In recent years, I haven’t been reading as much as I’d love. There are several reasons. First and the most important is that I consider myself addicted to reading, so if I find an enjoyable book, I’m likely to ignore sleep, food, and yes, work too. It’s not optimal to having a productive life, so I avoid reading when I know I will have other things to do. I’m getting better at managing to “tear away” from a book, so I hope soon it’s not going to be a factor anymore. My second reason is that I’m a picky reader. In my youth, I consumed a lot of books, and over the years I refined my tastes in books. It means that it’s harder for me to find books I truly enjoy, and I end up DNF-ing quite a few.
As every year, in 2021 I took part in the Goodreads challenge, and as usual, I haven’t won it. I’m not concerned, since I treat it more as a way of tracking my reads and having an overview, so that I could try to balance fiction and non-fiction. I also don’t log most of those books I didn’t finish, unless I got far enough into it. On the brighter side, I was happy that I’ve read more books last year than the previous year, and I’m hoping this trend will continue.
So what were my favorite reads of 2021? In order of reading, here they are.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
I’ve been planning to read this one for a while now, and I finally got around to it. From the first pages Trail of Lightning won me over with appealing prose and interesting setting, but I had some concerns that the female protagonist might be the slightly annoying “I do things alone, and I don’t need anyone type”. Yet, it quickly turned out that Maggie Hoskie isn’t a loner, because she wants to be. Her past and profession alienate her from others, but she still values the few friends and allies she has, and she doesn’t shy away from asking for help, which made her appealing to me.
The story itself, stepped in the Native American lore, is interesting and though it progressed slowly, I liked the way how it unfolded. I’m a sucker for a gradual uncovering secrets and shedding light on the past events, leading to a satisfying ending that puts everything together. At one point, I got a bit frustrated when the main character didn’t put the obvious clues together, but since it was a one-off situation, it didn’t mire my reading pleasure.
What I also appreciated was that the book balanced the dark and gritty part with some hope. Gruesome scenes don’t bother me, but I’m not a target for grimdark, and I need some kind of hope in the stories I read.
All in all, I enjoyed the book’s the interesting cast of characters, and its unique setting and engaging story.
Star Nomad by Lindsay Buroker
I have a confession to make: I’m one of those people who are still sad that Firefly got canceled. Yet, I gave up on finding something with a similar feeling, especially after I came across a book that felt like a cheap knock off that went only as far as changing names of the characters.
Star Nomad has the distinct Firefly flavor of a rag-tag space crew down on their luck, but it doesn’t feel like a copy. Quite to the contrary, it is its own story with a unique crew of appealing characters who have distinct personalities and adventures that befit their goals and the setting.
Star Nomad was one of those books I’ve read in one sitting, turning pages and being unable to stop, and it delivered exactly what I hoped for: a fun adventure in space with smart characters who don’t do stupid things for the sake of the plot. And the Firefly feel, so persistent throughout the book, was like a cherry on top.
Deal with the Devil by Kit Rocha
If I was to sum up this book with one sentence, it would be: a perfect blend of near future science fiction and romance with mercenary librarians as the main characters. If I was to sum up Deal with the Devil with one word, it would be: fun. It was one of those dangerous books that I couldn’t easily put down, so dinner, chores, and other things had to wait while I was going through the “just one more chapter” approach.
I loved the dynamic within the two teams—the all-female librarians and the all-male super-soldiers—and the way they interacted when forced to work together toward the common goal. The mix of growing familiarity and lingering distrust, marred by secrets past and present, kept the dynamics interesting without the need to use cheap drama to rake up the stakes.
The story itself was also highly enjoyable. Even though the romance plot is present throughout the book, not only in the chemistry between the two main characters but also within hinted future relationship among their teammates, the book still reads as primarily science fiction. The plot is solid and takes as much of the on-page time as the romance does, and the characters have more important problems than falling in love, so the romance aspect doesn’t overshadow the rest of the book.
If what you need is a fun ride with a strong romantic vibes, this book might just be for you.
These are my three favorite science fiction and fantasy reads of 2021. How about you? Do you have firm favorites? Or maybe you’ve read so much it would be hard to decide?
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.