My Musings

My Favourite Books of 2020: fantasy.

I mainly read fantasy and thrillers and while I dabble in other genres they are my two ‘go-to’ genres. I usually only do a single favourite books of the year blog post, but I have decided to change things up slightly for the books that I read in 2020 and split the post into two, one blog post for fantasy and one blog post for thrillers.

These are my favourite fantasy books of 2020 in the order that I reviewed them:

A Time of Courage (Of Blood and Bone #3) by John Gwynne.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

There’s a strength to Gwynne’s writing and a conviction that flows through his words as he concludes his powerfully told tale of good vs evil. The writing is descriptive, meaningful, emotive and often profound with weighted words and passages that are heavy with meaning. The characters continue to develop and grow and Gwynne gives you real people to root for, to cheer and the reverse, to hate and to vilify. There are many big loud and bombastic moments along with the intense action and ferocious fighting that takes place but, there is also plenty of room left for contemplation, for the quiet, retrospective and thoughtful moments too. There is also light to be found in the darkness with the banter and camaraderie that occurs between the characters. One thing with Gwynne, he writes animals so well, they aren’t companions to the characters, they are characters in their own right and in the story, they are more, they are friend and warrior too.

A Time of Courage is an apt name for the book as it is a time of courage for the heroes. Things often look grim for them as they face seemingly insurmountable odds. Look deeper and you see love and loyalty, friendship, family, the ties that bind and unbreakable bonds that have been formed. You see courage, truth and hope, the things that drive the heroes who look to the future and care about what will come after for the future generations. They don’t fight for themselves, they don’t fight for glory or to make a name for themselves, they fight for each other and they fight not only to survive but for tomorrow, for future generations and for the future of the Banished Lands.

There are the past and the present in A Time of Courage with bygone names and events mentioned in revered tones. Legends that echo, that are laced with meaning and that, if you have read The Faithful and the Fallen series will have you nodding, smiling away at yourself and whispering the immortal battle cry of ‘Truth and Courage‘. When you come to the end of A Time of Courage new names will have been made, new legends will have been forged, risen to stand beside those of the past and who now have their own legend carved, etched and forever immortalised in the history of the Banished Lands.

The Shadow Saint (The Black Iron Legacy #2) by Gareth Hanrahan.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

Guerdon has always remained neutral in the Godswar between the neighbouring nations (each with their own pantheon of mad gods) of Haith and Ishmere, trading and selling alchemical weapons to both. But, the Godswar is closing in, drawing nearer. Guerdon is a city that is suffused with a long history, it has changed countless times since its inception and it is a city that has been built and rebuilt over time and time again. The Guerdon of the present is built on the detritus, the remnants of the past and, for its current iteration, the latest change, the next evolution occurred recently at the end of The Gutter Prayer where, after the Crisis what is now referred to as ‘The Gutter Miracle‘ altered the streets, changed the landscape and reshaped a large portion creating the ‘New City‘ that has become a refuge to the poor of Guerdon, a home for those with nowhere else to go and a sanctuary for the refugees fleeing from the Godswar. On the surface Guerdon, with its festering and rotting core is a corrupt and grimy hellhole full of anarchy and disorder with an abundance of degenerates and miscreants who populate the dangerous streets. Whilst under the surface, in the catacombs miles below, lurks the dark unknown, a vast network of ghoul infested tunnels and ruins that are home to lost secrets and forgotten eldritch horrors. In Hanrahan’s hands, Guerdon is far more just a city, it is just as important to the story and the unfolding events as the flesh and blood characters are. It’s not simply ‘the location‘ where the story takes place, it is integral to the story. 

The characters created by Hanrahan are well-developed and distinctive with their own personalities. Throughout the story they continue to develop and grow, those who are returning and those who we are seeing for the first time too, the main, the secondary and those who are on the periphery of the story. I liked all three of the PoV characters and felt that they were woven together really well. My favourite out of the trio would have to be ‘The Spy‘ who, with his myriad of identities is absolutely fascinating as at the core he is the same person but through him, we get to see a variety of different characters.

The scope of the imagination on display by the creative genius that is Hanrahan is hugely impressive and the world-building is in-depth, rich and of a very high standard. This time around Hanrahan goes deeper, we learn more and by having PoV characters from both Haith and Ishmere situated in Guerdon it really serves to open up the wider world, giving you a deeper look at the two cultures, their gods and their way of life.

