Hello, hello! I still can’t quite believe we’re almost at the end of the year?!? Where did 2022 go? But what I do know is that I read a whole bunch of amazing books, so of course I couldn’t just have one favourite reads post… that’s what I’m telling myself anyway 😂. First up I’m sharing my top ten debut’s of the year, and 2022 certainly had a few absolute blinders. The majority of these are fantasy… I’m sure surprising absolutely no-one, but there is one contemporary read in there that I adored so much it just had to make the list. I’ve included a snippet of my review, as well as the goodreads synopsis for each book, and each book cover links to my full review in case you want to check it out. Have any of these made your top reads of the year? Where there any debuts that stood out to you in 2022? Let me know in the comments!
“Iron Widow moves at an absolute breakneck pace and, while there are lots and lots of epic and incredibly well described fight scenes (honestly this book needs to get made into a movie/tv show) Zhao never holds back with their character development either, instead letting both the story and characters progress naturally throughout the book. There are a whole bunch of plot twists, some I saw coming and others that really hit, both narratively and emotionally, and one huge one at the end that just makes me want to magic book two into my hands right now.”
The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.
When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.
To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.
The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea
“I’m sure by now you all know how much I love mythology and The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea has it in heaps. Based around Korean mythology and loosely based on the Tale of Shim Ch’ŏng, Oh effortlessly drags us into her spirit world filled with all sorts of mythological beings. I especially loved seeing the politics between all the different Gods and houses that rule in the Spirit Realm.”
Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.
Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.
Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.
But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…
Portrait of a Thief
“You may read this and think you know where the story is going and you would be 100% wrong. By around 50% I thought I had it. I could see where the story was going, even if I didn’t think it would be a happy ending, but Li had something else in store for us. Her plot twists are truly brilliant, and make the ending of the story that much more fulfilling and special. This as well as her writing style ensures you stay completely engrossed in the story, desperate for our characters to succeed and find themselves in the process.”
History is told by the conquerors. Across the Western world, museums display the spoils of war, of conquest, of colonialism: priceless pieces of art looted from other countries, kept even now.
Will Chen plans to steal them back.
A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son who has always been his parents’ American Dream. But when a mysterious Chinese benefactor reaches out with an impossible—and illegal—job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago.
His crew is every heist archetype one can imagine—or at least, the closest he can get. A con artist: Irene Chen, a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lockpicking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering major who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down.
Because if they succeed? They earn fifty million dollars—and a chance to make history. But if they fail, it will mean not just the loss of everything they’ve dreamed for themselves but yet another thwarted attempt to take back what colonialism has stolen.
One Dark Window
“One Dark Window reads like a Gothic, dark fairy tale and it’s incredibly easy to fall into the story thanks to Gillig’s lush writing style. Thanks to multiple plot twists, as well as some top notch foreshadowing it moves at a steady pace and is extremely hard story to put down. It’s equally exciting and steady, there’s plenty of fight scenes to keep the pace up, but some of my favourite scenes were the ones where our characters were planning, interacting, the slower scenes.”
Elspeth Spindle needs more than luck to stay safe in the eerie, mist-locked kingdom of Blunder—she needs a monster. She calls him the Nightmare, an ancient, mercurial spirit trapped in her head. He protects her. He keeps her secrets.
But nothing comes for free, especially magic.
When Elspeth meets a mysterious highwayman on the forest road, her life takes a drastic turn. Thrust into a world of shadow and deception, she joins a dangerous quest to cure Blunder from the dark magic infecting it. And the highwayman? He just so happens to be the King’s nephew, Captain of the most dangerous men in Blunder…and guilty of high treason.
Together they must gather twelve Providence Cards—the keys to the cure. But as the stakes heighten and their undeniable attraction intensifies, Elspeth is forced to face her darkest secret yet: the Nightmare is slowly taking over her mind. And she might not be able to stop him.
Rage of Dragons
“There’s a real old-style epic fantasy feel to this story. Everything from the morally grey hero that, despite not being wholly good, you can’t help but root for, to the Dragons & magic system. But I think what I loved most about this book was seeing Tau develop his relationships both romantic and not.”
The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.
Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance. Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him.
The Blood Trials
“When I say this book is brutal I want you all to realise that I am not over-reacting at all. There are graphically written scenes where people are blown to bits, ripped apart by creatures, eaten, as well as just the regular brutality our characters have to go through in the praetorian trials. The blood and gore may be a little too much for some people, but for me it just made the story that much more realistic as well as making me empathise with Ikenna more.”
It’s all about blood.
The blood spilled between the Republic of Mareen and the armies of the Blood Emperor long ago. The blood gifts of Mareen’s deadliest enemies. The blood that runs through the elite War Houses of Mareen, the rulers of the Tribunal dedicated to keeping the republic alive.
