Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite MCU Shows (Disney+) Ranked (2022)

I mentioned in my previous Top Ten Tuesday list that I really had Marvel on the mind at the moment.  While this is mostly because of the recent Doctor Strange movie, a lot of it also has to do with the recent finale of the Moon Knight television show on Disney+.  This, and other brilliant television additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), have been incredibly fun, and served as an excellent compliment to the continued movies.  As such, I thought I would do a double Marvel feature this Top Ten Tuesday and have a go at ranking the MCU television shows from my least favourite to most.  I will be excluding some previous shows like Agents of Shield, various Netflix series, and other shows like Runaways from this list, as they aren’t considered canon, and I will instead focus my efforts on the shows released on Disney+, which tie directly into the films.  This proved to be another fun listing exercise for me, and it was interesting to see how some of these shows compared to each other.  Just like with the movie MCU list, all entries on this list, even those on the bottom, are leaps and bounds above some other television shows out there and are all really worth checking out.

 

Spoiler warning below

List (Ranked – Reverse Order):

6. What If…?

What If Poster

The first entry on this list is the animated series What If…?  Based on a classic Marvel comic that envisions unique scenarios within the universe if key details were changed.  This concept is unleashed upon the MCU with dramatic results, with nine unique stories coming to light.  The awesome and unique stories include one where Peggy Carter becoming Captain Britain, Black Panther become Star Lord instead of Peter Quill, an alternate history for Killmonger, Party Thor, Marvel Zombies and more, resulting in amazing episodes, and there is even a compelling ongoing storyline contained throughout the series.  Featuring most of the key MCU actors returning to their roles (as well as a few stand-ins), and introducing Jeffrey Wright as the Watcher, this is a brilliantly voiced series with some impressive animation.  I deeply enjoyed some of the great stories contained within, especially as they range between horror and humour from week to week.  All bring something different to the table, such as a poignant final performance by Chadwick Boseman, a terrifying zombie tale, and the incredibly tragic Doctor Strange episode that sees a corrupted Doctor Strange trapped in a broken universe by himself.  All nine episodes were really good, and elements from them were recently featured in the new Doctor Strange movie, and will no doubt be referenced again in the future.  A second season is on its way this year, and I am looking forward to more unique stories, as well as a conclusion to some of the existing tales.

 

5. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Poster

The first live-action entry on this list is the exciting spy thriller story, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which sees Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan return to their iconic MCU roles.  With Captain America gone, these two characters, and more, try to step into his shadow while dealing with the threat of the anarchist Flagsmashers.  I had a lot of fun with the high-concept action scenes, the great chemistry between its leads, the return of Baron Zemo, and the final reveal of Mackie’s new Captain America persona.  However, despite all the potential going in, this show fell short in several places.  It was far shorter than it needed to be (an annoying trend with the Disney+ shows), and the final episodes felt extremely rushed as a result.  This series needed two or three additional episodes to tell this story properly, and the hurried finale ended the series on a poor note, doing away much of the good of the preceding five episodes.  In addition, I really didn’t care about the return of Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter, and the reveal about her being the Power Broker was pretty weak.  Despite this, Erin Kellyman does serve as a great antagonist, and Wyatt Russell’s John Walker was a brilliant addition, especially as you see his slow slip into darkness.  Daniel Brühl was finally able to do Baron Zemo some justice in this show, potentially leading to some fun appearances in the future.  However, they really need to scrap Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character now, as her two appearances don’t seem to be leading anywhere fast.  While this was a good show, I ended up being a little disappointed with how it turned out, as it could have been so much better.

 

4. Hawkeye

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The witty and compelling Hawkeye finally puts a spotlight on the only original Avenger not to have their own movie.  Jeremy Renner returns as a beat-up and mostly retired Hawkeye, who is forced to deal with the fallout of his Ronin persona from Endgame when Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop discovers his old costume.  Chased by the mob and several dangerous killers, Barton and Bishop need to work together while Bishop begins her training to become the new Hawkeye.  Strongly based on one of the better recent Hawkeye comic series, this was an incredibly fun show that was played for humour, while also featuring plenty of action, epic trick-arrow scenes, and some great emotional moments.  Renner is his usual excellent self here, and it was great to see Hawkeye living in regret for his various mistakes in Endgame.  Steinfeld is easily the star of the show, though, serving as a Hawkeye fan who meets her hero and becomes his protégé.  Steinfeld brings some fantastic energy to the role, and her excellent introduction and great humour ensures she’ll be a welcome fixture in the MCU for several years.  Her scenes with Florence Pugh’s Yelena are easily some of the highlights of the show, with the two playing off each other perfectly, and I demand that these two characters get their own show or movie as soon as possible.  Pugh also has some deep moments with Renner, and I loved the scene where the two characters confront each other over the dead Black Widow.  The rest of the cast is pretty good as well, with Alaqua Cox, Vera Farmiga and Fra Fee all having great moments within the series.  However, I have to say that they absolutely wasted Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin in this show.  While the hints about his appearance were great, he ended up being substantially underutilised, and it seems a shame that he went down so easily in the one episode he appeared in.  Hawkeye also felt a little rushed towards the end (less than The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but still noticeable), and it really needed at least one additional episode to tell a much more complete story.

 

3. Moon Knight

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The latest MCU television offering is the exceedingly clever and distinctive Moon Knight.  Featuring the impressive Oscar Isaac as the titular Moon Knight, this series follows a man with multiple personalities who becomes a champion of vengeance for an ancient Egyptian god.  Containing a taut and impressive story that does a great job introducing new elements to the MCU, Moon Knight is a really cool series that proves to be quite addictive.  With some awesome and clever elements, including a look at contemporary Egypt and its culture, this show has one of the more distinctive feels, especially with some of that cool Egyptian music that was played throughout the show.  The real joy is easily the brilliant Oscar Isaac, who portrays various distinctive personalities as his character suffers from dissociative identity disorder.  Isaac masterfully morphs between personas and voices as the show continues, and it is so much fun seeing him act against himself.  The rest of the cast is pretty small, with May Calamawy serving as the female lead, playing second fiddle to three separate versions of Oscar Isaac (still she becomes the MCU’s resident Egyptian superhero).  Ethan Hawke is a pretty sinister villain, while F Murray Abraham has an outstanding go at voicing the possessing Egyptian god.  This show has so much going for it, it was a shame that the sixth episode was again rushed, with a chaotic battle thrown in for dramatic effect, which really altered the pacing of the whole series.  While I liked some of the twists, especially in the post-credit scene, I really think this show could have benefitted from at least one more episode to really wrap the story up perfectly.  Still, it sets up future Moon Knight appearances really well and I can’t wait for another season or a feature film soon.

 

2. Loki

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Beating Moon Knight into second place by only a hair is Loki, and that is mainly because of the incredible performance from the titular character.  Tom Hiddleston is back in the role he made his own, and this time he’s not alone.  Captured by the Time Variance Authority (TVA) for crimes against the timeline, Loki is drafted into finding a rogue version of himself who is hunting down TVA agents.  This eventually brings him into conflict with the being at the centre of the TVA, who is keeping time trapped for their own nefarious purposes.  Hiddleston absolutely shines in this role again, and it was so much fun to have a Loki focused story, especially as you get some major and noticeable character growth from him.  He is joined by outstanding actor Sophia Di Martino who plays a female, alternate version of Loki, known as Sylvie.  These two Lokis play off each other extremely well, and the unique relationship that forms between them is awesome (although somewhat disturbing if you stop to think about it).  Throw in an exceptional performance from Owen Wilson, several distinctive and utterly hilarious alternate versions of Loki, as well as your first look at the Phase’s big-bad villain, Jonathan Majors’ Kang/He Who Remains, and you have quite an excellent show.  While this one did fit better into its six-episode spread, the introduction of Jonathan Majors’ character in the final episode was a tad rushed, but it leads into the upcoming second season really well, as well as heralding a ton of cool multiverse elements.  I am deeply excited for the next season of Loki, and it is going to be pretty damn epic.

 

1. WandaVision

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Easily taking out the top spot is the incredible and exceedingly entertaining WandaVision.  I must admit, when they announced the initial slate for the MCU television shows, the one I was least interested in was WandaVision.  Not only did the entire concept sound weird but Wanda and Vision had been two of the least impressive Avengers at that point and I was uncertain that a show around them would work.  Well, boy was I wrong as WandaVision turned out to be one of the best pieces of media associated with the MCU.  Starting off as a clever and fun homage to classic American sitcoms, the show slowly gets darker and darker as you begin to realise just how messed up the situation is.  Watching the mental decline of Wanda and the Vision’s growing realisation that everything about his current life is a lie is so damn captivating, and the entire story comes together beautifully, especially as the creative team gave it a full nine-episode run that allowed them to tell a rich and powerful story.  However, it’s the cast that really make this special, with leads Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany giving their best performances in the MCU with their complex and damaged characters.  The rest of the cast is pretty exceptional, with Kat Dennings, Teyonan Parris, Randall Park and even a brilliantly returned Evan Peters doing an amazing job here.  However, the star supporting character is the talented Kathryn Hahn as the delightfully sinister Agatha Harkness, an evil witch who turns out to be one of the most entertaining villains in the entire MCU (she definitely has the best theme song).  This show was an incredible first entry into this phase of MCU television, and it not only perfectly followed up Wanda and Vision’s story from Avengers: Endgame but it also serves as a great lead into their future appearances, such as in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.  An exceptional show that highlights just how awesome and exceptional a comic book television series can be.

 

 

Well, that’s the end of this list.  As you can see, I’ve had a lot of fun with all the above television series, and I am really pleased with how the current slate of MCU shows have turned out, even if most of them could have used a couple of extra episodes each.  I am pretty happy with how the above list turned out, and I think it is an accurate representation about my current rankings for the show.  This will be another list I will probably come back to in a year or so, especially as there are multiple cool new shows coming out on Disney+ soon, as well as new seasons of Loki and What If…?.  I am particularly keen for She-Hulk, which not only has a great cast, but will also have a full 10 episode run time.  Secret Invasion, Ironheart, Echo, Agatha: House of Harkness, and Armor Wars all sound like they have a ton of potential and should turn out to be excellent shows that I will deeply enjoy.  I am a tad less keen on the upcoming Ms. Marvel show, but I am willing to be pleasantly surprised by it.  Let me know what you think of my rankings and let me know which one of the above shows are your favourites in the comments below.

Top Ten Tuesday – The Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies (Ranked – May 2022)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official task for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was for participants to talk about their favourite Bookish Characters.  While this was an interesting and unique topic, I was in a real Marvel mood (I’m sure most people can work out why) and I decided to do instead update a list from last year.

I am sure that it will come to now surprise to anyone who has read some of my posts that I am a major fan of all things comic related, which includes the fabulous works coming out of Marvel.  I have an outstanding amount of love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney’s juggernaut film franchise that brings some of the most iconic Marvel Comics characters to life in their own distinctive universe.  As such, last year I spent a significant amount of time ranking all the MCU movies from my least to most favourite.  This was a pretty interesting experience, especially considering the overall quality of the franchise, and it proved surprisingly hard to figure out which ones I liked more than others.  Nonetheless, I endured and ended up with a massive list that fit my then current views of the MCU.

Since that first list, a few more MCU movies have been released, including an absolute ripper of a Spider-Man film, as well as a trippy new Doctor Strange movie just out last week.  I had a lot of fun watching all of them, and I thought that this would be a good time to redo the list and chuck in the new films.  Naturally, this was a much easier experience than the original list, especially as most of the films stayed in the same position that they were last time.  I was able to slot the new films in fairly easily (new films highlighted in red), and I already had a pretty good idea of where they needed to go.  I also chose to make a couple of minor adjustments to the existing list, mainly because I have re-evaluated my opinions about one or two films and moved them around a little.  This hasn’t impacted the overall list too much, but I think it fits my current thoughts on the entire franchise a lot better.  So, let’s have a look and see how the current 28 films in this franchise currently stack up.

