Most Surprising Books of 2021

You never can foresee how a reading year will go. There’s nothing that can truly predict what books will surprise you, how they will fulfill some part of you and occupy your thoughts well beyond their end. Or how they will just plain entertain and delight you.

2021 was such a roller coaster for so many, and that notion was definitely reflected in my reading. I didn’t get to nearly as many books as I hoped I would. While I participated in book clubs and reading challenges, I still don’t believe I made a dent in the books I actually owned. Despite all that, I discovered stories new and old to love, characters and worlds that will continue to shape me as a creative, and ideas that challenge my way of thinking. Some of these books, I wrote reviews for, extolling their virtues and being forgiving towards any vices. I wish I had reviewed all of them, but sometimes that’s not in the cards—so spotlighting them here feels all the more important.

But enough waxing poetic. Let’s highlight some all-star books I didn’t expect to love as much as I did because they absolutely deserve the praise.

Most Surprising Books of 2021

Unsounded by Ashley Cope

A few friends have threatened bodily harm upon me for years to finally read the webcomic Unsounded, and this year, I finally did—and became instantly obsessed. Ashley Cope’s wonderful art style and bold storytelling consumed my early months of 2021 as I raced to catch up to the ongoing series, first with the three published volumes and then continuing with the online chapters. I even wrote a fanfic for Cope’s between-chapter hiatus contest, which ended up winning based on popular vote, and I still haven’t gotten over that.

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ARC Review: The Descent of the Drowned

Title: The Descent of the Drowned
Author: 
Ana Lal Din
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Version: 
ARC – ebook
Page Count: 373
Publisher: White Tigress Press
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: 
Diverse cast, Pre-Islamic Arabian mythology
Recommended Readers: 
Anyone looking for a slow-building yet gripping read with two main characters who stand on their own
CAWPILE Rating: 9.14
Star Rating: ★★★★★

Thank you, to NetGalley and the publisher, for offering this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

A dark, compelling read, The Descent of the Drowned by Ana Lal Din immensely impressed me with its rich cultural descriptions, complicated characters, and slow-building plot. So much so that I already own a copy for myself.

Inspired by pre-Islamic Arabian mythology and culture, The Descent of the Drowned is the start of a YA fantasy trilogy that definitely leans hard on the older side of the scale due to its many heavy themes, which are addressed headfirst and unflinchingly. I recently read a book that equally horrified and enraged me at how gratuitous its violence and sexual themes were to be directed at a younger audience than truly appropriate. Therefore, my guard was up when I started this book, which tackles topics regarding sacred prostitution, rape, sexual assault, torture, self harm, suicide ideation, and many others.

Turns out I needn’t have bothered to be so wary. Each of these issues—and others—are treated with the gravity, horror, and fury they rightfully deserve. Readers have time to sit with these issues along with the characters and experience how these issues affect and inform the characters and their world, which is lovingly detailed with rich descriptions juxtaposed against the ugliness of human trafficking, transphobia, rape culture, caste systems, ethnic cleansing, and other cruelties. While reading, nothing ever felt glossed over or overdone, yet I also never felt hopelessly mired down by darkness. That’s because Lal Din managed to walk a delicate line between bringing awareness to these issues while also crafting a sincerely enjoyable story with characters I couldn’t help but be drawn to and root for.

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