What a crazy year it has been, huh? I left my day job at the end of January with some big plans in mind, then *waves hand around* threw everything off track. But a lot of surprises decided to rear their not-so-ugly heads, and while I spent far too much time on my couch, I had a lovely year filled with bookish shenanigans, games, shows, and, most importantly, quality time with my husband and pups (which I haven’t gotten to do AT ALL in years past).
I’m following trend and sharing my favorites of 2020, touching upon all that have been some form of entertainment throughout the months stuck at home. Keep on scrolling for my top ten books, top three games, and top three shows – I may have gotten carried away, so get comfy!
My Top 10 Books of 2020
So, I didn’t read as much as I hoped I would this year, but with good reason! With the launch of Storytellers On Tour, a surprisingly good chunk of my free time was dedicated to helping share some of the best of what indie publishing has to offer. I did, however, manage 48 books throughout the year, most of them pretty incredible, so this wasn’t an easy list to put together. I pinched snippets of my reviews below, but I hope you check out the full reviews of those that pique your interest! Books are listed in order they were read – I can’t bring myself to rank them.
But first…some stats!
And now…the books!
Prosper’s Demon by K.J. Parker
In the pitch dark, witty fantasy novella Prosper’s Demon, K. J. Parker deftly creates a world with vivid, unbending rules, seething with demons, broken faith, and worse men.
In a botched demonic extraction, they say the demon feels it ten times worse than the man. But they don’t die, and we do. Equilibrium.
The unnamed and morally questionable narrator is an exorcist with great follow-through and few doubts. His methods aren’t delicate but they’re undeniably effective: he’ll get the demon out—he just doesn’t particularly care what happens to the person.
Prosper of Schanz is a man of science, determined to raise the world’s first philosopher-king, reared according to the purest principles. Too bad he’s demonically possessed.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s more that I hate Them than that I love my fellow humans. But nobody pays me to think that, so I don’t do it often.
Prosper’s Demon was my first descent into the mind of K.J. Parker, and what a curious and entertaining introduction it has been. Upon turning the final page, I immediately questioned why I’ve waited so long to finally dive into the works of such an incredible author, and truly regretted not doing so sooner. This story is told with such beautiful and sophisticated prose just dripping with wit and sarcasm, making this an engaging narrative posing many philosophical questions that continue to linger. It’s a strange one, one that I haven’t read the likes of before, and one that I enjoyed immensely.
Read my full review of Prosper’s Demon
The World Maker Parable by Luke Tarzian
Guilt will always call you back…
Rhona is a faithful servant of the country Jémoon and a woman in love. Everything changes when her beloved sets the ravenous Vulture goddess loose upon the land. Forced to execute the woman she loves for committing treason, Rhona discovers a profound correlation between morality and truth. A connection that might save her people or annihilate them all.
You are a lie…
Varésh Lúm-talé is many things, most of all a genocidal liar. A falsity searching for the Phoenix goddess whom he believes can help him rectify his atrocities. Such an undertaking is an arduous one for a man with missing memories and a conscience set on rending him from inside out. A man whose journey leads to Hang-Dead Forest and a meeting with a Vulture goddess who is not entirely as she seems.
…Even the worst of us, the most misguided can achieve redemption.
The World Maker Parable is Luke Tarzian’s creatively complex and poignant follow-up novella to his Dark Fantasy debut Vultures. Much like its predecessor, it focuses on the fragile balance between order and chaos, and is an exposition of the very human feelings of guilt and grief, as well as the horrific punishment one endures at the hands of their own self. My full review is a bit different than what I usually present for several reasons; the most significant being talking about both the plot and characters in detail will completely spoil this tale in its entirety, and simply because I feel the need to speak about what this novella evokes, rather than an examination of the story itself. I’ve given this much thought, and honestly, I can’t get this story out of my head.
The Obsidian Psalm by Clayton Snyder
Betrayed by those he trusted. Resurrected by a man he should loathe. A head full of memories he didn’t make. Rook is forced into a bargain that might kill him if he refuses, and if he accepts, could mean the end of existence. Trapped in a shadow war between necromancers, his choices are dwindling to one: Cut a bloody swathe of revenge across humanity’s last remaining city.