The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire #1) by Andrea Stewart.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

The layered, rich and sweeping story of forbidden magic, identity, how much a life is worth, rebellion and an empire on the precipice in The Bone Shard Daughter is character-driven, perfectly paced and full of emotion, mystery, suspense and tension with revelations that crash like waves against the shore. It is not action-packed, but what action there is, is added to augment and bolster the story. The story is told through five POV characters. Lin and Jovis who are written in the first-person and then, Phalue, Ranami and Sand who are all written in the third-person. The characters, even the secondary ones aren’t outlines and pencil sketches. They are fully-drawn, shaded and well-developed. Coming from a variety of social backgrounds they are diverse, engaging and all have their own flaws, strengths, weaknesses and personalities. You will feel a connection to them, an emotional undertow that takes you unawares, attaching you to Lin, to Jovis, to Phalue and Ranami and that makes you care about them and about what happens to them on their journeys.

The only exception to this is Sand and this is on purpose by Stewart. Sand, while a POV character has far less page time than the others. In essence, she is a secondary and completely detached character to the main events of this chapter in the unfolding story. For the most, she remains an enigma, a vague shadow that is becoming clearer and her story is just beginning. While she only has a small role in The Bone Shard Daughter I am sure that she will have a huge impact and a far larger role in the upcoming books in the trilogy. Trust me, I have read The Bone Shard Daughter and I know the revelations that are revealed to the reader. 😉

One thing that I have a soft spot for in books are animal companions, especially those with their own personality, and those who have a role to play in the story. During the escape from the sinking island where Jovis saves the young boy from the Tithing Festival, he rescues a bedraggled and sodden creature from the sea. Initially, Jovis is unwilling to keep the creature, he saved him for the boy, not for himself. But, the creature, named Mephi wants to stay with Jovis and Jovis reluctantly keeps him. Over the course of their adventure together Mephi gives Jovis something to care about and we see Jovis and Mephi develop a very touching and magical bond. The mystical Mephi is a wonder who flourishes in his role, lighting up the page, shining whenever he appears and is an absolute joy to behold. Mephi will worm his way into your affections and set up home in your heart.

We Ride the Storm (The Reborn Empire #1) by Devin Madson.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

There is a depth and a complexity to the trio of engaging POV characters that Madson has created and many secondary and side characters are extremely well-developed too. As the story unfolds and they endure the constant hardship, struggles and hell that Madson puts them through I found myself caring about, I connected with and I was totally invested in what happened to each of them. Miko is determined and fierce, a powerless princess, a female in an Asian-inspired culture that is ruled by men, overlooked and unseen she is ambitious, driven, knowledgeable and strong. Due to their traditions, the nomadic Levanti, horse-herders where the herd and horses are their way of life are seen as barbarians by both Kisia and Chiltae. Deemed as savages because they severe the heads of their dead in order to set the soul free. Rah is stubborn and unwavering in his honour and strictly clings to the Levanti traditions as he tries to keep his faith in a changing world. And, Cassandra, well, Cassandra is troubled, slightly insane, a whole lot of snarky and pure awesome. A story can live or die by its characters. As they find themselves caught up in the war between Kisia and Chiltae. Miko, Rah and Cassandra are the driving force that breathes bloody life into We Ride the Storm.

In We Ride the Storm Madson has created a world that feels alive and lived in with a trio of singular cultures in the Kisian, Chiltaen and the Levanti each with their own customs, religions and rich history. Yet, there is no unnecessary detail included to bog down the pacing or interrupt the flow of the story. Magic is minimal and sparse in We Ride the Storm giving the world a grounded feel rather than a fantastical with a feeling that there is more to be discovered in the future books in the trilogy.

There is an energy to both the writing and the story in We Ride the Storm and the book feels far shorter than its 500 page-length. There are some emotive moments spread throughout and some dark humour is also included. The dark humour comes courtesy of the verbal sparring between Cassandra and her inner voice ‘She’ and Cassandra and some other characters too, particularly her jousting with Dom Leo Villius. Along with the writing, there is a strength to the storytelling in We Ride the Storm and each story arc and each POV is rewarding, keeps you turning the pages and keeps you coming back for more. It is a multi-layered story that builds and that from beginning to end always has something happening with twists, turns, betrayals, treachery, beheadings galore, politics, machinations, secrets and schemes, courtly intrigue where ears are always listening, eyes are always watching and where words are used as weapons and are just as deadly as blades and plenty of ferocious fighting and intense action scenes.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

