Keeping with traditions, we will post our separate top 10 reads of 2022 lists throughout January. Well, it might be top 5 in some cases, but all 4 of us had books we’d like to shout about and that’s what’s important.
Our only rule was that any book on these lists has to be read during 2022, regardless of when they were published and by whom. And we had to love them, obviously. Maybe. I mean, when you keep shouting at the author in private for things they did, it’s surely a sign of love, right? Even if you call said author names… *ahem*
So, 2022 was pretty a pretty sucky year. It started badly, with a significant personal loss in the first seven days, and held that course for fifty-two long and shitty weeks. My reading was majorly impacted, I had no real appetite for it, and so I managed a massively reduced thirty-three books, of which twenty-five were from my SPSFC/SPFBO lists. But, while not doing any real reading for pleasure, I was fortunate to read some great books, with quite a few becoming new favourites.
And with that X-Factor sob story out of the way, onwards to my top ten, presented in chronological reading order.
Blindspace by Jeremy Szal
Jeremy Szal is one of my favourite modern Sci-Fi authors and The Common, of which Blindspace is book two, is one of my favourite modern series. While full of futuristic tech and blistering action, the stars of the show are the complex, vulnerable characters and the deeply human relationships between them.
Vakov Fukasawa is a Reaper. An elite soldier injected with a dangerous drug called stormtech: the DNA of a genocidal alien race, the Shenoi. It makes him stronger, faster, more aggressive. At a price.
A price that, if the House of Suns cult isn’t stopped, all of humanity will have to pay.
Vakov saved his estranged brother from the cult and killed their leader. Now they want his head on a spike, and they’re hunting him and his friends down to get it, while continuing their mission to awaken the Shenoi and plunge the galaxy into mindless violence and chaos. There’s a dangerous journey ahead, but Vakov and his misfit crew of eccentric aliens, troubled bounty hunters and rogue hackers will take any risk to stop the alien awakening. Only there’s one risk Vakov hasn’t shared: the one he himself poses. He got a terrifying glimpse of the Shenoi in the depths of interstellar space, and the violent nightmares he’s suffered since suggest their DNA isn’t just inside his body – he might already be fighting them for his mind . . .
“BLINDSPACE, like Stormblood before it, is a brutal read, heaving with exquisite world-building and populated with wonderful agency-infused characters. All of the emotions, the gut-punches, and the constant sense of wonderment are back but dialled to eleven and delivered with a far more developed and assertive voice.”
Master of Rods and Strings by Jason Marc Harris
While fantasy and science-fiction are my bread and butter, I always want to dip into things more horrific or plain weird. Like a rusty, tetanus-laden knife, Master of Rods and Strings scratched that itch and left a lingering mark on me. It’s a quick little read but beautifully written and sets up Jason Marc Harris as an author I’d truly love to read more of.
Jealous of the attention lavished upon the puppetry talents of his dear sister – and tormented by visions of her torture at the hands of his mysterious Uncle Pavan, who recruited her for his arcane school-Elias is determined to learn the true nature of occult puppetry, no matter the hideous costs, in order to exact vengeance.
“For a novella that runs at just ninety-two pages there is an incomprehensible amount of depth and plot, perfumed throughout with the occult and drenched in such eldritch esoterica. MASTER OF RODS AND STRINGS is a novella that can be devoured in a single sitting, but whose taste will linger long into the night.”
Daughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonald
The Raven’s Mark was a fantastic series that propelled Ed McDonald onto my must-buy list. Daughter of Redwinter is the first book in McDonald’s new series, The Redwinter Chronicles and is very different to The Raven’s Mark.
While still possessing deep character work and expansive world-building. Daughter of Redwinter dials back the grimdark and injects a few young-adult elements.
Raine can see–and more importantly, speak–to the dead. It’s a wretched gift with a death sentence that has her doing many dubious things to save her skin. Seeking refuge with a deluded cult is her latest bad, survival-related decision. But her rare act of kindness–rescuing an injured woman in the snow–is even worse.
Because the woman has escaped from Redwinter, the fortress-monastery of the Draoihn, warrior magicians who answer to no king and who will stop at nothing to retrieve what she’s stolen. A battle, a betrayal, and a horrific revelation forces Raine to enter Redwinter. It becomes clear that her ability might save an entire nation.
Pity she might have to die for that to happen…
“The world itself is fantastic, medieval in structure and Scottish in flavour. Much like The Raven’s Mark, there is profound, esoteric lore, you want to see it all, but McDonald teases it so deliciously. Ruins litter the landscape, the influence of long since fallen empires linger, and beings of malevolent power bide their time in the dark.”
