Books of 2021 – sci-fi & fantasy

As 2021 starts to roll to a close, it’s time to pull together the list of books I’ve loved over the year.

We’ve already seen my 2021 picks of crime & thrillers, but if science fiction and/or fantasy is more your beverage of choice, this is the list for you. It’s a bit shorter than the crime list, I seem to have read fewer of these books this year!

As before, in no particular order, I hereby present my favourite sci-fi and fantasy books of 2021:

The Fall of Koli – MR Carey

Book 3 in M.R. Carey’s superb Ramparts trilogy. We followed Koli on his adventures from The Book of Koli back in April 2020, through The Trials of Koli late in September, and now to this final book, nigh on a year since we started. And what an adventure it is. Gorgeous writing, superb characters and a properly good finale. Hugely recommended.

These Lifeless Things – Premee Mohamed

A novella that’s just packed to the rafters with sublime writing. Told from two viewpoints – the invasion, where humanity was attacked by the ‘things’ and pretty much wiped out, and from fifty years later where an anthropologist delves into what happened. Superb.

Eye of the Sh*t Storm – Jackson Ford

Teagan Frost is back. Following on from The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind (hi, Teagan) and Random Sh*t Flying Through The Air (err, hi again Teagan), we find our psychokinetic heroine up to yet more and even bigger shenanigans. But our pesky Jackson Ford has cranked the dial all that way up to eleven on the action, peril and snarky internal monologue scales, probably cackling to himself at the same time. Oh, wait. He did that with book 2. Somehow he found the boss-mode setting on those dials. Strap yourselves in folks, it’s a wild ride.

A Deadly Education – Naomi Novik

Book 1 of Naomi Novik’s Scholomance, we have here a story about a school of magic. But we’re a world away from wands and wizards and pumpkin juice. Here there are no teachers, no rules, and the school is actively out to kill the students. Survival here is key, and the only way to leave is to graduate.

Glorious worldbuilding, monsters and magic and shenanigans aplenty. Adored this, and raced through it. Book 2 is out now, and I’m going in…

Call of the Bone Ships/The Bone Ship’s Wake – RJ Barker

Kind of a two-for-one deal here. You’re going to want to jump straight into Wake immediately after finishing Call. Barker takes us on a journey through turbulent waters, giant sea monsters, the incredible Gullaime and the adventures of our hero, Joron Twiner. I was assured that book 3 ended with kittens and balloons and a ‘they all lived happily ever after’, but seriously, where would the fun in that be?

It’s an incredible trilogy, and one which I highly recommend.

A Master of Djinn – P. Djèlí Clark

Cairo, 1912. Just not our Cairo. The Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities is on the case of the murder of a secret brotherhood. Agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi, fresh from saving the universe on a previous job, is sent to investigate. There’s magic and monsters and some very sharp suits. Glorious fun from the first page to the last. Highly recommended.

Trail of the Cursed Cobras – Barry Nugent

This is an absolute blast, and one of the most fun, enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time. Aimed at middle-grade readers (typically between 8 – 12 years old, and something I am very much not), it’s a cracking tale of adventure set in a North London comprehensive school the early 80s. Echoes of Grange Hill, mixed with a bit of the X-Files and maybe a dash of Scooby-Doo make this a properly fun read. One of my favourite books of the year.


So those were my sci-fi and fantasy books of the year. Have you read any of them? Agree, disagree? Got any that I should have on my list for 2022?

As ever, I’d love to hear what you think. Thanks to all the fabulous authors, publishers and publicists for sharing their books with me this year.

Stay tuned for the list of my favourite non-fiction and others!

The Christmas Murder Game – Alexandra Benedict

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Christmas Murder Game by Alexandra Benedict. It’s a little different from your regular tours as all the posts will have a clue, and you can win a prize!

If you’ve been following along with the tour, you should have ten clues already. The first letter of each word over the days will spell out a 12 letter phrase. What could it be?