In the stories, noble knights and their retainers hold in the chill of dawn. In the stories, footmen and soldiers form orderly lines, wait for the rising run. War is ordered, just. Clean. A clear winner, in the right every time, the gods’ chosen side.
War is none of those things.
The Obsidian Psalm is a brutal and visceral tale of betrayal and power, set in a world locked in an eternal state of turmoil as history continues to repeat itself. At its black, shadowy heart, it features the hardships endured in the name of survival, utilizing the grisly pain of the past to brave an uncertain future. Snyder weaves his grand tapestry one careful thread at a time, presenting his narrative infused with a series of surreal, dreamlike sequences, each a stepping stone on the path to enlightenment. While the majority of the story is a flood of twists and turns, gut-wrenching truths lie in wait for those looking closely enough, and all comes together in a beautifully savage crescendo of blood and destruction. A highly intelligent and poignant read, The Obsidian Psalm takes its rightful place among the staples of Grimdark Fantasy.
A King’s Bargain by J.D.L. Rosell
The legend of Tal Harrenfel is sung across the Westreach — and with each telling, the tales grow taller. But though he’s declared a hero by his King, Tal has never claimed to be more than a man…
After three decades of fighting warlocks, killing mythical beasts, and hunting enchanted treasure, Tal has had enough. Running from the deeds of his past, he retreats to his home village under a different name and meets an unlikely companion: Garin, a village boy who dreams of making a name for himself and seeing the world beyond their sleepy town.
When Tal receives a mysterious visitor, both he and Garin find themselves thrown into a sojourn across the kingdom. Soon, they become embroiled in the plots of monarchs, on the frontlines of an ancient war, and at the mercy of a fabled sorcerer.
Now Tal must live up to his legend, and Garin discover his own power, to survive the forces pitted against them…
Name of the Wind meets Witcher in A King’s Bargain, an intertwining sword and sorcery adventure and coming of age tale. If you like The Wheel of Time, The Dragonbone Chair, or The Stormlight Archive, you’ll love the captivating world of Legend of Tal!
I’ve never claimed to be more than a man.
A King’s Bargain by J.D.L. Rosell is a captivating and inspiring epic coming-of-age, feel-good fantasy tale of legends and forging one’s own path. Within its pages, readers are immersed in a story illustrating the fragile balance of good and evil, an everlasting battle for sovereignty, and the importance of choice. Beautifully conveyed and steeped in myth and magic, the promise of adventure and discovery sinks its claws in, refusing to let go even after the final page is turned. Brilliant characterization, a gripping mystery, and a setting with a deeply rooted history, this is a must-read for all fans of classic and modern fantasy alike.
Read my full review of A King’s Bargain
The Hollow Gods by A.J. Vrana
A perfect story for contemporary fantasy readers who love their narratives razor-sharp and their secrets dark and deadly.
Black Hollow is a town with a dark secret.
For centuries, residents have foretold the return of the Dreamwalker—an ominous figure from local folklore said to lure young women into the woods and possess them. Yet the boundary between fact and fable is blurred by a troubling statistic: occasionally, women do go missing. And after they return, they almost always end up dead.
When Kai wakes up next to the lifeless body of a recently missing girl, his memory blank, he struggles to clear his already threadbare conscience.
Miya, a floundering university student, experiences signs that she may be the Dreamwalker’s next victim. Can she trust Kai as their paths collide, or does he herald her demise?
And after losing a young patient, crestfallen oncologist, Mason, embarks on a quest to debunk the town’s superstitions, only to find his sanity tested.
A maelstrom of ancient grudges, forgotten traumas, and deadly secrets loom in the foggy forests of Black Hollow. Can three unlikely heroes put aside their fears and unite to confront a centuries-old evil? Will they uncover the truth behind the fable, or will the cycle repeat?
We are no different than the machines we ourselves have made. Like clocks, we spin around the same axis without alternative, infinitely, as though to turn in circles is the very purpose for which we were made. And all the while the world passes us by. We erode, and yet we continue to tick and tick and tick until the axis itself grows weary of our burdens, unhinges, and finally, we break.
