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.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Book Covers of 2021

Welcome back to Top Ten Tuesday, where I am going to list my absolute favourite book covers of the last year.  This is actually the second Top Ten Tuesday post I am putting up today, mainly because I wanted to finish off all my best-of-2021 lists before we got too far into the new year.  I have previously highlighted several other amazing books from last year in a range of lists, including My Favourite Books of 2021, Favourite Audiobooks, Favourite Debuts and Favourite Australian Fiction lists, and I think looking at awesome covers is a good way to wrap this all up.

Now, I know you aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I think we can all agree that an awesome piece of cover art can really raise some interest in a novel.  I can personally think of several examples where an epic cover absolutely grabbed me and convinced me to check out a novel that I ended up really loving.  2021 was a great example of this as there were some extremely cool and impressive covers that I thought were visually stunning.  Most of these outstanding covers complemented and emphasised the amazing stories within, and in some places the cover artists really went all out to produce some truly epic statement pieces.  As such, I thought I would quickly highlight some of the best covers here by producing a visually awesome list.  To appear on this list, the book had to be released in 2021 and had to be generally impressive and amazing.  I think I ended up choosing a great range of excellent covers, and I hope you enjoy all the pretty pictures below.  I have tried to find out who did the cover art where possible, although for a couple of books (ones I got on audiobook and don’t have a physical copy of), I couldn’t find out who drew it.  Apologies in advance for any artist I overlooked.

Honourable Mentions:

Lies Like Wildfire written by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, cover by MISHKO

Lies Like Wildfire Cover

 

The Dark written by Jeremy Robinson

The Dark Cover

 

Breakout written by Paul Herron, cover by Patrick Insole

Breakout Cover

 

The Mask of Mirrors written by M. A. Carrick, cover by Nekro and Lauren Panepinto

The Mask of Mirrors Cover

Top Ten Tuesday:

The Shadow of the Gods written by John Gwynne, cover by Marcus Whinney

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

My absolute favourite cover of 2021, this epic piece of art really grabbed my attention and forced me to read this impressive piece of fantasy fiction.  I had a wonderful time with The Shadow of the Gods and the upcoming sequel, The Hunger of the Gods, also has an extremely awesome cover (easily going to be one of the best covers of 2022).

 

Star Wars: Visions: Ronin written by Emma Mieko Candon, cover by Ella Laytham and Kotaro Chiba

Star Wars Visions - Ronin Cover

There were some cool pieces of Star Wars cover art out this year, but nothing could top the artistic masterpiece that appeared on Ronin.  A tie-in to the Star Wars: Visions anime series, the cover of Ronin made perfect use of traditional Japanese artforms to create something exceptional.  I loved the blend of Star Wars iconography and the classic Japanese wave form, and this was an absolute joy to behold.

 

The Pariah written by Anthony Ryan, cover by Lauren Panepinto and Jaime Jones

The Pariah Cover

A clever and subtle bit of art that showcases the roguish protagonist of this fun fantasy novel.  I think the artist did a great job of highlighting what was to come in The Pariah, and the cool detail around the character was very impressive.  While I loved the art for The Pariah, I think that the cover on the upcoming sequel, The Martyr, is even better, and I can’t wait to grab it.

 

The Twice-Dead King: Ruin, written by Nate Crowley

The Twice-Dead King - Ruin Cover

Gosh artists must have so much fun coming up with art for Warhammer covers, as there are some amazing and fantastic elements contained in this extended universe.  I particularly loved this cover from last year, which showcases the ancient and mysterious Necron race in all their glory.  A great cover for a very entertaining tie-in novel.

 

The Warsaw Orphan written by Kelly Rimmer, cover by Christabella Designs

The Warsaw Orphan Cover

A simple and understated cover that does a wonderful job highlighting the upcoming dread and tragedy contained in this moving historical drama novel.

 

Colonyside, written by Michael Mammay, cover by Sebastien Hue

Colonyside Cover

There have been some really great covers for the previous books in Michael Mammay’s Planetside series (Planetside and Spaceside), but I think that the one for Colonyside was the best.  I love the above shot, especially as it perfectly captures the insane jungle planet that was such a distinctive setting of this book.  A very fun cover!

 

Star Wars: The High Republic: Tempest Runner, written by Cavan Scott, cover by Katerina Balikova

Star Wars - Tempest Runner Cover

While I also deeply enjoyed one of the covers for Cavan Scott’s other 2021 Star Wars release, The Rising Storm, I think that the cool art that adorned the front of Tempest Runner was even better.  Tempest Runner, which was released as both a full-cast audio drama and a paperback, was a great read, and I loved how this cover did a fantastic job of capturing it’s entertaining and deadly central character.

 

Later, written by Stephen King, cover by Paul Mann

Later Cover

I loved the classic mystery novel feel that the artists choose to utilise for Stephen King’s early 2021 release, Later.  This cover does a fantastic job capturing the unique tone of this cool horror/coming-of-age story and gives it a fun, crime fiction-tinged edge.  This cover, as well as another couple of covers done by Gregory Manchess for the hardcover version, also fit the story really well, especially as they connect to the cheesy adventure novels that the protagonist and his mother produce.

 

Cytonic written by Brandon Sanderson, cover by Sam Green and Tomas Almeida

Cytonic Cover

I have a lot of love for the cool covers that get used in the Gollancz versions of Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward series (so far consisting of Skyward and Starlight).  The cover for the third book, Cytonic, was particularly awesome, and I loved how it showcased parts of the very unique new setting of the third novel.

 

The Art of Death written by David Fennell, cover by Nick Stearn

The Art of Death Cover

A creepy and eye-catching piece of artwork that hints at the disturbing crimes contained in this fantastic 2021 crime fiction debut.

 

Well, that’s the end of this second list, I hope you enjoyed all the cool covers above.  Make sure to me know what your favourite book covers of 2021 was in the comments below and I cannot wait to see what awesome and epic pieces of art will grace the front of 2022’s best reads.

Top Ten Tuesday – Favourite New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2021

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 2021 releases I was excited to read but didn’t get to, however, I addressed that topic in my post last week.  So instead of covering that, this week I will look at my favourite new-to-me authors that I discovered in 2021.  This is a list I have covered for the last couple of years (make sure to check out my 2019 and 2020 versions), and it is one that I always have fun doing.

Each year I am lucky enough to read a great number of awesome novels and this often includes some that were written by authors whose work I was previously unfamiliar with.  2021 was a good example of this as there were an incredible collection of amazing novels written by authors who were completely new to me.  This included some debuting authors, as well as more established writers whose work I only got around to this year.  Many of these new-to-me authors produced some truly exceptional reads, some of which I consider to be some of the best books released in 2021, and I really feel the need to highlight them here.  As a result, this list may feature a bit of overlap with my top books, pre-2021 books and audiobooks lists of 2021 that I have previously published on this blog.

To appear on this list, the book had to be one I read last year and be written by an author who I was unfamiliar with before 2021.  If I had not read anything from this author before last year, it was eligible for this latest list, although I did exclude debut novels as I had another list prepared for them.  Despite this, I ended up with a massive list of potential inclusions on this list, as it appears that I read a ton of great new authors in the last year.  Despite my best efforts, I had a very hard time whittling this list down, so in the end I decided to face the inevitable and leave it as a top 20 list.  While I still had to exclude several great authors whose books I really liked, I think that I came up with a good overall list that represents which authors I am really glad that I decided to try out for the first time last year.

Top Twenty List:

William King – Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, Daemonslayer, and Dragonslayer

Slayers Coveres

Well, let us start this list off with an author I read multiple books from in 2021 with William King.  I was in a real Warhammer mood in 2021, and as part of the that I decided to check out the iconic Gotrek and Felix series that was initially written by King.  This great series follows a deranged dwarf Slayer and his reluctant human companion as they travel around the Warhammer Fantasy world looking for a monster bad enough to give Gotrek the heroic death he desperately wants.  I really love this amazing series and I ended up reading the first four of King’s Gotrek and Felix books in 2021, Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, Daemonslayer and Dragonslayer, each of which were a lot of fun.  I have even kept reading King’s books in 2022, having only recently read and reviewed the fifth Gotrek and Felix novel, Beastslayer.  I fully intend to keep reading this series this year when I get a chance, and I reckon I will finish off King’s entire run on this series extremely soon.

 

Jeremy Robinson – The Dark and Mind Bullet

The Dark and Mind Bullet Cover

The other new-to-me author who I read more than one book from in 2021 was Jeremy Robinson, an awesome author known for his over-the-top science fiction and horror books.  I was initially drawn to Robinson’s interesting dark horror read, The Dark, which sets a group of protagonists against a deadly demonic invasion, and which had a brilliant story to it.  I ended up enjoying it so much that I decided to check out any other books that Robinson had coming out in 2021 and that led me to his latest release, Mind Bullet, which follows a psychic assassin who finds himself being hunted by a cadre of unconventional and superpowered hitmen.  I had an absolute blast reading these cool books, and the both received easy five-star ratings from me.  Due to how much fun I had with these books I plan to read a hell of a lot more from Robinson this year, especially as he has some cool releases on the way.

 

Tess Sharpe – The Girls I’ve Been

The Girls I've Been Cover

One of the more interesting authors I checked out in 2021 was young adult author Tess Sharpe who wowed me with her cool novel, The Girls I’ve Been.  This fantastic novel followed a teenage former con-artist who is forced to revert to her old ways to save herself and her friends from vicious bank robbers.  Clever, compelling and deeply thrilling, I have so much love for this novel and I cannot wait to see what cool books Sharpe rights in the future.

