Top 10 Existing Books of 2020

So, I did my Top 10 New Books from 2020, so this is my Top 10 that I read this year that AREN’T from 2020. Quite a few novellas and series finales within. A few authors you might recognize from my last list as well. Somehow (I didn’t plan this) all but one of these are from 2019. Pretty much what 2020 taught me was (well, so many awful things but) there were no good books from before 2019.

Yeah. Sure. Suuuuure.

10

Magebane – by Stephen Aryan

2019

The first of several finales, the Age of Dread ends with the fall of magic—or its rise. Hated and fear around the world, mages are done hiding in the shadows. And when a dark god rises to destroy mankind, they may be the only thing standing between humanity and the abyss.

9

Minor Mage – by T. Kingfisher

2019

A heartwarming novella about challenge, hardship, growing up, and that while minor, even a little magic can go a long way. I laughed, I cried—and I want an armadillo familiar of my very own.

8

Where Gods Fear to Go – by Angus Watson

2019

Finn the Deep has defeated mountains, rivers, and big snakes. He has lost friends, comrades, and control of his bladder. But he has gained a new name, new friends, and several sexy female companions. Now all that’s left is to save the world—or die trying.

7

Blood of Empire – by Brian McClellan

2019

The power to make a god is something no man should possess—that is the premise of the final book in McClellan’s latest trilogy. And while Kresimir may not show up in this one, there’s still more than enough action to go around.

6

To Be Taught, If Fortunate – by Becky Chambers

2019

A haunting novella that combines fantastic discovery with overwhelming loss. I laughed, I cried, my mind boggled at the scenes Becky Chambers set upon me. A short but deep, lovely read.

5

The Fall of the Readers – by Django Wexler

2017

Yet another series finale, this finds Alice and the other apprentices fighting for their lives against the old Readers, but even if they win, what then? It turns out the shadow behind the throne might just be more dangerous than anything the old Readers could’ve imagined.

4

The Outlaw and the Upstart King – by Rod Duncan

2019

While I was torn on the first Map book, the 2nd delivered a heck of a bang. Joining Elizabeth is Elias, once of the Blood of Nova Scotia. But as Elizabeth tries to reclaim her life, Elias is trying to do little more than live to see another day.

Honorable Mentions

Those Brave, Foolish Souls from the City of Swords – by Benedict Patrick, The Shattered Crown – by Richard Ford, Senlin Ascends – by Josiah Bancroft, Queenslayer – by Sebastien de Castell

3

Summer Frost – by Blake Crouch

2019

This might just be the best novella I’ve ever read. It starts with a heavy dose of I, Robot, adds a dash of mystery, intrigue and suspense and comes out with something incredible.

2

Crownbreaker – by Sebastien de Castell

2019

A series finale, Kellen and Reichis are going out on a high point. Or are they? Full of guest stars and exciting twists and turns, this might just be the best Spellslinger yet!

1

Age of Death – by Michael J. Sullivan

2019

Death is just the beginning in this penultimate book of the Legends series. Amazing character development blends with incredible world-building, a mix of mystery and adventure runs the plot—this was one of my favorites OF ALL TIME.

The Most Disappointing Titles of 2020

Or should I say the books that I felt summed up 2020 the best? Is that more flattering?

Either way, along with the good comes the bad. Every year there are books we enjoy, and those that we were so disappointed in, sometimes not even the good ones can make up for them. So prepare for a bevvy of low ratings, DNFs, and rants about this or that. Therefore, I scheduled this for one of the most disappointing days of the year—December 28th, the Monday after Christmas, aka the day that I have to go back to work.

8

A Longer Fall – by Charlaine Harris

While I didn’t have a high opinion of its predecessor, I still had hopes that the 2nd Gunnie Rose would deliver where the first failed. It started off well but the action quickly overwhelmed all else so much so that when the pace slowed later on, there was no suspense or mystery or romance to keep the story moving. The ending I had a major problem with. It was as if all the character development and growth went out the window at the 75% mark.

2 / 5

7

Liquid Crystal Nightingale – by Eeleen Lee

A title you may not have heard of, I had high hopes that LCN would be my gem of the year. Alas, this scifi tale of… aliens? did not meet my expectations. With deep politics and complex narratives and so much advancement and subtlety this text felt stuffed to the gills with content. And a plot that I could just not manage to wrap my head around as the story constantly shifted back and forth in time. This is one of those that throws you in the deep end and lets you sink or swim. I sunk.