Agnes, Bella and Juniper, the Eastwood sisters are a trio of absolutely fantastic characters and each features some superb characterisation by Harrow. Each of the sisters is very different from the other and all three have their own individual personalities. They are broken and damaged by life, yet, they have endured the hardship of living, they survived and they are all strong, but as they will find they are far stronger together than they are apart. Beatrice Belladonna, the eldest is bookish, calm, quiet, timid, worrisome, knowledgable, wise and lacks confidence in herself. Agnes Amaranth, the middle sister is practical, strong and steadfast. And, James Juniper, the youngest is feral, reckless, unpredictable, stubborn and wild. Trouble seems to follow Juniper wherever she goes, there is a raging hurt inside her and she wants others to hurt like she does. Juniper with her untamed spirit is by far my favourite of the three sisters, but there are many thought-provoking moments revolving around all three of them in the story that are deeply moving, that pull on the heartstrings and that rank high on the emotional scale due to your investment in the trio. Throughout the story the three Eastwood sisters are aided by a wide range of diverse characters that are all well-developed too, some with larger and lasting roles and others have smaller roles to play, but they all add a little something extra to the overall story.

Anyone who has read Harrow’s previous bookThe Ten Thousand Doors of January will know that she has a bewitching way with words and that she writes in a very poetic, lilting and lyrical way with lush descriptions that paint vivid and vibrant watercolours of her characters, her settings and her unfolding story. Words have power and Harrow’s writing personifies this, it is beautiful, like a balm of soothing honey and spun silken spider webs that glisten in the morning dew. As she weaves her story she mesmerises you with her prose carrying you along with a soaring melody that ebbs and flows against a backdrop of sweet summer rain, a cool breeze and a cascading and serene waterfall. That style of writing is still present in the majority of The Once and Future Witches, but this time around it is peppered with an icy wind, sharp staccato barbs and blast beats that punctuate the serenity, stoke the flames and that serve as a counterpoint to the beauty, highlighting the anger, the rage and the venomous fury that is felt by the three Eastwood sisters.

Dead Man in a Ditch (The Fetch Phillips Archives #2) by Luke Arnold.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

Fetch is the ‘Man for Hire’ a private investigator who, in the post-magic world plies his trade on the streets of Sunder City and works solely for the now non-magical races, they are his clients, he won’t work for humans. Fetch does this to try and atone for his past mistakes and for his part in killing magic. Each case that he takes is done to help with the guilt that he feels for his role in breaking the world in the hope of being able to readdress the balance and to balance the scales, though he knows that they will never truly be balanced. Fetch is worn down by life, lost in a sea of regrets, weighed down by the burdens that he carries and he is a man who walks alone with a darkness inside of him. Fetch hates himself and humanity for the suffering that they have caused, he can’t erase the past, the mistakes that he has made or right the wrongs that he has committed, but deep down, buried somewhere in the depths of his tattered and torn soul he believes that he can still do some good in the world.

In Dead Man in a Ditch, we see Fetch come face-to-face with his past and a ghost that has haunted him for six long years making certain elements of the story deeply personal to him. As a character, Fetch is introspective, often times internally warring with himself and although he is mired in constant misery there is a charm to his world-weary melancholy. Arnold does a tremendous job of bringing to life those feelings of self-loathing that Fetch feels, they emanate off the pages and strange as it sounds those traits are what make Fetch such a likeable character who you can’t help but root for.

As a setting Sunder City is vividly realised with a lived-in and well-worn feel to it. It is pitted, tarnished and decaying with the colour bled out. Populated by both humans and non-humans it has seen better days and like the once magical creatures, it is also now diminished by the loss of magic with the residents desperately trying to get by, to make a living and survive in the post-magic world that left the races broken and bereft. In Dead Man in a Ditch, Arnold delves deeper into the economical ramifications that the loss of magic has had, the politics and we see far more of Sunder City and the wider world, visiting various unsavoury districts in the city, itself and travelling to a couple of locations in the surrounding area outside of the city.

