The 2023 Honour Roll | Top Picks

It’s that time of year again. The slay (and yes that is exactly what I meant) bells have rung. Father Christmas has filled all the kids’ smelly socks with coal (he’s preparing for the energy hike next year) and a tangerine and now it is time to begin it all again. 

However, before we dash headlong into the new year, let’s have a look back at the top of the pops for 2023.

For me, it has been a great year of reading. Whilst I still have some of those series left to read that I wanted to get to (maybe next year, eh Nerd!), I managed to get through a load of books. There have been some highlights, and some low lights, but hey! As that woman says in The Crow, they can’t be good all the time (yes, I know that those aren’t the lyrics, but England can prove that yes! It can rain all the time).

As usual my list has grown quite organically. I originally started with a top ten, then top twelve, and then I needed to add some morw, so it just grew! Anyway, who cares in the end. 

And, I am going to cheat a bit, because one of the books on the list is a trilogy rather than one individual book. But hey! It’s my list and I can do what I want – so there!

As well, these books may not be completely new, and may have been released earlier than this year. 

So, let’s crack on then, shall we?

Downfall by Louise Carey.

The year started off exceptionally well with the final instalment of the Inscape Trilogy.

The Inscape trilogy has been one of my favourite sci fi thriller books that I have read. I initially read the first one when I first started blogging  and have been hooked ever since. The trilogy tells the story of Tanta and Cole from their first introduction as employees of a massive conglomerate to their struggles against the corporations in this gripping dystopian thriller which has had me on the edge of my seat throughout the last three years (Gordon Bennett has it been that long?) and the wait for the final book in the series virtually had me hopping from foot to foot with excitement. 

The Jaguar Path by Anna Stephens

Anna Stephens has become one of my favourite authors. I was initially introduced to her when I read the first book in the Songs of the Drowned, The Stone Knife.

I have had her first trilogy for absolutely ages, and subsequently devoured it straight after finishing this one. 

The Jaguar Path is the second book in the Songs of the Drowned and sees the action move to the Singing City and we get more of an insight into the workings of the Empire of Song. Not only that we get to learn more about the monstrous Emperor and the ever scheming Anet. 

If I had to pick one book as my favourite of the year, this book gets top spot. It’s just amazing!

And with the final book, Thw Dark Feather die out in March 2024. My excitement is through the roof. 

Demon’s Reign by Ben Galley & David Estes.

Ben Galley has become another of my favourite authors. Much like Rob J. Hayes, Ben Galley is a megalith of Indie Publishing and regularly with his books has shown that the quality of authors published outside the traditio sphere. 

Demon’ s Reign sees Ben Galley teaming up with David Estes to write this highly original fantasy adventure.

With some highly original world building, this is a riproaring fantasy adventure.

Crack In The World by James Mordechai

This is another self-published book, but this time we are delving into some weird fiction. 

I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to read an early release of this book after loving James Mordechai’s first book The Gottingen Accident. A wonderfully barking superhero team up of Marie Curie, Charles Darwin and Erwin Schroedinger (and his cat Tabby).

I knew that I was going to love this book and I did. Set in the 1990’s, Mordechai brings the period to life, including references to the pop culture of the time and the rise of black metal. 

Dark Theory by Wick Welker

This is one of those books that I heard about on Booktube. I think it was Petrik Leo’s channel. 

Dark Theory is an interesting mix of science fiction with a fantasy quest based undertone. 

The book tells the story of Beetro, a self-aware robot who wakes in a junkyard with no memory of who he is. He is brought back to life by two scavengers, Lucy and Miree.

The interactions between the characters is what makes this book. Wick Welker writes such wonderful characters that you cannot help be sucked in. 

However Many Must Die by Phil Williams

This is the start of a new series by Phil Williams, best known for his urban fantasy books set in Ordshaw.

However Many Must Die is a military fantasy. The story is set in what seems to be a World War Two type setting (I’m not sure if it is WW2 or WW1 to be honest, but it reminded me of WW2) where there is a World War going on. Imagine Inglorious Basterds meets The Dirty Dozen in a fantasy world war..

This is a gritty story that had me hooked from the start and I loved every minute of it. 

And that cover is to die for. 

The Empire of Dust and Sand Series

This is a series that I have been meaning to read for ages, and this year I finally did. God what a ride. This series is amazing. Described by Peter McLean as a black metal opus of Homerian proportions, and that is the best way to describe it. 