DNFed at 37%

6

Highfire – by Eoin Colfer

When the master of children’s adventure makes the move to contemporary adult fantasy, lock the doors and shutter the windows. Really. I found this book about a bayou dragon, a troublemaker, and a crooked sheriff to be crude for the sake of crudity, or because that’s what adults are? I also found the characters shallow, the world unfleshed out, the plot lacking depth, the humor over-the-top, and swearing for the sake of swearing. Absolutely not for me.

DNFed at 24%

5

By Force Alone – by Lavie Tildar

A reimagining of the KIng Arthur legend, I read this less than a month after one of my favorite new books of the year, Seven Endless Forests. To say that they were both technically reimaginings of Arthurian legend would be accurate. To say that they had much else in common would not. I found By Force Alone to be a horrible book with awful, wretched characters that I hated. But that may’ve been because of my idealization of Arthurian legend and the fact that this book was more of a grimdark modification of it.

DNFed at 22%

4

Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows – by John August

The blurb of Kingdom of Shadows has Arlo undertaking the arduous, dangerous task of rescuing his father from exile in China via the Long Woods—kinda a magical shortcut through the shadows. The problem—the main problem—is that this adventure wraps up in the first third of the book, and after that, well… we try something else. Something that kinda fizzles instead of killing it. The adventure and exploration aspects are out the window, and everything that’s defined the series thus far goes with it. The rest of the story is mildly enjoyable right up to the end, which is… abrupt. If this is the end of Arlo Finch, it sucks. If this is another step on the road, it’ll definitely put a hitch in his giddyup.

3 / 5

3

Battle Ground – by Jim Butcher

Now I know you’re surprised with this one. Dresden Files #17 was actually a decent book. But it was so OUT THERE, both with respect to the series and with respect to Peace Talks that I had to include it. There’s also no detective element to it. It’s just a war, but with the same pacing as the detective books. Which… doesn’t work. It’s like an epic boss battle the entire time, which I grew quite sick of quite quickly. Luckily the ending helps assuage some of this disgust, which gives me hope for the future. For a book, Battle Ground was decent. For a Dresden Files novel, it was awful.

3.5 / 5

2

The Adventures of Rockford T. Honeypot – by Josh Gottsegen

From the blurb, look and feel of this book, I expected it to be the return to Redwall that I’d been hoping for ever since the untimely death of Brian Jacques. Alas, if that’s what the author was going for too, they missed by a mile. Nothing made sense in the world. Trees are regular size except when they’re not, except that they’re still treated as regular sized even though they fit inside tiny greenhouses and grow fruit the size of chipmunk paws. All of the animals can talk to one another, except when they can’t. There’s a huge amount of law in this book. Like, A LOT. Are children now fascinated with lawyers and suing people nowadays? Because this is supposed to be a children’s book, and if so I’m pretty sure our society’s headed in the wrong direction.

2 / 5

1

The Ranger of Marzanna – by Jon Skovron

I was a big fan of Skovron’s Empire of Storms trilogy, so when I saw the announcement of a new series about a brother and sister on either side of a civil war, I was automatically in love. Bearing a similar tag-line to Ashes of the Sun by Django Wexler, Ranger of Marzanna begins with a murder, a kidnapping, and a rescue attempt. And then the plot goes stale. In two weeks I made it little more than a quarter through this tome (it’s 530 pages), and it felt like I was rereading Bleak House. It was dry, dusty, and painful. Sonya was by far the more interesting of the two siblings—as her chapters were just plain boring. Sebastian, her brother’s, were borderline unreadably dull. I’m unlikely to ever come back to this, but if I do, my expectations are only a fraction of what they were.

DNFed on page 160

Well that was quite something, eh? Were there any books that you were super hyped about only to be smashed in the face with a frying pan? Let me know what I should (or should not) be reading! And stay tuned for another list, coming soon!

My Top 10 New Books of 2020

I was actually a bit surprised by how this all shook out. Several of my choices were extremely easy ones (1-7), and then slightly more difficult (8), and then really chaotically hard (9-10). I’m honestly a little shocked that the Black Song by Anthony Ryan didn’t make it onto this list, but when I finished ranking them, it’d somehow ended up at #11. Anyway, let me explain.

Welcome to the first (second) wrap-up list of the year. These are ten of the best new books (books that came out in 2020) I read this year. In part they are ranked based on the rating I gave them, but also I took into account the lasting memory of each read as well. So, like, I initially rated The Black Song as 4.2 / 5 and Seven Endless Forests as 4 / 5, but while I certainly enjoyed the story of the second Raven’s Blade, I better remembered SEF as having a lovely world with an interesting story to boot. And in part since this was a hard year for everyone, the more light, adventurous of the two seems to’ve won out. Maybe that makes sense and maybe it doesn’t, but here we go anyhow:

10

Seven Endless Forests – by April G. Tucholke

One of the more carefree and generally fun stories of the year, SEF also provides such a lovely cover (did I mention I like green?).