Spoiler warning below

List (Ranked – Reverse Order):

28. The Incredible Hulk

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I want to make something clear: The Incredible Hulk is not a bad movie. It is actually pretty watchable, with an interesting cast, some decent graphics and an enjoyable story about the origins of the Hulk and his conflict with the military.  Despite this, it is probably the least enjoyable MCU film, and for that reason many people skip it or try to ignore it when doing an MCU marathon.  Edward Norton, while a fine actor, does not really click as Bruce Banner, and the later re-casting with Mark Ruffalo really highlights that.  In addition, he does not have any chemistry with Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross, who was a borderline damsel in distress (especially when compared to the strong women that dominated the early MCU films).  A pre-Modern Family Ty Burrell is underutilised as Doc Samson, a character that was never featured to its full potential (I want a raging, muscle-bound Ty Burrell with flowing green locks, dammit).  I liked Tim Roth as the villain (before he was CGI’d), and William Hurt (RIP) is a great Thunderbolt Ross.  While the movie starts off strong, I think it lost its way towards the end, and the CGI fight between the Hulk and the Abomination is sloppy, especially compared to most other MCU entries.  Still a solid comic film, but, unfortunately, something must take out the last spot.  My opinion of this might change in the future, especially with the upcoming She-Hulk series apparently going to be taking a lot from this early film.

27. Thor: The Dark World

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I must admit that the only reason that this did not score lower than The Incredible Hulk was purely because of Tom Hiddleston’s performance, as he was at his Loki best.  Still, in comparison the rest of the MCU, this movie is not great, especially as it compounds many of the faults of the preceding Thor movie.  It has a weak story, and I am not a major fan of the portrayal of Asgard in this one (I laughed in scorn when the flying boat ships starting fighting the Dark Elves).  The cast, with the notable exception of Hiddleston, is also not amazing here.  Chris Hemsworth, while a better actor in this second film, is still playing Thor way too seriously, and he still lacks any great chemistry with a pregnant Natalie Portman, who was obviously unhappy to be involved at all.  While Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård and Idris Elba do bring some flair and thespian backbone, the film is very much let down by its villain.  Malekith is one of the worst villains in the MCU and is constantly overshadowed by Loki.  Despite this, The Dark World is still a fun film and has some great moments in it.  The death of Frigga is pretty heartbreaking, and the final fight sequence, while a bit random at times, is very entertaining, combining great visuals with some excellent comedy.  Let us also not forget that this was the first time Infinity Stones are mentioned, making Thor: The Dark World an important entry in the franchise, and one I can re-watch very easily.

26. Ant-Man and the Wasp

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I was very disappointed by Ant-Man and the Wasp, as it should have been so much better than it was, and it ended up being another weak entry in the franchise.  Most of the comedy, character development and style are recycled from the first film without anything new being added.  In addition, the villains are extremely weak, with Hannah John-Kamen not bringing any strength to the character of Ghost, and Walton Goggins’s Sonny Burch is a very odd, if amusing, secondary antagonist.  This film does have its strengths.  It is visually beautiful, the main cast is great, with Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas keeping the amazing chemistry they had in the first film, and I especially loved Lilly’s expanded use in this film as The Wasp.  Michael Peña still shines as Luis, whose riffing long stories are so much fun to see.  While this is a fun movie, it suffers from being released less than three months after Infinity War.  The sheer expectations that people had going into Ant-Man and the Wasp really altered people’s perception, and I know I was hoping for a whole lot more, especially when the “snap” happened.  Still, the post credit scenes were great, and that clever question mark struck surprisingly hard.

25. Iron Man 2

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People were hoping for a film that could stand up to the first Iron Man, and unfortunately, Iron Man 2 just did not deliver.  Despite very strong performances from Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, and a newly cast Don Cheadle, this film was not as good as the first, relying too much on CGI and not enough on story.  Mickey Rourke’s villainous Whiplash was ok, if a bit overacted, but he was nothing to really write home about.  Still, this film has a lot of fun parts to it.  Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer was extremely zany and, as always, it was so much fun to see him perform (I am really hoping he comes back for Armor Wars).  In addition, this was also the film that gave us Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, a role she performed perfectly, especially with that epic corridor scene, although the character does develop into something better later.  An extremely fun action romp that I am actually pretty fond of, Iron Man 2 just does not live up to some of the other films out there, so it has a lower spot on this list.

24. Thor

Thor_Official_Poster

Thor is a fun movie that serves as a great introduction to some of the best characters in the MCU.  Unfortunately, it is a little rough compared to some of the later entries, which knocks it down a bit.  The film is a little too serious for its own good, perhaps thanks to director Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearean approach, and while it has an amazing fish out of water story to it the scenes set in Asgard are over the top, and I am not the biggest fan of the way they turned the Asgardians into a science fiction race rather than a mythological one.  Still, the cast is very good, and it introduced Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston to a wider audience.  While an unnaturally blond Hemsworth was still finding his feet in this film, Hiddleston lays some great groundwork with Loki, setting him up perfectly and ensuring he would be a memorable and exceptional villain.  Natalie Portman fills the role as love interest well, although her chemistry with Hemsworth is a bit off.  Overall, this is a great film defined by the new Thor and Loki.

23. Eternals

Eternals Poster

In 2021, Marvel tried to produce the next Guardians of the Galaxy-esque hit by adapting another relatively obscure comic team into a film with Eternals.  This new film saw a team of cosmic immortals, known as Eternals, attempt to guide humanity and save them from attacks by the rampaging Deviants.  An interesting concept with some unique ideas that introduce MCU fans to some of the weirder and wilder elements of the more cosmic Marvel comics, Eternals ended up being a pretty solid hit that I had a lot of fun with.  It has a great story that did a surprisingly good job of compressing a lot of complex ideas into a single film, while also massively expanding the universe in some fun ways.  Featuring a massive cast, this ended up being a big character-driven epic, and stars such as Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie and even the newly jacked and always hilarious Kumail Nanjiani gave great performances.  However, they were probably a bit too ambitious here, with way too many main characters complicating the narrative a bit.  Despite this, the story held together extremely well for most of its run, with several great twists around the Celestials and Ikaris.  The story did fall apart a bit towards the end, and I felt that it lacked a particularly great antagonist, even with the villain turn towards the end.  Still, it sets up a few great storyline and there was a pretty stacked set of post-credit scenes, including the first appearance of the new Blade.

22. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi Poster

Prepare to get your kung-fu on as Marvel brings its mega tribute to Chinese culture with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.  Another great recent film that seeks to introduce some fun new characters, Shang-Chi is a fast-paced action film that tells a great story about the titular Shang-Chi, a kung-fu master on the run from his powered crime-lord father who is suddenly brought back into the world he turned away from.  Featuring many, many references to Chinese culture and classic kung-fu films, Shang-Chi starts off fast with the iconic bus scene, before taking its fun characters into a great adventure story.  A guaranteed fun trip, I did think that the narrative was a bit too derivative of most other MCU films and there were honestly no big surprises or twists anyway through it.  However, the excellent cast of Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang and Tony Leung do wonders here, and I had so much fun seeing Ben Kingsley again.  I particularly loved the amusing chemistry between Liu and Awkwafina, and they served as a great buddy team, with a refreshing lack of forced romance (at least in this film).  The graphics are pretty cool throughout Shang-Chi (although the final battle could have been better lit), and I loved the great kung-fu fight scenes (although it needed a few more).  An overall great film, I think it gets a bit overrated by some MCU fans, but it’s one I would rewatch quite a few times.

21. Captain Marvel

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Though it is ranked a little lower, Captain Marvel is still an outstanding comic film.  The first Marvel film to feature a female superhero lead, this film needed to do a lot, while also being one of the unfortunate films to be released between Infinity War and Endgame.  Despite this pressure, it definitely delivered providing a well written, entertaining and clever film.  I deeply enjoyed the cool 1990s setting and the creative team do a great job bringing some fun nostalgia to the film, especially with the great music.  The twists about the Skrulls was also pretty clever, setting up some interesting stories for the future, and I liked how it tied into the origins of the Avengers team.  In addition, I reckon you will have a hard time finding anyone who was not moved by the Stan Lee tribute in the opening credits.  Brie Larson does a great job in the titular role, although I look forward to seeing her relax into it a bit more in future films.  Samuel L. Jackson was great as ever as Nick Fury, and the de-aging worked surprisingly well.  Ben Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch and Annette Bening are all pretty awesome in this film, although I think Jude Law particularly shone as eventual villain Yon-Rogg.  Overall, the visuals and acting turn this into a good film, and the only reason it is lower on this list is the incredible competition from the future entries.

20. Doctor Strange

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Doctor Strange is an awesome movie with many cool features to it.  This includes the first-rate cast, with Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams and Tilda Swinton doing some fantastic work in this film, although Benedict Wong was a particular stand out for me.  I did think that Mads Mikkelsen’s villain, Kaecillius, was a bit under defined, and it seemed a bit of a waste chucking an actor of Mikkelsen’s calibre into such a role.  I also felt that Strange could have gone through a little more character development, as he keeps up his arrogant persona well after this film ends.  The story is also a tad unpolished, and I particularly thought that the rift between Strange and Baron Mordo was a little forced.  Despite all this, Doctor Strange is visually spectacular, and viewers are treated to a kaleidoscope of colour and movement every time magic is used.  This visual work really enhances the entire film and I think this was a pretty strong comic film.

19. Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Next we have the second Avengers ensemble movie.  Age of Ultron was another MCU film that had many expectations surrounding it before its release, especially after the success of the original Avengers film.  Director and writer Joss Whedon had to do a lot in this film, including introducing new characters, continuing existing storylines, and setting up future films.  Unfortunately, this proved just a little too much to pull off.  It is still a very good movie, with the all-star cast doing an outstanding job bringing their iconic characters to life, especially the veterans from the first Avengers film.  James Spader brings some real malevolence and humour to Ultron, although the villain’s use of a disposable CGI army was a bit unoriginal.  Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen both debut their characters extremely well, and while they are not as strong as they later proved to be in WandaVision, they are an interesting inclusion.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver is a little less impressive, especially as Evan Peters absolutely killed it as the same character in an X-Men film less than a year before.  The story is pretty fantastic, although it definitely suffers from the creative team trying to fit way too much into it, making it a weak or derivative in places.  In addition, it has one of the most pointless post-credits scenes in the entire series.  I did think the action sequences were very good, especially Hulk vs Iron Man, although I did think they spent a little too much time trying to recreate the feel of the original film.  Still, this an excellent film, and it serves as a major part of the franchise, even if it is outshined by every other Avengers film.

18. Black Widow

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I will admit that I did go into Black Widow with some slightly higher expectations brought on by a two-year drought in MCU films.  However, I still deeply enjoyed this movie, which finally gave Scarlett Johansson her own solo outing.  Anchored by a great cast, Black Widow was an exceptional film which did a great job highlighting the character’s mysterious origins and finally telling her story.  I was pretty hooked after its strong opening, especially after a sequence featuring a beautifully slowed down Smells Like Teen Spirit.  Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz are all outstanding, and I loved the unique family dynamic created between these main characters.  Despite this strong start, I did feel that the ending was rushed, and there is a certain two-week gap in the story that is still bugging me.  I was also not blown away by the villains, with Taskmaster and Dreykov being a little underwhelming.  Still, this was a great film, and I was just super glad that it finally came out.  If nothing else, this served as a brilliant introduction for Florence Pugh’s Yelena to the MCU, and I look forward to seeing more from her in the future, especially after her great performance in Hawkeye.

