Looking back at the best 2021 releases

Collage of the covers of The Wolf's Den and Rule of Wolves.

The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper

The Wolf Den was Elodie Harper’s debut novel, released in May 2021 – and oh my,  what a debut. Set in Roman Pompeii, the story follows Amara navigating her new life as a brothel prostitute – having been sold when her respectable Greek family ran out of money. The story is vivid and moving; it amplifies the lost voices of the lowest classes in ancient Roman society. 

I’m a sucker for historical fiction, and anything that is set in the ancient past makes me immediately pick it up – this was a standout novel for me. 

It’s funny and at times heart-breaking, which seems to be the ultimate combination. It made me cry, which isn’t particularly difficult, but even so – it stuck with me. Each character was full and rounded out; they all had their own hopes, backgrounds, and problems – they didn’t just feel like secondary figures to drive the plot. 

It is the first in a trilogy but can easily be read as a stand-alone novel. The next instalment is due to be released in September 2022, and I can’t pretend I’m not impatient to read it. But it will be worth the wait. 

In such a difficult year, dealing with the pandemic on top of university, pure escapism was needed. And whilst this was handling quite a tragic issue, it provided a world so far from my own with such immense detail that it completely transported me. As things are continuing to look a little bleak, I couldn’t recommend this more if you are looking for an escape. It was the best 2021 release for me, and one of the best books I read this year too.

by Tilda Skene

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

This is quite predictable for me – I have been a fan of Bardugo’s Grishaverse books for quite a long time.

Rule of Wolves is the second volume in the duology King of Scars, following beloved recurring Grishaverse characters: Nikolai Lantsov and Zoya Nazyalensky, as they struggle to rule a war-ravaged Ravka, and Nina Zenik, who has become a Ravkan spy collecting intel on enemy land, mourning her dead lover. The stakes are higher in the second book, as Ravkan enemies close around its borders and an old enemy returns.

Listen, do I think Rule of Wolves (ROW) was Bardugo’s best book or a perfect, flawless story? Far from it. It is my favorite 2021 for two reasons. For starters, this duology managed to get me out of a severe reading slump: I devoured King of Scars with a ferocity unmatched by other books in 2021, and immediately set to buy the second installment online, which had just been released in March.

Secondly, the author has announced that this will be the last Grishaverse book for a while, which made this book all the more important to me. Rather than devouring it as I did the first one, I took my time. When I finished it around April, it was with a heavy heart, and though I found several flaws with the characters and stories, I had so much fun reading it; it’s a must-read for any Grishaverse fan, for its importance to the world.

I have been a fan of Bardugo’s fantasy YA series for a while, and I hate to see it come to an end (at least for now, as far as I know). If you wish to delve into the Grishaverse, it is not the best to start with – I recommend Six of Crows or Shadow and Bone – but as it is, it was definitely the highlight of my reading year.

by Catarina Vicente