 

John Gwynne – The Shadow of the Gods

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

One of the best new-to-me authors I read last year was legendary fantasy author John Gwynne.  Gwynne, who has written some very highly regarded dark fantasy books in the past presented The Shadow of the Gods last year, which was the first book in his new Bloodsworn Saga series.  I initially hadn’t planned to read this book but after hearing so many positive reviews about it I changed my mind and was extremely glad that I did.  The Shadow of the Gods was an epic and captivating read that featured action and adventure in an awesome, Viking-inspired fantasy landscape.  This was such an incredible book (with a really amazing cover) and it made me an instant fan of this author.  I cannot wait to see where this series goes next, and I really need to go back and read some of Gwynne’s earlier series.

 

Mara Timon – Resistance

Resistance Cover

I was also lucky enough to read the fantastic historical thriller Resistance towards the end of last year written by relatively new author Mara Timon.  Resistance was a sequel to Timon’s 2020 debut City of Spies and contains a great story about a female spy dropped into occupied Normandy shortly before the D-Day landings.  This was an excellent spy thriller and I look forward to seeing what other cool books Timon writes in the future.

 

Nate Crowley – The Twice-Dead King: Ruin

The Twice-Dead King - Ruin Cover

Another great new-to-me author of Warhammer fiction I read last year was the insanely talented Nate Crowley who presented his first The Twice-Dead King novel, RuinRuin followed a banished Necron prince as he attempts to save his former empire from internal corruption and destructive outside forces.  Breathing amazing life into essentially dead characters, this was a fantastic and intense Warhammer read that I had a great time with.  I cannot wait to see how the series continues in 2022 and I will also try to read some of Crowley’s other cool Warhammer releases.

 

Kotaro Isaka – Bullet Train

Bullet Train Cover

I was very excited to check out a book from Japanese thriller author Kotaro Isaka last year with Bullet Train.  A translation of his 2010 novel Maria Beetle, this book featured a complex and quirky tale about several assassins trapped on the same bullet train.  I had an incredible time with this book, especially as Isaka loaded it with some amazing twists and very unique characters.  Thanks to the success of this book, and the cool upcoming (if somewhat whitewashed) film adaptation of Bullet Train, several of the author’s other novels are being translated and I look forward to seeing what other crazy adventures he has come up with.

 

Kelly Rimmer – The Warsaw Orphan

The Warsaw Orphan Cover

Another great new author I found in 2021 was historical drama writer Kelly Rimmer whose latest book, The Warsaw Orphan, was an outstanding and powerful read.  Set in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation, this book follows a group of people who attempt to save Jewish children from the Ghetto.  A heartbreaking and riveting read, The Warsaw Orphan was an amazing book and I will be keeping an eye out for more of Rimmer’s stuff in the future.

 

Andy Weir – Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary Cover

One of the best books I had the pleasure to read in 2021 was Project Hail Mary, an impressive and clever science fiction novel by bestselling author Andy Weir.  I have been meaning to read some of Weir’s books for years, especially after seeing the movie adaptation of The Martian, but I never got the chance.  As such I was extremely keen to read his latest book when it came out last year and boy did Project Hail Mary deliver.  Containing an epic and brilliant story filled with realistic science, I loved every second I spent reading this book and I honestly could not put it down.  I am now a firm fan of the author and I fully intend to read the rest of Weir’s works as soon as possible.

 

Josh Reynolds – Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty

Kal Jerico - Sinner's Bounty Cover

There was no way that I couldn’t check out fantastic author Josh Reynolds this year especially after I saw that he had brought back one of my favourite Warhammer 40,000 characters, Kal Jerico.  This cool new book, Sinner’s Bounty, sets the titular bounty hunter and his friends on an insane journey into the depths of their Hive City to retrieve a wanted man.  Forced to contend with rival bounty hunters, monsters, mutants, and gangs, this was an amazing read and I will be checking out more of Reynolds’ Warhammer books in the future, especially if they feature Kal Jerico.

 

Sarah Bailey – The Housemate

The Housemate Cover

I was very lucky to grab a novel from amazing Australian author Sarah Bailey this year.  Her latest book, The Housemate, was a brilliant novel that saw a disturbed reporter attempt to solve a notorious crime that had been haunting her for years.  Incredibly powerful, compelling and intense, this was one of the best Australian books of 2021 and I will be very interested to see what other cool books Bailey writes in the future.

 

Steve Cavanagh – The Devil’s Advocate

The Devil's Advocate Cover

Easily one of the more entertaining books I read in 2021 was the fun and wildly addictive legal thriller by Steve Cavanagh, The Devil’s Advocate.  The sixth book in his Eddie Flynn series, The Devil’s Advocate was a great novel that saw its former conman turned defence attorney protagonist attempt to stop a murderous prosecutor determined to send an innocent man to death row.  I had an amazing time with this compelling and over-the-top read, and I now really want to go back and read the rest of the awesome novels in this cool series.

 

Anthony Ryan – The Pariah

The Pariah Cover

Another instant favourite new author I checked out last year was impressive well-established fantasy author Anthony Ryan.  Ryan is another author who I have been meaning to read for a while and it turns out I have been really missing out.  His latest book, The Pariah, was an excellent and compelling first entry in a great new series that follows a young scribe as he journeys around a fantasy world trying to find his purpose.  An epic first book, I cannot wait to see how this series continues and I know I am going to love it.

 

John Grisham – The Judge’s List

The Judge's List Cover

Perhaps one of the biggest names on this list is bestselling author John Grisham, who has been at the top of the crime fiction genre for decades.  Grisham is one of those massive authors whose work I have been meaning to read for a very long time but never got the chance.  Well, that all changed last year when I received a copy of his latest book, The Judge’s List, which sets some clever protagonists against a dangerous serial killer who is also a sitting judge.  I had an incredible time with The Judge’s List, and I am fully planning to check out the rest of Grisham’s catalogue to see what I have been missing out on.

 

Dan Abnett – First and Only

First and Only Cover

Wow there were so many awesome new-to-me Warhammer authors I checked out last year and one of the best was Dan Abnett.  Abnett has written a ton of awesome Warhammer novels over the years, but the first book of his I decided to check out was First and Only, the initial book of his iconic Gaunt’s Ghosts series.  Following a regiment of Imperial Guard soldiers as they fight through a gauntlet of traitors, rivals and conspiracies, this was an outstanding novel and I cannot wait to see what happens in the rest of this impressive series.

 

A. W. Hammond – The Paris Collaborator

The Paris Collaborator Cover

I had a great time checking out thriller author A. W. Hammond for the first time in 2021.  Hammond, who also writes under the name Alex Hammond, produced an exceptional and fun historical thriller last year with The Paris Collaborator.  Set in the last days of the German occupation of Paris, this cool book follows a French investigator who is hired to find several missing men around the city.  Filled with cool action, intense twists and some excellent historical moments, this was a great read and I will be keeping an eye out for more of Hammond’s novels in the future.

 

Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman – All of Us Villains

All of us Villains Cover

I am slightly cheating here by including two authors in the one entry, but as this was the first time I had read anything from either of them and they were collaborating on the same book, I think I can make an exception.  These two authors were Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman, a great team of established authors who collaborated for the first time to create the amazing All of Us VillainsAll of Us Villains was an excellent and entertaining young adult fantasy book that followed seven champions forced into a magical death tournament with the entire world watching.  Loaded with amazing characters and brutal magic, this was an awesome book and I am extremely glad I decided to check out this intriguing team of authors last year.

 

Max Barry – The 22 Murders of Madison May

The 22 Murders of Madison May Cover

I had been meaning to read something from talented Australian author Max Barry for a while, especially as he has written some great and compelling sounding science fiction reads.  I finally got a chance last year when I received a copy of Barry’s latest book, The 22 Murders of Madison May.  This was a cool book that saw a women attempt to stop a deranged stalker from killing every version of his obsession, actress Madison May, in the multiverse.  I deeply enjoyed this complex and entertaining story and I will have to grab some more stuff from Barry in the future.

 

Grady Hendrix – The Final Girl Support Group

The Final Girl Support Group Cover

One author I have been hearing a lot of buzz around over the years is Grady Hendrix, who has written several intriguing and unique horror hybrid novels.  Due to all the positive stuff I have heard about this author I decided to check out one of their books last year with their 2021 release, The Final Girl Support Group.  Set in a world were the survivors of iconic slasher scenarios have formed a support group, this cool novel follows these paranoid and damaged protagonists as they attempt to survive a new monster who is determined to kill them.  An impressive homage to iconic slasher films that cleverly deconstructs the genre, this was a very fun read and I am extremely glad I decided to check out Grady Hendrix last year.

 

S. R. White – Prisoner

The Prisoner Cover

The final top new-to-me author I read last year was Australian author S. R. White, who released their second novel Prisoner.  This was an enjoyable and captivating Australian murder mystery novel that had a very gritty and realistic feel to it, especially in some impressive interrogation scenes.  An excellent novel from a great new author I will have to read more of in the future.

 

 

Well, that’s the end of this latest Top Ten list.  I think it turned out rather well and it encapsulates some of the best new authors I checked out in 2021.  I look forward to reading more books from these authors in the future and I have no doubt they will produce more epic and incredible reads.  Make sure to let me know which new authors you enjoyed in 2021 in the comments below and make sure to check back next week for another exciting list.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Books of 2021

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  In this final Top Ten Tuesday for the year, participants are tasked with listing their top books of 2021, which is something I look forward to every year.  This is a bit of a continuation of a series of lists I have been doing over the last month which have highlighted some of the authors and books I have been most impressed with this year, including my favourite audiobook, favourite debuts and my top pre-2021 books I read this year.  However, this list here is the big one as it covers my absolute favourite releases of the year, of which there are quite a few.

