22: Climate Justice by Mary Robinson:
Kicking off the countdown with a book that everyone should read: Climate change is a man-made problem with a feminist solution. The book tells the stories of many different activists from all around the globe who battle climate change in all ways imaginable and are succeeding. Some activists tackle this greatest challenge of the 21st century for humankind through politics; others through demonstrations or by educating consumers about what to buy.
It is a book about hope, discussing both challenges and progress, creating a space led by feminist values, looking into a future that does not look so bleak as it often appears to be.
21: A Little Gay History by R. B. Parkinson
This is another collection of little chapters about a story that has always been there but has been undermined, silenced, and very often even destroyed by conservatives and religious institutions. Scholars and archaeologists have created a collection of stories that are all about the LGBTQ+ community. It is about the world’s queer history and about the fact that the past was in many places and spaces much more open and accepting of queer love and sexuality than we might think today.
Especially the recent three hundred years of intense colonialism and missionary work has made the world on a wide scale a much less accepting place. From Assyria to Ancient Greece to Ancient Rome, to Native American tribes or Chinese and Japanese cultures, this book is all about the origins of queer history and how it relates to the present.
20: The House of Sorrowing Stars by Beth Cartwright
Beth Cartwright’s second young adult fantasy novel is a beautiful story of loss, love, family, dreams, and friendship. Just like in her first novel, she writes an enchanting space inhabited by deeply troubled, complex, and authentic characters. The blend of fairy tale and young adult fantasy novel created is a wonderful book to escape into and confronts the reader with fundamental questions of life. It simultaneously answers them in a fairy tale-esque way to wonder and think about.
19: The Artificial Ape by Timothy Taylor:
The artificial ape by Timothy Taylor is an astounding exploration of the origin of humans and our common ancestors we share with chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. But it’s not only about our ancestors but also explores the question of why humans evolved in different ways than our relatives, the apes.
It poses the question, what came first, the idea to use tools or an advanced brain that was able to solve problems. Or was it both, a symbiosis of moving away from nature and most things natural, using artificial help to evolve, leading to an ever-larger growing brain. All these questions are being answered and discussed in detail through science and history and can be found in this gripping book that tells the story of where we really come from.
18: The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes
Just like I had Greek Mythology retellings on my top book lists over the last two years, here is another one by the amazing Natalie Haynes. It is a different take on the Oedipus myth. Told from two perspectives, it sheds light and insight on the women of Thebes and what they went through during the turmoil and chaos of the infamous story of Oedipus.
One point of view is Jocasta’s at the age of fifteen when she is ordered to marry the King of Thebes. The second perspective is Ismenes’, the daughter of Jocasta, years later. These two viewpoints create a story we all know but it becomes a completely new narrative that surprises the reader on every page. Haynes tells a story with an understanding of Greek myth unparalleled to other writers.
17: Luster by Raven Leilani
Luster by the Afro-American writer Raven Leilani is a character driven novel where nothing much happens and at the same time so much is going on. I haven’t read anything like it. It is a story packed with so many issues concerning the world, narrated in beautiful prose. From racism, American inequality, poverty, sexism, and more, it is a very truthful and painful read, laying bare the horrors of the United States of America in an urban and suburban setting. The reader is taken on a journey they will not forget.
16: On Immunity by Eula Biss
On Immunity by Eula Biss tackles the great divide between scientists who know that vaccinations work and people who believe that they don’t or that they are even harmful. Biss never once says that vaccinations are one of the greatest achievements of modern science; she simply argues her case with great detail through data, scientific facts, and stories from history to the present. She also confronts the issue of antivaxxers and where their fear stems from in order to understand their anxiety that leads to absolute idiocy.
It is a story as old as time: science that works vs. the fear of the unknown. As the cover also shows, the history of vaccinations, the history of immunity goes way back. It’s in one of Greek mythology’s stories where Thetis ‘vaccinates’ her son Achilles against all dangers, creating and continuing her immortal fear of the fact that her mortal son eventually must die, no matter what she does, almost creating the beginning of his death with his inoculation.
