Listmas 2022 – Best Books

Deciding on ten books to call the best reads of 2022 has been a hard experience, not least because having read 241 books at the time of writing (249 at the time of publication), picking out just ten to call the best is no easy feat. There have been some truly great books released this year, in all genres, and whilst your favourite book might not appear on this list this is only one person’s opinion, but it’s a list I’m excited to share, to help you discover some fantastic new reads.

All The White Spaces – Ally Wilkes (Titan Books)

All The White Spaces is a historical horror story set in the darkness and sub-zero temperatures of Antarctica just after the First Word War. Centred on the character of Jonathan Morgan, a young man who missed out on going to war, and had to learn that his two older brothers would never be returning. A trans man, Jonathan has been forced to act like someone he’s not his entire life, and is facing the prospect of being sent to a finishing school for young women.

With the help of his brother’s friend, Harry, he leaves home and manages to sneak on board a polar explorer ship that Harry has found work on. Having idolised the polar explorers his entire life, Jonathan hopes to be able to connect better to the memory of his brothers by going on the journey they always wanted to do. But when the ship arrives at Antarctica and finds itself in trouble, Jonathan and the rest of the crew are forced to try to survive in an environment designed to kill them – with something sinister lurking in the darkness.

All The White Spaces is a wonderfully paced and well written tale that focuses so much on character that you almost forget it’s a horror story. You become so engrossed in this meticulously researched tale of polar exploration that when the sinister forces begin to make their presence known it takes you by surprise and chills you to your core. Filed with genuinely frightening horror, a wonderfully well told trans story, and characters that feel real, it’s a must-read story.

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Chains – Jon Richter (Bloodhound Books)

Chains opens with the murder of a local businessman – a shady fellow with his fingers in a lot of pies and connections to important local politicians – at the retirement home he owns on the eve of a big press event. What looks like a simple stabbing soon turns into something more complex, as local police and private investigators start to search for answers. But as the web of lies and criminal activities is discovered it soon becomes apparent that it connects to the whole of the small town it lies at the heart of.

Chains is a murder-mystery story. It begins simply enough with a body found in the middle of the night, stabbed to death. What makes this book different from most others in the genre, however, is that it contains multiple points of view. This isn’t a book that skips between a couple of investigators and a killer though, each and every chapter is told from a new perspective; a new person entering the story and building up this world. We’re introduced to the story by the first police officer who arrives on the scene. From here, we then learn more from the politician’s aid, who arrived at the home for his meeting, but stayed to chat with his father who’s a resident there. We then follow the carer who found his body. Then her boyfriend who works on a building site. Then the supervisor there. Then her partner who works in a restaurant. Each new stage of the story moves from person to person as they intersect with another character with another tiny piece of the puzzle.

Each new link in the chain, each new insight made reveals another part of the mystery, and makes the small town feel more alive than most others. It feels like everyone has their own stories, their own goals and desires; we merely intersect with them for a short time. Chains tires to do something different, and the result is one of the more unique reading experiences of the year.

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Nettle & Bone – T. Kingfisher (Titan Books)

Nettle & Bone is a fantasy story set in a small kingdom, where we focus on the daughters of the royal family. Marra, the youngest of the three daughters, watches as her older sister dies after marrying the prince of another kingdom, with the middle daughter going to take her place soon after. The marriage needs to work for peace to reign, but Marra fears for her older sister and her safety. Sent to live in a convent, in case she’s needed to marry the prince too, Mara begins to plot for a way to help her sister and save her from the prince’s abuse. Using dark magic, and accompanied by a group that includes a living skeleton dog, a former knight, a witch who can talk to the dead, her fairy godmother, and a demon possessing a chicken, she sets out on her mission.

I’ve already written in detail about why this book is so good, and there’s not much more that I can say about it other than the fact that Kingfisher is able to perfectly capture the feel of a dark fantasy story. Kingfisher’s horror stories have been some fantastic reads, and also appeared on my 2020 book list, and the shift from horror to dark fantasy seems to have been easy for her. The story that is told her is so wonderfully crafted and so delightfully twisted that you find yourself wanting more and more of it.

If horror is too intense for you, and you’ve been too afraid to pick up Kingfisher’s work because of that, this book might be the perfect gateway into her writing. It’s dark, and it’s got some pretty scary moments, but it never strays into the same kind of fear that her other books do. It has some astonishingly fun and fantastical moments too, and will appeal to those that like fantasy with a bit of a twisted edge to it.

