Science fiction and fantasy books are my favorite way to escape reality. There’s nothing better than epic space battles, magical universes, and fantastical journeys. This year, I’ve read such an incredible array of books that it was so hard to just pick a few to share! That said, this list spans a wide range of fun romps, and provides updates on when some highly anticipated sequels will be coming. Picking up any of these books is a guaranteed way to get lost in space, time, or someplace entirely new altogether.
BLACK SUN technically came out at the end of 2020, but I’m counting it on this list anyway because I read it this year and I would be remiss if I didn’t include it! BLACK SUN is such a gorgeous literary fantasy, and I wanted to savor each word. Weaving in cultural inspiration from the Pre-Columbian Americas, this book has some of my favorite worldbuilding and character development, following a woman who can control the seas on a ship carrying a man bound for a foretold destiny. It’s also a perfect series for fans of BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF by Marlon James. The second book in the series, FEVERED STAR, is coming out in Spring 2022 so we don’t have long to wait. It picks up where BLACK SUN left off, and I know fans are dying to find out what happened in that cliff-hanger ending. As always, Rebecca Roanhorse delivers.
From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn comes the “engrossing and vibrant” (Tochi Onyebuchi, author of Riot Baby) first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.
A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun
In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial even proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created a “brilliant world that shows the full panoply of human grace and depravity” (Ken Liu, award-winning author of The Grace of Kings). This epic adventure explores the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in this “absolutely tremendous” (S.A. Chakraborty, nationally bestselling author of The City of Brass) and most original series debut of the decade.
I am so thrilled that Sarah Raughley has a new book out! Her Effigies series was full of elemental magic and gave me a lot of nostalgia for my childhood spent reading Tamora Pierce books. I have been eagerly waiting for a new book from her. BONES OF RUIN doesn’t disappoint. It’s historical fantasy—which is one of my favorite genres of fantasy—set in an alternative version of 1880s London. It involves strange superpowers, a mysterious competition, and our main character trying to figure out who she really is while being distracted by a steamy love triangle. This is for fans of THE LAST MAGICIAN and THE GILDED WOLVES, and if you’re a fan of secret societies, gladiator-style tournaments, and lost civilizations all set in a world that is supposedly ending, you will love this book!
An African tightrope walker who can’t die gets embroiled in a secret society’s deadly gladiatorial tournament in this thrilling historical fantasy set in an alternate 1880s London, perfect for fans of The Last Magician and The Gilded Wolves.
As an African tightrope dancer in Victorian London, Iris is used to being strange. She is certainly a strange sight for leering British audiences always eager for the spectacle of colonial curiosity. But Iris also has a secret that even “strange” doesn’t capture…
She cannot die.
Haunted by her unnatural power and with no memories of her past, Iris is obsessed with discovering who she is. But that mission gets more complicated when she meets the dark and alluring Adam Temple, a member of a mysterious order called the Enlightenment Committee. Adam seems to know much more about her than he lets on, and he shares with her a terrifying revelation: the world is ending, and the Committee will decide who lives…and who doesn’t.
To help them choose a leader for the upcoming apocalypse, the Committee is holding the Tournament of Freaks, a macabre competition made up of vicious fighters with fantastical abilities. Adam wants Iris to be his champion, and in return he promises her the one thing she wants most: the truth about who she really is.
If Iris wants to learn about her shadowy past, she has no choice but to fight. But the further she gets in the grisly tournament, the more she begins to remember—and the more she wonders if the truth is something best left forgotten.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a retelling that’s so unique and powerful. Set in 1920s Shanghai, this ROMEO AND JULIET retelling has a setting that’s just humming with life. And while a retelling always takes some predicable turns, this one still feels refreshing and original, and includes a heart-stopping ending. Best of all, the sequel (and finale to this YA duology), OUR VIOLENT ENDS, comes out November 2021 so we don’t have long to wait to find out how this forbidden romance ends.
An Instant New York Times Bestseller!
A BuzzFeed Best Young Adult Book of 2020
Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Serpent & Dove, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.
The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.
A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.
But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.
I know I’m not the only one who was first drawn toward this book because of the stunning cover. I mean, look at it—I wanted to know more about this character immediately. I won’t leave you in suspense: Deka is waiting for an important ceremony to find out if she is pure or impure, but when the blood ceremony reveals her as impure, she must choose whether to accept it or fight in an army of women just like her. THE GILDED ONES is a debut book for author Namina Forna, but you would never guess that; the writing is strong and the character development is complex. There are some heavy topics in this fantasy novel, but it’s handled both realistically and sensitively. This book is full of strong women and it’s so difficult to put down!
