Its funny, we always seem to get lists throughout the year of the big new releases, the must reads. How many times did you check them out, and find yourself disappointed, thinking, I'd rather have read that book from a couple of years ago from so and so that looked interesting? I get that a lot and suspect a lot of you do too. While there are some big traditionally published new releases like Nicholas Eames' Kings of the Wyld and Ed McDonald's Blackwing that are justifiably held in high regard and are big hits, they really don't need my recommendation, being known by fandom at large. I decided to make my own list of must reads, series that you may have overlooked, first books in series that you will hopefully enjoy and consider picking up the rest of. I have to thank Charles Phipps, who writes a variety of series under the name CT Phipps, for encouraging me to do so, since we spend so much time recommending various series to each other. I have discovered so many good series thanks to him and met some fantastic people along the way.
The vast majority of the books on this list will be by independent authors or small press, although there will be some traditionally published authors as well, especially the older series. I have just really enjoyed the variety and creativity of a lot of the indy market recently and I hope you will agree. On that note, lets get started.
The Rules of Supervillainy by C. T. Phipps
Imagine if you received the magic cloak of the greatest hero (The Nightwalker) of your city (Falconcrest City) in the mail. Imagine the cloak gave you fire and ice projection powers, levitation, intangibility and limited invulnerability, as well as the ability to see spirits. Would you be inspired to take up the Nightwalkers mantle and go fight the forces of evil?
Well, then you would be the exact opposite of Gary Karkofsky, the man who actually received the cloak. Heroism is for chumps, especially when crime pays so well! It is on this hilarious premise that Gary's story proceeds, as he becomes Merciless, the Villain Without Mercy!™️ and now five books later is still going strong, with all the pop culture reference the author has become justifiably known for. It will keep you turning the pages and wanting to get the next book in the series.
The Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes
This is literally my favorite fantasy trilogy of all time. It is epic in scope, with 10,000 plus years of history as backstory. There is an incredible group of characters which will resonate with the reader, even the villains, of which there are a few. There is magic, called disentropy, on a grand scale, and even a nod to gunpowder fantasy and steampunk! There is something for everyone in this deep, richly written darker fantasy epic.
Grudgebearer by J. F. Lewis
Imagine an immortal race of elflike beings creating an immortal race of warriors called the Aern, basically magic proof, steel boned, intelligent killing machines, to do their fighting for them. Now imagine the warriors were compelled under a geas to honor all oaths made by and to them, and to violently deal with people breaking oaths with them. Now, imagine if you will, what would happen if the king of those elflike beings casually broke an oath made to the Aern, forcing their retaliation under their geas.
If your imagination said fire, destruction and death for oathbreakers, as they came to be known by the Aern, then you guessed correctly. The story starts centuries after a peace has finally been made between the two sides, as old menaces start rearing their head, and a headstrong prince breaks the truce by his hubris. The story skyrockets from that point as The Aern must decide if they must finish what they started all those centuries ago, and what that will leave of the word if they have to bathe it in flame and destruction once again.
Darkstorm by M. L. Spencer
A series that makes no apologies for being grimdark, this formidable entry into the genre is a shot across the bow, take no prisoners tale of epic destruction, deception, betrayal, heroism and swerves that would make a grand prix driver dizzy. When an apprentice mage discovers her guild master is in a cabal determined to bring about the rise of dark magic, she and her mentor, as well as several others, are thrust into a race against a conspiracy that has world shaking, and possibly destroying, consequences. Along the way there are betrayals and revelations you literally will not see coming, even with this warning! Fantastic characters and plotting will keep you turning the pages.
The Eighth God by Paul S. Lavender
Another Grimdark entry to the list, this particular debut takes a different tack. Taking standard fantasy tropes like Elves, Orcs and wizards, he amps them up and makes them his own. These elves and orcs are as far from the fairly sterile versions in Lord of the Rings as you can get. The elves are arrogant, bigoted snobs to the extreme, while the Orcs make Ghengis Khan's hordes look like little old ladies on their way to church. They are feral intelligent monsters, with no conscience at all. They are just villains you can hate. The wizards are powerful and use the flashy magic so many books downplay now. Also, there are some funny moments sprinkled throughout, lightening up the tone a bit to keep it from becoming a depressing dirge. Definitely a series you should consider checking out.
God Touched by John Conroe
This is one of my favorite urban fantasy series. Chris Gordon is a rookie NYPD cop. He also happens to be able to exorcise demons, who possess bodies and haunt dwellings. When he and his buddies go to a club one night, Chris's life is changed forever when he stops a demon from killing a woman in the club. Turns out the woman, Tatiana Demidova, is a vampire, the most important one in the world, being the only born vampire ever. After biting Chris in a reflex to being hurt, she an Chris find they are bound together by a power far greater than themselves, and Chris goes through a lot of changes as he bonds the vampire virus without becoming a vampire. The series continues on as they fight a variety of demons, vampire politics, other occult menaces and corrupt elements of the US government. Definitely a fun read and you really get invested in the wide cast of characters.