On the heels of a devastating plague, Torvi’s sister, Morgunn, is stolen from the family farm by Uther, a flame-loving Fremish wolf-priest who leads a pack of ragged, starving girls. Torvi leaves the only home she’s ever known, and joins a shaven-skulled druid and a band of roaming Elsh artists known as the Butcher Bards. They set out on a quest to rescue Torvi’s sister, and find a mythical sword.

9

Age of Empyre – by Michael J. Sullivan

The final entry in the Legends of the First Empire comes in at #9 after concluding a fantastic six-book story with some twists I didn’t see coming.

A DOOR OPENS. AN ARMY OF DRAGONS ADVANCES. AND THE FATE OF THE LIVING RESTS WITH THE DEAD.

After obtaining the secret to creating dragons, the leader of the Fhrey has turned the tide of war once more—but gaining the advantage has come at a terrible price. While Imaly plots to overthrow the fane for transgressions against his people, a mystic and a Keeper are the only hope for the Rhunes. Time is short, and the future of both races hangs in the balance. In this exciting conclusion to the Legends of the First Empire series, the Great War finally comes to a climactic end, and with it dawns a new era—The Age of Empyre.

8

Peace Talks – by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Drought ends in a big way! Peace Talks features a return to the same world we readers have loved for 15 books. Yes, Harry Dresden’s back—plus a mystery, a battle, and a world to save.

When the Supernatural nations of the world meet up to negotiate an end to ongoing hostilities, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, joins the White Council’s security team to make sure the talks stay civil. But can he succeed, when dark political manipulations threaten the very existence of Chicago–and all he holds dear?

7

Network Effect – by Martha Wells

The first full-length Murderbot novel delivers on the level of sarcasm and awkwardness I’ve come to love, while existing for twice the usual duration.

You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you’re a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you’re Murderbot.

6

The God Game – by Danny Tobey

Probably the most addictive thriller I’ve read in some time, I read the God Game in two days, and enjoyed every second of it.

You are invited!
Come inside and play with G.O.D.
Bring your friends!
It’s fun!
But remember the rules. Win and ALL YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE.™ Lose, you die!

With those words, Charlie and his friends enter the G.O.D. Game, a video game run by underground hackers and controlled by a mysterious AI that believes it’s God. Through their phone-screens and high-tech glasses, the teens’ realities blur with a virtual world of creeping vines, smoldering torches, runes, glyphs, gods, and mythical creatures. When they accomplish a mission, the game rewards them with expensive tech, revenge on high-school tormentors, and cash flowing from ATMs. Slaying a hydra and drawing a bloody pentagram as payment to a Greek god seem harmless at first. Fun even.

But then the threatening messages start. Worship me. Obey me. Complete a mission, however cruel, or the game reveals their secrets and crushes their dreams. Tasks that seemed harmless at first take on deadly consequences. Mysterious packages show up at their homes. Shadowy figures start following them, appearing around corners, attacking them in parking garages. Who else is playing this game, and how far will they go to win?

5

The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man – by Rod Duncan

Hailing from all the way back in January, I’d actually forgotten that this came out THIS YEAR. The conclusion to the Map of Unknown Things rounds out the Top 5, with a literal bang.

Ladies and gentlemen, for the very final time, Elizabeth and Edwin Barnabus will perform the grand illusion of the Vanishing Man.

Elizabeth Barnabus is a mutineer and a murderer. So they say. The noose awaits in Liverpool as punishment for her crimes. But they’ll have to catch her first.

Disguised as a labourer, Elizabeth flees west across America, following a rumour of her long-lost family. Crossing the border into the wilds of the Oregon Territory, she discovers a mustering army, a king who believes he is destined to conquer the world, and a weapon so powerful that it could bring the age of reason crashing down.

In a land where politics and prophecy are one and the same, the fate of the Gas-Lit Empire may come to rest on the perfect execution of a conjuring trick…

4

Ravencaller – by David Dalglish

The second book in the Keepers trilogy introduces ravencallers, a whole lot of monsters, and even more drama. With the final book out in 2021, if you haven’t tried David Dalglish yet, when’s a better time?