The Hollow Gods is budding author A. J. Vrana’s beautifully surreal, captivating, and genre-bending debut novel. At its heart, it’s a tale of suspending your disbelief and opening your heart to the mysteries the world has to offer, accepting what’s meant to be is what’s meant to be. Told in a contemporary tone, this book delves far down the psychological rabbit hole, urging readers to question the realities of our own world, insisting we embrace the unknown and the inevitable. As human beings, we strive to perfect although we are flawed, to seek answers that should remain shrouded in shadow, to force reason by suppressing wonder and faith; The Hollow Gods promotes the idea that the cycle of history will repeat itself until we learn to just let go and enjoy the ride. A tale of mysteries and folklore with splashes of horror, all balanced with rakish humor, this Dark Fantasy/Magical Realism blend is truly a unique and engrossing read.
Read my full review of The Hollow Gods
Valley of the Free by Michael Sliter
Novella set in the world of the best-selling Pandemonium Rising Series
You’re scared. You should be. This is terrifying shit that we do. But, would you rather kill or die? Because that is your option!
With a quest for vengeance, Ferl Nerial finally achieves his dream—charming his way into the first sanctioned job for his mercenary company. On behalf of the newly-minted lord of Farrow’s Hold, Ferl is to put down an incursion by the free and independent nation of Oshwana. It should be an easy march, subjugating a people who defined themselves through the rejection of the niceties of modern society.The problem is… Ferl hasn’t a single follower to his name.Follow the birth of the infamous Ferl’s Company through their first ill-fated engagement against a people desperate to retain their independence and willing to do whatever it takes to do so. Visceral combat, devastating magicks, and bad decisions plague Ferl’s Company in this novella from the world of Pandemonium Rising.
We, unlike all of you, are free.
Valley of the Free is Michael Sliter’s prequel novella in his ongoing Pandemonium Rising series. This is a tale of the paths and risks one is willing to take in the name of vengeance, a perfect storm of misinformation and ambition leading to catastrophic consequences. A beautifully portrayed character-centric story, it tells of the beginnings of Ferl’s Company, a fledgling ragtag mercenary band hellbent on a path of retribution against savage foes. But as the enemy finds new inventive ways to thoroughly break morale, secrets and lies threaten from within. As expected with Sliter’s work, Valley of the Free is as Grimdark as it gets, and manages to pack a huge punch with so little real estate space. With in-depth character building, intense action, and political maneuverings you know will shape the future of all, this novella is an excellent bite-sized morsel for both fans of the series, as well as those looking to try something new.
Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire
A dead god. A brutal murder. A second-rate mage.
It was only supposed to be one little job – a simple curse-breaking for Mennik Thorn to pay back a favor to his oldest friend. But then it all blew up in his face. Now he’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit.
So how is a second-rate mage, broke, traumatized, and with a habit of annoying the wrong people supposed to prove his innocence when everyone believes he’s guilty?
Mennik has no choice if he wants to get out of this: he is going to have to throw himself into the corrupt world of the city’s high mages, a world he fled years ago. Faced by supernatural beasts, the mage-killing Ash Guard, and a ruthless, unknown adversary, it’s going to take every trick Mennik can summon just to keep him and his friend alive.
But a new, dark power is rising in Agatos, and all that stands in its way is one damaged mage…
You did it, Nik. You actually did it. No one was more surprised than me.
Shadow of a Dead God is a highly entertaining and original tale of unconditional loyalty and the dangers of greed. Author Patrick Samphire presents readers with his first foray into adult fantasy with this High Fantasy mystery laced with Noir flavors and just enough humor to keep it from teetering into the realm of the dark and gritty. What begins with a second-rate, freelance mage cramped in a pantry hunting for paltry ghosts transforms into a ghastly murder investigation hindered by an abundance of political red tape. And oh how this tape is shredded to ribbons! With beautifully crafted characters, a city so well-depicted it feels alive, and an interesting magic system, Shadow of a Dead God is lively and thoroughly enjoyable pursuit for the truth. I knew as soon as I read the blurb I’d love this book, and once I picked it up, it was just impossible for me to put down.
A Ritual of Flesh by Lee C Conley
As evil ravages the north and the dead walk, all eyes fall to Arn… The apprentice journeys south, home to the College, unaware of the dark events that transpired in the High Passes after his departure. His leg in ruins, and haunted by watching shadows, the College council in Arn awaits him, but he does not travel south alone.
Arnulf and his warriors must travel to Arn also, with tidings for the king of the risen dead and the terrible curse which has destroyed all that he knew. Arnulf seeks vengeance upon the College, but must choose wisely if he is to save his son.