17. Captain America: The First Avenger

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Captain America is an excellent film that takes the MCU wackiness right into the centre of WWII.  This film features an impressive origin story that does the classic comics proud while also making use of a great cast of characters.  Chris Evans shines as Steven Rogers in this film, and I loved the transition from a weakling with a strong heart to the ultimate symbol of strength, goodness and freedom.  At the same time, you have an outstandingly evil Red Skull in Hugo Weaving, which I think perfectly balanced the entire film.  Add in the great supporting cast in Sebastian Stan, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci and Toby jones, and you have a pretty exceptional group of actors in the film (Richard Armitage, Jenna Coleman and Natalie Dormer also have small roles).  The story is very strong, and there are very few flaws or plot holes for it to stumble upon.  An overall outstanding film, this was one of the better entries in the early days of the MCU.

16. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

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The very latest film to drop, the second Doctor Strange film, directed by the weird and talented Sam Raimi, is one hell of a trip that will keep you guessing.  Featuring Strange as he explores Marvel’s current obsession, the multiverse, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness serves as a major entry in Phase Four that will no doubt be one of the key starting points to the next big story arc.  This awesome film has a trippy and intense narrative that sees the Scarlet Witch finally snap and try to take control of the multiverse, forcing Strange into several alternate universes to find help.  This story goes to some dark places, and there are some brilliant moments scattered throughout the film, including some visually stunning fight scenes and examples of magic.  Raimi also brilliantly taps into his horror repertoire to create some shocking and scary scenes, with several freaky moments really sticking in the mind.  Benedict Cumberbatch has another great outing here as a slightly arrogant Doctor Strange who is still living with the regret of his decisions, while the returning Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong and Rachel McAdams all have excellent parts to play in the film.  However, the real star is Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, who absolutely blows the audience away with her intensity, her tragic story perfectly carried over from the awesome WandaVision, and some insane amount of power.  Throw in some excellent cameos from the multiverse, several of which hint at a bold future for the MCU, and you have a great film that is pretty damn epic, even if it didn’t live up to its entire potential.

15. Black Panther

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Featuring one of the best African American casts of all time, Black Panther was an exceptional film that combined a great character-driven story with some awesome visuals.  This film did a brilliant job bringing the nation of Wakanda to life, and I had a wonderful time exploring its advanced technology and compelling past.  The late great Chadwick Boseman is an outstanding Black Panther, continuing the great work he did in Civil War.  He is joined by the fantastic Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright and Winston Duke, who all bring their new amazing characters to life in a distinctive way.  Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis both make fantastic secondary appearances in this film, and I like the manic energy Serkis brings to the role of Ulysses Klaue.  One of the most noticeable stars of the film is Michael B Jordan as Killmonger, one of the best and most complex villains in the entire MCU.  All these wonderful performances are wrapped up in a fantastic story, with some amazing visual scenes.  The entire sequence in Busan is beautiful, and the final fight is pretty epic.  If I were to make a criticism of the film, it would be around the CGI rhinos; whose presence I think was just a little too ridiculous.  An overall exceptional film, you will be shouting “Wakanda forever” until you run out of breath.

14. Iron Man 3

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Director Shane Black had a lot of pressure to deliver the third and ultimately final Iron Man film immediately after the success of The Avengers.  Luckily, Iron Man 3 is pretty epic, and ends up being a very different film than some of the previous Iron Man movies, as Black presents a gritty, well-written tale around a traumatised Tony Stark.  This was a very clever techno-thriller, which plays off the damaged protagonist perfectly.  Downey Jr is once again exceptional in this film, and you get to see the Tony Stark beneath the snark and sarcasm.  With the usual great cast of supporting characters, as well as a couple of fun villains, this was a pretty cool film.  I personally enjoyed the twist with the Mandarin, and thought it was extremely clever and funny, although it was a controversial choice (I really hope Ben Kingsley has some sort of cameo in Shang-Chi).  While there is more of a focus on the story, there are still some outstanding action sequences, including the assault on the Stark Mansion and the final epic confrontation between the various suits and the Extremis soldiers.  I also very much liked the inclusion of the scenes were Stark has to use more low-tech methods to beat his enemies, and the multi-part suits add a lot of fun to the overall story.  An overall incredible film, I will admit I did not like this one too much when I first saw it, but several re-watches have really enhanced my opinion of it, pushing it above some of the great entries above.

13. Spider-Man: Far From Home

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This second Spider-Man film faced the daunting prospect of being released less than three months after Endgame.  However, despite all that pressure, Far From Home was an incredible film that continues to highlight one of the best portrayals of Spider-Man ever.  While not as good as Homecoming, Far From Home boasts an amazing narrative loaded with feels.  Featuring an uncertain Peter Parker still reeling from the death of his mentor and the legacy left behind, this story takes the protagonist on a whirlwind adventure in Europe.  Thanks to an outstandingly talented Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio, this film is loaded with great twists and false leads, and I loved how we were punked into believing this would be the start of the multiverse.  Tom Holland continues to shine as Spider-Man and I loved the boyish enthusiasm he brings to the role, as well as his sense of fun and duty.  Samuel L Jackson serves as a harsh, but intriguing mentor figure as Nick Fury, backed up by Cobie Smulders.  The recurring cast from the previous Spider-Man movie are still a lot of fun, with Zendaya serving as a great love interest, Jacob Batalon playing a romantically distracted Ned, Jon Favreau as a fun Happy Hogan, and you have to love Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson.  Another spectacular and amazing film, the epic post-credit scene sets up the third Spider-Man film beautifully.

12. Ant-Man

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What is it with Marvel casting comedic actors as fantastic action stars?  Paul Rudd was a surprising choice to play Ant-Man, but he ended up knocking the role out of the park, and Ant-Man was one of the funniest MCU movies ever.  I have a lot of love for this movie, from the great characters, wicked humour, intriguing origin tale, and the fact that this movie is essentially a super-powered heist story.  It features a fantastic cast, each of whom add so much to the tale, from Rudd’s excellent comedy, Evangeline Lilly’s badass Hope van Dyne, Michael Douglas’s take on iconic comic character Hank Pym, and Michael Peña’s hilarious Luis.  The real strength of this film is the outstanding size shifting, as Rudd and Corey Stoll’s villainous Yellowjacket shrink and grow throughout the film.  I was blown away by the really cool graphics surrounding the shrinking, and you have to laugh as a variety of items are shrunk and grown throughout the final climatic battle.  There was also a great appearance from Anthony Mackie as Falcon, and it is one of the more entertaining hero-on-hero fights out there.  An impressive and hilarious thrill ride that will have you chuckling the entire time.

11. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

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One of the most re-watchable films in the entire series is Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.  This sequel is pure fun, bringing back the amazing elements that made people love the first film.  Featuring an outstanding cast, an unbelievably catchy musical score and another fantastic story, you are in for a lot of excitement.  The returning cast continue to seamlessly inhabit the roles they played in the first film, and it is impossible not to fall in love with Baby Groot.  Kurt Russell serves as a particularly good villain (just ignore the de-aging in the first scene), and I loved the eventual reveal of his true nature.  This movie is exciting from start to finish, with a bonkers finale that culminates in two godlike beings fighting with a range of creations, including Pacman.  However, the most memorable and touching part of the movie is the death of Michael Rooker’s Yondu Udonta, a scene guaranteed to make you cry, especially at the funeral with Father & Son playing.  Other highlights include five post-credit scenes, a unique and catchy credit song and one of the best David Hasselhoff cameos ever.  I honestly enjoyed this one just as much as the first, but due to a slightly weaker story and some lost character development, I have it slightly lower on the list.

10. Guardians of the Galaxy

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From the sequel to the original, the first Guardians of the Galaxy film clocks in at number nine.  While now an established part of the MCU and wider Marvel Comics, Guardians of the Galaxy was originally a bit of a gamble, as it featured a somewhat obscure group of Marvel characters.  Luckily, the gamble paid off, as director James Gunn produced an outstanding and memorable film, with its own unique style and humour.  Bringing together five excellent actors in the central roles, and expanding the borders of the MCU into space, there is so much going on in this epic movie.  The epic music gives the entire movie a touch of nostalgia, and several great acting careers were made thanks to this film.  A beloved and exceptional entry in this amazing franchise.

9. Spider-Man: Homecoming

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There have been many attempts to start a Spider-Man franchise over the years, but the most recent might be the most successful.  Following on from Civil War, Tom Holland brings Spider-Man to his own movie in Homecoming, which takes the character back to his roots as a high school student turned crime-fighter.  This is a sweet and compelling film that shows an eager Spider-Man attempting to rise to his potential.  Holland perfectly inhabits the character in a way few others have, and it was great to have a younger, fresher face to the iconic role.  This movie has a great story to it, and I loved the combination of wider conspiracy and the adventures of a teenage hero.  Michael Keaton is at his best as the Vulture, giving the character a very sinister edge, especially in that menacing car scene.  MCU newcomers Zendaya, Jacob Batalon and Tony Revolori all add so much to the movie’s humour, from Zendaya playing the snarky girl who is totally not watching Peter, to Batalon playing Ned, Peter’s guy in the chair.  I also love the use of Robert Downey Jr and Jon Favreau in this film, particularly as they start the fun tradition of having another hero mentoring Parker in one of the films.  A great and memorable film.

8. The Avengers

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Next we have the film that proved that a joint superhero franchise could work, The AvengersThe Avengers is possibly one of the most significant films in the entire MCU, due to the way it brought together the stars of the various introductory movies and forged a cohesive, team-based narrative around them.  Already established MCU stars Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L Jackson all perfectly bring their respective characters back and the various larger-than-life personalities have a wonderful time interacting with each other.  Hiddleston shines as the villainous Loki, adding more depth and madness to his already great character, crafting one of the best villains of all time.  In addition, the newly cast Mark Ruffalo proved it was possible for someone to do a good Hulk.  All these actors, characters and existing storylines come together perfectly and viewers are left with a sensational film with some amazing sequences to it.  While the front half of the movie is great, it really picks up steam in the second half, especially after one of the most tragic MCU moments (Coulson, nooooooo!!!).  The battle of New York was one of the most epic moments in film up at that point, and I loved director Joss Whedon’s use of continuous shots.  A perfect first introduction of The Avengers, this series could only go up from here.

7. Captain America: Civil War

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Sixth spot is given to the amazing third Captain America movie, Civil War.  Loosely based on the Marvel crossover comic of the same name, this film serves as a mini-Avengers movie, bringing in all the characters who appeared in Age of Ultron, as well as Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Winter Soldier and Black Panther.  Serving as a perfect introduction to several amazing characters (Spider-Man and Black Panther really shine here), there is such a good story behind this movie, especially as Captain America and Iron Man are manipulated into fighting each other.  Featuring several epic scenes, including that unbelievably awesome airport fight, and the final emotional battle between two former friends, you cannot leave Civil War without having your pulse raised to the max, especially in that iconic moment when Iron Man’s repulsor beam hits Cap’s shield.  The directors really focus on characters here, and there is so much amazing drama and development.  I do think that the villain, played by Daniel Brühl, was a little understated, but the rivalry between the two main heroes more than makes up for it.  Easily one of the most iconic films in the franchise.