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Star Wars: Shadow of the Sith – Adam Christopher (Del Rey)

It’s not controversial to say that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was divisive; perhaps more so than the series’ previous entry. Fans came out of the film upset, they were angry with the way the story went. I’ll admit, even I came out of my first viewing unhappy with it. The sudden return of Palpatine felt like it had come out of nowhere, and it seems like the Star Wars story group have been tying to fill in those blanks since. And as someone who reads the books and the comics, I feel they’ve been doing a good job at explaining it and fleshing out the Sith world of Exegol to the point where my opinion of the film has changed a lot. But none do it as well, and as much, as Star Wars: Shadows of the Sith.

Set during the time between the original and sequel trilogies, Shadow of the Sith introduces us to Luke Skywalker whilst his Jedi temple is up and running, with students learning the ways of the Force (including his nephew). Luke is researching into the Force, and the Dark Side, and begins to feel whispers through the Force of something dark somewhere in the galaxy. Meanwhile, Lando Calrisian overhears a Sith assassin in a bar, recruiting a crew to hunt down a family on the run. Still reeling from the loss of his own daughter, Lando goes to Luke for help, and the two of them set out to save the family before it’s too late.

The family that this book deals with, that Luke and Lando are trying to save, are Miramir and Dathan, and their daughter, Rey. This is the story about Rey’s parents, a story that we know ends in tragedy. The book tells us a lot about the Sith, features several amazing moments that left my jaw hanging, and resulted in me crying for characters more than once. It also makes that scene in The Rise of Skywalker where we see Rey’s parents die hit all the harder, because they’re real, fleshed out people now. This book might not make you love The Rise of Skywalker, but it will be the best Star Wars book you’ll read this year.

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A Magic Steeped In Poison – Judy I. Lin (Titan Books)

A Magic Steeped In Poison is a fantasy court intrigue novel set in a universe where magic is real, but where magic works differently to any other story you’ve ever read. Inspired by Chinese history, myths, and legends, the book introduces readers to a young woman named Ning, who leaves her family home in a small village and travels to the capital in order to try and find help for her dying sister. Her sister has been poisoned, and having just watched her mother die from the same thing Ning is determined to save her life. She travels to the capital to enter a competition, a contest to find the new Shennong-shi, someone who uses tea making to craft magics. Determined to use the skills taught to her by her mother, Ning enters the contest, but finds more than she bargained for waiting for her.

A Magic Steeped In Poison is what you’d get if you combined a competition style game show like The Apprentice or America’s Next Top Model with the politics and court intrigue of A Song of Ice and Fire then wrapped it in a package inspired by Chinese culture. Judy I. Lin takes a lot of inspiration from real places, yet manages to craft her own world here, complete with rival leaders, political intrigue, unique creatures, and a magic system that feels wholly its own. And the magic system is where the book really shines. There are no wizards with staffs, no waving of wands and shouting of magic words. Instead, when magic needs to be done it’s done by the brewing of tea, the selecting of certain ingredients, and the crafting of the perfect cup to drink. This book offers something incredibly different, something that will quickly draw you in and have you wanting more; so it’s handy that it’s the first part, and that the sequel novel is coming very soon.

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The Calculations of Rational Men – Daniel Godfrey (Self Published)

The 1960s were a time of fear, a constant looming threat of nuclear war. People were always afraid that something would happen, that the Cold War would suddenly turn hot, and that we’d all die in nuclear fire. Luckily that never happened; but The Calculations of Rational Men asks the question of what would have happened if it had. Set at a prison in the UK, the book follows doctor Joseph Marr, a man sent to prison for murder when he tried to help a drowning woman and failed to save her life (his use of mouth to mouth and chest compression having him labelled a degenerate). When the prisoners are pulled out of their cells in the middle of the night they witness a massive explosion in the distance, and are ushered into the specially made bunker beneath the building.

With hundreds of prisoners locked together underground, Marr is tasked with keeping them in good health as the only medically trained man there. Stuck between the prisoners and the staff, not one of either, Marr finds himself in a situation where all lives may depend on him; and where he can witness the breakdown of order as fear sets in. The Calculations of Rational Men is an intense book that puts its cast of characters in an extreme position, and lets you see what happens when they begin to break. Godfrey crafts an increasingly intriguing narrative filled with twists and turns and drama that you’ll find hard to put down. You may need to do some digging to find a copy of this self published novel, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.

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The Siege of X-41 – Tristan Palmgren (Aconyte Books)

Often when comic stories are adapted to novel form it struggles to work well, due in part to the original story not being designed for that format. But when written for prose, superheroes can work exceptionally well, and The Siege of X-41 is a prime example of that. Set in the Marvel universe, the book follows a group of young students from the New Charles Xavier Institute sent on a team bonding mission. The mission takes the small group of teen mutants and their adult teacher deep beneath the waves to the ocean floor where they have to perform maintenance on a deep sea facility.

