It’s time for the final best of list for 2021 – the best books I read that released this year! We were very fortunate to get multiple books in the same year for some awesome series, so I’m limiting myself to one book per series for this list. This was one of the hardest lists to narrow down, but these are the books that stuck with me the most!
I’m linking to my full reviews in the paragraphs below, and all covers link to the Goodreads pages if you want to add them to your list. Enjoy!
THE MASK OF MIRRORS by M.A. Carrick
While most of this list is in no particular order, THE MASK OF MIRRORS is first among equals. Every once in a while, you read a book that feels like it was written especially for you, and THE MASK OF MIRRORS is one of those books. Centering on a con artist, a masked vigilante, and a rising crime lord, this is a tale of deception and intrigue. Ren poses as the estranged relative of a noble house in the hopes of benefitting from their wealth and protection. What she gets instead is a family under siege from a curse, mired in politics that seem intent on completely ruining them. If you are at all interested in masked balls, clandestine meetings with outlaws, soft magic systems based on tarot and astrology, and social wars conducted through party invitations and rumor, you must put THE MASK OF MIRRORS at the top of your list immediately.
THE LAST WATCH by J.S. Dewes
Let’s preface this with the fact that I love over-the-top disaster movies. So when I say that THE LAST WATCH feels like a disaster movie put to page, I mean that with all the love in my heart. The Argus is a ship full of rejects from the military, ranging from court-martialed soldiers to those who have a bit of an insubordination problem. They’ve all been sent to the literal edge of the galaxy to be the first alert if an enemy alien race decides to invade again. But when the Argus realizes the edge of the galaxy is literally collapsing, they’re too far out for anybody to make a rescue attempt. What follows is an adrenaline-filled rush against time as the crew tries to cobble together a solution with what resources they have on the ship. It also deftly weaves in world-building threads that lead to a hell of a set-up for the sequel (which also released this year and is also excellent). If sci-fi is your preferred genre, you should definitely pick up THE LAST WATCH.
THE JASMINE THRONE by Tasha Suri
How about a sapphic court drama with romantic tension so tight you could slice it with one of the many knives lying around on the pages of this book? Enter Malini and Priya, the first a princess being imprisoned by her brother, the other a handmaiden with secret magical powers. What follows is a story of power and the many forms it takes. It doesn’t pull punches, and the characters often find themselves at cross-purposes as they try to pursue their agendas. It’s only book one, but THE JASMINE THRONE makes it clear that Malini and Priya’s relationship is not going to be easy or even a happy one. And before I go, I have to give a shout out to Bhumika, a prominent character who is ruthless and fierce in her protection and manages a crisis while nine months pregnant. Absolute legend.
JADE LEGACY by Fonda Lee
I had very little doubt that my 2021 list would include JADE LEGACY on it, and I am happy to report I was right! And by happy I mean utterly devastated by the melancholy permeating throughout the finale of this book as the reigning generation of the No Peak clan realizes its time has come and begins to transition leadership to the next generation. THE GREEN BONE SAGA has long been a series of fascinating characters and complex political relationships, all taking place in a world that feels completely alive and real. This final story takes place over nearly three decades, allowing not just the characters to evolve, but the world they live in as well. The length of time that passes means that the characters are constantly dealing with changing cultures, shifting international relations, and evolving technology. This is a series that is going to stay with me for a long, long time, and you owe it to yourself to check it out if you haven’t already.
ELDER RACE by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Who says good things can’t come in small packages? This novella absolutely captured my heart in its few hundred pages. It’s about two characters: Nyr, an anthropologist from an advanced civilization, and Lynesse, the fourth princess of a local kingdom. Nyr has kept up his reclusiveness from the locals by allowing them to believe he’s a powerful wizard to be left alone, but Lynesse is determined to enlist the aid of said powerful wizard to fight what she believes is a demon terrorizing the countryside. The journey that follows is told from alternating viewpoints between these two leads, capturing the world in the clipped scientific analysis of Nyr and the more poetic language of Lynesse, who sees science as magic. The juxtaposition of how these two characters view the world or how they process language is an absolute treat to behold, and has definitely made me flag the author as one to read more of in the future.