Here’s clue #11

Book wrapped in brown paper, with a festive red ribbon. The tag attached reads "This fruit will get a festive refresh with a candle and sweets piercing its flesh..."
“This fruit will get a festive refresh with a candle and sweets piercing its flesh…”

Tricky? Or not? Don’t forget to check out tomorrow’s post on the blog tour to get your final clue!

And now to the book itself!

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Follow the clues. Find the fortune. Solve the Mystery. This Christmas is to die for. Let the game begin…

‘Endgame has kept our secrets for half a century, now it’s time for it, and its secrets, to have a new owner.’

When Lily returns home to her aunt’s manor house, she discovers that in order to inherit, she and her estranged cousins must stay together over the Christmas week and take part in a family tradition: the annual treasure hunt.

But as they are drawn deeper into the game, the clues seem to point not to the deeds to the manor house, but to the key to a twenty-year-old mystery: what really happened to Lily’s mother?

As a snowstorm cuts them off from the village, it becomes apparent that the game has turned deadly and that Lily is fighting for more than just an inheritance: she is now fighting for her life. Does she have what it takes to survive?

12 clues, 12 keys and 12 days of Christmas for the heirs of Endgame House to find their inheritance, but how many will die before Twelfth Night?

Oh, this book is a huge amount of fun. A locked room (well, house) mystery where a bunch of people are stuck in an isolated manor house in Yorkshire in a snowstorm. Their aunt has left them a series of clues, one for each of the twelve days of Christmas. Each clue will reveal the location of a key, and at the end of the game, one of the family will inherit the house itself.

But Lily is there for more than just the game. Her aunt has suggested that the game will also reveal what happened to Lily’s mother all those years ago.

Glorious fun. I loved everything about it. Endgame House, the wonderful cast of characters with their own secrets and reasons for being there, the enigmatic Mrs Castle, the housekeeper and only person in the house not playing the game.

It reminded me of the movie Clue (and of course the game Cluedo) in that there was a lot of people who are suspects in one way or another, moving about the house trying to figure out answers. Huge fun trying to figure out the twelve clues as they’re presented to the players, though I’d have been rubbish at it as I didn’t get any of them!

If you like your locked room mysteries with a side order of tinsel, then this book is perfect. Pop a copy under the tree for your favourite booklover, or maybe for yourself.

Highly recommended.

The Christmas Murder Game by Alexandra Benedict is published by Zaffre and is out now. Many thanks to Eleanor Stammeijer for the finished hardback copy to review.

Trail of the Cursed Cobras – Barry Nugent

DODGING FACELESS DEMONS, TRYING TO SAVE THE WORLD, AND BEING HASSLED BY YOUR DEAD MUM – IT’S JUST ANOTHER SCHOOL DAY FOR BOBBY GIBSON AND ADA AMAYA.

An ill-advised short cut pulls the twelve-year-olds into a deadly plot involving secret agents, an ageless sorcerer, and an artefact of devastating power.

As the children race against time to solve the mystery, they must face their fears, outwit their foes, battle monsters born of shadow and nightmare, and make their way through traps to the heart of it all: the Apocalypse Chamber.

It’s 1982 and five kids from a North London comprehensive school are fighting the End of the World.

I’d say the odds are about even… 

Well, that was an absolute blast, and one of the most fun, enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time.

I’d spotted Trail of the Cursed Cobras via @runalongwomble’s excellent review, and the author very kindly offered to send me an ebook copy. I dove straight in, and raced through the book in a couple of hours, enjoying every minute.

Aimed at middle-grade readers (typically between 8 – 12 years old), it’s a cracking tale of adventure set in a North London comprehensive school the early 80s. Echoes of Grange Hill, mixed with a bit of the X-Files and maybe a dash of Scooby-Doo make this a properly fun read.

Regular readers may have spotted that I am not a twelve year old (though do have the sense of humour of one, apparently). However, Trail of the Cursed Cobras can be (and indeed should be) enjoyed by anyone. It’s got everything – a brilliant cast of well-formed characters (better than some ‘grown-up’ fiction, for sure), an exciting, well-plotted story with some tense action and it’s just a joy to read.

