The Best of 2021 in Books and Comics

Oh, 2021… it was, in many ways, quite similar to 2020, actually. We did a general summary of the year here, and now the time comes to sum up our reading/watching experiences. This year, we decided to combine our best and worst title is one place, one reason being it’s already mid-January…

Piotrek: and another, at least in my case, that I mostly made really good choices and there’s really not that much bad stuff to write about.

Ola: Oh, for me this reading year was more of a mixed bag, with some truly flabbergasting titles from NetGalley – and some truly amazing, too. It was generally a pretty good year, reading-wise. Lots of solid titles, not too many re-reads… I will also remember this year as my introduction to the marvellous metaverse of manga – and that journey will continue!

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Re-Enchanted 2021

Last year around this time we’ve been hoping for a better next year – well, with this crazy year almost at its end it’s kind of nice that at least this one thing hasn’t changed, and once again we are hopeful that 2022 will be better than 2021… ๐Ÿ˜‰ With pandemic getting its second, third and fourth breath, four-month-long lockdown in Auckland and various restrictions in different places around the world, and large swathes of live inevitably altered, 2021 had certainly been an interesting year.

But at least in terms of blogging and reading, 2021 had turned out to be quite all right. While we haven’t experienced another huge jump in terms of visits, we also haven’t experienced a slump – in short, 2021 was more or less equal to 2021 in the number of views (roughly 15k) and surpassed last year in the number of visits (nearly 8k vs 7k last year). We’ve had similar number of comments, 2,5k, while the number of likes grew to over 3k – yay! There was a noticeable downward trend for things other than reviews on the blog, alas, as with Piotrek making some momentous life decisions and Ola branching out to painting and Youtube, tags and some such became a luxury ;). And yet, we still managed to churn out a few more posts than last year – we are very proud of ourselves ๐Ÿ™‚

We are incredibly grateful for our lasting blogging friendships around the world and for finding new friends in all the corners of Earth. In those times of growing divisions, anxiety and anger it’s wonderful to find like-minded people. So big thank you to all of you!!!

Our most popular post in terms of views was Olaโ€™s review of Mexican Gothic (on the podium for the second year in a row, with over 270 views), followed closely by a very civil yet still rather scathing review of E.J. Beaton’s The Councillor, and glowing reviews of two Neal Asher’s books: The Technician, with over 215 views, and The Line of Polity (knocked down from the first place to the fourth) with nearly 200 views. Piotrek’s love letter to Honor Harrington is still going strong, fifth this year, and a surprising sixth place with 175 views went to our The Worst of 2020 ๐Ÿ˜‰

Our most liked post this year was Ola’s post about her Etsy shop, nearing 70 likes, and two reviews with 60 likes each: a critical take on Alix E. Harrow’s popular The Ten Thousand Doors of January and, again, E.J. Beaton’s The Councillor. Among the most popular posts was also, unsurprisingly this year, a review of Dune. The most commented post, which broke the 100 comments barrier, was our birthday reveal: Birthdays, spicy reveals and even a tag, oh my! – again, thanks to all of you who visited and commented!

While we abstained from the majority of the big bloggish events this year, we did take part in Witch Week organized by Chris and Lizzie. This year’s theme was Treason and Plot, and we were very happy to be able to contribute with a post about one of our favourite authors, Roger Zelazny.

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Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber: Subtle Architecture of Treason

This is our post for Witch Week 2021: Treason and Plot, organized by the inestimable Chris of Calmgrove and Lizzie of Lizzie Ross. Witch Week is a yearly event happening in the last week of October, in tribute to Diana Wynne Jones’s third Chrestomanci book focusing on all things fantastical. This year, however, instead of concentrating on Halloween and thereabouts, we’re taking a closer look at the history of the Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder plot, the British tradition of Bonfire Night, and various treasonous activities causing rot in states, real and imagined.

