it home.”
“The Boy Who Walked Too Far is arcane, cryptic, a touch esoteric, and brutally defies the orderly common. It’s weird, it’s really fucking weird, and it’s exactly that transcendence that sets it apart.“
The Archive by Dan Fitzgerald
“In Hollow Road (book 1), three companions discovered the monsters of legend were all too real…
Rumors among the Maer tell of an underground library called the Archive, which houses a wealth of knowledge and terrible magics that could be used to start the biggest war seen since the Great Betrayal. A mixed group of humans and Maer set off on an historic quest to find the Archive and protect it from those who would use it to destroy everything they hold dear. As the cold of winter bears down upon them, they trek through forbidding mountains beset by dangers they could have never imagined. They follow a set of ancient clues deep into the Silver Hills, forging surprising alliances and making new enemies.
The humans and Maer are linked by more than their quest to find the Archive and stop an insidious war. A mystical surrogacy may bridge the gap between two peoples, and many hearts entwine as their adventure hurtles toward its bloody conclusion.”
Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender
An ambitious young woman with the power to control minds seeks vengeance against the royals who murdered her family, in a Caribbean-inspired fantasy world embattled by colonial oppression.
Sigourney Rose is the only surviving daughter of a noble lineage on the islands of Hans Lollik. When she was a child, her family was murdered by the islands’ colonizers, who have massacred and enslaved generations of her people—and now, Sigourney is ready to exact her revenge.
When the childless king of the islands declares that he will choose his successor from amongst eligible noble families, Sigourney uses her ability to read and control minds to manipulate her way onto the royal island and into the ranks of the ruling colonizers. But when she arrives, prepared to fight for control of all the islands, Sigourney finds herself the target of a dangerous, unknown magic.
Someone is killing off the ruling families to clear a path to the throne. As the bodies pile up and all eyes regard her with suspicion, Sigourney must find allies among her prey and the murderer among her peers… lest she become the next victim.
Queen of the Conquered reckons with the many layers of power and privilege in a lush fantasy world—perfect for readers of V. E. Schwab, Kiersten White, and Marlon James.
And that concludes Arina’s part of our Top 10 Reads of 2020 series. Keep an eye out for Jen and my lists coming in the next 2 weeks!