Well, it’s the end of 2021, and you know what that means? It’s time to announce our favourite indie reads of the year! As is tradition when the New Year creeps up on us. Hey, we wouldn’t be a book blog if we didn’t, so indulge us!
Even if the real world continues to be troublesome, you can always lose yourself in a fantasy book. And wow, have indie and self-published writers been outperforming themselves this year! Both Nils and Trudie have been reading a chunk of indie books throughout 2021, and it’s thanks to amazing indie authors that we’ve both been able to stay sane. Choosing our favourite books of the year is a difficult endeavor. Picking favourites is a purely subjective opinion, and there are many fantastic books published this year that we didn’t get around to reading. Trust us, we both have towering TBR piles of doom!
With that said, here are our top ten favourite reads of the year, in order of when they were read. Note: these weren’t necessarily published this year, but were read this year:
All That’s Left Behind, by Miri C. Golden
I’d read the prequel during the summer of 2020, and it was one of my top five books back then. When this was released, without fanfare and almost in secret back in January, I dropped what I was doing (trying to sleep, it was 11 pm) and dug in. A few days, and several irresponsible decisions about bedtime later I was left eagerly awaiting the next part.
I suspected then already that this would be one of my favorites, if not the favorite, of the year. It’s a well told story with just the right mix of lovable idiots getting into worse and worse trouble by the page. Parts of it are dangerously close to being farcical, but manages to not cross the line and takes something that could have been a plump joke and turns it into a serious plot complication (but with some plump jokes thrown in for good measure).
Child of the Night Guild, by Andy Peloquin
This was not quite what I’d expected. From what I’d heard, I had the impression this would be a non-stop, action packed, murder-fest, filled with backstabbing in both the literal and figurative sense of the word.
In a way, it is, but there’s more to it than that. There’s a young woman growing up in a cruel world, making her a cold, hard person, struggling with getting away from who she is, and I didn’t expect that. Yes, it’s raw and brutal, but it’s got feeling, too.
Also highly recommended.
Raven’s Ruin, by J.A. Andrews
This, too, is a follow-up to a book I read in 2020, and this too was one I eagerly awaited. Unlike the above two, this one does not have a significant action component, but is all about the characters and their relations to each other, and it’s brilliant.
Sure, there’s a bit of action here and there, but that’s not where the real action is.
Here, it’s about conversations, choices, and internal conflict. A grand example of how the best stories are about people we care about. The fate of the nation might hang in the balance, but Sable’s the one who really matters to the reader.
Yes, this one’s highly recommended too.
Witch Gold, by Justine Rosenberg
This is the odd one out of the gang. If there’s such a thing as psychedelic fantasy, this is it. As a highly visual person, the prose of this story is akin to an assault of ever changing images, and at times it gets a bit much. It took me several months to work my way through this, reading in the gaps between other, lighter, books.
There’s so much to see here. So much to digest. So many things I’ve never come across in anything else I’ve ever read.
It’s not an easy read, but if you take your time to savor it, it’s well worth the time.
Kingdom of Essence, by Holly Karlsson
This too was a bit of an unexpected gem. The author takes a step away from her earlier YA books (which are nice too) and into something a little different.
Where this story shines is in the sense of place that oozes out between the words.
It’s late autumn, with snow just around the corner, and where everyone does their best to keep the cold at bay. A simple thing, but masterfully done, it carries the story into the memorable. It’s almost enough to make me forget that this is just the beginning, and that it’s not clear until near the end just how much the scope of this adventure has grown since the first few pages.
Definitely one to keep an eye on.
Of Honey and Wildfires, by Sarah Chorn
Sarah Chorn is one of the most delightful authors I’ve met on Twitter, and I will be honest; the day she followed me back made me squeal because I’m a dork like that. So I’d been a fan of Chorn before I’d even read any of her books, and yet I’d heard of them, and heard her prose was considered beautiful and poetic. I’m often put off by overly purple books and literary style prose because I find them hard to understand and follow. If you tell me the sky is green in a poetic way, I’ll spend the entire time thinking the sky is green. Luckily for me, Chorn completely won me over with Of Honey and Wildfires. The prose was poetic like a good song hits the right notes. I was instantly drawn into her world where a fantasy American west revolves around magical oil.
