A look back at the top books of 2020
By Kshoni Gunputh
A belated Happy New Year to you all! I hope the start of 2021 finds you safe and well. I know last year was tough for many and we all had our coping mechanisms. For some, that was gaming or watching Netflix / Disney+ / streaming service of choice. For me, my coping mechanism was reading. Lots and lots of reading.
That said, I know this is a slightly delayed top books of 2020. There were a lot of excellent books and it definitely wasn’t easy picking my top ones out of everything I read. Out of the 70 books I ended up reading last year, I’ve somehow managed to narrow it down!
A Pale Light in the Black – K.B Wagers
Disclaimer: I’m a K.B Wagers’ fanperson. I love their work and A Pale Light in the Black is no exception.
If you love a good found family trope, stories set in space, a bit of competition, a mystery to solve and a queer norm world, then A Pale Light in the Black is the book for you. This is a wonderful read and filled a huge gap that I didn’t know needed filling. I also nearly cried 3 times reading this, which I think is something of a record.
This was such a comfort read and I honestly cannot wait for the next book (which is released this year so yay!!) MORE NEO-G PLEASE!!
Daisy Jones & The Six – Taylor Jenkins-Reid
Okay, so this was a bit of a surprise. I’d heard so much about it and seen it all over bookshops that I thought I’d give it a go. I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed this far more than I thought I would. It was also a nice break from the regular SFF that I normally read.
Set in the 1970s, Daisy Jones & The Six is told in an interview format, with each band member telling their side of how the band came to be, the heady days of touring, the problems and ultimately how and why the band broke up. It’s told in a way that might not work for everyone, but I found really captivating. With all the different viewpoints, it’s an interesting insight into each of the characters and their experiences of being in a band.
It reminded me a lot of Bohemian Rhapsody (I’d watched that not long before reading this) and Daisy Jones certainly has the whole music biopic vibe. I would definitely recommend it if you are a fan of films like Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, or if you really love music.
Witchmark / Stormsong – C.L Polk
Thank you K.A Doore for creating the yearly queer booklists, because if I hadn’t come across those lists, I wouldn’t have found C.L Polk’s work. If you do want to read more queer SFF, then I do recommend checking out K.A Doore’s website – the lists from the last couple of years are on there.
Anyway, Witchmark and Stormsong. These are the first two books in the Kingston Cycle and they are so good. Witchmark introduces a world ravaged by storms, which are held at bay by a coterie of mages and the witches they are bound to. Miles Singer is a doctor, war veteran and witch, who, in an attempt to save a patient, ends up uncovering a mystery that shakes the very foundation of Aeland. Stormsong picks up a couple of weeks after the end of Witchmark and follows Miles’ sister Grace, as she deals with the political fallout of the events of Witchmark. It also looks at how far the next generation are responsible for the actions of the previous, creating a tense and politically charged atmosphere that runs throughout the entire story.
While Witchmark and Stormsong are about magic, it’s application and who gets to use it, these are more political fantasy and a slower-paced read than what I normally go for (I say this, but I ended up reading this twice last year – there was something about it that just *worked* for me). Having said that, there is still enough mystery, political machinations and romance to keep you hooked. It’s also a great time to pick these up, as Soulstar, book 3 in the series, is out in February!
The Midnight Bargain – C.L Polk
Yep, another C.L Polk book. I’ll admit I became of a fan of C.L Polk’s work last year and I was ecstatic to find out that they were releasing another book in 2020. Despite my excitement, I didn’t read this until December and it ended up being my final book of the year.
The Midnight Bargain is a Regency-esque fantasy, in which Beatrice Clayborn must balance her desire to be a sorceress with her family’s desire that she find her future husband during the Bargaining Season, marry well and save her family from the creditors. After losing a grimoire that could have been the key to becoming a mage, Beatrice summons a spirit to help her win the book back. What she didn’t expect was to become entangled with Ianthe and Ysbeta Lavan, making her decision about her future even harder.
