My 8 five-star reads of 2021 so far

5-star reads

For the most part 2021 has been filled with some pretty awesome books. So far I’ve finished 21 books, and didn’t finish 10 books. Of those 21 finished books, 8 of them were five star reads.

I have a lot of books to cover, so here’s a list in case you want to jump around:

  1. Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson
  2. The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French
  3. Cast in Firelight by Dana Swift
  4. The Throne of the Five Winds by S. C. Emmett
  5. Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
  6. Priest of Lies by Peter McLean
  7. The Unbroken by C. L. Clark
  8. A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of WarRhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson
Series: The Stormlight Archive #4
Published by: Gollancz on November 17, 0202
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 1008
Source: Purchased
Book Details
Rating: ★★★★★

The eagerly awaited sequel to the #1 New York Times bestselling Oathbringer, from an epic fantasy writer at the top of his game.

After forming a coalition of human resistance against the enemy invasion, Dalinar Kholin and his Knights Radiant have spent a year fighting a protracted, brutal war. Neither side has gained an advantage.

Now, as new technological discoveries begin to change the face of the war, the enemy prepares a bold and dangerous operation. The arms race that follows will challenge the very core of the Radiant ideals, and potentially reveal the secrets of the ancient tower that was once the heart of their strength.

Rhythm of War was my first book of the year. I’d heard some mixed things about it; some people adored it while others thought it was the weakest book in the series. I ended up being in the former category. There’s an interesting mental health aspect that I really appreciated and resonated with.

I started Rhythm of War immediately after Oathbringer, but it had been a few years in between that and the first two books (The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance). But reading these two really reminded me how much I adore the Stormlight Archive series. I proceeded to buy official Michael Whelan prints (he’s the US cover artist) and they’re now featured throughout my house!

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

The Grey BastardsThe Grey Bastards by Jonathan French
Series: Lot Lands #1
Published by: Orbit on June 21, 2018
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 464
Source: Purchased
Book Details
Rating: ★★★★★


Jackal is proud to be a Grey Bastard, member of a sworn brotherhood of half-orcs. Unloved and unwanted in civilized society, the Bastards eke out a hard life in the desolate no-man's-land called the Lots, protecting frail and noble human civilization from invading bands of vicious full-blooded orcs.

But as Jackal is soon to learn, his pride may be misplaced. Because a dark secret lies at the heart of the Bastards' existence - one that reveals a horrifying truth behind humanity's tenuous peace with the orcs, and exposes a grave danger on the horizon.

On the heels of the ultimate betrayal, Jackal must scramble to stop a devastating invasion - even as he wonders where his true loyalties lie.

This book was absolutely brilliant!

It’s vulgar and crass.. but damn it’s great. Imagine like a motorcycle gang, but full of half-orcs who ride battle hogs (and it’s called a “hoof” – not a gang). The author really brings you into that world and makes you care about the characters. There’s so much culture, from their vulgar jokes to their awesome hoof slogan: “Live in the saddle. Die on the hog!” It’s about unflinching loyalty to the cause and to the hoof.

The final book in the series, The Free Bastards, comes out in September and I can’t wait!

Cast in Firelight by Dana Swift

Cast in FirelightCast in Firelight by Dana Swift
Series: Wickery #1
Published by: Delacorte Books for Young Readers on November 17, 2020
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 448
Book Details
Rating: ★★★★★

The first book in an epic, heart-pounding fantasy duology about two royal heirs betrothed to be married, but whose loyalties are torn, and a ruthless enemy who threatens their world, perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir, Hafsah Faizal, and Renée Ahdieh.

Adraa is the royal heir of Belwar, a talented witch on the cusp of taking her royal ceremony test, and a girl who just wants to prove her worth to her people.

Jatin is the royal heir to Naupure, a competitive wizard who's mastered all nine colors of magic, and a boy anxious to return home for the first time since he was a child.

