It’s the holiday season and the yule log is burning in the Imperial Palace’s hearth! We know a lot of people are in the last frenzy of gift shopping, and the editors here at Ballads of the Distant Reaches wanted to share some of our favorite books, movies, comic books, shows, and video games from 2022 to help inspire you.
Don’t forget, you can always give a subscription to Ballads of the Distant Reaches as a gift. For a limited time, we’re running a 25% off promotion! It’s a great gift for friends and family in far places.
Lastly, the early reviews of our new t-shirts and hoodies are in: They’re incredibly soft and extra stylish!
So, without further ado, here are our 2022 Editors’ Picks:
Robert Frankel’s Picks
Age of Ash
I’m a huge fan of The Expanse (both the book and the show), and co-author Daniel Abraham’s new Kithamar Trilogy is already filling the void left in that series’s conclusion. Age of Ash is the first volume of Abraham’s Kithamar Trilogy, the entirety of which is set in the great city of Kithamar over the course of a single year in each of the characters’ lives.
This first book follows Alys, a lowly young thief whose quest to avenge her brother’s murder leads her dangerously close to the dark magic fueling Kithamar itself. I was expecting the fresh characters, the unique and subtle magic system, and the vivid descriptions — but I was not expecting the nuanced exploration of grief, the slow-boiling tension, or the incredible richness of the enclosed setting. Kithamar feels more expansive and expressive than fantasy settings covering twice the landmass, making the stakes of the plot feel far more urgent. The cadre of allies and enemies surrounding Alys are fully drawn, and Alys herself is a magnificent heroine whose journey into the darkness of her city doubles as a journey into the darkness of her being. I loved every page of this book and recommend it to anyone looking for a new fantasy obsession. The second volume, Blade of Dream, hits shelves summer 2023. Catch up this winter!
Who would have thought a hitman could find such emotional resonance? This year of HBO’s Barry found the show at its bleakest and still, somehow, at its most uproarious — at least until the season’s final few episodes, when the creative team made the bold choice to let the darkness unfold without laughter.
Between Barry’s increasingly fraught attempts to “be good,” Sally’s self-destruction, NoHo Hank’s struggle for stability in both his crime and love lives, Gene’s desperation to disentangle himself from Barry, and the best chase sequence this side of The French Connection, there was a ton to love in season three. As someone who’s just endured his first year in Los Angeles, it really does feel like this city is trying to kill you sometimes. Here’s hoping I survive long enough to see the fourth season next year!
Released on PC and Mac in 2020, I caught up with Omori this year after it was ported to consoles. It’s now one of my favorite interactive experiences, with a gorgeous art style and a mature story about friendship, guilt, and forgiveness.
Omori is a retro-style JRPG with a combat system based on the emotional state of the player characters; it’s like rock-paper-scissors, but with “happy,” “sad,” or “angry” as force multipliers. But Omori’s story shines brightest. Players control Sunny, a young boy who hasn’t gone outside since the death of his sister four years ago, and Omori, Sunny’s alter-ego who exists only in his dreams. Plagued by horrific visions and nightmares, Sunny, Omori, and their friends work together to overcome fears, solve the mystery of a missing friend, and mend old wounds. However, the repressed darkness between Sunny and Omori might still destroy them all. Omori is psychological horror at its finest, filtering the gothic and the Lovecraftian through the lens of anxiety, depression, and childlike whimsy. It’s scary, sensitive, and devastating — and one of the most emotionally cathartic games I’ve ever played. Highly recommended!
Benjamin Reeves’ Picks
Okay, so I’m a sucker for a good vampire story. I’ll acknowledge that right out of the gate. But Killadelphia, the comic book series written by Rodney Barnes (one of the writers behind STARZ’s American Gods, among other shows) and Spawn artist Jason Shawn Alexander, gets into your bloodstream like yellow fever on a swampy summer night by the Schuylkill River.
The Philly of it all is honestly part of the fun. The story follows a beat cop with daddy issues who is investigating the mysterious death of his father, a long-time Philadelphia homicide detective. And guess what — the cause of death has fangs and hangs from the ceiling. And maybe, just maybe, former United States President John Adams is back from the grave and intent on raising an undead army. Guard your cheesesteak, make friends with the Phanatic, give Gritty a slap on the ass while you’re at it (if you dare), and crack the cover of this Eisner Award nominee for Best New Series to get your Philly freak on.
The Legend of Vox Machina
When I first sat down to watch The Legend of Vox Machina I was, shall we say, skeptical. On paper, an Amazon adult animation show based on the exploits of the characters from a Dungeons & Dragons podcast (Critical Role) but without any of the Dungeons & Dragons intellectual property seems like something that should, well, not be good. That could not be further from the truth. The story rips along from the cold open, the characters spring to life, the animation is pretty cool, and it’s just generally a really good time. I’m particularly fond of the gnome bard who uses a giant enchanted hand to give one of the baddies the finger. It’s juvenile, but, trust me, it’s a great moment.
Fans of Dungeons & Dragons or Critical Role will certainly find a lot here to enjoy, but because it takes place in a fully formed fantasy world with well-crafted and complex characters, any fantasy lover can drop right into the story. Season 2 of The Legend of Vox Machina comes out on Amazon Prime Video on January 20, which means you have plenty of time to catch up. For those looking for gift ideas right now, why not consider some of the great merch over at Critical Role?
Top Gun: Maverick
If you missed Top Gun: Maverick in theaters this past summer, I’m sorry, because it was Hollywood at its best. Tom Cruise imbues the film with star power, the story hits all the right notes — from nostalgia to gripping adventure — and it elicited standing ovations at even twee theaters catering to Subaru-driving liberals like the Nitehawk Cinema in Park Slope, Brooklyn. If you want a serious review of the movie, check out A.O. Scott’s for The New York Times. Even the straight rip-off of Luke attacking the Death Start doesn’t detract from the story. The whole movie just works, and the adrenaline never lets up.
If you or a friend hasn’t seen Top Gun: Maverick yet, pick up the Blu-Ray, make some popcorn, turn the lights off, and turn up the volume. And, as the first jets roar by, reflect for a moment on the fact that the entire film was shot using real fighter jets moving faster than the speed of sound. As a feat of macho filmmaking, Top Gun: Maverick is unmatched, and your heart won’t stop pumping until it ends.