Meanwhile in the west, Bjorn and his strange Wildman companion report back to High Lord Archeon at Oldstones with grim news of cannibal Stonemen encroaching from the Barrens, but is embroiled in news of war and invasion as Archeon requests his service once more.
In the capital sickness awaits them all, Nym has fled to the city and must now continue her struggle for survival on the plague ridden streets of Arn, keeping all who she cares for safe from the halls of Old Night.
The many threads of this Saga converge on the city of Arn, but amid plague, invasion and terror, a greater darkness is looming. Dark forces are seeking to unleash evil upon Arnar, honour and renown is all, and sword, axe and shield is all that stands between the living and the grasping hands of the dead.
Only valour and steel can stand against the rising dead
A Ritual of Flesh is a dark and brutal tale of the power of knowledge and the dangers of seeking knowledge meant to remain hidden. Lee C Conley tells a story of the lengths one is willing to traverse in order to protect those they hold dear using a backdrop of unrest and terrors lurking in the shadows. While it tells of a convergence, the scope is more grand and epic in scale in comparison to its predecessor, A Ritual of Bone, yet more personal as we begin to see what lies in the hearts of the many players of this dangerous game. Book two of The Dead Sagas continues where we left off, taking us on a journey of life and death on a hunt for answers. As war and pestilence and death close in on all sides, will the people of Arnar find the strength and resolve to fight the tides of fate? Or will they all drift into the cold embrace of Old Night?
Read my full review of A Ritual of Flesh
Northern Wrath by Thilde Kold Holdt
Following in the steps of Neil Gaiman & Joanne Harris, the author expertly weaves Norse myths and compelling characters into this fierce, magical epic fantasy.
A dead man, walking between the worlds, foresees the end of the gods.
A survivor searching for a weapon releases a demon from fiery Muspelheim.
A village is slaughtered by Christians, and revenge must be taken.
The bonds between the gods and Midgard are weakening. It is up to Hilda, Ragnar, their tribesmen Einer and Finn, the chief’s wife Siv and Tyra, her adopted daughter, to fight to save the old ways from dying out, and to save their gods in the process.
Remember your rage. Nurture it. Your wrath is sacred.
Belief in the old ways is fading and the final battle approaches in Northern Wrath, author Thilde Kold Holdt’s powerful and utterly consuming Historical Fantasy debut. Part one of The Hanged God Trilogy is a sprawling narrative that takes us along on the merciless path of vengeance, highlighting the importance of honoring vows and respecting traditions of the past. A Norse-inspired epic that draws readers in with its intense beauty and promises of blood, Northern Wrath is a story led by those with unwavering resolve and a white hot need to protect their own. A captivating tale of magic and myth, this is one you cannot miss.
Read my full review of Northern Wrath
The Ancient Ones by Cassandra L. Thompson
Some things never die…
When David stumbles upon a tragic young woman in a sordid Limehouse pub, he has no idea she’d recognize him as the last vampyre alive, nor that she’d be the one to pull out his story. Yet as he recalls his life from the sweltering vineyards of Ancient Rome to the cold horrors of Medieval Romania – as well as his tumultuous past with the mad and mysterious Lucius – he realizes she is much more than what she seems.
Gothic horror and mythological fantasy blend seamlessly together in this thrilling adventure, breathing new life into vampire lore as it reveals its true origins. The Ancient Ones is a tale of myth, mayhem, and magic … with a dash of romance that bites.
I suppose all of us are capable of evil from time to time.
A tale of a love weaved into the very fabric of existence, The Ancient Ones is the captivating and eerie Dark Fantasy debut from author Cassandra L. Thompson. With flavors of Gothic Horror and Historical Fiction, the battle between dark and light rests at the heart of this story, while memories traverse eons upon the sands of time. As the account of an immortal life unfurls, readers are swept along an emotional journey roaming our beautiful world across generations. Immersive worldbuilding, perfectly crafted tragic characters, and enough lore and myth to keep even the learned satiated, The Ancient Ones is a sensational beginning to a promising series.