Infernal (The Chronicles of Stratus #1) by Mark de Jager.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

Stratus, a sorcerer is inhuman, he is something more, he is bigger and taller than others, darker-skinned, midnight black with shadow black nails, he is stronger than a normal human and far more resilient. He has a presence inside his mind, often rage-filled and craving visceral violence and vengeance that can turn him, from someone already adept at fighting due to his enhanced strength into a brutal killing machine. This presence, the beast within finds him waging an internal war with himself as he struggles to stay in control. He doesn’t justify his actions or his responses to others, he doesn’t see either the need or the point and he does some highly questionable and immoral things in the name of discovering who he is. He isn’t accustomed to a human body or human ways and he misunderstands human concepts, emotions and goes against social norms. He knows no better, he isn’t skilled at reading the situation and he doesn’t know the right or the wrong responses, how to act or the correct etiquette. Often, he is like a bull in a china shop, blundering in and opening his mouth. If you think along the lines of Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy then you would be on the right track. He can be quite flippant, blunt and brusque and, at times he is unintentionally hilarious. Some of his retorts can be very literal and it is highly amusing to see how he reacts and responds to certain things.

Infernal is the story of Stratus, a journey of self-discovery, a journey to solve the mystery of his past and to discover who he really is and what he really is. There is also more at play, a bigger picture that Stratus’s own story is entwined with including the war between the kingdom of Krandin and the Penullin empire, religion, magic, necromancy and politics that all have a role to play in the wider story that unfolds across the pages. Written in the first-person, we see the world through Stratus’s eyes. We learn at the same time as him, through each of his returning snippets of memory, through each location and through each of his conversations with other characters. As he travels, Stratus learns more about the world, its inhabitants and as the world opens up for Stratus so to does it open up for the reader. Likewise, as his memories come back to him, as he discovers more about himself, his past and his true identity the reader does too.

Call of the Bone Ships (The Tide Child #2) by RJ Barker.

You can find the link to my full review: HERE.

Review snippet:

The writing in Call of the Bone Ships is magnificent and Barker has a way with words that is poetic, descriptive, captivating and he utterly mesmerises you in the story that he is telling. There is a high level of attention to detail surrounding Tide Child and the running of the ship which runs through the blood, sweat and tears of the crew and you feel like you are walking the decks of Tide Child alongside Joron. Another thing that Barker does exceptionally well is to highlight the beauty and the brutality of the sea. The majesty of the ocean, the expanse of open water where you need to be ever watchful and respectful as the seas are fraught with danger and monsters that dwell in the deep.

There is plenty of action spread throughout Call of the Bone Ships both on the land and the sea. With his action scenes, Barker doesn’t shy away from depicting the visceral nature of the battle and the fights have a weight to them, a heft to the blows dealt where you can feel the bite of the blade into flesh. There are some absolutely stunning cinematic and large-scale set pieces throughout Call of the Bone Ships, dramatic moments too, but there are also smaller and more personal moments, ripples in the water that are weighted and have a huge impact. The settings are all vividly realised and Barker manages to easily evoke images of the locations allowing you to picture them in your mind. With his writing, Barker’s words are able to convey the emotions that the characters feel and there are moments that rend your heart. In Call of the Bone Ships, you find yourself cursing Barker for what he puts both his characters and his readers through as he breaks them in the name of the story.

I have nothing negative to say about The Call of the Bone Ships. Yes, it ends on a cliffhanger, but it is the middle book in a trilogy and that is to be expected. While I may have channelled my inner Gullaime and screeched “Not Want! Not Want!” as I finished the book, I can’t fault the endpoint as it felt like the natural place for Barker to conclude this volume. Call of the Bone Ships and its story that is full of action, betrayal, dark deeds, drama, duty, emotion, mystery, prophecy, sacrifice and tension is the type of book that has you conflicted. On one hand, you want to fly through the pages as you are engrossed in the story and eager to find out what happens next, but on the other hand, you want to take your time and savour every moment that you spend in the company of Joron, Meas, the Gullaime and Tide Child.

16 thoughts on “My Favourite Books of 2020: fantasy.

  1. So many amazing books! Most of them are on my TBR. I’m especially excited for Bone Shard and Future Witches. I loved Harrow’s One Thousand Doors and can’t wait to read what she has more in store. My favorite fantasy read of the year has undoubtedly been Addie LaRue. I literally savored it one page at a time and couldn’t be happier. Leaving the LINK to my review in case you want to check it out. Have a great reading week!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved The Once and Future Witches. It was definitely a stand out this year, and I’ve really got to get my hands on The Bone Shard Daughter. I’ve heard such great things about it, and your snippet really makes me want to read it even more. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A great list! A few I can’t wait to read myself ( We Ride the Storm and The Bone Shard Daughter) plus a few of my own favourites of the year like Call of the Bone Ships and The Shadow Saint.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So many amazing books on this list and so little time to read them all!! Love the sound of Once and Future Witches. The cover alone is a selling point haha.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.