Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Top Five List for 2020

I really, honestly read very few new-to-me books in 2020. I’m not sure exactly how few, because I didn’t keep track. If I were guessing, I would say I might have read as few as fifty books last year. That may be overstating how few, but way, way down from an ordinary year, no question about that. Since I read fewer than half as many books as I ordinarily would, I’m doing half of a Top Ten List for 2020; thus, a Top Five List.

As you know, when I did read new-to-me books, I was largely interested in stories where nothing terrible happened. That may bias the following list to some degree, but honestly, not too much. These are stories I would have loved in any year. I’m listing them in chronological order by when I read them.

1) One Night in Boukos.

The riotous Psobion festival is about to begin in the city of Boukos, and the ambassador from the straightlaced kingdom of Zash has gone missing. Ex-soldier Marzana, captain of the embassy guard, and the ambassador’s secretary, the shrewd and urbane eunuch Bedar, are the only two who know.

Here’s my review of this lighthearted story with a serious undertone. As an added note, nothing terrible happens in this story.

2) Pyramids of London.

In a world where lightning sustained the Roman Empire, and Egypt’s vampiric god-kings spread their influence through medicine and good weather, tiny Prytennia’s fortunes are rising with the ships that have made her undisputed ruler of the air.

Here’s my review of this complicated murder mystery with the most incredibly baroque setting imaginable.

3. Network Effect.

When Murderbot’s human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.

Drastic action it is, then.

Here’s my very, very short review of this wonderful Murderbot novel.

4. From All False Doctrine.

Toronto, 1925: An ancient manuscript and a modern cult promise the secret to personal metamorphosis. An atheist graduate student falls in love with a priest. A shiftless musician jilts his fiancée and disappears. From All False Doctrine is a metaphysical mystery wrapped in a 1920s comedy of manners.

Here’s my review of this wonderful novel in which, by the way, nothing really terrible happens (at least not permanently). This is, as you may know, by the same author as the #1 entry above, though under a different name. I absolutely loved this book and read it straight through twice in quick succession. I didn’t care for the sequel as much, but I did enjoy that as well.

5. The Hands of the Emperor.

One day Cliopher invites the Sun-on-Earth home to the proverbially remote Vangavaye-ve for a holiday.

The mere invitation could have seen Cliopher executed for blasphemy.
The acceptance upends the world.

Here’s my short review of this novel, which was equally as wonderful as #4 (though very different) and which I also read straight through twice in succession. I know a lot of you have read this one recently and also loved it, and I hear the author is writing a direct sequel right now, so we’ll all want to keep an eye out for that!

So this Top Five list includes two long-time favorite authors — Andrea K Host and Martha Wells — but also two new-to-me authors. That’s fantastic. Nothing I love more than adding another name to my list of favorite authors! I discovered both Alice Degan and Victoria Goddard through commenters on this blog. Thank you so much for recommending them to me, and if any of you reads a book this year and thinks, “You know, this is just the kind of thing I bet Rachel would love,” by all means drop me a line about it! You all have the BEST taste in books!

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6 Comments Top Five List for 2020

  1. Mary Beth

    I’m so glad you like Alice Degan/AJ Demas — she’s got another book in the Sword Dance sequence coming out next month, SAFFRON ALLEY, which I enjoyed tremendously. Also another book where nothing truly terrible happens. :)

    Adding Goddard to my list!

  2. Kim Aippersbach

    I’m reading Hands of the Emperor right now and thoroughly enjoying it. I keep looking up from the book and asking myself why it’s forcing me to keep turning the pages when nothing much of anything is happening. A bunch of nice people who like each other are on vacation in a really beautiful place! (maybe that’s why it’s so compelling: definitely lots of wish fulfillment going on!) (But also a master class in character development.)

  3. Laurel B.

    The sequel to “Hands of the Emperor” is out now! It’s called “The Return of Fitzroy Angursell.” :) I must say that Hands was one of the best books I read in 2020, and I read a ton, lol.

  4. Hanneke

    I think she’s working on a sequel about Kip, too. The return of Fitzroy Angursell is much shorter, and just about the start of the Emperor’s quest.
    More of a picaresque adventure novella than a full sequel :)

  5. Hanneke

    I just bought From All False Doctrine. I enjoyed the other books on this list a lot but this one is new to me – I didn’t know they were the same author either.

    I recently read the trilogy of Tanyth Fairport adventures by Nathan Lowell; the first one is called Ravenwood. They’re not available on Kobo, only on Kindle.
    A bit more bad stuff happens than in the Solar Clipper series, but it ends well. The protagonist is a grumpy, hard-headed and practical menopausal woman, who is going through some changes in her life – a refreshing change from all the young heroes and heroines, coming of age and romantic drama, I found.
    Not as lighthearted/funny as The Wizard’s butler, more reminiscent of the Shaman’s tales than of the Solar Clipper series.

  6. Rachel

    Yes, I heard that there’s a direct sequel with Cliopher as the main character, and that’s the one I want. I’m enjoying the short Return of Fitzroy one, but it’s not nearly as compelling for me.

    Kim, YES, I cannot quite see how Goddard made The Hands of the Emperor so compelling when so much of the time, nothing much is going on! And yet, there it is!

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