Top Ten Tuesday: new-to-me in 2021

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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. This week we’re enthusing about the authors whose work we read for the first time in 2021.

Over 30 of the books I read in 2021 were written by authors I’d never read before – which feels like a lot, although I’m not actually sure how unusual it is as this isn’t a stat I track (although I might start, I’m curious now). I was assuming this was because I like to support a debut, but on second look these reads aren’t dominated by debuts; a lot of it was me catching up on established authors I’d been meaning to get round to.

Book cover: These Lifeless Things - Premee Mohamed

My author of the year was – without a doubt – Premee Mohamed, on the back of three absolutely dynamite novellas. I hadn’t read Premee’s work before and I shall be banging the drum incessantly from now on until I get The Annual Migration of Clouds and These Lifeless Things and And What Can We Offer You Tonight into more readers’ hands: all three make my Best Novella shortlist for 2021.

Mike Brooks makes the list for The Black Coast with its interesting world-building and unusual plot focus. I wouldn’t usually turn to epic fantasy for studies of social integration, and I loved it (helped along but never overshadowed by the royal princess turned underworld queenpin, ‘dragons’ and subverted prophecies). However, I found the sequel a bit of a mess so I am awaiting to see if the final volume brings it all back together for me.

Book cover: The Black Coast - Mike Brooks (Orbit UK cover)
Book cover: A Pale Light in the Black - KB Wagers

Space search and rescue, corporate conspiracy, found family and a competition collide in the Neo-G novels, the first of which left me longing for more time with the crew of the Zuma’s Ghost. For all the action thrills, this is heavy on character and relationships and I loved every beat – I’m looking forward to catching up on the second Neo-G novel this year. In the meantime, there are two further space opera trilogies in Wagers’s back catalogue I can dip into. That’ll do nicely.

I had been meaning to read The Space Between Worlds for a while, but it was a Subjective Chaos nomination that pushed me into it. Another tense corporate conspiracy, I loved this for digging into concepts of privilege, identity and redemption across literal and metaphorical parallel worlds. It’s a gripping read that got our nod for Best SF of 2020 and leaves me keen to see what Johnson writes next.

Book cover: The Space Between Worlds - Micaiah Johnson
Book cover: You Let Me In - Camilla Bruce

Camilla Bruce’s debut came highly recommended and snared my attention from the first page: a cheeky second-person address and the promise of an unreliable narrator ‘setting the record straight’ was irresistible. I liked this all the more for being both a pitch black fairytale and a secret history of surviving abuse. I can’t wait to read Bruce’s second novel due out later this year.

Anticipation is a dangerous game, and I was thirsty for The Unbroken well ahead of its March release. Not to worry – CL Clark’s colonial world-building, conflicted characters and oh-so-messy relationships were everything I’d hoped for. I am gasping for the sequel to see what future treacheries and compromises await – and whether the toxic colonial legacy can be unpicked.

Book cover: The Unbroken - CL Clark
Book cover: She Who Became The Sun - Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became The Sun was possibly my favourite of 2021’s sapphic trifecta: measured in pace, laser-focused on character, epic in scope. I loved how this unpicks gender and patriarchy and fate; and the fragility at the core of steely antagonists who tower over their contemporaries. Shelley Parker-Chan knows exactly what she’s doing, and the result is beautiful on page and in the mind’s eye.

Yes, I made it to 2021 before I picked up my first Joanne Harris book. I’ve had several on the shelf for years, having enjoyed hearing her speak on panels – but somehow I never got round to reading any until Orfeia – a faerie reimagining of a Greek myth – was the bite-sized read that fit my mood. It won’t be the last – I loved the depiction of the Fae and am looking forward to reading both the Loki novels and more bite-size retellings.

Book cover: Orfeia - Joanne Harris
Book cover: The Forever Sea - Joshua Phillip Johnson

An early 2021 debutante who caught my eye, Joshua Philip Johnson impressed with unusual world-building and unapologetically difficult characters. The Forever Sea was wild and ambitious and if not entirely successful, it did more than enough to convince me that this is an author whose work I want to follow.

Somehow – in spite of that large ‘new to me’ count overall – I’ve not got a tenth author who has inserted themselves onto my watchlist for the future. Many of the rest wrote books I enjoyed to a point, but which weren’t really my jam; some wrote books I admired (technically or thematically) rather than enjoyed; and a few, inevitably, just left me a bit frustrated. While I will no doubt recommend many of these authors’ works to others, I may hesitate to read more of it myself, so they don’t make my list today.

What authors did you read for the first time in 2021?