Just like with 2020, 2021 has been pretty shitty in places, but thankfully readers got a bit of solace from the fact that this was an amazing year for books, with a huge range of incredible releases coming out across the genres.  Not only did several outstanding new series start but we had some exceptional debuts and several incredible trilogies conclude in a big way.  I have had an amazing time reading or listening to so many outstanding books this year and quite a few releases have become instant favourites.  I must admit that I somewhat struggled to pull this list together, as there were so many books that deserved to be mentioned.  Therefore, because I am a very soft touch, and because the quality of the books I read this year was so impressive, I have decided to expand this list out to 20 entries (just like I have the last two years).  These 20 books are my absolute favourites from 2021, and I would strongly recommend every one of them to anyone interested in a great read.

To make it onto this list a book needed to be released here in Australia during 2021 (one minor exception) and I had to have read it.  I have excluded Never by Ken Follett, as I am only partway through it, and there are many awesome-sounding books I sadly didn’t squeeze into my reading schedule for this year, although I am sure that several of those would have made the cut.  I decided to leave off my usual Honourable Mentions section as the extra 10 entries kind of make it unnecessary.  There will be a bit of crossover between the below entries and some of my previous lists.  Several novels also appeared on my Top Ten Favourite Audiobooks of 2021 list and my Top Ten Favourite Books from the First Half of 2021 list which I ran back into July.  Overall, I am fairly happy with how this Top 20 list turned out and I think it contains a pretty good range of novels that really showcases the different types of books that I chose to read this year.  So without further ado, here is the list.

Top 20 List (no particular order):

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

Last Graduate Cover

Let us start this list off strong with the awesome fantasy novel that I still haven’t gotten over, The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik.  The sequel to her 2020 hit, A Deadly Education, The Last Graduate continues the impressive Scholomance series in a big way , making full use of its cool characters and uniquely dangerous magical school setting.  There were some major developments in this second novel, including an epic and heartbreaking cliff-hanger that is guaranteed to make me pick up the final book next year.

 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary Cover

Next we have one of the best science fiction reads of the year.  Written by the exceedingly talented Andy Weir (of The Martian fame), Project Hail Mary is a very clever, entertaining and science heavy novel that sees a man travel to a distant star to find a way to save Earth when the sun starts to lose energy.  A brilliantly written and deeply captivating read that features a great, surprise supporting character and an awesome twist around the protagonist.  Highly recommended!

 

The Pariah by Anthony Ryan

The Pariah Cover

I had a great time this year checking out new authors, and one of the best was fantasy author Anthony Ryan, who started his Covenant of Steel series with The Pariah.  Featuring an epic and captivating tale that follows a young protagonist as he explores a war-torn, religiously ruled landscape, The Pariah was an impressive fantasy read that I could not put down, no matter how hard I tried.  I deeply enjoyed this cool book and I cannot wait to grab the sequel, The Martyr, next year.

 

Relentless by Jonathan Maberry

Relentless Cover

For the fourth year in a row, one of Jonathan Maberry’s amazing books has achieved a spot on this list (Deep Silence was one of the best books of 2018, Rage was one of the best books of 2019 and Ink was one of the best books of 2020).  Relentless, was one of his best, sending his legendary protagonist on deadly revenge mission against his worst enemies as they attempt a new world-ending master plan.  I loved this latest science fiction/thriller hybrid from Maberry, especially due to the exceptional character work, and this was a captivating and exceedingly exciting read.

 

The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie

The Wisdom of Crowds Cover

There was no way that I could exclude the incredible latest book from the legendary Joe Abercrombie, The Wisdom of Crowds, from this list.  This exceptional fantasy read perfectly wrapped up the brilliantly dark Age of Madness series (which previously featured the excellent A Little Hatred and The Trouble With Peace).  Featuring some of the best and most complex characters you are likely to see in fiction, and an intensely dark tale of revenge, betrayal and revolution, The Wisdom of Crowds is relentlessly entertaining without a single dull moment.  I had an incredible time with this book and I cannot wait to see what Abercrombie comes up with next.

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Homecoming by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

Even after 35 volumes, Stan Sakai’s bestselling Usagi Yojimbo comic (which is one of my favourite all-time comic series) continues to shine with the exceptional HomecomingHomecoming was another beautifully drawn and narratively rich volume that takes the protagonist on a dramatic journey back to his home village and the many pains that reside there.  An exceptional and fun read; I cannot wait to get my hands of Sakai’s next volume, Tengu War, in a few short months.

 

The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

After producing one of the absolute best debuts of 2020 with The Kingdom of Liars, talented rising author Nick Martell continued his impressive Legacy of the Mercenary King series with The Two-Faced Queen.  Featuring deadly assassins, a vengeful queen and even a couple of murderous dragons, The Two-Faced Queen was even more exceptional than his first novel, deeply expanding the cool overarching narrative and adding in even more twists, reveals and surprises.  This was one of the best sequels I have ever read, and readers will be quickly drawn into the book’s many mysteries, unique magic and deeply captivating storylines.

 

Star Wars: Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

2021 was an amazing year for Star Wars novels, especially with the launch of the High Republic sub-series (Light of the Jedi and The Rising Storm were particularly good).  However, one of the absolute best Star Wars books had to be the amazing Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed, which brought the compelling, star fighter focused Alphabet Squadron series to a beautiful end.  Perfectly wrapping up the story contained in the first two novels, Alphabet Squadron and Shadow Fall, Victory’s Price was a powerful and intense character-driven war story that focused on five damaged Rebel pilots fighting in the war after the end of Return of the Jedi.  This was easily one of the most exciting and moving Star Wars novels I have had the pleasure of reading and it is a must read for fans of the franchise.

 

The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly

The Dark Hours Cover 2

After producing two brilliant reads last year (Fair Warning and The Law of Innocence), bestselling crime fiction author Michael Connelly continues his outstanding Ballard and Bosch sub-series with The Dark Hours.  This amazing novel contained another fantastic murder mystery combined with several other great police procedural story lines to create an outstanding overall narrative, expanding the fun partnership established in Dark Sacred Night and The Night Fire.  I deeply enjoyed this latest Connelly book and I powered through extremely quickly.

 

The Bone Ship’s Wake by R. J. Barker

The Bone Ship's Wake Cover

One of the best current authors of fantasy fiction, R. J. Barker, brings his exceptional Tide Child trilogy to a moving and captivating end with The Bone Ship’s Wake.  Perfectly following on from The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships, this epic nautical fantasy perfectly wrapped up all the trilogy’s captivating story arcs and character development with some big, emotional moments.  I loved every twist and devastating moment in this novel and, thanks to this captivating conclusion, the Tide Child series ended up being one of the best trilogies I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

 

Colonyside by Michael Mammay

Colonyside Cover

Amazing science fiction author Michael Mammay continued his brilliant Planetside series (made up of Planetside and Spaceside) with Colonyside.  This latest novel dragged Mammay’s entertaining and gruff protagonist out of retirement once again to investigate a shady corporate mystery on an alien planet.  This book swiftly devolves into an exceptional conspiracy storyline, filled with twists and giant monsters.  I had such a wonderful time with this book that it was my one exception to the 2021 release date rule (it had a very late December 2020 release).  An impressive and clever read.

 

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

Another amazing new author I checked out this year was the insanely talented John Gwynne, who produced an incredible first entry in his Bloodsworn Saga, The Shadow of the Gods.  This amazing first novel contained a brutal and compelling Norse-inspired fantasy tale that followed three awesome central characters as they engaged in their own deeply personal quests.  Filled with some outstanding fantasy combat, amazing character moments and a deeply impressive narrative, this was an exceptional and addictive read that made me an instant fan of this author.  I have no doubt that the sequel, The Hunger of the Gods, is going to top this list next year and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

 

The Dark/Mind Bullet by Jeremy Robinson

The Dark and Mind Bullet Cover

2021 was the year that I first tried out some books from compelling author Jeremy Robinson.  I actually read two of his books, The Dark and Mind Bullet, both of which were amazing in their own way.  While The Dark was a darkly compelling and slick horror read that showcased a brutal invasion from Hell, Mind Bullet was a funny and entertaining science fiction thriller that followed a psychic assassin being hunted by the world’s most unusual killers.  Both were outstanding reads that got easy five-star ratings from me, so I had a very hard time choosing between them for this list.  Therefore, I decided to include both, as I had such a great time with them and are equally worth checking out.

 

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

The Man Who Died Twice Cover

Comedian Richard Osman followed up his 2020 debut, The Thursday Murder Club, with another fun and entertaining murder mystery book, The Man Who Died Twice.  This compelling and hilarious sequel thrust Osman’s elderly protagonists into another complex investigation, this time involving spies, stolen diamonds, and drug dealers.  This book had some amazing moments and ended up being another fantastic read.

 

Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson

Cytonic Cover

I have been waiting a couple of years for Sanderson to continue his Skyward series and I was very happy to finally get my hands on Cytonic.  The third entry in this impressive young adult science fiction series, Cytonic was an exciting and inventive read that continues the captivating tale started in Skyward and Starsight.  Taking his eccentric protagonist to a fantastic and unique new setting, Sanderson produced an epic and moving narrative that had me glued from the very first second.  There are some big, if sad, moments in this novel and I had a wonderful time listening to it.  I am a little miffed that I might have to wait another couple of years for this series to come to an end, but if it is anywhere as good as Cytonic, it will be worth it.