This book mixes the social commentary of THE HANDMAID’S TALE with the epic space opera saga from RED RISING. It takes place in our own solar system, far in the future with incredible (and classic sci-fi) technology and planetary colonization. The title character, First Sister, has no name and no voice. She’s a priestess who, like all priestesses of the Sisterhood, travels on spacecrafts with the soldiers of Earth and Mars. She has zero rights to her voice or her body and has been asked to get close to the new captain to spy on her. This mission becomes difficult, however—spying is a bit hard to do while falling in love. Plus, the sequel, THE SECOND REBEL, just came out on August 24!
Combining the social commentary of The Handmaid’s Tale with the white-knuckled thrills of Red Rising, this epic space opera filled with “lush prose” (Publishers Weekly) follows a comfort woman as she claims her agency, a soldier questioning his allegiances, and a non-binary hero out to save the solar system.
First Sister has no name and no voice. As a priestess of the Sisterhood, she travels the stars alongside the soldiers of Earth and Mars—the same ones who own the rights to her body and soul. When her former captain abandons her, First Sister’s hopes for freedom are dashed when she is forced to stay on her ship with no friends, no power, and a new captain—Saito Ren—whom she knows nothing about. She is commanded to spy on Captain Ren by the Sisterhood, but soon discovers that working for the war effort is much harder when you’re falling in love.
Lito val Lucius climbed his way out of the slums to become an elite soldier of Venus but was defeated in combat by none other than Saito Ren, resulting in the disappearance of his partner, Hiro. When Lito learns that Hiro is both alive and a traitor to the cause, he now has a shot at redemption: track down and kill his former partner. But when he discovers recordings that Hiro secretly made, Lito’s own allegiances are put to the test. Ultimately, he must decide between following orders and following his heart.
With “a layered, action-filled plot and diverse characters” (Library Journal), The First Sister explores the power of technology, colonization, race, and gender and is perfect for fans of James S.A. Corey, Chuck Wendig, and Jay Posey.
Early in 2021 we were gifted this hardcore sci-fi book, PERSEPHONE STATION. If you are looking for The Mandalorian meets Kill Bill with an empowering female and nonbinary cast, you will love this book. This space opera is basically a sci-fi Western filled with adventure and crime. If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller in space, you’ve found it!
Hugo award–nominated author Stina Leicht has created a take on space opera for fans of The Mandalorian and Cowboy Bebop in this high-stakes adventure.
Persephone Station, a seemingly backwater planet that has largely been ignored by the United Republic of Worlds becomes the focus for the Serrao-Orlov Corporation as the planet has a few secrets the corporation tenaciously wants to exploit.
Rosie—owner of Monk’s Bar, in the corporate town of West Brynner, caters to wannabe criminals and rich Earther tourists, of a sort, at the front bar. However, exactly two types of people drank at Monk’s back bar: members of a rather exclusive criminal class and those who sought to employ them.
Angel—ex-marine and head of a semi-organized band of beneficent criminals, wayward assassins, and washed up mercenaries with a penchant for doing the honorable thing is asked to perform a job for Rosie. What this job reveals will effect Persephone and put Angel and her squad up against an army. Despite the odds, they are rearing for a fight with the Serrao-Orlov Corporation. For Angel, she knows that once honor is lost, there is no regaining it. That doesn’t mean she can’t damned well try.
AMONG THIEVES is such a fun fantasy book that I am so excited to share the hype with everyone. It’s Oceans Eleven meets SIX OF CROWS. Our main character is Ryia, who is already an impressive (and deadly) mercenary. While planning a high-stakes heist, we meet a band of misfits with myriad skills that they’ll lend to this adventure. There’s magic, high seas, humor, and betrayal—all the things you’d want in a good heist.
A thrilling fantasy debut—a high-stakes heist novel set in a gritty world of magic and malice, and perfect for fans of Six of Crows!
In just over a year’s time, Ryia Cautella has already earned herself a reputation as the quickest, deadliest blade in the dockside city of Carrowwick—not to mention the sharpest tongue. But Ryia Cautella is not her real name.
For the past six years, a deadly secret has kept her in hiding, running from town to town, doing whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of the formidable Guildmaster—the sovereign ruler of the five kingdoms of Thamorr. No matter how far or fast she travels, his servants never fail to track her down...but even the most powerful men can be defeated.
Ryia’s path now leads directly into the heart of the Guildmaster’s stronghold, and against every instinct she has, it’s not a path she can walk alone. Forced to team up with a crew of assorted miscreants, smugglers, and thieves, Ryia must plan her next moves very carefully. If she succeeds, her freedom is won once and for all…but unfortunately for Ryia, her new allies are nearly as selfish as she is, and they all have plans of their own.
I love exploring a new epic fantasy series, especially one set in a magical world inspired by precolonial Africa. Moreover, one that features a main character with magic he shouldn’t have access. SON OF THE STORM is the start of a trilogy, and I already cannot wait for the next book in the series. This is another book from this year with well-developed characters, and the struggle for power based on appearance and identity is such an interesting concept to explore. And really, I won’t say much about the end, but believe me, the climax is so worth it—soon you’ll be waiting for book two right along with me!