Top Ten Tuesday – Favourite Pre-2021 Novels

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.

Honourable Mentions:

Trollslayer by William King – 1999

TrollSlayer-john-gravato-Gotrek-and-Felix-1st-edition-cover

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.

 

Skavenslayer by William King – 1999

Skavenslayer Cover

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.

 

The Return by Harry Sidebottom – 2020

The Return Cover

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.

 

Either Side of Midnight by Benjamin Stevenson – 2020

Either Side of Midnight Cover

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, GreenlightEither 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):

First and Only by Dan Abnett – 1999

First and Only Cover

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.

 

Storm Front by Jim Butcher – 2000

Storm Front Cover

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.

 

Daemonslayer by William King – 2000

Daemonslayer Cover

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.

 

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher – 2001

Fool Moon Cover

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.

 

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher – 2002

Grave Peril Cover

I really got into the Dresden Files novel this year and quickly read Grave Peril right after finishing off Fool MoonGrave 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.

 

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher – 2002

Summer Knight Cover

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. 

 

The Gray Man by Mark Greaney – 2009

The Gray Man Cover

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.

 

Star Wars: Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber – 2014

Star Wars - Maul - Lockdown Cover

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.

 

State of Fear by Tim Ayliffe – 2019

State of Fear Cover

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 WithinState 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.

 

Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty by Josh Reynolds– 2019

Kal Jerico - Sinner's Bounty Cover

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.

 

Throwback Thursday – Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front Cover

Publisher: Buzzy Multimedia (Audiobook – 1 April 2000)

Series: Dresden Files – Book One

Length: 8 hours and 2 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

For my latest Throwback Thursday I finally check out the first novel in the epic and highly acclaimed Dresden Files series, Storm Front, by legendary author Jim Butcher, which is an amazing and impressive read.

Jim Butcher is an outstanding author who has been dominating the fantasy market for nearly 20 years.  While he has written a couple of series, including his Codex Alera books, and some standalone novels, such as the tie-in novel Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours, Butcher is easily best known for his Dresden Files novels.  These books follow the adventures of titular protagonist Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only official wizard, who solves magical crimes and serves as a protector of the innocent against a range of supernatural threats.  This series has been running since 2000 and with 17 current entries (the 18th is on the way) it is generally considered to be the gold-standard of urban fantasy series.  While I have always heard amazing things about these books, I arrived a little late to the party, having only read the 17th book, Battle Ground, last year.  Battle Ground was a pretty epic read, containing an off-the-chain fantasy war in the heart of the city, and it ended up being one of my favourite novels (and audiobooks) of 2020.  Due to how much I enjoyed this latest book, as well as a general desire to explore the rest of the series, I decided to go back and read the first entry in the series, Butcher’s debut novel, Storm Front.

Harry Dresden is a man who leads an interesting life.  As the only openly practicing magic user in Chicago (his name is even in the phonebook under wizard), Harry scrapes a living investigating small and unusual cases, such as finding lost items and performing paranormal investigations while trying to avoid the attentions of the White Council, a governing body of magical practitioners who have placed Harry on a lethal probation.  However, his latest cases are about to make his life very complicated in ways he never expected.

Two people have been murdered in a particularly gruesome manner, with their hearts bursting out of their chests during an act of passion.  Called in by the Chicago P.D., which has him on retainer as a magical consultant, Harry determines that their deaths were caused by the darkest of spells.  Despite being forbidden by the White Council to know anything about the deadly arts, Dresden begins to dive into the case, determined to find out who is responsible and how they did it.  At the same time, Monica Sells, a local housewife, has provided Dresden with a great deal of money to find her missing husband, someone who has apparently had his own recent misadventures with magic.

As Harry investigates both the murder and the disappearance, he finds himself under attack from all sides.  Not only does the most feared gangster in Chicago want him to drop the case, but the White Council views him as the prime suspect in the deaths due to his deadly past.  Worse, a shadowy figure wants him dead and is unleashing dangerous magical creatures upon him.  However, you cannot keep a good wizard down, and Harry plans to use every trick at his disposal to stay alive long enough to find the killer, even if it burns every bridge he has.

Well, that was a pretty awesome read, and one that I wish I had checked out a very long time ago.  Storm Front is an exciting and clever book that combines a compelling story with some great characters, an interesting urban fantasy setting and a fantastic, humour laden tone, all of which come together into an impressive novel.  Storm Front also serves as an excellent first novel in the wider Dresden Files series, and it was extremely interesting to see it after previously reading a more recent entry in the series.  I had an amazing time with this novel and, while it is a tad rough in places, especially compared to Butcher’s later work, I must give Storm Front a full five-star rating.