When ancient magic suddenly returns to his land, a warrior priest must protect his world from monsters that were once only legend in the second book of USA Today bestseller David Dalglish’s epic fantasy trilogy.

Magical creatures are attacking the capital city, seeking to retake what was once theirs, and no one is safe. Ancient cultists have cursed the highest members of the Church, turning them into twisted abominations. The only hope for a cure lies with Adria Eveson. To learn the cure, she must befriend an imprisoned cultist, and guard her heart against his seductive promises and twisted logic.
The fate of all races, human and magical, rests in her hands, and in the choices she makes. Should she choose wrong, only one person stands in her way: her brother, the Soulkeeper Devin Eveson.

Honorable Mentions

The Kraken’s Tooth – by Anthony Ryan, The Black Song – by Anthony Ryan, The Constant Rabbit – by Jasper Fforde, Every Sky a Grave – by Jay Posey, The Seventh Perfection – by Daniel Polansky, When Jackals Storm the Walls – by Bradley P. Beaulieu.

3

Forged – by Benedict Jacka

One of my more recent reads, the penultimate (I love that word) in the Alex Verus series delivers exactly where Fallen left off. A darker, more powerful Alex surprises and shocks, while maintaining the status of greatest British action hero since Daniel Craig.

To protect his friends, Mage Alex Verus has had to change–and embrace his dark side. But the life mage Anne has changed too, and made a bond with a dangerous power. She’s going after everyone she’s got a grudge against–and it’s a long list.

In the meantime, Alex has to deal with his arch-enemy, Levistus. The Council’s death squads are hunting Alex as well as Anne, and the only way for Alex to stop them is to end his long war with Levistus and the Council, by whatever means necessary. It will take everything Alex has to stay a step ahead of the Council and stop Anne from letting the world burn.

2

Automatic Reload – by Ferrett Steinmetz

Part of me views this as just the right book at the right time—but most of me doesn’t care. A heavy dose of action and cyberpunk, panic attacks, and just the right amount of romance, I definitely enjoyed this more than anyone I know. And I’m okay with that.

In the near-future, automation is king, and Mat is the top mercenary working the black market. He’s your solider’s solider, with military-grade weapons instead of arms…and a haunted past that keeps him awake at night. On a mission that promises the biggest score of his life, he discovers that the top secret shipment he’s been sent to guard is not a package, but a person: Silvia.

Silvia is genetically-altered to be the deadliest woman on the planet–her only weakness is her panic disorder. When Mat decides to free her, both of them become targets of the most powerful shadow organization in the world. They go on the lam, determined to stop a sinister plot to create more super assassins like Silvia. Between bloody gunfights, rampant car chases and drone attacks, Mat and Silvia team up to survive…and unexpectedly realize their messed up brain-chemistry cannot overpower their very real chemistry.

1

Ashes of the Sun – by Django Wexler

So it’s Number 1, is it? Could’ve probably told you this when I read it. I adored this new fantasy by Wexler, combining a brother-sister combo with a shot of vengeance and a added punch of adventure. Nothing seems to go as planned and everything surprises. Loved it! Can’t WAIT for the next one!

Long ago, a magical war destroyed an empire, and a new one was built in its ashes. But still the old grudges simmer, and two siblings will fight on opposite sides to save their world, in the start of Django Wexler’s new epic fantasy trilogy

Gyre hasn’t seen his beloved sister since their parents sold her to the mysterious Twilight Order. Now, twelve years after her disappearance, Gyre’s sole focus is revenge, and he’s willing to risk anything and anyone to claim enough power to destroy the Order.

Chasing rumors of a fabled city protecting a powerful artifact, Gyre comes face-to-face with his lost sister. But she isn’t who she once was. Trained to be a warrior, Maya wields magic for the Twilight Order’s cause. Standing on opposite sides of a looming civil war, the two siblings will learn that not even the ties of blood will keep them from splitting the world in two.

And so concludes our broadcast day. Stay tuned for many more lists, maybe a couple reviews, and a cookie or two. Hope you’ve enjoyed this year—I sure haven’t. But maybe your Christmas will help you forget all that. Happy Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and more everyone!

Forged – by Benedict Jacka (Review)

Alex Verus #11

Urban Fantasy

Ace Books; November 24, 2020

294 pages (Paperback)

5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

Warning: Contains minor spoilers for the Alex Verus series through Book #10, major spoilers for Fallen (Book #10).

Fallen introduced us to a new, darker Alex Verus. Recently blacklisted by the Council, he acquired the Fateweaver in a desperate attempt to stay alive, managing not only to do so but also becoming a major power player in the process. A confrontation at the end of Book #10 sees him survive a shootout with Richard, Anne, Deleo and Sal Sarque—while also somehow managing to affect events such that each of these agents either become unaligned or very, very dead.