Again, this isn’t a book that I would normally go for, but I thoroughly enjoyed this. I loved the way Beatrice challenged Ianthe’s views on magic and who gets to wield it. I also loved the way that Ianthe genuinely seemed to value Beatrice’s opinions and to want to learn more from her. These interactions resonated with me and I think it’s because it was refreshing to see a character actually engage and listen to the arguments being made. I also think the strength of Beatrice’s arguments and her frustration at the system really resonated as well.
I also really like Beatrice as a character – yes, she does make mistakes but at her core, all she wants to do is help her family. The only thing is, she wants to do it on her terms and not dictated by society or her parents.
This is a wonderful book, that combines magic, romance and challenging societal norms beautifully. If you’re a fan of fantasy romances or a combination of the above, then this is for you.
Queen of Coin and Whispers – Helen Corcoran
I can’t remember when or where I heard about this one. Though this is exactly the kind of book I had been wanting to read and I definitely want more of. It is the story of a queen and her spymaster solving mysteries and a slow burn sapphic romance between the two. This is another one that was more political rather than being magic-filled. But do not let that put you off. This is a brilliant book, and Lia and Xania are such wonderful characters.
The story alternates between Lia and Xania – Lia is a newly crowned Queen, working to establish her rule and to repair the damage her uncle caused. Xania is the Queen’s new spymaster, learning her new role as she goes and trying to uncover her father’s murderer. If you are a Tamora Pierce fan, then this definitely has some Tamora Pierce vibes. There was a sense of adventure and navigating new environments that really reminded me of Pierce’s work and I loved that. This is a debut book that I took a chance on and I’m so glad I did – this was another book I hadn’t realised I needed until I started reading it.
The Bone Shard Daughter – Andrea Stewart
I am so glad I gave in to the hype surrounding this book and didn’t wait for the paperback release. The Bone Shard Daughter is Andrea Stewart’s debut novel and what a debut this is. This is easily one of my favourite books of 2020, with such a unique magic system and so many unanswered questions that I cannot wait for the sequel.
The Bone Shard Daughter’s magic system is intricate and detailed. Bone shards are gathered from people being used to animate and control constructs (hybrid creatures created from different animal parts). This is an intriguing and somewhat unnerving concept and sets up one of the conflicts in the book. It is between those who have had shards removed and those who haven’t. There’s also the conflict between Lin (one of the protagonists) and her father, as she strives to be the heir her father wants. There are multiple viewpoints in this book, with the characters providing a well-rounded overview of what’s happening in different parts of the world.
If you have seen the hype surrounding this, then please consider picking it up and reading it. I’m normally wary of said hype surrounding particular books, but this was absolutely worth it. (Also, if you like adorable animal companions, then this book definitely ticks that box!).
A Sky Beyond the Storm – Sabaa Tahir
A Sky Beyond the Storm is the end of a series that I so clearly remember starting as I finished my final year of university. I love Sabaa Tahir’s Ember series and A Sky Beyond the Storm is the heart-wrenching finale.
Because of spoilers, I won’t go into to much detail. But, this is a series that doesn’t shy away of the horrors of war and heartbreak. That being said it is full of hope and courage too. I will say that this book broke me and slowly put me back to together again. Staying up until 4am to finish it was absolutely worth it. If you haven’t picked up An Ember in the Ashes yet, I wholeheartedly recommend it – this is a series that goes from strength to strength. A Sky Beyond the Storm is an incredible ending to a fantastic quartet.
So there you have it, my top books of 2020. There are plenty more I could have mentioned and if I did, this article probably wouldn’t end. 2020 was a difficult year for writers having to launch new books without the usual promotion events. So, I just want to say thank you for still creating your stories. I know they helped me and I’m sure they have helped so many others.
Support the Valks
Any and all commission paid to the Valks through affiliate schemes or patronage goes back into the site. It helps with the hosting costs and the running costs. Anything you purchase through our links does earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. The continued support of our wonderful community is what keeps us going, so thank you again and again!
If you would like to support the site you can join our Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/thevalkyries
If you don’t want to join up but want to support us, you can donate via Kofi here: https://ko-fi.com/I2I6FUC7