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HT reviewer KX Ronnie picks his favourite reads of 2021

During the long days of isolation and lockdown, I found myself retreating once again into worlds unfamiliar – of dragons and mermaids, of goblins and gods. I grew up on fantasy books. It’s safe to say that I still have not outgrown them. Amid the din of endless debates on TV and Twitter-Pradesh, these books offered a soothing balm, a cure for many ailments.

In April, in part fuelled by my thirst for something new, I started reading Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, a 14-book behemoth that had evaded conquest right through my twenties. This time, though, I didn’t attempt it alone. I took refuge in the power of community. Tor.com (www.tor.com), home to everything science-fiction and fantasy, and Sylas K Barrett’s Reading Wheel of Time (www.tor.com/series/reading-the-wheel-of-time/) were excellent accompaniments, helping new and returning readers like myself to navigate the canyons of this strange world with relative ease.

Earlier this year, I also returned to Julian May’s lesser-known but triumphant work, The Boreal Moon trilogy – again, a fantasy series. Unlike Jordan’s works, the Boreal Moon books are a clear departure from the tropes that we have come to associate with the genre. I was 12 when I first discovered these books at our local library and they gave me my first taste of fantasy. Two decades and many re-readings later, they still draw me and remain captivating till the last page.

KX Ronnie (Courtesy the reviewer)

I also took comfort in the lyrical prose of Imogen Hermes Gowar’s stunning debut novel The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. Set in 1780s London, this highly atmospheric work is a reflection on many things including class and desire. It was a fitting read during the Kerala monsoon when persistent rain kept me indoors, curled up on the couch, a cup of tea in hand. Come for the story, stay for the prose, I told anyone who enquired about the book. It is a revetting read, and one that I hope to delve into again.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison outshone everything else that I read this year. With thoughtful world-building, Addison’s latest is a tender novel that brings to the fore the grief of not truly belonging. Its main character, a half-goblin Maia, is certain to break your heart (if it isn’t broken already). An easy 10/10.

Why do I turn to fantasy time and time again? More than the sheer escapism it provides, fantasy is also an unfailing reminder that however dark and dire the night, the light of dawn will pierce through it all.

KX Ronnie is a freelance writer based in Kochi. He tweets @ron_of_kochi.

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