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. Last but not least it’s time for Jen’s Top 10 Reads of 2020.
You would think that having to pick ten books would have been easy this year, after all my reading was down quite a bit from last year making the pool smaller but that didn’t help me at all. I had an excellent reading year.
So, let’s talk about some of the amazing books I read in 2020! Oh, and btw, I gave up on ranking them after the first few.
A Song with Teeth by T. Frohock
The review for this may not even be out by the time this list goes up and in that case here’s a teaser. The final book in this incredible series of the war between angels and daimons wins my top spot of the year. The story which is woven into our own darker parts of world history shines with love and hope as Diago, and his family, search for the final piece of the song that will bring in a new reign of light. I don’t want to spoil the finale so let’s just say this was a satisfying conclusion that will leave your heart happy.
As the Allied forces battle to defeat the Nazis, a shadow war rages between angels and daimons fighting for the soul of humanity in this thrilling conclusion to the critically acclaimed Los Nefilim historical fantasy series.
The year is 1944, and the daimons are rising. With the Inner Guard thrown into disarray by the German blitzkrieg, the daimon-born nefilim of the Scorpion Court gather in Paris, scheming to restore their rule over the mortal realm. Working as a double-agent, Diago Alvarez infiltrates his family’s daimonic court, but soon finds himself overwhelmed by his kin’s multiple deceits.
Meanwhile, Ysabel Ramírez hunts a Psalm that will assist Operation Overlord, the Allies’ invasion of Normandy. Her objective takes her to Paris—into the heart of territories controlled by Die Nephilim and her power-hungry uncle, Jordi Abelló, who seeks the same Psalm in his quest to wrest control of Los Nefilim from her father. When their paths cross, he abducts her and leaves her to the mercy of his Nazi followers.
But Ysabel is as cunning and bold as Jordi. She knows only one of them can survive to one day rule Los Nefilim, and she’s determined to be the one to succeed her father as queen.
Trapped in her uncle’s château hidden deep within the Fontainebleau forest, Ysabel discovers the truth behind her uncle’s lust for dominance: those that wear the signet of the Thrones are not blessed . . . they are cursed. And it may take a miracle to end this war once and for all.
The Great Restoration and Shadow Debt by William Ray
A severely underrated writer in the self-pub scene William Ray’s work is some of the sharpest I have seen and gets more polished with each book. Because these are standalones you can jump into the world at any point and get something different from each book but what stays true for each, is consistently great writing.
The Wardens have returned.
Traitors to humanity, the Wardens were an ancient order of men and women seeking to once more enslave their own people to the Elves. With the rise of rifle and iron rail, Elves were finally driven from the world, but in secret enclaves, the Wardens speak of the Great Restoration, which will bring their masters back into power…
Nearly a decade after fighting the war in Gedlund, Gus Baston has found work as a private investigator in the Verin Empire’s crime-infested capitol. He makes his living at the edges of society, friend to neither police nor criminal classes, and when the Wardens suddenly emerge from obscurity to kidnap a prominent engineer, Gus must rescue him or risk being blamed for the crime himself.
But why would Elves want an engineer? And why have the Wardens suddenly shown themselves after forty years in hiding?
Drawing inspiration from Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes and our own late 19th century, The Great Restoration continues William Ray’s bold, critically acclaimed reinvention of classic fantasy in a world of memorable characters and unique perspectives.
“Usually I prefer detective stories where I don’t know who the culprit is, or the reason they did it – the fun is uncovering the clues while investigating. But, in this, we know who the kidnapper is and we even know why they were kidnapped but things aren’t adding up and those things are what keep you turning the pages to see how it all fits.”
Glynn Sorley is sheriff of Keat’s Field, a tiny settlement in an otherwise lawless frontier. With the discovery of diamonds, her town is flooded with fortune-hunters looking to strike it rich. It’s also a target for competing colonial powers, savage goblin tribes, and outlaws.
A rustler on the run from the law stumbles across his father’s mysterious legacy – a weapon of immense magical power. He uses it to ravage across the territory as the notorious outlaw Gentleman Jim.
But the weapon’s power comes at a terrible cost, and Keat’s Field may just have to pay the price…
This third Tale of the Verin Empire returns us to the world of Gedlund and The Great Restoration. It explores a frontier trapped between competing nations, where goblins reign and a lone sheriff fights to keep the peace.