I loved the gang of kids. Ada, the super smart detective. Bobby, who still talks to his dead mum. DJ, who can get into anthing. Nikki, who loves nothing more than causing trouble and pinching lollipops from anyone. And our way into this gang, Tony, the new boy. He’s not sure he wants to be part of it, but gets drawn along with the adventure against some sorcery, mysterious government types, school bullies and more.

One of my favourite books of the year, I can highly recommend picking up a copy. And I can’t wait to find out what happened to the kids in Norfolk…

Trail of the Cursed Cobras by Barry Nugent is out now from Batten Press. You can find Barry on twitter @unseen_shadows. Huge thanks for a copy of the book to review.

Runalongwomble also has a great interview with Barry Nugent

The Dark Hours – Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly - The Dark Hours book cover

There’s chaos in Hollywood on New Year’s Eve. Working her graveyard shift, LAPD Detective Renée Ballard seeks shelter at the end of the countdown to wait out the traditional rain of lead as hundreds of revelers shoot their guns into the air. As reports start to roll in of shattered windshields and other damage, Ballard is called to a scene where a hardworking auto shop owner has been fatally hit by a bullet in the middle of a crowded street party.

It doesn’t take long for Ballard to determine that the deadly bullet could not have fallen from the sky. Ballard’s investigation leads her to look into another unsolved murder—a case at one time worked by Detective Harry Bosch.

Ballard and Bosch team up once again to find out where the old and new cases intersect. All the while they must look over their shoulders. The killer who has stayed undetected for so long knows they are coming after him.

The Dark Hours is Michael Connelly’s fourth book in his Renée Ballard series and the 23rd in his Harry Bosch books. I’m a big fan of Connelly’s writing and especially of the Bosch TV show, so I was very excited to get the chance to read this.

Connelly takes us back to the late shift with Detective Renée Ballard. It’s New Year’s Eve in LA, and Ballard is called to a fatal shooting. But is it due to the guns fired into the sky at midnight, or something more sinister? I’m sure it’s no spoiler to say that of course it’s a murder, and Ballard is on the case. Sadly her partner isn’t quite as dedicated, so it’s up to Ballard to work the case alone.

That is until she stumbles across a link to one of Harry Bosch’s old unsolved cases, and the two end up working together. Connelly really is a master of the police procedural, and there’s something comforting in curling up with a Ballard and Bosch book, knowing that you’re in for a great read. Solid plot, plenty of action, great pacing and plenty of excitement, what more could you want from a book?

Ballard isn’t just investigating the shooting though. There’s a group called The Midnight Men who are assaulting women in their homes in the middle of the night. Ballard has to juggle the cases against the background of the pandemic and the calls to defund the police, leaving the department short staffed, stressed and demoralised.

The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly is published by Orion and is out now in hardback. Many thanks to the publisher for the advance copy for review, and Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

#blogtour #review On The Edge – Jane Jesmond

Jen Shaw has climbed all her life: daring ascents of sheer rock faces, crumbling buildings, cranes – the riskier the better. Both her work and personal life revolved around it. Until she went too far and hurt the people she cares about. So she’s given it all up now. Honestly, she has. And she’s checked herself into a rehab centre to prove it.

Yet, when Jen awakens to find herself drugged and dangling off the local lighthouse during a wild storm less than twenty-four hours after a ‘family emergency’ takes her home to Cornwall, she needs all her skill to battle her way to safety.

Once safe, the real challenge begins. Jen must face her troubled past in order to figure out whether something triggered a relapse to this risky behaviour, or if there is a more sinister explanation hidden in her hometown. Only when she has navigated her fragmented memories and fraught relationships will she be able to piece together what happened – and trust herself to fix it. 

On The Edge is a cracking atmospheric thriller which kicks off with a bang and doesn’t really let up. Set in Cornwall, the story features Jenifry Shaw, ace climber and risk-taker, fresh out of rehab following an accident involving her friends which she blames herself for.

