Top 10 Books of 2023

The Crimson Arts Board presents its favorite books of 2023, from "The Shards" to "The Chalice of the Gods."
By The Crimson Arts Staff

By Courtesy of Knopf
Few book series have defined my generation with such outstanding popularity and longevity as “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.”
Few book series have defined my generation with such outstanding popularity and longevity as “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.” By Courtesy of Disney Hyperion

10. ‘The Chalice of the Gods’ by Rick Riordan

The acclaimed author Rick Riordan — dubbed “storyteller of the gods” by Publishers Weekly — brought fans of his Percy Jackson series a riveting new addition: “The Chalice of the Gods.” “A sort of ‘Percy Jackson 6’” according to the author’s website, the book is set after the events of “The Heroes of Olympus” but before “The Trials of Apollo” and follows Percy Jackson, everyone’s favorite witty and lovable son of Poseidon, as he applies to college — the scariest quest of all! Conveniently published a few months before the adapted TV series “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” premiers on Disney+, Riordan hoped to both generate hype for the upcoming show and evoke the nostalgia of the beloved original series for fans of his work. “The Chalice of the Gods” centers Percy, Annabeth, and Grover — the iconic trio from the first book in the Percy Jackson universe — and features the same wisecracking humor and lighthearted storytelling that long-time readers will recognize. Riordan calls his book a “thank you” to fans for sticking with him so long, and readers will surely enjoy this book’s nostalgic, familiar feel. This novel deserves a place in the best books of 2023 as a beautiful continuation of the legendary “Percy Jackson” canon. —Arielle C. Frommer

Read our recent coverage of Rick Riordan’s Keynote speech at the 2023 Boston Book Festival.

Cover of José Olivarez's "Promises of Gold."
Cover of José Olivarez's "Promises of Gold." By Courtesy of Macmillan Publishing

9. ‘Promises of Gold’ by José Olivarez

The latest poetry collection from the author of “Citizen Illegal,” “Promises of Gold” by José Olivarez, makes no empty promises. In a series of well-organized and structurally unconventional poems, Olivarez addresses the poignant everyday moments in life with interspersed commentary on the American Dream, humanity, and family. The pages of this book hold a carefully-crafted, intimate story of the relationships in Olvarez’s life and the emotions they evoke, all told in the casual tone of having a conversation with a trusted friend. Notably, the book contains a nuanced Spanish translation of Olivarez’s work by David Ruano González, allowing the poetry to reach a greater audience. Given its ubiquitous themes of love, family, and life’s promises, this collection’s relatability and breadth secure it a spot in the top ten books of 2023. —Aiden J. Bowers

Read our 5 star review of “Promises of Gold” here.

Cover of V.E. Schwab's "The Fragile Threads of Power."
Cover of V.E. Schwab's "The Fragile Threads of Power." By Courtesy of Macmillan

8. ‘The Fragile Threads of Power’ by V. E. Schwab

“The Fragile Threads of Power” provides an artful, introspective continuation of V.E. Schwab’s much-adored “Shades of Magic” trilogy, exploring the lives of characters new and old in a new fantasy adventure. An atypical sequel to fantasy series, this novel follows a winding, sulky narrative that breaks the boundaries of space and time through frequently shifting narrators in an expansive, magical world. Character development shines in this latest installment, which explores the powerful aftermath and traumas of adventure and the inevitable maturation of returning characters after a seven-year timeskip. The artistry of this book is undeniable — a hefty title meant to be savored, “The Fragile Threads of Power” provided the perfect literary piquancy to relish this year. —Aiden J. Bowers

Read our 4 star review of “The Fragile Threads of Power” here.

"He Who Drowned the World" by Shelley Parker-Chan
"He Who Drowned the World" by Shelley Parker-Chan By Courtesy of Tor Books

7. ‘He Who Drowned the World’ by Shelley Parker-Chan

The second installment and conclusion to the historical fantasy duology that began with “She Who Became the Sun,” Shelley Parker-Chan’s “He Who Drowned the World” is a thrilling finale to the British Fantasy Award–winning series. Following monk-turned-king Zhu Yuanzhang and an extensive cast of power-hungry political players vying for control of Yuan Dynasty China, “He Who Drowned the World” isn’t just any epic fantasy — it’s a complex and brutal interrogation of sexual politics, gender non-conforming bodies, and manipulation of power. Parker-Chan skillfully balances several perspectives and moving parts to craft an unflinchingly written story that doesn’t hesitate to take risks with its subject matter. “He Who Drowned the World” is an explosive conclusion to a debut fantasy duology that is certain to put Shelley Parker-Chan on the map. —Samantha H. Chung

Cover of Brandon Sanderson's "Tress of the Emerald Sea."
Cover of Brandon Sanderson's "Tress of the Emerald Sea." By Courtesy of Macmillan Publishing

