Wowza. We can’t believe it, but it’s been a year since we launched Gathered Nettles! In order to celebrate, we’re feasting on pancakes and have put together a list of the authors we’ve become acquainted with in the past year who have totally rocked our world. This inspirational Top Ten honors the reason we, as two nerdy, book loving, fantasy obsessed, sisters decided to start a blog that showcases heroines, women writers, and stories that influence our own creative lives. Here’s to many more years of sharing our literary love!
1. Leigh Bardugo
I was immediately drawn to the gorgeous map in the front of the novel, with illustrations of dark creatures and wild stags sprawling over borders. It was heavy with the promise of a magical other world the likes of which, I hadn’t seen before. Bardugo not only spun a rich, dark land for me in the enchanting Ravka, a haunting, gritty version of Tsarist Russia; she knows how to plot a suspenseful story that will inevitably lead to circles under your eyes from long nights staying up past the witching hour. Whether you’re Team Mal or Team Darkling, there is surprise, tenderness, and longing in this tale.
2. Cassandra Clare
As far as I’m concerned, Clare is a tireless, otherworldly literary wizard, as her enthralling repertoire includes 8 books (and counting) that follow the lives of teen shadowhunters and their quest to rid the world of demons. I love the mash-up of action and romance teeming in the mythic world of shadowhunters and downworlders from modern-day New York City to 19th century London. Her stories also capture the pain and beauty of growing up, as characters deal with trust issues in relationships, letting one’s guard down to open up to their partner, and fighting for love when all hope seems lost.
3. Sarah Rees Brennan
Unspoken was the kind of book I didn’t know I was longing for until it fell in to my lap, and I devoured it page by page. It jolted me awake with its authentic voice, unique lore, fast paced plot, and blend of humor & darkness. I fell head over heels for Kami Glass’s flashing wit and charm, as she hunts for truth surrounding the dark mystery lurking in her sleepy, English village. While it was magical seeing Kami explore her connection with the Lynburns, the honest relationship she has with her friends and family added depth to the story, underlining the fact that these bonds are real and complicated.
4. Maureen Johnson
This book genuinely scared me, to the point where I found myself avoiding it at night and re-reading Harry Potter to lend me added comfort between chapters. I liked that it frightened me. Johnson created a threat that felt unpredictable and characters that I was invested in. Rory was quirky, original, full of sarcasm, but also lovingly awkward. She’s willing to take risks to catch a glimpse of the Ripper Copycat Killer, until it leads to her entanglement in the case of a century, and a secret society of ghost hunters. The background of a British boarding school only helped add to this book’s allure.
5. Laini Taylor
Taylor’s hybrid world of demons and angels hidden amongst humans is captivating. Some times in books that deal with alternate worlds, the human realm can become tiresome and you want to bang your head against the book, yearning to skip to the ‘good parts’. Karou is mysterious, but she’s juggling pretty human problems. The supernatural elements in this book are wonderful and refreshing, but they don’t overshadow the elements of the story that make it stimulating and current. Heartbreaking and beautiful, Taylor’s writing is out of this world.
6. Ysabeau S. Wilce
In a sort of alternate universe version of San Francisco where ancient mansions have over 11,000 rooms and are overseen by a devious, magical butler, doing household chores is somewhat of a nightmare for Flora Segunda. Brimming with delicious prose and unforgettable characters, I was hooked in to Wilce’s fantastical ‘magic wardrobe’ of an adventure story. Flora is brave and strong-willed, even though her decision-making is flawed at best, disastrous at worst. It’s the first book in a truly sparkling series that follows the coming of age of a lovable, oddball heroine.
7. Deborah Harkness
A Discovery of Witches stands out due to the tireless research of the author. Harkness does a marvelous job of enriching the story with developed characters, a fascinating mythology that frames the action, and an intriguing chemistry between the two lead characters, Diana Bishop, a witch who is in complete denial of her powers and Matthew Clairmont, a 1500 year old vampire. Ironically, it wasn’t the vampire-witch romance that sparked my interest in this book; Diana and Matthew are both flawed, and it is their humanness that drew me in as a reader in addition to the Indiana Jones twist of the hunt for a lost, sacred text.
8. Kristin Cashore
Graceling was one of those books that shook me awake. Katsa is unexpected: difficult, bristly and demanding. Exactly the types of descriptions I grew up fighting against as a young girl, therefore instantly endearing me to her ‘rough edges’. To an extent she behaves a certain way because it is expected of her, and no one has ever challenged her to think differently about why she acts so defensively. Her struggle is set in a world where there is magic, people with unique talents known as graces, and clashing medieval royalties, but Katsa’s struggle to decide who she really wants to be is at once startling and authentic.
9. Susan Dennard
Something Strange and Deadly was one of my favorite debut discoveries this year. Eleanor Fitt is struggling to hold her family together in 1876 Philadelphia, but it isn’t easy with a missing brother, a mother who is obsessed with contacting spirits, and a zombie outbreak, all while trying to gain the help of the notorious Spirit-Hunters. She’s not afraid to take charge, but has to act secretly, to maintain appearances in this rigid Victorian society. A spot-on combination of historical fiction, fantasy and a touch of steampunk, I couldn’t put it down. Dennard masterfully wove different mysteries together, so I was constantly on my toes.
10. Sarah J. Maas
I became acquainted with Maas’ fiery heroine, Celaena Sardothien with the fantastic novellas that were released before the novel itself. She’s an assassin not by choice, but because she was plucked from her land when her parents were murdered by the King, and trained to be one. She’s intelligent, a survivor, but she is more sensitive than her tough exterior lets on. I enjoyed seeing Celaena easily grapple with the other assassins, but struggle with her feelings for Dorian and Chaol. You get to watch her come in to her own, as she grapples with opening her heart to trust, friendship and romance in a fantasy world of epic proportions.