Drawing inspiration from L’Amour’s Comstock Lode, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and our own late 19th century, Shadow Debt continues William Ray’s bold, critically acclaimed reinvention of classic fantasy in a world of memorable characters and unique perspectives, and features sketches from acclaimed illustrator Tom Parker.
“The Tales of the Verin Empire series have been phenomenal when it comes to bringing these characters and the world, they inhabit to life. I really loved the time period in Shadow Debt with the “boom” and the claims and unsurprisingly, I loved Elgin (Gentlemen Jim) and his gang of outlaws and how Ned’s and Elgin’s stories eventually connect in an unexpected way.“
The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin
This was the most fun I didn’t expect to have. Don’t get me wrong I expected to enjoy reading this but what I didn’t expect was the fun underdog team/character makes a good part of the story, and I am a huge sucker for those. This was all around page-turning fun with great characters, great pacing and I wanted to go straight to book two.
We fight, so the rest shall not have to.
In a world where single combat determines the fate of nations, the Grievar fight so that the rest can remain at peace.
Cego is a mysterious Grievar boy forced to fight his way out of the slave Circles into the world’s most prestigious combat school.
At the Lyceum, Cego will learn a variety of martial arts from eclectic teachers, develop deep bonds of friendship and fight against contentious rivals to climb the school’s rankings.
But, Cego will find far more than combat studies at the Lyceum. He will find the mystery of his past unraveled by forces greater than he could ever imagine.
The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson
A great story that did a lot of interesting things. The Lost War was the most fun I had this year letting my imagination run with the possibilities.
The war is over, but something is rotten in the state of Eidyn.
With a ragged peace in place, demons burn farmlands, violent Reivers roam the wilds and plague has spread beyond the Black Meadows. The country is on its knees.
In a society that fears and shuns him, Aranok is the first magically-skilled draoidh to be named King’s Envoy.
Now, charged with restoring an exiled foreign queen to her throne, he leads a group of strangers across the ravaged country. But at every step, a new mystery complicates their mission.
As bodies drop around them, new threats emerge and lies are revealed, can Aranok bring his companions together and uncover the conspiracy that threatens the kingdom?
Strap in for this twisted fantasy road trip from award-winning author Justin Lee Anderson.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Rebecca Roanhorse knows how to bring a setting to life; her world and characters practically bleed their pain and joys from the pages. I almost expected to find the Crow God’s feathers around my feet when I completed this story.
A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun
In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.
“The cultures are colourful, brought to life with touches of music, food, costumes etc. and I said it in my review of Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse has a knack for breathing life into the lore and legends in a story, and doing it in a way that makes them feel as if they may spring from the pages.“
Mage Prince by Kayleigh Nicol
A return to one of my favourite worlds, The Mage Prince, brings family, love, and an interesting world to life while tackling some of the darker issues of a society.
Following the fall of the mistress mage and the untimely death of the old king, King Vanikolanestra and Mage Prince Jereshin work tirelessly to end the slavery of the mages of Zarapheth and restore magic to the realm. Old noble families are restored, the mage guild is revived and reparations are made against the old king’s crimes. All seems peaceful as Reshi seeks to set aside his crown in favor of Niko’s child and the upcoming heir ceremony.
But as ambassadors from foreign nations flock to the capital to witness the ceremony, latent foes begin to emerge. A band of rebel mages vow to wage war unless a monarch of magical blood sits on the Zaraphethan throne. A foreign delegation from a mysterious kingdom arrive with a hidden agenda of murder and magic. And ancient beings stir beneath the very stones, gaining strength from Laurana’s final bargain. Enemies within and without seek to set Niko and Reshi against each other as the rhythm of war threatens the kingdom once more.
“Mage Prince is full of family, friends, and conversation – it’s noisy and brimming with life, letting you feel like you have a window into the world they are living in. That ‘life noise’ goes a long way in helping to temper that darker subject matter.“
A Tale of Stars and Shadow by Lisa Cassidy
This was a real page turner. This story combines that underdog team/leader trope with a good mystery and was one of my favourites from SPFBO 5.
Dumnorix princess and born warrior, Talyn Dynan was the finest fighter of her generation. With her Callanan partner at her side, she was invincible, reckless, a death-knell to their enemies. But after her partner is torn away from her, Talyn is left broken, wracked with guilt and unable to regain the confidence she once had. Could an unexpected mission to the mysterious country of Mithranar, home of the magical winged folk, be the thing that saves her? Or will the danger and secrets she finds there finally break her completely?