Our favorite new antihero returns in Forged, the penultimate installment of the Alex Verus saga. When we were introduced to Alex in Fated, he was a former dark mage of middling power, trying to do nothing more than stay off the Council’s radar. It’s safe to say that his life has changed quite a bit since. Once he tried to do the right thing, avoiding conflict at all costs. Now an outlaw, Alex has embraced his darker side. So, when Anne goes rogue and uses the power of her Djinn to settle some scores, Alex decides to do the same, starting with his nemesis from Book #1—Levistus.

And with Council death squads hunting him and his former lover, the Fateweaver slowly devouring his right arm, and Deleo now using every scrap of her power (and time) to find and kill him—the time has never been better. Um, apparently.

But the path to Levistus is not an easy one. Nor do you become one of the most powerful mages in the land by mere happenstance. But Alex’s plan—nay, his very life itself—rests on his ability to take Levistus down. Which he will—or die trying.

I quite like the abrupt change of pace in the last few books. The darkness and depth of Alex’s soul has been hinted at from Day 1, but to see him come full circle has not only been impressive and a little bit terrifying—it’s been gratifying as well. In the Dresden Files, it seems Harry’s always struggling with the evil within. Be it from the Blackened Denarius, the Winter Mantle, the darkness he’s seen and the power he’s gained, Dresden always seems to repress and overcome it. Now, while I’m not complaining about him controlling his darker urges, I AM calling him a little goody two-boots. And where the Dresden Files leads, many more series have followed. Thus it’s refreshing to see someone finally embrace their darker side, if only to see where it leads.

And the darker Alex Verus is cold and calculated. Not to mention a little scary. But with Alex embracing the “darkness” within, there’s something more terrifying on show than just his coldness or lack of emotion—and it’s his efficiency. When there’s little holding him back, Alex is scary good. Both definitely good and definitely… scary. There’s definitely something of a Ludonarrative Dissonance to it. For Alex has no shortage of bodies in his wake. Yet still I found myself rooting for him. And relating with him none too little. Far from denying it, Alex actually takes time to address the dissonance within himself—and does so in a way that genuinely surprised me.

Storywise… I have very few notes. And even fewer complaints. This isn’t the first book that has been Levistus-heavy. Several in the series have centered on Alex’s nemesis trying to capture and kill either him or someone he cares for. While you can definitely overdo something like this, I actually can’t complain about it here. For while Levistus hasn’t changed, both the circumstances and Alex Verus himself have. I’ve certainly enjoyed where the plot has led thus far—and am incredibly excited to see where it ends up.

TL;DR

Forged, the penultimate release of the Alex Verus series, continues where Fallen left off. A changed, darker, more powerful Alex Verus takes center stage, and finally looks for some payback against those that have wronged him. If you haven’t yet hopped on the bandwagon, might I suggest this is the year for it? Forged, any, or even all of the series leading up to it would make great last minute gifts. Or consolation prizes for the gifts you should have gotten this year. We’re roughly 3000 pages into my favorite urban fantasy series—with one book remaining. Anything can happen. Anyone is expendable. Everything is on the table. I cannot recommend Forged enough. I cannot recommend the series enough. And I cannot WAIT for the final entry to see how it all turns out.

Merry Christmas! : A Last Minute Book Buying Guide

Why hello there, weary traveller! Done all your Christmas shopping for the year? Done ANY of your Christmas shopping for the year? What—you don’t have anyone to buy anything for? But of course you do! You’re an anyone, after all! And you’re definitely worth it (probably)!

Anyway, welcome to this very first edition of Refuge’s Last Minute Buying Guide!

Books that I’m Into (But Totally Haven’t Read)

Now I haven’t read these, but am certainly keen to! Maybe your partner, bf or gf likes to read and you’re not sure what to get them; maybe there’s that oh so special someone that you need an icebreaker with; maybe you want to get your, say, 3rd or 4th favorite blogger a nice gift? Well, look no further! With both a heavy dose of paper and a small helping of risk, where can you go wrong?