6. Iron Man

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At number six, we go back to where this series started, with the first film, Iron Man.  This outstanding film completely revolutionised the superhero genre.  Featuring a perfectly cast Robert Downey Jr in the lead role, as well as a great group of supporting characters, this film captures the transition from playboy to a selfless hero.  With a tight, powerful story, this movie perfectly combines action, drama, and comedy to make an exceptional film.  The graphics are amazing and still hold up to this day, and there is a great gradual visual evolution of the Iron Man armour.  Despite there being no guarantee that this movie would succeed, the creative team manages to tell a great solo story, while also laying much of the groundwork for the wider MCU to come.  Not only did a surprise Samuel L Jackson cameo popularise the current trend of post-credit scenes, but there are several great references to characters and locations that would be used for years to come.  One of the best films in the franchise to focus on one superhero character, this is the film an entire franchise was built on, and boy did they chose an outstanding foundation stone.

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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When Captain America: The Winter Soldier was announced, I do not think any of us were prepared for just how incredible this film would be.  In their first MCU film, the Russo brothers created one of the most thrilling espionage films in the entire franchise, with twist after twist layered into its captivating narrative.  Chris Evans reaches a whole new level in this film, and his usually naïve and wholesome Captain America is forced to get down into the dirt to defeat his enemies.  Making great use of franchise regulars Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L Jackson and Cobie Smulders, as well as a returning Sebastian Stan, this was an incredibly well cast movie.  I loved the introduction of Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, and it is always great to go back and see where the future Captain America’s journey begins.  Legendary actor Robert Redford is a pretty sinister villain, and I loved the change of pace for this great actor.  However, I must really highlight Stan’s turn as the Winter Soldier.  While I knew who would be behind the mask, it was still a fantastic portrayal of this great character, and you will be moved by his tragic plight.  There are so many epic moments to this movie, and I loved the big twist about Hydra and SHIELD that would change everything about this franchise (it was so good, it turned Agents of SHIELD into a completely different show).  A powerful and captivating film that is one of the absolute classics.

4. Thor: Ragnarok

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Now we have the formerly third ranked film, the fantastically hilarious Thor: Ragnarok.  I know many people, myself included, were unimpressed when they announced that they were doing a new Thor movie.  However, the moment the first trailer came out, I knew that this would be something different.  The brilliant, if insane, Taika Waititi used all his substantial creativity to produce a wild and crazy thrill ride which takes Thor on a bonkers adventure of self-discovery.  Killing off many of the worst elements of the first two films (sometimes literally; goodbye Warriors Three), and adding in more humour, fantastic actors and an outstanding story, Ragnarok instantly stood out from the other films in the franchise.  Waititi let Hemsworth unleash his full comedic potential in this film, ensuring that fans were laughing along with every sentence.  Cate Blanchett was a fantastically evil villain, while Tessa Thompson brought a drunken anger to the new character of Valkyrie, plus you cannot ignore the hilarious Korg.  Add in a returning Hulk, a teleporting Dr Strange, and the madness personified that is Jeff Goldblum, and you have a cast that is capable of outshining even Tom Hiddleston’s excellent Loki, although Hiddleston is still a hilarious treat with some of the best lines.  Despite this mainly being a comedy, Waititi adds in enough drama and some spectacular drama to hit the feels button, and you run the full range of emotions in this film.  Beautiful filmmaking at its best, you will spend this film laughing your head off at all the awesome jokes.

3. Spider-Man: No Way Home

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The final new entry on this list is easily one of the best films in the entire MCU, with Spider-Man: No Way Home.  I knew going in that I was going to love it, but even so I was blown away by how incredible it turned out to be.  One of the brightest parts of 2021, No Way Home serves as the ultimate homage to Spider-Man in film, while also starting the MCU’s slide towards the multiverse.  Following on from the exceptional post-credit scene in Far From Home, No Way Home sees Spider-Man’s secret identity revealed, forcing him to turn to Doctor Strange for help.  Their spell instead brings forth Spider-Man’s villains from alternate universes (previous Sony franchises), as well as a familiar couple of web-heads in Andrew Garfield and Toby Maguire in a particularly epic scene.  This entire movie is pretty damn perfect, with a brilliant, intense and emotionally rich narrative that sees the current Peter Parker face his darkest days and greatest challenges.  Everything, including the absolute wreck of the characters’ personal lives at the start, the unbelievable and unexpected turn of May taking on Uncle Ben’s role, the return of the iconic phrase “with great power, there must also come great responsibility”, and the emotional removal of everyone’s memories, is designed to move you, especially with the amazing team of assembled actors.  Not only does it feature an amazing cast of reoccurring baddies, including exceptional work from the always awesome Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina, but the supporting case of Zendaya, Jacob Batalon and Marisa Tomei shines like never before.  However, this movie belongs to the Spider-Men, with Tom Holland giving his best performance in the MCU, and the returning Garfield and Maguire able to give final justice to their most iconic characters.  The real joy of the film lays in the deep dive into all things Spider-Man, with so many references, call-backs, and jokes about the proceeding films.  This is emphasised when all three Spider-Men are on screen at the same time, with the jokes flying thick, while the three actors bring forth their best moments of their characters.  There are so many cool moments here in this film, and it was great to finally see all the lose ends and unresolved storylines come full circle (Garfield’s Spider-Man catching MJ for example).  The packed cinema I was in kept bursting into applause for good reason, and this was truly a brilliant film, even beating the exceptional Ragnarok out of third place.

2. Avengers: Endgame

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Topping No Way Home on this list is a pretty tall order, so let us bring in the highest grossing film of all time and the utter culmination of 11 years and 22 films, with Avengers: Endgame.  Following on from the epic conclusion of Infinity War, Endgame is set in a universe where half the universe has been turned to dust, including some of your favourite characters.  When an opportunity to reverse this is presented, the remaining heroes jump at the chance and find themselves facing the biggest battle of their lives.  There is so much that is epic and awesome about this film, from the continued use of the amazing extended MCU cast, to the sheer tragic sadness that inhabits the world after so much loss and defeat.  Each of the surviving characters is caught up in their grief and helplessness, resulting in many different forms, including Ronin Hawkeye and fat Thor (a brilliant comedic choice that is just so hilarious and unexpected).  This film has literally every major hero from the franchise, and more, come together, and the amazing Russo brothers manage to ensure every single one of them gets their moment and no-one is overlooked.  There is an amazing story to this film, raging from time travel adventure to epic battle for survival, with several characters’ journey in the MCU coming to an end.  I challenge anyone not to react during the two big scenes at the end (He is Worthy, and Avengers Assemble), and you will leave this film breathless and in utter joy and happiness.  A worthy and exceptional film that nearly topped the entire list.

1. Avengers: Infinity War

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That leaves only one film left at the top, and for me the absolute best film in the entire MCU film series is Avengers: Infinity War.  This was a hard choice to make, and while I could have easily moved up Endgame due to shear epicness, I felt Infinity War was the stronger movie.  Not only does it bring together the events of the previous MCU films perfectly, showing fun new character interactions and fights, but it has an incredible and powerful story backed up with an exceptional cast and some amazing visuals.  There are so many cool moments to this film, and very few things you could criticize.  In addition to the outstanding and massive returning cast of characters, James Brolin absolutely shined as Thanos, and this film cemented him as one of the greatest film villains of all time.  Viewers knew that they were going to experience some heartbreak with this film, but nothing quite prepared you for seeing the tragic deaths of several characters, especially Gamora.  Top it off with that memorable and heart-breaking ending, where the villain actually wins and your favourite characters are dusted right before your eyes.  I think every single person left this movie in shock and awe, and there was no way that I could place any other film higher on this list.

Well, that is the end of that list.  I think that I chose pretty wisely when it came to updating my rankings, and this is how I would truly rate each and every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Now, I know that not everyone is going to agree with my ratings (heck I would be extremely surprised if anyone else had the exact same order I do), so feel free to share your feelings in the comments below, and I look forward to seeing which films you enjoyed.  I will probably revisit this list again next year, especially with the new MCU films coming out between now and then, and it will be extremely interesting to see where the upcoming MCU films end up ranking.  I am particularly keen for Thor: Love and Thunder, which has the potential to be even better than the impressive Ragnarok and will probably be the best film of 2022.  Of the next batch coming out, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has immeasurable potential, while Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania will probably be another fun romp with major, multiverse implications.  I am a little uncertain how Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will turn out without Chadwick Boseman, and The Marvels isn’t exactly wowing me yet, although that might change after the upcoming Ms. Marvel show comes still.  No matter what though, I am excited for the upcoming films, and I can’t wait to see how they rank on this list.

WWW Wednesday – 4 May 2022

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Nine Lives by Peter Swanson (Trade Paperback)

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I have been having a bit of fun this week reading the fantastic crime fiction novel, Nine Lives by Peter Swanson, whose work I previously enjoyed on Rules for Perfect Murder.  This intriguing read sees nine strangers each receive a letter with nine names on it, including their own, and before long, the people on this list start getting killed off.  This is a really cool concept for a mystery and I cannot wait to see how it resolves.  I have already made some good progress on Nine Lives and should hopefully finish it off soon.

 

World of Warcraft: Sylvanas by Christie Golden (Audiobook)

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I also just started listening to the new World of Warcraft novel, Sylvanas, by tie-in fiction author extraordinaire Christie Golden. This excellent novel follows the life of one of the games most complex characters, Sylvanas Windrunner, and shows how she went from respected hero to notorious villain.  Sure to be one of the better World of Warcraft tie-in novels, I am having a great time with this audiobook and will hopefully finish it off in the next week or so.

What did you recently finish reading?

Death of the Black Widow by James Patterson and J. D. Barker (Trade Paperback)

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The Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne (Audiobook)

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What do you think you’ll read next?

Wake by Shelley Burr

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That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.

Waiting on Wednesday – Upcoming Star Wars Novels 2022

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For this week’s Waiting on Wednesday article, and in honour of May the Fourth, better known as Star Wars Day, I am going to look at a couple of awesome Star Wars novels coming out later this year.

As readers of my blog are well aware, I love all things Star Wars and have made a great effort to read and review multiple Star Wars tie-in novels and comics over the last few years (make sure to check out the list of my favourite Star Wars novels I published yesterday).  2022 has already been a pretty good year for Star Wars fiction, seeing the end of the first phase of The High Republic series, as well as featuring some other fun reads, comics and shows.  While I haven’t had the chance to read a couple of the latest Star Wars novels yet, I fully intend to in the next few months, and I also have the intriguing Brotherhood by Mike Chen coming out in a few days’ time (I will have to try and read that before the new Obi-Wan Kenobi show comes out).  However, there are also three other great Star Wars novels coming out in the next few months that have caught my attention, and I thought today would be the best opportunity to highlight them in advance.  All three of these upcoming books sound really cool, and it will be nice to have a bit of a break away from the current High Republic range.

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The first of these upcoming books is the fantastic and intense Shadow of the Sith from Adam Christopher.  Christopher, who has previously released several intriguing Star Wars short stories, looks set to deliver a major entry to the current canon in late June 2022, as Shadow of the Sith attempts to fill in some of the gaps created by The Rise of Skywalker.

Synopsis:

Luke Skywalker and Lando Calrissian return in this essential novel set between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.

The Empire is dead. Nearly two decades on from the Battle of Endor, the tattered remnants of Palpatine’s forces have fled to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. But for the heroes of the New Republic, danger and loss are ever-present companions, even in this newly forged era of peace.

Jedi Master Luke Skywalker is haunted by visions of the dark side, foretelling an ominous secret growing somewhere in the depths of space, on a dead world called Exegol. The disturbance in the Force is undeniable…and Luke’s worst fears are confirmed when his old friend, Lando Calrissian, comes to him with reports of a new Sith menace.

After his daughter was stolen from his arms, Lando searched the stars for any trace of his lost child. But every new rumor only led to dead ends and fading hopes-until he crossed paths with Ochi of Bestoon, a Sith assassin tasked with kidnapping a young girl.