The Shadowhawk lives a life in the shadows. Constantly hunted for his criminal exploits, yet desperate to help the human folk of Mithranar who are oppressed by their winged folk rulers, he haunts the streets of Dock City. The arrival of a foreign warrior threatens to upset the carefully balanced life he leads, but when she begins to offer a hope for the humans he’s only ever dreamed of, can he risk trusting her?
And unbeknownst to both, a mysterious foe stalks the dark corners of Dock City. One that answers to a single purpose…
“I did admire Talyn as a character and I enjoyed the story around her, which made a huge difference while waiting for her to eventually worm her way into my heart. I didn’t even realize how much she had come to mean to me until the moment in the story when she is reflecting on how far her team has come and how proud she was of them and their accomplishments, and I felt every bit as proud of them and of her.“
Aegyir Rises by Amanda Fleet
From SPFBO 6. I had such a great experience with this book. You know an author has done something right when the character’s journey affects you emotionally enough to make you cry.
Reagan Bennett has always felt like an outsider. Left at the doors of a hospital at birth, her relationship with her adopted family hasn’t been easy. Especially when one of them almost killed her. Now he’s due to be released from prison and Reagan’s settled world is about to be turned upside-down. But not by him.
Something old—something evil—is about to be released. Something that can kill you by ripping all of your energy out. Aegyir. Who believes Reagan Bennett is an old enemy, and is out to destroy her.
All of her life, Reagan has dreamed of living in another place – The Realm. Can these dreams really be memories? If so, who is Reagan Bennett?
Reagan needs to figure out who her enemy is, before they slaughter everyone she loves. And to do that, she needs to figure out who she really is.
“Fabulous all around – editing, pacing (slow but steady build to the end), characters (I cried in this book), story (the fantasy part is a bit light but you can see it’ll be full-fledged in the next one).“
Ironshield by Edward Nile
Also from SPFBO 6. This hugely fun take on diesel mech’s in a civil war setting will have you alternating between cheering and holding your breath as the story comes to its conclusion and the Taisen assembles like a big rusty Megazord!
A pile of scrap, held together by an idea.
It’s been almost thirty years since the budding nation of Arkenia used Kaizer Warsuits, gas-powered mechanical giants, to wrestle independence from a tyrannical empire.
Now, Arkenia is pressured into disarmament by that same power, strong-armed into a deal that will strip them of the very weapons that won their sovereignty.
The Southern provinces agree to the terms.
The Northern Industrialists do not.
Led by commander James Edstein, heir to the legacy of the mighty Ironshield Warsuit, the North defies the Southern Appeasers, intent on keeping their Warsuits, and their nation’s hard-fought independence, from Imperial rule.
Senator Samuel Mutton, veteran of the Revolution and a key leader in the South, wants nothing but peace for his nation, no matter how high the cost.
As the Civil War ramps up, both men are forced to question their morals, forced to decide what matters more.
Victory, or Honor.
The first volume of an epic dieselpunk saga, IRONSHIELD is set in a world of dire stakes, conflicting ideals and, most of all, giant mechs duking it out for the freedom of a nation.
“Ironshield ended very strongly. The whole book was worth reading just to see the Taisen assembling – which kind of felt like a Power Rangers’ Megazord – it was just cool as hell. Definitely a must read!“
Kings of Ash by Richard Nell
This superb follow-up to Kings of Paradise is another one of those relatively unknown self-published gems that more people need to discover. This series also includes Ruka, a character that walks that line for me between hate and something close to love, or maybe its admiration, but whichever it is, he is one of the most interesting characters I have met in my reading history.
The much-anticipated continuation of the Ash and Sand trilogy…
Follow the long, bloody journey of Ruka, son of Beyla through the islands of Pyu and the frozen wastes of the Ascom; see the return home of Ratama Kale Alaku, the ‘Sorcerer-Prince’, and the terrifying rise of his ‘miracles’. Before the end, a shocking history will unravel, ancient connections unfold, and all will learn the cost of unleashing the Kings of Ash…
“I don’t know the answers but whatever it was, it worked for me because here I sat, engrossed and rooting for this genius serial-killer character, wanting someone to love him and fix his hurt soul, all the while wondering where the hell did my values go?“