The Secret King: Lethao by Dawn Chapman
I discovered this series from a promo copy of a prequel novella in the series. This is the first full length novel in the series, dealing with the remnants of a human like alien race, the Aonise, on the run from the enemy that is bent on their destruction. While traveling in their four Arks towards their last refuge, their king, Kendro, has to face challenges to his right to rule and deal with threats to their very existence.
Their chosen refuge, Earth, presents its own challenges as the vastly more powerful and advanced Aonise must deal with a vastly inferior but numerically superior human race. I keep comparing this series to a combination of Game of Thrones mixed with 70's Era Battlestar Galactica, with just a dash of Kevin J. Anderson's Seven Suns Saga. Great plotting and characters will keep you turning pages and wanting more.
Broken Blade by Kelly McCullough
Aral Kinglsayer is a broken man. Once a priest of Namara, the Goddess of Justice, he was an assassin, bonded to a shadowy wraith, Triss, as all her priests were, smiting the mighty when they became unjust. Namara was cast down by the other gods and their proxy priesthoods, and most of her priesthood were hunted down and killed. Now living in hiding, he is a drunk and works as a kind of fixer, working as a courier and petty criminal, doing collections. When a noble lady approaches him about a job, he is swept up into a conspiracy that will bring him face to face with his past life and force him to make hard choices. Can their be justice when the very embodiment of justice has been murdered? If Aral and Triss have their way, there will be justice again. With a great cast of characters, especially Aral and Triss, as well as fantastic plotting and setting that are original in a sea of Tolkien knockoffs, this series should appeal to a wide range of fantasy fans looking for something a little different.
The Ivanhoe Gambit by Simon Hawke
First in a 12 book series, The Ivanhoe gambit deals with one of my favorite sci-fi topics, time travel, in a creative way. After the discovery of time travel, world governments decided to do away with war in the present, instead sending soldiers into the past and inserting them into armies of the past as foot soldiers, then having arbitrators decide the outcome of the soldiers work. It's this scenario this book starts in, as Sgt. Lucas Priest of the US Temporal Corp is tasked with an unusual task, assisting in a timeline adjustment, as something has gone on in a previous time that has altered the course of history.
That something occurred during the time of King Richard I of England, and through cosmetic surgery, Lucas, Private Finn Delaney and others are inserted in to replace certain historical figures, Including Lucas taking Ivanhoe's place and Finn replacing Robin Hood. They discover there is a rogue Temporal Referee tinkering with time and it is up to them to stop him before his plans come to fruition. Excellently plotted, it has non stop action and deals with time travel in a very analytical way, trying to maintain consistency with its own rules at all times. The characters are excellent, and some later additions in the series, including a recurring villain, really add some spice and keep you wanting more.
You know the old Western movie trope of the man with no name riding into a border town with two gangs feuding over control of the city, and going out and cleaning house? Well, James Alderdice takes that old trope of many a Clint Eastwood movie, places it in a medieval type setting, then proceeds to turn the whole thing on it's head and make it his own! This leads to the creation of a unique, brutal, dark and at times humorous story with an interesting collection of characters.
This book has everything I look for in a fantasy book. Its dark tonally, with just enough humor to keep it from becoming brooding. The setting is well drawn out, reminding me of classic hives of villainy and scum like Lankhmar and Sanctuary without being a knockoff of them. You really get a feel for the city, feeling as though you are right there on the streets. The characters are all very well written, from the mysterious Sellsword to the Duchess through all the other supporting characters. The villains, of which there are several, are some of the best I can remember in recent memory for a small scale story that isn't world shaking. The reasons behind their actions are reasonable in their own minds, and actually make some of them even a bit sympathetic. Sellsword, though, is the star of the show. He is a mystery, but you can piece together the mystery of his identity with the clues you're left. He is definitely
I would rank it up with Nicholas Eames's Kings of the Wyld, Ed. McDonald's Blackwing and CT Phipps Wraith Knight as my favorite reads of the last year. Definitely a recommended read!
It's A Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World by Curtis M. Lawson
This wild, funhouse ride of insanity has everything you could look for in an action/mild horror hybrid. A Rhodesian Mercenary with ethics, a militant Catholic nun assassin, a terminally ill pair of serial killers, a guy who destroys peoples lives for cash, as well as dirty cops, junkies, pervs, and a pair of daggers that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler and Jack the Ripper, known as the Fangs of Wallachia. As you can imagine, everybody want to get a hold of those and the power they hold. With an interesting cast of characters, excellent dialogue, some quirky plot twists, and crazy action and horror touches, this book will appeal to a wide range of readers, from urban fantasy, horror and thriller fans.
I am considering doing a part 2 of this list, depending on feedback, so please feel free to leave comments about what you think of the list.