Now that I’ve completed reading my 2020 Reading List, I’ve been delighted with the overall quality of the books I enjoyed throughout this car-crash of a year. Basically they kept my head straight. So who were the standout heroes of the year, who crept into my heart and won’t leave, even now it’s 2021? I’ll tell you…
Daniel Mackmain from the Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna
BLURB: Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny.
But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago?
A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.
I loved Daniel from the first book – such a clever blend of old folklore and modern life – and I really like how McKenna has developed his character. All three books – The Green Man’s Heir, The Green Man’s Foe and The Green Man’s Silence – are worth reading, but whatever you do, read them in order.
Penric from The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold
BLURB: When a mysterious plague breaks out in the army fort guarding Vilnoc, the port capital of the duchy of Orbas, Temple sorcerer Penric and his demon Desdemona are called upon by General Arisaydia to resurrect Penric’s medical skills and solve its lethal riddle. In the grueling days that follow, Pen will find that even his magic is not enough to meet the challenges without help from dedicated new colleagues—and the god of mischance.
Again, this is a character I’ve been following since the first novella set in Bujold’s Five Gods World, though you don’t have to have ever picked up any of the Chalion books to fall in love with this one. Penric is now a very different character from the inexperienced young man who accidentally ended up hosting an old, powerful demon, in the first book, Penric’s Demon. As a bonus, there was also Masquerade in Lodi, published in October 2020, as well. Read my review of The Physicians of Vilnoc.
Thomas Cromwell from The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel
BLURB: England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.
Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?
This fabulous series came to an end in 2020 with The Mirror and the Light and I felt I’d lost a friend. Yes, Cromwell is a bully… yes, he can be brutal, unyielding and confrontational. But he is also kind to animals and compassionate with women in an age where they are generally treated as lesser beings. I was also aware that this book didn’t just feature one complicated difficult man – but was in many ways a character study of Henry VIII, another complicated and difficult man… Mantel managed to do something extraordinary with this series and if I ever had a personality change and decided to start rereading books (I don’t) this would probably be the series I’d start with. To try to see how she did it… Read my review of The Mirror and the Light.
Vish Puri from The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
BLURB: Vish Puri is as fond of butter chicken as the next Punjabi. So when it’s served at the Delhi Durbar hotel at an India Premier League cricket match dinner, he’s the first to tuck in. Faheem Khan, father of Pakistani star cricketer Kamran Khan, can’t resist either. But the creamy dish proves his undoing. After a few mouthfuls, he collapses on the floor, dead…
I first encountered Vish when I read the Netgalley arc for the fifth book and I was absolutely delighted by this shrewd, eccentric man, his passion for justice and his method of solving cases. Along the way, we are also treated to a slice of the vividness that is India into the bargain. I’ve read the first three books and am hoping that if I leave it long enough before diving into the fourth book, Tarquin Hall will have a sixth ready for me. Read my mini-review of The Case of the Missing Servant.
Ryo inGara from TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier
BLURB: Raised a warrior in the harsh winter country, Ryo inGara has always been willing to die for his family and his tribe. When war erupts against the summer country, the prospect of death in battle seems imminent. But when his warleader leaves Ryo as a sacrifice — a tuyo — to die at the hands of their enemies, he faces a fate he never imagined.
Ryo’s captor, a lord of the summer country, may be an enemy . . . but far worse enemies are moving, with the current war nothing but the opening moves in a hidden game Ryo barely glimpses, a game in which all his people may be merely pawns. Suddenly Ryo finds his convictions overturned and his loyalties uncertain. Should he support the man who holds him prisoner, the only man who may be able to defeat their greater enemy? And even if he does, can he persuade his people to do the same?
Ryo captured my heart from the opening sequence when he is tied to a post and waiting to be killed – and wretched with guilt because he’d been angry with his brother for leaving him as a sacrifice. This book deserves to be far better known – it’s an amazing, immersive read and the bonus – I discovered the second book is now available when I looked up the blurb for this post😊. Read my review.
Al MacBharrais from Ink & Sigil – Book 1 of the Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearneine
BLURB: Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.
But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.
But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.
I’ve now reached a time in my life where I generally don’t expect to encounter protagonists in my age group. So it was a solid joy to find a protagonist who grumbled at times about his joints and isn’t necessarily the last thing in athletic fitness. I also found him amusing, clever and genuinely original. I’m very much looking forward to reading more about Al later this year. Read my review.