I tell you if you love dark fantasy then I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s lyrical in its prose, epic in its scope and Shakespearian in its tragedy. 

His Ragged Company by Rance D. Denton

I don’t like westerns! I hate Westerns. I will never read a western! I fuckin love Westerns.

Yep, Rance D. Denton opened my eyes to weird western fiction. In fact, I have read a shitload of the stuff.

I love this book. It’s fuckin crackers and goes to a multitude of places that I did not expect. It tells the story of Elias Faust, the Marshall of the town of Blackpeak, Texas. A sinkhole of a townthat has one big secret at the heart the town, it has a mystical well. And this causes a shed load of a commotion. 

Race the Sand by Sarah Beth Durst

Billed as National Velvet with monsters and palace intrigue, Race the Sands was a terrific read. It was like chocolate for the eyes.

Now you will be surprised to know that I have had this for ages (can you see the sarcasm dripping off those words). Ages ago, Eleni (from beforewegoblog and fanfiaddict) recommended this one and it wasn’t until I joined a readalong with a Discord channel called Secret Library that I eventually got around to reading this. 

I have got to say that I enjoyed the heck out of this one. It’s just full of adventure and terrific characters. 

The Reformatory by Tananarive Due

Set in Jim Crow era Florida, The Reformatory tells the story of Robert Stephens, a 12 – year old boy African American boy who gets incarcerated to The Gracetown School for Boys, otherwise known as The Reformatory. The crime? He kicks a white boy who is harassing his sister.

Based on the infamous Dozier School for Boys, where a family member of Tananrive Due was sent, The Reformatory is a horror story that tells how Robert can see ghosts and how this affects his time at The reformatory. 

However, it also tells the story of his sister Gloria and her efforts to get Robert out of the school after his sham trial.

Whilst the ghosts are pretty horrific, this is not where the true horror lies. It is the system throughout Gracetown that systematically abuses the black inhabitants of the town and the whole country. 

The Reformatory was one of those books that I couldn’t put down. It’s definitely one of those books that will stay with me. 

The Ungodly Duology by S. H. Cooper

Collecting The Festering Ones and the Forgotten Ones, and filled with secret cults, otherworldly monsters and Gods that move between dimensions. The Ungodly Ones is a slick, fast paced cosmic horror from the author of Inheriting her Ghosts.

After seeing her father taken away from her by a spider armed woman, Faith tries to find the truth behind her father’s disappearance. 

Got to say that I loved this one. As you can probably guess, I loves me a bit of cosmic horror and this was a standout of the modern cosmic horror for me. 

A Light Most Hateful by Hailey Piper

Is this Hailey Piper’s push through into mainstream horror? A Light Most Hateful is a fantasticly imaginative horror that has all the trademarks of Hailey Piper’s usual weirdness. Billed as a queer Stranger Things, A light Most Hateful is Piper’s most accessible story yet. However, that does not mean that we lose any of the quality of writing that Piper is best known for. 

Hailey Piper has been a bit busy this year, and it was a toss up between this one or Cruel Angels Past Sundown, which is another weird western. In addition to this, she also released the second book in The Worm and his Kings this year.

She is fast becoming one of my favourite horror writers of late, and I will definitely be buying the next book that she releases. 

The Judas Blossom by Stephen Aryan

Stephen Aryan introduces his historical opus The Falcon and The Nightingale with The Judas Blossom. Telling the story of The Mongol Empire, the story mixes historical, political, adventure and magical aspects to tell the story of various characters.

I enjoy Stephen Aryan' s work immensely and with The Judas Blossom, Stephen Aryan successfully mixes the fantastical with the historical.

The End of Magic / The Holly King by Mark Stay.

These are the final two books on the list as I have only just finished them. 

I absolutely adore the Witches of Woodville series, and The Holly King is a fine addition to the series. 

As I said when I reviewed these books, I have been meaning to read other books by Mark Stay outside of The Witches of Woodville, and I am glad I did. I really enjoyed this book where a magical world has it's magic ripped away.

In equal parts funny and dark, The End of Magic deserves a wider readership.

Oh, there are a few honourable mentions:-
(Because otherwise I would be listing far too many books)

Mystic Reborn by Jeff Sleight.
Pawn's Gambit by Rob J. Hayes
Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky 
Queen of Deception by Anna Stephens 
The Shadow Gate by L. L. Macrae 


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