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. Next up is Timy’s Top 10 Reads of 2020.
Before I get to my list, let me bore you with some statistics. I’ve read (fully or partially) 75 books in 2020. 16 of those were a DNF. Most of those were audiobooks I just wasn’t in the mood for. Out of the 58 books I did read, 36 were traditionally published and 22 were indie or self-published. And not counting the DNFs, my average rating was 4.3. I was being nice last year. Another interesting fact (to me) is that I read almost as many audiobooks as I did ebooks (23 vs 26) rounded up with 9 physical copies. 11 out of the 58 read books were reread and I reviewed 44 of them.
But enough about the numbers, I know you are all here for the books. I’ve read many excellent books this past year, but sadly I could only feature 10, so I went for those that remained memorable to this day. My list is ordered from bottom to top, kinda.
Without further ado, here is my top 10 reads of 2020:
We Lie With Death by Devin Madson
I was lucky to read the self-published version of both We Ride the Storm and We Lie With Death and I knew with a bit more polishing they both would be excellent books. And I was not disappointed. 3 different cultures. 3 POV characters. Lots of drama, political intrigue, beheadings and some mystery. What’s not to love?
The empire has fallen and another rises in its place in the action-packed sequel to Devin Madson’s epic fantasy, We Ride the Storm.
Into Kisia’s conquered north, a Levanti empire is born.
Loyal to the new emperor, Dishiva e’Jaroven must tread the line between building a new life and clinging to the old. Only Gideon can lead them, but when he allies himself with a man returned from the dead it will challenge all she thinks she knows and everything she wants to believe.
Now empress of nothing, Miko is more determined than ever to fight for her people, yet with her hunt for allies increasingly desperate, she may learn too late that power lies not in names but in people.
Rah refused to bow to the Levanti emperor, but now abandoned by the Second Swords he must choose whether to fight for his people, or his soul. Will honor be his salvation, or lead to his destruction?
Sold to the Witchdoctor, Cassandra’s only chance of freedom is in his hands, but when her fate becomes inextricably linked to Empress Hana, her true nature could condemn them both.
There is no calm after the storm.
The Reborn EmpireWe Ride the StormWe Lie with Death
For more from Devin Madson, check out:
The Vengeance TrilogyThe Blood of WhisperersThe Gods of ViceThe Grave at Storm’s End
“If I liked We Ride the Storm, I’m sure as hell loved We Lie With Death. All the POV characters have their distinct voices and you can’t help but turn the pages in your need to learn what happens next. This is that kind of book which makes you promise yourself you’ll only read one more chapter. Let me spare you of lying to yourself: you won’t be able to stop. Every chapter ends in a mini climax urging you to read on. By the end, you won’t be able to contain your feelings and probably will curse Devin Madson by leaving you hanging, waiting for the next book like a drug addict waits for the next shot. Or Stiff, if we are talking about Cassandra.“
Faithless by Graham Austin-King
Well, Graham Austin-King made the list again! The Lore of Prometheus had been one of my favorite reads back in 2018, and while I didn’t love Faithless as much, it was still a stellar read. As you might expect from him. I like my books with a nice twist. If they are dark and have a good dose of mythology/religion, then I’m absolutely sold.
The temples of the Forgefather have fallen. The clerics and defenders that could once be found across the nine lands are no more. Priests huddle in the great temple, clinging to the echoes of their lost religion. But the Father has fallen silent. There are none who still hear his voice.
The mines of Aspiration lie far below the temple’s marble halls. Slaves toil in the blackness, striving to earn their way into the church and the light. Wynn has been sold into this fate, traded for a handful of silver. In the depths of the mines, where none dare carry flame, he must meet his tally or die. But there are things that lurk in that darkness, and still darker things within the hearts of men.
When the souls bound to the great forge are released in a failed ritual, one novice flees down into the darkness of the mines. The soulwraiths know only hunger, the risen know only hate. In the blackest depths Kharios must seek a light to combat the darkness which descends.
“Faithless has a lot to offer for those who are looking for a good grimdark fantasy where the events are confined to one or two places – though they are vast places to be fair. Austin-King really has a touch for making you uncomfortable but unable to turn away or put down the book. There is always something you don’t see coming from behind a turn.“
Tales of Ioth by D. P. Woolliscroft
I just love Woolliscroft‘s world. While we are waiting for the upcoming third book in the series, why not entertain yourself with some short stories? Also, how could I not include this book when it contains a Pyxie short story? Although I was asking for this, I’m not quite sure that’s what I was going for, lol. That piece of writing is sure remains memorable to this day.
