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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

2020 Review / 2021 Preview - Virginia McClain



The Things That Saved Me From The Worst of 2020

Look, 2020 has been the year of kicking us while we're down. It has been the year of everything burning both literally and figuratively, and it has been the year of so many of us getting punched in the jaw only to guard our heads and then get socked in the genitals. It has not, in short, been a great year.

But, if you're like me, you've probably taken solace in a lot of art these days. Be it streaming shows and movies, or listening to music, playing video games, reading books, staring at paintings and posters, or creating your own artwork, art has saved so many of us this year. My other solace has been the wilderness, what little bits of it I've been able to escape to now and again in the midst of everything else. But as many of us are unable to escape to the woods with any frequency, art really is the thing that has probably been there for most of us. 

So, if I'm going to talk about the "Best of 2020," I am definitely going to talk about art. There have been many well-known shows/movies I've watched (The Witcher, The Mandalorian, Dragon Prince, She-Ra, Sex Education, The Old Guard, etc.) but they get lots of attention on their own, and while I love shows and movies I don't spend nearly as much time watching them as I do reading, so I'm not going to talk about them too much. 

Instead, I'd like to talk about books. I'm not going to specify indie or trad. I am just going to give you my favorites fantasy reads from 2020, bullet point a few reasons to pick them up and let you sort out the rest. (After all, who doesn't love a good listicle, eh?)

In no particular order (my brain is far too chaotic a place to put books into some kind of hierarchy) I give you my favorite books of 2020 (with massive apologies to the other favorites I'm sure I'm forgetting my memory was never great and it has not been improved by the 2020 hellscape):


Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

  •  coolest world building I've read maybe ever
  • a mix of stabby and non-stabby female leads, soft bois, and just generally awesome characters
  • a sea voyage!
  • CROWS
  •  satisfying ending but holy shit I cannot wait for the next book, please buy this one so we can make sure the sequel happens


Sword of Kaigen by ML Wang

  • stabby lead female
  • gut wrenching emotional stakes 
  • Japan-inspired fantasy world 
  • elemental magic 
  • so many tissues

The Bone Ships by RJ Barker

  • THE MATRIARCHY
  • SHIPS 
  • MADE OF BONES 
  • LUCKY FREAKIN' MEAS 
  • ahem. if have always wanted a fantasy rendition Mid-Shipman Hornblower, look no further


Blood of Heirs by Alicia Wanstall-Burke 

  • stabby lead female (I may have a type, ok?) 
  • Australian inspired fantasy world! 
  • creepy AF antagonists 
  • dark fantasy/horror vibe, but still hopeful 
  • I hate horror but I still loved this book 


Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir 

  • lesbian space necromancers 
  • did you read the first point? why are you still here? 
  • you should have bought this book already 
  • there is also a murder mystery 
  • the lesbian space necromancers have swords. I rest my case. 


A Tale of Stars and Shadow by Lisa Cassidy 

  • sloooooooooooowww burn 
  • very stabby lead female
  • cast of characters that you will never want to leave 
  • emotional wreckage (both you and the characters) 
  • excellent representation of grief and healing 
  • I just want to go live with this cast (four books was not enough!) 


A Dream So Dark by L.L. McKinney 

  • a very stabby lead female (yeah, well, at least you know what to expect from me now)
  •  a freaking amazing Alice in Wonderland retelling 
  • so many bicons I can't even
  •  this is the sequel to A Blade So Black make sure you read that first 
  • again we need the third book so please make sure you buy this one, please and thank you! 


Fortune's Fool by Angela Boord 

  • stabby lead female (yes, I know, I just really like stabby women, ok?) 
  • excellent action sequences 
  • detailed and gorgeous world building 
  • love the main characters & supporting cast 
  • also SLOOOOOOOOOW burn 
  • the second book is coming in 2021 and I am struggling to wait


Thorn by Intisar Khanani 

  • this book is the opposite of grimdark 
  • there are still some dark things that happen, but the MC is definitely trying her best at all times 
  • an interesting world full of honest characters that I loved getting to know 
  • fairy tale retelling! 
  • slow burn, non-physical romance 


Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher 

  • medium stabby lead female 
  • very stabby lead/supporting males 
  • TALKING BADGER PEOPLE! 
  • interesting twists on magic and pantheons 
  • slow burn romance 
  • swift pace, humorous banter, warm fuzzies despite all the carnage


Half a Soul by Olivia Atwater 

  • regency romance WITH ELVES AND SORCERY! 
  • telling polite society to grow a pair and do something about injustice 
  • medium slow burn romance 
  • very witty banter 
  • characters I want to have tea with 

And look, I read 70 books this year, and my memory is terrible, and I loved SO MANY of the books that I read, but those are the ones that I can bring to mind right now and rave to you about, so that's what you get. Ask me tomorrow and it will probably be a different list. I hope this list helps you find some excellent reads for the new year though, and I hope that we all have a bit more time to read for enjoyment rather than survival in 2021. 

And, of course, I hope to add to the pile of things one can read for enjoyment in 2021. So, I should probably mention my March 30th, 2021 release Sairō’s Claw, which is a story about family, about love and loss, about identity and parenthood, about the lengths to which we will go to protect what we love, and also about a very stabby warrior on a quest to save the woman she loves without getting herself or her daughter killed. Oh, and there's also a very grumpy wolf spirit trapped in a katana. Best not to forget that part. 

I'm still working on revisions, so I don't have a proper blurb written up yet, but that gives you a general idea of the thing. It's set in the same world as my most popular novel, Blade's Edge, but it mostly follows a new set of characters, with a very small amount of overlap with the characters from the first two books. (Everyone will probably show up again as the series progresses, but this book is shifting the focus a fair bit.) Anyway, perhaps that tidbit is enough to pique your interest. 



Finally, just for fun, here's a bit of a cover teaser for you too.

Thank you for reading, and I hope the new year brings better things for all of us.

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