  1. Cage of Souls – by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I’m a big Tchaikovsky fan, despite the fact that I’ve never read any of his Shadows of the Apt megaseries. And with yet another of his novellas due in March of 2021, this is the perfect opportunity to hype oneself for it (I imagine). With a blurb that reads like John Prophet meets Defiance, with a surely heavy dose of adventure and a lovely green cover, surely no one would hate receiving this for the holidays! (And even if they do you could always give it to me, eh;)

2. Memoria – by Kristyn Merbeth

The 2nd in the Nova Vita Protocol (so just in case you or your loved one hasn’t read the first, maybe gift both, eh), Memoria details the ongoing adventures of the Kaiser family: both Scorpia and her brother Corvus. not only is there a strong female lead, but also a strong male lead, and a strong story to match. Not to mention the covers are just beautiful, so even if you don’t like either you can just display them somewhere prominent.

3. Rhythm of War – by Brandon Sanderson

If you haven’t read the Stormlight Archive, there’s already no helping you. Just like if you don’t already want the Rhythm of War, there’s nothing I can say to save your soul. I mean, I want to read it—it’s bad enough that I haven’t yet—that should be more than enough in this case.

Bet You Can’t Just Buy One

  1. The Expanse – by James S.A. Corey

With the 9th and final book on shelves late next year, why not give your loved one a gift of new beginnings, in the form of Leviathan Wakes? A science fiction epic that spawned a TV show that got cancelled and subsequently uncancelled, the Expanse series is one that continues to impress well past the first book. After all, what better way to celebrate Hanukkah that with a book every day?

2. Powder Mage – by Brian McClellan

A trilogy that spawned another and may yet spawn a third features mages that snort black powder and a story that never holds its punches. It’s a series that not only can I not decide my favorite book of—I can’t decide which one I like least either! So maybe buy one for your friend, two for your family, three for your bffs, or why not all six for yourself?

3. The Wayfarers – by Becky Chambers

Nothing really tugs the heartstring nor inspires the headstrings like the Wayfarers trilogy (soon to be a tetralogy). Absolutely wonderful, beautiful stories with amazing covers and lasting readability highlight all the reasons I can rave about these books. If you haven’t read any, maybe do yourself a favor and pick one up for Xmas. And you can always get your loved another!

Stocking Stuffers

Maybe you (or any of your loved ones) are one of those people that’s like, “books are so long, why even bother”—well then, this is the time for you! (I mean, you’re wrong, and probably a bad person, but what can be done about that?) These short reads are perfect for people with a weak bladder, short attention span, or moral deficiency such as dislike of fantasy.

  1. The Builders – by Daniel Polansky

This is mostly Ola’s (also kinda Piotrek’s) fault. I’ve read a couple of stories by Polansky, including one this very year, and they’ve been pretty enjoyable. This novella features a grimdark Redwall, with elements of revenge, dark comedy, and apparently a strange non-linear storyline. Perfect for yourself, or—if you’re not feeling brave enough—anyone of your loved ones who’ll probably let you read it after.

2. Summer Frost – by Blake Crouch

This 75 page story may be short, but it reads like a full-length adventure all its own. With a heavy dose of I, Robot, a dash of mystery and a lovely futuristic setting, this is a short I cannot recommend enough. And if you don’t fancy reading yourself, why not make someone else do it? I loved the narration of this, and hope you will as well!

3. The Murderbot Diaries – by Martha Wells

How big are y’all’s stocking, btw? Because I just couldn’t pick one Murderbot to recommend. So, why not get them all? The first four are roughly the size of one full Murderbot adventure, and a new novella is due out in 2021, so best catch up now! If your loved ones don’t love this sarcastic, introverted, killing-machine by the end of Book #1, maybe they’ll just dump the rest on you. Which would be… heartbreaking, I’m sure.

4. Edgedancer – by Brandon Sanderson

A short read by no one’s standards but his own, Edgedancer is the perfect introduction to Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive in a teensy, nearly 400-page package. It combines a thrilling story with a hilarious narration and is more than worthwhile addition to anyone’s stocking.

Now if 2021 is as great a year as 2020, we’re going to be in for a long haul full of lots of hiding and reading. And if the COVID vaccine turns out to be a bust, OR goes all I Am Legend (y’all remember how that started, right?), we could have a prolonged period in which to stock up on (aka horde) books. So, maybe take a few from this list into consideration? Or buy your own and let me know, so I can add them to MY TBR. Either way, I hope you enjoyed my holiday jokes, my seasonal sarcasm, and whatever else I did here but ultimately forgot.

Gallowglass – by S.J. Morden (Review)

I really like how the cover captures the mood of the book: blue, lonely, dark.

Standalone

Science Fiction

Gollancz; December 10, 2020

384 pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Hatchett, Gollancz and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

I often complain about science fiction that’s all fiction and no science, that I like more science with my fiction. Gallowglass certainly tested this. There’s a heavy dose of science in this scifi adventure—some might say too much, others too little.

