Books & reading

My top 5 favourite reads of 2021: it’s been a year of epic fantasy!10 min read

As a copywriter, I’ve always spent a lot of time reading other people’s texts in order to write my own. Good copywriting is as much research as it is actually writing.

With a job that requires a lot of reading professionally, reading purely for pleasure easily takes a backseat.

But this year, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I’ve managed to read almost 50 books just for fun!

If you’ve been snooping around in my bookshelf, you already know that epic fantasy is my jam.

And I love nothing better than epic sagas that just go on for books upon books – those are my comfort escapes from everyday life.

This year hasn’t been a disappointment in that regard because my stack is pretty exclusively made up of just these kinds of series.

1. Robin Hobb

Her books set in The Realm of the Elderlings are probably my all-time favourite books. There’s just nothing in fantasy that’s beaten her writing.

Sure, LOTR is famous and expansive and well-written. Not to mention that LOTR is the foundational work for modern fantasy.

But here a female writer has managed to bring something to fantasy as a genre – that has admittedly been a bit stale when dominated by men alone – that is just as epic but also incredibly intimate.

And this was the year that I finally read the whole epic saga from start to finish.

I actually started by reading The Soldier Son trilogy, which doesn’t belong to the realm of the elderlings but is just as good. And I ended with The Fitz and The Fool trilogy where their beautiful story finally comes to a close.

The Assassin’s Apprentice* (the first book) came out in 1995 and Assassin’s Fate* (the last book) in 2017, so this has been a long time coming.

I can’t pick a favourite among the books because I just love them all so much. Even when you move between different locations in the same world-at-large, there are eventually some really great gems when the characters cross paths from seemingly different worlds.

2. Raymond E. Feist

This also marks the year when I discovered – and devoured – the works of Raymond E. Feist.

Though I still hate the name Pug for the main character, I can’t help but love the whole series.

I will say though, that both the Empire Trilogy and Serpentwar Saga, especially Rage of a Demon King*, stand out as exceptionally good stories.

Again, the worlds are many and their interplay intricate and enjoyable. And I absolutely love that there’s a whole trilogy devoted to the story of a woman making the most of living in a world dominated by men.

3. Peter V. Brett

On the heels of finishing Feist, I was casting around for anything else to pick up again and was exhilarated when I found Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle.

Not as extensive as either Hobb’s or Feist’s work, it’s still a great read and, like the former, has a permanent home in my bookshelf!

He’s also got three novellas that all expand on the same world in a nice way. Plus I’ve got his latest book, The Desert Prince, which is set 15 years later, on my TBR for next year!

4. Tyler Whitesides

I mean how can you not love Ardor Benn; liar, thief, legend? And trusty Raek.

After tearing through the first book, I immediately picked up the next one. This trilogy, though still very much a fantasy epic, is a lighter read than anything I’ve mentioned so far.

The thing I love best about these books is the relationship between Ard and his best bro Raek, I just love how they are together, and I love how their relationship evolves as the characters grow and change.

If you’re new to fantasy, Ardor Benn is a great guide into the world!

5. How the Pill Changes Everything

Not to be completely lost in escapist fantasy, I also read How the Pill Changes Everything: Your Brain on Birth Control* by Dr Sarah E. Hill and it was a doozy.

From “you are your gametes” to how women can sink into a sexual nuclear winter when on the pill, this is something that should be compulsory reading for anyone with a period. Or anyone living with someone with a period. And anyone who gives medical advice and treatment to those with periods.

Like Dr Hill explains in the book, you either have large, expensive gametes (women) or small, inexpensive gametes (men) and though we aren’t defined solely by our gametes, they do play a large part in shaping human behaviour. Because that’s how we’ve gotten this far.

And using the pill to fix limited and specific issues (like preventing pregnancy or clearing up skin) isn’t a very targeted approach, since the pill fundamentally changes how your brain works.

And sometimes that has irrevocable effects – which are discussed a whole lot less than they should be.

Honourable mentions

A Curious History of Sex* by Kate Lister is a wild ride that’s full of great anecdotes and tidbits from the history of sex – and it really shines a whole new light on the “you are your gametes” concept from How the Pill Changes Everything: Your Brain on Birth Control*.

A history of sex is, sadly, in large part a history of how to control women’s power and reproduction. But totally worth the read if you can stomach all the things humans have done in the name of sex and virility!

Period Power: Harness Your Hormones and Get Your Cycle Working for You* by Maisie Hill is another one of those books I think anyone with a period should read. She’s crammed so much information and so many resources to really make the most of life by going with your cycle (rather than against it) and is absolutely one of the best things I’ve read this year.

Continuing in the liar, thief, legend category, I stumbled upon Among Thieves* by M.J. Kuhn, and it’s a nice, light read with a fun rag-tag crew of misfits who set out on a mission. I especially love the main character Ryia and her all-too-intimate relationship with her throwing axes.

The book loses a bit of steam towards the end (when all you really want is for the stakes to be raised) and the fight scenes are paced too slowly to really be enjoyable (characters have way too much time to think about life while in a fight to the death), but it definitely earned an honourable mention!

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