Best Fantasy of 2021
Including She Who Became the Sun, The God is Not Willing, A Marvellous Light and The Shadow of the Gods
A 10/10 book. Sean: ‘This is a beautiful book; it is flawless and intelligent. I do not have a single criticism for this fantastic piece of writing. I loved it! I could not recommend it more highly. I really liked The Song of Achilles though this surpassed it in every way. I really hope to see more from this author in the future’.
The alliance of humans and renegade Fhrey is fragile - and about to be tested as never before. Persephone keeps the human clans from turning on one another through her iron will and a compassionate heart. The arrogant Fhrey are barely held in check by their leader, Nyphron, who seeks to advance his own nefarious agenda through a loveless marriage that will result in the betrayal of the person Persephone loves most: Raithe, the God Killer. As the Fhrey overlords marshal their army and sorcerers to crush the rebellion, old loyalties will be challenged while fresh conspiracies will threaten to undo all that Persephone has accomplished. In the darkest hour, when hope is all but lost, new heroes will rise... but at what terrible cost?
"In the end, Age of War serves to exemplify why Michael J Sullivan is one of the greatest living fantasy authors, a master of his craft who has excelled at both character and plot, emotion and action, fantasy and fiction. For some, Age of War might represent the walking of a very fine line between failure, but for Sullivan it seems he walks a bridge a mile wide."
Stephen Leeds, also known as 'Legion', has a unique mental condition. He can become an expert on any subject in hours... and with every new area of expertise a new 'aspect' of Stephen is created.
Is he schizophrenic? Possibly. Does that make him an incredible intelligence agent? Definitely.
And this is his final, and perhaps his strangest, adventure.
It begins with two unrelated events: the disappearance of Armando, one of Stephen's many "aspects," and an unexpected cry for help from Sandra, the woman who, many years before, helped him learn to live with his condition . . . and the combination of the two leads to a sinister high-tech firm specializing in advanced methods of human incarceration.
"Legion: Lies of the Beholder might simply be one of the best things Brandon Sanderson has written, and while I’m sure there is a call somewhere for him to write more, or longer tales of Stephen Leeds, I think these novellas were the right choice: They let Sanderson play in a different field, away from his Cosmere shards and mammoth tome-length series’, and reveals a truly caring and genuine author. Let Legion live on as a high point in Sanderson’s oeuvre."
The Night of Endless Swords nearly saw the destruction of Sharakhai, and since then the Kings have come down hard on the rebelloious Moonless Host. Hundreds have been murdered or given to the Confessor King for questioning. Hundreds more have fled. Including Çeda, who has discovered that Onur, the King of Sloth, has returned to the desert to raise an army and challenge the remaining kings. The Moonless Host - who have taken to calling themselves the Thirteen Tribe - will be trapped between Onur's growing influence and the considerable might of the kings who, with Sharakhai firmly back under their rule, are turning their attention to the desert once more. Çeda knows that the asirim are the key. If she can lift their curse and free them from their bondage, then they can save Thirteenth Tribe from the the squabbling kings... and perhaps the kings themselves are no longer as unified as they once were. As they vie against each other for control of the city, could Çeda make an ally of one of them? And which one, when any of them could betray her as easily as they would their fellow kings. Whatever the solution, the end is coming: as Çeda focuses on freeing the asirim and weaken the kings' hold on Sharakhai, the kings' forces, the scheming queen of Qaimir, Hamzakiir the ruthless blood mage, and the thirteenth tribe all prepare for a grand clash that may decide the fate of all who sail the desert.
"I am glad to find out that The Songs of the Shattered Sand is a series and not a trilogy, as there is definitely much more of Çeda's story to still be told. This also allows a Veil of Sands to not feel rushed as the story flows easily amongst multiple characters. As the story proceeds from events in the desert to those in Sharakhai, there are a lot of cliffhangers that make you realise the skill involved in making sure that these characters timelines match up so that the action never feels stunted."
A land under occupation. A legendary sword. A young man’s journey to find his destiny.
Aren has lived by the rules all his life. He’s never questioned it; that’s just the way things are. But then his father is executed for treason, and he and his best friend Cade are thrown into a prison mine, doomed to work until they drop. Unless they can somehow break free . . .
But what lies beyond the prison walls is more terrifying still. Rescued by a man who hates him yet is oath-bound to protect him, pursued by inhuman forces, Aren slowly accepts that everything he knew about his world was a lie. The rules are not there to protect him, or his people, but to enslave them. A revolution is brewing, and Aren is being drawn into it, whether he likes it or not.
The key to the revolution is the Ember Blade. The sword of kings, the Excalibur of his people. Only with the Ember Blade in hand can their people be inspired to rise up . . . but it’s locked in an impenetrable vault in the most heavily guarded fortress in the land. All they have to do now is steal it. . .
