It seems like it becomes harder to limit my anticipated speculative fiction book releases post to a semi-reasonable number of works every year, and it was incredibly difficult to narrow down my initial long list of titles coming out in 2021. But after scouring the web for early reviews, excerpts, and more information from the author and/or publisher, I managed to cut it down to 30 books that I think look especially promising. (Of course, a few of these books are also ones that I do not need to know much about yet because of the strength of their authors’ previous works!)

As always, this is nowhere close to being a comprehensive list of speculative fiction being published in 2021, and I’m sure I will hear of more books that sound noteworthy throughout the year. A couple of these books appeared on my list last year since they were originally scheduled for publication in 2020, and some of these may end up being pushed back as well. I did not include books I’m hoping to see over the next few months if I couldn’t find anything from the author or publisher saying it was scheduled for this year (such as the sequel to Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun, which would absolutely be near the top of a list like this one!).

This list is ordered by release date, if known, and these dates are US release dates unless otherwise stated. The first book on this list just came out this month, but the rest are upcoming.

Due to the length of this blog post, I’m only showing the first 6 books on the main page. You can click the title of the post or the ‘more…’ link after the sixth book to read the entire article.

Some cover images or titles link to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Hall of Smoke by H. M. Long - Cover Image
Hall of Smoke by H. M. Long
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: January 19 (Out Now!)

H. M. Long’s debut novel sounds right up my alley with its warrior priestess and meddling gods. The FAQs section on the author’s website has a brief description with a little about who may be especially interested in checking it out:

Hall of Smoke is an epic fantasy with a Viking flavour, packed with action, meddling gods, and an atmospheric world of pines and mountains and creatures that want to eat you.

Readers, if you’re a fan of Brian Staveley, Robin Hobb, Tasha Suri, and RJ Barker, you will love Hall of Smoke.

Gamers? If you’re into Skyrim, God of War, or Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Hall of Smoke is for you.

Binge-watchers? If Vikings, The Last Kingdom and Netflix’s Barbarians are your thing, Hall of Smoke will be too.

And how could I not want to read a book after catching a glimpse of the line “I was the first to offend the goddess this season” on the very first page?

 

Epic fantasy featuring warrior priestesses, and fickle gods at war, for readers of Brian Staveley’s Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne.

Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy’s bones to dust with a scream. Banished for disobeying her goddess’s command to murder a traveller, she prays for forgiveness alone on a mountainside.

While she is gone, raiders raze her village and obliterate the Eangi priesthood. Grieving and alone, Hessa – the last Eangi – must find the traveller and atone for her weakness and secure her place with her loved ones in the High Halls. As clans from the north and legionaries from the south tear through her homeland, slaughtering everyone in their path Hessa strives to win back her goddess’ favour.

Beset by zealot soldiers, deceitful gods, and newly-awakened demons at every turn, Hessa burns her path towards redemption and revenge. But her journey reveals a harrowing truth: the gods are dying and the High Halls of the afterlife are fading. Soon Hessa’s trust in her goddess weakens with every unheeded prayer.

Thrust into a battle between the gods of the Old World and the New, Hessa realizes there is far more on the line than securing a life beyond her own death. Bigger, older powers slumber beneath the surface of her world. And they’re about to wake up.

Midnight Doorways by Usman T. Malik - Cover Image
Midnight Doorways: Fables from Pakistan by Usman T. Malik
Scheduled Release Date: February

Bram Stoker and British Fantasy Award–winning author Usman T. Malik’s debut collection is being released as a one-print run illustrated hardcover with artwork by Pakistani artists. I have been hearing lots of praise for these stories and it sounds like a gorgeous book!

 

From the winner of  The British Fantasy Award and The Bram Stoker Award

* Stranded by the Taliban in the ruins of a pre-Islamic city, a woman chaperoning a school trip faces ancient horrors as boys go missing and the fog rolls in.
* Two lovers are set adrift amidst rising floodwaters in 1960s Old Lahore
* A Lahori orphanage for girls is haunted by birds and eerie visions.

With a meticulously designed cover and beautiful black-and-white illustrations by seven different Pakistani artists, Midnight Doorways is a unique community project highlighting the scope of speculative art and literature in Pakistan.

