It feels like centuries ago that I sat down to write my 25 Most Anticipated SFF Books of 2020 at the end of last year, right before we had our break for the holidays. But things have radically changed. Generally, since then, I’ve taken the stance of escapism—Tor.com is a unique platform on which we can be as nerdy and weird as we want. And I believe it is part of our mission to be a source of joy in the world, where readers and SFF enthusiasts can come to talk about things they love. For a while, I was avoiding The Thing(s). That is now impossible to do. As one of this website’s contributors told me, escapism through science-fiction and fantasy is good until it’s all we have. Personally, I think we can’t be running away from things, but towards something better.
For as much as Tor.com is a place for escapism and nerdy joy, it is a place were I found my family, my people, my voice. I think the work we do here is important in making people feel safe, seen, and heard. In uplifting creative work now, we get to focus on artists who are doing subversive, inspiring work. We can think about portals that take us forward, into something brighter. We can find each other here, in the art, in the community we have built.
Some of the most anticipated titles from the first half got pushed back, with new release dates in late summer/fall: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, a romance between trans Latinx brujx and a ghost heartthrob, complete with gender-affirming magic; and Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Miur which… if you don’t have this one on your list already, I don’t know what to tell you. What are you doing here? Look at your life, look at your choices.
We’re also still keeping an eye on Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, who is back with a vengeance and a creepy old house 85 years after the epic Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell; Brandon Sanderson’s fourth entry into the Stormlight Archive, Rhythm of War, which we’re gearing up for by Explaining the Stormlight Archive; A Desolation Called Peace from Arkady Martine, the following up to A Memory Called Empire, which I’m ready to stuff into my brain like it’s a bag of Doritos; Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon, the next installment of the Lady Astronauts series, all about women who are kicking ass and taking names in space; V.E. Schwab’s incredible The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, which has everything you expect from Schwab and so much more; and Christopher Paolini’s To Sleep in A Sea of Stars—which you can start reading here—is set to be a total game changer.
Here are some incredible works I’m looking forward to over the next half of the year, and be sure to add yours in the comments!
Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power (July 7, Delacorte Press)
A YA thriller that is part Sharp Objects and part Haunting of Hill House, Burn Our Bodies Down promises to be a true page-flipper that will leave you questioning corn and also possibly your mother. Generational trauma is a well of material, and when you throw in a queer main character and some creepy small town goodness, it’s sure to be unforgettable. I don’t often do horror, but after the devastation that was Wilder Girls, I’ll read anything by Rory Power.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones (July 14, Saga Press)
Stephen Graham Jones is a master of horror, and as a notorious scaredy-cat, I want you to know how much I trust him to even pick this up in the first place. I’ll have nightmares for weeks, but it’ll be worth it. The Only Good Indians centers around four American Indian men whose pasts come back to haunt them, quite literally. It’s a slow burn, creepy and weird horror story infused with Native culture, and with lots of man vs. nature imagery, this is definitely a story for readers who like a little more than jump scares.
The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson (July 21, Ace Books)
I don’t know if any of you have had this feeling before, but have you ever just seen a book and known, deep in your heart, that you’re going to love it? That’s how I feel about The Year of the Witching. Alexis Henderson is giving us dark magic, Black witches, creepy woods and small religious towns, historical realness, and I’m here for it. Knowing that Henderson has worked to detail the connection between nature and magic in this book, I can’t wait to walk deep into the woods to meet my coven. Like every Friday night.
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson (July 21, Tor Books)
This one was pitched to me as “The Night Circus meets The Underground Railroad” which is just a bonkers mix of things, so of course I was all the way in from the start. In a magical 1940s New York City, a knife-wielding assassin named Phylis is working for a mob boss. As she’s white passing, but gifted with “saint’s hands”, she’s in a unique position in the world. But as she tries to get away from the assassin life, things get complicated. It deals heavily with race and relationships, with morality and who has the power. This is one to pick up if you like your alternate history noir more inclusive, and you like your characters Black, badass, and magical. I know I sure do.