 

The Housemate by Sarah Bailey

The Housemate Cover

One of my favourite crime fiction books this year had to be the dark and exceptional Australian thriller The Housemate by Sarah Bailey.  This wonderful and intense read contains a complex and multifaceted mystery that keeps the reader guessing while they watch the central protagonist become even more unhinged by the revelations from her past.  I honestly could not put this great book down and I will be grabbing more of Bailey’s clever novels in the future.

 

Artifact Space by Miles Cameron

Artifact Space Cover

After wowing the world with his fantasy and historical fiction reads, author Miles Cameron had his science fiction debut this year with Artifact Space.  This powerful and deeply captivating read transports the reader to a massive spacecraft on a multi-year trading mission.  However, the protagonist, a girl with a past and a fake identity, soon finds that her ship is under attack from outside forces and must do everything to save her new home and friends.  This was a compelling epic which perfectly shows how talented Cameron is, no matter the genre.

 

Billy Summers by Stephen King

Billy Summer Cover

The master of horror and thrillers, Stephen King, had a great year in 2021 releasing two brilliant reads.  While I really must highlight his clever coming-of-age horror read, Later, his best book was the cool thriller, Billy Summers.  Billy Summers is a compelling, character driven read that follows a skilled hitman, as he attempts to engage in his last kill, only to run into a ton of surprises and complications.  A wildly enjoyable and captivating read that has convinced me to check out more Stephen King books next year.

 

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Lesser Evil Cover

The other really good Star Wars novel of 2021 was Lesser Evil, the third book in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Ascendancy series.  Set before his impressive Thrawn trilogy (made up of Thrawn, Alliances and Treason), Lesser Evil perfectly wraps up the Thrawn Ascendancy series (made up of Chaos Rising and Greater Good) while also exploring the early history and greatest victory/defeat of Zahn’s iconic Grand Admiral Thrawn.  Featuring excellent characters, cool universe expansion and some of the best tactical space battles you are likely to see, Lesser Evil was an exceptional read and I really hope that Timothy Zahn has some more Star Wars novels in the works.

 

Relentless by Mark Greaney

Relentless by Mark Greaney Cover

Last, but definitely not least, was the latest epic Gray Man novel from Mark Greaney, Relentless.  This awesome novel sets Greaney’s dangerous protagonist on another intense spy mission as he attempts to stop a terrorist attack in Germany.  I deeply enjoyed this fast-paced, action-packed and captivating spy thriller, especially as Greaney went out of his way to produce a clever and realistic narrative.  I had such a blast with Relentless and I cannot wait to see what deadly adventures occur in his next Gray Man novel.

 

 

Well, those are my 20 favourite books of 2021. It turned out to be quite a good list in the end, and I am very glad that I was able to highlight so many fantastic books.  2022 is set to be another excellent year for amazing reads, and I will be examining some of my most anticipated books for the first half of the year next week.  In the meantime, let me know what your favourite books of 2021 were in the comments below, and make sure you all have a happy and safe New Years.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Audiobooks of 2021

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 list was Books I Hope Santa Brings, and, while this did sound like a fun topic, I instead decided to continue my annual end of year wrap up of some of the best books of 2021.  In previous weeks I highlighted some of the best debuts of 2021, as well as the best pre-2021 novels I read in the last year, but this week I am going to look at something near and dear to my heart, the best audiobooks of 2021.

Readers of my blog only need to check out my extensive audiobook category to know that I have a lot of love for the audiobook format.  In my opinion, the audiobook is often the best way to experience a good book, and in many cases, this format makes a book a lot more enjoyable for me.  As a result, I listened to quite a few audiobooks this year, and while several of them are books that had been released before 2021 and featured in my Throwback Thursday posts, a large majority of them were released this year. There were some truly outstanding and impressive audiobooks released this year, and I already know that I am going to have an extremely hard time coming up with the final version of this list. 

For this list I have only included audiobooks released in 2021 that I have listened to and completed, so I am excluding a few audiobooks that were probably pretty awesome, but which I didn’t have a chance to listen to.  Despite this, I still ended up with a long list of extremely good audiobooks, all of which were extremely worthy of appearing on this post.  To help cut this down, I too into account a range of consideration, including quality of the original novel, skill of the narrator, production value, pacing and other factors, including any featured music or sound effects.  Looking at all this I was eventually able to cut the list down to the absolute best 10 audiobooks (as well as an extended honourable mentions section).  I had to make some very hard decisions here, and I ended up losing several extremely good audiobooks from this list.  Still I think it really represents the best audiobooks I enjoyed this year, and there are some amazing productions down below.  So let us see what made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Mind Bullet, written by Jeremy Robinson and narrated by R. C. Bray

Mind Bullet 2

Jeremy Robinson’s brilliant talent for writing incredibly entertaining novels once again combined perfectly with the fantastic narration of R. C. Bray (who gets a few mentions in this article) to produce an excellent and impressive audiobook production.

 

Relentless, written by Mark Greaney and narrated by Jay Snyder

Relentless by Mark Greaney Cover

A clever and intense spy thriller from the master Mark Greaney that is extremely well adapted by veteran narrator Jay Snyder.

 

The Man Who Died Twice, written by Richard Osman and narrated by Lesley Manville

The Man Who Died Twice Cover

After his sensational first novel/audiobook, The Thursday Murder Club, blew everyone away last year, comedian Richard Osman continued his cool series with The Man Who Died Twice.  This second book featured another brilliant audiobook adaption narrated by the talented and perfectly cast Lesley Manville, which is really worth checking out.

 

Colonyside, written by Michael Mammay and narrated by R. C. Bray

Colonyside Cover

Following on from Planetside and Spaceside, Michael Mammay produced another exceptional science fiction thriller with Colonyside, which was massively enhanced by R. C. Bray, whose voice works incredibly well for the gruff, military characters.

Top Ten Tuesday:

Relentless, written by Jonathan Maberry and narrated by Ray Porter

Relentless Cover

There was no way that the latest epic Joe Ledger audiobook by Jonathan Maberry, Relentless, was not going to make this list, especially as it once again features the fantastic narration of Ray Porter.  Relentless is the sequel to Rage (one of the best books and audiobooks of 2019), and contains an impressive story about Mayberry’s iconic protagonist, Joe Ledger, going on a revenge rampage.  Porter, who is one of my favourite audiobook narrators, once again expertly inhabited the main characters of this book, ensuring that listeners get a real sense of Ledger’s pain and torment.  An incredible production that perfectly brings this novel to life.

 

The Wisdom of Crowds, written by Joe Abercrombie and narrated by Steven Pacey

The Wisdom of Crowds Cover

Joe Abercrombie’s outstanding dark fantasy Age of Madness trilogy came to an incredible end this year with the captivating and moving The Wisdom of Crowds.  Containing a brilliant story and some wonderfully dark and complex characters The Wisdom of Crowds is a terrific read that did a fantastic job wrapping up the stories started in A Little Hatred and The Trouble With Peace (one of the best books and audiobooks of 2020).  The excellent Steven Pacey’s amazing voice helped to turn this into an excellent and compelling production, and I cannot wait to grab Abercrombie’s next book in this format.

 

Star Wars: Victory’s Price, written by Alexander Freed and narrated by January LaVoy

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

After enjoying physical copies of the first two novels in Alexander Freed’s Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron trilogy, Alphabet Squadron and Shadow Fall, I checked out the third novel, Victory’s Price, on audiobook and was absolutely blown away by it.  The Victory’s Price audiobook was just exquisite, combining a perfect and dramatic narrative with amazing Star Wars sound effects, music, and the exceptional voice work of January LaVoy.  This resulted in such an amazing audiobook, especially with the iconic Star Wars score working to enhance some of the more intense scenes.

 

The Bone Ship’s Wake, written by R. J. Barker and narrated by Jude Owusu

The Bone Ship's Wake Cover

Another great trilogy that ended this year was The Tide Child trilogy by R. J. Barker (previously consisting of The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships), which finished with the impressive The Bone Ship’s Wake.  Containing an exceptionally moving narrative, The Bone Ship’s Wake was an incredible book that takes the readers on a wild emotional ride.  I really enjoyed the audiobook adaption of this cool book.  The Bone Ship’s Wake was voiced by the talented Jude Owusu, who expertly brought the compelling characters and brutal nautical setting to life through his narration.  The Bone Ship’s Wake was an incredible audiobook that will really drag listeners into this brilliant series.

 

The Dark, written by Jeremey Robinson and narrated by R. C. Bray

The Dark Cover

Earlier this year I listened to my first Jeremey Robinson novels, The Dark, something that I am extremely thankful I did.  The Dark was a clever and entertaining novel that followed a group of characters as they attempted to survive an invasion from hell.  I have a lot of love for this book, not only because of the great story, but because the exceptionally talented R. C. Bray narrated the audiobook.  Bray does a beautiful job with this book, expertly narrating the crazy story and enhancing all of Robinson’s unique humour and over-the-top characters, with his great voice work.  A fast-paced and brutal novel, The Dark audiobook was a lot of fun, and Bray will ensure you stick to this bonkers story right to the end.

