Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. This week participants of Top Ten Tuesday get a freebie to list whatever topics they want. I am planning to take advantage of this by doing two lists. Not only have a done a movie-related list ranking the James Bond movies, but I am also going to start my annual end-of-year lists here by looking at my favourite pre-2021 novels that I read this year.
Each December I have a lot of fun looking at some of the best and most impressive books and comics that I have read throughout the year in a series of Top Ten Lists. While these lists usually focus on 2021 releases, for the last few years, I have also taken the time to list out some of the best novels with pre-2021 release dates that I have read in the last 12 months. There are some excellent older novels out there that I haven’t had the chance to read before this year, and it is always fun to go back and explore them. I ended up reading a bunch of awesome older books throughout 2021, including some pretty incredible novels that got easy five-star ratings from me and are really worth checking out.
To come up with this list I had a look at all the novels I read this year that had their initial release before 2021. This included several 2020 releases I only got a chance to check out this year, as well as a few older novels that I had been meaning to read for a while. I was eventually able to cull this down to a workable Top Ten list, with a descent honourable mentions section. This new list ended up containing an interesting combination of novels, although there was a bit of an overload of entries from the Dresden Files’ series by Jim Butcher, as well as some Warhammer 40,000 novels, both of which I really got into throughout this year. Still this honestly reflects the best pre-2021 novels I read throughout the year, so let us see what made the cut.
I have been meaning to check out the awesome Gotrek and Felix series of Warhammer Fantasy novels for ages and the recent release of the early entries on audiobook gave me the perfect opportunity to finally do so this year. The first book in this series was the fantastic, Trollslayer, which introduced the two mismatched companions, Gotrek the dwarven Slayer and Felix the human poet, and highlights some of their earliest adventures throughout the Warhammer Fantasy world in a series of exciting and fun short stories. This was an excellent initial entry by William King and it made me a massive fan of the unique tandem of Gotrek and Felix.
I ended up loving Trollslayer so much that I immediately read its sequel, Skavenslayer, which proved to be just as fun as the first book. Skavenslayer has a more connected story that shows Gotrek and Felix getting caught up in a Skaven invasion of Nuln. I had an absolute blast with the humour in this novel, especially surrounding the bickering and backstabbing Skaven, and I powered through it in a couple of days.
An epic and clever historical read by the impressive Harry Sidebottom, The Return is a compelling read that sees a damaged Roman soldier return home only to encounter a series of dark murders. I was really glad that I got a chance to read The Return this year after missing out on it in 2020, and it ended up being a compelling read.
Another 2020 novel I read towards the start of the year, Either Side of Midnight is a compelling Australian murder mystery that serves as a sequel to Stevenson’s first book, Greenlight. Either Side of Midnight had a brilliant thriller storyline, and it was one of the cleverest crime fiction books I had the pleasure of checking out this year.
Top Ten List (by original publication date):
2021 was the year that I really dove into the Warhammer extended universe, a decision that I am very happy about as there are some exceptional works there. While the Gotrex and Felix novels were my go-to series for Warhammer Fantasy, when it came to Warhammer 40,000 the clear choice was easily First and Only by legendary Warhammer fiction author Dan Abnett. First and Only is the first book in the acclaimed Gaunt’s Ghosts series, which follows a group of Imperial foot soldiers as they fight and die across the myriad dangerous battlefields of the 41st millennia. This first novel introduced the reader to the key Ghosts and takes them on a compelling and deadly series of adventures featuring war, death, and conspiracy. A wonderful and deeply exciting read, I cannot wait to enjoy the rest of the series next year.
Another series that I decided to really dive into this year was the exceptional Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. Generally considered the gold-standard of urban fantasy novels, this series blends fantasy and crime fiction elements in the city of Chicago. I fell in love with this series last year when I checked out the awesome 17th novel, Battle Ground (one of the best books and audiobooks of 2020) which convinced me to go back and read some of the earlier entries. As such, I read the initial novel, Storm Front, towards the front of 2021 and I had a wonderful time with it. Storm Front contains an excellent story that introduces the protagonist, rogue wizard Harry Dresden, and follows his investigation of a series of magical murders around town. I had an absolute blast with this novel, and while it isn’t Butcher’s best work, it was an excellent debut that serves as a great first entry in this iconic series.
