I’ve read a lot of fantasy in 2019. It’s been that kind of year. Here are some of my favourites:
Darkdawn (The Nevernight Chronicle #3) by Jay Kristoff
The Nevernight Chronicles was my favourite fantasy series of the year and Darkdawn was a perfect ending. It was funnier, bloodier and even more ambitious than the other two books. It’s difficult to review this book without spoilers but needless to say: the identity of the loquacious, hyperbolic narrator is revealed, the full story of the clash between gods that created the fundamental imbalance of Mia’s world is explained as well as the origin of the Darkins, and Mia realises the role she has to play in restoring balance. And just for fun: the author takes the piss out of his own prose, there is an excruciatingly awkward dinner on a pirate ship and there are some great new characters, including Mia’s snarky little brother and a pirate called Cloud. I know some have taken issue with the ending but I thought it was perfectly satisfying and very moving. Thoroughly enjoyed this series.
Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass #7) by Sarah J. Maas
I started 2019 by rereading all of the Throne of Glass books in preparation for the final instalment, Kingdom of Ash. (Including the prequel novellas – very important!) So I started the final book thoroughly absorbed in the world and caught up on all the obscure side characters who might be likely to reappear unexpectedly and play a starring role. As they do…
Kingdom of Ash itself reminded me a lot of The Lord of the Rings – it had a lot of Tolkienesque aspects, from evil objects of power and giant spiders to deus-ex-machina battle turnarounds, unlikely heroes and lost monarchs. There were a couple of moments in this book where I wanted to strangle Aelin – where her actions seemed to be in service to the unfolding of the plot rather than in character, but altogether a coherent and satisfying end to the series. I loved the fact that Aelin didn’t just fry all her enemies with her fire magic in the end, but the resolution depended on the contributions of all the other characters – the women in particular.
What an ambitious, epic adventure – brilliant world-building, complex, interesting characters and heart-stopping action. Highly recommended.
The True Queen (Sorcerer Royal #2) by Zen Cho
The Sorcerer Royal series earns points with me for being set in Regency England in the vein of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which I loved. In the second book, sisters Muna and Satki wake up on the shores of Janda Baik with no recollection of who they are or where they come from. They set out for London via the Fairy Realm to see if the Sorceress Royal can help them to banish the curse that has stolen their memories, but Satki disappears en route and Muna must brave London society alone while plotting to rescue her sister from the Queen of the Fairies. I loved the first book and was really looking forward to returning to this world. I’m not sure I liked this one quite as much as The Sorcerer to the Crown, but it’s certainly an enjoyable and unpredictable adventure with some brilliant world-building. I hope there are more adventures to follow.
Fire and Blood: A History of the Targaryen Kings from Aegon the Conqueror to Aegon III (A Targaryen History #1) by George R.R. Martin
I started reading with some trepidation as this is an extremely weighty tome (I bought the hardback – for the pictures) but I was soon swept away by the triumphs and tragedies of the Targaryen dynasty. If Game of Thrones is the War of the Roses then surely the Targaryens must be the Roman Empire – I was also reminded of the convoluted machinations of Robert Graves’s I, Claudius. The scope is epic and cast of characters is overwhelmingly numerous but George RR Martin is brilliant at painting a vivid, detailed image with just a few lines while maintaining the context of the bigger picture throughout the book. An impressive achievement, and it’s only the first half. I think the pilot has been picked up for a television series as well, so that’s one more thing for George RR to finish before he gets around to The Winds of Winter!