Read my full review of The Ancient Ones
My Top 3 Games of 2020
Some of my most anticipated games of all time finally hit shelves this year, and I’ve truly had a blast investing hours upon hours into these beautiful pieces of goodness. I was rendered completely useless starting November 10th (even more so once the PS5 arrived), and while I know I have to dedicate my time to adulting, I try to catch every second of play time any chance I get. Here’s what’s been keeping me occupied.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (PS4/PS5)
I’ve been a fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise since the beginning (although I can’t even with Syndicate and Unity). When I caught word the next installment came with a subtitle of Valhalla, I almost died. ASSASSIN’S CREED AND VIKINGS?! YES. Although not true to AC roots, this game completely consumed my life for weeks. Along with a strong main quest line paired with interesting and unique side quests, character/gear/settlement customization is top notch. And Ivarr – simply the best.
Cyberpunk 2077 (PS5)
Bugs and crashes aside, this game is absolutely fantastic. Crime, corrupt mega corporations, and chrome chrome chrome. Time to don your high-armor hot pants and crop tops to show off your kickass cyberware and make that scratch. I love games where decisions matter, and witnessing situations play out in multiple ways (the husband and I are playing concurrently, taking different paths) is a treat. I’m hoping the coming months bring some solid patches to refine and polish, because honestly, this game boasts one of the best narratives I’ve played through in a long while.
Fallout 76 (PS4)
I’ve put an ungodly amount of hours into this game. Over a year after its release I finally decided to give it a shot, and let me tell you…it’s ridiculously addicting. With the addition of the Wastelanders content and the influx of NPCs into Appalachia, this game finally became what it always should have been. Sightseeing is a must, so make sure you’re stocked up on camera film! You can play solo, but public events are a blast, and thankfully I’ve only run into a handful of trolls. First time I set off a nuke and joined my fellow Vault Dwellers in defeating a Scorchbeast Queen…ahhh, sweet sweet victory.
My Top 3 Shows of 2020
Quarantine = ridiculous amounts of bingeing. Oh gods, so many shows. Wake up, coffee, work (while shows play in the background).
“Hey, we’ve been wanting to watch this, yeah?”
“Yeah, let’s do it.”
Netflix ftw, that’s for sure. Here are my favorites.
The Last Kingdom
In a nutshell: Danes v. Saxons, betrayal, vengeance, epic battles, zealotry, more vengeance, the chosen one, family and sibling squabbles, even more vengeance.
Destiny is all.
I’ve finally gotten around to becoming acquainted with Uhtred son of Uhtred, and I am absolutely champing at the bit for more. In fact, “filthy Saxon…” has become a staple in my household. The production is gorgeous, the acting is superb, the emotion is crushing. I love this show something fierce and highly recommend it for those who are fans of history with a fictional twist. It’s wonderful, trust me!
You can catch the series so far, the first four seasons, right now over on Netflix.
In a nutshell: Angels, demons, monsters, God, God’s sister, Fergus, Ola mishamigos, pudding, alternate universes, Baby, pie.
Son of a bitch!
Ok, going to be completely honest here…I had no urge to watch this show whatsoever. Years ago a co-worker of mine told me I needed to watch it, and I didn’t take him seriously. Flipped it on earlier this year and was HOOKED by the lovely snark and utter cheesiness. We binged all 15 seasons – well over 600 episodes. Man, I’m going to miss this show. If the paranormal and classic rock are your jam, then you’ll love Supernatural.
You can catch the series, all fifteen seasons, right now over on Netflix.
In a nutshell: …what? Missing children, nuclear power plants, time travel, overlapping timelines, existential crises, conspiracies, wormholes.
Good and evil are a question of perspective.
I can’t even put my thoughts into words for this one. It’s weird, confusing, consuming, and mind-blowing existentialism at its finest. Produced in German, dubbed in English, it’s a superb journey down the rabbit hole on a search for answers. The story becomes more convoluted as the episodes go on, but when the ah-ha moment comes…holy shit. If you’re looking for some brain-bending (and possibly brain-breaking) Sci-Fi, then you can’t go wrong with this one.
You can catch the entire series, all three seasons, right now over on Netflix.
And that’s all I got for ya. I’d love to hear about your favorites of 2020, so drop a line in the comments to let me know which books I need to read, games I need to play, and shows I need to watch in 2021. Wishing you all a Happy and Healthy New Year – may the coming months bring you nothing but peace and happiness!