Ochi’s true motives remain shrouded to Luke and Lando. For on a junkyard moon, a mysterious envoy of the Sith Eternal has bequeathed a sacred blade to the assassin, promising that it will give him answers to the questions that have haunted him since the Empire fell. In exchange, he must complete a final mission: return to Exegol with the key to the Sith’s glorious rebirth-the granddaughter of Darth Sidious himself, Rey.

As Ochi hunts Rey and her parents to the edge of the galaxy, Luke and Lando race into the mystery of the Sith’s lingering shadow and aid a young family running for their lives.

Ooh, now this is an intriguing sounding Star Wars novel and one that I think could turn out to be very awesome.  Christopher is looking to tell an extremely ambitious story with Shadow of the Sith, and I am really hoping that it will pay off.  I already love the idea of a story that follows both Luke and Lando as they traverse the galaxy together (it’s not a partnership you see a lot of) and having them try to get to grips with the rising Sith threat, as well as the Emperor’s hidden base on Exegol, is pretty cool and could result in some amazing storylines.  I am also quite interesting in seeing more of compelling side character, Ochi of Bestoon, who has been getting a bit of love in the recent Darth Vader comic series.  I am quite curious to see what happens to this character after the fall of the Emperor, and finding out about his latest mission will be very fascinating.  Finally, it will be great to finally have some more information about Rey’s childhood and parents, especially as there were only minor details featured in The Rise of Skywalker.

Out of all the upcoming Star Wars novels, I think that Shadow of the Sith has the most potential.  Not only will it bring together some great characters in an emotional journey, but it will hopefully fil in a lot of lore gaps and try to explain some of the plot holes from the film.  If done right, Shadow of the Sith could become quite the invaluable read in the current Star Wars canon, and I am extremely intrigued to see what reveals and revelations it contains.

Star Wars - Padawan Cover

The second upcoming Star Wars book I want to highlight is the young adult novel, Padawan by Kiersten White, a talented author with a lot of experience in both young adult fiction and tie-in novels.  Padawan, which is coming out on 26 July, is a compelling prequel novel that will serve as one of the earlier Skywalker Saga novels in the current canon.  This book will follow a young Obi-Wan Kenobi as he goes on his first mission, with disastrous results.

Synopsis:

BEING A TEENAGER IS HARD ENOUGH WITHOUT ALSO TRAINING TO BE A JEDI….

Obi-Wan Kenobi has not been apprenticed long to Qui-Gon Jinn, and he is chafing at Qui-Gon’s training style: all meditation, no action. Obi-Wan yearns to prove himself on a mission, but when he and Qui-Gon are finally set to leave on an assignment, Qui-Gon is nowhere to be found. Angered by his master’s abandonment, Obi-Wan sets out on the mission alone, determined to prove himself. On a mysterious planet he encounters a pack of feral, Force-wielding teens who seem to be the planet’s only inhabitants. As he experiences wild freedom with them and wonders if this isn’t the life he was meant for, Obi-Wan can’t escape the nagging sense that something is wrong with the Force there. Growing attachments, startling revelations, and a looming threat to both the planet and his new friends will bring Obi-Wan face-to-face with his worst fear: that maybe he was never supposed to be a Jedi at all. Can he connect with the living Force in time to save himself and everyone around him?

It’s the star of the Obi-Wan Kenobi Disney+ limited series as you’ve never seen him before….

This is another fantastic sounding Star Wars novel that could also turn out to be quite a good read.  We seem to be getting several Obi-Wan Kenobi centric stories coming out this year (I wonder why?), although I am not complaining as I really want to see more about his backstory and the formative moments of his life.  I like the idea of a moody, teenage Obi-Wan rebelliously going off on a mission, only to get trapped with some other rebellious Force users, and I am curious to see what impact that has on him.  I do slightly worry that Padawan might rehash some of the character development and conflict between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn that was featured a couple of years ago in Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray.  However, I feel that there is some real possibility for a compelling story here in this plot synopsis and I am personally curious to see how it all turns out.

The final book that I wanted to highlight in this post is the fun sounding The Princess and the Scoundrel by Beth Revis, which alas I don’t yet have a cover for.  Revis, who has already written the Star Wars novel, Rebel Rising, will present a new chapter in the unique romance between Han Solo and Princess Leia.  Set for release in mid-August 2022, The Princess and the Scoundrel will focus on this unlikely pairing’s wedding and extravagant honeymoon.  Of course, nothing ever goes to plan for these two, so their honeymoon will turn into more of an action romp than a romantic journey.

Synopsis:

You are cordially invited to the wedding of Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo.

The Death Star is destroyed. Darth Vader is dead. The Empire is desolated. But on the forest moon of Endor, amongst the chaos of a changing galaxy, time stands still for a princess and her scoundrel.

After being frozen in carbonite, then risking everything for the Rebellion, Han is eager to stop living his life for other people. He and Leia have earned their future together, a thousand times over. And when he proposes to Leia, it’s the first time in a long time he’s had a good feeling about this. For Leia, a lifetime of fighting doesn’t truly seem over. There is work still to do, penance to pay for the dark secret she now knows runs through her veins. Her brother, Luke, is offering her that chance — one that comes with family and the promise of the Force. But when Han asks her to marry him, Leia finds her answer immediately on her lips . . . Yes.

But happily ever after doesn’t come easily. As soon as Han and Leia depart their idyllic ceremony on Endor for their honeymoon, they find themselves on the grandest and most glamorous stage of all: the Halcyon, a luxury vessel on a very public journey to the most wondrous worlds in the galaxy. Their marriage, and the peace and prosperity it represents, is a lightning rod for everyone in the galaxy — including Imperial remnants still clinging to power.

Facing their most desperate hour, the soldiers of the Empire have dispersed across the galaxy, retrenching on isolated worlds vulnerable to their influence. As the Halcyon travels from world to world, one thing becomes abundantly clear: The war is not over. But as danger draws closer, Han and Leia find that they fight their best battles not alone but as husband and wife.

Despite my general lack of enthusiasm for romance stories (I know, I’m such a guy sometimes), I am pretty excited for The Princess and the Scoundrel.  Not only do you get to see more a development of the relationship between Han and Leia after Return of the Jedi (which is mostly missing from the current canon), but this novel will also continue to explore the absolute chaos that followed the destruction of the second Death Star and the continued war.  I love the idea of the Han and Leia’s honeymoon being a big PR campaign that will showcase how many planets are going during this period and having Imperial remnant elements coming after them will add a certain amount of excitement and intrigue to the mix.  I think that The Princess and the Scoundrel will turn out to be a really good Star Wars novel and I cannot wait to see what sort of compelling story Revis writes around these great characters.

As you can no doubt see, there are some outstanding and brilliant sounding Star Wars novels coming out in the next few months.  All three of the above novels sound like excellent entries in the current Star Wars canon and I am very excited to see the amazing stories they contain.  It looks like these cool books will have a real focus on examining some of the main characters in the franchise, and I cannot wait to see what unique and powerful adventures they end up happening.  I already know I am going to have an incredible time checking these Star Wars books out and they should all be pretty epic.  Hopefully you will find the above books interesting, and, as always, May the Fourth by with you!

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Star Wars Novels (2022)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was to provide one-word reviews the last 10 books I have read.  While this was a rather interesting topic, I have done something a little different and instead decided to focus on something more Star Wars orientated.

As many of you may be aware, this week contains the annual celebration of all things Star Wars with May the Fourth, better known as Star Wars day.  I am a pretty massive fan of the Star Wars franchise (just check out my extended Star Wars category on the side of this page), and in recent years have really fallen in love with the various aspects of its extended universe, including the films, television shows, animated series, comics and of course the tie-in novels.  Each year multiple cool and complex novels are released with impressive connections to the extended Star Wars universe covering various periods of the canon and beyond.  I have had an absolute brilliant time reading some of the very best of these tie-in novels over the years and there are some excellent and powerful adventures featured in these awesome books.  Due to how much I enjoy these books, I have decided to celebrate May the Fourth this year by once again highlighting my top ten favourite Star Wars novels.  This is a continuation of several lists I have done in recent years, including two I did last year about Star Wars novels and Star Wars comics.

To pull this list together I looked at all the Star Wars novels I have read (or listened to in its audiobook format) over the years and tried to determine what my absolute favourites were.  I slightly cheated in places by featuring whole trilogies, particularly those with really well-connected storylines, as a single entry, although I don’t feel too guilty about that.  This allowed me to pull together quite a comprehensive list, as well as my typical generous Honourable Mentions section.  I am pretty happy with how this list came together, especially as there are some interesting changes from my previous entries, and I think that this list fully highlights my absolute favourite Star Wars tie-in novels.  So let us see what makes the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber

deathtrooperscover

A fun and terrifying Star Wars horror novel that features zombies chasing after Han and Chewie.  An entertaining read best enjoyed in its audiobook format, which has some very disturbing sound effects.

 

Doctor Aphra by Sarah Kuhn

Doctor Aphra Audio Cover

A captivating and well-produced full cast audio production that looks at the unique and always amusing character of Doctor Chelli Aphra, the rogue space archaeologist and conwoman.  An audio reproduction of storylines from the Darth Vader (2015) comic (see my reviews for Volume 1: Vader, Volume 2: Shadows and Secrets, and the Vader Down limited series), Doctor Aphra perfectly captures the titular character in all her conniving glory and it is an extremely amusing listen.

 

Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber

Star Wars - Maul - Lockdown Cover

A brutal and action-packed prison story featuring a young Darth Maul involved in broadcast death fights.  What is there not to love?

 

The High Republic: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule

Star Wars - Light of the Jedi Cover

A brilliant and powerful introduction to the new High Republic sub-series, set hundreds of years before the Skywalker Saga.  This was an excellent novel and a must read for anyone interested in checking out the current focus of the Star Wars extended universe.

Top Ten List:

Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn

Thrawn Trilogy

Let’s start this list off with the epic trilogy of books that follow one of the best characters in the Star Wars extended canon, the Thrawn trilogy.  Made up of Thrawn, Alliances and Treason, these amazing books follow the Imperial career of Grand Admiral Thrawn in the current Disney canon.  Written by the legendary Timothy Zahn, who reinvents his greatest fictional creation for a new age, this series featured a brilliant central character, impressive storylines, and some intense and well-written space battle sequences.  It is so much fun to see the ultimate tactician go against the very worst the galaxy has to throw at him, and this ended up being a particularly awesome trilogy.

 

Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy by Timothy Zahn

Thrawn Ascendancy Trilogy Covers

Zahn followed up this initial Thrawn trilogy in a big way with the epic Thrawn Ascendancy prequel trilogy.  Featuring three great books, Chaos Rising, Greater Good and Lesser Evil, the Thrawn Ascendancy novels showcase a younger Thrawn as he battles to save his home system from a relentless and multi-pronged alien invasion.  Containing all the best elements of the Thrawn trilogy, as well as some intensive and detailed universe building that bears noticeable connections to the author’s previous work in the Legends extended universe, this is another exceptional trilogy that is well worth reading.

 

Alphabet Squadron trilogy by Alexander Freed

Alphabet Squadron Cover

Alexander Freed recently wrote one of the strongest and most emotionally charged Star Wars trilogies with his exceptional Alphabet Squadron books.  Made up of Alphabet Squadron, Shadow Fall and Victory’s Price, this incredible trilogy followed five unique New Republic fighter pilots in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi, as they attempt to finish off the Imperial remnant.  This trilogy perfectly follows its five damaged and despairing central characters, as well as several morally grey Imperial characters, as they all seek redemption and deliverance in their own unique way.  Featuring some blistering and epic fighter combat sequences, as well as some of the best Star Wars character development you are ever likely to see, the Alphabet Squadron novels are extremely good, with Victory’s Price (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021) serving as an intense and unbeatable finale.

