With the turning of the year, it’s about time for my annual post on my favorite books I read over the course of this past year. I’m posting it a bit later into the new year this time around due to living pretty internet-free over a couple weeks I spent in Greece (which was amazing!) during the holiday season. But without any further ado, here’s my favorite works I read this past year (book titles are hyperlinked to longer Goodreads reviews for interested parties).
10. Demon in Democracy by Ryszard Legutko
I got the privilege of reading this book for a book club, so the discussion may have biased me a little on this book and I’m not sure how much I agree with all of its points. But as a book questioning the sustainability of Enlightenment-era liberal democracies, it sparked a lot of thoughts on my end and was quite good, nit-pickings aside.
By tradition, the healer’s tents were located at the back of the army. When Sian passed through them to enter the playing field of war, screams of pain assailed her.
Images of raw agony, grotesque disfigurements, and gaping wounds flooded her mind and multiplied by the dozens. She pressed her hands against her ears, regretting her blessing from the gods. Some minds she hated seeing into. She crouched, shaking, as the muffled noise caused the images to fade.
“I’m sorry; I’m sorry,” Sian said to Cedric, her escort. “I didn’t expect this to happen.”
Cedric’s youthful golden curls hung in his face as he looked down at her. He gave a reply, but Sian couldn’t make it out with her ears covered.
“Can we move beyond these tents?” Sian gestured with her head. “I can’t be near them.”
Cedric’s lips moved again, then he gently took her elbow. Sian slowly stood and let herself be led away. Once she was far enough from the tents, she hesitantly removed her hands. She could still hear screams, but not enough to visualize the minds of the injured.
Sian exhaled and turned to Cedric. “I’m sorry. If I’d known I would be overwhelmed, I would have warned you.”
Cedric stared at her as if she had been possessed by a demon. “What in Thanax’s name was wrong with you?”
When the gods had begun “blessing” individuals with supernatural powers in exchange for loyalty, Clare was the first.
She hadn’t even needed to swear any devotion.
Because, unlike all the others, she had received blessings from multiple gods at once.
Clare strode out of her chambers. Her violet-tinted knee-high boots clapped against the stone floor, and servants turned their heads to get a glimpse of her. Nilde had recently ordered their craftsmen to design her a new outfit. It was ridiculous. She was supposed to be a warrior-ruler, not an emblem of fashion. But Nilde had insisted the boots and violet tunic would enhance public impressions of her. At least Clare had been able to keep the functional black-leather skirt.
If you aren’t much of a superhero movie fan (or even if you are), the upcoming slate of movies Marvel alone is trying to push out may seem rather exhausting. 10 more films in the next three years with plans through 2027? It’s no wonder you have people like Spielberg predicting superhero films will go the way of the Western and burn out in the near future.
Yet, despite all the films churned out by Marvel and DC, moviegoers keep purchasing tickets without any signs of stopping. Superhero stories are a (relatively) narrow genre—and yet many viewers (such as myself) regularly see two to four superhero films a year, despite the criticisms Marvel’s received for weak villains and paint-by-number three-act stories.
How has Marvel been able to keep selling tickets without running into genre fatigue? There are multiple reasons, but there’s one I’d like to focus on: Marvel keeps the genre feeling fresh by mixing it with other genres. This is a skill that not only budding novelists can be taking advantage of—but a skill some of the best fantasy authors today are using to craft unique and brilliant stories.
“Alright, next dilemma.” Tobias tapped his finger along the table in thought.
Kristen couldn’t decide whether to sigh or not. His attempts to carry on a conversation were almost cute. Not that debating ethical dilemmas was how a girl wanted to be wooed. But at least he was trying.
She allowed a smile to break out of one corner of her mouth. “Hit me with your best.”
Except for the two people murmuring to each other on the other side of the tavern, they were alone. Usually the tavern was crowded this time in the evening, but Kristen welcomed the quiet. It enabled her to chat without being hollered at by a needy customer. She fingered the wet rag she’d brought with her when she joined him at the table.
He cleared his throat. “You’re serving tables one night when a family with young children comes in seeking refuge from Lord Felnor’s men. Feeling compassionate, you hide them in the basement. But, ten minutes later, Kornich enters with ten soldiers and demands to know the family’s whereabouts. If you don’t answer immediately, he’ll kill you. The catch is that Kornich has already set his tracker on the family. They’ll find them regardless. Do you tell or not?”
Kornich was Lord Felnor’s personal, god-blessed minion who could somehow trace people to their location. Kristen normally objected when Tobias brought the god-blessed into his ethical dilemma games. They always complicated the scenario and made it weird. This one was simple though.
“If Kornich is involved, I spill. No point dying for nothing.” Kristen crossed her arms, pleased with herself for answering quickly. Maybe he’d be impressed for once.
Tobias wrinkled his brow. “Really?”
Grimweld heard the weeping before he saw the distraught woman pushing through the throng milling about in the market. She stumbled up the steps toward where he stood guard at the citadel’s entrance. A small crowd followed her.
Grimweld readied himself. This was an opportunity to show the people how to be compassionate. To remind them that honor still existed in the war-racked lands of Morshan.
He stepped forward to meet the woman, who threw herself at his feet. She tried to stop sobbing long enough to speak. “My son … the gods be with my son …”
Grimweld knelt and removed his helmet, hoping that seeing his face would comfort her. He put his armored hand on her shoulder, conscious of the onlookers. “What happened?”
The woman shuddered. “We were coming home from the harvest festival last night with a couple friends when this—this thing lunged from the shadows. Ripped his throat open and left him to die!”
Grimweld considered the facts. “Where were you? Was this an animal? Human?” He paused. “One of the god-blessed?”
“We were in one of the alleys. I couldn’t tell whether the thing was god-blessed or not. It looked human from a distance, but it had the teeth of a jackal and the claws of a lion.” She grabbed his arm. “My son frequented some places he shouldn’t, but who doesn’t? He was a good lad, Herald! He needs the gods’ justice!”
“We will do what we can to bring him justice.” Grimweld stared her in the eyes. He needed to assure not only her, but also the growing crowd. “We built up this city for a reason, woman. We will not allow such beings to roam here unpunished.”
What if superheroes existed in a fantasy world?
What if you could only become a superhero by pledging your allegiance to a deity?
And what if most of these superheroes only used their powers for themselves?
Over the next year, I plan on publishing a number of short stories all set in the world of Morshan, which explores what would happen if the above hypotheticals became reality.
Read the story premise below.