Dog Country by Malcolm F. Cross
Military science-fiction isn’t for everyone’s taste, but if you’re a fan, Dog Country is one of the greatest examples of the genre I’ve read.
While initially, Dog Country is a little slow, introspective, and to a degree sombre, it transitions into some of the most clinical and thunderous descriptions of war, ever.
A crowdfunded civil war is Azerbaijan’s only hope against its murderous dictatorship. The war is Edane Estian’s only chance to find out if he’s more than what he was designed to be.
He’s a clone soldier, gengineered from a dog’s DNA and hardened by a brutal training regime. He’d be perfect for the job if an outraged society hadn’t intervened, freed him at age seven, and placed him in an adopted family.
Is he Edane? Cathy and Beth’s son, Janine’s boyfriend, valued member of his MilSim sports team? Or is he still White-Six, serial number CNR5-4853-W6, the untroubled killing machine?
By joining a war to protect the powerless, he hopes to become more than the sum of his parts.
Without White-Six, he’ll never survive this war. If that’s all he can be, he’ll never leave it.
“Edane is an unpicked ball of trauma, grief, and doubt. The early scenes where he is at home, struggling with his relationship and trying to justify himself as a person, are so emotive and actually hit harder than many of the very graphic war scenes later in the book. Cross absolutely nails that feeling of being an outsider, the heart-wrenching pain of having to compromise yourself to fit into a mould that you were not born for.”
A Star Named Vega by Benjamin J. Roberts
A Star Named Vega was a delight to read; such a positive and joyous novel.
It combines the hopeful and lived-in ambience of Becky Chambers but also the complexity and depth of Tchaikovsky. The writing style is energetic, laden with extremely visual descriptions and some jaw-dropping world-building.
The 30th Century is a technological paradise. Androids have built a utopian future of advanced robotics, augmented reality, and simulated worlds. Humanity thrives across the Thirteen Suns.
Why not spread some chaos, shake things up a bit?
Aster Vale leads a secret life as the Wildflower, a competitive street artist with dreams of infamy. When her father joins a mysterious research project in the Vega System, Aster sees their luxury starcruiser as just another canvas to explore. How else is she supposed to channel all this teenage rebellion?
But not everyone prospers in this world of synthetic gods. Rel Akepri is a young soldier from a broken planet, genetically engineered for war. The research project in the Vega System now threatens the fate of his people, and he must embark upon a deadly mission to stop it.
Rel’s orders: intercept the starcruiser on its voyage to Vega, or face extinction.
Perhaps Aster might find something new to fight for.
“Often in science-fiction, space is portrayed as somewhat of an enemy, it’s bleak and colourless, sterile, and a fathomless void between civilisations. Roberts’ space is colourful and close, it’s the blossoming emerald and azure of the Pillars of Creation, the hydrogen red kiss of the Triffid nebula. There is such an abundance of warmth and joy in A STAR NAMED VEGA that it’s impossible to read it without a constant grin plastered across your face.”
Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire by G.M. Nair
There’s always a wariness when picking up a book where humour is an important factor, given how utterly subjective ‘funny’ is. Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire, though, hit every joke, every time. If you were to bring up a list of synonyms for laugh, I did them all, titters, chuckles, guffaws; there may have also been a cackle or two.
Pure and unadulterated escapism!
Michael Duckett is fed up with his life. His job is a drag, and his roommate and best friend of fifteen years, Stephanie Dyer, is only making him more anxious with her lazy irresponsibility. Things continue to escalate when they face the threat of imminent eviction from their palatial 5th floor walk-up and find that someone has been plastering ads all over the city for their Detective Agency.
The only problem is: He and Stephanie don’t have one of those.
Despite their baffling levels of incompetence, Stephanie eagerly pursues this crazy scheme and drags Michael, kicking and screaming, into the fray only to find that they are way out of their depth. They stumble upon a web of missing people that are curiously linked to a sexually audacious theoretical physicist and his experiments with the fabric of space-time. And unless Michael and Stephanie can put their personal issues aside and fix the multi-verse, the concept of existence itself may, ironically, no longer exist.
“The writing is sharp and bounces along nicely, there is always something happening and so many hidden Easter eggs to find. The humour is clever and subtle, never forced or in your face despite the increasingly bizarre situations our Dicks find themselves in.”
The Witch Hunter by Casey Hollingshead
The Witch Hunter is a very dark book, unapologetically so. While the characters are grotesque and their actions unpalatable, there is a febrile flicker of hope there that pulls you through and keeps you invested.
Casey Hollingshead’s writing style has genuine bite, the characters possess oodles of personality, and the action scenes are pretty darned exhilarating.