We chose Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber as our topic for this year’s Witch Week for two reasons: first, Zelazny’s untimely death in 1996 caused a curious silence around his works, so that he’s no longer a well-known author and his novels have been slowly sliding into oblivion in recent years. He remains an author’s author, mentioned here and there by the new generations as a source of inspiration, but in our opinion he deserves wider recognition. Secondly, The Chronicles of Amber, a series of ten books that can safely be classified as fantasy, though discussions can be had whether it’s epic or urban, or something else altogether, is a wondrously complex latticework of betrayal, double dealing, plots within plots, lethal mysteries and hard-bitten protagonists somewhere between noir detectives and medieval knights.

Ola: Well, there’s a third reason. Both Piotrek and I love Amber, and needed little excuse to return to this fantastic world ;). Zelazny’s a great author in general, though uneven at times. But his best works are among the best the genre has to offer, and even his mediocre ones boast of unique imagination, propensity for audacious literary experimentation, and sensitivity to language that’s at once precious and highly uncommon. Incidentally, a novel perfect for a Halloween reading, and also containing a lot of treason, backstabbing, and plots to conquer the world, is his A Night in the Lonesome October.

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The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf (2021)

Escaping from poverty to become a witcher, Vesemir slays monsters for coin and glory, but when a new menace rises, he must face the demons of his past.

Piotrek: Ladies and gentlemen, I present you a perfectly serviceable action anime, a nicely animated tale with a solid, if predictable plot. Childhood friends lost and found, poor kids training to become powerful warriors, valour, prejudice, betrayal and evil conspiracies. Not sure I’d watch a whole season of that, but a movie was enjoyable.

What? You say it’s a Witcher story? No, that simply cannot be, a funny claim…

Ola: Funny, you say? I’d call it preposterous. Nightmare of the Wolf has nothing in common with The Witcher’s lore or worldview; indeed, it is a direct contradiction of both. And I can’t decide if the nifty tag line, Face your demons, is ironic or outright cynical.

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Get to Know the Fantasy Reader Tag

It’s been some time since we did a TAG! And there is one that caught our attention earlier this month, when it appeared on Bookforager. Get to know the Fantasy Reader – sounds like a great post to finish the Wyrd & Wonder month with. So, here it is!

What is the first fantasy novel you read?

Ola: The Lord of the Rings. I was seven when I read the whole trilogy – it was a copy borrowed from my older brother’s friend. Right after I finished it I went to the bookstore and with my saved pocket money bought my own copy, which then I instantly proceeded to reread. And here we are! ๐Ÿ˜€

That’s how my first copy looked ๐Ÿ™‚

Piotrek: I want to say Hobbit, and it’s likely the truth. My first & favourite short story collection is Joan Aiken’s Room Full of Leaves and Other Stories, but Hobbit is the novel I received as a gift from a cousin some time early during my primary school years and it was my gateway into fantasy. What can I say? This is a wonderful book, accessible to the youngest readers, sucking them into the wonderful world of wyrd & wonder! It enchanted me and I never looked back ๐Ÿ™‚

If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and whatโ€™s one trope youโ€™d insist be in the story?

Piotrek: It’s not an easy question. Some of my favourite authors write stories where horrible, horrible things happen to the protagonists. Maybe Guy Gavriel Kay? He creates wonderful worlds and usually delivers a happy ending without too many casualties…

Ola: Hmmm. Pratchett, I think. Discworld is a fabulous place, and I’m sure I’d fit right in ;). As much as I love dark stories, I would not want to become a part of them, be it a hero or an onlooker or the hapless victim of friendly fire ;). Happily ever after trope is the one I insist on when my personal life is at stake ๐Ÿ˜€

Discworld as imagined by Paul Kidby

What is a fantasy youโ€™ve read this year, that turned into a huge revelation?

Ola: Revelations, huh? I’d say I’m too old to get revelations from fantasy books ๐Ÿ˜‰ but it wouldn’t be entirely true. My revelation, and one that will last much longer than just this year, is the discovery of Dragon Ball manga (I know, I’m stretching the definition a bit, but that’s my answer :P). Seriously, I never expected to love it at all, let alone as much as I do. Some of original DB volumes are among the best books I’ve read this year, and the whole series (well, maybe except the Cell arc) is an instant pick-me-up for me! ๐Ÿ˜€

Piotrek: I haven’t read that much fantasy this year, yet. But Gardens of the Moon, finally fully read, turned out to be better than I remembered from my first failed attempts. I’m a bit late to this party, but yay to Malazan Book of the Fallen!