This is just one anecdote from this enlightening novel. In our times, this novel sheds even clearer light on all the simple facts and undeniable truths of science that exist and explains why and how we are where we are, with a lot of people still denying the reality of our world.
15: Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
It is always delicious to recommend someone’s debut novel, and Jennifer Saint truly is a rising star in the literary world! It is another feminist Greek retelling, similar to Haynes. This one is the story of Theseus, or to be precise, the women in his story taking centre stage. It is told from Ariadne’s point of view, and with vivid descriptions, it binds you until the end. Later, the story unfolds from different perspectives, giving the tone and pace a gripping and richer reading experience.
Saint’s debut novel is a wonderful opportunity to experience a well-known story from a different viewpoint. She might not be the Queen of mythology retellings like Madeleine Miller, but everyone who enjoyed her will see that this is a brilliant addition to the feminist canon of Greek mythology retellings! The book is just as gorgeous as the cover!
14: The Handmaid’s Tale and the Testaments by Margaret Atwood
While these are two novels, I count them as one body of literary work because the plot and the narrative are so densely connected. Where The Handmaid’s Tale is very dark and a slow-paced story, The Testaments is a very exciting, fast-paced story that ends on a brighter note. Both novels hold amazing worldbuilding of course, and the astounding, and I would call it, elegant writing by Margaret Atwood. The Testaments also won the Booker Prize in 2019.
13: The Clockwork Angel Trilogy (or The Infernal Devices) by Cassandra Clare
If you love young adult fantasy and Victorian literature, this is one for you. In this trilogy you will probably encounter the most perfect love triangle and the most tragic story about love Cassandra Clare ever came up with. The Queen of Urban Fantasy and creator of the infamous Shadowhunter novels invites you to Victorian London to follow the adventures of three young heroes named Tessa Gray, William Herondale, and James Carstairs. The name Herondale alone should invigorate your fantasy senses with excitement. It is not the plot that drives this story, but the authentic characters tangled up in all their complicated feelings. They go down a path of wonder, darkness, and destruction. The trilogy adresses contemporary issues such as the role of the woman in a conservative world and other things such as anxiety and drug addiction. It is an unforgettable reading experience.
12: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This is How You Lose the Time War is probably one of the craziest and most original novels I have ever read. It is one of those books that you either love or hate, and I absolutely loved it from the first page. This collaborative work of science fiction is a love story between two spies who work against and with each other. It is about world dominion, time travel, the idea of different worlds, the past and the future ever changing, absolute power, and universes interlinking. To put it simple, it was everything the new Marvel films Eternals and The Multiverse of Madness was not. Immerse yourself in a love story that stretches throughout time, defying space, and death itself.
11: The Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare
For me, it’s been a year of Shadowhunter novels, and this one is an absolute gem and very important for contemporary fantasy literature. Among young adult fantasy literature, it was one of the first novels by a commercially very successful writer to have a gay storyline at the centre.
It is all about the infamous Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood from the Shadowhunter novels. While travelling through Europe, encountering strange downwolders, fighting demons, and uncovering secrets of the magical past, Magnus and Alec, or as true fans call them Malec, they figure out their relationship, their limits, their passions, and simply all the complicated things about love.
At the same time, the book is a great addition to the entire Shadowhunter universe. It’s an emotional and fantasy filled ride of excitement, showing that every form of love and every plot have a place in fantasy literature and are being read by millions.
10: A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
The first one of my Top 10 books is quite an unusual one in terms of the main character, who is very much a villain and not a hero. It’s like Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, but in the publishing world and set in modern times.
The novel tells the story of a young writer who aspires to become a bestselling novelist no matter the cost, and with that, I mean no matter the cost. He seduces and plays with old gay writers who open doors for him so he can reach his goals. The question is, will he succeed, or will his crimes catch up with him? This is a juicy page-turner, the story of a villain you will find enticing and learn to fear.
9: Elektra by Jennifer Saint
Jennifer Saint really has had a busy two years, writing her debut novel and then another outstanding work of a feminist retelling of ancient Greek times. This one is not about the royalty of Crete but about one of the most famous royal families of the Iliad.