Jaap van der Veerden lives the life of the ultra-wealthy; all his needs and wants are met instantly, he exists surrounded by servants that he never sees, his parents are even exploring the prospect of eternal life. But Jaap doesn’t share his family’s transhumanism desires. All he wants—all he’s ever wanted—is to live his own life, outside of his family’s influence, outside of the bubble of wealth surrounding him. And so Jaap concocts a plan to escape his family, knowing that even if he does succeed, he’ll be hunted as a fugitive for the rest of his natural life.

But once he escapes, what then?

Jaap (now known as Jack) accepts a berth on the only ship that will take him, the only one that cares nothing for his past nor the reach of his family, a ship and crew he knows nothing about with heading nor mission unknown. But Jack seeks only escape—it doesn’t matter where it is.

That is, until it does.

For when Jack discovers the goal of the expedition is an elusive asteroid, and that the team of misfits he’s joined are all as desperate as he is, he might just come to regret his choices to leave his big, comfy mansion and eternal life within. For there is more than just a big rock at the end of their voyage, but the prospect of death, a million euros, and a second chance.

Gallowglass features some very in-depth science throughout. Not gonna lie—I LOVED this. There’re discussions about plotting and vectors and orbits and math and data and science and… well, at times the repetitive parts of data and plotting do get a little old. But even during those times I loved that the book was so heavily chock full of science. There are a few points where the technology itself is suspect, however. Like, we’re mining and commandeering asteroids. We’ve developed artificial gravity (at least kinda). Diamond tethers and filaments are a thing. And yet the spacesuits are still as fragile as a teddybear in a razorblade factory. Even the tiniest bit of debris can be a death sentence. We’ve developed lines that’ll never break, but not armored any suits? Seems ridiculous to me.

So, for the longest time I thought this story was about Jack. But then, no, it must be a tale of redemption. Oh no wait, it’s about the asteroid. No, maybe it was about Jack. Jack remains the POV throughout, but…

And then by the end… what is this about? (The ending is really lame, FYI.) The official blurb—which I didn’t quote—would have you believe this is a book about climate change. But… it’s really not. There are quotes about climate change at the start of every chapter. These are pretty much worthless (adding nothing nor relating to the story in any way) and I started ignoring a little ways in. They ARE about climate change, at least. Which, for the longest time, nothing else is. Eventually it’s alluded to, but the story never really BECOMES about climate change. It’s only really dwelt on at the end, and by that point I wasn’t sure why I should care about it. I mean, climate change is bad. Okay? It is. Just when it suddenly becomes the all-encompassing reason right at the end—I didn’t buy it.

Then what is Gallowglass about? Well, “gallowglass” would argue that it’s a book about people. About a certain kind of people (a “gallowglass” is mercenary or some special type of soldier) (yes, I had to look it up). And that’s… difficult, as no single person gets any kind of gratifying resolution at the end. So, maybe it’s a book about the gallowglass lifestyle? I mean… maybe, but. During no time when I was actually reading it did I have any real idea of what the focus of the book was.

While I enjoyed the characters of Gallowglass itself—particularly Jack and his arc and the way his character develops—it was the story that really kept me reading. Even when I had NO IDEA what the heck the story was about. Even with my issues with the tech, the pace, the way the story randomly skips ahead at times. Even up through the 99% mark, where the ending was bombing. Even with all this, I do not regret the time I spent reading this. I legitimately and thoroughly enjoyed this book. For Gallowglass, it’s not about the destination—it’s the journey to it that matters. And while that journey may be a immersive, complex and ofttimes directionless masterpiece, it’s still a great read.

TL;DR

I was definitely torn on Gallowglass. It’s an immersive wonder. It features absolutely no resolution for anyone. Jack shows wonderful character development, age, and progression. None of the other characters shine, and few are even memorable. The story is a really good one, considering… I mean, what this book is even about is a matter of constant bother. Even now, I’m not sure. There were times I wanted to stop reading Gallowglass, but never could bring myself to. The destination was a no-show, but I’m still thankful for the journey. It’s not going to get my highest rating, but it still gets a full recommendation.

2020 TBR Recap

So as we near the end of the year, it’s time to look back on the year. All the fun times we had… All the adventures we went on… All the ways humanity came together to make the world a better place… But since none of these things happened this year, let’s focus on something that 2020 was actually good for: READING!