On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu - Cover Image
On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu
Scheduled Release Date: February 2

Astounding Award—winning author E. Lily Yu’s short fiction has been selected for a dozen best-of-the-year anthologies, and her stories have been finalists for several awards, including but not limited to the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards. On Fragile Waves, her debut novel, is coming soon from Erewhon Books and sounded particularly intriguing to me because of its integration of fairy tales and storytelling and the mentions of lyrical, poetic prose.

 

The haunting story of a family of dreamers and tale-tellers looking for home in an unwelcoming world.

Firuzeh and her brother Nour are children of fire, born in an Afghanistan fractured by war. When their parents, their Atay and Abay, decide to leave, they spin fairy tales of their destination, the mythical land and opportunities of Australia.

As the family journeys from Pakistan to Indonesia to Nauru, heading toward a hope of home, they must rely on fragile and temporary shelters, strangers both mercenary and kind, and friends who vanish as quickly as they’re found.

When they arrive in Australia, what seemed like a stable shore gives way to treacherous currents. Neighbors, classmates, and the government seek their own ends, indifferent to the family’s fate. For Firuzeh, her fantasy worlds provide some relief, but as her family and home splinter, she must surface from these imaginings and find a new way.

This exquisite and unusual magic realist debut, told in intensely lyrical prose by an award winning author, traces one girl’s migration from war to peace, loss to loss, home to home.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna - Book Cover
The Gilded Ones (The Gilded Ones #1) by Namina Forna
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: February 9

Namina Forna’s debut novel is one of those books I was excited about last year that ended up being pushed back to this year. I’ve been eager to read this YA fantasy series since I came across a fantastic interview with the author at Refinery29, in which she describes The Gilded Ones as “a book of my anger about being a woman.” She expanded on that later in her answer by saying:

It’s just this idea that women, we are seen as objects. It doesn’t matter where in the world we are. That’s why women in my book literally bleed gold. If someone bleeds gold, then you can use that as a basic value, so that’s that metaphor right there.

(And I have a guest post by Namina Forna to share with you next month!)

 

The most anticipated fantasy of 2021. In this world, girls are outcasts by blood and warriors by choice. Get ready for battle. 

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

The start of a bold and immersive fantasy series for fans of Children of Blood and Bone and Black Panther

The Councillor by E. J. Beaton - Cover Image
The Councillor by E. J. Beaton
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: March 2

E. J. Beaton’s debut novel piqued my interest with the description “Machiavellian fantasy,” and I was only more intrigued by it after learning more about how the author’s study of Renaissance literature was a major influence in this interview at The Fantasy Hive.

 

This Machiavellian fantasy follows a scholar’s quest to choose the next ruler of her nation amidst lies, conspiracy, and assassination

When the death of Iron Queen Sarelin Brey fractures the realm of Elira, Lysande Prior, the palace scholar and the queen’s closest friend, is appointed Councillor. Publically, Lysande must choose the next monarch from amongst the city-rulers vying for the throne. Privately, she seeks to discover which ruler murdered the queen, suspecting the use of magic.

Resourceful, analytical, and quiet, Lysande appears to embody the motto she was raised with: everything in its place. Yet while she hides her drug addiction from her new associates, she cannot hide her growing interest in power. She becomes locked in a game of strategy with the city-rulers – especially the erudite prince Luca Fontaine, who seems to shift between ally and rival.

Further from home, an old enemy is stirring: the magic-wielding White Queen is on the move again, and her alliance with a traitor among the royal milieu poses a danger not just to the peace of the realm, but to the survival of everything that Lysande cares about.

In a world where the low-born keep their heads down, Lysande must learn to fight an enemy who wears many guises… even as she wages her own battle between ambition and restraint.

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine - Cover Image
A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan #2) by Arkady Martine
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: March 2

A Desolation Called Peace is the sequel to Arkady Martine’s Hugo Award–winning debut novel, A Memory Called Empire, which was also a finalist for the Nebula Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Goodreads Choice Award for Science Fiction, among numerous other awards. I’m about halfway through A Memory Called Empire now and am LOVING it—from the beautiful writing, to its appreciation of words and literature, to the exquisite details and politics, to the way it captures the loneliness and complications of suddenly finding oneself ambassador to a place one is visiting for the first time.