She’s summoned back to the family home and reluctantly returns, only to find herself drugged and dangling from the edge of a lighthouse in a storm. Who put her there? Did she relapse and take things too far?

Before too long she finds herself digging into the mysteries surrounding her family and her supposed abduction. Who is the mysterious stranger who rescued her on the road from the lighthouse? What’s going on with her brother and his wife?

I’ll leave that for you to find out, dear reader. Suffice it to say that On The Edge is an impressive thriller by a debut author, with a taut plot, brilliant location (I love Cornwall) and a cast of characters that you’ll end up suspecting and forgiving and suspecting again. It’s a tribute to Jesmond’s plotting that it kept me guessing most of the way through the book.

Deliciously twisty, full of suspense and action. Strap yourself in!

On the Edge by Jane Jesmond is published by Verve Books and is out now. Many thanks to the publisher and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

Cold as Hell – Lilja Sigurðardóttir

Icelandic sisters Áróra and Ísafold live in different countries and aren’t on speaking terms, but when their mother loses contact with Ísafold, Áróra reluctantly returns to Iceland to find her sister. But she soon realizes that her sister isn’t avoiding her … she has disappeared, without trace.

As she confronts Ísafold’s abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend Björn, and begins to probe her sister’s reclusive neighbours – who have their own reasons for staying out of sight – Áróra is led into an ever-darker web of intrigue and manipulation.

Baffled by the conflicting details of her sister’s life, and blinded by the shiveringly bright midnight sun of the Icelandic summer, Áróra enlists the help of police officer Daníel, as she tries to track her sister’s movements, and begins to tail Björn – but she isn’t the only one watching… 

I had Cold as Hell in my little stash of books with me on a holiday earlier this year and it kept me company on the beach one long hot day.

Reading about the Icelandic summer and the mysterious goings on between Áróra and Ísafold kept me entranced throughout the day, pausing only to top up on ice-cream and sun cream. That day seems so very long ago now, but the book has stayed with me to these dark winter days.

Áróra is summoned back to Iceland to look for her sister, Ísafold. Their mother has lost contact and is worried. Áróra reluctantly agrees and soon discovers that her sister is missing, and starts to worry that something more sinister is afoot.

I’m a big fan of Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s work, having been introduced to it in the excellent Snare. She has a great knack for character and a lovely way with a twisty plot. The characters in Cold As Hell are fascinating, from the estranged sisters to the slightly odd neighbours, they’ll keep you guessing. And you know that I just love a book with a sense of place, and Cold As Hell’s Iceland jumps off the page and is much a character as any other.

The writing is brisk and pacy, and I whipped through this book, desparate to find out what had happened to Ísafold. It’s beautifully pitched, riveting and superbly atmospheric. Iceland in summer can be a dangerous place.

Highly recommended.

Cold as Hell by Lilja Sigurðardóttir is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Superbly translated by Quentin Bates.

Huge thanks as ever to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for providing an advance copy for me to read on the beach. Apologies that it’s taken me so long to review!

The Beresford – Will Carver

The Beresford by Will Carver - book cover

Just outside the city – any city, every city – is a grand, spacious but affordable apartment building called The Beresford.

There’s a routine at The Beresford.

For Mrs May, every day’s the same: a cup of cold, black coffee in the morning, pruning roses, checking on her tenants, wine, prayer and an afternoon nap. She never leaves the building.

Abe Schwartz also lives at The Beresford. His housemate, Sythe, no longer does. Because Abe just killed him. 

In exactly sixty seconds, Blair Conroy will ring the doorbell to her new home and Abe will answer the door. They will become friends. Perhaps lovers. 

And, when the time comes for one of them to die, as is always the case at The Beresford, there will be sixty seconds to move the body before the next unknowing soul arrives at the door.

Because nothing changes at The Beresford, until the doorbell rings…

Regular readers of this little blog will know that I’m a huge fan of Will Carver’s books, dark though they may be. We had the devilishly clever Good Samaritans with some very unsavoury people (don’t mention the bleach), the extraordinary Nothing Important Happened Today, followed by Hinton Hollow Death Trip in which Carver clearly looked at the dials marked ‘Dark’, ‘Disturbing’ and ‘Weird’, laughed, and promptly whacked them all up to 11. Or possibly beyond.