Ioth was gone. Kingshold had fallen.
But we could not give up.
I am Mareth, once Lord Protector of Kingshold, and these are the stories of what happened after the fall, when everyone was at their lowest ebb. These are the stories of how the battle against Llewdon moved from the Jeweled Continent to Alfaria – the Wild Continent.
The next installment in the exciting Wildfire Cycle. Tales of Ioth, Book 2.5 of the Wildfire Cycle is essential reading, including a novella in five parts and four other short stories.
Dudenas (Novella) – Picking up immediately from the end of Ioth, City of Lights. The heroes of Kingshold have failed and Llewdon has seemingly won.
But Neenahwi rallies the group that is traumatized by the loss of their friends and sets a new destination for their fight back – the Wild Continent. Allied with the dwarfs and travelling by giant purple worm, they set out on a harrowing journey under the ocean and through the dark of the Dudenas to the birth place of Neenahwi and Motega.
The Beginning of Things – The Wild Continent has it’s own creation story, and it all began with a tree. This is the story of the mother-tree, the animals that sprang from her fruit, and the people they created.
Profit and Plain Sailing – Vin Kolsen has a ship, a loyal(ish) crew and success raiding Pyrfew ships off the coast of the Wild Continent. But why should that be enough when there is greater opportunity out there. If only there was a pirate king to bring together the North Sea Corsairs.
The Wanderer – What will the visitors in green and gold to Yamaagh’s clan shortly after they discover the destruction of their hated enemies, the wolfclaw, mean for his destiny of becoming the “the strongest living warrior of the tigereye”? And who is the man without a name setting traps for those who have invaded his home?
The Further Adventures of Old Man and His Pyxie – Jyuth is retired. He is done with magic and just wants to spend his remaining days indulging in those ‘hobbes’ he has been neglecting for the past few centuries. An old man just wants to have fun, but can he really walk away from everything?
“I’ve been really impressed by the quality of the content in Tales of Ioth. Don’t get me wrong, Woolliscroft presented exactly what I expected of him and then some more. These stories not only give us a better picture of the characters we already know, but also we get to know Alfaria and the Alfjarun culture a bit more. If you like the Wildfire Cycle, then you definitely shouldn’t miss Tales of Ioth and all these brilliant adventures.“
Lancelot by Giles Kristian
I sure as hell wasn’t ready for the emotional impact this book had on me – it’s not like I did not know how the story ended, FFS. I went into this book expecting an entertaining Historical Fiction novel and came away amazed by it.
The legions of Rome are a fading memory. Enemies stalk the fringes of Britain. And Uther Pendragon is dying. Into this fractured and uncertain world the boy is cast, a refugee from fire, murder and betrayal. An outsider whose only companions are a hateful hawk and memories of the lost.
Yet he is gifted, and under the watchful eyes of Merlin and the Lady Nimue he will hone his talents and begin his journey to manhood. He will meet Guinevere, a wild, proud and beautiful girl, herself outcast because of her gift. And he will be dazzled by Arthur, a warrior who carries the hopes of a people like fire in the dark. But these are times of struggle and blood, when even friendship and love seem doomed to fail.
The gods are vanishing beyond the reach of dreams. Treachery and jealousy rule men’s hearts and the fate of Britain itself rests on a sword’s edge.
But the young renegade who left his home in Benoic with just a hunting bird and dreams of revenge is now a lord of war. He is a man loved and hated, admired and feared. A man forsaken but not forgotten. He is Lancelot.
Set in a 5th century Britain besieged by invading bands of Saxons and Franks, Irish and Picts, Giles Kristian’s epic new novel tells – through the warrior’s own words – the story of Lancelot, that most celebrated of all King Arthur’s knights. It is a story ready to be re-imagined for our times.
“As others said before me, Lancelot is definitely an incredible book everyone should read. A timeless tale in a new light you won’t forget anytime soon. What would you sacrifice for love?”
A Time for Witches by Craig Schaefer
Craig Schaefer is another author who has a reserved seat at my end of the year lists. In 2020 he made it with A Time for Witches, the sequel to The Ghosts of Gotham. Urban fantasy at its finest. Mixed with a good dose of mythology. See? I told you I can be bought with that stuff.
