Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly discussion hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl (and formerly hosted by The Broke and the Bookish), and this week’s topic is “Favorite Books of 2020.” I thought it would be difficult to pick ten, but once I went through my Goodreads, the final choices weren’t too difficult. I did choose books released in 2020 and earlier as I read two due out in 2021 that I loved but I didn’t feel like they fit this list. I will list them at the end as bonuses! These are in no particular order!
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow – I was so engrossed in this world, and it made me want to read more portal/historical fantasies.
Sin Eater by Megan Campisi – This alternate Tudor history captivated me from the get go and almost a year later, I’m still thinking about this.
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson – Magical libraries? Yes, please. This also reminds me of like… Robin McKinley’s world building and style a little bit, and I think that’s one of the things that has kept me coming back to Rogerson’s work. I can’t wait for her next one!
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire – This was something unlike anything else I’ve really read before, and I’m intrigued by the concept of twins and their connections.
Little Weirds by Jenny Slate – I don’t know why this made me sob so much, but I related to a lot of things about Slate’s personal life that she’s revealed in this essays, and I eventually want to add a copy of this to my shelves since this was a library read!
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab – I knew this would be a favorite before I even read it, and it lived up to all of my expectations!
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – I keep recommending this to people because it appeals to so many different readers. I’d been intrigued by the concept since it’s announcement, and when I got around to reading it, it just surpassed every hope I had for it. If I truly had to choose, Mexican Gothic is my second favorite read of the year.
Fable by Adrienne Young – I love YA pirate fantasy, and this was a delight for me to read. I don’t usually immediately run to request the sequel after reading, but I did for this one and I’m glad the release dates between the duology are not far apart!
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse – My favorite book of the year, hands down.
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey – I’ve enjoyed every book by Gailey, and this was no exception! A post-apocalyptic wild west in which librarians are spies and transport contraband on the fringes of society??? YES.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – This was so much fun and really evoked the fun, campy, science vibes of The Martian (which I thought was lacking in Artemis). I don’t want to spoil it too much, but the characters in this are hilarious and great.
The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey – I read this a few months ago and literally think about it once a week because this domestic sci-fi thriller is just that good. Gailey can do anything and I’ll read anything they write.
The Handmaid’s Tale meets Alice in Wonderland in this gripping and imaginative historical novel about a shunned orphan girl in 16th century England who is ensnared in a deadly royal plot and must turn her subjugation into her power.
The Sin Eater walks among us, unseen, unheard Sins of our flesh become sins of Hers Following Her to the grave, unseen, unheard The Sin Eater Walks Among Us.
For the crime of stealing bread, fourteen-year-old May receives a life sentence: she must become a Sin Eater—a shunned woman, brutally marked, whose fate is to hear the final confessions of the dying, eat ritual foods symbolizing their sins as a funeral rite, and thereby shoulder their transgressions to grant their souls access to heaven.
Orphaned and friendless, apprenticed to an older Sin Eater who cannot speak to her, May must make her way in a dangerous and cruel world she barely understands. When a deer heart appears on the coffin of a royal governess who did not confess to the dreadful sin it represents, the older Sin Eater refuses to eat it. She is taken to prison, tortured, and killed. To avenge her death, May must find out who placed the deer heart on the coffin and why.
“A keenly researched feminist arc of unexpected abundance, reckoning, intellect, and ferocious survival” (Maria Dahvana Headley, author of The Mere Wife) Sin Eater is “a dark, rich story replete with humor, unforgettable characters, and arcane mysteries. It casts a spell on your heart and mind until the final page” (Jennie Melamed, author of Gather the Daughters).
The Unseen is now seen. The Unheard is now heard. The sins of your flesh become the sins of mine to be borne to my grave in silence. Speak.
Megan Campisi’s Sin Eater defies genre. It is historical fiction, but not completely; it’s fantasy/fabulist¹, but not completely. This indefinite quality adds to its appeal. Sin-eaters did exist, but sin-eaters still remain more in folkloric history in which not much is widely known about them and their practices. Campisi brings an alternate speculative look at Elizabethan England that is rich and detailed, and I wanted more from the world she created. The comp titles listed with this are wide and varied, and for the most part I don’t know if they particularly fit, aside from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in the sense that this is a character study of a young woman in a society that prefers she stay in her place and not question anything. If anything, my comp would be The Handmaid’sTale meets Parasite in an alternate Tudor England as this is very much about class, violent deception, and the fear that rules institutionalized religion.
May Owens, the fourteen year old girl sentenced to become a Sin Eater after stealing food, is the perfect set of eyes through which to experience this world, because like her, we are unfamiliar with a lot of the customs outside of our immediate recognition. May’s isolation and loneliness are present on the page, along with her discomfort and estrangement at her own acceptance of her life’s chosen path. When she delves into the mystery surrounding her mentor’s death, May discovers that the court for which she is performing the sin eating is rife with manipulative and deceptive people, and nobody can be trusted but herself, and even then she’s not entirely sure she can trust herself.
This is an excellent intrigue of a novel, grim and gruesome with a lot of heart, and it’s a contender to be one of my favorite reads of the year.
Thank you to Atria Books for a review copy! All opinions are my own.
¹ I’ve begun using “fabulist” for something that isn’t quite “real” and not quite “fantasy” in terms of genre, as “magical realism” is a style specific to Latin American literature.