 

The Pariah, written by Anthony Ryan and narrated by Steven Brand

The Pariah Cover

Leading fantasy author Anthony Ryan produced an excellent brand new fantasy series this year that started with The PariahThe Pariah followed a complex and interesting protagonist as he tells the reader the story of his life through a chronical narrative.  Not only is this a great story, but the audiobook is narrated by the excellent Steven Brand, who perfectly portrays this central figure and ensures that the reader really gets to grips with Ryan’s powerful and detailed story.

 

Cytonic, written by Brandon Sanderson and narrated by Sophie Aldred

Cytonic Cover

After wowing us with Skyward and Starlight, one of the best authors in the world today, Brandon Sanderson, dropped the third entry in his epic Skyward young adult science fiction series, CytonicCytonic is another captivating read that takes its unique characters to an incredibly weird setting and pits them against impossible odds.  Narrator Sophie Aldred is just great here, especially when it comes to portraying the novel’s unpredictable point-of-view protagonist or highlighting the many awesome fighter combat sequences.  Cytonic was a brilliant addition to the series and I am extremely glad that I checked it out on audiobook.

 

The Shadow of the Gods, written by John Gwynne and narrated by Colin Mace

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

Acclaimed author John Gwynne produced a brand new fantasy novel this year with the much-loved The Shadow of the Gods.  Split into three separate storylines that followed some great characters as they traversed a dark fantasy world, each narrative thread was greatly enhanced by the excellent narration from Colin Mace.  Not only does Mace perfectly portray all three amazing point-of-view characters, but his impressive voice really brings you into the Norse-inspired fantasy world the story was set in.  This was such an amazing audiobook production and I would greatly recommend this format to anyone interested in reading this outstanding fantasy novel.

 

The Two-Faced Queen, written by Nick Martell and narrated by Joe Jameson

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

Last year, Nick Martell produced one of the best debuts of the year with The Kingdom of Liars, a truly awesome and exceptional read.  Martell followed this debut up in a big way with the sequel, The Two-Faced Queen that featured an exceptional narrative, loaded with an unbelievable number of twists and reveals.  The Two-Faced Queen was one of the best books of the year, and I had an incredible time listening to it on audiobook thanks to the talented Joe Jameson.  Jameson, who has been narrating some awesome novels lately (such as the Warhammer 40,000 book, Fire Made Flesh) did a great job of enhancing this fantastic novel, and I loved the cool voice and personality he gave to the central character.  Jameson’s brilliant narration also helped me follow the many, many complex elements of this novel, and this was a great way to enjoy this impressive novel.

 

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil, written by Timothy Zahn and narrated by Marc Thompson

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Lesser Evil Cover

The final audiobook on this list is another Star Wars novel.  This time it is the final entry in the Thrawn Ascendancy series by Timothy Zahn, Lesser Evil.  Following on from Chaos Rising and Greater Good, Lesser Evil was a brilliant and powerful novel that perfectly wrapped up a great trilogy.  Like Victory’s Price, Lesser Evil made exceptional use of the iconic Star Wars music and sound effects, but it also features the notable talents of narrator Marc Thompson.  Thompson does a great job coming up with cool voices for the various characters of Lesser Evil, especially its protagonist and villain, which helps to tell the book’s amazing narrative.  That, combined with the production values of a Star Wars novel adaptation, helped to turn this into a compelling and enjoyable audiobook that was just amazing.

 

 

Well that is the end of this latest Top Ten list, and as you can see, I have been lucky enough to listen to some awesome audiobooks this year.  All the above audiobooks are extremely good and I would highly recommend each of them in their audiobook format.  There is still a little time for me to listen to a few more great audiobooks this year, and I cannot wait to see how they all turn out.  Let me know what your favourite audiobooks of 2021 were in the comments below, and I will have to try and check them out as well.

Top Ten Tuesday – Titles or Covers that Made Me Want to Read/Buy a Book

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 the top titles or covers that made them want to read or buy a book.  This is a pretty cool topic and it gives me an excuse to highlight some of my favourite covers and titles. 

I have a somewhat eclectic method of choosing what books I want to read.  While I mostly tend to read novels due to the author, plot description, recommendations from other reviewers, or because it is an entry in a series or franchise I like, quite a few first catch my eye due to colourful or crazy covers, or titles that really stand out (or a combination of the two).  I have a lot of love for authors who invest in beautiful covers to highlight their novel’s style or plot features, and I also really enjoy cool and catchy titles.  It honestly did not take me long to come up with a list of fun covers and titles, and I was eventually able to whittle it down into a Top Ten List.  I tried to avoid using any novel where something else drove me to check the novel out, although there are a couple of cool Star Wars examples I had to include.  I really enjoyed all the cool covers/titles below, especially as there are usually some great stories contained within them.

 

Honourable Mentions:

Star Wars: Vader – Dark Visions by Dennis Hallum

Vader-DarkVisions-TPB

It has Darth Vader decked out as a black knight, how could I possibly resist this comic?

 

Child of a Mad God by R. A. Salvatore

Child of a Mad God Cover

 

A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A. Villareal

A History of the Vampire Uprising Cover

 

Black Leviathan by Bend Perplies

Black Leviathan Cover

 

Top Ten Tuesday:

Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas

Mecha Samurai Empire Cover

Let us start with an extremely cool cover and a very fun name, Mecha Samurai Empire.  I still remember the first time that I saw this book, as I was instantly drawn to the samurai mecha standing in front of a Japanese flag.  I also was very intrigued by the name, Mecha Samurai Empire, and I had to know more about it.  While the plot details did sway my decision, I already knew I was going to buy this book the moment I saw it.  It really did not disappoint either, with an exciting and clever story about mechas in an alternate United States that lost World War II.  This is such a great book, and the sequel, Cyber Shogun Revolution, follows the trend by having a fantastic cover a catchy title.

 

The Traitor God by Cameron Johnston

The Traitor God Cover

With a sleek, compelling name and a very well-crafted cover, The Traitor God quickly drew my attention before I even read the plot synopsis.  This cover perfectly captures the dark feel of the novel, and the mysterious title is a fantastic part of the plot.  This was a fantastic book, and led to a great sequel, God of Broken Things, which also featured an outstanding cover.

 

#Murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil

#MurderTrending Cover

I don’t know what drew me to #Murdertrending more, the unique, twitter-handled title, or the fun cover where a group of stick figures are in danger.  It probably was the title, and I liked the way in which McNeil was building up the novels critique of the social media obsessed world.  Overall, this cover/title combo really grabbed my attention and forced me to buy this book.

 

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

I have mentioned a few times that one of the reasons I checked out The Shadow of the Gods was because of positive reviews from other fantasy fans.  However, long before I heard about how good the story was, I found myself rather drawn to The Shadow of the Gods’ incredible cover.  The giant dragon facing off against a lone hero is exceptionally drawn, and I loved how the artist brings this scene to life in its own distinctive and unique way.  Suffice to say, this cool cover had The Shadow of the Gods well on my radar before it came out, and I probably would have read this novel, even if I had heard nothing from other reviewers.

 

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth Cover

Gideon the Ninth was another book where the cover dragged me in, although in all fairness, it is a pretty damn impressive cover.  The beautifully drawn artwork features a red-haired swordswoman with skull-themed face paint walking through a mass of exploding skeletons.  I mean, if that does not draw your interest and attention, nothing will.  In addition, when I received the book, it was a fantastic hardcover with black edging to the pages, which really gave of a mysterious and powerful theme to it.  I was so hooked even before I found out it was a novel about lesbian, space-faring necromancers, and seeing the plot only convinced me to read it quicker.  This was an outstanding novel, which Muir followed up last year with Harrow the Ninth, another novel with an extremely epic cover.

 

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Strange Practice Cover

Strange Practice features a great cover with a doctor standing above a vampire filled coffin.  That outstanding cover contained so much detail, and I loved the combination of classic vampire aesthetics with a modern London backdrop to it.  The combination of black and white walls and characters against blood red floors, coverings and cityscape works surprisingly well, and it helps to deliver a very striking cover.  This awesome art really dragged me towards this book, and I had a wonderful time reading this and its fun sequel, Dreadful Company, which also featured an amazing cover.

 

City of Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

City of Bastards Cover

Ok, for this one, it was all about the name.  City of Bastards is such an evocative title, and it definitely caught my attention when I first saw it as it opens up so many different story and tonal possibilities.  Couple that with the pretty neat cover, which makes amazing use of colour (the purple and the blood red really work well together), and I was rather hooked on this book before I even picked it up and read what it was about.   

 

Star Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber

deathtrooperscover

A few years ago, while randomly skimming online, I saw the cover for Star Wars: Death Troopers, which really had me hooked (hah).  Something about that visual of a bloodied Storm Trooper helmet suspended by a meat hook really struck me, and it drove me to grab an audiobook version of that book that very night.  Thank goodness I did, as this was a really fun novel, that features zombies on a Star Destroyer attempting to eat Han and Chewie.  An outstanding book that is one of my favourite horror novels, thank goodness I saw this cover.

 

The Bone Ships by R. J. Barker

The Bone Ships Cover

Now, I must admit that I probably would have read this book even without seeing the name or cover.  I had already enjoyed Barker’s excellent Wounded Kingdom series (made up of Age of Assassins, Blood of Assassins and King of Assassins), so I would have been curious about his next series.  However, the moment I saw the cover for The Bone Ships, I knew that this book would be something special that I would need to read.  The incredible cover featuring a beautifully rendered dragon, is just amazing, and the title The Bone Ships, really fires up the imagination.  The combination of these features made The Bone Ships a must read from me well before I’d seen the plot, and it fully convinced me to get The Bone Ships, which ended up being one of the best books (and audiobooks of 2019). 