Designed to return to classic fantasy adventures and values, from a modern perspective, this is a fast-moving coming-of-age trilogy featuring a strong cast of diverse characters, brilliant set-pieces and a powerful character and plot driven story.
"When it comes to the mechanics of the writing and plot, the author has it down pat. It’s clever and challenging, but also funny. Scenes switch between intimacy and humour and horror and back again with an unsettling rapidity that feels like anything can happen. Nobody is safe. Especially when the Dreadknights turn up. The second half is somewhat slower, as more perspectives are added, and the action-packed journey sequences switch to a greater focus on themes and character development. But the explosive finale has more than enough bang for anyone. The rousing ending has the greatest appeal to classic epic fantasy- a group forged in blood and betrayal, bonded by their oaths to do what needs to be done against any and all odds. I, for one, stand with them. This is the fantasy book we’ve all been waiting for."
Unravelling events that led to A Song of Ice and Fire, Fire and Blood is the first volume of the definitive two-part history of the Targaryens in Westeros. Revealing long-buried secrets and untold lasting enmity, it sets the scene for the heart-stopping series conclusion, The Winds of Winter.
"The only other work of fantasy that is this ambitious is The Silmarillion. And of course Tolkien’s world is much more developed and finely crafted, but it’s important to realise that many fantasy realms are not even big enough to have such a platform as this. I can’t think of another living writer of fantasy whose world is so extensive that a book like this could be written (and written well.) And that sort of says a lot about how big this book is and how big this world is. It’s a fantastic addition to the A Song of Ice and Fire cannon. And it's a real achievement."
I can say with confidence that Grey Sister is the best story about magical murder nuns I’ve ever read. With greater focus on fewer characters, Lawrence has graced us with deep characterizations, complex relationships, and world-spanning events that sets the overarching story up for a thrilling finale. Any fan of Lawrence, or of dark and violent coming-of-age fantasy, would do well to spend a little time with Nona Grey. Highly recommended.
Hugh d’Ambray, Preceptor of the Iron Dogs, Warlord of the Builder of Towers, served only one man. Now his immortal, nearly omnipotent master has cast him aside. Hugh is a shadow of the warrior he was, but when he learns that the Iron Dogs, soldiers who would follow him anywhere, are being hunted down and murdered, he must make a choice: to fade away or to be the leader he was born to be. Hugh knows he must carve a new place for himself and his people, but they have no money, no shelter, and no food, and the necromancers are coming. Fast. Elara Harper is a creature who should not exist. Her enemies call her Abomination; her people call her White Lady. Tasked with their protection, she's trapped between the magical heavyweights about to collide and plunge the state of Kentucky into a war that humans have no power to stop. Desperate to shield her people and their simple way of life, she would accept help from the devil himself—and Hugh d’Ambray might qualify. Hugh needs a base, Elara needs soldiers. Both are infamous for betraying their allies, so how can they create a believable alliance to meet the challenge of their enemies? As the prophet says: “It is better to marry than to burn.” Hugh and Elara may do both.
"This book isn’t just for Hugh fans, there’s enough here to reveal another side to him, to offer reasons, and not simply empty justifications, for his past actions, as well as suggesting a future in which him and Kate might even, one day, be on the same side. Unthinkable, right?? Wrong. The climax certainly provides such tantalising possibilities for Magic Triumphs, out in August, as well as setting up dramatic and thrilling things for the next two Iron Covenant books. Yes, this could technically be read as a standalone trilogy, but why would you deny yourself the experience of two great linked series? Once again, Ilona and Gordon Andrews prove they are at the very top of the UF game, writing stories that you’ll want to read again and again."
In the Tale of The Fall of Gondolin are two of the greatest powers in the world. There is Morgoth of the uttermost evil, unseen in this story but ruling over a vast military power from his fortress of Angband. Deeply opposed to Morgoth is Ulmo, second in might only to Manwë, chief of the Valar.
Central to this enmity of the gods is the city of Gondolin, beautiful but undiscoverable. It was built and peopled by Noldorin Elves who, when they dwelt in Valinor, the land of the gods, rebelled against their rule and fled to Middle-earth. Turgon King of Gondolin is hated and feared above all his enemies by Morgoth, who seeks in vain to discover the marvellously hidden city, while the gods in Valinor in heated debate largely refuse to intervene in support of Ulmo's desires and designs.
Into this world comes Tuor, cousin of Túrin, the instrument of Ulmo's designs. Guided unseen by him Tuor sets out from the land of his birth on the fearful journey to Gondolin, and in one of the most arresting moments in the history of Middle-earth the sea-god himself appears to him, rising out of the ocean in the midst of a storm. In Gondolin he becomes great; he is wedded to Idril, Turgon's daughter, and their son is Eärendel, whose birth and profound importance in days to come is foreseen by Ulmo.