In this one, the reader gets to know the House of Atreus, but from Clytemnestra’s point of view, the well-known wife of Agammenon and their daughter Elektra.
It is a story we all know from the Iliad. However, just like with Saint’s first novel, Ariadne, we get to see the point of view of the women in the story and the amazing and heart-breaking stories they tell. I find it wonderful to see when a writer grows from their debut novel and becomes stronger and more nuanced as they continue to publish more work. Saint is no exception; Elektra is an outstanding piece of literature.
8: What Have I Done by Laura Dockrill
The 8th place is a very special one. It’s about motherhood and mental illness. It is challenging to write a story about something you love, something that defines you, something personal you put out there and share with the world. It is even more demanding, however, to write about yourself, whether in a memoir, an autobiography, or a reflection of a part of your life that almost killed you.
Laura Dockrill has written some amazing mermaid literature and children’s books in the past and has now published a memoir about a very dark time of her life: What Have I Done, Motherhood, Mental Illness and Me.
Hands down, this is one of the best books I have ever read. It makes you understand things you might have never thought about, especially when it comes to motherhood and depression. But also, universally, it addresses mental health and mental illness in an insightful and helpful way.
I hope this novel lends some of its courageous and kind words to all the mothers and people out there who struggle with mental health in all its frightening ways. This book shows that words are healing and stories can be seen as structures of light, leading you through a tunnel out into the open where you can finally breathe again and enjoy your life.
7: Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
This is an absolute beauty. Open Water by the outstanding new talent Caleb Azumah Nelson is a story about young love, structural racism, fear, mental health, and the hope to somehow overcome all of that. The dialogues and the prose almost blend into poetry, giving the novel a flow that is unparalleled in most literature. It reminded me of Sally Rooney’s writing, but on some level, it is rawer and carries a beauty that just grabs you like not many writers are able to do. Go on a roller coaster of emotions with this one!
6: Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
This novel is an absolute joy! It is a fictional romance comedy about the son of the first female president of the USA who falls in love with the Prince of England. While the plot and the political landscape are completely imagined and do not stand in relation to any political or cultural reality, it is above all a story to dream about and to hope.
The narrative takes the reader on a different path, one where the world is a better place. Reading this, I cried (because, make no mistake, the stakes are high), laughed, and had to keep on reading to find out what would happen to the main characters. Enjoy!
5: Finding Mr Perfectly Fine by Tasneem Abdur-Rashid
I mentioned earlier in my list that it’s always wonderful to introduce a debut novel, and it’s even more wonderful when I can introduce a friend, someone I studied with at university! Tasneem Abdur-Rashid wrote an absolutely gorgeous novel about finding love, heartbreak, family, friendship, work, Muslim life, expectations, being young, growing up, and about everything in between.
The characters, but especially the main character Zara, who is on a quest to find a husband on her own terms while keeping the traditions of her family in mind before she turns thirty, are authentic and relatable on so many levels. You will fall in love with her immediately (as well as with some of her love interests).
Above all, the novel is so relatable, as Tasneempaints scenes of dating life and the dating world that are so realistic and authentic that anyone, whether gay or straight, whatever cultural background you may have, you will relate to Zara’s emotional struggles. Because ultimately, no matter who we are and where we come from, we all want to find love and meaningful relationships. We all want to find that someone who makes our heart skip a beat.
I have said it earlier this year, but I say it again: buy this novel, give it a good rating on Goodreads, and I can’t wait for Tasneem’s second novel!
4: The Deep by Rivers Solomon
On fourth place comes quite a different fantasy novel. As the cover reveals, this one is about mermaids, one of my favourite topics, but it is a very different take on mermaid mythology.
When pregnant women from Africa were thrown overboard the slave ships (because colonialists believed that pregnant women would not bring them any profit because they could not work), which travelled from Africa to America, the women gave birth in the sea, and the ocean became the new parent of the child while the mother drowned. The children were able to live as they never breathed air through their lungs but only amniotic fluid and, afterwards, sea water.