At the centre of Storm Front lies a particularly good fantasy murder mystery narrative that sees the protagonist take on some challenging cases that result in death and destruction raining down on his life.  The story starts up quickly with Dresden, whose role as a wizard is more like a supernatural PI, being employed to find a missing husband, while also helping the police solve a twisted magical double murder.  This results in a fast-paced narrative that sees Dresden investigate both cases in his own unique way, which results in dangerous complications as people attempt to either discourage him or outright kill him.  I loved how the story read a lot like a hardboiled detective fiction novel, albeit with a lot more quips and amusing jokes, and this style of writing worked extremely well with the magical elements featured throughout the book.  The narrative gets more complex as the book progresses, with additional side characters, greater lore inclusions and more sophisticated dangers, and I felt that the author was able to work all of this into story extremely well, ensuring that the reader becomes enthralled with the intense magical action, entertaining characters, and outlandish threats.  The author also throws in some clever twists, which includes the protagonist becoming the main suspect in the murders, resulting in a lot of tense and dangerous situations as he tries to avoid everyone coming after him.  All of this leads up to an epic and fantastically written conclusion which pulls all the threads of the story together and ensures that the reader is left wanting more.  If I had to make one criticism about the book, it would be that the identity of the main antagonist/murder is extremely obvious right from the outset, and that ruins a lot of the surprises that the author was clearly hoping for.  However, I still really enjoyed Storm Front’s captivating tale, and it is worth hanging around to see the story unfold.  Overall, I felt that this was an exceedingly strong story and it honestly does not take long to get hooked on it.

Easily the top highlight of this book is the outstanding protagonist and narrator, Harry Dresden (full name: Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, named after famous stage magicians), the rogue and public wizard.  Dresden is an amazing and entertaining protagonist who the reader quickly becomes attached to thanks to his antics, morality, unpredictable nature and skills as magic user.  I always enjoy smartass characters, and Dresden is one of the better ones I have read.  A lot of the book’s excellent comedic undertones are thanks to Dresden’s dry and timely sense of humour as he provides some excellent quips and commentary, both out loud and in his head.  Despite being a mostly funny character, Butcher ensures that his protagonist has a hard and dark edge to him that helps to make him even more compelling and intriguing to follow.  Not only does the reader get an in-depth and comprehensive look into his troubled psyche, especially when he is experiencing guilt, trauma or despair, but there are some intriguing hints at his dark past, some of which come into play throughout the book.  I also liked how the author set up and explored Dresden’s magical ability, especially as the protagonist is not the most powerful magical user out there, although he makes up for it through trickery, training and intelligence.  I particularly liked the way in which he was able to defeat an antagonist with substantially more raw magical power with some simple tricks or the use of some psychology, and the author did a great job highlighting his protagonist’s analytical thinking as one of his key strengths.  I also have to say that I really enjoyed the fantastic look that Butcher sets up for his character, with the black duster, the staff and the Blue Beetle car, making him a very distinctive figure.  This ended up being an outstanding introduction to the character, and it will be interesting to see how he develops to the powerful badass that later appears in Battle Ground.

In addition to Dresden, the author also features an interesting collection of characters throughout Storm Front who add some additional, exciting layers to the overall story.  Each of the supporting characters in this novel is very well-written and layered, featuring some intriguing histories (although they all have secrets that will be revealed later).  Many of these characters become major figures in the larger Dresden Files series, and this serves as an excellent introduction to them.  Of all the characters a few really stood out to me, including Bob, an air spirit who inhabits a skull in Harry’s lab.  Bob is a fun, if unusual, character who has a somewhat perverted/voyeuristic streak that causes Harry all manner of trouble and leads to some very entertaining moments throughout the book.  I also quite liked the introduction of Karrin Murphy, the hardnosed Chicago detective who utilises Dresden as her magical consultant.  Karrin is a great no-nonsense character who is one of the few people to call Dresden out on his actions and who has a complex relationship with him in this book.  I really must highlight the introduction of “Gentleman” John Marcone, Chicago’s premier crime boss who is antagonistic towards Dresden for much of the book.  Marcone is portrayed is a stone-cold killer with a hidden past, and there are some great hints at what sort of recurring character he becomes in future entries in this series.  I also thought that the overall antagonist of this novel was pretty good and served as a great counterpoint to Dresden throughout the book.  Despite the identity of the antagonist being rather obvious for much of the novel, I felt that Butcher provided them some complex motivations for their actions in Storm Front, and it was intriguing to see how they slid down into using dark magic.  This antagonist has a couple of fantastic scenes in this novel, and I particularly liked the clever way in which their storyline came to an end.  Each of these side characters added so much to the book’s plot, and I had an amazing time getting to know them.