 

Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

Star Wars Dark Disciple Cover

Prepare to dive into the Dark Side of the Force with the excellent Dark Disciple from tie-in fiction extraordinaire Christie Golden.  Serving as a follow-up to The Clone Wars animated series (it is based on several unproduced episodes), this novel follows two fan-favourite characters from the extended universe, Quinlan Vos and Asajj Ventress, as they attempt to assassinate Count Dooku.  Containing an intense character-driven narrative that sees both protagonists at their very worst, Dark Disciple provides some intriguing closure to fans of The Clone Wars, as well as an exceptional story.

 

Kenobi by John Jackson Miller

Star Wars - Kenobi Cover

An intriguing and unique Star Wars Legends novel that is probably going to get some more attention in the next few weeks, Kenobi is a new addition to this list, but one that is very well deserved.  Written by the insanely talented John Jackson Miller, Kenobi follows the titular character in the immediate aftermath of Revenge of the Sith, as he attempts to settled down on Tatooine.  However, trouble is always around the corner for this former Jedi, and Kenobi soon finds himself involved in a brewing war between the Tuscan Raiders and local farmers.  Containing a great, outside look as this iconic character during his darkest days, Kenobi is an impressive read that may serve as an influence for the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi show.

 

The High Republic: The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott

Star Wars - The Rising Storm Cover

While Light of the Jedi serves as a great introduction to the High Republic books, I think that the current best entry in this fantastic sub-series is the intense and captivating The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott.  Continuing many great storylines from the first book, The Rising Storm sees the villainous Nihil raid the high-profile Republic Fair in a brazen public attack.  Containing scenes of utter chaos, as well as some outstanding character development, The Rising Storm serves as a perfect middle novel for the first High Republic phase and was a deeply captivating and powerful read.

 

Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp

Lords of the Sith Cover

An indisputable fact about the Star Wars universe is that some of the very best stories are all about the franchise’s amazing villains, and Lords of the Sith is an impressive example of this.  Following the characters of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, Lords of the Sith pits these legendary Dark Side users against rebels, monsters and traitors, all of whom are set on killing them.  Featuring an addictive story and some entertaining depictions of the Sith Lord’s destructive powers, skills and malevolence, Lords of the Sith is a brilliant read that will try to tempt you to the Dark Side.

 

Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars Scoundrels Cover

While Zahn is best known for his epics around Thrawn, he has also written some thrilling standalone novels, such as the excellent Star Wars Legends novel Scoundrels.  Essentially a Star Wars heist novel, Scoundrels sees Han, Chewie, Lando and several of their villainous compatriots attempt to pull off the ultimate theft, while also facing gangsters, Imperial agents and multiple betrayals from within.  An outstanding novel that showcases just how good a crime fiction novel in the Star Wars universe can be, this is an exceptional read I cannot praise enough.

 

Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray

Master & Apprentice Cover

I am a major fan of this awesome novel from a few years ago by Claudia Gray.  Master & Apprentice tells a powerful story of the early relationship between Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi as they investigate strange occurrences around an upcoming coronation.  Providing a deep dive into both these key characters, this was a moving and intense novel that is really worth checking out.

 

Darth Plagueis by James Luceno

Star Wars - Darth Plagueis Cover

The final entry on this list is the intriguing and comprehensive Star Wars Legends novel, Darth Plagueis.  Written by the talented James Luceno, Darth Plagueis tells the entire story of the mysterious Darth Plagueis the Wise, including his complex relationship with his ambitious apprentice, Darth Sidious.  A clever novel that connects to multiple parts of the now defunct Legends canon, Darth Plagueis is a must read for all hardcore fans who love detailed Star Wars lore, and a potential source of great inspiration for anyone attempting to bring Plagueis to life in the future.

 

 

This latest version of the list looking at my favourite Star Wars tie-in novels contains some fantastic reads and really covers the full spectrum of what a Star Wars story can achieve or contain.  All the entries above are very epic reads and come highly recommended to anyone who wants to get into the Star Wars genre.  This will probably be a list I come back to this time next year and it will be interesting to see how much it changes in the meantime.  There are some outstanding Star Wars books coming out in the next few months (Brotherhood and Shadow of the Sith, for example), as well as some other great Star Wars books from this year I am yet to check out, all of which I could easily see being added to this list next year.  There are also a ton of older Star Wars novels I need to read as I have heard some epic stuff about some of them (Battlefront: Twilight Company, A New Dawn, Outbound Flight, Razor’s Edge and Honor Among Thieves are all high on my to-read list).  I could honestly see this list expanding out to a top 20 list in the future, which is a whole lot of Star Wars books.  Let me know which Star Wars tie-in novel is your favourite in the comments below and as always, May the Fourth be with you!

Death of the Black Widow by James Patterson & J. D. Barker

Death of the Black Widow Cover

Publisher: Century (Trade Paperback – 12 April 2022)

Series: Standalone

Length: 520 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Prepare for one of the trippiest and darkest thrillers of 2022 with Death of the Black Widow, the latest brilliant standalone novel from the all-star team of James Patterson and J. D. Barker.

Few thriller writers out there at the moment are as well-known or prolific as superstar author James Patterson.  Patterson has been absolutely dominating the thriller and crime fiction genre for nearly 30 years and has an incredible catalogue of works to his name, including his best-selling Alex Cross books.  In recent years, Patterson has released a torrent of works, including some solo books and several novels done in collaboration with other talented writers and even a few celebrities.  I personally have loved several of his previous collaborated books, including Lost (co-written with James O. Born) and 2 Sisters Detective Agency (co-written with Candice Fox).  However, one of the more intriguing authors he has teamed up with is acclaimed thriller and horror author J. D. Barker.  Barker, whose work I previously enjoyed on Dracul (co-written with Dacre Stoker), has already produced two intriguing novels with Patterson, The Coast-to-Coast Murders and The Noise.  I have been keen to check out this awesome writing team for a while (The Noise is currently sitting on my shelf waiting for my attention), and when I received a copy of their latest book, Death of the Black Widow, I made sure to read it as soon as possible.

It is a typical night in Detroit until former police officer Walter O’Brien and his comrades call in a bomb threat on a busy night club and use concentrated sniper fire to keep its patrons trapped inside.  When the police arrive on scene, Walter surrenders to them and offers them a simple choice: allow them to kill a single woman hidden within the club, or watch as the entire building is destroyed.  But who is this mysterious woman and what has driven Walter and his friends to such extremes?

The origins of these desperate actions date back decades to when a young Walter O’Brien is called to a murder scene on his very first night for the Detroit PD.  What he uncovers is a terrible and bloody crime scene: a scared and surprisingly alluring young woman has apparently escaped from captivity and skillfully bludgeoned her ruthless captor to death with a lamp.  Attempting to take her to hospital, Walter is shocked when she escapes from his custody, leaving an impression on him that will last a lifetime.

Years later, as a new homicide detective, Walter has a chance encounter with someone he believes to be same women from that fateful night.  Still obsessed with his previous encounter, Walter attempts to track her down, only to find a disturbing pattern between this mysterious and woman and several disturbing and unexplainable murders he is investigating.  But when his case takes an even more unusual twist, Walter finds himself thrust into something far bigger than himself.  A secret government agency is attempting to find this mysterious woman, and soon they and Walter begin to uncover a disturbing trend of murders going back years.  As Walter begins to lose himself more and more to obsession, he becomes determined to be the one to stop any more killings.  But what is he willing to do to stop the deaths once and for all?

Wow, now that was a fun and intense book.  Patterson and Barker have produced something very special with Death of the Black Widow, which was an utterly insane and awesome read.  I was actually a little surprised with how much I enjoyed this clever book, and I think I have very little choice but to give it a full five-star rating.

Now, I must admit that when I started reading Death of the Black Widow, I honestly did not know too much about the book, apart from what was in the synopsis.  From that and the name, I assumed that this was going to be a psychological thriller or a spy thriller.  However, while Death of the Black Widow does have thriller and murder mystery elements to it, and indeed it appears to be a purely crime fiction novel for the first few chapters, it actually turned out to be something entirely more complex.  Within the first 100 pages or so, you begin to realise that the authors are subtly including elements from other genres, and Death of the Black Widow soon starts to take on a distinctive horror vibe, with some incredible brutal killings done under extremely unusual circumstances.  While I was surprised by this, I cannot say that I was disappointed.  Instead, I felt that it was a brilliant move from the authors and one that played particularly well to Barker’s strengths.  This new genre combines well with the books existing thriller/crime fiction framework to create an intense and exhilarating read that is extremely easy to get into and very, very hard to put down.  I personally found myself powering through the last 350+ pages in less than a day, especially once I begun to fully understand just how clever and weird things were about to get.

I was really impressed with how Death of the Black Widow unfolded as a story, especially as Patterson and Barker went out of their way to make this standalone read as enticing and epic as possible.  The book starts in the present day and shows the older protagonist and his compatriots entering the end game of their confrontation with a mysterious woman.  This serves as a great setup to the rest of the story, which jumps back multiple decades to 1986, when Walter and the mysterious woman, known here as Amy Archer, first meet, and the strange and deadly circumstances behind their encounter.  The story then jumps forward several years to 1992, where Walter is investigating several strange murders when he has a chance encounter with someone he believes is Amy.  This results in an intriguing series of chapters where Walter deals with both the investigation and his growing obsession with this girl, before everything blows up terribly and the mystery becomes more convoluted and unusual with each new revelation.  This pattern continues throughout the book, with the story jumping ahead years at a time to show the multiple encounters between Walter and his obsession.  Each time period reveals some intriguing new angles and elements, and you find out new revelations about the woman the protagonist is hunting, resulting in the full truth about her finally being revealed.  The novel also keeps slipping back to the siege occurring in the present, with some new characters trying to uncover what Walter and his team are up to as the protagonists provide them with hints about who they are and what they are after.

I deeply enjoyed that the authors chose to utilise a split timeline for Death of the Black Widow, especially as it works extremely well to tell this outstanding narrative.  The switch between time periods and chronological length of the story really enhances just how mysterious the events of the book are and the powerful, life-altering impact they have on the protagonist.  There are many clever elements to the switches between the periods, and I loved the subtle inclusions in the present timeline that hint at the events in the past that the protagonist was yet to experience, and the full impacts of them.  There are also some fun summaries loaded at the front of each change between the past and the present that represent the protagonist’s notes on the case.  Not only can these be useful to remind the reader where they are, but it helps to highlight just how massive the case gets, especially towards the end of the book, as well as tracking Walter’s growing obsession (especially the last one).  This entire story is loaded up with brilliant reveals and shocking twists, and I was honestly surprised and very thrilled in some of the excellent directions that the authors took the story.  You will honestly have a hard time putting this novel down once you get past the halfway point, especially once the 1992 storyline comes to its shocking end, and the intense revelations and horrific scenes of the next few time periods ensures you will become unerringly trapped as you attempt to find out more about the antagonist and their past.  This entire story of obsession, murder and mystery concludes perfectly in the present, with some truly big moments, as everything comes full circle and twists that have been hidden in plain sight since the start come into the light.  This was such a great story, and I frankly loved every single second I spent reading it.