At last comes the terrible ending. Morgoth learns through an act of supreme treachery all that he needs to mount a devastating attack on the city, with Balrogs and dragons and numberless Orcs. After a minutely observed account of the fall of Gondolin, the tale ends with the escape of Tuor and Idril, with the child Eärendel, looking back from a cleft in the mountains as they flee southward, at the blazing wreckage of their city. They were journeying into a new story, the Tale of Eärendel, which Tolkien never wrote, but which is sketched out in this book from other sources.
Following his presentation of Beren and Lúthien Christopher Tolkien has used the same 'history in sequence' mode in the writing of this edition of The Fall of Gondolin. In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, it was ‘the first real story of this imaginary world’ and, together with Beren and Lúthien and The Children of Húrin, he regarded it as one of the three 'Great Tales' of the Elder Days.
"As a huge Tolkien enthusiast, I know I speak for many other readers, when I extend my undying thanks to Christopher Tolkien for allowing his father’s unfinished work to be published. Although this work is far from a shining jewel, I can imagine how fantastic this would have been as I read the segments (and various drafts) of the story: I can see what this would have been. And, as ever, the artwork of Alan Lee brings the words to life. However, this is the very last we will see of it. Christopher Tolkien explicitly states that this is the final piece (and that he will not change his mind this time.) The destruction of a fine city is an appropriate last glimpse of such a vast world, as the walls of Gondolin crumble and the tower collapses, it marks the very end." Sean Barrs, Fantasy Book Review
In the city of stairs, nothing is as it seems.
You've got to be careful when you're chasing a murderer through Bulikov, for the world is not as it should be in that city. When the gods were destroyed and all worship of them banned by the Polis, reality folded; now stairs lead to nowhere, alleyways have become portals to the past, and criminals disappear into thin air.
The murder of Dr Efrem Pangyui, the Polis diplomat researching the Continent's past, has begun something and now whispers of an uprising flutter out from invisible corners.
Only one woman may be willing to pursue the truth - but it is likely to cost her everything.
"The Divine Cities trilogy is quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It treats its audience with the same respect and consideration as it shares with its cast. It is a rich, lovingly-crafted world that is both thematically complex and wonderfully entertaining. Shara, Mulaghesh and Sigrud have all been ensconced in my personal Fictional Character Hall of Fame, and I will miss them dearly. If you’re looking to discover something new, something original, and something memorable, then this is the series you’re looking for."
Simply put, R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War is a towering achievement of modern fantasy. Kuang writes in a descriptive and narrative style that presents many sides of an issue without trying to persuade the reader into thinking which path is the “correct” one, if one such exists. As the book descends into its bleak final act, the connection we’ve built with Rin and her companions is put to the test. It is a testament to Kuang’s skill as a writer to establish such a strong connection with her protagonists that the impact of the events in third act hit as hard as they do.
This is not an easy book to review, but it is an easy book not only to love, but to obsess over. So much of the novel is entrenched in the ever-changing feel of the author’s multiple POV’s. Between the more grounded invasion and conflict based chapters, the surrealist dark magic related sections, and especially the inner monologues, this is a rich and expansive work. Lehmann writes beautiful prose that is at once, linear and simple and quickly changes to complex, abstract and poetic.
The Ben-Elim, a race of warrior angels, once vanquished a mighty demon horde. Now they rule the Banished lands. But their dominion is brutally enforced and their ancient enemy may not be as crushed as they thought. In the snowbound north, Drem, a trapper, finds mutilated corpses in the forests - a sign of demonic black magic. In the south, Riv, a young, tempestuous soldier, discovers a deadly rift within the Ben-Elim themselves. Two individuals with two world-changing secrets. But where will they lead? And what role will Drem and Riv play in the Banished Land's fate? Difficult choices need to be made. Because in the shadows, demons are gathering, waiting for their time to rise...
"I was so happy to venture back into Gwynne's world and mind. Gwynne is a master of his craft and one of the best fantasy writers around right now. With likeable characters, it hits so much harder should bad things happen to them but unfortunately, they do. This is a great place to start or an unmissable next step in Gwynne's majestic tale of Good vs Evil. A Time of Dread is epic, unpredictable and exhilarating with action galore and characters worth rooting for."
Paris was supposed to save Hallie. Now... well, let’s just say Paris has other ideas. There’s a strange woman called The Chronometrist who will not leave her alone. Garbled warnings from bizarre creatures keep her up at night. And there’s a time portal in the keg room of the bar where she works. Soon, Hallie is tumbling through the turbulent past and future Paris, making friends, changing the world - and falling in love. But with every trip, Hallie loses a little of herself, and every infinitesimal change she makes ripples through time, until the future she’s trying to save suddenly looks nothing like what she hoped for...