The blood of the former Legatus, Verne Amari, murdered.
For his granddaughter, Ikenna, the only thing steady in her life was the man who had saved Mareen. The man who had trained her in secret, not just in martial skills, but in harnessing the blood gift that coursed through her.
Who trained her to keep that a secret.
But now there are too many secrets, and with her grandfather assassinated, Ikenna knows two things: that only someone on the Tribunal could have ordered his death, and that only a Praetorian Guard could have carried out that order.
Bent on revenge as much as discovering the truth, Ikenna pledges herself to the Praetorian Trials–a brutal initiation that only a quarter of the aspirants survive. She subjects herself to the racism directed against her half-Khanaian heritage and the misogyny of a society that cherishes progeny over prodigy, all while hiding a power that–if found out–would subject her to execution…or worse. Ikenna is willing to risk it all because she needs to find out who murdered her grandfather…and then she needs to kill them.
Mareen has been at peace for a long time…
Ikenna joining the Praetorians is about to change all that.
The Stardust Thief
“I Initially picked this up when I realised it was going to be based on tales from 1001 nights and it was easy to see where our story overlaps with the original tales. Abdullah uses the tales, not only to give us insight into the world and it’s history, but also as plot points, and some that make for the most impressive of plot twists. I thoroughly enjoyed the deep dive into Arab mythology, and the multiple ways in which the author weaves them into her own unique story.”
Neither here nor there, but long ago…
Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land.
With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems.
A Magic Steeped in Poison
“Now for the magic, which was by far my favourite part of the book. Shennong-Shi are masters of magical tea making, able to brew teas that can heal, recover memories, discern truth from lies… basically anything you can imagine, and while this does sound rather simple, it was Lin’s luscious writing style that brought it to life. Her descriptions of the magic had me glued to the pages, she talks about the intricacies of it, how each individual component of the tea has it’s own importance, how brewing time can effect the potency.”
For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.
When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favour from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.
But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.
“Ibrahim certainly isn’t afraid of a little action and I did find myself loving these scenes, especially when we got to see the different kinds of magic being used. She keeps us on our toes, throwing in plenty of plot twists to keep us guessing, and ensuring the story flows. Her writing brings her worlds, both Qalia and Alqibah to life and I loved seeing them through the lens of Imani, Someone who is a little privileged and extremely sheltered. “
In the hidden desert city of Qalia, secret spice magic awakens affinities in those who drink the misra tea. With an affinity for iron, seventeen-year-old Imani wields a dagger like no other warrior, garnering her the reputation as the next greatest Shield for battling the dangerous djinn, ghouls, and other monsters that lurk in the sands beyond city limits.
Her reputation has been overshadowed, however, by her brother who tarnished the family name after he was discovered stealing their nation’s coveted spice – a tell-tale sign of magical obsession. He disappeared soon after, believed to have died beyond the Forbidden Wastes, and leaving Imani reeling with both betrayal and grief.
But when Imani uncovers evidence her brother may be alive and spreading their nation’s magic beyond the desert, she strikes a deal with the Council to find him and bring him back to Qalia before he can reveal the city’s location. Accompanied by Qayn, a roguish but handsome djinni, and Taha, a powerful beastseer whose magical talents are matched only by his arrogance, they set out on their mission.
Imani will soon discover there are many secrets that lie beyond the Forbidden Wastes – and in her own heart – but will she find her brother before his betrayals endanger the fate of all of Qalia?
Violet Made of Thorns
” The magic system and world in this book gave me full on old fairy tale vibes, but with a dark twist. Evil witches, fairies, Dragons, magic forests… basically everything to make the perfect fairy tale come to life but Chen puts a dark and modern twist on the story, thanks in large to her sardonic and witty writing style.”
Violet is a prophet and a liar, influencing the royal court with her cleverly phrased—and not always true—divinations. Honesty is for suckers, like the oh-so-not charming Prince Cyrus, who plans to strip Violet of her official role once he’s crowned at the end of the summer—unless Violet does something about it.
But when the king asks her to falsely prophesy Cyrus’s love story for an upcoming ball, Violet awakens a dreaded curse, one that will end in either damnation or salvation for the kingdom—all depending on the prince’s choice of future bride. Violet faces her own choice: Seize an opportunity to gain control of her own destiny, no matter the cost, or give in to the ill-fated attraction that’s growing between her and Cyrus.
Violet’s wits may protect her in the cutthroat court, but they can’t change her fate. And as the boundary between hatred and love grows ever thinner with the prince, Violet must untangle a wicked web of deceit in order to save herself and the kingdom—or doom them all.