Together, their arranged marriage will unite two of Wickery's most powerful kingdoms. But after years of rivalry from afar, Adraa and Jatin only agree on one thing: their reunion will be anything but sweet.

Only, destiny has other plans and with the criminal underbelly of Belwar suddenly making a move for control, their paths cross...and neither realizes who the other is, adopting separate secret identities instead.

Between dodging deathly spells and keeping their true selves hidden, the pair must learn to put their trust in the other if either is to uncover the real threat. Now Wickery's fate is in the hands of rivals..? Fiancées..? Partners..? Whatever they are, it's complicated and bound for greatness or destruction.

Cast in Firelight was the first young adult book I’d read in a while. I’d been on an adult fantasy streak and frankly I was afraid I wasn’t going to like going back to YA (weird, right?). But Cast in Firelight absolutely lived up to what I first hoped it would be back when I preordered it. It has a mistaken identity trope that was tons of fun! I’ll definitely be preordering book two as soon as I can.

The Throne of the Five Winds by S. C. Emmett

The Throne of the Five WindsThe Throne of the Five Winds by S. C. Emmett
Series: Hostage of Empire #1
Published by: Orbit on November 14, 2019
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 704
Source: Purchased
Book Details
Rating: ★★★★★

Two queens, two concubines, six princes.
Innumerable secret agendas.
A single hidden blade.

The imperial palace -- full of ambitious royals, sly gossip and unforeseen perils -- is perhaps the most dangerous place in the Empire of Zhaon. Komor Yala, lady-in-waiting to the princess of the vanquished kingdom of Khir, has only her wits and her hidden blade to protect herself and her charge, who was sacrificed in marriage to the enemy as a hostage for her conquered people's good behaviour, to secure a tenuous peace.

But the Emperor is ageing and the Khir princess and her lady-in-waiting soon find themselves pawns in the six princes' deadly schemes for the throne -- and a single spark could ignite fresh rebellion in Khir.

Then, the Emperor falls ill -- and a far bloodier game begins...

The Throne of the Five Winds is the first instalment of the Hostage of Empire series, an intricate and ruthless East Asia-inspired epic fantasy trilogy perfect for fans of George R. R. Martin, Ken Liu, Kate Elliott, and K. Arsenault Rivera.

Throne of the Five Winds was super surprising for me. The synopsis was exactly what I was looking for, but the first few pages concerned me. The writing is really detailed and intricate, which is usually not for me. There are a lot more subtleties in this book than I originally expected. There’s a huge focus on mannerisms, such as the correct way to bow to certain ranks and the correct wrist angle for pouring tea. Normally that kind of detail would turn me off, but something about this book just completely worked for me. I ADORED it.

Objectively I suppose not a lot actually happens, but I devoured the journey and characters anyway.

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

Kings of the WyldKings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
Series: The Band #1
Published by: Orbit on February 15, 2017
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 492
Source: Purchased
Book Details
Rating: ★★★★★

A retired group of legendary mercenaries get the band back together for one last impossible mission in this award-winning debut epic fantasy.

Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld.

Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk, or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay's door with a plea for help -- the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.

It's time to get the band back together.

I put off reading Kings of the Wyld for way too long. I’d seen it all over /r/Fantasy and heard nothing but amazing things about it. But I think I just decided I didn’t want to read a funny book. I’d been reading a lot of “serious” fantasy books with big issues, and I didn’t want a fun, lighthearted read. I was wrong! I totally do!

This book was everything it promised to be: fun, a good laugh, lighthearted, doesn’t take itself too seriously. And although I thought I didn’t want those things, it turns out I did. This book was a ton of fun and I’ll absolutely be reading the rest of the series.

Priest of Lies by Peter McLean

Priest of LiesPriest of Lies by Peter McLean
Series: War for the Rose Throne #2
Published by: Jo Fletcher Books on July 2, 2019
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 381
Source: Purchased
Book Details
Rating: ★★★★★

'The poorer and more oppressed people are, the weaker they become - until they just refuse to take it any more. Then they will rise up, and the gods help their oppressors.'