 

A Desolation Called Peace is the spectacular space opera sequel to Arkady Martine’s genre-reinventing, Hugo Award-winning debut, A Memory Called Empire.

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

Their failure will guarantee millions of deaths in an endless war. Their success might prevent Teixcalaan’s destruction—and allow the empire to continue its rapacious expansion.

Or it might create something far stranger . . .

Machinehood by S. B. Divya - Cover Image
Machinehood by S. B. Divya
Scheduled Release Date: March 2

I’ve been hearing great things about Hugo and Nebula Award finalist S.B. Divya’s first novel, and this starred review of Machinehood on Publishers Weekly made me take notice, especially this line:

Divya keeps the pace rapid, and her crack worldbuilding and vivid characters make for a memorable, page-turning adventure, while the thematic inquiries into human and AI labor rights offer plenty to chew on for fans of big idea sci-fi.

I’m especially interested in seeing how S.B. Divya handles artificial intelligence in the novel since she has a degree in computational neuroscience.

 

From the Hugo Award nominee S.B. Divya, Zero Dark Thirty meets The Social Network in this science fiction thriller about artificial intelligence, sentience, and labor rights in a near future dominated by the gig economy.

Welga Ramirez, executive bodyguard and ex-special forces, is about to retire early when her client is killed in front of her. It’s 2095 and people don’t usually die from violence. Humanity is entirely dependent on pills that not only help them stay alive, but allow them to compete with artificial intelligence in an increasingly competitive gig economy. Daily doses protect against designer diseases, flow enhances focus, zips and buffs enhance physical strength and speed, and juvers speed the healing process.

All that changes when Welga’s client is killed by The Machinehood, a new and mysterious terrorist group that has simultaneously attacked several major pill funders. The Machinehood operatives seem to be part human, part machine, something the world has never seen. They issue an ultimatum: stop all pill production in one week.

Global panic ensues as pill production slows and many become ill. Thousands destroy their bots in fear of a strong AI takeover. But the US government believes the Machinehood is a cover for an old enemy. One that Welga is uniquely qualified to fight.

Welga, determined to take down the Machinehood, is pulled back into intelligence work by the government that betrayed her. But who are the Machinehood and what do they really want?

A thrilling and thought-provoking novel that asks: if we won’t see machines as human, will we instead see humans as machines?

Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart - Cover Image
Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart
Scheduled Release Date: April 20

Ciannon Smart’s YA debut novel about vengeance-seeking witches in a Jamaican-inspired fantasy world sounds amazing—especially since it involves foes forced to work together and cat and mouse!

 

This Jamaican-inspired fantasy debut about two enemy witches who must enter into a deadly alliance to take down a common enemy has the twisted cat-and-mouse of Killing Eve with the richly imagined fantasy world of Furyborn and Ember in the Ashes.

Divided by their order. United by their vengeance.

Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom—and vengeance.

Jazmyne is the Queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.

Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But power is intoxicating, revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain—except the lengths they will go to win this game.

Dream Country by Ashaye Brown - Cover Image
Dream Country by Ashaye Brown
Scheduled Release Date: April 27

Onwe Press has a few upcoming books that sound wonderful, and Ashaye Brown’s debut novel sounded especially intriguing to me with its focus on a dysfunctional god family—one of whose members may have committed matricide.

 

A sibling rivalry to fuel your worst nightmares.

The dysfunctional triplet gods of Sleep, Dreams and Nightmares are kept separate by the deadly Gates of Horn and Ivory.

Only one fact keeps them tightly bound: each of them is a suspect in their mother’s murder.

Their knife-edge feud worsens when a mortal enters the world with astounding abilities that threaten to change the game for them all.

In this thrilling young adult fantasy, Ashaye Brown brings to life a visionary world infused with Kenyan, Brazilian, Caribbean, and Grecian cultural references. A story like no other with stakes as high as they come.

Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur - Cover Image
Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur
Scheduled Release Date: April 27

Angela Mi Young Hur’s second novel is another upcoming release from Erewhon Books. Folklorn and its cover first caught my eye on Twitter, and I love the sound of a genre-defying book that explores “the myths we inherit and those we fashion for ourselves.”