Bloodchild (The Godblind Trilogy #3) by Anna Stephens
I don’t think I’ve come across the genre ‘grimdark’ before, but this series gleefully fulfils this description. Anna Stephens tosses you into a disorientating world of multiple narrators, fast-paced action, warring gods and vivid, visceral violence, but the narrative is fiercely compelling. In this final book, Rilporin has fallen but so has the god of the conquering Mireces, the Dark Lady. But there is a prophecy that a baby will be born who can return the Dark Lady from death. The Rilporians must find a way to stop this while they prepare for a final battle. A suitably bloodthirsty and harrowing end to a great series. I did have a little weep at the loss of some of my favourite characters, but all in all a satisfying conclusion. I needed to read some light-hearted romantic fiction afterwards to recover…
Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) by Leigh Bardugo
A story of murder, ghosts and secret societies at Yale. Alex Stern never fitted it at school, no one one believed her when she was attacked by things that no one else could see. When Alex is the sole survivor of a horrific massacre, she is given the opportunity to attend Yale, bastion of wealth and privilege, another place where Alex definitely doesn’t fit in. But when her mentor goes missing under mysterious circumstances and a woman has been murdered, Alex’s special gifts might mean that she is the only one who can trace those responsible and bring them to justice. A gripping, atmospheric supernatural murder mystery with a damaged, complex narrator. Hoping there will be a sequel soon…
The Toll (Arc of a Scythe #3) by Neal Shusterman
In the blurb this series sounds like another tedious Hunger Games wannabe, but it is so much more than that. In a ‘utopian’ future, the world is run by a benevolent AI called the Thunderhead, who administrates every aspect of life with perfect fairness, apart from one thing – death. With no hunger, disease, and quick resuscitation from accidental death provided by the Thunderhead – population control is a problem. Death is administrated by an order of ‘Scythes’ who cull the population supposedly impartially and randomly. Of course this system is open to exploitation and corruption but the Thunderhead is compelled never to interfere in scythe affairs. It is the most chilling and disturbing dystopian series I’ve read in a long time, but also completely gripping, weirdly enjoyable and it raises some fascinating philosophical questions. The Toll is a pitch-perfect ending to each character’s storyline and to a thought-provoking, moving & brilliantly orchestrated series.
The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #3) by Holly Black
The Folk of the Air is a deliciously dark series that begins with the protagonist’s parents being brutally murdered, following which Jude is adopted by the murderer and taken away to Faerie with her sisters. This pretty much sets the tone for the the rest of the series. Jude is human and grows up despised and disparaged by the fae, in particular Prince Cardan, the younger son of the King. But this only makes Jude more determined to prove herself and find a role for herself in the faerie court. Her political machinations triumph at the end of book two but then Cardan banishes her back to the human world and the final book starts with Jude, miserable in exile – desperate to get back to the faerie world she loves and hates in equal measure. The final book resolves Jude’s role in faerie, her relationship with Cardan, and provides appropriate comeuppance for her murderous stepfather. A very satisfying ending to a brilliantly compelling and imaginative series.
The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones
A rare standalone fantasy novel. Ryn is a gravedigger in the remote village of Colbren, which sits at the foot of a sinister forested mountain range, once home to the fae and now home to the ‘Bone Houses’, a plague of reanimated corpses. Since the death of their parents, Ryn and her siblings have struggled to survive, but everything gets much worse when the bone houses suddenly leave the forest and start to attack the village. Ren joins up with Ellis, an apprentice map-maker, to journey into the mountains to find a way to break the curse that has brought the bone-houses to life, and perhaps they can also solve the mystery of Ellis’s origins. I thoroughly enjoyed this dark gothic tale: Welsh myths, a peculiar goat, romance and kickass zombie-slaying – what’s not to like?
Call Down the Hawk (Dreamer Trilogy #1) by Maggie Stiefvater
It took me several tries to get into Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle books but once I’d been sucked in, I couldn’t tear myself away from the bizarre, dreamlike world of Blue, Gansey, Ronan and Adam. Call Down the Hawk is the start of another series featuring Ronan and his brothers, focusing on Dreamers and the mysterious group who are intent on killing them all. It took me a while to get into this new cast of characters (and in fact I’d just got invested in the story when it ended) but it has the same intensely compelling, surreal quality and vivid characterisation of the Raven Cycle.
I would also include the following books that I wrote about in a previous post:
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy #2) by S.A. Chakraborty
The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) by Katherine Arden