Hated. Distrusted. Needed. Richter von Dagentear, a witch hunter known in legend as the Wight, traverses a realm falling headfirst into war. To survive, he will have to betray his profession’s purpose and undertake a task that goes against everything he believes in. All that stands in his way are backstabbing nobles, cruel sellswords, terrible beasts, and a mysterious traveler from another.
“Now, when it comes to Grimdark, there’s Grimdark, and then there’s GRIMDARK. THE WITCH HUNTER belongs firmly and openly to the latter, wearing someone else’s stolen and partially chewed heart on its sleeve. The first half of the book is decidedly darker, with references to rape and the murder of older children, which will understandably turn people away. But if you persevere through to the second half, you are rewarded with some of the best battle sequences I’ve ever read, alongside delectable tongue-in-cheek dialogue and enemies to sworn brothers (who would probably still kill each other) vibes.”
Small Miracles by Olivia Atwater
With the greatest respect in the world, Small Miracles is a book I had no business enjoying as much as I did. A cozy, romantic read is so far from my beloved grimdark, and things I have convinced myself that I don’t have time for, but I’ll forever make an exception for Small Miracles.
A little bit of sin is good for the soul.
Gadriel, the fallen angel of petty temptations, has a bit of a gambling debt. Fortunately, her angelic bookie is happy to let her pay off her debts by doing what she does best: All Gadriel has to do is tempt miserably sinless mortal Holly Harker to do a few nice things for herself.
What should be a cakewalk of a job soon runs into several roadblocks, however, as Miss Harker politely refuses every attempt at temptation from Gadriel the woman, Gadriel the man, and Gadriel the adorable fluffy kitten. When even chocolate fails to move Gadriel’s target, the ex-guardian angel begins to suspect she’s been conned. But Gadriel still remembers her previous job… and where petty temptations fail, small miracles might yet prevail.
Olivia Atwater explores love, grief, and the very last bit of chocolate in this sweet modern fantasy, full of wit and heart. Pick up Small Miracles, and enjoy a heavenly faerie tale from the author of Half a Soul.
“Despite the themes of grief and loss, everything about Small Miracles is so cozy, warm, and joyous, with an extremely comforting twee, almost cottage-core aspect. The humour is subtle but on the nose and never once fell flat, the writing style is both sumptuous and smooth, making for an unputdownable read.”
The Umbral Storm by Alec Hutson
The Umbral Storm combines the best elements of both modern and classic fantasy to create an enthralling and exceptionally polished tale.
The world is engaging, the magic system is uniquely exciting, and I genuinely can’t wait to see how Alec Hutson develops the series.
A thousand years ago the Heart of the World was shattered, its fragments scattered across the lands. In the chaos that followed, martial orders arose to gather these shards, for it was found that great powers were granted when these pieces were bonded to the flesh of the chosen. These are the Sharded Few, warriors imbued with the divine energies that once coursed through the Heart, and driven to absorb enough fragments to claim godhood.
Deryn has known nothing in his life except suffering. Orphaned at the edge of the realms, indentured to a cruel slaver, he can see little chance of escaping his circumstances. But elsewhere in the world ancient powers are stirring, new alliances threaten the peace of the old order, and in the cataclysms that are coming a slave will become a hero.
“The Umbral Storm nestles triumphantly at the confluence of several subgenres and excels at every single one. It’s a delight to get so much to chew on in just the first book and I have no doubt this is going to be a colossal series.
If you’re a fantasy reader I think you’re going to love this one.”
The Trials of Ashmount by John Palladino
John Palladino is a new kid on the chopping block, and his debut novel The Trials of Ashmount garnered a lot of buzz in 2022. After reading this most grimdark of offerings, I can say, without a doubt, that the buzz surrounding both novel and author (as well as the many mutilated bodies) is entirely justified.
Cedain is destined to collapse.
Across a world rife with blood, betrayal, and brutality, five people wade through unexpected tragedies.
An egotistical student, a fleeing refugee, a nomadic warrior, a fallen noble, and a criminal in hiding navigate the sinister dealings of politicians, two sudden wars, and nefarious lies that surface at Ashmount—a university dedicated to teaching the five branches of magic.
Survival means adapting or dying.
“You experience the bleak and nihilistic world through five primary PoV characters, along with a handful of secondary ones encountered in the easter egg style interludes. The main characters are all certified residents of the ‘Bastard Spectrum’ though they are continually shifting between the lighter ‘They’re a canny bastard’ and the darker ‘They’re a right bastard’ ends of that delectable spectrum.”
Let us know which of these books you’ve read or would like to read and what you think about them!