 

A genre-defying, continent-spanning saga of Korean myth, scientific discovery, and the abiding love that binds even the most broken of families.

Elsa Park is a particle physicist at the top of her game, stationed at a neutrino observatory in the Antarctic, confident she’s put enough distance between her ambitions and the family ghosts she’s run from all her life. But it isn’t long before her childhood imaginary friend—an achingly familiar, spectral woman in the snow—comes to claim her at last.

Years ago, Elsa’s now-catatonic mother had warned her that the women of their line were doomed to repeat the narrative lives of their ancestors from Korean myth and legend. But beyond these ghosts, Elsa also faces a more earthly fate: the mental illness and generational trauma that run in her immigrant family, a sickness no less ravenous than the ancestral curse hunting her.

When her mother breaks her decade-long silence and tragedy strikes, Elsa must return to her childhood home in California. There, among family wrestling with their own demons, she unravels the secrets hidden in the handwritten pages of her mother’s dark stories: of women’s desire and fury; of magic suppressed, stolen, or punished; of the hunger for vengeance.

From Sparks Fellow, Tin House alumna, and Harvard graduate Angela Mi Young Hur, Folklorn is a wondrous and necessary exploration of the myths we inherit and those we fashion for ourselves.

The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng (The Chronicles of the Bitch Queen #3) by K. S. Villoso
Read an Excerpt from The Wolf of Oren-Yaro (Book 1)
Scheduled Release Date: May 4

The first two books in this trilogy were my 2020 Books of the Year, and this is one of the two 2021 releases I am most looking forward to reading. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro pulled me in with its vivid narrative—one of the strongest voices I’ve encountered in my reading—and the characterization and worldbuilding in the next book were somehow even better. I can hardly wait to find out how Queen Talyien’s story ends.

 

The stunning finale to the Chronicles of the Bitch Queen trilogy where the queen of a divided land must unite her people against the enemies who threaten to tear her country apart. K. S. Villoso is a “powerful new voice in fantasy.” (Kameron Hurley)

Queen Talyien is finally home, but dangers she never imagined await her in the shadowed halls of her father’s castle.

War is on the horizon. Her son has been stolen from her, her warlords despise her, and across the sea, a cursed prince threatens her nation with invasion in order to win her hand.

Worse yet, her father’s ancient secrets are dangerous enough to bring Jin Sayeng to ruin. Dark magic tears rifts in the sky, preparing to rain down madness, chaos, and the possibility of setting her nation aflame.

Bearing the brunt of the past and uncertain about her future, Talyien will need to decide between fleeing her shadows or embracing them before the whole world becomes an inferno.

The Chronicles of the Bitch Queen
The Wolf of Oren-yaro
The Ikessar Falcon
The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng

The Ones We're Meant to Find by Joan He - Cover Image
The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He
Scheduled Release Date: May 4

I very much enjoyed Joan He’s debut novel, Descendant of the Crane, and I am so excited to see what she does with her second novel and the twists referenced in its description—plus I often love books that combine science fiction with fantasy.

 

Perfect for fans of Rick Yancey and Marie Lu, The Ones We’re Meant to Find is a sci-fi fantasy with mind-blowing twists, ready to burst onto the YA scene, from the critically-acclaimed Descendant of the Crane author, Joan He.

Cee awoke on an abandoned island three years ago. With no idea of how she was marooned, she only has a rickety house, an old android, and a single memory: she has a sister, and Cee needs to find her.

STEM prodigy Kasey wants escape from the science and home she once trusted. The Metropolis—Earth’s last unpolluted place—is meant to be sanctuary for those commited to planetary protection, but it’s populated by people willing to do anything for refuge, even lie. Now, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to use science to help humanity, even though it failed the people who mattered most.

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon - Cover Image
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
Scheduled Release Date: May 4

I’ve been wanting to read more Gothic fiction, and Astounding, Lambda, and Locus Award finalist Rivers Solomon’s upcoming novel sounds wonderful (and, I must admit, the creepy but lovely cover also caught my eye). Tor.com has more information on Sorrowland, including a bit from the author discussing how “Literature has long grappled with the monstrous and I wrote Sorrowland as a part of the literary tradition that problematizes who and who isn’t branded the monster.”