I cannot finish talking about this book without mentioning the excellent characters it contained.  Death of the Black Widow features an intriguing and unique cast, each of whom brings something fun and compelling to the story.  The most prominent of these is Walter O’Brien, who serves as the central point-of-view character for most of the story.  Thanks to how the book progresses, you get to see the entirety of Walter’s life unfold, from his young days as a rookie cop, all the way up to his present, when an older, dying Walter attempts to bring his great obsession to an end by finally catching the woman who has haunted him for decades.  This ensures you get a brilliant look at this character and it proves absolutely fascinating to see the various stages of his life and the continued impacts of his interactions with the woman he knows as Amy Archer.  One of the best parts of this is that you get to see the growing obsession that Walter builds towards this woman, as meeting her proves to be a defining experience for him.  Despite the fact that his interaction with her are relatively short, each time he meets Amy she changes his life in a different way and he soon becomes quite obsessed with her.  This obsession continues to bloom, even after certain revelations about her and her actions become known, and he is forced to fight his own feelings and observations throughout the entire book, especially once it becomes clear that this obsession is mutual and that Amy is drawn to Walter as well in a twisted romance that is so damn dark.  Watching this usually confident and capable person being haunted by this obsession proves to be powerful and captivating centre to this story, and you really feel for this protagonist as he struggles.  Walter ends up serving a great role as the central protagonist of this story, and I found his entire character arc to be extremely well written and cleverly exposed.

On the other side of the coin is the mysterious woman who serves as the titular Black Widow of the story.  Known to Walter as Amy, this woman serves as a shadowy and enigmatic figure in the book, especially as you have no idea who she truly is for most of it.  To avoid spoilers, I will not go into too much detail about her here, but I will say she was an exquisite and amazing character, and the authors did a remarkable job bringing her to life and fitting her into this remarkable story.  She is easily one of the most distinctive and memorable literary villains I have read for a while, and if they ever make a movie of this book (which they really should), I think a great actor could turn her into something very special.  These two characters, as well as some other great supporting characters (the members of Walter’s team in the present day, as well as some distinctive cops from the past timelines for example), prove to be the beating heart of this incredible story, and it was absolutely fascinating to see how their intriguing lives worked in to the plot of this book.

No doubt it, I was really, really impressed with Death of the Black Widow, which ended up being one of the most exciting and compelling reads of 2022 so far.  The outstanding team of James Patterson and J. D. Barker were absolutely amazing here, producing a clever and intricate thriller, loaded with unique characters, a deep obsession laden storyline and some excellent horror elements.  This was easily one of the most unique and memorable novels I have read in a while, and I loved every single second I was going through it.  A highly recommended read that will appeal to anyone interested in a dark and deadly read, you will not be disappointed with Death of the Black Widow.

Death of the Black Widow Cover 2

Desperate Undertaking by Lindsey Davis

Desperate Undertaking Cover 2

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (Trade Paperback – 12 April 2022)

Series: Flavia Albia – Book 10

Length: 398 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Buckle up for an intense, captivating and exceedingly memorable historical murder mystery as bestselling author Lindsey Davis unleashes the 10th entry in the deeply clever and compelling Flavia Albia series, Desperate Undertaking.

It’s that awesome time when I get to gush about the newest entry in Davis’s excellent, long-running Flavia Albia series, which has been a major fixture in my reading schedule for the last several years.  The sequel series to her iconic Marcus Didius Falco novels, the Flavia Albia novels follow the daughter of Davis’s original protagonist as she solves unusual murders across ancient Rome.  Thanks to the series’ typical great combination of intriguing characters, complex mysteries, excellent historical elements and great humour, I always have an amazing time reading these novels, which usually get very high ratings from me.  Some of the more intriguing Flavia Albia novels in recent years include The Third Nero, Pandora’s Boy, A Capitol Death, The Grove of the Caesars (one of my favourite books of 2020) and A Comedy of Terrors.  Due to the quality and entertainment capability of this series, I eagerly keep an eye out for Davis’ new book each year and I was exceedingly chuffed when I got a copy of Davis’ latest novel, Desperate Undertaking.

Rome, 89 AD.  The year is coming towards an end and the city is ready to enter a sleepy holiday period.  Unfortunately, murderers are notoriously bad at taking breaks, and Flavia Albia, paid informer, dogged investigator and daughter of notorious busybody Marcus Didius Falco, is about to get dropped into the most disturbing case of her life.  With her parents away on holiday and her impromptu family preparing to settle in for the quiet period, Albia receives a job request she cannot refuse.  An aged actor, part of a troupe her parents travelled with in their youth, has been killed, horribly crucified in a public place.  Starting her investigation, Albia and her husband, Tiberius, are shocked to discover this is not the only murder confronting them as they suddenly discover the first victim’s widow was also murdered in terrible circumstances.  Her last words to Albia: “The undertaker did it…”.

Determined to find the person responsible for the horrific murders of her parent’s friends, Albia begins her investigation, diving into Rome’s theatre scene.  But when another actor associated with the troupe is killed in a cruelly inventive way, Albia begins to realise that these are no ordinary murders.  A twisted and determined serial killer is on the loose, bearing a terrible grudge against the actors and anyone associated with them.  Worse, their exceedingly public killings all bear striking similarities to some of the most brutal moments in classic plays, causing their victims to suffer in horrific ways.

With the bodies piling up and the city in an uproar, Albia must solve the most unusual and deadly case of her career before more of her parents’ friends end up dead.  But the closer she gets to the truth, the more she begins to realise that these murders bear a strong connection to one of her father’s past cases.  Worst, Albia soon realises that her connection to the currently absent Falco has made herself and everyone she loves a target of a demented killer determined to get revenge.

Davis does it again with Desperate Undertaking, producing a wildly entertaining and exceedingly clever historical murder mystery that I had a brilliant time reading.  Perfectly bringing together a disturbing mystery with an excellent historical setting, some great characters and the author’s trademark humour, Desperate Undertakings is an outstanding read and it ended up being yet another Flavia Albia book that gets a full five-star rating from me.

I must admit that I have sometimes found Davis to be a bit of an inconsistent writer; while most of her novels are extremely good, a few of them do not quite measure up in terms of substance or entertainment.  However, Desperate Undertakings is easily one of the better books in the Flavia Albia series as Davis pulled together an exceptional and dark murder mystery narrative that will leave a memorable impression on the reader.  For this latest story, Davis drops a lot of the family/household storylines that have been a significant, if slightly distracting, feature of the previous novels, and instead focuses on an intense and elaborate murder mystery that effortlessly grabbed my attention and ensured I was extremely hooked on this fantastic novel.  The book starts off extremely strong, firstly with a foreboding introductory short chapter, and then with a great series of compelling early chapters that drag the protagonist into the investigation.  These early chapters feature two dramatic (literally) and elaborate murders that really stand out due to their brutal and distinctive nature (the second one is particularly gruesome and over-the-top), as well as their connections to some of Davis’s iconic protagonists.  As such, the reader becomes really invested in the case early on, and you soon get thrust into an elaborate in clever murder inquiry storyline.  Davis sets up this investigation really well, and there are a series of great leads, potential suspects and unique theories that pan out as the novel proceeds in an excellent way.  While the novel slowed down slightly after the initial murders, the next series of killings picks the pace right up again, which the story maintains for the rest of the book.  I really enjoyed how the entire mystery came together, and there are some really clever twists and turns here, with seemingly minor characters or story elements coming back in some big ways later in the book.  Everything leads up to a big and impressive conclusion and readers will be left rocked by the elaborate and powerful nature of the plot, as well as how damn dark this novel got in places.

Desperate Undertakings is extremely well written and I loved how Davis pulled this entire novel together.  Davis once again hits the perfect blend of murder mystery, historical elements and character driven story elements in this book, as the reader is engrossed in this brilliant Roman based tale.  I did feel that this one was significantly darker in places than some of Davis’s previous novels, which I really liked, especially as it results in some particularly gruesome killings.  The story is once again told from the perspective of central character Flavia Albia as she traverses the mean streets of Rome to find her culprit.  This central focus allows for much of the books fantastic humour, as Albia’s comedic and exceedingly modern perspective of events is extremely entertaining, while also providing a Roman noir feel for the murder investigation.  Like most of the books in the Flavia Albia series, Desperate Undertakings can easily be read as a standalone read, with any relevant elements from the previous novel rehashed for the new reader.  However, Desperate Undertakings also bears a strong connection to one of Davis’s older novels, the sixth book in the Falco series, the 1994 release Last Act in Palmyra.  Multiple characters and elements from this book make an appearance here, with several of them serving big roles in this book, either as supporting characters, suspects or victims.  Davis rehashes the events of this previous book extremely well, and readers who haven’t had the chance to enjoy it are still able to enjoy Desperate Undertakings without any issues, while those who have will no doubt enjoy the fun call back.  I felt that these past elements were utilised extremely well, especially as these past events also impacted the present storyline.  This entire novel came together brilliantly, and I was extremely enthralled by its great writing and powerful story the entire way through.

I always deeply enjoy how Davis portrays the historical elements in her novels and Desperate Undertakings was a particularly good example of this.  The reader is once again treated to breathtaking depictions of ancient Rome, with everything from the chaos of the streets, the culture of the people, and the slapdash take on law enforcement used to full effect throughout the course of the plot.  There are some brilliant descriptions of some of ancient Rome’s earlier sties, especially as the murders make use of some iconic locations for the sites of their crimes, and you get an excellent sense of the city thanks to Davis’s descriptive and powerful writing.  However, the best part of these historical elements is the dive into the Roman theatre scene, which is a key part of the books plot.  Davis provides an intriguing and entertaining look at the city’s theatre elements throughout the novel, and you soon become deeply engrossed in her entertaining portrayal of these eccentric and proud actors and entertainers.

Desperate Undertakings also takes quite an intriguing look at the various plays and performances put on during this period as the killer utilises some of Rome’s bloodiest and most elaborate plays as a basis for setting up their murders.  This causes the protagonist to really dive into all the plays of the period and you get a good idea of several of the more iconic and distinctive ones, especially those that have elements of death involved.  I found it really interesting to find out about this part of Roman culture, especially the deadly twists that are sometimes involved with them, and it was a great part of the plot.  I also felt that Davis did a remarkable job working these historical theatre aspects into the plot of Desperate Undertakings, and it really helped to make the murder mystery stand out.  I particularly enjoyed how the author broke the book down into sections, each one of them named after a play that corresponds to the murder that Flavia is about to discover.  This allows for a glorious bit of foreshadowing, especially for those with an interest in classics and theatre, and it was an excellent addition to the book.  I deeply appreciate how Davis utilised these historical plays as the inspiration for her murders in Desperate Undertaking and it really gave this book a very distinctive feel.  Readers are warned that some of the murders are a bit graphic thanks to how they are portrayed in these plays, and you are in for some barbaric punishment as a result.

Another strong aspect of Desperate Undertakings was the excellent and compelling characters that Davis featured throughout.  As usual, this great cast is headed up by the intrepid Flavia Albia, who serves as the main protagonist and point-of-view character for the book.  Albia is a really entertaining protagonist, especially as Davis presents her as a cynical private investigator with very specific views of the reality of life in ancient Rome.  The daughter of another cynical protagonist, Falco, Albia spends most of the book making astute and hilarious observations about the people, locations, and events around her, and much of the book’s humour results from the amusing and noticeably modern way she sees the world around her.  As such, Albia really adds a lot to this intriguing story and it is always so much fun to see her waltzing around Rome solving her elaborate cases.  It was particularly interesting to see her reactions to the murders that occur in Desperate Undertakings.  Despite her familiarity with death and Rome’s underbelly, these killings really hit her hard due to their brutal nature and the connection that the victims have to her parents.  I felt this was a really compelling and powerful change to the character, and it really helped to highlight just how dark this book got in places.