I also really enjoyed the amazing urban fantasy setting that Butcher came up with for Storm Front.  This series is set in a world where magic is semi-hidden from mortals, although there is substantial dangerous magical activity occurring in the underbelly of cities like Chicago.  The author does a great job of setting up the basics of this fantasy reality throughout the first book, and the reader is given an effective rundown of all the unique features and limitations of magic and magical creatures for these books.  Butcher made the smart choice of starting small with this first book, and while there are mentions of the wider magical world, enough to draw the curiosity of the reader, for the most part the magical elements are limited to what is relevant to the story.  I liked that the reader was not overwhelmed with lore right off the bat, especially as this allowed them to enjoy the cool story, but it is clear a lot of what was mentioned will be explored in far greater detail in the future.  The grimy and dangerous magical cityscape also served as an awesome background to the noir style story contained within Storm Front, and it was great to see the character get involved with both the criminal and magical underbelly of the city.  I had a lot of fun with this setting, and I look forward to learning more about the rules and hidden magical lore in the future.

Considering how outstanding my previous experience with a Dresden Files audiobook was, there was no way that I was not going to check out Storm Front’s audiobook format, especially as it was once again narrated by Spike himself, James Marsters (I also loved him in Torchwood and Smallville, but he was at his best in Buffy and Angel).  Unsurprisingly I had an incredible time listening to Storm Front’s audiobook and I ended up knocking it out in a couple of days, especially as it has a relatively short runtime of 8 hours.  This was an incredible audiobook, not only because the great story translated really well into the format, but also because of Marsters’ fantastic narration.  Marsters did an outstanding job narrating this story at a quick pace, drawing listeners into the story while also utilising a voice that perfectly fits Storm Front’s tone.  I also really appreciated the way in which Marsters dove into the role of the central protagonist, Harry Dresden, and he really brings this maverick character to life throughout the production, especially when it comes to encapsulating Dresden’s dry wit, strange sense of humour and enthusiasm.  Marsters did use similar voices for some of the supporting characters, however listeners are able to easily follow the story without getting confused about who is talking.  Overall, this was a pretty good performance from Marsters (this was actually one of the first audiobooks he narrated), and I know that he gets a lot better in later books, with some varied voices and even greater enthusiasm as a narrator.  As a result, I fully intend to check out the rest of the Dresden Files novels in their audiobook format and I would strongly recommend that anyone interested in this series do the same.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher is an exceptional and captivating debut novel that more than lives up to all the hype that has been generated about it in the last 20 years.  Thanks to the cool story, great characters, and fantastic setting, this was an awesome book to read, and I loved seeing this maverick wizard solving supernatural crimes in Chicago.  Storm Front also served as an incredible introduction to the wider Dresden Files novels, and I was glad to see how this entire epic series started.  I fully intend to go back and check out this entire series over the next couple of years and I am very excited to see what over intense and entertaining adventures Butcher has come up with in.

WWW Wednesday – 3 March 2021

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?

The Art of Death by David Fennell (Trade Paperback)

The Art of Death Cover

I have made some serious progress on this cool new murder mystery novel from debuting author David Fennell and so far I am very much enjoying it.  The Art of Death is a great book that sees a murderous artist pose his kills throughout the streets of London as part of a twisted exhibition (think evil Banksy).  I am about halfway through The Art of Death at the moment and it has a pretty cool mystery to it that should be really fun to unravel.

Relentless by Mark Greaney (Audiobook)

Relentless by Mark Greaney Cover

I finally got a chance to start reading Relentless, one of my most anticipated releases for the 2021Relentless is the 10th book in Greaney’s outstanding Gray Man series and follows it’s assassin protagonist as he attempts to identify a new enemy threatening the CIA for their own nefarious reasons.  I have a lot of love for this series after deeply enjoying the previous two entries in the series, Mission Critical and One Minute Out (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2020), and this latest novel is so far pretty epic, full of cool espionage and intense action.

What did you recently finish reading?

The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe (Trade Paperback)

The Girls I've Been Cover

Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty by Josh Reynolds (Audiobook)

Kal Jerico - Sinner's Bounty Cover

The Hunting by Stephen Leather (Trade Paperback)

The Hunting Cover

Storm Front by Jim Butcher (Audiobook)

Storm Front Cover

Star Wars: The High Republic: Into the Dark by Claudia Gray (Audiobook)

Star Wars - Into the Dark Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

The Three Paradises by Robert Fabbri (Trade Paperback)

The Three Paradises 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.