 

A triumphant, genre-bending breakout novel from one of the boldest new voices in contemporary fiction

Vern—seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised—flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world.

But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes.

To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future—outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it.

Rivers Solomon’s Sorrowland is a genre-bending work of Gothic fiction. Here, monsters aren’t just individuals, but entire nations. It is a searing, seminal book that marks the arrival of a bold, unignorable voice in American fiction.

Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Son of the Storm (The Nameless Republic #1) by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: May 11

David Mogo, Godhunter author Suyi Davies Okungbowa’s upcoming West African–inspired epic fantasy novel sounds rather compelling with forbidden magic and a conspiracy, but I’m most curious about the “clever but disillusioned scholar.”

 

From one of the most exciting new storytellers in epic fantasy, the first book in the Nameless Republic trilogy is a sweeping tale of violent conquest and forbidden magic set in a world inspired by the pre-colonial empires of West Africa.

In the thriving city of Bassa, Danso is a clever but disillusioned scholar who longs for a life beyond the rigid family and political obligations expected of the city’s elite. A way out presents itself when Lilong, a skin-changing warrior, shows up wounded in his barn. She comes from the Nameless Islands- which, according to Bassa lore, don’t exist- and neither should the mythical magic of ibor she wields.

Now swept into a conspiracy far beyond his understanding, Danso and Lilong will set out on a journey that reveals histories violently suppressed and magic only found in lore.

The Nameless Republic
Son of the Storm

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman - Cover Image
The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman
Scheduled Release Date: May 25

Horror author Christopher Buehlman’s first fantasy novel not only has a thief but one who makes the mistake of picking a mark he really should have left alone (and giant battle ravens!). As if that wasn’t enough to pique my interest all on its own, Robin Hobb’s Goodreads review of The Blacktongue Thief and the book announcement at Tor.com both make it sound like great fun.

 

Set in a world of goblin wars, stag-sized battle ravens, and assassins who kill with deadly tattoos, Christopher Buehlman’s The Blacktongue Thief begins a ‘dazzling’ (Robin Hobb) fantasy adventure unlike any other.

Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path.

But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark.

Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants.

Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford.

The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker - Cover Image
The Hidden Palace (A Tale of the Golem and the Jinni) by Helene Wecker
Read an Excerpt from The Golem and the Jinni
Scheduled Release Date: June 8

Helene Wecker’s New York Times bestselling first novel, The Golem and the Jinni, won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature and the Harold U. Ribalow Prize for Jewish Fiction, and it was a finalist for several other awards including the Nebula, World Fantasy, Locus, and Goodreads Choice Awards. This character-driven story melds history and myth in a way that I love, and I’m looking forward to reading more about the golem and the jinni in The Hidden Palace!

 

In this enthralling historical epic, set in New York City and the Middle East in the years leading to World War I— the long-awaited follow-up to the acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Golem and the Jinni—Helene Wecker revisits her beloved characters Chava and Ahmad as they confront unexpected new challenges in a rapidly changing human world.

Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay, able to hear the thoughts and longings of the people around her and compelled by her nature to help them. Ahmad is a jinni, a perpetually restless and free-spirited creature of fire, imprisoned in the shape of a man. Fearing they’ll be exposed as monsters, these magical beings hide their true selves and pretend to be human—just two more immigrants in the bustling world of 1900s Manhattan. Having encountered each other under calamitous circumstances, Chava and Ahmad’s lives are now entwined—but they’re not yet certain of what they mean to each other.

Each has unwittingly affected the humans around them. Park Avenue heiress Sophia Winston, whose brief encounter with Ahmad left her with a strange illness that makes her shiver with cold, travels to the Middle East to seek a cure. There she meets a tempestuous female jinni who’s been banished from her tribe. Back in New York, in a tenement on the Lower East Side, a little girl named Kreindel helps her rabbi father build a golem they name Yossele—not knowing that she’s about to be sent to an orphanage uptown, where the hulking Yossele will become her only friend and protector.