 

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K. J. Parker

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City Cover

When I first saw Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, I initially wasn’t to impressed by the cover.  However, there was something about the unique name that got me curious enough to check out some more details and that’s when I found out that this was a fun sounding fantasy novel.  I had an absolute blast reading this novel, which was one of the best books of 2019, and it also led me to the sequel, How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It, one of the most hilarious books I read last year.  I honestly might have missed this series if that catchy name and cover didn’t grab my attention, which would have been a real shame.

 

 

Well that brings another Top Ten Tuesday to a close.  As you can see from the above, there are some truly awesome and fun covers and titles in my reading history.  Each of these featured novels come highly recommended, and I hope you also like the titles and cover art.  I hope you enjoyed my latest list and let me know what covers or titles drew you to a book in the comments below.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Audiobooks from the First Half of 2021

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 is Books I’d Want With Me While Stranded on a Deserted Island, but I am going to do something a little different and instead look at my favourite audiobooks from the first half of 2021.  This is a continuation of my Top Ten list from a few weeks ago that featured my favourite overall novels from the first half of 2021.

People familiar with my blog will know that I have a great deal of love for the audiobook format, and it is one of the main ways that I tend to check out books.  Each year I enjoy a great number of different audiobooks and use the format to check out recent releases and older novels.  I have been enjoying audiobooks for years, and it is amazing the various ways in which listening to a book can enhance your enjoyment.  A great narrator can really bring you into the story, and I find that listening to a book enhances the amount of detail that you can take in.  In addition, other features, such as great voices, music and sound effects can really make an audiobook something special, and there some great examples of that out there.  This year alone I have listened to several outstanding audiobooks, includes some of my favourite books from early 2021.  Because I love this format so much, I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight my favourite audiobooks from the first half of the year.

To pull this list off I had a look at all the 2021 releases that I listened to on audiobook to figure out my favourites.  It turns out that I have already gone through quite a few this year so there was a very large collection of potential additions to this list.  I was eventually able to whittle it down to the ten audiobooks I consider to be the best, as well as a generous honourable mention section.  There is a bit of a crossover with my previous Favourite Books from the First Half of 2021 list, but I think there are enough new additions to make this list worthwhile.  I did prioritise audiobook production and narration over story in a few places, as outstanding narration or use of music and sound effects can enhance the plot.  That is why so many Star Wars novels made this list, because they are awesome productions, which are really worth checking out.  I am pretty happy with how the overall list turned out and I think that the below entries really highlight what my favourite audiobooks are.

 

Honourable Mentions:

The Coward, written by Stephen Aryan and narrated by Matt Wycliffe

The Coward Cover

 

Serpentine, written by Jonathan Kellerman and narrated by John Rubinstein

Serpentine Cover

 

Prodigal Son, written by Gregg Hurwitz and narrated by Scott Brick

Prodigal Son Cover

 

The Girl and the Mountain, written by Mark Lawrence and narrated by Helen Duff

The Girl and the Mountain Cover 2

 

Top Ten List (No Particular Order):

The Two-Faced Queen, written by Nick Martell and narrated by Joe Jameson

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

One of my favourite books of the year, The Two-Faced Queen, is easily one of the best audiobooks as well.  There were actually two separate audiobook versions of this book, and I chose to go with the Joe Jameson version, since he previously narrated Martell’s debut novel, The Kingdom of Liars.  I am a big fan of Jameson, especially after his work on books such as King of Assassins by R. J. Barker, and he did another amazing job on this book.  The Two-Faced Queen audiobook is an excellent and addictive listen, and I would wholeheartedly recommend this format to anyone wanting to enjoy this awesome five-star novel.

 

Star Wars: Victory’s Price, written by Alexander Freed and narrated by January LaVoy

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

Earlier this year, impressive author Alexander Freed finished off his Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron series with Victory’s Price, and in the process created one of the best books of 2021.  This audiobook massively enhances the already incredible and moving narrative within this exceptional novel, utilising outstanding voice work from January LaVoy, as well as the iconic Star Wars score and sound effects.  Easily one of best audiobooks of the year.

 

Relentless, written by Mark Greaney and narrated by Jay Snyder

Relentless by Mark Greaney Cover

One of the leading authors of spy thrillers, Mark Greaney, produced another intense and exciting novel this year with Relentless.  Thanks to some excellent voice work from Jay Snyder, the Relentless audiobook was pretty damn impressive, and you are in for a real treat with this exhilarating novel.

 

Star Wars: Light of the Jedi, written by Charles Soule and narrated by Marc Thompson

Star Wars - Light of the Jedi Cover

Another outstanding Star Wars audiobook was Light of the Jedi, the introductory novel in the new High Republic range.  Just like Victory’s Price, Light of the Jedi makes full use of the Star Wars music and effects to produce a fantastic listen.  However, Light of the Jedi also features the incredible voice work of Marc Thompson, one of the best narrators utilised by the Star Wars franchise.  Thompson produces a raft of great voices to highlight the new characters featured within this novel and it was really fun to hear him tell this story.  Thompson is lending his vocal talents to several other outstanding Star Wars audiobooks this year, including the latest High Republic novel, The Rising Storm, which is another great audiobook to check out.

 

The Shadow of the Gods, written by John Gwynne and narrated by Colin Mace

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

After hearing some incredible things about the latest John Gwynne novel, I ended up checking out The Shadow of the Gods on audiobook.  Not only was this book one of the absolute best fantasy releases of 2021 but the audiobook format was pretty damn exceptional.  Colin Mace’s voice really fit the dark fantasy setting and he really dives into the complex characters to highlight their deeper feelings and hidden rages.  An impressive and captivating listen.

 

Later, written by Stephen King and narrated by Seth Numrich

Later Cover

I was deeply impressed earlier this year when I checked out the audiobook format of the latest Stephen King novel, Later.  Outstanding new narrator Seth Numrich really dives into this excellent novel, and I had a wonderful and freaky time getting through this fantastic audiobook.

 

The Bone Maker, written by Sarah Beth Durst and narrated by Soneela Nankani

The Bone Maker Cover

I had an absolute blast listening to the latest great fantasy novel from Sarah Beth Durst, The Bone Maker, especially as narrator Soneela Nankani does a great job bringing the novel’s damaged protagonists to life.

 

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: The Greater Good, written by Timothy Zahn and narrated by Marc Thompson

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Greater Good Cover

The final Star Wars audiobook on this list is the second Thrawn Ascendancy entry, The Greater Good.  Thompson once again lends his incredible voice to this great book, bringing the unique characters to life.  However, his best work is reserved for main character Grand Admiral Thrawn, as Thompson perfectly replicates the character’s voice from the Star Wars Rebels animated series.  This makes for a complex and powerful audiobook, and I loved every second I spent listening to it.

 

Colonyside, written by Michael Mammay and narrated by R. C. Bray

Colonyside Cover

One of the fastest rising science fiction authors, Michael Mammay, continued to impress earlier this year with Colonyside, the third entry in the Planetside series, which was another awesome read.  You really need to listen to this novel’s audiobook format, as narrator R. C. Bray brings a certain necessary gruffness and fun to the central character.  An amazing book to listen to!

 

The Mask of Mirrors, written by M. A. Carrick and narrated by Nikki Massoud

The Mask of Mirrors Cover

The final entry on this list is the great fantasy novel, The Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick.  The Mask of Mirrors is a particularly fun and intriguing read, and I found myself really drawn to its audiobook format.  This is mainly because of narrator Nikki Massoud, who strategically utilises a fantastic range of voices and accents to turn this amazing book into an incredible listening experience.

 

That is the end of my latest list.  As you can see, I have a pretty typical Unseen Library Top Ten List (I’ve got to fit in as many Star Wars novels as possible), but I really do think this represents all of my absolute favourite audiobooks from the first part of 2021.  All of the above audiobooks come highly recommended, and in my opinion, the audiobook format really enhances all of these great reads.  Let me know what your favourite 2021 audiobooks are in the comments below, and I look forward to seeing which of the above make my Top Audiobooks of 2021 list later this year.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Books from the First Half of 2021

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 task for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was originally to list the reasons why I love reading, however I am going to go off topic and instead look at something else.  We have just crossed into the second half of 2021, which has already proven to be a pretty fantastic year for books.  I have read some incredible novels so far this year, including impressive standalone books, amazing new entries in established series and fantastic debuts.  Because of this, I thought that I would take the time to work out what my top ten favourite books from the first half of 2021 were.

Once I knew what I wanted to pull together for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, I started taking a hard look at all the different novels that I have read this year.  To be eligible, a book had to be released in (or extremely close to) the first half of this year.  I have also excluded any books released during this period that I have not so far read, although a couple of releases I have my eye on might have appeared on this list if I had had the chance to read them before now.

Coming up with this list proved to be a rather bigger task than I originally intended, as I ended up amassing nearly 20 different releases, all of which I consider to be some pretty outstanding reads.  I ended up being able to eventually whittle this down to an acceptable Top Ten list, although I did include my typical generous honourable mentions section.  I am rather happy with how this list turned out, although I am surprised at some of the great releases that ended up being excluded.  Still, the books below represent what I considered to be some of the best books from the first half of 2021, and I would strongly recommend each and every one of them.  So let us see what made the cut.