When Tomas Piety and his Pious Men returned from the war, he just wanted to rebuild his crime empire and look after his people. But the sinister Queen's Men had different ideas and whether he likes it or not, he's now a spy as well.

Now, half the city of Ellinburg lies in ashes and the webs of political intrigue are stretching out from the Queen's capital to pull Tomas in. Dannsburg is calling.

In Dannsburg the nobility fight with words, not blades, but the results are every bit as bloody. In this pit of beasts, Tomas must decide once and for all whether he is truly the people's champion . . . or just a priest of lies.

And as Tomas' power grows, the nobility had better watch their backs . . .

Priest of Lies is actually the second book in the series. I also read the first book, Priest of Bones, in 2021, but I only gave it 4 stars. I mean, 4 stars is still great, but this second book was even better!

I won’t do a full review because I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say this series is going places! It’s a fantasy book about crime bosses/empires, and a bit about becoming the very thing you hate. It’s brilliant!

The Unbroken by C. L. Clark

The UnbrokenThe Unbroken by C.L. Clark
Series: Magic of the Lost #1
Published by: Orbit on March 23, 2021
Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Military, Politics
Pages: 464
Book Details
Rating: ★★★★★

In a political fantasy unlike any other, debut author C. L. Clark spins an epic tale of rebellion, espionage, and military might on the far outreaches of a crumbling desert empire.

Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.

Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet's edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.

Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren't for sale.

The Unbroken was EVERYTHING I hoped it would be! Rebellion, colonization, internal conflict, great characters, romance.. It was brilliant! Both Touraine and Luca were in pretty tough positions and it was interesting to watch them handle it. Touraine, for example, was stolen from her home by the empire and raised by the empire. Therefore, she can’t help but have ties to the empire, loyalty to her general, and aspires to move up the ranks. But she’s also from a conquered land, and coming back there has her struggling between her empire loyalties and her birthplace. She doesn’t really feel like she solidly fits with either one; she’s awkwardly in between.

I had pretty high hopes going into this book and I’m so glad they I wasn’t disappointed. Plus, that cover really is an accurate representation of Touraine. Those arms are goals!

A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie

A Little HatredA Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie
Series: The Age of Madness #1
Published by: Gollancz on September 17, 2019
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 480
Source: Purchased
Book Details
Rating: ★★★★★

War. Politics. Revolution.
The Age of Madness has arrived . . .

The chimneys of industry rise over Adua and the world seethes with new opportunities. But old scores run deep as ever.

On the blood-soaked borders of Angland, Leo dan Brock struggles to win fame on the battlefield, and defeat the marauding armies of Stour Nightfall. He hopes for help from the crown. But King Jezal's son, the feckless Prince Orso, is a man who specialises in disappointments.

Savine dan Glokta—socialite, investor, and daughter of the most feared man in the Union—plans to claw her way to the top of the slag-heap of society by any means necessary. But the slums boil over with a rage that all the money in the world cannot control.

The age of the machine dawns, but the age of magic refuses to die. With the help of the mad hillwoman Isern-i-Phail, Rikke struggles to control the blessing, or the curse, of the Long Eye. Glimpsing the future is one thing, but with the guiding hand of the First of the Magi still pulling the strings, changing it will be quite another . . .

A Little Hatred is in the World of the First Law, but can be read separately. Originally I did want to read The Blade Itself first, which takes place about 30 years prior to this book, but I had a hard time getting into it. That was Abercrombie’s debut novel and one criticism is that it reads like a long prologue. So I thought I’d try my luck with his later work. And it didn’t disappoint!

A Little Hatred hooked me right away. It’s dark, gritty, and has an intriguing story. There definitely were references to the original First Law Trilogy in there, but nothing that made it impossible to read or understand.

I’ll be continuing with this series for sure.

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I'm a 30-something California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). My three great passions are: books, coding, and fitness. more »

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