As the year is drawing to a close I wanted to reflect on my favourite releases of 2020! There were so many amazing books released this year and we need to celebrate them! I’ve read 49 new releases, and I still feel like this list is going to be missing some amazing books. Especially for those wonderful authors who debuted this year, it’s been such a tough, strange time. I hope you enjoy this list and give the authors some love!
Young Adult Fantasy
There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.
As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.
Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.
Morally grey, sapphic, monster girls is an unbeatable combination and Melissa Bashardoust did it so well! I did a review of this book where I spoke about how queerness and monsters are heavily interlinked, both in how society represents us and our internal struggles in a world that doesn’t accept us. Girl, Serpent, Thorn handled that theme so superbly. Soraya struggles with her morality, her identity, and what being herself might mean for her family relationships. Her self-acceptance was beautiful.
After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.
Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.
And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.
I’m a huge fan of gothic horror in general, so I always knew I was going to love Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s take on the genre. Oh boy, did she do it so well. I’m so here for this revival of horror and especially how it’s allowing for a more diverse collection of books. The atmosphere in this one was built up immaculately, followed by an incredibly weird and horrible (in a good way) second half. Eugenics is a major theme of this book and it was handled in a disturbingly perfect manner. More horror like this one please!
Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.
There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.
For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe, Piranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.
Piranesi was a step into the unknown. I had no idea what I was expecting or where this story would take me, and I loved it so much. Our main character is such a lovely enthusiastic man filled with kindness, he spends his day cataloguing the house’s many rooms and talking to the birds. It’s so difficult to describe why I love this book without giving away too much. Piranesi finds joy in the little things, he’s always ready to help, he loves the world for what it is not what it can do for him, he’s inquisitive, he’s strange, he’s wonderful.
Adult Urban Fantasy
Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.
But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.
I need more adult urban fantasy like The City We Became. I’ve been getting a bit bored with the genre recently, but N.K. Jemisin pops in to give me hope. I loved this so much. I love how it incorporates Lovecraftian lore alongside a big fuck you to the man himself. The characters were wonderful (and so diverse!), the anti-racism was spot on, the casual queerness amazing, and I’ve never even been to New York but somehow I love the city now. I’m so excited to see where this series goes next!
The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.
Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.
Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.
It’s such a rare thing to love every single character in a multi-pov book, but here I am! The Bone Shard Daughter blew me away with how much I enjoyed it. I read it in one sitting. I was so interested in everything going on, amazed by every twist, every secret. Political intrigue is my life. I’ve also never loved an animal companion more than I love Mephi. In fact, I don’t think I would have said I liked animal companions generally until I read this book. Please give him to me.
After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead.
Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation.
Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it?
Okay, so I might be in the middle of reading this book. You can’t stop me from putting a book I haven’t read yet on this list when it’s the finale of The Poppy War. I can’t believe how far these characters have come along. Looking back on the beginning of the series I’m shocked with who they’ve turned into. R.F. Kuang has such a talent in taking inspiration from real life horrors and tying them into her story. These characters are somehow sympathetic, despite having committed multiple atrocities. I don’t want this series to end, not only because I’m afraid of what will happen, but because I love it so much.
Adult Contemporary Romance
Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.
They’re polar opposites.
In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.
Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.
Romance is my go to ‘I need to feel something in my cold, dead heart’ genre. Beach Read was my favourite of the year! I loved the premise so much, authors swapping genres is such a yes! Mix in some enemies-to-lovers, and deeper themes surrounding loss that’s very reminiscent of chic-lit, and you’ve got yourself a great time. I seem to prefer books that balance real-life issues with squeal-worthy romance scenes, which Beach Read does excellently.
Young Adult Superheroes
My name is Dylan Taylor, human incarnation of the burning dumpster gif, and this is my life.
I always wanted to be an X-Man. Except people and me never got along, and apparently you need social skills to run a successful team. Cue Emma Hall’s party. One hot make out session with the host herself, and I can talk to objects like my pillow (who’s far too invested in my love life) and my baseball bat (who was a pacifist before I got hold of him). Now there’s a whole group of us with strange abilities, including super hot ice queen Dani Kim who doesn’t approve of how reckless I can be. The bigger problem is a mysterious mutant causing unnatural disasters, and we’re the ones who have to stop him. Except trying to make a difference makes things blow up in my face and the team’s on the verge of falling apart. Can I bring them back together in time to stop the villain from taking revenge? Have I mentioned I’m not a people person? Magneto help us.
I’ve recommended this book a lot recently, which should show you how much I enjoyed it! Cute Mutants is one of the most addictive easy-to-read stories I’ve ever picked up; I tore through it so quickly unable to put it down! A diverse queer cast, found family goodness, and talking objects is all I’ve ever needed. Dylan’s character voice is amazing foul-mouthed fun. It manages to be both action-packed with a comic book feel, and a story that tackles a lot of the issues and insecurities teenagers struggle with.
Young Adult Fantasy
When a heist goes terribly wrong and the binding spell holding 17-year-old Neva’s powers at bay is shattered, the half-human thief knows she’s in trouble.
Neva has always hidden her Da’Valian heritage while working risky jobs to make a name for herself and serving at her family’s tavern, but she won’t be able to hide much longer. She can either risk the safety of those she cares about or seek out her mother’s people to gain control over her emerging powers.
The Da’Valia are beautiful, brutal creatures created by the god of war, and the austere Da’Valian soldier Astiand reluctantly agrees to take Neva to his clan under his protection. She makes unexpected friends, including the handsome fighter Emiliand, and a new enemy in the clan’s ruthless leader.
Spying on her guardian, the sly heroine quickly discovers just how deep she has stumbled into a dangerous, developing clan feud.
Will she be able to embrace who she is in time to keep her loved ones safe?
Born At Dawn is everything I’ve wanted from young adult fantasy. It’s reminiscent of some of the popular names, but with more detailed worldbuilding and complex character dynamics. Sometimes you want to read a book where there’s loads of swoon-worthy men but also the sexiness of in-depth worldbuilding. This reminds me of the books I read as a teenager, but like, better. It’s got found family galore, but Neva also has a strong connection to her biological family that’s rare in this genre. Mixing in political intrigue, strange powers, and hidden secrets makes this a book I loved to read.
Young Adult Historical Fantasy
Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?
In these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.
I immediately picked this up when I realised it’s a sapphic historical fantasy set in revolutionary France! It sounded so amazing! I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed. You’ve got to love a good heist book, especially when you mix in politics, betrayal, human experimentation, and messy, messy relationships. I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of established relationships but Dangerous Remedy showed me wrong. Everyone’s such a delightful mess in this book. Camille and Ada love each other, but they’ve got so many secrets, they don’t trust each other. Watching them try and figure out that complex dynamic was an absolute highlight.
France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.
V.E. Schwab’s writing is absolutely stunning as usual so of course I had to include Addie LaRue. This book was a fantastic love letter to the arts, and a thoughtful piece about how we impact the world around us. I love Faustian bargains so this was right up my alley. Watching Addie as she travels through time periods, her loneliness, but also her bright moments, was a delight. I loved how pretty much everyone in this book was queer, and how their past relationships were explored so you couldn’t brush away that fact. Addie LaRue was a slow read that made me consider life and what we can make from it.
In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.
Black Sun is a phenomenal pre-Columbian America inspired fantasy with ritual sacrifice, political intrigue, and celestial prophecies! It’s got two of my favourite characters I’ve read about this year: Xiala & Serapio. Filled with casual queerness and a brilliant depth this is one of the must-read adult fantasies of the year. Give me more disaster bisexual and crow god babes please.