Wow. 2023 was a year and a half.
This was a year when I finally felt like I could get back to reading after two years spent mostly writing, and boy, the books brought it. Then, Kavin brought me on to post my reviews, and I’ve been amazed by the continuous love of the Silverstones and online book communities. I’m sitting here drinking coffee listening to Dr. Dre’s classic The Chronic 2001, and I just want to get into it. So, let’s go!
Ok, pause, actually. I want to shout out two books that stood head and shoulders above the rest, and then focus on the indie books that wowed me this year. Would that be ok? I think it’s ok. So let’s start with two books that I read this year that changed how I view fantasy.
- The Book that Wouldn’t Burn by Mark Lawrence
This is probably no surprise if you follow me on any social media. Or read my reviews. Or pass by me on the street as I’m shouting to anyone I meet that they should read this. It’s not often a book comes out of nowhere and lands in my top 10 books of all time. It’s been a pretty static list since I read Kazuo Ishiguro and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Also, this is one of at most 2 SFF on that list.
There’s a few reasons, and what I find interesting is that those reasons don’t work for everyone. Much like my review of The Will of the Many, it doesn’t matter how much hype a book has if it isn’t for you. This book was the right book for me:
- Strong characterization. Livira and Evar were a great one-two punch as POV characters. Both came with baggage and flaws, but most of all, I wanted nothing more than both of them to succeed.
- Themes. Lost knowledge, secret histories, conspiracy. You guys probably know I’m a sucker for these things.
- Style and aesthetics. This was a truly unique setting, and the prose made it pop off the page for me.
This book was so good, I’ve considered reading it again already.
2. Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
Another easy 5 star book for me. I was a more surprised about how much I loved this one. I expected it to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be such a fantastic and joyful book and yet have a sort of gravity in certain sections that I think a lot of authors will be jealous of the emotional resonance Mr. Eames manages. This is the kind of book that made me want to pull out older editions of Dungeons and Dragons and go on an adventure.
Eames takes classic fantasy, douses it in humor and emotional connections and serves it up with clean, beautiful prose.
So those are my top 2 books. They stood head and shoulders above the rest. Not because the other books are bad, but these were two books that absolutely floored me. Speaking of. It’s time for my top 3 reads. This wasn’t easy, but these books were also utterly fantastic.
- Soulstealer: Origins by Reed Logan Westgate
Reed is one of the best members of our fantasy community. Kind, humble, and an excellent friend. It is an absolute pleasure to recommend one of his books to you all on my end-of-the-year list.
Soulstealer: Origins demonstrates a lot of growth from a prolific author. I enjoyed Infernal Games when I read it last year, but I loved Soulstealer: Origins. Reed really steered into what makes his writing work: mystery, friendship, and great characters. And by great characters, it is impossible to talk about this book without mentioning Oxivius.
Oxivius may have stolen the show in Infernal Games, but he shines brilliantly when given his own story and cast to work with.
- The Bleeding Stone by Joseph John Lee
Joe Lee. Joe Lee. Joeee Leeee. Joeeee Leeeeeeeeeeeeee.
I’m still mad about this book. It’s brilliant and I wish I wrote it. Joe really did something special with this one. Sometimes it’s possible to come across as preachy in a book like this with a strong anti-colonialism theme. To me, Joe hit that mark and walked that tightrope.
Joe is a very talented writer that you all will want to get in on before he blows up. Very few writers could do what he did with this debut, and he made it seem easy. The prose is beautiful. The world is well-realized. The characters all draw visceral reactions.
I kinda want to reread this one too. I certainly need to get off my butt and read the sequel.
- Four-Scored by Andrew D Meredith
Quinn and I have talked about doing an Andrew D Meredith Blog-off where we explain which of his two series we find superior. Quinn called dibs on the Kallattian Saga, but all along I wanted Needle and Leaf.
This isn’t to say that the Kallattian Saga isn’t brilliant (it is). Or that you shouldn’t read it (you should). This is to say, when it comes to which series I think is better, there’s no contest for me.
It’s Needle and Leaf. It has always been Needle and Leaf.
If the Kallattian Saga is an orchestra or an arena rock band packed with all the bells and whistles with epic scale, Needle and Leaf is that guy at a coffee shop with an acoustic guitar that takes all the air out of the room as we sing along with him. And after the song there’s a moment no one can move and we are all silent before we start to clap.
Again, both are great, but when it comes to the personal and intimate story of a father and his adoptive son, it is hard to tug on my heartstrings any more than that.
Jovan and Leaf could be some of my favorite fantasy characters ever. Four-scored took their story a step further, and while Thrice felt like dream-like folklore, Four-scored felt more real. More dangerous. The mists parted, and there was still more story to tell.
I’ve often said that Andrew is the best of us. And it’s true. He is an amazing talent, a fresh voice, and my best read of the year (or third if you count The Book that Wouldn’t Burn and Kings of The Wyld…sorry Andrew).
Honorable Mentions: In the Orbit of Sirens by TA Bruno, Gloves of Eons by Andrew D Meredith
So there we go. Have a great rest of your year, and I love you all. I can’t wait to spend the next year with you!