It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2021 Adult Fiction Edition

2021 has been an amazing year for fiction. I have read so many excellent books, any of which would make a wonderful gift. For this year’s list, I picked books that are either the first in their series (as opposed to a continuation of a series) or standalones. You can find last year’s adult recommendations here: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Adult Fiction Edition.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours. (taken from Amazon)

This is the most surprising, delightful, and heartwarming book! It is a hug in print and I loved every single moment of it. You can read more of my gushing about it here.

Paladin Unbound by Jeffrey Speight

The last of a dying breed, a holy warrior must rise up against a growing darkness in Evelium.


The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process.


As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing people, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help.


Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything? (taken from Amazon)

Paladin Unbound would be an excellent gift for fans of the fantasy genre, readers who are new to fantasy, or people who play tabletop roleplaying games. Basically, it would make a great gift for 99% of the people I know (I’m still trying to convince a few friends to give fantasy a go). You can read my review here.

The Spirit Engineer by A.J. West

Belfast, 1914. Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, high society has become obsessed with spiritualism, attending séances in the hope they might reach their departed loved ones.
William Jackson Crawford is a man of science and a sceptic, but one night with everyone sitting around the circle, voices come to him – seemingly from beyond the veil – placing doubt in his heart and a seed of obsession in his mind. Could the spirits truly be communicating with him or is this one of Kathleen’s parlour tricks gone too far?
Based on the true story of Professor William Jackson Crawford and famed medium Kathleen Goligher, and with a cast of characters including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, The Spirit Engineer conjures a haunted, twisted tale of power, paranoia, and one ultimate, inescapable truth…. (taken from Amazon)

Loosely based on a real person and real events, this book sucked me in and kept me feverishly turning pages. It is so well written, and would be a great gift for readers who like mind-twisting, psychological reads. You can find my review here.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga

With a murderer on the loose, it’s up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.

“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart. (taken from Amazon)

This book was so much fun! The Resurrectionist of Caligo would be perfect for readers who like a healthy dose of mystery in their fantasy. You can find my review here.

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Exiled by her despotic brother, princess Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while imprisoned in the Hirana: an ancient cliffside temple that was once the revered source of the magical deathless waters but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
 
The secrets of the Hirana call to Priya. But in order to keep the truth of her past safely hidden, she works as a servant in the loathed regent’s household, biting her tongue and cleaning Malini’s chambers.
 
But when Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess desperate to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze. (taken from Amazon)

Complex and beautifully written, The Jasmine Throne will keep readers engrossed. This would be a great gift for fans of books that have great worldbuilding, political machinations, and twists aplenty. You can read my review here.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga

With a murderer on the loose, it’s up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.

“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart. (taken from Amazon)

The Resurrectionist of Caligo is a rollicking fantasy filled with a little bit of blood and a whole lot of adventure and intrigue. The book (which has Victorian mystery vibes) follows, Roger, a wanna-be surgeon who earns a little extra on the side by virtue of his willingness to liberate a cadaver or two from the local cemetery- all for the sake of science, of course. Unfortunately for Roger (but fortunately for the reader), he picks the wrong cadaver and finds himself accused of murdering, not just one, but several women. Things are looking grim for Roger, but he is saved from the noose by his childhood sweetheart, who binds him to her in a magical ritual, proof that “things can always get worse”.

Sibylla, Roger’s childhood crush, also happens to be royalty. In The Resurrectionist of Caligo, royal blood is proven by the magic that all royalty possesses. I love the magic in this book! It is so very different. I am used to magic that can blast open doors or make someone float. Sibylla’s magic is slightly less…flashy. She has ink that flows from under her fingertips, useful when one needs to write a letter, but an author needs to be creative for magic such as that to work. The authors managed it beautifully. Sibylla does the only thing she can to save her childhood friend from hanging for a crime (she is pretty sure) he didn’t commit. Together, Sibylla and Roger need to figure out who the killer is- before they strike again.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo has a smaller cast of characters, and each person is important. Sibylla is clever, but also a bit naive. To be fair, she hasn’t had a lot of life experience. Her storyline provides the fine details that flesh out the broader plotline, giving little hints to a larger mystery. I found the intrigue and the family sniping interesting, but it was Roger who stole the show in my opinion.

Roger is a down-on-his-luck guy just doing the best he can with what he has. He is a good guy whose morality is a little fluid. His kindness shows in his small ways, such as his relationship with Ghostofmary (who I adore, by the way). His sole hope is to become a licensed doctor, but that requires an education that he can’t afford. He swipes corpses to pay his bills and finagle his way into lectures from surgeons. The knowledge he has provides the broad strokes to the story. His medical expertise, as it were, adds an extra level of fun to an already ghoulishly entertaining tale.

Sibylla and Roger actually share very few pages. Instead, most of their interactions come through misunderstood letters and convoluted messages from third parties. It was truly delightful to see the characters’ frustrations and anger over things that were completely misinterpreted. Add in angry magic-ink bees, and it becomes a singularly entertaining way to develop character relationships.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo is a brilliant must-read for fans of books the include grimy, smog-filled streets, shady doings, and ridiculously fun characters.


Originally published in Grimdark Magazine.

About the blogger:

Jodie is the creator of the Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub blog. She either lives in Florida with her husband and sons, or in a fantasy book-she’ll never tell which. When she’s not reading, Jodie balances her time between homeschooling her hooligans, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and lamenting her inability to pronounce “lozenge”. Find her online at http://www.wittyandsarcasticbookclub.home.blog or https://www.twitter.com/WS_BOOKCLUB.