Raised by whales and dolphins, this first generation of mermaids doesn’t know where they come from until they surface and reconnect with the people on the coast of West-Africa. It is a fantasy novel that deals with one of the darkest chapters of history in a very different way.
Magic, enchantment, the singing of whales, and the mystery of the deep find a place and lend a voice to the traumatised merfolk who reconnect with their past. Most interestingly, this novel is a collaborative work of fiction, written by four writers, creating layers of narrative. Its prose is poetic and as deep as the sea. It’s a must-read for every fantasy and history lover.
3: Queen of Air and Darkness, The Dark Artifices Trilogy by Cassandra Clare
For me, it’s really been a year of young adult fantasy, and Cassandra Clare is unparalleled when it comes to fantasy trilogies. The third novel of her Dark Artifices Trilogy is an absolute outstanding piece of all tropes and things that make good fantasy and an exciting reading experience. Packed with LGBTQ+ storylines, familiar Shadowhunters from former book series, breath-taking plot twists, and the hottest characters imaginable, get ready for your world to be shaken to the core.
The Dark Artifices is a masterwork of young adult fantasy. Whether you are revisiting the Shadowhunter universe or forgot about Cassandra Clare after the Mortal Instruments series, you want to come back for this trilogy.
2: Gay Bar, Why we went Out by Jeremy Atherton Lin
Books possess the magic to tell the truth, or, let’s say, dismantle lies, place a mirror in front of society, and reveal all its layers. And this one, Gay Bar, is exactly one of those brilliant books which is the reason why it is in my Top Two.
It is the story of gay spaces, gay bars throughout the decades, from the 70’s over to the 80’s, to the 90’s and the 2000’s. Sometimes the narrative goes even deeper into time periods long gone by, exploring the worlds of lost gay history, underlining the facts, supported by history, that gays, the LGBTQ+ society has not only always been there, but been a vital part for culture, art and society to thrive.
I believe this is a must-read for all gays because it so clearly describes what gay life is and can be about. It shows and reveals the good and the (I don’t want to say bad) more difficult aspects. Above all, it is a book that does not hold back. It does not romanticise or go into stereotypes. It explores the spaces where gay stereotypes and tropes might have originated from (many of those were created in gay bars and ballrooms) but especially, it shows the face of a fabulous gay world in all its colours and all its shadows. It is a wonderful voice in queer life.
1: A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske
It comes as no surprise that my number one book of 2022 is a gay fantasy novel. It was actually also the first novel I read in 2022, in the dark days of January. But this is the power of literature, the power of stories, because this novel lit up the dark days of this winter month. It truly was a marvellous light.
The genre is not young adult but new adult, meaning that the main characters are in their twenties. The first thing (and throughout the novel) that struck me as absolutely delightful was the worldbuilding of the fantasy world, which is very much rooted in English folklore, similar to Puck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling. It is familiar but original, and a refreshing change from most urban fantasy.
Above all, it is the sexiest, juiciest, most exciting, and most seductive plot you will come across. At the same time, the characters are very authentic and three-dimensional, really taking you into the story, and with every page, the stakes get higher. It’s pretty much a story for grown up Harry Potter fans who are now in need of something more complex, something more fun, simply, something more fantastic.
It sits right up there next to The Binding by Bridget Collins and The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller, and where it might lack the beautiful prose of Miller and the incredible storytelling of Collins, it grabs you with the authenticity of the characters, and it especially entices with the realistic portrayal of gay feelings and gay sex that is rarely seen in commercial fantasy literature.
I hope you enjoyed my 22 books of 2022. It really was a good year of reading for me, and I hope that there are some books on my list that you will enjoy as well.
Something else I would also like to recommend when choosing books to read is focusing on a variety of voices, especially voices that might not have it easy or a broad representation in commercial literature and in the arts in general.
It is on the one hand about supporting minorities which is always a good thing to do but it especially shows and reveals worlds and perspectives to you that might have been closed doors otherwise.
So, keep in mind to have a choice of fabulous, colourful, and diverse voices on your shelf. I wish you all a very happy and very magical 2023, and don’t forget to read a good book!