 

Honourable Mentions:

Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz

Prodigal Son Cover

 

The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer

The Warsaw Orphan Cover

 

Later by Stephen King

Later Cover

 

The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

The Girls I've Been Cover

 

Top Ten List (no particular order):

The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

The first book on this list is the incredible and wildly addictive fantasy masterpiece, The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell.  Serving as the sequel to last year’s amazing The Kingdom of Liars (which was one of my favourite books, audiobooks, and debuts of 2020), The Two-Faced Queen continues the compelling adventures of its angsty and relatable protagonist, Michael Kingman, as he attempts to uncover the mysteries and conspiracies of his home city.  Containing a wild mass of unique opponents, plots and hidden secrets, this book holds your attention from beginning to end and is one of the best sequels I have ever read.

 

Star Wars: Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

Next up we have the obligatory Star Wars entry on this list, Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed.  While there have been several other great Star Wars releases this year (Light of the Jedi and Greater Good were both fantastic), none of them were as impressive as Victory’s Price.  Serving as the third and final entry in the Alphabet Squadron series (which previously featured Alphabet Squadron and Shadow Fall), this incredible book features a powerful, character driven narrative that provides readers with tragedy, amazing character development and a full-on war story amid the Star Wars universe.  Beautifully written and incredibly moving, Victory’s Price perfectly wraps up the Alphabet Squadron trilogy and is one of the best Star Wars novels out there.

 

Relentless by Mark Greaney

Relentless by Mark Greaney Cover

Epic spy thriller author Mark Greaney returns with the 10th book in his outstanding Gray Man series, Relentless.  I have been deeply enjoying the Gray Man novels over the last couple of years (check out my reviews for Mission Critical and One Minute Out), so I knew I was going to be in for a good time with Relentless.  This was another particularly thrilling tale of international espionage and plots, as Court Gentry and his comrades go up against a sinister, world-changing conspiracy.  A fantastic and action-packed read that comes highly recommended.

 

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

Next of this list we have the fantasy novel that everyone was talking about this year, The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne.  Set in a Norse inspired dark fantasy world shattered by warring gods, The Shadow of the Gods contains a powerful and addictive narrative which sets three amazing protagonists on quests for redemption, honour, and family.  Containing some extraordinary world building, great characters, and a really impressive story, this was one of the best fantasy books of the year, and I loved every second I spent reading it.

 

Artifact Space by Miles Cameron

Artifact Space Cover

Superstar author Miles Cameron made his science fiction debut earlier this year with the captivating Artifact Space.  Containing an epic voyage throughout the stars, Artifact Space was an awesome read, that takes its damaged protagonist to some amazing places as they try to save their ship from a dangerous alien conspiracy.

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 35: Homecoming by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

I doubt anyone is too surprised that the latest Usagi Yojimbo volume has appeared on this list.  Written by one of my favourite authors, Stan Sakai, this latest volume of the long running series was extremely moving and deeply compelling, as Usagi goes through some harsh adventures near his long-avoided home province.  With incredible art, powerful character work and some very elaborate stories, this was another excellent addition to one of the best comic series out there.

 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary Cover

Another new to me author who blew me away this year was the outstanding Andy Weir, who produced one of the best science fiction novels of 2021.  Project Hail Mary contains an extraordinary tale of an amnesiac scientist sent out into space to find out how to save the sun from burning out.  Containing a deeply enjoyable and addictive story, I powered through Project Hail Mary in no time at all and loved every second of it.  One of the easiest books of 2021 to recommend, you must check Project Hail Mary out.

 

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

The Bone Maker Cover

After deeply enjoying her 2020 novel, Race the Sands, I was eager to explore another fun standalone fantasy novel from bestselling author Sarah Beth Durst, and boy was I in for a treat with The Bone Maker.  This clever novel follows five former heroes who are once again drawn into a deadly battle for their nation.  Readers will fall in love with the novels damaged heroes, especially after they once head the call to battle, even after all the loss and trauma they have suffered.

 

Colonyside by Michael Mammay

Colonyside Cover

Now, technically this novel was released in 2020, however, considering it only came out 31 December (which was technically 1 January 2021 in Australia), I am choosing to count this as a 2021 release instead.  Colonyside is the third novel in the fantastic and impressive Planetside science fiction thriller series.  Following on from the amazing Planetside (one of the best books of 2018) and Spaceside (one of the best books of 2019), Colonyside places its infamous protagonist in the middle of another dangerous conspiracy, as he searches for a missing person on a hostile alien planet.  A masterful and thrilling novel, I deeply enjoyed this amazing book.

 

Protector by Conn Iggulden

Protector Cover Final

The final entry on this list is the outstanding Protector from Conn Iggulden, which follows on the from the great 2020 novel, The Gates of Athens.  Featuring an awesome story about some of the key battles between the Greeks and the Persians, this was a fantastic piece of historical fiction that is really worth reading.

 

 

That is the end of this list.  As you can see, I have already read some amazing and epic books so far in 2021 and we are only halfway through the year.  I am pretty happy with how this list turned out, especially as it features some extraordinary reads.  It will be interesting to see which of these books ends up being amongst my top reads of 2020, and while I would assume all the above will make the cut, there is some pretty hefty competition coming up in the second half of 2021.  Let me know what you think about the books that made my Top Ten list, and also let me know what your favourite releases from the first half of 2020 are.

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

Publisher: Orbit (Audiobook – 4 May 2021)

Series: The Bloodsworn Saga – Book One

Length: 18 hours and 13 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Prepare to dive into a dark and powerful Norse-inspired fantasy with the incredible and addictive new novel from superstar fantasy author John Gwynne, The Shadow of the Gods.  Gwynne is highly regarded fantasy author who has been making some major waves since his 2012 dark fantasy debut, Malice, the first book in The Faithful and the Fallen series.  Gwynne has so far written two major fantasy series, the four-novel long The Faithful and the Fallen, and the sequel Of Blood and Bone series.  His latest novel, The Shadow of the Gods, is the first book in The Bloodsworn Saga, which will follow a group of epic protagonists in a bloody and grim Norse-inspired fantasy world.

I must admit that until recently I had not had the pleasure of reading any of John Gwynne’s novels.  This has always seemed like a major oversight on my behalf, especially as most fantasy reviewers massively talk up Gwynne’s existing series. While my attention was drawn to this book thanks to its baller cover (I mean look at it, so awesome), it initially was not a major reading priority for me.  However, this changed once the reviews for The Shadow of the Gods started pouring in.  Within a day of its release, my inbox was getting blown up with glowing reviews, as nearly every member of the fantasy fiction community started singing the praises of Gwynne’s new book.  While I generally like making my own reading decisions, after seeing so many different reviewers claim it was one of the best books of the year, I honestly had no choice but to check it out, and boy was I glad that I did.

Hundreds of years ago, the gods fought in a brutal and fatal war in the lands of Vigrið for power, vengeance, and pride.  When the fighting stopped all the gods lay dead, the land was shattered, and hordes of monsters and demons were unleashed upon the world.  Now, after barely surviving the carnage of the god’s war, humans dominate Vigrið, with powerful jarls fighting for control of the towns while mercenary war bands quest after monsters and the most feared inhabitants of Vigrið, the Tainted.  The Tainted are human descendants of the gods who bear small remnants of their savage power, and who are now hunted out of fear and a desire to harness their power for the wars to come.

While life is always bloody in Vigrið, times are especially bleak now with war looming on the horizon, monsters roaming the wilds and sinister forces gather out of sight.  In these dark times, three dangerous people will find the fate of Vigrið resting in their hands.  These new heroes include Orka, a hunter and trapper who lives a quiet life in the wilds with her family, attempting to avoid her troubled past while raising her young son.  Meanwhile, Varg, an escaped thrall seeking answers, finds unexpected friendship by joining the legendary Bloodsworn mercenary company.  Finally, Elvar, a young noblewoman running from her family, seeks glory and battle fame as part of the Battle-Grim, another mercenary band who specialise in capturing Tainted humans.

Soon, all three of these fighters are faced with new and life-changing challenges.  Orka is forced to embark on a bloody mission of vengeance when her peaceful life is shattered and her son is taken from her.  Varg attempts to reconcile his responsibilities to the Bloodsworn and his own personal oaths, as the war band march into the wilderness to face a mysterious foe.  Elvar and the Battle-Grim embark on a legendary quest to find the final battleground of the gods.  However, all three will be unprepared for the revelations, lies and bloodshed about to be unleashed before them.  A dangerous conspiracy is forming in Vigrið that will shatter the very land and bring untold chaos to humanity.  Not all the gods are dead, and those that survive are very angry!

So, a little life lesson for me here: when the entire reviewing world says a book is good, then you can be damn sure that it will be an amazing read!  In this case, The Shadow of the Gods turned out to be an exceptional and captivating novel which provides an intense and clever story with great characters exploring a harsh and broken world.  Gwynne did an incredible job with his latest novel, and this was easily one of the best fantasy books I have read so far this year, earning an easy five-star rating from me.  The Shadow of the Gods has an incredible and powerful narrative that becomes even more addictive and exciting the further you get into it.  This is an outstanding and dark fantasy story which cleverly Gwynne has anchored to three separate point-of-view characters, Orka, Varg and Elvar.  I really liked how Gwynne came up with three separate narratives that are fun and memorable in their own unique way, and The Shadow of the Gods is stronger because of this.