And now we have The Beresford. What, dear reader, can we say about this book?

You see, the Beresford is a very… odd place, filled with very odd people. And people tend to die a lot in The Beresford, a seemingly harmless old building just , on the edge of town. Well they die once, I suppose, but there are a lot of them…

They don’t all die at the same time, of course. But when one does, and one inevitably does, just wait a minute (literally), and listen for the doorbell to ring.

Carver has an unnerving knack of being able to draw you into his stories, then whacking you over the head with a ‘what just happened?’ moment. And while you’re reeling from that, he’s darted back in and slapped you with a ‘wait, no what??‘, constantly keeping you on your toes.

I read this book, as I have with all of Carver’s books, in a day, soaking up the atmosphere of The Beresford, watching through my fingers as a lot of very unpleasant things happen to the residents of The Beresford, and waiting for the doorbell to ring, wondering who’ll step through the doors next.

And the doorbell always rings.

Superb, as usual. Not for the faint-hearted, as always. Mr Carver, you have a devious mind, and a way with words that keep me coming back.

Hugely recommended.

The Beresford by Will Carver is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Many thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the review copy.

My Heart is a Chainsaw – Stephen Graham Jones

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In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

Jade feels like she’s trapped in a slasher film as tourists go missing and the tension between her community and the celebrity newcomers to the Indian Lake shore heads towards a tipping point, when she feels the killer will rise. Jade watches as the small town she knows and loves begins to head towards catastrophe as yachts compete with canoes and the celebrity rich change the landscape of what was designated park lands to develop what they call Terra Nova.

Staggeringly good.

More? Ok, fine.

My Heart is a Chainsaw is a love letter to classic slasher movies, with a main character who lives and breathes the genre, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the movies, and who can spot the clues starting to add up. Then the Final Girl arrives, and Jade must do whatever she can to help save the day.

It’s dark. It’s gory. It’s beautifully written, and uncomfortable to read in places. It’s a story about a small midwest town called Proofrock which faces an invasion of sorts by a bunch of super wealthy families across the lake which will change the dynamic of the town forever.

Jade, the half-Indian goth geek daughter of the town’s drunk, who escapes into the world of the slasher movie. Who writes essays to her English teacher about those movies and how they’re constructed and how they work. Those essays form interludes between chapters of the book, and add so much to the background of the story.

The book starts with a bang (or rather a scream) as a young holidaying couple arrive in Proofrock one night, never to be seen again. Events start to echo the slashers that Jade loves so much, and when the Final Girl, the daughter of one of the wealthy families from over the lake, turns up Jade knows that bad things are about to happen.

Stephen Graham Jones takes us on a journey in this book through Jade’s eyes, and it’s both fascinating and utterly heartbreaking. You’ll find yourself rooting for Jade all the way, but knowing how these movies turn out, your heart is in your mouth as we edge ever closer to the final showdown.

It’s a testament to Jones’ writing that I enjoyed this book so much, despite having limited exposure to the movies that he clearly loves so. I know the names, and the stories, but I’m a little too squeamish to enjoyed the shock-horror of the films. Though maybe after this I’ll give some of them another go, to see if I can see the as Jade does throughout this book.

Hugely recommended, though it’s not for the faint-hearted!

My Heart Is A Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones is published by Titan Books in the UK and is out now in paperback. I bought my copy after hearing great things about the book from @bluebookballon and @runalongwomble on twitter. Shameless booktempters both.

Far From The Light of Heaven – Tade Thompson

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The colony ship Ragtime docks in the Lagos system, having traveled light-years to bring one thousand sleeping souls to a new home among the stars. But when first mate Michelle Campion rouses, she discovers some of the sleepers will never wake.

