Can you tell that I get a kick out of these “best of” book lists for this time of year?
I recently posted my favorites list and now I’m sharing a list of the most memorable books and comics I read in 2020. These are stories that lingered with me long after I completed them either because of their great storytelling, strong characters, impressive worldbuilding, beautiful prose, or a combination of those qualities. These are stories I couldn’t help thinking about at odd times or considered returning to in the new year. Some received higher ratings than some of my favorites and almost made it onto that list.
I’ve listed them below in the order I read them. If I posted a review, I will link to it.
Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner ★★★★☆
A 2020 debut fantasy novel about a young woman who leaves her restrictive society for a new city to become a magician and gets caught up in helping to solve a series of troll murders while there. The story is slow-paced but held my interest. It also focuses on the relationship between a troll and a human man. The world building really interested me because of the variety of cultures in the world, the relations between trolls and humans, and how religion is regarded in some countries. I look forward to reading Waggoner’s next book (The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry, which will be out sometime early this year) to learn more about this world.
The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb ★★★★★
This is a prequel to the Farseer trilogy, fantasy novels about the bastard son of a prince who becomes an assassin’s apprentice. The Piebald Prince was often mentioned in the Farseer books. The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince is set years before the events in the Farseer books and is about how the Wit, a magic system in the Farseer books that allows people to communicate with animals, became a taboo practice in the Six Duchies. I love Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series, which begins with the Farseer books, so I appreciated getting this story about how the Piebald Prince came about. Of course, it being Hobb, the story is heart-wrenching and beautifully written. I especially liked that it has a fairytale quality about it.
Vicious by V.E. Schwab ★★★★☆ ½
This is the first novel in Schwab’s Villains series. Vicious is a sci-fi/fantasy novel about two best friends who later become enemies after gaining supernatural abilities after enduring a traumatic, near-fatal incident. The story was so good! It was my first novel by Schwab, and I was impressed. The story stayed with me throughout the year making me wonder what comes next to the point where I know I’ll have to give in and read the next book.
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey ★★★★☆
The first novel in a trilogy of books set in a land where the people are descended from angels. The story focuses on a young woman named Phèdre, who was raised in a pleasure house before being bought by a man who trains her to become a spy, a skill set she uses later to help her country. I read this for a Wyrd & Wonder readalong and really enjoyed it. It was a surprising read for me because it’s the first fantasy novel I’ve ever read that has erotic bits in it. Phèdre and many of the other characters interested me but what really grabbed my curiosity was the religion in the world, the gods/angels. I want to read the other books in the series to see how they affect the world and the characters.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia ★★★★☆
A historical fiction novel set in 1950s Mexico that gives off some serious gothic vibes. It’s about a young woman, a socialite, who travels to the Mexican countryside to see what ails her cousin and gets caught up in some weird shit while out there. The story starts out pretty slow-paced, but the mystery about what’s really going on builds until you can’t put the book down. The setting, atmosphere, and mystery made this a gripping, thrilling read that was perfect for the Halloween season. I also liked Moreno-Garcia’s writing and would like to try her other books.
The Wicked + the Divine, Vol. 5: Imperial Phase, Part 1 by Kieron Gillen, illus. by Jamie McKelvie ★★★★★
The Wicked + the Divine, Vol. 6: Imperial Phase, Part 2 by Kieron Gillen, illus. by Jamie McKelvie ★★★★★
I read the entire Wicked + the Divine comic book series in 2020 and loved it. It’s a fantasy comic book series about gods reincarnated as pop stars. My favorite volumes in the series are these two, which have stuck with me since I read them because of format (loved the interviews of the characters and magazine features of them at the beginning of volume 5) and the actions of some characters (Sakhmet at the end of volume 5 and middle of volume 6) and certain revelations (made at the end of volume 6). I think the series is smart and witty and very entertaining. I really enjoyed reading it.
Grin & Beard It by Penny Reid ★★★★☆ ½
This is actually the second novel in the Winston Brothers series, but I read it first. It’s about a young Latina celebrity who finds love while visiting a small Tennessee town to film a movie. It was such a fun read. I went on a romance binge toward the end of 2020 and this was the best of the many romance novels I tried (and the few I actually finished). I just liked the characters and the chemistry between the main characters. I intend to complete the series in 2021.
Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend ★★★☆☆ ½
Hollowpox is the third novel in the Nevermoor middle grade fantasy series about a girl everyone believes causes bad luck until she’s taken to a new world where she learns she’s quite special. In Hollowpox, a mysterious illness is affecting the Wunimals, sentient creatures capable of human language, making them erratic and violent before draining them. This was also a fun and entertaining read. As always, it’s the world that amazes me and I enjoyed learning about new aspects of Nevermoor in this book. I look forward to trying the next one.