In Ghosts of Gotham, Craig Schaefer unveiled a modern world haunted by Greek mythology and magic. That was only the beginning.
Once upon a time, Lionel Page didn’t believe in magic.
That was before his odyssey to New York City, and the quest for a lost manuscript that ended in mysteries, murder, and the buried secrets of his own past. He used to be a professional skeptic. Now he’s a witch in the service of Hekate, chasing myths across the heartland of a haunted America.
The reappearance of a hero from Greek legend is just one sign of the coming storm. There are Amazons on the highway, and death-spirits lurking in cheap roadside motels. And Madison, Lionel’s lover, is on a mission of her own. A mission, fueled by vengeance, to slay a man who can’t be killed: her ex-husband. If Lionel doesn’t catch up with her in time, neither of them will survive.
In Ghosts of Gotham, Lionel Page opened his eyes to the real world. Now he has to fight to protect it.
“A Time for Witches is a most excellent follow up to Ghosts of Gotham. If Urban Fantasy and Greek mythology ever had a love child it probably would be this series. Schafer takes the reader on a thrilling ride along with characters you can root for all the way to whatever end. Buckle up people, because this will be a bumpy road. But so. Damn. Good.“
Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher
I couldn’t possibly put together my top 10 without at least one Michael R. Fletcher book. I think my “What the Fuck I Was Waiting For” award will go to him this year as I’ve been putting off reading his books for far too long. Between Black Stone Heart and Smoke and Stone, my pick fell on the former, even though I rated it lower. While I loved both, Black Stone Heart left a bigger impact on me. I read it twice within, like, 2-3 months, because I HAD TO. It was my SPFBO semi-finalist and eventually it advanced to be a Finalist. This is one mindfuck of a book and I can’t wait for its sequel.
A broken man, Khraen awakens alone and lost. His stone heart has been shattered, littered across the world. With each piece, he regains some small shard of the man he once was.
He follows the trail, fragment by fragment, remembering his terrible past.
There was a woman.
There was a sword.
There was an end to sorrow.
Khraen walks the obsidian path.
“Black Stone Heart will make you uncomfortable, will make you question the actions of the characters but will never let you go. Do a favor to yourself and listen to the audiobook narrated by Fletcher himself. If you won’t fall in love with his voice and wish he was reading everything to you from now on, then there is something wrong with you.“
A Fool’s Hope
Mike Shackle gave a nice frame to my reading year. I’ve read We Are the Dead early in 2020 and continued with its sequel, A Fool’s Hope in October. The interesting thing about these books is that I don’t even realised when they got under my skin. Also, Shackle got on my shit list, because, well, he knows what he did.
War takes everything.
From Tinnstra, it took her family and thrust her into a conflict she wanted only to avoid. Now her queen’s sole protector, she must give everything she has left to keep Zorique safe.
It has taken just as much from Jia’s revolutionaries. Dren and Jax – battered, tortured, once enemies themselves – now must hold strong against their bruised invaders, the Egril.
For the enemy intends to wipe Jia from the map. They may have lost a battle, but they are coming back. And if Tinnstra and her allies hope to survive, Jia’s heroes will need to be ready when they do.
The sequel to the darkly fantastic WE ARE THE DEAD: with more unflinching action, A FOOL’S HOPE sees Jia’s revolutionaries dig in their heels as they learn that wars aren’t won in a day.
“A Fool’s Hope is a most excellent follow up to We Are the Dead, and one of the best books I’ve read this year. Sekanowari is here and gods help anyone who gets caught up in the chaos and mayhem that follows in its wake. If these books were any indication, the coming events won’t be any less brutal, bloody and utterly heart-wrenching with nothing to guide us but a fool’s hope.
Right, where did I left my emotional support panda, again?”
Storytellers by Bjørn Larssen
I’ve read this one back in February (the only one on this least I’ve read earlier is Faithless), because it wanted me to read it. I kinda knew what I was getting into as I beta read Larssen’s second book, Children (which you totally should read, btw). But what I did not know was that I would still be thinking about it almost a year later. Storytellers was a pretty easy pick for my list. And did I mention yet that it kinda inspired the name choice for Storytellers On Tour?
Would you murder your brothers to keep them from telling the truth about themselves?
