This was the year I committed to reading all the unread books on my Kindle, in addition to many checked out from the library. Of the books I read in 2022, my favorites were:
Dread Nation and Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland. This alternate history duology follows Jane and Katherine, two young students who attend a combat school to put down the dead. Why? Because the dead started reanimating during the battle of Gettysburg, and nothing has been the same since.
The first book follows Jane as she tries her best to do her duty – at least, the one expected of her by white people – and quickly gets swept up into a conspiracy. Somehow, she manages to drag her school nemesis, Katherine, along with her. The second book follows Jane and Katherine all the way to California, and beyond, as they try to find some sense of peace and safety in their dangerous, often heartbreaking world.
If you enjoyed The Walking Dead original graphic novels, you might enjoy this. As with that series, these two books aren’t just about zombies, but humanity. The stories also tackle the inherent racism and sexism of the mid-1800s, as seen through the eyes of two extraordinary heroines. There really isn’t a romance here, also, which is nice. Though Jane takes lovers, one of whom is a fellow zombie-fighting young lady, neither Jane nor Katherine require a man to make them whole and happy. It’s a nice change of pace!
If you prefer a fairy tale, check out Thorn by Intisar Khanani. In this story, Princess Alyrra is reviled by her family and set to marry a prince from another kingdom. She doesn’t expect much of the marriage, because her family is certain she will die “accidentally” so the prince can move on with his life.
Fortunately, her family couldn’t be more wrong, because Alyrra doesn’t even make it to her new kingdom. At least, not the way she left her old one! Instead, an act of betrayal swaps her identity with that of another girl and leaves her as nothing more than a servant. Rather than flee her new fate, Alyrra embraces it. As long as she can keep her head down and do her job, maybe she can take charge of her own life.
But as she starts to learn the language and befriend the other servants, she becomes invested in their troubles. She also takes on a new name – Thorn – and advocates for her fellow servants as she better understands their fears and challenges. What Alyrra eventually does is nothing short of wonderful, showing everyone what it truly means to be a princess.
At times, this story addressed dark and sad themes, but the main character’s capacity to care about the well-being of others made her incredibly likeable. I also appreciated the fact that there really isn’t a romance here, as there tends to be with YA fantasy. Any possibility of romance is treated reasonably, with it stated that the characters aren’t in love, but are open to seeing if those feelings develop. I appreciated that aspect of the story.
The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones is another book with more of a fairy tale-like vibe and it drew me in from the beginning. And, yes, more zombies here. After the loss of her parents and uncle, Ryn is doing her best to take care of her family. She is a gravedigger in a remote village that sits at the foot of a mountain range rumored to have once been home to the fae. The bone houses are, specifically, the risen dead. Something about the forest between the village and the mountains seems to keep the dead from staying dead. Legend has it this is because of a curse.
When a mapmaker named Ellis shows up in the village, they end up under attack by groups of bone houses wandering out of the forest. But why? Ryn wants to know what is drawing the bone houses to her home village, while Ellis just wants to map the land. They work together to reach both of their goals and undertake a dangerous journey to the mountain range where the curse is said to originate. Along the way, they learn more about not only the bone houses, but themselves and human nature. I love that a feisty undead goat is their companion, though you know that can’t end well!
There is a touch of horror to the story, but also whimsy and romance. I loved this one and will read it again on a cool, October night, with a nice hot cup of tea.
Finally, my favorite book that I read this year was Small Favors by Erin Craig. This is an absolutely chilling and dreadful tale, with a wild ending that had me excited about it for days. All I wanted to do was talk to people about it… except I don’t know anyone else who has read it!
Ellerie lives in an isolated village called Amity Falls. Right off the bat, I got a “The Village” (the movie) vibe from the way these folks live. For example, when there’s danger, the villagers light fires to alert their neighbors. And their neighbors light their fires, and so on, until everyone knows there’s trouble. And trouble does come, especially from the forest that keeps Amity Falls cut off from the rest of the world. Strange creatures come out of the woods and residents are being offered their deepest desires. You know what they say – if something is too good to be true…
Our main character soon finds her family dealing with one tragedy after another, with no end in sight. Ellerie and her sisters don’t seem to get even a single moment to catch their breaths and, when they do, that moment is tenuous and fraught with anxiety. I love, love, LOVE how the tension grows without letting up in this story until everything and everyone hits a horrific breaking point.
Again, this was my absolute favorite read this year. I thought the ending was bloody fantastic, and I want to find someone else who feels the same. Once again, this book is a mix of horror and fairy tale. I think it’s pretty clear what kind of vibe I was digging in 2022.
“Honorable mentions” for books I read this year go to An Enchantment of Ravens and Sorcery of Thorns, both by Margaret Rogerson. Ravens was enjoyable because it was a fae story that showed what dark, horrible, twisted beings they are beneath their beautiful exteriors.
I’m still reading Sorcery, and I can’t wait to see how it ends. It’s funny to say this, because Howl’s Moving Castle is a book, not just a movie… But Sorcery of Thorns feels like the movie version of Howl’s Moving Castle (the book moves much slower than the Studio Ghibli film). Except, add more dangerous demons and sorcerers, angry grimoires that are capable of becoming twisted, murderous creatures, beautiful dresses and ballrooms, fancy swords, and a slow burn romance.
I read so many other books this year, but these are the ones I loved and highly recommend.