I am really kicking off this new blog now, with a summary of my favourite books from this year. 2019 was a mixed bag for me, but through it I have rediscovered my love of reading and storytelling, both through the books I’ve read, playing Dungeons & Dragons (which also involves a lot of shouting at the dice) most Sundays and my own writing, and I wanted to reflect on some of the books that contributed to that.
- Seraphina’s Lament (The Bloodlands, #1) – Sarah Chorn (2019, Self-published)
I actually went to track down this book after listening to the ‘Ladies of Grimdark’ episode of the Grim Tidings podcast (available at Podbean), because listening to Sarah Chorn talking about it and her approach to writing had intrigued me. It turned out to be one of my best decisions this year, and ‘Seraphina’s Lament’ is firmly my favourite book of the year. I devoured it twice on the first day, and I have read it several times since.
So why this book?
Firstly, the writing. It is beautifully written – I honestly don’t have the words to describe just how much I love how language is used in this book, the imagery is visceral, and the world-building is spot on and drew me in immediately. It is dark, and perhaps not for the faint-hearted, but there is a reason behind even the darkest moments, and for someone who enjoys the darker element of fantasy, it was a tour de force.
Then there are the characters. The titular character – Seraphina – in particular grabbed me. It’s always fantastic when you feel a connection with a specific character, and sometimes it can be hard to find one that resonates with you – especially where disabled characters are involved, but the author got it spot on. That isn’t to say that I don’t love all the characters – they are a very varied cast, and they really show the gauntlet of what humanity can do, both by themselves, together and to each other – and you wind up rooting for all of them, even when they are in conflict with one another.
I have a feeling that this book will be top of my recommendations list for some time to come, and I am looking forward to her future releases.
2. Darksoul (Godblind Trilogy #2) – Anna Stephens (2019, Harper Voyager)
I actually discovered this entire trilogy this year, devouring Godblind and Darksoul barely a month before Bloodchild was released (which was read in less than a day because I honestly couldn’t put it down) and I have reread all three several times since then. I was hooked, swept away and emotionally destroyed by all three. It was incredibly hard to choose a favourite between them because they are all fantastic – but I think it was Darksoul that really shredded my emotions in the best possible way.
It is grimdark at it’s finest, dark and bloody – with fantastic fight scenes – and a world that draws you in completely, and yet there is hope. Even in the darkest moments, even when you are teetering on the edge of your seat waiting to see if your favourite characters will survive or not – there is hope.
The worldbuilding, with the different cultures and faiths, and the ties crisscrossing all of them is fantastic. As a fan of works that explore Gods and their influence on the world, this was a feast, and the best thing is that while there is a clear contradiction – a light and a dark – it’s not that simple, and I found myself just as invested the paths, beliefs and humanity of all sides of the conflict
I will, however, be avoiding the lady with a hammer…
As with the world, there was a great variety in the characters – and the changing pov meant that you got to know and care for so many of them (which could be painful in some cases) and see so much more of the story and the world.
This trilogy has also given me my absolute favourite characters of the year in Crys Tailorson and the Fox God. Which lead to me finally getting another tattoo – and my first bookish one!
3. The Sword of Kaigen – M.L. Wang (2019, Self-published)
I only finished this one last week and loved it so much I abandoned my plan to start this blog off with this post as I wrote this REVIEW. Even now, I am still hooked up on the story and the characters, and my physical copy of it arrived today, so I might spend tomorrow rereading it. Honestly, I can’t recommend it enough, especially to anyone lookng for something a little different from their fantasy.
4. The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy #2)– S.A. Chakraborty (2019, Harper Voyager)
I read both books in this series this year, and I loved them both. Again what tipped the balance I think is that by the second one the world and story is more developed, although ‘The City of Brass’ was what got me hooked on it.
What really stood out to me about this book was that it was a breakaway from the traditional European fantasy, building on a history and mythology that was virtually unknown but intriguing to me, and sweeping me away. Since reading them, I have found myself seeking out other books based on similar worlds – and it has been eyeopening in the best way.
The Kingdom of Copper was a thrilling read from start to finish, not only building up layer upon layer on the foundations set out in book one, expanding the world, the history and the characters. But also, the twists and turns – from a personal level for each individual character to a city, to the broader world. I honestly never knew where the story would go next, who to trust, and it made the storytelling all the more vivid because you were going through it with the characters.
As for the ending…
My heart was in my mouth the whole time, and I found myself rooting for so many characters – even those that were fighting against my favourites, and it left me wanting more. The ‘Empire of Gold’ is one of my most anticipated books for 2020, and I will no doubt reread both book one and two beforehand.
5. The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War Trilogy #2) – R.F.Kuang (2019, Harper Voyager)
Again, I read both book 1 and 2 this year, and it was a hard choice. I loved ‘The Poppy War’, and it completely hooked me into the world. However, it was ‘The Dragon Republic’ that I absolutely couldn’t put down, reading it the same day I read it – again the fact that it is a second book, and the world is more established may have contributed.
As with the previous book, this was a chance to lose myself in non-European fantasy, and what a way to do it! Not only was the worldbuilding – and the history and culture behind it fascinating – but although it was different from my own experience or even the majority of my reading, the way it was written – from the ground up, was thoroughly engaging and consuming.
I especially enjoyed the twists and turns around every corner, the fight scenes and the magic system – and I was caught by surprise more than once throughout the book. As the characters are forced to question things, so are you as the reader, and that is what I want from a book.
Again, I cannot wait for the third part of the trilogy ‘The Burning God’
So, there we have it my top 5 of 2019. Two other close contestants were ‘The Empire of Sand’ and the ‘Realm of Ash’ by Tasha Suri.
I am still sorting out what challenges I will be doing for this year, but as I got a lot of books for Christmas and already had a good TBR pile, I won’t lack for reading. In keeping with my hopes for this blog and the coming year, I will be kicking this year off by starting ‘The Year of Living Dangerously’ by Andy Miller.
(And finishing ‘Never Die’ by Rob. J. Hayes and ‘The Wolf’s Call’ by Anthony Ryan.