Spanning the tumultuous years from the turn of the twentieth century to the beginning of World War I, The Hidden Palace follows these lives and others as they collide and interleave. Can Chava and Ahmad find their places in the human world while remaining true to each other? Or will their opposing natures and desires eventually tear them apart—especially once they encounter, thrillingly, other beings like themselves?

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri - Cover Image
The Jasmine Throne (The Burning Kingdoms #1) by Tasha Suri
Scheduled Release Date: June 8

The Jasmine Throne sounds wonderful but is a book that would appear on this list if I knew nothing about it other than the fact that it was written by Tasha Suri. Her first two novels, Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash, are both phenomenal: deeply affecting stories with memorable characters, fantastic worldbuilding, and poetic, quietly sharp introspection that cuts deep. Her next novel was the first one I added to this list, and it’s one of the two books I’m the most excited for this year.

 

Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne begins the powerful Burning Kingdoms trilogy, in which two women—a long-imprisoned princess and a maidservant in possession of forbidden magic—come together to rewrite the fate of an empire.

Exiled by her despotic brother when he claimed their father’s kingdom, Malini spends her days trapped in the Hirana: an ancient, cliffside temple that was once the source of the magical deathless waters, but is now little more than a decaying ruin.

A servant in the regent’s household, Priya makes the treacherous climb to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to play the role of a drudge so long as it keeps anyone from discovering her ties to the temple and the dark secret of her past.

One is a vengeful princess seeking to steal a throne. The other is a powerful priestess seeking to save her family. Their destinies will become irrevocably tangled.

And together, they will set an empire ablaze.

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid
Scheduled Release Date: June 8

Ava Reid’s debut novel first caught my eye because it’s inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish folklore, but it held my gaze because its description mentions a woman with hidden powers, a Woodsman who is actually a disgraced prince, and two people who loathe each other working together out of necessity—and realizing maybe they don’t actually despise each other after all.

The author wrote on Goodreads that this is largely a book about nation-building that aims for “realistic representation of the oppression and marginalization experienced by ethnoreligious minorities.” For more about this and content warnings related to both this focus and the magic system’s basis in body horror, read Ava Reid’s post.

 

In the vein of Naomi Novik’s New York Times bestseller Spinning Silver and Katherine Arden’s national bestseller The Bear and the Nightingale, this unforgettable debut— inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology—follows a young pagan woman with hidden powers and a one-eyed captain of the Woodsmen as they form an unlikely alliance to thwart a tyrant. 

In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.

But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.

As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all.

The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie Liu - Cover Image
The Tangleroot Palace: Stories by Marjorie Liu
Scheduled Release Date: June 15

I’m rather curious about award-winning, New York Times bestselling author Marjorie Liu’s upcoming short fiction collection since I’m a fan of her writing in the darkly gorgeous graphic novel series Monstress. It sounds like it showcases her breadth as an author: the starred review of The Tangleroot Palace on Publishers Weekly mentions that it contains six short stories from a range of speculative fiction subgenres, including two pieces set in the same world as her Dirk & Steel series, and one novella set in a secondary fantasy world. (And I think the cover, designed by Elizabeth Story with art by Monstress artist Sana Takeda, is stunning!)

 

New York Times bestseller and Hugo, British Fantasy, Romantic Times, and Eisner award-winning author of the graphic novel, Monstress, Marjorie Liu leads you deep into the heart of the tangled woods. In her long-awaited debut story collection, dark, lush, and spellbinding short fiction you will find unexpected detours, dangerous magic, and even more dangerous women.

The Tangleroot Palace is charming and ruthless. Tales that feel new yet grounded in the infinitely ancient, a mythology for the coming age.”
—Angela Slatter, author of The Bitterwood Bible

“Marjorie Liu is magic! Her writing is passionate, lyric, gritty, and riveting. She belongs high on everyone’s must-read list.”
—Elizabeth Lowell, author of Only Mine

Briar, bodyguard for a body-stealing sorceress, discovers her love for Rose, whose true soul emerges only once a week. An apprentice witch seeks her freedom through betrayal, the bones of the innocent, and a meticulously-plotted spell. In a world powered by crystal skulls, a warrior returns to save China from invasion by her jealous ex. A princess runs away from an arranged marriage, finding family in a strange troupe of traveling actors at the border of the kingdom’s deep, dark woods.