In the pitch black, at a pressure where the slightest accident could kill them, they’re already on edge, but when vicious, vampiric creatures begin to assault the facility the group ends up having to fight for their survival in an environment designed to kill them. The Siege of X-41 might be an X-Men story, but at its heart it’s a horror tale; one that is more closely connected to Lovecraftian horror than anything else with its deep sea setting, awful monsters, and a slumbering ancient evil. This is the kind of book that shows the versatility of superheroes, and how they can work in completely different kinds of stories. You don’t have to be a big comic fan to enjoy this, and no knowledge of the X-Men is needed, just a desire to read an intense, often frightening story.

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Sherlock Holmes & Mr Hyde – Christian Klaver (Titan Books)

Sherlock Homes & Mr Hyde is a sequel to a novel that played around with the Sherlock Holmes mythos quite a bit. In the previous book, vampires came to London, and Holmes & Watson end up caught in the middle of their machinations. Watson is transformed into a vampire himself and, with the help of Count Dracula and his wife Mina, the two of them are able to defeat the vampire Moriarty. This book picks up a while later, with the two detectives settled into their new life, and the knowledge that the supernatural exists. However, when the infamous Whitechapel killings start once again, hinting at the return of Jack the Ripper, the two are dragged into another mystery; one that surrounds the unusual Mr Hyde.

The Classified Dossier series does an exceptionally good job at combining the characters and the world of the grounded Sherlock Holmes stories with those of other Victorian era characters, particularly the horror ones. We’ve already included vampires and Lovecraftian monsters, but this story builds upon that with the inclusion of Jack the Ripper, Jekyll and Hyde, and the Invisible Man. The world that Klaver creates with these books feels fantastical, yet works incredibly well with the rational Holmes and his views of the world. Marrying the supernatural with a character who has no time for the paranormal should be an impossible combination, but this series does it perfectly. If you like your Victorian era literature this series is one that you might want to give a try.

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The Secret Life of Fungi – Aliyah Whiteley (Pegasus Books)

The only book on this list that’s non-fiction, The Secret Life of Fungi is a fairly short read that ended up being one of the more intriguing and interesting books of the year. Written by fiction author Aliyah Whiteley, the book deals with fungi, fungus, and mushrooms. But it’s not a text book, it’s not a science jourrnal, instead, it’s the author telling you stories about how they fell in love with fungi, and the interesting things that they’ve learned about them over the years.

Written in a way that feels like you’re having a conversation, or listening to someone do a talk about a subject that’s a hobby, Whiteley manages to make the topic feel accessible to all. It never gets bogged down in the science of things, it doesn’t feel the need to list facts and figures or bombard you with Latin names. You simply get to read interesting anecdotes, stories about different types of fungi and the things that they can do, and the reasons why they’re more interesting that you’ve probably ever considered. My interest in the topic definitely went up after reading this, and it feels like a gateway book, something that’s there to get me interested in fungi enough that I’ll want to go out and learn more. Whether you’re interested in the topic or not, it might just pique your interest and make you reconsider these wonderful forms of life.

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Reign of the Devourer – David Annandale (Aconyte Books)

Another novel that combines the world of Marvel comics with horror, Reign of the Devourer is the second entry in a series that takes a look at the villainous Doctor Doom. Whilst this might not seem that interesting, the series has done a fantastic job og humanising him, and showing that the people in his home nation really do love him for the improvements he’s made. Having taken down evil dictators, brought wealth to the nation, and given equality to all (Doctor Doom supports trans rights!), he’s made Latveria a place his people feel safe in. However, when an ancient evil awakens and begins turning the populace into monstrous vampires, Doom must find a way to stop them before all is lost.

Reign of the Devourer feels a lot closer to The Strain than most other vampire stories, with its truly monstrous creatures that can infect others with frightening ease. The book embraces the horror aspects of the story, and delivers some truly chilling scenes where the monsters destroy entire villages, hunting down anyone alive. This may feature one of the more iconic villains in Marvel, but this book will probably have you cheering him on to win long before the end.

Honourable Mentions for those that almost made it into the Top 10: Zachareth by Robbie MacNiven, Gallant by V.E. Schwab, The Haunting of Las Lágrimas by W.M. Cleese, Pennyblade by J.L Worrad, The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning, Planet Havoc by Tim Waggoner, A Fractured Infinity by Nathan Traveres, Age of the Undead by C.L. Werner, Secrets in Scarlet short story anthology, AVP: Ultimate Prey short story anthology

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