Random (but not really)

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Books of 2020: Fantasy

Although the number of fantasy books I’ve read in recent years has remained relatively consistent, fantasy has dropped as a percentage of my reading, especially in recent years, with just under a third of the books I read this year having fantasy elements. (31% this year as opposed to 36% over the past decade.)

There are several series that I have been following ages for that remain auto-buys that made the list, but almost all of them are urban fantasy. Pretty much all those series need you to start at book one and move forward, but that’s not a bad thing, since a lot of these should be available to borrow from the library as ebooks or audiobooks.

False Value
False Value (2020) Ben Aaronovitch (Rivers of London)
Urban, Mystery, Police, Ongoing Series

This is the 8th book about Peter, although there have been stories about other characters in the series (especially comics).

The first part of the book jumps back and forth in time as we see Peter applying for a job at a Cybernetics Company. And Bev is pregnant–so Peter is living with her, so this is extremely confusing and somewhat worrisome.

Luckily, this book has all the snark you would expect from Peter.

“No,” she said. “I don’t want a personal friend in Jesus.”

I showed her my warrant card.

“But have you let the Metropolitan Police into your heart?” I asked.

Don’t even think about starting here. Go back to the first book and move forward, and check out some of the comics along the way.

And I highly recommend the audio books, since Kobna Holdbrook Smith is one of my favorite narrators, and makes everything he reads better.

Smoke Bitten
Smoke Bitten (2020) Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson)
Supernatural, Ongoing Series

This is the latest Mercy Thompson story, and we get to spend a good deal of time with both Aiden and Wulfe.

Wulfe is one of the most fascinating characters in the series. He is a true chaotic neutral.

“Not fortunate,” demurred Wulfe, answering Aiden with a coyness that would have been more appropriate from a Southern belle in an old movie. In old movies, overacting was standard fare. “Not mere luck. I am stalking Mercy. Of course I was around, because that’s what stalkers do, or so I’ve read. It’s my new hobby.”

I love reading about Wulfe, but I am very very glad that I do not ever have to have an in-person reactions with Wulfe. Interestingly, there are other authors who have tried to have chaotic neutral characters in their stories–the problem is that once you spend time with them, then tend to be more chaotic good than chaotic neutral, which means when they try to make them the bad guys again, you don’t really believe it.

With Wulfe, you are fascinated, but also remain terrified of him, because he is terrifying.

Spells for the Dead
Spells for the Dead (2020) Faith Hunter (Soulwood)
Supernatural, Mystery, Ongoing Series

Unlike the most recent Jane Yellowrock book, this book mostly concludes the main story arc between the covers. Which is good because the past several Jane books have been exhausting, and nothing is better yet.

One of the strengths of the Soulwood series is just how annoying and realistic it makes work for a supernatural government agency come across. Nell is always doing paperwork as well as a fair amount of scut work when her particular skills aren’t needed at a site or investigation.

“Which is why you’re down here with us,” T. Laine said cheerfully. “Among your many talents is the ability to use old-fashioned equipment. Competency comes with repercussions.”

“Do not ask me to milk a cow or darn your socks.”

“You know how to do that?”

“No,” I lied, stern faced.

Additionally, we see her continuing to work out her relationships with her family. This has been important from the start, and I absolutely love how Nell comes to understand past actions in a different light, and uses that knowledge to try and make the present and future better for her family.

If you’re looking for audio books, this is another series with a fantastic narrator. Kristine Hvam does an excellent job.

Undeading Bells
Undeading Bells (2019) Drew Hayes
Supernatural, Ongoing Series

The latest book in the Fred, the Vampire Accountant series sees Fred and Krystal finally getting married! Unfortunately, there are things to do before that can happen.

You’ve got a whole day to be anxious, so don’t use it all up tonight. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

This series is a delightful romp, and perfect for when you want something fun. Definitely start at the beginning, but you can easily gobble up all of these like potato chips.

The House in the Cerulean Sea
The House in the Cerulean Sea (2020) TJ Klune
LGBT, Alternate Timeline, Stand-Alone

If I tell you that Linus is a casework at an agency that looks after/regulates magical children, you might wonder how that could possibly be interesting.

He put on his pajamas, buttoning up the front. They were monogrammed with an LB on the breast, a gift from the Department after fifteen years of service. He’d selected them out of a catalogue he’d been given on the day of. The catalogue had two pages inside. One page was the pajamas. The second page was a candleholder.

It’s not just interesting, it’s fantastic.

We see Linus–an man stuck in a rut in his life, never expecting more, slowly stretching and growing, and it’s lovely.

Also, there are supernatural kids who are difficut and moody and also wonderful.

“You can pick out two flavors,” Arthur told her. “Nothing more. You don’t want to spoil your appetite for dinner.”

“Yes, I do,” she assured him.

It’s really lovely and I highly recommend it.