What is your favourite fantasy subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?

Piotrek: Favourite? That must be either High Fantasy, or Military Fantasy, judging by what occupies all my all time favourite lists. If I had to choose one, it would be high fantasy, the source of it all.

But what subgenre is the most neglected by me as a reader? Romantic Fantasy, most likely…

Ola: Genres and subgenres… Not a fan :P. If I had to choose, I’d opt for military fantasy (Cook, Tchaikovsky) or science fantasy a la Zelazny, with lots of mythology thrown in the mix. Romance in any form gets an instant NO from me, so if there’s something like Paranormal Romance/Romance Fantasy that would be the ultimate no-read subgenre for me. Also, YA. Please, no YA, fantasy or other…

WWII with magic and insects… What’s not to love? ๐Ÿ˜€

Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?

Ola: I don’t have any auto-buy authors. I rarely buy books at all – only those I really really love and I’m certain I’m going to reread one day. I don’t think I have complete works of any one author, to be honest. I prefer to borrow books – then, if the book is less than stellar, I don’t have a problem of it taking shelf space. And if it’s good enough for me to want to have it – well, welcome aboard, there’s still space on the shelves! ๐Ÿ˜€ Besides, everyone writes a weaker book from time to time, even the best of the authors, and I wouldn’t want to own these anyway. But I do buy whole series that I love (especially when I know they’re finished) – Discworld, Shadows of the Apt, Black Company, Malazan Book of the Fallen, Fitz and Fool… ๐Ÿ˜€

Ahh those pretty covers! ๐Ÿ˜€

Piotrek: Not really, no. Used to be Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he writes new stuff faster than I’m able to read it. He’s still one of my favourite contemporary writers though!

How do you typically find fantasy recommendations?

Piotrek: In my seventh year of blogging it really is mostly fellow bloggers, definitely. Thank you, guys!!

Ola: I second Piotrek’s answer! Thanks, all!!!

What is an upcoming fantasy release youโ€™re excited for?

Ola: Well, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Abercrombie’s The Wisdom of Crowds (out in September) and Barker’s The Bone Ship’s Wake (September, too) – both the final installments in what’s shaping up to be very good trilogies. The review for Abercrombie’s The Trouble with Peace is here, and the reviews for the Barker’s earlier books are here, if you’re interested: The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships.

Piotrek: Hard to say. With my TBR as long as it is, I mostly read series already finished, and books published years ago. I don’t want to insert a GRRM joke here, as these stopped being funny years ago ๐Ÿ˜‰

What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?

Piotrek: The one that fantasy is somehow not proper literature, that including fantastical elements somehow makes it less serious. This silly superstition still lingers among some close minded people, and I would like to see it vanished forever ๐Ÿ™‚ There was a short post about it early in blog’s history…

Ola: Again, I second that. How come Shakespeare can be rightly considered a titan of world literature, but modern authors implementing the same fantastical elements can only be “fantasy authors”?

H.C. Selous’s illustration to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

Piotrek: I’d ask some questions first. My answer would depend on person’s age, interests, favourite non-fantasy books… it might be Hobbit, Harry Potter or one of the Discworld books, or something dark and bloody, like the Black Company series.

Ola: Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea for all! Well, mostly maybe for mythology/anthropology lovers ;). Tolkien’s Hobbit for those adventurous at heart. And for those young and delighting in creepy, maybe Meggitt-Phillips’s The Beast and the Bethany would be a good place to start, or Roald Dahl’s books, even before Harry Potter.

The version illustrated by Charles Vess is on my wish list! ๐Ÿ˜€

Whatโ€™s the site that you like to visit for reviews, author interviews and all things fantasy?

Piotrek: Apart from blogs? Tor is the last one I regularly visit…

Ola: Blogs, and sometimes Tor. I do visit magazines websites, but I mostly read SF short stories, rarely fantasy.

Well, this was fun! We’re not tagging anyone but if you’d like to give it a go, be our guest! ๐Ÿ˜‰