With 2020 on the horizon, everybody seems to be doing their own ‘Best of the Decade’ lists, and I thought it sounded like a great idea. Until, that is, I started the Herculean task of sorting through 10 years of reads, which works out to almost 800 books. Yikes!
I started by trying to compile my perfect 5-star reads, but that’s still a towering pile of books – albeit a satisfyingly towering pile. How do you even begin to whittle that pile down to a Top 5, or even a Top 10? The more I thought about it, the more I decided to go with first impressions, to look back at my Year in Review posts and see what books weren’t just perfect, but which were truly memorable . . . and then set myself the task of considering which of those I would happily reread.
So, in chronological order of when they were read (or first read, in a few cases), I present to you my Top 10 Books of the Decade.
- River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay: This is a book I was actually reluctant to read, afraid that it could never measure up to the lyrical magic of Under Heaven, but not only was it a better paced read, it was driven by a stronger protagonist. Kay wrote a lot of fantastic books this decade, so many that I had to consciously limit him to just one when he could have dominated this list with multiple reads.
- The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley: Really, all three books in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne were 5-star reads, but this middle volume takes top spot for me, a stunning follow-up that built upon the character-driven adventure of the first book while expanding the history, mythology, and world-building to suitably epic proportions. It was complex and complicated, precisely the kind of depth I was looking for.
- Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson: Upon turning the final page, I was left stunned and in awe by what Sanderson accomplished in this second volume, taking the story to the next level, offering satisfying resolutions to several story threads, while spawning (and twisting) new ones beyond its pages. Considering it was coming on the heels of what I felt was a bloated, unsatisfying conclusion to The Wheel of Time, this was an even more impressive read at the time.
- The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley: This was a book that made me say “Wow,” an epic fantasy in the truest sense of the term, ambitious, awesome, imaginative, and exhausting in equal measure. It’s also one of the few books I did reread along the way, along with th sequel, Empire Ascendant, which would have been on this list as well, had there been room.
- A Play of Shadow by Julie E. Czerneda: Though this second volume lacked the rustic novelty and surprise wonder of the first, I enjoyed it more, finding it broader in scope, more magical in every way, and benefiting from what I felt was a more even, more exciting pace. I knew Czerneda could write, with some exemplary science fiction, but it almost seems unfair that the so effortlessly dominates two genres.
- The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu: This was stunning, a huge, sprawling epic with a cast of characters that were challenging, but so well-rounded and distinct as to be immediately memorable. It had all the epic grandeur, intelligence, and dignity of a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, accented by the complexities, intricacies, and smirking humor of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen.
- The Core by Peter V. Brett: This was not just a fitting conclusion to The Demon Cycle, it was (by far) the greatest book of an already impressive saga, with Brett saving the best for last in a story that was big, bold, and brilliant. Climaxes are always tough in epic fantasy, but this had a final journey worth of the saga itself and an ending so perfect, I honestly cannot find a single flaw in how it all played out.
- Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames: This was one of my most pleasant surprises of the decade, a book that arrived in my mailbox without fanfare, branded with a Canadian flag and a cover blurb from Sebastien de Castell, and which proved to be a fantastically fun read, from beginning to end. It just did everything right, rocking a solid story, fantastic characters, real imagination, and a killer sense of humor.
- Tyrant’s Throne by Sebastien de Castell: This is about as close as epic fantasy gets to the legendary plateau of a truly perfect read, with the character arcs, storytelling, world building, mythology, conflicts, and relationships all coming together in a brilliantly satisfying finale. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that I was on the fence about the first book, but the second blew me away and the series somehow kept getting better with each book.
- Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb: This was everything I could have asked of Robin Hobb, an entirely satisfying conclusion to not just the story of FitzChivalry Farseer, but that of the entire Realms of the Elderlings and all its interconnected works. In hindsight, I feel a little guilty for not appreciating Fool’s Assassin more, but that stumbling beginning made this finale all the more satisfying.
- The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon: This was a book I loved it while reading, one I didn’t want it to end, and one I felt sad for leaving the behind – and my appreciation for it has only grown over time. It had more than enough magic, monsters, and dragons to satisfy any fan of epic fantasy, and a deep and complex mythology built around its dragons.
So, yeah, I cheated a bit. It’s not that I can’t count to 10, I just couldn’t justify dropping any of these from the final list. Seriously, I tried, but this was as far as I could go in paring things down. With 2017 absolutely dominating the list, I tried to cut 1 of those 4 books – Brett, Eames, de Castell, and Hobb – but it was an impossible choice . . . so I decided not to choose.
With 4 sequels, 3 series debuts, 3 series finales, and 1 standalone read, there’s not a book on this list I wouldn’t recommend, without reservation, and which I don’t see myself rereading over the coming years. And, if that Top 10 includes a Bonus . . . well, that’s just 1 more book for you to enjoy discovering.