Answering Campion’s distress call, investigator Rasheed Fin is tasked with finding out who is responsible for these deaths. Soon a sinister mystery unfolds aboard the gigantic vessel, one that will have repercussions for the entire system—from the scheming politicians of Lagos station, to the colony planet Bloodroot, to other far-flung systems, and indeed to Earth itself.

It’s been a little while since I delved into a really good science fiction tale, and I really enjoyed Far From The Light of Heaven. In fact I enjoyed it so much I polished it off in a couple of sittings. It’s got everything I love in a story – great characters, interesting setting and a really intriguing story.

Far From The Light of Heaven revolves around a locked-room mystery (and who doesn’t love one of those?). The colony ship Ragtime has set off from Earth with a thousand passengers en route to the planet Bloodroot, in the Lagos system. It jumped through several interstellar gates to get there, and the ship is fully automated, with a sole human crewmember on board, just in case anything goes wrong.

Nothing ever goes wrong. Ever.

Until now.

The Ragtime arrives at its destination and wakes Shell up from her ten year dreamstate sleep. The ship AI isn’t responding as it should, and before long Shell realises that there is something very very wrong. There are some passengers missing, and a wolf roaming the corridors of the ship…

I loved this book. There’s a real sense of claustrophobia and danger aboard the Ragtime. The AI is unpredictable, the ship’s bots are even more so, and only Shell has any sort of control. Then the arrival of Fin to investigate what’s going on throws another spanner into the mix. Who killed the missing passengers? Why is there a wolf on board?

The tension ratchets up nicely, with both Shell and Fin trying to figure out what’s going on against the backdrop of a rogue ship AI trying it’s darndest to stop them. Throw in some interesting aliens and some political shenanigans and you’ve got a splendid scifi mystery.

Highly recommended.

Far From The Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Huge thanks to Nazia Khatun and Orbit Books for sending me an advance copy to review. Opinions are, as ever, my own.

Bad Apples – Will Dean #blogtour #review

A murder

A resident of small-town Visberg is found decapitated in the forest

A festival

An isolated hilltop community celebrates ’Pan Night’ after the apple harvest

A race against time

As Visberg closes ranks, there could not be a worse time for Tuva Moodyson to arrive as deputy editor of the local newspaper. Tuva senses the scoop of her career, unaware perhaps that she is the story…

It’s Halloween season in Sweden and Tuva Moodyson is back in Bad Apples, the fourth in Will Dean’s superb series of books featuring everyone’s favourite journalist.

Regular readers of this little blog will be well aware of my love of this series. I’ve followed the adventures and misadventures of Tuva from the creepy forest of Utgard in Dark Pines, to the nefarious goings on at the Grimberg liquorice factory of Red Snow and then to Midsommar in Gavrik and her missing friend in Black River.

I’d been eagerly looking forward to Tuva’s latest adventure and promptly tucked into the Bad Apples as soon as it arrived in the summer. Then had to sit on my review for ages waiting for the blog tour to tell you just how good it is.

And hoo boy is it good. I loved the first three books, so the bar was set pretty high. Bad Apples is the pick of the already very very good bunch*.

*[Sorry, enough of the fruity puns]

Will Dean takes us to Visberg this time, an isolated little hilltop community, with plenty of weird happenings, odd characters and, of course, a crime for Tuva to investigate.

I love how Dean manages to create a sense of place in these books, and Visberg is a very odd place. He also puts our Tuva through the wringer again, and be warned, there are some scenes which are very much not for the squeamish. I’ve read a fair amount of crime fiction where unpleasant things happen, and even I winced a little at times!

Bad Apples may well be the fourth in the Tuva Moodyson series, but I think it would work as a jumping-in point for new readers. Though of course I highly recommend reading them all, on the offchance that you’ve somehow ignored me rabbiting on about these books for the past years.

Which of course you haven’t. So as a seasoned member of #TeamTuva, you’ll need no enticement from me to pick up this instalment.

Highly recommended doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Bad Apples by Will Dean is published by Point Blank and is out now. Many thanks to Margot Weale and Point Blank for the copy of the book to review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. Opinions are, of course, my own.

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