On a long, cold Icelandic night in March 1920, Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith, finds himself with an unwanted lodger – Sigurd, an injured stranger who offers a story from the past. But some stories, even those of an old man who can barely walk, are too dangerous to hear. They alter the listeners’ lives forever… by ending them.
Others are keen on changing Gunnar’s life as well. Depending on who gets to tell his story, it might lead towards an unwanted marriage, an intervention, rejoining the Church, letting the elf drive him insane, or succumbing to the demons in his mind. Will he manage to write his own last chapter?
Bjørn Larssen’s award-winning, Amazon #1 best selling novel is an otherworldly, emotive Icelandic saga – a story of love and loneliness, relief and suffering, hatred… and hope.
“Storytellers is about personal demons, about the rougher side of life which isn’t improved by the Icelandic weather. It’s about people, about choices and the lies (stories) we tell ourselves. It’s about a lot of things, really, and the more time you spend in Larssen‘s world the more it makes you think. I love when a book does that to you. When you can’t quite let it go and try to puzzle out the things that are left unsaid. If you are looking for a book with a happy ending or one that is going to tell you that life is full of glitters and rainbow, then Storytellers is not for you. And you are going to be poorer for it.“
Los Nefilim by T. Frohock
I’ve read Where Oblivion Lives back in 2019, but I wanted to go back and read the novella collection too. Then I ended up rereading Where Oblivion Lives and then later on I proceeded to Carved from Stone and Dream and as 2021 kicked off, I’m already on A Song With Teeth. Angels, demons, history, fantasy, music, LGBTQ rep, and absolutely loveable characters. What else do you want? Seriously. I picked Los Nefilim, because it just pushed ALL of my right buttons.
Three brilliant novellas. One fantastic story.
Collected together for the first time, T. Frohock’s three novellas—In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light or Guide, and The Second Death—brings to life the world of Los Nefilim, Spanish Nephilim that possess the power to harness music and light in the supernatural war between the angels and daimons. In 1931, Los Nefilim’s existence is shaken by the preternatural forces commanding them … and a half-breed caught in-between.
Diago Alvarez, a singular being of daimonic and angelic descent, is pulled into the ranks of Los Nefilim in order to protect his newly-found son. As an angelic war brews in the numinous realms, and Spain marches closer to civil war, the destiny of two worlds hangs on Diago’s actions. Yet it is the combined fates of his lover, Miquel, and his young son, Rafael, that weighs most heavily on his soul.
Lyrical and magical, Los Nefilim explores whether moving towards the light is necessarily the right move, and what it means to live amongst the shadows.
“That being said, I loved the setting, the writing, the world-building, the awesome music-based magic (!), the twists, that even angels can’t be labeled as only good, and Diago’s character arc. But what I loved the most was the relationship between characters. The way they interacted. The banters with Guillermo from Miquel and Diago, the caring love between Miquel and Diago. I honestly found myself smiling like an idiot whenever they interacted with each other or with Rafael. Like, damn, it’s so nice to read about non-toxic relationships which are just a warming light in an otherwise dark-toned book.”
Call of the Bone Ships by RJ Barker
Call of the Bone Ships deserves its top place on this list, because…it just broke me. I really enjoyed The Bone Ships in 2019 and its sequel was one of my most anticipated reads, but I absolutely was not prepared for it. It just blew my mind and ripped my heart out. It does not happen too often that a book impacts me that much, though I think 2020 proved that there are some awesome books out there.
A brilliantly imagined saga of honour, glory and warfare, Call of the Bone Ships is the captivating epic fantasy sequel to RJ Barker’s The Bone Ships.
Dragons have returned to the Hundred Isles. But their return heralds only war and destruction. When a horde of dying slaves are discovered in the bowels of a ship, Shipwife Meas and the crew of the Tide Child find themselves drawn into a vicious plot that will leave them questioning their loyalties and fighting for their lives.
“Call of the Bone Ships raises the stakes even higher, new bonds are formed, and you better keep your eyes peeled because you can just never know when something unexpected will happen. And if you are like me, you’ll be cursing Barker along the way whether because he ends a chapter in a way that you can’t help but read on, or because of all of the emotions he’ll put you and his characters through. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
And that concludes Timy’s part of our Top 10 Reads of 2020 series. If you missed it, check out Arina’s list and keep an eye out for Jen’s coming in the next week!