It’s a whole new reading year, and I’m making up my list of new fantasy books that I must read over the next eleven months. (If you want to follow my progress you can check out my Goodreads page ). A few years ago, I found myself in a bit of a reading rut. I decided to step away from the epic fantasy genre and pick up some new literary fiction and nonfiction. That experience was part of why I decided to start this blog. I had always read classics, but other than that, it had been all fantasy all the time. I realized that broadening my horizons could have a positive impact on my reading- and hopefully, my writing- life.
Having said that, I am still a fantasy fan, and after getting out of my rut, I jumped back on board. As we speak, I’m finishing up yet another Wheel of Time reread. But I also realized that I could broaden my horizons within the fantasy genre. There are new and exciting fantasy books coming out every year. Sure, I enjoy the ‘big names’– Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, etc. But what about the emerging authors? What do they have to say? How are they transforming or subverting the genre? Fantasy is more diverse than it has ever been, with female authors and authors from non-western cultures contributing their unique perspectives.
Last year I read The Poppy War by Chinese-American author R.F. Kuang (published in 2018). Kuang created a riveting story, set in a fanciful version of 1930’s China. In 2018, I read Children of Blood and Bone by Nigerian-American writer Tomi Adeyemi. Her book takes place in Nigeria and was inspired by some really cool Nigerian mythology. As far as I know, nothing like these was being published twenty years ago. So I’m on the search for other newish fantasy books that will breathe fresh life into the genre and show me something unexpected.
Here are ten books that I’m hoping will do just that:
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
This book came out in March 2019 and has already generated a lot of buzz. A Memory Called Empire is a space opera about an ambassador, Mahit Dzmare, who is sent to the multi-system empire of Teixcaalani. When she arrives, she finds that her predecessor has died under suspicious circumstances. No one will admit the death wasn’t an accident, and Mahit ends up playing a deadly political game while navigating the strange alien culture.
Readers rave about this book’s multilayered, detailed world-building and fascinating cast of characters. If you love to read about political maneuvering a-la A Song of Ice and Fire or the Kushiel’s Dart Trilogy, then you will probably enjoy A Memory Called Empire.
My favorite epic fantasy books involve big, complex worlds and cosmologies that lend themselves to theorizing and mystery-solving. I’m hoping to find a new series that pulls me in like that. Maybe A Memory Called Empire will be it.
The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller
This book was published in 2011 and was Miller’s debut novel. It wasn’t on my radar until I heard about her more recent novel, Circe, on a podcast I was listening to. The Song of Achilles is supposed to be a lyrical, profoundly moving retelling of the story of Troy. Reviews indicate that Miller’s works are destined to become classics. I’m really hoping that this one lives up to all the hype. I also plan on reading Circe, but I want to start with Miller’s first book. Give this one a read if you like mythology, romance, and damaged heroes.
House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig
This book is described as a dark take on the Grimm’s story of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” I’ve always been intrigued by that story, and I’m interested to see what Craig did with it. Reviews describe this book as being a super creepy fantasy/horror, which I’m always down for. I also like that it’s a stand-alone book. I’ve been a series reader all my life, but I really appreciate being able to pick up a book and finish the story in one read with no waiting for sequels. I’m hoping this book is a little punch of awesome in my reading year (and yours too).
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
This book was already on my list, and now that it’s won the Goodreads Choice award for 2019, I’m especially excited. Bardugo has been writing for a while now; she’s the author of the Grishaverse books (The Shadow and Bone trilogy, Six of Crows duology, etc.) I had vaguely heard of these books, but they had never really been on my radar. Ninth House is Bardugo’s very first adult fantasy novel (her other stuff is YA). She apparently made the most of writing for an older audience because every review I’ve seen for this book comes with a paragraph’s worth of trigger warnings.
I like the premise of a girl investigating the occult goings-on at real-life Yale secret societies. I remember hearing about the Skull and Bones Club at some point during the most recent Bush presidency, and I thought it was strange and interesting. It just makes sense to create a world where these societies have actual occult powers. This is supposed to be the first of a series, so I’m hoping the world building will be fascinating and complex. If I like this one, I will probably check out her other work. Fans of dark urban fantasy should find something to love in Ninth House.
