Libri Draconis has grown quite a bit in 2021. We now have four bloggers, each of whom brings something special and a little different to our team, and the richness of our content and the people we reach has expanded as a result. We couldn’t be happier or more grateful for how everything evolved this year; thanks to all of our readers for joining us on this journey!
As 2021 comes to a close, we wanted to share our favorite reads from the past year. We all read – and reviewed – quite a few books, and it was somewhat torturous to limit ourselves to only two favorites a piece. But! We perservered and here are Libri Draconis’s favorite books read in 2021.
Spear by Nicola Griffith – I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t end up picking a book that isn’t actually released for another four months. Spear by Nicola Griffith is out from Tordotcom in April, and is basically the queer Arthurian book of my dreams. It is a short novella, but manages to achieve what many hefty tomes don’t: it tells a complete and satisfying story in under two hundred pages. My only gripe was that I wanted more, not because the book was lacking in any way, but because the writing and worldbuilding was so wonderful that I wanted to stay in this queer and diverse interpretation of the early middle ages Griffith so vividly evokes just a little longer. And I probably should mention that the book also has one of my favourite things in the world: illustrations in a story aimed at adults. Interspersed with the narrative are gorgeous illustrations by Rovina Cai, who is one of my favourite artists in the fantasy genre. So an all-around hit, and one you should most definitely pre-order.
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston – There were a lot of books that could have occupied this slot – really all of the honorable mentions. But I decided to go with what has been my comfort book in this year of craziness. I have listened to the audiobook of One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston three times already and it is just such a delightful and comforting romance with supernatural elements. Both August Landry and Jane Su are wonderful characters, and I may be a little bit more than slightly in love with Jane myself. While the general tone is uplifting and cosy, McQuiston manages to touch on a lot of the fundamental insecurities of today’s generation of young adults, coming into working life from university and that really made me connect with the book on an emotional level. I cannot recommend this one enough.
Honorable Mentions: Sistersong by Lucy Holland, The Second Bell and The Wind Child by Gabriela Houston, Travelers Along the Way by Aminah Mae Safi, The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec, A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark, Girls of Fate and Fury by Natasha Ngan, The Cabinet by Un-Su Kim, The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore, Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers, and oh SO MANY OTHERS. 2021 has been such an excellent year for books, and these choices have been extremely hard to make (I am probably going to hit my goal of 500 books read this year, so there is A LOT to choose from)!
The Devil’s Dictionary by Steven Kotler – What would you do if you could empathise with a dolphin? or a bat? What would other people do if they couldn’t? Against the backdrop of an eroding species barrier, em-tracker Lion Zorn, whose abilities allow him to read the emotional trends of crowds, tries to unravel the mystery around the disappearance of his colleagues.
It’s an exceptionally powerful read, with great dialogue; and, despite the tension, I still laughed out loud in multiple places. The premise of an emotion-based near-future sci-fi is also new and exciting. A clear favourite of the year for me.
Storyland by Amy Jeffs – These are retellings of medieval tales of legend, landscape and the yearning to belong, inhabited with characters now half-remembered: Brutus, Albina, Scota, Arthur and Bladud among them. Told with narrative flair, embellished in stunning artworks and glossed with a rich and erudite commentary… It Illuminates a collective memory that still informs the identity and political ambition of these places (Hachette).
Amy Jeffs’ Storyland is as visually striking as it is expertly researched. The illustrations and tritone decorations bring to mind the grimoires of old: this book of myths is an artefact in its own right. Another reason this is one of my favourite reads of 2021 is the sensitivity with which the tales, taken from historical sources, are updated and reimagined. You can read mine and Fabienne’s thoughts here.
Honorable Mentions: Spear by Nicola Griffith; The Second Bell by Gabriela Houston; Comfort Me with Apples by Catherynne M Valente; Sistersong by Lucy Holland, and Frank Herbert’s Dune (not because it’s new, but because I finally slogged through it and feel rather proud).
Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven – Everyone knows I’m a massive Grace Draven fan (for full evidence, see my essay here). But this book immediately rose to the top, taking the first place seat across all her full-length works. Not only that, it was hands down my favorite book read in 2021. It has all the hallmarks of a Grace Draven novel – prose, world-building, steam – but what really stood out to me (and wrecked me for days after) was the Romance. The characters are survivors of deep trauma – these are two deeply broken souls. And yet they perservere. They keep surviving. They rise above their pasts with the help of each other and the help of community to find a new path for themselves and, as canon epic fantasy, a future for their world. They find love, in the most unlikely of circumstances, and they are both the better for it, individually and as a couple. Absolutely beautiful, poignant, and well-crafted Fantasy Romance.
The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams – I know, I know – I’m so behind. This (comparatively) short novel of Osten Ard came out in 2017, but I didn’t read it until this year, and you’d expect Brothers of the Wind, which came out in 2021, to be on this list instead. Alas, it’s sitting on my Kindle and I just haven’t gotten to it yet. Better late than never, right? No surprise that my second favorite book of 2021 comes from another favorite author of mine – Tad Williams. The story of what happens after the epic battle at the end of To Green Angel Tower provides a thought-provoking look at both the history of the Norns and the atrocities of war. The writing, world-building, and masterful use of POVs all contribute to creating deep empathy for the various characters on both sides of the siege and their plights. It was a pleasure to return to the world of Osten Ard, and hopefully I will be able to do so once again sooner rather than later!
Honorable Mentions: Girl Meets Duke series by Tessa Dare; Piranesi by Susanna Clarke; The Hunter by Kerrigan Byrne; Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie; Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas; A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh; The Labyrinth Gate by Kate Elliott; Beautiful Player by Christina Lauren