"Paris Adrift is a great time travel story, inventive and at times overwhelming. Hallie is a compelling character to read, as she is not all-knowing and manages to keep her sense of disbelief for as long as possible. Hallie through the book comes to find an inner strength that she didn’t know existed as she faces challenges without a lot of resources. I can’t really express how much I enjoyed this story and look forward to reading more from E. J. Swift soon."
Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive in the endless white wilderness beyond the edges of a fallen world. Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As the memories of her old life continue to haunt, she's forced to forge ahead in the snow-drifted Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap and slaughter. Shadows of the world before have found her tiny community - most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who brings with him dark secrets of the past and sets in motion a chain of events that will call Lynn to a role she never imagined.
"Wolves of Winter is a beautiful, touching and satisfyingly succinct read with a lot to say. The author’s story-telling is captivating; balancing grief, adventure, heart and curiosity within a wonderfully sculpted and realistic world."
The bayou is burning, the battle is just beginning - and Luce Boudreau is smack in the middle of no-man's land... Life as a cop in Canton Town, Mississippi, is never dull - particularly when hiding deep within you is a demon bent on the apocalypse. Luce is doing her best to pretend her two worlds aren't crashing into each other, but what should be a routine arson investigation takes a shocking turn when Luce discovers a link between the suspects and her own dark secrets. There's no turning back, even though her search for the truth threatens to burn her old life down around her. Lines are being drawn in a war Luce barely understands, and she just might be on the wrong side of them. Now she must embrace her powerful destiny, or the ones she loves most will pay the ultimate price.
"An inventive and multifaceted world with serious heart and one hell of an emotional kick, this is a series that needs to be on your reading list."
Get knee-deep in grit with twenty-five grimdark sci-fi and fantasy short stories from the shadowy vaults of Grimdark Magazine. The top names in dark speculative fiction and the genre’s brightest newcomers bring you stories of war, betrayal, violence, and greed, as anti-heroes and adversaries fight to the bittersweet end.
"This is a great collection of stories if you love grimdark SFF and enjoy acts of violence precisely for the shock value, morally grey characters and no 'happily ever after.' As the author Mark Lawrence says in his foreword, “Knee-Deep in Grit is a curry house of stories, they’re all going to be spicy and if you like your reading bland… you’ve come to the wrong place.” Amen to that."
A bounty hunter with a death wish. An orphan with her head in the clouds. A conspiracy with the power to bring down a kingdom.
Serena dreams of leaving her harsh desert home behind in her very own airship. But when an assassin's knife meant for Serena kills her friend instead, the rebellious orphan ventures into the corrupt heart of Dalthea to discover who put a price on her head. With each new turn, she edges closer to uncovering the awful truth... And the mystical powers brewing deep within her.
After his fiancée’s death, soldier-turned-bounty hunter Tyson Gallows is eager to sacrifice his life in the line of duty. When a foreign enemy assassinates a high-ranking official, he vows to bring them to justice. On the hunt for a killer, Gallows exposes a sinister plot that proves his fiancée’s death was no accident.
Driven by revenge, Serena and Gallows must join forces to take down the conspiracy before the kingdom falls to ruin.
"I’ve been trying to think of some critical things to say about the book as this early SPFBO round as we tend to judge quite harshly, but in the high of just finishing, I can’t think of much. Other than the first two chapters not really engaging me and maybe that some scenes could be tightened up a bit. Technically, this has been done exceptionally well, it read like something that had been traditionally published, skilfully written and decently edited. Regardless of how far this book goes in the competition, it deserves more readers. Honestly, I flat out loved it and I’m looking forward to the next instalment already. In the meantime, there’s a prequel novella called The Fury Yet To Come which is free if you sign up to the author’s newsletter- it won’t be staying on my TBR for long."
Reading The Mortal Word is some of the most fun you’ll have with a book in your life, and the fact that there’s already seven novels published (as of January 2021) means there’s more fun just around the turn of the page. Clever and witty, all while offering up a love letter to the detective genre and balancing the smartest urban fantasy worldbuilding in the business, The Mortal Word is an absolute gem and a must read for just about anyone.
Including She Who Became the Sun, The God is Not Willing, A Marvellous Light and The Shadow of the Gods
Including The Unspoken Name, Age of Empyre, The Once and Future Witches and The Trouble with Peace
Including A Brightness Long Ago, The Raven Tower, The 10,000 Doors of January and Beneath the Twisted Trees
Including Circe, The Ember Blade, The Fall of Gondolin and The Poppy War
The fantasy books we enjoyed most in 2017
The fantasy books we enjoyed most in 2016
The fantasy books we enjoyed most in 2015
The fantasy books we enjoyed most in 2014