The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons
This book has been compared to the biggest stars of the fantasy genre, including the work of Patrick Rothfuss and George RR. Martin. Fortunately, reviews indicate that The Ruin of Kings is also very much its own story, not just a rip off of popular books. This book is a debut, and it is supposed to be one of the most complex, detailed fantasy books of 2019. If you, like me, are a fan of extremely complex world -building as seen in Tolkien and Robert Jordan books, then you will want to give The Ruin of Kings a try.
The Ruin of Kings tells the story of thief Kihrin via a conversation between him and his not-quite-human jailor Talon. Kihrin’s life was changed forever after a burglary job went horribly wrong. His initial flight from the demons and sorcerers he helped unleash turns into an epic tale with multiple twists and turns. The world-building is multilayered and includes dragons-you can never go wrong with dragons, right?
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
This is not Jamaican -born author Marlon James’ first book, but it is (as far as I can tell) his first foray into fantasy. Black Leopard, Red Wolf, tells the story of Tracker–known far and wide for his hunting skills, and his search for a missing child. Along the way, he ends up working with a group of unusual and mysterious characters, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard. James draws from African mythology and history to create the type of unique world that fantasy readers crave. Black Leopard, Red Wolf was named The Best Book of 2019 by The Wall Street Journal, TIME, NPR, GQ, Vogue, and The Washington Post. It was also a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award. I’m hoping it lives up to the hype.
The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood
This book is slated for release in February 2020, and the pre-release reviews are already out of this world. The Unspoken Name tells the story of Csorwe, raised from birth to be sacrificed for her people. On the day when she is supposed to fulfill her destiny, Csorwe meets a powerful mage who offers her the choice to turn away from her god and become his apprentice. Csorwe’s apprenticeship leads to her training as a thief, an assassin, and a spy, toppling empires. But her debt to her god will someday have to be paid. This one made my list because it is supposed to be a fresh twist on the high fantasy story. And because I love anything about assassins, sacrifices, and fighting destiny. This is also a high fantasy story by a female author, and those aren’t growing on trees.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
What if Rumplestiltskin was a woman? And what if instead of literally spinning gold, she was just really good with money? Better than her father or other men around her. Now, what if she got pulled into a dangerous web of plots involving a Tsar and the fae. Well, you’d get Spinning Silver.
This book has garnered rave reviews since it came out in 2018. It’s interesting because I’d never thought about how seldom you see women heavily involved with money/finance in fiction until I saw the plot of this book. I’ve also heard that if you read between the lines, you’ll see some statements about Jewish moneylenders and antisemitism. The author is a woman of Lithuanian-Jewish descent, so she brings a unique voice to fantasy. I always love to find out what kinds of stories different sorts of people tell when given a chance. Novik is also the author of the highly acclaimed novel Uprooted. I recommend both of these novels if you like twisted fairytales and subversive fantasy.
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
This is the oldest publication on the list (2008), and the only ‘children’s book’. I put that in quotes because it really is for anyone, not just kids. Reviewers seem to have very strong feelings about this book, both positive and negative. That tells me that the author must be doing something right. It doesn’t get much more original than this story of a boy and his dog from a town where everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts. One day, said boy, Todd, stumbles into an area of complete silence, where he can’t hear anyone’s thoughts. There he discovers a horrible secret that puts him on the run for his life. But how do you hide a secret when the people chasing you can hear your every thought? Read this one if you are looking for a book that will make you see the world around you in a different light.
So there you have it, ten fresh new SFF books I’m going to read this year. If you haven’t checked out new fantasy stuff for a while, then I hope you’ll join me. If you have read any of the books on this list, I’d love to know what you thought of them. I’m also always open to recommendations. Be sure to check out my Reading Challenge page to see what non-fantasy book reviews I have coming up this year.