My Favorite Reads of 2020

Well, this has been an… interesting year. If you can name it, chances are it’s happened. I’ve learned a lot about the strength many of my acquaintances possess. I truly wish they hadn’t needed to use so much strength and determination to make it through the year, but if wishes were horses, we’d all be eating steak. Anyway, I digress.

While the year has been all kinds of horrible for most, the books I’ve been fortunate to read were amazing. I rounded up my favorites but there is absolutely no way I can rank them in order from one to ten. Instead, they’re here with zero rhyme or reason, just a huge amount of appreciation. Without further rambling, here are my top ten 2020 reads:

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

This book was absolutely brilliant. I went into it with ridiculously high hopes, and they were more than fulfilled. There was a tension throughout that had me riveted, and Turton’s fantastic writing style kept me hooked from start to finish. Review

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

Holy guacamole, this book is awesome! My last book of the year (I might finish the sequel in time, but that’s a big might); I totally went out with a bang. The Queen of Blood had me riveted from start to finish. I should apologize probably to the family for all the things I didn’t get done while I was ignoring the real world to read this. Review

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

This was a skillful and unique twist on questing fantasy. I loved all of the characters, each of which brought their own struggles and strengths to the group. This felt like a wonderful throwback to the type of book that spawned my love of the fantasy genre. The sequel was equally fantastic, and you can find my reviews for both books here: The Ventifact Colossus and The Crosser’s Maze.

Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler

I truly loved Knight’s Ransom. It had an Arthurian feel to it that I found engrossing. While larger things are going on in the world, the book followed mainly one man and focused on his character growth. There was no Big Bad poised to destroy life as everyone knows it, but the world still felt big, and the personal stakes felt just as important. Review

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn

This book was just flat-out fun. Ardor Benn, ruse artist extraordinaire, was an entertaining character, and his partners in crime were just as great. I particularly loved the heists they planned since they never ever worked out as expected. Review

Hollow Road Dan Fitzgerald

Hollow Road was extremely good. Its sequel, The Archive, made me tear up. That doesn’t happen often at all. This is an incredible series and I am dying to continue it. My review for Hollow Road can be found here. My review for The Archive can be found here.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Both this book and its sequel, Dead Man in a Ditch, were phenomenal. Gritty detective novel meets fantasy in this series and works extremely well. I loved the main character, Fetch Phillips, who is drowning in both regret and alcohol. His narrative voice was wonderful and I can’t wait for the next installment in the series. Review

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

If not for The Write Read Blog Tour that I took part in, this book wouldn’t have been on my radar. That would have been a shame, because it was so enjoyable. It was a bit like the movie Knives Out sans cable knit sweaters. I really liked going along with the main character as she tried to solve the mysteries presented to her. Review

Feathertide by Beth Cartwright

Feathertide was gorgeous. I really could stop there. The prose sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. It’s a masterpiece and I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t love about it. Review

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by K.J. Parker

This book was flat-out fantastic! It was the perfect combination of witty and thought-provoking. I highly recommend this one. I loved it so much! Review

So, there you have it. This was an extremely difficult list to narrow down. Have you read any of these books? Thoughts? Here’s to many more wonderful books in 2021!

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides

Liar. Thief. Legend.

Ardor Benn is no ordinary thief. Rakish, ambitious, and master of wildly complex heists, he styles himself a Ruse Artist Extraordinaire.

When a priest hires him for the most daring ruse yet, Ardor knows he’ll need more than quick wit and sleight of hand. Assembling a dream team of forgers, disguisers, schemers, and thieves, he sets out to steal from the most powerful king the realm has ever known.

But it soon becomes clear there’s more at stake than fame and glory — Ard and his team might just be the last hope for human civilization.

Discover the start of an epic fantasy trilogy that begins with a heist and quickly explodes into a full-tilt, last ditch plan to save humanity. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Angela Man and Orbit books for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Wow! The Thousand Death of Ardor Benn started with a boom (quite literally), and segued right into an epic adventure that kept me riveted from start to finish. Take the movie Ocean’s 11, throw in dragons and a kick-butt fantasy world, and you’ve got the general idea. It’s so much more than that, though.

One of the many things that I loved about this book is that it’s smart. The heists-ahem, ruses– that Ardor plans are nothing short of ingenious. True, things rarely go according to plan, but the plans are brilliant. His character’s ability to adapt and even thrive under the unexpected made him a blast to read. Ardor existed in the vein of Kvothe, or Kaz Brekker. He was completely uninhibited by realistic thinking and possessed way too much charm. I liked that he wasn’t a young upstart. He had an interesting backstory and a history that eventually caught up with him, but he never brooded. There was no looking off into the distance moodily.

Of course, you can’t pull off a convoluted heist without help. Ardor’s partner in crime, Raek, was quite possibly my favorite character. He kept Ardor grounded, as much as anyone could. I loved that he was a wall of muscle, but his skills lay in being brilliant with chemistry. It’s the little switch-ups that made The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn so different from other books of this nature.

I can’t leave out Quarrah,the third major addition to the group. An incredibly talented thief, I feel like she was the most complex of the characters. The way she grew, and the choices she made, felt so real and natural. She had a strength of character underneath her insecurities that was fantastic to read.

Of course, what begins as a complicated and lucrative ruse (Ardor is hired by a priest, no less!) turns into something much more important than the ragtag group could have expected. It also becomes quite a bit more complicated. I honestly preferred reading about the heists more than what came after, although the latter part of the book was also fantastic. It’s just so rare to read such a perfect storm of thievery, trickery, and flat-out luck, that I was loathe to move on toward something else. Even though that something else was engrossing.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the magic system. It’s actually more chemistry and less magic and is pretty stinking cool. There’s a rhyme and reason to it that makes it even more interesting. The author knew exactly what everything did and how it worked. It is easily one of the most creative uses of magic (for lack of a better term) that I’ve read in years.

The world itself is rich with history and religion. I liked that the beliefs were explained without any sort of info dumping, especially since religion played into it quite a bit later on. And there were dragons! Real dragons! That alone would be enough to make me happy, but the writing skill, fantastic characters, and interesting plot made The Ten Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn an amazing read.

If you like heists, roguish characters, political machinations, great group dynamics, and excellent world building, this book is for you. In case you can’t tell, I enthusiastically recommend it.