Deal With the Devil by Kit Rocha (July 28, Tor Books)
Do I need to tell you more than ‘mercenary librarians’ to get you to put this on your wishlist? That’s right, mercenary librarians using knowledge and books to save a near-future, war-torn United States. Sounds like just what we need right now. Kit Rocha has crafted an action-packed story filled with super soldiers and clones, an evil corporation, and a tension-filled romance that will have you yelling “just kiss already!”, which is a total dream of a reading experience if you ask me. And did I mention it’s the first in a series? Oh yeah. There’s plenty more where that came from.
Lobizona by Romina Gaber (August 4, Wednesday Books)
According to Argentine folklore, if a family has a seventh daughter, she will become a bruja, and a seventh son will become a lobizón, or a werewolf. This is a real thing, you can look it up. Romina Gaber’s novel takes this piece of folklore and weaves it into an enchanting tale about family, mysterious pasts, and immigration. When ICE comes knocking on Manu’s door and her mother is taken away, she must go on a journey to uncover the secrets of her past and her true self. The book is brutal and beautiful at the same time, and deals with the relationship between humanity and magic. Definitely pick this one up if you loved Gods of Jade and Shadow or The Devourers.
The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis (August 4, Skybound Books)
This novel has all the expansive worldbuilding of A Memory Called Empire, and all the creepy gender control of The Handmaid’s Tale. It centers on a member of an order whose members aren’t permitted to speak or write, and communicate only by facial expressions (and signing amongst each other). When the First Sister is asked to spy on the captain of the ship they live on, things get…complicated. And even more complicated when someone else is seeking revenge on the captain too. This novel is, understandably, the first of a trilogy and thank god, cuz there’s so much going on, and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out. Gender stuff! Revenge plots! Nonbinary representation!
Drowned Country by Emily Tesh (August 18, Tordotcom Publishing)
How have you forgotten the size of the man?? The follow up to last year’s Silver in the Wood, Drowned Country continues the story of Henry Silver and Tobias Finch, who have broken up at the start of this one, leaving Henry lamenting and yearning in the Woods. Biggest mood of all time. Tesh not only brings back fan favorite Mrs. Silver in this one, introduces us to a badass monster-hunting, and takes us to fairyland, but also crafts a slow-burn romance that will absolutely take your breath away. I do not want to leave Greenhollow, not ever. Let’s stay here.
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko (August 18, Amulet Books)
This debut novel from Jordan Ifueko flips the Chosen One narrative on its head in the best way. Tarisai, raised by a creepy mother-figure known only as The Lady, is all set to become part of the Crown Prince’s Council—a bond made through magical means, a potential found family that Tarisai craves. But she has also been tasked by The Lady to kill the Crown Prince, another magical bond she’s trying to get out of. What unfolds is an adventure of intrigue, torn loyalties, toxic relationships, and magic. As our hero finds her inner strength, we’re taken on an incredible journey through a wholly original world. This is the first in a series, so buckle up for more.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger (August 25, Levine Querido)
Elatsoe is everything I love about contemporary fantasy. Set in an alternative Texas where magic is part of every day life and is shaped by the ancestral magics of Indigenous people and immigrants, our ace protagonist Elatsoe (or Ellie) has the ability to raise and speak to ghosts. Which, of course, comes in handy when there’s a murder. The story is gorgeous and haunting, filled with emotion and a magic system unlike anything I’ve read before. It deals with family and culture with a delicate hand and incredible prose. Darcie Little Badger is one to watch.
Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera (September 1, Bloomsbury YA)
A retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth with bachata, Never Look Back is a Bronx love story that flips everything you thought you knew on its head. It’s going to be joyful and dark all at the same time, with Rivera’s exquisite prose bringing all the romance too. Lilliam Rivera wrote one of my favorite reads of last year, Dealing in Dreams, and I trust her to write a book that feels like if Prince Royce had written Hadestown. Actually, I’d pay a ton of money to see that. Fortunately we’ll all have this book to sweep us off our feet instead.
Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston (September 8, Tordotcom Publishing)
It truly amazes me how much magic and myth Andrea Hairston was able to pack into this novel. It begins with the story of Djola, the titular Master of Poisons, and his frustrations with the Empire as it nears environmental destruction. Djola lives in exile, and though he’s doing everything he can to save his homeland, it feels pointless. But there is more magic in the world, and more people willing to fight the good fight. The prose is just. so. good. it’s so beautiful, it’s like watching a flower unfold its petals one by one. Hairston’s completely original world will take you by surprise.
Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro (September 15, Tor Teen)
My excitement for this one is at scream-into-a-pillow levels, and it’s not just because I’ve been waiting y e a r s for more Mark Oshiro. This one is a lyrical fantasy about Xo, a girl with the ability to collect stories and carry them for other people. She’s sort of a storytelling empath, and it could be a blessing or a curse. When she meets Emilia, she’s hoping she’s found someone who understands. But the desert is dangerous, and there’s a long road ahead of them. Oshiro has crafted a really beautiful, emotional tale that you might be tempted to put on your poetry shelf instead of with your YA fantasy books.
The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke (September 15, Erewhon Books)
So, say you liked The Craft but wished it could be a little more gay, or Mean Girls but you wanted it a little more magical. Or maybe you want a story centered around Stevie from Schitt’s Creek. Voila, I present to you, The Scapegracers. Our Narrator, Sideways Pike, is kind of a dirtbag in the most incredible way. She’s definitely an outsider, and also impossibly cool. Sideways gets mixed up with a trio of popular girls when they ask for a spell, and gets pulled into their world. The book deals with navigating new friendships, crushes, stupid boys, and so much more, all filled with good (and sometimes dark) occult-y witchcraft. I very rarely say this, but this is the type of book I wish I had as a teenager. I would have absolutely devoured it.
Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite, edited by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C. Parker (September 22, Imprint)
Listen, if you say you don’t love vampires, you’re lying and you’re wrong. Vampires have been, and can be, so many different things for us: horrific, seductive, reminders of our own mortality, and occasional himbos, and we continued to be fascinated by their stories. Cordova and Parker have gathered some of YA’s greats, including Samira Ahmed, Dhonielle Clayton, Tessa Gratton, Heidi Heilig, Julie Murphy, Mark Oshiro, Rebecca Roanhorse, and V. E. Schwab into a new anthology that celebrates the romance and terror of vampires, and it’s gonna be a BANGER. Invite me to this party, please.
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik (September 29, Del Rey)
For no reason whatsoever, I think we’re going to start seeing a lot of stories around magic schools. But Naomi Novik has ramped it up to 100 with A Deadly Education, the first book in a new trilogy. The story centers on El, who attends Scholomance, a school full of dangers and challenges that kill students. The game is graduate or die, and armed with dark magic, El is here to win. With a badass protagonist and Novik’s brilliant, twisting prose, I’m predicting A Deadly Education is going to be our new obsession.
Burning Roses by S.L. Huang (September 29, Tordotcom Publishing)
I almost always think novellas are too short, and that’s especially true with Burning Roses—I would like 5 more of these, please. S.L. Huang’s cross-cultural fairy tale mash-up features older heroines Hou Yi (the archer) and Rosa (Red Riding Hood) as they fight to stop the dangerous sunbirds that are setting fires across the country. But first, they must confront the wrongdoings of their pasts, and help each other find closure. It’s a beautiful story about partnership, family, and love, with an incredibly inventive mythology. Huang successfully blends folklore and fantasy in a way that is truly awe-inspiring.
Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz (October 6, Page Street Kids)
A magical sports tournament, an international conspiracy, a girl and her dragon. Have I got your attention? Good. Amparo Ortiz’s debut centers on a young Puerto Rican girl ready to compete with her national team in the Blazewarth Games, but there’s a dark curse and a dangerous plot that threatens everything Lana knows. It deals with politics and culture and queerness and Puerto Rican pride, which is so needed right now. And did I mention Puerto Ricans on dragons? PUERTO. RICANS. ON. DRAGONS. Puerto Ricans ON DRAGONS!!! Puerto Ricans on dragons, y’all. Mi gente.
Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow (October 13, Tor Books)
Set in the same universe as Little Brother and Homeland, this is the newest sci-fi adventure from mastermind Cory Doctorow, and it is an adventure in every sense of the word. Masha is a badass, successful hacker who does counterterrorism work for a cybersecurity firm. But she’s kind of messy, which we like—perfect narrators are boring, right? So she screws up (sort of) from time to time, and things spiral from there. What unravels is a massive tech thriller, both clever and timely in its execution. This is an excellent read for people who like muddy morality and political thrillers.
The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk (October 13, Erewhon)
In our reading lives, we’ve all seen different variations on gendered magic: men and women are separated and taught differently, or magic works differently depending on gender, or what have you. C.L. Polk has completely reinvented the wheel in The Midnight Bargain, a story in which women aren’t allowed to do magic after they get married. Beatrice is being pushed towards an arranged marriage to save her family from debt, but has big magic dreams. This one is all about the struggles between ambition and love under the patriarchy. Time to fight the system.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (October 13, Saga Press)
I’m gonna go ahead and call this the Roanhorse-asisance, cuz it’s about to pop off. Black Sun is the start of a new trilogy from Roanhorse, and I wish all three would just magically appear on my desk right now. Inspired by old world magic and pre-Columbian American civilization, the story centers around a ship’s captain and her single passenger, a young blind man who may or may not be dangerous, as they sail towards a distant land. Said distant land is filled with celestial magic, and also possibly mermaids, bird-shaped gods, and game changing solar eclipses. Not only has Roanhorse crafted an inclusive and expansive fantasy world, but it is epic in every sense of the word. Everything feels large and detailed and real enough to touch, and I’m kind of mad that it isn’t. Don’t miss this one.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (October 13, Orbit)
Witches. Suffragettes. The suffragettes become witches. The witches are suffragettes. I’m just gonna keep repeating that over and over until you pre-order this book. Witches and suffragettes!!! Okay, real talk: Alix E. Harrow’s follow up to her incredible The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a complex and vibrant work of historical fantasy that deals with the trials of womanhood (as the best witch stories do, in my humble opinion). It’s definitely dark at times and deals with some heavy issues, but is also about women banding together and taking their fates in their own hands. It’s angry and feminist, it’s magical, it’s maybe a little bit queer. The Once and Future Witches is a book for all women (all. ALL.) and will have you feeling like you just walked out of an action movie and are ready to take on the world.
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark (October 13, Tordotcom Publishing)
Alright, so, here’s what I’m going to ask you to do: find that space on your shelf where you’ve got Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and maybe The Bluest Eye, and definitely Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Kindred, and also Riot Baby. That space is now saved for Ring Shout, P. Djèlí Clark’s incredible fantasy about fighting the KKK. When filmmaker D.W. Griffiths made The Birth of a Nation (which I remember watching in school and having nightmares about), a spell is cast over the country. Maryse Boudreaux, a bootlegger, takes it upon herself to fight back. Now, I know you’re thinking “this sounds dark,” and sometimes it is. But it is also joyful and funny at times and incredibly clever. It’s a story about Black power and strength, about coming together and Doing The Work, and, ya know, bringing racists down with a magic sword.
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee (October 15, Solaris)
Yoon Ha Lee is one of the greats, and this is an epic you won’t want to miss. Gyen Jebi is a painter that gets recruited by the government to help craft sigils that powers the automatons. Of course, the government is creepy and doing terrible things, as governments are wont to do, and Jebi is put right in the center of it. And yes, there is a dragon. Kind of. It’s complicated, but we love complicated? And we also love nonbinary protagonists, and a world where queerness is a non-issue. Not only has Yoon Ha Lee crafted a complex and exciting plot, but also deals with anti-colonialism and dark government secrets with skill and precision.
On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu (December 8, Erewhon)
This is a story about migration, about fantasies and realities, and about the stories we tell to keep ourselves going. Firuzeh and her brother Nour are born in a war-torn Afghanistan, and their family decides to make the journey to Australia, where they believe life will be better. This is a soft, lyrical fantasy filled with wonder, and it balances heavy discussions about immigration and culture with beautiful prose and magic woven throughout. It’s the perfect way to cap off the year, and I can’t wait to spend my holidays curled up with this one.