In fact, I so enjoyed Of Honey and Wildfires that I also read the prequel, Oh, That Shotgun Sky almost immediately after, and then got to enjoy the sequel, Glass Rhapsody, this year too.
Chorn’s prose really is one of the more unique I’ve ever read. Full of emotion, angst, but never too much. I’ve still yet to read Seraphina’s Lament, which is sitting pretty on my TBR, but if you’re looking for fantasy which is different from epic sword and sorcery and contains heart instead, then I’d recommended you start with Of Honey and Wildfires.
Black Stone Heart, by Michael R. Fletcher
Okay, this book caught me off guard with how outrageous it was. I’ve read grim dark before, but this was a grim dark novel which didn’t take itself too seriously. In a way, this book was a riot that knew it was bad to the bone and had fun doing it. It was full of so many moments that made me laugh, curse, and cringe, that I think it’s shaped how I look at books forever.
This is the tale of a boy who forgets his past and comes to learn that he’s the dark lord responsible for his world’s suffering. Throughout the story, there is this mortal quandary of “my past self may be evil but that doesn’t mean I am evil right now” only the slippery slope slides so far down the evil path that I’m not sure the main character can be redeemed. The sequel is on my TBR, and I really need to get around to reading it, if only to see what filth Michael R. Fletcher is going to poison me with next.
If you’re a fan of grim dark, or just bad guys being bad, then you’ll love Black Stone Heart!
Legacy of the Brightwash, by Krystle Matar
Now one of the finalists for this year’s SPFBO, I can honestly say that Legacy of the Brightwash is my favourite book of 2021, and what a hell of a debut this is! This book is a beast that takes its time developing the world and characters, but the slow burn pays off. This beast is alive and full of characters that could walk off the page. Matar is a master at weaving these relationships together and spinning a complex web. It’s a story which is part gaslamp fantasy, part murder mystery, part sexy time, but all soul.
Set in a world where those with magical talents are known as ‘tainted’ and regulated for their powers, this is a tale of one man waking up to the cruelties of reality, and he’s bound to shake up the world.
The sequel is due out next year and I can’t wait to see where the story goes next. Believe the hype for this one, and pick up your copy of Legacy of the Brightwash if you haven’t already!
The Iron Crown, by L. L. MacRae
Another SPFBO finalist, The Iron Crown was the first book I ever read for a reading challenge and I will always remember it for that! This is classic fantasy at its finest and feels like a warm cup of cocoa on a cold, rainy night. I’m a big fan of tropes that involve a group of strangers coming together and travelling the land in order to stop some great evil. The Iron Crown plays around with these tropes and features an ensemble cast all with their own problems. One of them is trying to get back their memories, and as with Black Stone Heart, I am apparently a sucker for memory loss mysteries!
L. L. MacRae has built a wonderful world around these characters and the dragon spirits that occupy it. If you’re looking for some classic fantasy, or you love dragons, then check out The Iron Crown!
Mortal Secrets, by Isa Medina
I’m a big fan of Isa Medina’s Fae urban fantasy books as they are full of character, humour, and sass, all without the brooding misery that most urban fantasy have. Mortal Secrets is the start of her latest urban fantasy series featuring angels and demons this time. Full disclosure: I did beta read this one, so naturally I loved it!
Mortal Secrets is about a half-angel down on her luck who is trying to pay her rent while keeping a secret that she’s the reincarnation of an immortal-destroying weapon. Cue shenanigans as she tries to keep this big secret out of ally and enemy hands! I had a lot of fun with this book, and if you’re looking for something fun and light-hearted, then you’ll enjoy Mortal Secrets!
So these are our top indie fantasy reads of the year! What are yours? Drop us a recommendation and we’ll add it to our TBR for 2022 ????