(As an aside, I just want to say that my incredibly strange rating system made this wrap-up post quite difficult—but it’s not MY fault, it’s SOCIETY’S for adopting a 5 star standard system instead of 100 (or it could be mine, whatever))

Back in January, I listed 18 books that I’d like to read this year (plus I said some other things that turned out to be incredibly untrue). I’ve been doing the same thing for many a year, though they were usually reserved for me alone. But apparently sharing them with friends has helped me triumph where before I—yeah okay, it was probably just the peer-pressure. Whatever the reason, I managed to get through a record number! My previous high for a year had been 7/18, but I figured that this year I would try to buckle down, and maybe get as high as 9-10. Well, I got 11!

Finished

✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪

Age of Death – by Michael J. Sullivan 5.0

✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ 1/2 +

Crownbreaker – by Sebastien de Castell 4.9

To Be Taught, If Fortunate – by Becky Chambers 4.9

Blood of Empire – by Brian McClellan 4.5

✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ +

Where Gods Fear to Go – by Angus Watson 4.3

Magebane – by Stephen Aryan 4.3

The Shattered Crown – by Richard Ford 4.0

Queenslayer – by Sebastien de Castell 4.0

Senlin Ascends – by Josiah Bancroft 4.0

✪ ✪ ✪ +

The Bone Ships – by R.J. Barker 3.4

✪ ✪ +

Witchsign – by Den Patrick 2.3

Note: I’ve yet to review either Where Gods Fear to Go, or Blood of Empire, but I’ll do my best to have those up by the end of the year, when I’ll return and link them up here. Ummmm someone please remind me to do that? Thank you!

Unread TBR

While I didn’t get to all my TBR this year (I mean, seriously, not even close, but) there’s still a chance for them to appear in 2021 (aka the Year of Impossible Regret). But will they make my 2021 TBR? Hmmm… well, let’s think about this…

Could be! I still want to read them all! But I’d say that… Metro 2035 has the highest likelihood of appearing as A) I have it in audio already, and B) it’s based on the events of Last Light, a video game which I absolutely adore. I mean, that being said, Metro 2033 (the book, and metaphysical journey and occasional faze-out festival) didn’t really correlate well with Metro 2033 (the game, a heart-pounding survival/horror shooter). But, fingers crossed that’ll change in #2!

As for the 2021 TBR, I’ve a few (too many) ideas and a handful of prototype lists, but we’ll see what 2021 brings! Honestly, if it’s more of the same I think I might just lock my self in the closet and cry until my eyes bleed. Have a great rest of the year everyone!

On Tap 12/8

So far Ketchup Month isn’t going great. I did manage to finish one book off my TBR but otherwise haven’t done much. Somehow I’ve been working everyday lately, with my coworkers testing for COVID. I know I shouldn’t complain—but that’s why I’ve a blog, right? Seriously though, if you live in the US like I do, stay vigilant out there, yeah? As we’ve hit the 200k mark for daily new cases, the situ promises to get so very much worse before it gets better. And with the nation divided, and our leaders seemingly uncaring, it could be a very cold, dark, Game-of-Thrones-esque Winter.

Currently Reading

Gallowglass – by S.J. Morden

Jack Van Der Veerden has everything he could possibly need—fame, money, women, immortality at his very fingertips—except he doesn’t want any of it. To escape his family, he signs up for a mysterious mission to parts unknown. But as luck would have it, Earth’s most desperate fugitive just signed on with the universe’s most desperate crew.

Forged – by Benedict Jacka

By Book 11, Alex Verus has racked up quite a number of enemies. His allies list is short, but mostly dependable. But when Anne goes rogue, Alex must track her down before someone else does first or worse, she goes too far on her revenge rampage. But first he has his own scores to settle—starting with the nemesis that’s tried to kill him since Day One.

Up Next

Shorefall – by Robert Jackson Bennett

One of the ARCs I somehow missed this year—I’d really like to get to it before I start on next year’s stuff! Which I’d ideally like to do before the end of 2020. Followup to Foundryside, it continues the adventures of Sancia Grado as one of her enemies sets out to resurrect an immortal legend. Which sounds bad. If she can’t stop them, the only way she knows of to fight a god is with one of her own.

The Scorpion’s Tail – by Preston & Child

Book #2 of the Nora Kelly/Corrie Swanson spinoff series (Old Bones being the first), coming in January 2021. I quite liked the first and am hopeful that this one will continue where the Pendergast series has fallen flat. I may’ve glossed over the particulars, but I remember something about a mummified corpse, a New Mexican ghost town, and something like the Holy Grail. Huge thanks to Grand Central for the early ARC!