Concluding with a gorgeous full-length novella, Marjorie Liu’s first short fiction collection is an unflinching sojourn into her thorny tales of love, revenge, and new beginnings.

A War of Swallowed Stars by Sangu Mandanna - Cover Image
A War of Swallowed Stars (The Celestial Trilogy #3) by Sangu Mandanna
Scheduled Release Date: June 15

The conclusion to Sangu Mandanna’s Mahabharata-inspired space opera trilogy is another one of my most highly anticipated 2021 releases. A Spark of White Fire hooked me immediately by balancing fast pacing with turns of phrase that made me pause in admiration, and the end of A House of Rage and Sorrow is incredible. I can hardly wait to find out what happens next.

 

A prince without his kingdom.

A kingdom without its princess.

The destruction of the stars themselves.

War is destroying the galaxy. Esmae has vanished without a trace. A terrifying, ravenous beast is devouring the stars one by one. Titania is offered a gift that may well be a curse. Alexi, the exiled prince, is asked to pay a heavy price for his mistakes. And far, far away, on a dark, mysterious planet, a sleeping god stirs awake.

War or family.

Pride or peace.

As the end of the world draws ever closer, Esmae and Alexi must decide how far they’ll go to win—and who they’ll sacrifice along the way.

Celebrated author Sangu Mandanna promises a gripping conclusion to the Celestial Trilogy in A War of Swallowed Stars.

The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison - Cover Image
The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison
Scheduled Release Date: June 22

Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor captured a lot of hearts—both the novel itself and its goodhearted titular character, who unexpectedly came to power and did the best he could as he navigated the unfamiliarity of court. I loved this book and am glad a standalone sequel will be coming soon, especially since it sounds similar in spirit with a main character whose “decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly.”

 

Katherine Addison returns at last to the world of The Goblin Emperor with this stand-alone sequel.

When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it.

Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan - Cover Image
She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor Duology #1) by Shelley Parker-Chan
Read an Excerpt
Scheduled Release Date: July 20

I’ve been hearing a lot of advance praise for Shelley Parker-Chan’s upcoming novel inspired by the Ming Dynasty, and She Who Became the Sun is the debut novel I’m most excited for this year—especially after reading this part on the announcement at Tor.com:

In She Who Became the Sun, an iron-willed peasant girl steals her brother’s identity and great fate. Defying the bounds of gender with cunning and ingenuity, her ambition takes her from monk to leader of the rebellion against China’s Mongol rulers. But her rise brings her face to face with the empire’s most feared general: an eunuch as trapped by his gender as she is free of hers.

Everything I hear about this book just makes me want to read it more.

 

Mulan meets The Song of Achilles in Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun, a bold, queer, and lyrical reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty from an amazing new voice in literary fantasy.

To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything

“I refuse to be nothing…”

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn - Book Cover
Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn
Scheduled Release Date: September 7

M. J. Kuhn’s upcoming novel is another debut that I’m particularly looking forward to: a woman with a secret identity has to form an alliance with a bunch of unsavory characters. Plus, the author tweeted that it includes:

  • Found family
  • Betrayal
  • Twisted magic system
  • Sarcasm & witty banter x 1000

Among Thieves sounds like a lot of fun and like it’s exactly my type of book (or, rather, one of my types).

 

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.

Descendants of the First by Reni K Amayo - Cover Image
Descendants of the First (The Return of the Earth Mother #2) by Reni K Amayo
Scheduled Release Date: October 5

Daughters of Nri, Reni K Amayo’s debut novel, is an enchanting young adult fantasy novel about twins goddesses, two very different individuals in very different situations who have stories that nevertheless have compelling parallels. I loved how the author handled themes centered on community and developed a variety of different relationships between characters, and I’m excited for her second novel and sequel, Descendants of the First.

 

The king is dead – and with him, the last thread holding the kingdom together. 

Deep cracks are forming throughout the kingdom of Nri with whispers of deadly successors lurking beneath the shadows. Despite having the same face, it seems the deepest crack is forming between Naala and Sinai, the reunited twin goddesses, who must put their differences aside as they travel through a broken Nri.

