Top Ten Tuesday: best of 2021

Text only: top ten TUESDAY

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s all about books, lists and sharing the love we have of both with our bookish friends. Today, we’re sharing our favourite reads of the year – what were the best books of 2021?

At the start of 2021, I noticed that my 2020 reading had developed a bias towards fantasy and my instincts were to stick with it. Conveniently, 2021 has been a stellar year for fantasy releases, which made that an incredibly rewarding choice.

So, what reads make my best of the year?

To absolutely nobody’s surprise, my picks for fantasy are the sapphic trifecta of burned empires and gutted patriarchies: She Who Became The Sun (Shelley Parker-chan), The Unbroken (CL Clark) and The Jasmine Throne (Tasha Suri). These books are every bit as good as you’ve heard (unless you’ve been on a social media and blog hiatus all year in which case welcome back, I’ve got some good news for you: there’s some amazing fantasy to catch up on).

Each novel reflects aspects of primarily non-European history and cultures through a fantasy lens, tackling themes of colonial occupations, cultural suppression, racism, misogyny, destiny and rebellion. I loved them for their flawed heroines and the utter devastation they wreaked on my poor, battered heart with their conflicted romantic subplots. This is the fantasy (and the romance) I live for. If I absolutely had to pick a favourite, I think She Who Became The Sun would steal the crown – just – but I loved all three of these epics and I am gasping for the sequels.

While I bounced off a lot of SF this year, a handful stood out. If anything, I think I loved Arkady Martine’s A Desolation Called Peace even more than A Memory Called Empire; it tied me in knots with its layered drama and richly-textured world. Elsewhere in sequels, Murderbot solving a murder (Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells) is every bit as entertaining as it sounds and neatly moves the series in a new direction that bodes well for the future.

I was surprised by A Pale Light In The Black by KB Wagers, which stole my heart with its combination of well-deployed tropes and irresistibly dysfunctional found family. This is a shamelessly feel-good action thriller, and I became a fan on the spot. We just awarded Micaiah Johnson’s world-hopping debut The Space Between Worlds the Subjective Chaos Kind of Award for Best SF in 2020 – I appreciated the collision of predestination, opportunity, prejudice and redemption in this dystopian conspiracy thriller.

In the Best Novella corner, I give you anything and everything written by Premee Mohamed. Her three post-apocalyptic tales are very different, but each one is the kind of novella that is bigger on the inside, packed with implied world-building and personal dilemmas. These Lifeless Things has academics trying to study an alien invasion, interspersed with diary entries of a woman trying to survive it; The Annual Migration of Clouds weighs familial and social obligation against opportunity in a world brought low by climate catastrophe; and corporate dystopia And What Can We Offer You Tonight acknowledges how difficult it can be to embrace hope and fight for change when in the grip of an abusive relationship. None are exactly light reading, but I found all three very rewarding.

Last up is the feel-good section of stories that put a big grin on my face.

The Bookburners were my regular companions on walks through the spring and summer. I fell in love with this urban fantasy of a secret Vatican society searching out magical artefacts to keep demons at bay, appreciating how characters and context developed across the five seasons. It delivers on found family and magical demimonde in spades, with occasional body horror and a good deal of soul searching. Bookburners is available from

Zen Cho can always be relied on to cheer me up, and contemporary possession drama Black Water Sister was no exception – affectionate, melancholy and slyly teasing. I loved Katherine Addison’s The Witness For The Dead not for its slightly contrived mysteries, but for its shy, idealistic protagonist and the friendships he establishes in spite of himself (plus we get to sink into everyday life in the Elflands and see Addison’s gaslamp world-building from new angles; reading The Goblin Emperor first is optional, but Witness does include spoilers for Emperor).

Once again, I’m taking the risk of publishing this list before the end of the year because I never learn. With just 4 reading days to go (including today) – days which will be dominated by family and travelling – I’m fairly certain I won’t accidentally read another book that demands a mention, but I’ve said foolish things like that before. Still, I’ve got an edit button and I’m not afraid to use it – although it is safe to say that I’d be adding to the list. The books already mentioned can rest safe in the knowledge that I love them far too well to bump them.

What books have you enjoyed most this year?