Wolf in Sheeps Clothing
Thrown to the Wolves (2019), Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (2020) (Big Bad Wolf)  Charlie Adhara
Supernatural, Mystery, LGBT, Ongoing Series (boinking)

This is the fourth book in the series, and again, do not start here. Go back to the first book.

Werewolves exist, but they are hidden from the normal world, and they aren’t much like fiction portrays them (you are born a werewolf–you can’t infect someone else).

Our characters are continuing to work on their relationship (I really like that aspect of this series, that the two have a good relationship, but things aren’t easy, and they have to learn to trust themselves and each other) when their agency sends them undercover to a werewolf couples retreat.

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

Cooper nodded. “Very helpful. How on earth will an evolved couple like us convincingly pretend to need counseling?”

I have really liked all the books in this series, and did a re-read before reading the most recent book because I enjoyed them so much.

Spooky Business
Spooky Business (2020) S.E. Harmon (The Spectral Files)
Supernatural, Mystery, Police, LGBT, Completed (?) Series (boinking)

This is the third book in the series, and finds the main characters attemping to make their relationship work, but there are still a lot of issues with trust. Which is a problem.

Also, Rain’s old boss at the FBI not only wants him back in his employ, but also hits on Rain–even knowing Rain is trying to make his relationship work.

Rain sees ghosts–he spent years trying to deny this, but at the start of the first book reached a breaking point and is trying to deal with that power and use it to help solves cold cases.

Rain is aggravating; he has spent so many years denying his ability to see ghosts, he often flat-out refuses to take steps to try and control that power. Which initially felt stupid, but then 2020 happened, and, well, people do stupid, self-sabotaging things.

The Immortal Conquistador
The Immortal Conquistador (2020) Carrie Vaughn (Kitty Norville)
Supernatural, Historical, Stand-Alone

This books is tangential to the Kitty the Werewolf series, and is about one of my favorite characters in the entire series: Rick the Vampire.

The story opens with one of my favorite short stories, “Conquistador de la Noche”, which tells how Rick/Ricardo became a vampire, and how he has managed to be a very different vampire than others around him. Rick–despite everything–does not lose his faith in G-d.

Captain Ricardo de Avila, you must accept what you are, let the creature have its will.”

Ricardo smiled. “I am a loyal subject of Spain and a child of God who has been saddled with a particularly troublesome burden.”

It’s a fascinating look at what someone might do with their immortality if they refused to accept tradition and what they are told they should be.

Spellbound (2019), Starcrossed (2020) (Magic in Manhattan) Allie Therin
Historical, Mystery, LGBT, Ongoing Series (boinking)

This is set in New York between the two world wars.

Rory works in an antique story, authenticating items brought to the store, because he can read an items history by touching it.

Arthur is a veteran of the Great War, and looking for someone to authenticate a relic.

(F)inishing school in London just makes you interesting.”

Arthur sighed into his drink. “I want to be the boring one. If I’m the most interesting person in the conversation, then I’ve chosen the wrong company.”

One of the interesting things about this story is that it is not just the illegality of homosexuality that is a problem for the two character, but also class differences. Arthur comes from a wealthy family while Rory is little more than a street rat, and it is very difficult for them to spend time together without rousing suspicions.

Gentleman Wolf
Gentleman Wolf (2019), Master Wolf (2020) (Capital Wolves Duet) Joanna Chambers
Supernatural, Historical, LGBT, Completed Series (boinking)

As a two book series, there is romance, but there is definitely no HEA/HFN in the first book, so don’t pick this up thinking it’s a romance.

This is a werewolf story that spans decades (and for some characters, goes back centuries)

There is a lot of angst in this story, as well as uneven power dynamics and torture (mostly off the page) and self-harm. So be aware of that if you think this story piques your interest.

Turning Darkness Into Light
Turning Darkness Into Light (2019) Marie Brennan
Historical, YA, Stand-Alone

This is book is related to the Lady Trent series, but is about her granddaughter, Audrey, who is making her way in the world.

But it’s so hard when I can feel everyone looking at me, waiting to see what I’ll do. Not my family, of course; if I decided I wanted to retire to a country cottage and spend my life growing roses— not even award-winning roses; mediocre, aphid-chewed ones— they would hug me and wish me well. It’s the rest of the world that expects me to do something spectacular, because Papa did, and Mama, and Grandpapa, and above all Grandmama. When am I going to prove my right to stand with them?

She receives an offer to translate some ancient Draconian texts which may shed light on both Draconian history as well as their interaction with humans.

There is an element of mystery to the story, as well as (much like the main series) so much anthropology and linguistics.

This story is a slow unfolding, and unlike her grandmother, Audrey doesn’t want adventure, but does love research, so we get to see Audrey doing the work she loves.

I know that sounds boring, but it isn’t. Its not a fast-paced adventure story, but it is a good story, and if you like it you should definitely read the Lady Trent series if you have not already.

The Books of 2020

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