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Saturday, January 9, 2021

Mihir's Top Reads of 2020 (by Mihir Wanchoo)

2020 was a year that almost all of us would like to put behind us for good. A global pandemic and working from home while trying to manage young-uns, made more me than a tad morose. I only managed to read to about 60-odd books (still need to update my GR account about many of them). This isn’t counting the re-reads as I found myself jumping back a lot to my comfort reads when certain events occurred. Overall I wasn’t able to read as many debuts as I have done in the past years. Hence I’m listing only the top 5 this year. So here we go:

1) Kings Of Heaven by Richard Nell – Richard Nell has rapidly made strides with each book of his debut trilogy and with this trilogy, he did something spectacular. He wrote a book that’s smaller than its predecessors in word count but easily had more epic story and magic. It was an ending that David Gemmell would be proud of. This easily made it the best book I’ve read in the entire year.

2) Black Tie Required by Craig Schaefer – Craig Schaefer’s reinvention of his spinoff series has been nothing short of incredible. When the books were being published by 47North, they were dark & thrilling but after Craig got the rights back. The series has become a marvelous amalgamation of thriller, fantasy & spycraft. Black Tie Required is also one of the best thriller stories that I’ve read in my life and easily takes the silver medal.

3) Paternus: War Of Gods by Dyrk Ashton – This last year was one for some great indie trilogies. We got to see what Dyrk Ashton had planned for his immortals and man what a climax it was. Stupendous in a single world, War Of Gods does have it all epic magical battles, one of one fights between immortals and an ending that outdoes everything that has come before. Dyrk Ashton proves himself to be the Tolkien for the 21st century with his debut trilogy.

4) The Shadow Saint by Gareth Hanrahan – The Shadow Saint takes all the amazing magical stuff introduced in The Gutter Prayer and takes it to another level altogether. I loved Gareth’s imagination in his debut and this book further solidifies his reputation as an imaginative storyteller. I can’t wait to read the future entries of the Black Iron Legacy which will be must reads whenever they release.

5) The Fires Of Vengeance by Evan Winter – This was another sequel that really really expanded on the world and characters while never comprising on the prose and action sequences. Evan Winter’s epic fantasy series gives us a taste of tropes which we have loved but packaged in a new non-European world and with Dragons because you know fantasy is always that much more exciting with dragons.  Evan Winter’s the Burning Quartet promises to be a future epic fantasy classic.

6) The Stone Knife by Anna Stephens – The Stone Knife is the start of a new epic fantasy saga that is styled on a world that’s drawn from Mesoamerican culture and topography. Combined with Anna Stephens’ vivid characterization, this dark fantasy epic was one hell of a read and promised a saga that I can’t wait to read more about.

7) We Ride The Storm by Devin Madson – Devin Madson’s traditional publishing debut was first self-published and we at FBC count ourselves lucky that we were able to recognize its magnificence early on in SPFBO. Combining a Spartan approach in prose and a quick-paced plot, We Ride The Storm is one hell of a ride and should be on everybody’s radar (if it isn't already).

8) Race The Sands by Sarah Beth Durst – I must confess this book originally wasn’t on my radar but thanks to my blogmate Caitlin & her effusive praise, I was drawn in. Telling a standalone story is something of a novelty in the epic fantasy and Sarah Beth Durst does it with aplomb. Writing a story about bonds between a mother & her daughter, a master & an apprentice, a racer & her beast, she manages to combine all these old tropes in a fresh way that made me love this story a lot.

9) From Cold Ashes Risen by Rob J. Hayes – From Cold Ashes Risen was a fascinating end to an experimental trilogy by one of my favourite authors. It focused on an anxiety ridden, self-loathing protagonist who was the exact opposite of Kvothe. This book brought things full circle and made realize what an intricately planned ride it was.

10) Of Honey And Wildfires by Sarah Chorn – Of Honey And Wildfire is Sarah Chorn’s sophomore effort and a completely different story than her debut. It still has her gorgeous prose, three dimensional characters and a story that combines aspects of a western with financial colonialism. It is a dark story but an important one and highlighted what a terrific storyteller Sarah is.

There were three other titles that almost made the list, hence I have to give them a shoutout:

Top 5 Debuts:

1) The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin – This was genuinely one of the best debuts I’ve read in the last couple of years. It combined dystopian SF elements with martial arts and a very light touch of fantasy. With echoes of Ender’s Game and Red Rising mixed in with regular  martial art tropes, this debut by Alexander Darwin was easily the top choice amidst all the debuts I read.

2) The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart – The Bone Shard Daughter was a book that narrowly missed out of top spot. It had some of the creepiest and most detailed magic system which I have had the pleasure to read in recent years. Andrea Stewart’s prose skills as well as the plot shine amidst a bit of uneven pacing and made the sequels a must read for me.

3) The Sin In The Steel by Ryan Van Loan – The Sin In The Steel is a wonderful mix of gender-flipped Sherlockian tropes, high fantasy & loads of action sequences. This debut was so much fun in a year filled with darkness that I was genuinely sad when it ended. However I can’t wait to read the sequel and to see where Buc and Eld end up in a world filled with dead (& resurrected) gods, pirates & shapeshifting mages.

4) The Boy Who Walked Too Far by Dom Watson – I must confess this is another title which I was privileged to read earlier thanks to SPFBO. However this past year, Dom Watson was able to re-release it with a smashing new cover as well a much more streamlined plot thanks to a cracking edit. The first volume of the Xindii chronicles showcases a world and story unlike any other out there. Remember the name as this is another future classic.

5) The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood – The Unspoken Name came with a lot of hype and it did justify most (if not all) of it. This debut gave us magical races, a magical academy settings and an epic fantasy plot. However the amalgamation of these elements wasn’t entirely smooth (eg. the uneven pace & anti-climatic ending) but I’m still excited for the sequel and I hope the author can improve upon some of the book’s minor deficiencies. 


Bob/Sally said...

Oh Honey and Wildfires was amazing!

Black Tie Required and The Stone Knife both sound amazing.

The Reader said...

I would recommend them both, I think you would really enjoy them.



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