Unbeknownst to the girls, their use of the mystical Ṇdu crystal has awakened mythical beasts and the lost gods, each returning to Nri one by one. One thing is clear, the twins will have to face enemies at every corner of the kingdom… one of whom lies hidden amongst those they hold dearest.

As ongoing turmoil spreads throughout the kingdom, the daughters of Nri must unmask the true face of their enemy, as they discover that their unique blood has marked them with magic strong enough to restore true peace to the world – a task only they can complete.

But with beasts lurking far and wide, will they be able to do so before the kingdom succumbs to its looming curse?

Descendants of the First is the thundering sequel to Reni Amayo’s epic feminist young adult fantasy, Daughters of Nri, lauded as “literary magic” by Buzzfeed and a piece of “Excellent writing, brilliant book.”  by best-selling author, Dorothy Koomson.

Destroyer of Light by Jennifer Marie Brissett
Scheduled Release Date: October 12

I often love the combination of mythology and science fiction, and Jennifer Marie Brissett’s second novel sounds like it also packs a lot of societal exploration into its three intertwining stories taking place 300 years from now.

(And Jennifer Marie Brissett wrote about the experience and pressures of writing this book, her sophomore novel, for Women in SF&F Month last year!)

 

Reminiscent of Miéville and Butler, Jennifer Marie Brissett, author of Elysium, has created a disturbing and haunting sf narrative in Destroyer of Light, interweaving mythology with interdimensional aliens, human refuges, child soldiers, and genetic engineering.

Over three hundred years in the future, all humans on the planet Eleusis are refugees following the alien destruction of Earth.

Within this society of haves and have-nots, of criminals and dissidents, of former alien conquerors claiming a desire for peaceful cohabitation, three stories intertwine: a young girl abducted by a violent warlord, twin brothers searching for the lost son of a human/alien couple, and a young woman with extraordinary powers who’s risen through the insurgent ranks in the borderlands called Night.

Their stories skate across years to build towards one moment, when the fate of all—human and alien—hangs in the balance.

The Bone Shard Emperor (The Drowning Empire #2) by Andrea Stewart
Scheduled Release Date: November 11 (UK)

Andrea Stewart’s debut novel, The Bone Shard Daughter, follows five characters living in an archipelago ruled by a mad-scientist-like emperor and is largely about people doing the best they can and learning to do better in the process (one of whom ended up being a better person at the urging of his adorable animal companion). It was one of my favorite books of the year, and I can hardly wait to find out where the story goes from there in the sequel.

(I couldn’t find a US release date for this one, but I suspect it will probably be out around the same time it is in the UK.)

 

The Bone Shard Emperor is the unmissable sequel to The Bone Shard Daughter, one of the biggest fantasy debuts of 2020 – a captivating tale of magic, revolution and mystery, where a young woman’s sense of identity will make or break an empire.

The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor.

Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don’t trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in the northeast of the Empire, a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force.

Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga – the powerful magicians of legend – have returned to the Empire. Lin may need their help to defeat the rebels and restore order.

But can she trust them?

There are a few more books that I want to highlight that do not yet have covers or descriptions.

Matryoshka (Warchild #4) by Karin Lowachee The Warchild series is one of my favorites, and I am thrilled that the fourth book about Yuri’s brother is supposed to be released this year (especially after reading the first chapter in Omake: Stories from the Warchild Universe, another of my favorites of last year).

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd — I don’t know much about this at this point other than that the author’s Twitter profile says it’s coming this fall, but I want to read her second novel after having read her memorable debut, The Book of M.

The Quicksilver Court (Rooks & Ruin #2) by Melissa Caruso — The first book in this trilogy, The Obsidian Tower, was another one of my favorites of last year. It ended up being one of the most difficult books for me to put down, but more importantly, it kept me pondering all of its mysteries even after I did manage to stop reading for some time! I’m looking forward to continuing the trilogy with the next book due for publication in November.

The Dawn of the Coven (Bethel #2) by Alexis Henderson — I’ve seen conflicting information on when this will be released, but it’s still listed as this year on the author’s website so I’ll go with that even though I’m wondering if it might have been pushed back to next. The Year of the Witching is a great debut and a novel that kept me engaged more than a lot of books managed in 2020, and I’m looking forward to both a sequel and more from Alexis Henderson.