The first one of these independent storylines revolves around Orka, a skilled and deadly warrior who has taken to living as an isolated hunter with her husband and young son.  Initially attempting to stay out of the politics and battles of Vigrið, and with a mysterious past surrounding her, Orka is eventually forced into action when her home is destroyed and her son is kidnapped.  What follows is a bloody and brutal revenge story, as Orka traverses the landscape in search of her son, killing everyone in her way.  Accompanied by two inexperienced fighters, Orka cuts a fantastic path of vengeance and despair throughout the world, eventually revealing just how dangerous she can be.  Orka’s story is really fantastic, and I loved seeing her on her quest for vengeance, blood and her son.  Gwynne weaves an incredible narrative around the character and takes her to some dark and dangerous places, as she is forced to contend with conspiring jarls, rogue warbands, vengeful fighters and dangerous Tainted with unknown agendas.  The author also puts some very impressive character work into Orka.  Initially shown as a mysterious being who is haunted by her past and is only just keeping her aggressive instincts in check for the sake of her family, Orka soon displays increasing violence and prowess as her storyline continues and she loses more control.  This was a fantastic and epic story, which has an outstanding ending with some extremely fun, if slightly predictable, twists to it.

The next storyline follows the amazing Varg, a former thrall who has run away after killing his owners.  In desperate need of magic to avenge his dead sister, Varg attempts to join the Bloodsworn, a highly regarded mercenary company, to make use of their seiðr-witch.  After impressing the Bloodsworn, Varg travels with them as an apprentice mercenary, unable to use the seiðr-witch until he proves his worth.  His first quest with the Bloodsworn takes him to a remote part of Vigrið to investigate missing villagers.  As Varg struggles between fulfilling his oath to his sister and starting a new life, he will experience betrayal, despair, and terrible revelations.  This is another excellent storyline which has a lot of awesome elements to it.  Not only is there a lot of action and intrigue as the Bloodsworn find themselves in the middle of the chaos infecting Vigrið, but it also serves as a fantastic tale of friendship, redemption, and camaraderie.

Varg proves to be a really good central protagonist and readers will quickly become attracted to his resilience, natural battle prowess and deep inner tragedy.  A former slave, Varg is unused to friendship or support from those around him, as the only person he could ever count on was his sister, whose death he seeks to avenge.  However, when confronted by the easy friendship of his fellow Bloodsworn brothers, Varg finds himself suffering from some dramatic inner conflict, especially as he believes himself undeserving of support and kindness, and his happiness feels like a betrayal to his dead sister.  This is an amazing bit of character work here, and I really appreciated Varg’s impressive personal story.  His background as a slave also ensures that this storyline features more background about this world than some of the other stories do, and you also get a series of training montages as Varg learns how to fight as a member of the Bloodsworn.  This storyline is further enhanced by a great band of supporting characters, especially as Varg finds himself fighting side by side with an eclectic group of unique and outrageous warriors.  There are several fantastic and enjoyable side characters featured amongst the Bloodsworn, although my favourite must be the cocky and entertaining Svik, a skilled warrior with a love of cheese and a funny tale to back it up (trust me, it is worth reading just to see him tell his cheese tale).  These supporting characters help to make Varg’s storyline the most entertaining and humorous parts of the book and it is near impossible not to fall in love with the various members of the Bloodsworn.

The final character arc featured in The Shadow of the Gods follows the young warrior, Elvar.  Elvar is the daughter of a powerful jarl who gave up a life of comfort and forced marriage to join the Battle-Grim, another notorious mercenary warband who specialise in killing monsters and trapping Tainted to sell them for profit.  After capturing an unusual family of Tainted, Elvar and the Battle-Grim embark on a quest of epic proportions that will change the world.  This was another impressive and captivating storyline which has some very unique differences from the other character arcs.  Elvar is an excellent point-of-view character with a complex past, who presents an interesting counterpoint to the other two protagonists.  While Orka and Varg and primarily motivated by family and vengeance, Elvar is primarily concerned with proving her worth to her crew, her commander, and her overbearing family, and is determined to win enough battle fame to outshine her father.  I also loved the comparisons between the Bloodsworn and the Battle-Grim, and it was interesting to see how the similarities and differences between the warbands, especially as the Battle-Grim are more concerned with wealth and reputation.  This storyline is a particularly ambitious and contains some amazing battle sequences, especially one at the start against a troll, and there is much more of a focus on fighting within a shield wall as a unit.  This storyline also has one of the best twists in the entire novel, as well as an extremely impressive ending that will have major implications for the rest of the series.

The three narratives are generally kept very separate right up until the end with only a minimal amount of crossover.  This means that the readers end up getting three distinct stories with a unique group of characters set within the same book.  I think that this was a pretty cool way to start the wider series off, especially as it let the reader see more of the universe, while also expertly establishing the main protagonists and their storylines.  At the same time, limiting the narrative to only three major characters (I understand that Gwynne usually uses more), also ensures that the story does not get too fractured, and that the reader has time to get properly invested in each storyline.  I had a wonderful time reading each of the three storylines, and I honestly enjoyed each of them pretty much equally.  This is pretty rare for novels that use multiple POV characters, as there is usually one narrator or storyline that the reader enjoys more than others.  I will admit that Elvar’s storyline did take me a little longer to get into, but I become extremely hooked on it after a few chapters.  If I had to choose an absolute favourite storyline, I would say that the Varg chapters were really appealing to me, and I enjoyed seeing his cool story of redemption, as well as his fun companions.  While the stories were primarily kept separate, a few overarching plotlines and a couple of supporting characters are shared between the three arcs.  While subtle, it does perfectly set up an overarching conspiracy that has major implications for the entire plot and which sets up the next novel perfectly.  This makes for a pretty epic novel, and it is one that no fantasy fan will be able to easily put down.

I was deeply impressed by the clever and memorable fantasy universe that Gwynne came up with for The Shadow of the Gods.  The world of Vigrið is a thrilling dark fantasy setting, filled with all manner of dangerous monsters, dead gods and roving warbands, all of which proves to be an amazing backdrop to the overall story.  I loved the beautiful combination of fantasy elements with Norse historical inspirations, and it was pretty damn cool to see Viking-esque warriors facing off against monsters and magically enhanced beings.  The author does a great job capturing the intricacies of these Norse elements, and the reader is treated to detailed depictions of Viking tactics, weapons and fighting styles, such as a several brutal shield wall sequences.  Gwynne really tries to enhance the authenticity of these elements by using the Norse names for various things, such as brynja for a coat of mail, and I really appreciated this attention to detail.  I am not entirely sure he needed to describe someone’s head as a thought-cage every single time, though, as it that was a tad annoying.  In addition to the cool Norse elements, I loved the whole concept of a land of fallen gods where their human descendants are hunted and enslaved.  This opens some great storylines, especially around how the Tainted are treated, and it proves to be rather interesting to see which characters are secretly empowered (some are more obvious than others).  I think that Gwynne did a good job of introducing all the key elements of his universe throughout the course of the book, and the reader is never unsure or confused about what is going on.  This truly was an impressively inventive new setting, and I look forward to seeing what chaos and destruction occurs throughout it in the next novel, especially after that ending.

I ended up listening to The Shadow of the Gods’ audiobook format, which turned out to be an amazing and captivating production.  The Shadow of the Gods has a substantial run time of just over 18 hours; however, listeners are guaranteed to power through it in no time at all.  I found myself really enjoying into this book’s audiobook format, especially as it really helped to bring the excellent story to life for me, with many fantastic details and thrilling fight scenes become so much clearer.  One of the main reasons that this format works so well is the excellent narration from Colin Mace, a man who has lent his vocal talents to some great novels in the past, including The Black Hawks by David Wragg (as well as its upcoming sequel, The Righteous).  Mace has a very gruff and commanding voice that perfectly fits the dark, Nordic tone of The Shadow of the Gods.  Mace does an awesome job moving the story along at a quick pace, and there is never a single slow spot for the listeners to get stuck in.  At the same time, he produces some rough and damaged voices for the various characters featured within the book which I felt fit each of them perfectly and which helped to highlight their distinctive personalities.  This results in an exquisite and memorable audiobook production, and I would strongly recommend this format to anyone interested in checking this impressive novel out.

With his latest incredible novel, the impressive John Gwynne once again shows why he is one of the leading authors of dark fantasy fiction.  The Shadow of the Gods is a fantastic and captivating read that takes the reader on thrilling adventures with some exceptional characters.  Featuring a powerful narrative and an intricate and grim new fantasy setting, The Shadow of the Gods is an outstanding and addictive novel that is one of the best fantasy books of 2021.  A highly recommended read for anyone looking for their latest dark fantasy fix, I cannot wait to see where Gwynne takes The Bloodsworn Saga next, but you have to know it is going to be something particularly epic.

WWW Wednesday – 16 June 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?

Falling by T. J. Newman (Trade Paperback)

Falling Cover

I started reading Falling by T. J. Newman this week.  Falling is a compelling thriller novel set aboard a plane whose pilot must choose between the lives of his family or the passengers aboard his plane.  This is a fantastic and exciting debut novel from Newman and I am really enjoying it’s clever and fast-paced story.

 

Trollslayer by William King (Audiobook)

Trollslayer

I was in the mood for something a little different this week and decided to check out the classic Warhammer novel, Trollslayer by William King.  Trollslayer is set in the Warhammer fantasy universe and follows the adventures of a doom obsessed, death seeking dwarf slayer and his human companion as they go up against every monster, demon and fiend that lives in their terrible world. I am only an hour in so far, but I am already enjoying this great novel, which contains several exciting short stories.

What did you recently finish reading?

Artifact Space by Miles Cameron (ebook)

Artifact Space Cover

 

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne (Audiobook)

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Protector by Conn Iggulden (Trade Paperback)

Protector Cover Final

 

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.