6. ‘Tress of the Emerald Sea’ by Brandon Sanderson

The first of Brandon Sanderson’s much-awaited Secret Project campaign, “Tress of the Emerald Sea” demonstrates the author’s commendable range in talent. The story follows young Tress, a girl curious about the world beyond her little home on an island in the sea. The tale is fantastical and situated within the larger universe of Sanderson’s Cosmere. But this novel turns away from the political, epic stories of Sanderson’s larger tomes and instead focuses on a more lighthearted and whimsical story about Tress’s adventure sailing away from home. The beautiful simplicity of “Tress of the Emerald Sea” is reminiscent of fairy tales from our youth — yet Sanderson gives this genre his own special spin, imbuing it with his knack for character-building and imaginative plot lines. The novel stands out among the books of 2023 for its creativity in the highly saturated fantasy genre and for the impact of Sanderson’s record-shattering Kickstarter campaign. — Hannah E. Gadway

Eliza Clark sat down with The Harvard Crimson to discuss her sophomore novel, “Penance.”
Eliza Clark sat down with The Harvard Crimson to discuss her sophomore novel, “Penance.” By Courtesy of Robin Christian and HarperCollins

5. ‘Penance’ by Eliza Clark

If asked whether we would relive our high school years, most of us would answer, “Hell no!” “Penance” forces readers to do exactly that, but with deadlier consequences. The sophomore novel of “Boy Parts” author Eliza Clark is a clever, provocative thriller that offers a sharp commentary on the true crime industry. Framed as a nonfiction book written by the infamously unreliable journalist Alec Z. Carelli, “Penance” recounts the violent murder of a teenage girl by her high school classmates on the night of the Brexit referendum. Through interviews, diary entries, and Tumblr threads, “Penance” weaves stories of vicious girlhood, class conflict, online drama, and unethical reporting that come together to form a novel that is utterly unique in both content and form. —Samantha H. Chung

Read our interview with author Eliza Clark here.

"Chain Gang All Stars" by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
"Chain Gang All Stars" by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah By Courtesy of Pantheon

4. ‘Chain-Gang All-Stars’ by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s dystopian novel “Chain-Gang All-Stars” has been the talk of the literary world for several months — and for good reason. Taking place in a future version of the United States where prisoners fight each other in televised (and wildly popular) death matches in exchange for the promise of freedom, the novel follows two incarcerated women — Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker — who are teammates, lovers, and fan-favorite fighters. “Chain-Gang All-Stars” is a searing critique of the private prison industry, systemic racism, and the American carceral system. While not a light read by any means, “Chain-Gang All-Stars” is a phenomenal debut from an exciting new literary voice and a chilling novel that will stay with readers for a long time. —Samantha H. Chung

"All the Beauty in the World" by Patrick Bringley
"All the Beauty in the World" by Patrick Bringley By Courtesy of Simon and Schuster

3. ‘All The Beauty In the World’ by Patrick Bringley

If anyone has mastered a deep, almost meditative appreciation for life, it’s Patrick Bringely. In his memoir, “All The Beauty In the World,” Bringley shares the story of his brother’s tragic passing, and how that single life event has altered Bringley’s priorities in life. Immediately quitting his corporate job in New York City, he decides to follow a suppressed passion by becoming a museum guard at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Readers learn not only about some of Bringley’s favorite pieces inside the museum but more importantly about the people who enter indoors. Readers will walk away with a greater awareness of the ways in which we do, and do not, engage with art in our daily lives and reconsider the people and things that deserve our attention and designation as beautiful. — Sarah M. Rojas

Read our 4.5 star review of “All the Beauty in the World” here.

Cover of R.F. Kuang's "Yellowface."
Cover of R.F. Kuang's "Yellowface." By Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers

2. ‘Yellowface’ by R.F. Kuang

R. F. Kuang proved herself a genre chameleon with her widely acclaimed first literary fiction — released in May, “Yellowface” gives a salacious fictionalized look at problems endemic within modern day publishing. Exploring the problem of cultural appropriation within an authorial context, the novel begins with an accidental death which the white protagonist, June, exploits to steal the manuscript of her significantly more successful Asian American author friend Athena in order to pass it off as her own. Questioning what it means to be authentic in a brilliantly satirical and creative way, “Yellowface” deconstructs pathetic white entitlement and what it means for a story to be “yours” to tell — and the acknowledgements’ reframing it as a novel about crushing loneliness make clear why this story about a truly awful protagonist still manages to sparkle. Clever, ambitious, witty, and urgent, Kuang’s “Yellowface” deserves a spot high up on any best books of 2023 list. —Millie Mae Healy

Read our 3 star review of “Yellowface” here.

Cover of Bret Easton Ellis's "The Shards."
Cover of Bret Easton Ellis's "The Shards." By Courtesy of Knopf

1. ‘The Shards’ by Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis, the author behind “Less Than Zero” and “American Psycho,” is a master in his craft, and his latest piece of fiction after a 13-year-long career break proves that he is still at the top of his game. “The Shards” delves into what “really” happened to its semi-autobiographical narrator Bret Ellis and his friends when a serial killer started haunting Los Angeles in the early ’80s. But Bret is an unreliable narrator, and the “truth” is not always as simple as it may seem. Ellis’s novel stands out for its relentless pacing, multi-faceted characters, and direct style. It is also thematically strong, touching upon issues like grappling with identity as a young person and the dark side of the American dream. Ellis’s tale reads like a twisted, modern version of Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” — its tragedy comes about from the image of a man reaching for something not quite within his reach. Ellis’s book came out at the very start of 2023, but it has haunted us ever since. — Hannah E. Gadway

Read our 4.5 star review of “The Shards” here.

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