Desperate Undertaking also features a wide cast of characters, all of whom have some entertaining or intriguing moments through the book.  Davis utilises a blend of established characters, new figures and even several characters who have not appeared since the Falco series.  All these characters are utilised extremely well in this novel, and the author does a good job of introducing (or reintroducing) them throughout the course of the plot.  As usual, this includes Albia’s husband, Tiberius, who serves as a good straight man to Albia’s eccentric antics, and helps to focus the investigation in places.  Other interesting characters include a newly introduced cop who balances between competence and political expediency and serves as another excellent foil to Albia’s more unusual investigation methods.  The various actors and theatre related figures are pretty entertaining, and Davis introduces some eccentric characters, many of whom serve as potential suspects or victims as you get to know them more.  I also felt that Davis did a good job with the killer (or killers) featured in this book, as they have a unique motivation, and a compelling personality that is slowly uncovered throughout the course of the book.  Finding out just who they are and why they are doing these dreadful killings is extremely fascinating and results in some brilliant character moments.  Other supporting characters are also extremely entertaining, including a very strong butcher and two very cultured vigils, and I had a brilliant time getting to know them all.

With the extremely awesome and captivating Desperate Undertakings, the always incredible Lindsey Davis continues to reign from atop the historical murder mystery mountain.  This latest Flavia Albia novel is exceedingly epic, containing a brilliant and dark investigation story that sees the series’ outstanding protagonist encounter a truly demented killer.  With some fascinating and distinctive historical elements, especially those surrounding the bloody and memorable plays, Desperate Undertakings really stands out and was an amazing amount of fun to read.  This was one of the better and more memorable entries in this excellent long-running series, especially with its vicious murders and great character work, and it comes extremely highly recommended.

Desperate Undertaking Cover 1

WWW Wednesday – 27 April 2022

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Death of the Black Widow by James Patterson and J. D. Barker (Trade Paperback)

Death of the Black Widow Cover

I just started reading Death of the Black Widow, a compelling and exciting thriller from the intriguing writing team of James Patterson and J. D. Barker.  Death of the Black Widow follows a young police officer who becomes obsessed with a mysterious murderess and spends the rest of his life trying to hunt her down.  I am about 60 pages into Death of the Black Widow at the moment and I am already hooked on its thrilling and captivating narrative. 

 

The Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne (Audiobook)

The Hunger of the Gods Cover

I am still going with this audiobook version of The Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne which is proving to be extremely exceptional.  The sequel to his highly regarded 2021 dark fantasy novel, The Shadow of the Gods, The Hunger of the Gods continues the brilliant storylines established in the first book while also introducing some fun new point-of-view characters.  I am loving every single second of this great book and I cannot wait to see how everything comes together at the end.  I have made some significant progress with this audiobook in the last week and I should hopefully finish it off in the next few days.

What did you recently finish reading?

The German Wife by Kelly Rimmer (Trade Paperback)

The German Wife Cover

 

Desperate Undertaking by Lindsey Davis (Trade Paperback)

Desperate Undertaking Cover 2

What do you think you’ll read next?

World of Warcraft: Sylvanas by Christie Golden

World of Warcraft - Sylvanas Cover

 

 

That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.

Waiting on Wednesday – Desert Star by Michael Connelly

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  In this latest Waiting on Wednesday I take a look at the next epic book from the master of crime fiction, Michael Connelly, Desert Star.

Desert Star Cover

Over the last few years, I have started to really become much more of a crime fiction reader after years of primarily focusing on other genres.  During this time, I have had the pleasure of reading excellent series from several great and impressive crime fiction authors, however one of my absolute favourites is legendary author Michael Connelly, who has been one of the leading figures of this genre since his debut back in 1992.  Despite becoming a fan of Connelly much later than most readers, I have really enjoyed his recent work which features an intriguing range of murder mysteries and thrillers set inside one combined crime fiction universe.  While I have had the pleasure of reading novels from his Jack McEvoy (Fair Warning) and Mickey Haller (The Law of Innocence) sub-series, the books I have read the most are the Ballard and Bosch novels.

Starting in 2018 with Dark Sacred Night, the Ballard and Bosch books brought together one of Connelly’s newest protagonists, Renee Ballard, with his most iconic and heavily featured character, Harry Bosch.  This fun team up worked really well, and I loved seeing the fantastic mentor/mentee relationship that formed between the cynical and damaged female detective and the retired, veteran investigator still trying to stay in the game.  Connelly followed this initial novel with two brilliant books, The Night Fire (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2019) and The Dark Hours (one of my favourite books of 2021), both of which utilised the combination of characters extremely well.

It looks like this fun will continue later this year as Connelly is producing another Ballard and Bosch book with Desert Star.  This awesome upcoming novel, which is currently set for release in November 2022, contains an incredible sounding story that will see these two impressive characters team up for another complex case.

Synopsis:

LAPD detective Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch work together to hunt the killer who is Bosch’s “white whale”—a man responsible for the murder of an entire family.

A year has passed since LAPD detective Renée Ballard quit the force in the face of misogyny, demoralization, and endless red tape. Yet, after the chief of police himself tells her she can write her ticket within the department, Ballard takes back her badge, leaving “the Late Show” to rebuild the cold case unit at the elite Robbery-Homicide Division.

For years, Harry Bosch has been working a case that haunts him but that he hasn’t been able to crack—the murder of an entire family by a psychopath who still walks free. Ballard makes Bosch an offer: come work with her as a volunteer investigator in the new Open-Unsolved Unit, and he can pursue his “white whale” with the resources of the LAPD behind him.

The two must put aside old resentments to work together again and close in on a dangerous killer. 

I really like the sound of Desert Star and think it is going to end up being a particularly awesome and memorable entry in this extended universe.  There are several interesting storyline elements already hinted at in the above synopsis that have grabbed my attention.  I am very intrigued to see the fallout from the previous book where Ballard quit the LAPD, and it will be pretty cool to see her return to the force and start up her own investigative unit.  At the same time, we get some compelling investigative elements as Bosch attempts to catch a killer he has been pursuing for years, and no doubt there will be some other connected cases that Ballard is working on.  Some of these storylines have been hinted at before in some of the previous books, and I look forward to seeing how they are resolved, as well as the impact that they have on the main two characters.

Another part of the book that I am quite keen on seeing is the continued partnership between Ballard and Bosch, as well as the overall impressive character development of this sub series.  Both characters have gone through a lot in their last few books, and I am curious to see how some of their storylines continue here.  Ballard’s brush with sexism, corruption and harassment in the LAPD, will no doubt be continued, and it will be fascinating to see how her recent decisions will impact that.  It will also be great to see Bosch finally get a chance to solve a case that has been bugging him for years, and I’m sure there will be some follow up to the family and health focused storylines that have been hinted at in some of the prior books.  I am also a little curious to see how much Bosch is utilised in Desert Star, considering he was partially sidelined in the previous novel.  Based on how much he is featured in the synopsis above, I would assume he’ll once again be used as a point-of-view character here, and it will be interesting to see his take on all the relevant events.  I have a feeling there is going to be some major, passing of the torch moments in Desert Star and I cannot wait to see how everything turns out.

Look, based on how much I have loved Connelly’s latest books I was already extremely confident that I was going to love Desert Star, even before I knew all the details about it.  However, now that I’ve seen the plot synopsis above, I reckon this is going to be an incredible read.  Not only does the central mystery element sound really cool, but it seems like this one is going to present some major changes for the main two protagonists.  I cannot wait to see how this awesome novel unfolds and I foresee Desert Star receiving a five-star rating from me.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Books with Dragons on the Cover

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday participants are tasked with listing their top books that have covers with a specific design element chosen by the blogger, for example books with certain colours, items or animals on their cover.  I thought that this was a pretty clever idea for a topic and I decided to go big with it and choose book covers that have the ultimate animal for my list, dragons.

Let’s face it, we all love dragons!  They are some of the coolest creatures in mythology, with multiple cultures having their own version or alteration of the dragon in their storytelling traditions.  Due to how iconic there are, the use of dragons in storytelling naturally transferred itself across to the world of fantasy fiction, becoming one of the most classic and well utilised monsters or companion creatures in books and movies, such as The Hobbit and the A Song of Ice and Fire series.  As such there are multiple book covers out there that feature dragons to some degree and I was curious to see which ones amongst them were my favourite.

To pull this list together, I had a think about all the best books that featured cool dragon-related cover art.  There were quite a few of these awesome, dragon-covered novels so I decided to limit myself to only using books that I have actually read.  In addition, because dragon-centric series tend to use images of the creatures across multiple entries, I will limit myself to one novel from each franchise, just to create a bit of variety.  This still leaves me with a pretty impressive collection of novels to choose from and I had to do some severe cutting to get it down to a top ten list with my typical honourable mentions section.  I think the list turned out pretty well as there are some great novels below with awesome dragon imagery on their covers.

I will quickly note that I did have a couple of issues finding good quality pictures of some of the relevant covers I wanted to feature here, particularly for some of the older novels, but I have still tried to feature them as best I can.  Apologies in advance if some of them don’t turn out perfect.

Honourable Mentions

The Voyage of the Forgotten by Nick Martell

The Voyage of the Forgotten Cover 2

I love the cover but chose to only feature this as an honourable mention as the book hasn’t come out yet.

 

A Darkness at Sethanon by Raymond E. Feist

A Darkness at Sethanon Cover

A couple of the alternate covers for this great book feature dragons on them, but this was the best looking one of them.

 

She Who Became the Sun by Shelly Parker Chan

She Who Became the Sun Cover

 

Usagi Yojimbo: The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy

A great use of a dragon in the cover, even if the dragon in the title is more of a metaphor for firearms.

Top Ten List:

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

An incredible novel with an incredible cover.  Easily one of the best uses of dragons in cover art that you are likely to ever see.

 

Dragonslayer by William King

Dragonslayer Cover Combined

This fantastic Warhammer tie-in novel is spoiled for choice when it comes to dragons on its various covers.

 

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Guards! Guards! Cover 2

One of the best Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, I love how well the dragon is used, both in this original cover, and in the novel’s exceedingly clever mystery.

 

Black Leviathan by Bern Perplies

Black Leviathan Cover

An extremely epic and distinctive cover for a fun action fantasy novel.  Black Leviathan, which is the English edition of Perplies’s original, German novel, The Dragon Hunter, actually has two fantastic cover variants with dragons on them, although I think the one the English version shown above is a lot more visually impressive.

Black Leviathan alternate cover

 

The Bone Ships by R. J. Barker

The Bone Ships Cover

All three books in Barker’s The Tide Child trilogy featured iconography of the series’ water-dragons, but I think the first entry, The Bone Ships, looks the best.

 

Eldest by Christopher Paolini

Eldest Cover

You can’t have a dragon-based list without featuring an entry from Paoloini’s Inheritance Cycle.  All four novels in this series featured dragons on their cover, although I think that this cover from Eldest was the most striking.

 

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

The Priory of the Orange Tree Cover

A very beautiful cover for this complex and intricate fantasy novel.

 

Warcraft: Day of the Dragons by Richard A. Knaak

Warcraft - Day of the Dragon Cover

Several great Warcraft and World of Warcraft tie-in novels feature dragons on their covers, but my favourite of these is Day of the Dragons by Richard A. Knaak, which was an awesome story.

 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Cover

Was there ever a chance I wasn’t going to feature this classic cover on this list? Of course not.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Cover 2

 

Dragonclaw by Kate Forsyth

Dragonclaw Cover

The original cover of the first entry in Australian author Kate Forsyth’s The Witches of Eileanan series, Dragonclaw, had a great dragon picture on it, and it serves as an excellent first impression of an amazing fantasy book.

 

 

Well, that’s my list.  As you can see there are some incredible books out there that make great uses of dragons on their covers.  All the above novels are really good, and you will have an incredible time reading them, while also appreciating their stunning, dragon-filled covers.  I had a lot of fun coming up with this list, and I will have to think about replicating it with another creature, item or colour in the future.  In the meantime, let me know what your favourite books with dragons on the cover are in the comments below.