Out of the three Gotrek and Felix novels I have so far had the pleasure of reading, I think that Daemonslayer is probably the best. This cool novel sees the titular protagonists journey to the most dangerous place in the entire Warhammer Fantasy universe, the Chaos Wastes, to face daemons, monsters and warriors of Chaos. This novel has a more complete and linear story than the preceding two entries, which makes for a stronger tale. An extremely exciting and action-packed epic, I look forward to reading more of these novels in the future.
The second Dresden Files novel I checked out in 2021 was the fantastic Fool Moon, which I found to be one of the strongest overall entries in the series. Fool Moon pits the protagonist against multiple tribes of werewolves, each of whom have their own magical origins, as he attempts to solve the murder of a friend and clear his name. This was a very clever and intense novel, and I deeply enjoyed the excellent story and powerful scenes that Butcher was able to craft together.
I really got into the Dresden Files novel this year and quickly read Grave Peril right after finishing off Fool Moon. Grave Peril was another exceptional read that saw Dresden face off against vampires, elves and a nightmarish being of pure evil. This was another awesome novel that added in some great key characters, new antagonists, and substantial universe expansion. Featuring some truly dark moments and some major character development, this was an outstanding novel that I had a lot of fun with.
The fourth and final Dresden Files book I managed to get through this year was the awesome Summer Knight. This book sees Dresden forced to work for the Winter Court of the elves who need him to solve a murder. Summer Knight has a great story that moves at an extremely quick pace and takes the protagonist to some awesome new places. I had an excellent time with Summer Knight, and indeed all the Dresden Files books I read in 2021 and I look forward to further exploring this series next year.
Another series that I decided to go back and check out this year was Mark Greaney’s epic Gray Man spy thriller series. I have been deeply enjoying Greaney’s more recent Gray Man novels, such as Mission Critical, One Minute Out and Relentless, and I thought that it would be good to back and check this series out from the start, especially as there is a movie adaptation coming out next year. I ended up having an incredible time with The Gray Man which set’s the protagonist, Court Gentry, against a horde of professional hit teams. An exceptional and action-packed thrill ride, I cannot wait to see how the movie version of this turns out. I am also extremely excited for some other Greaney books coming out in the next couple of months, as they should be pretty damn awesome.
2021 was a great year for new Star Wars novels, many of which were pretty damn exceptional. However, one of the downsides of this was that I had less time to read some older Star Wars novels. I did however get a chance to read Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber, whose previous Star Wars novel, Death Troopers, was an awesome horror read. Lockdown has an awesome (and currently non-canon) story about Maul being sent to infiltrate a maximum-security space prison that runs a series of death fights. This was a great and compelling read, and I loved all the fun elements featured within. I am hoping to check out a couple more earlier Star Wars novels next year, and there are a few that I currently have my eye on.
Another excellent book I checked out this year was the 2019 novel State of Fear by Australian author Tim Ayliffe. I had been hoping to read this one for a while, especially after enjoying Ayliffe’s first novel The Greater Good, and I finally got the chance this year in the lead up to Ayliffe’s third novel, The Enemy Within. State of Fear was a great Australian thriller that set the protagonist against a dangerous terrorist threat both in Sydney and in London. Featuring some intense emotional moments and an impressive story, State of Fear is an excellent read and I look forward to checking out more of Ayliffe’s novels in the future.
The final entry on this list is the incredibly awesome Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty, which is part of the Necromunda sub-series of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Sinner’s Bounty was initially released in 2019, but an audiobook version came out last year, which was a lot of fun to listen to. Featuring one of the best characters in the Warhammer 40,000 canon, notorious bounty hunter Kal Jerico, this novel takes the protagonist and his team to an obscure Underhive town to get a rich bounty. Forced to contend against monsters, religious zealots, rival bounty hunters and an army of mutants, the protagonists have a cool and fun adventure, filled with intense action, fun humour, and a ton of treachery. An amazing and deeply enjoyable read, I am very glad I decided to check this book out.
And that is the end of this list. As you can see I have managed to check out a bunch of epic pre-2021 novels this year. Each of the above were exceptional and fun reads and I would strongly recommend them, especially if you are in the mood for some fun fantasy or science fiction adventures. I look forward to reading some other older books in 2022, and it will be interesting to see what makes my next version of this list then. I imagine it will end up looking a little similar, especially as I have plans to continue several of these series, especially the Dresden Files, as well as examining some other outstanding Star Wars and Warhammer novels. Make sure to check back in next week for some other end-of-year lists as I continue to highlight some of my favourite reads from 2021.