I recall writing a Most Anticipated post in previous years that was full of excitement and optimism. This year, well, I’d like to pretend I’m excited. I know there are good books coming in 2021. I know it. Right now, what I’ve got is the teeth-gritted determination to last long enough to read some of them and appreciate the experience. And that? Well, that’ll have to substitute for excitement.
Roll on a comprehensive vaccine programme for 2021!
And also good books. There are so many good books coming out this year that I’m anticipating with determined pleasure, in fact, that this will be an extra-long installment…
Siege of Rage and Ruin by Django Wexler (January 5)
Siege of Rage and Ruin is the climax of Wexler’s YA “Wells of Sorcery” trilogy (beginning with Ship of Smoke and Steel and continuing in City of Stone and Silence). I had the pleasure of reading a copy, and its fast-paced, visceral intensity combined with its interest in family, ethics, revolution and consequences makes it a very worthy conclusion to this excellent trilogy.
The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick (January 19)
M.A. Carrick is the joint pen name of Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms, and everything I’ve heard about The Mask of Mirrors makes it sound like a hell of a lot of fun. Especially the cover copy:
Renata Virdaux is a con artist who has come to the sparkling city of Nadezra—the city of dreams—with one goal: to trick her way into a noble house and secure her fortune and her sister’s future.
But as she’s drawn into the aristocratic world of House Traementis, she realises her masquerade is just one of many surrounding her. And as corrupted magic begins to weave its way through Nadezra, the poisonous feuds of its aristocrats and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly become tangled—with Ren at their heart.
Dealbreaker by L.X. Beckett (January 26)
Beckett’s Gamechanger proved a science fiction thriller to take note of, set in a post-climate-apocalypse world where humanity had got its act together enough to survive—and even thrive—but where a shadowy conspiracy is at work to undermine the world’s fragile equilibrium. Dealbreaker is its sequel—now with aliens!
Winter’s Orbit by Everine Maxwell (February 2)
Two princes have to make an arranged marriage work, or their empire will fall. Secrets, lies, misunderstandings, romance, and space opera politics. I read an advance copy of this accomplished debut, and I look forward to seeing it out in the world.
Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard (February 9)
I read an advance copy of Fireheart Tiger, a new standalone fantasy novella from the author of Tea Master and the Detective and In the Vanishers’ Palace, and yes, 2021 is sure to be improved by it. A jewel of a novella, concerned with power and affection, colonialism and independence, and complicated interpersonal interactions, it’s a delight to read.
Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec (February 9)
Witch’s Heart is a debut novel with roots in Norse mythology. Angrboda and Skadi change the world. It sounds fascinating:
Angrboda’s story begins where most witches’ tales end: with a burning. A punishment from Odin for refusing to provide him with knowledge of the future, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the farthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be Loki, and her initial distrust of him transforms into a deep and abiding love.
Their union produces three unusual children, each with a secret destiny, who Angrboda is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life—and possibly all of existence—is in danger.
With help from the fierce huntress Skadi, with whom she shares a growing bond, Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family…or rise to remake their future.
Soulstar by C.L. Polk (February 16)
The conclusion to the story begun in Witchmark and continued in Stormsong Revolution comes to Kingston: can Robin Thorpe find happiness and build a fairer, juster country?
Out Past The Stars by K.B. Wagers (February 23)
The conclusion to Wagers’ latest epic space opera trilogy. (Damn, but I love those books.) Gunrunner empress Hail Bristol faces down trauma, interstellar politics, and deadly conflict, in order to prevent a war that could destroy everything she’s ever cared about.
A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine (March 2)
Sequel to the award-winning A Memory Called Empire, A Desolation Called Peace revisits Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass as a crisis on the Teixcalaanli empire’s borders—and on the borders of Lsel Station—calls for diplomatic skills. Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is faced with an alien threat that she can’t communicate with and that she can’t easily destroy. Mahit and Three Seagrass share an impossible task while negotiating the boundaries of an empire that, like all empires, is difficult to work for without being consumed by.
The Conductors by Nicole Glover (March 2)
I think—though I might be wrong—that I first heard of The Conductors, Nicole Glover’s debut novel, from Amal El-Mohtar. Set in the 19th century, in the aftermath of the American civil war, it sounds like it might be pretty excellent:
Meet Hetty Rhodes, a former conductor on the Underground Railroad who now uses her magic to solve crimes in her community in a post-Civil War world.
As an escaped slave, Hetty Rhodes helped dozens of people find their own freedom north using her wits and her magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, still fight for their people by solving the murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch.
When they discover one of their friends brutally murdered in an alley, Hetty and Benjy mourn his loss by setting off to find answers. But the mystery of his death soon brings up more questions, more secrets, more hurt. To solve his death, they will have to not only face the ugly truths about the world but the ones about each other.
The Unbroken by C.L. Clark (March 23)
A debut novel whose cover copy promises action and plots. And I hear it’s very very queer.
Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.
Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.
Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.
Chaos on Catnet by Naomi Kritzer (April 27)
Catfishing on Catnet is a much better novel than the title promises: a novel about AI and family and social connections and abusive relationships. Chaos on Catnet is the sequel, and I honestly can’t wait.
Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells (April 27)
Murderbot and a murder mystery. Who in the world could turn that down?
Black Water Sister by Zen Cho (May 11)
Zen Cho’s fiction is always surprising—in a good way—and never less than entertaining. Black Water Sister marks a change from Sorcerer to the Crown and The True Queen with its contemporary setting, but its cover copy suggests that Cho’s sense of humour and vivid character work is in as full a swing as ever:
When Jessamyn Teoh starts hearing a voice in her head, she chalks it up to stress. Closeted, broke and jobless, she’s moving back to Malaysia with her parents—a country she last saw when she was a toddler.
She soon learns the new voice isn’t even hers, it’s the ghost of her estranged grandmother. In life, Ah Ma was a spirit medium, avatar of a mysterious deity called the Black Water Sister. Now she’s determined to settle a score against a business magnate who has offended the god—and she’s decided Jess is going to help her do it, whether Jess wants to or not.
Drawn into a world of gods, ghosts, and family secrets, Jess finds that making deals with capricious spirits is a dangerous business, but dealing with her grandmother is just as complicated. Especially when Ah Ma tries to spy on her personal life, threatens to spill her secrets to her family and uses her body to commit felonies. As Jess fights for retribution for Ah Ma, she’ll also need to regain control of her body and destiny – or the Black Water Sister may finish her off for good.
A Master of Djinn by P. Djèli Clark (May 11)
Award-winning author P. Djèli Clark brings us a debut novel set in the same world as his novella, The Haunting of Tram Car 015. And I can’t wait to see what Fatma el-Sha’arawi gets up as part of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities in a 1912 Cairo that’s strikingly different from our own.
The House of Always by Jenn Lyons (May 11)
Lyons is three books in to one of the most compelling—and the queerest, most subversive—epic fantasy series out today. (The Ruin of Kings, The Name of All Things, and The Memory of Souls.) The House of Always is, I believe, the penultimate volume in the series, and I’m looking forward to seeing if Lyons can stick the dismount on empire and betrayal and ancient mysteries and the fate of the world.
Aetherbound by E.K. Johnston (May 25)
I adore Johnston’s novels. They manage to be both kind and powerful; gentle, and yet ruthless. The Aftermath is an ideal exploration of consequences and aftermaths of an epic fantasy quest; That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a gentle tour of interpersonal relationships—basically I love them, and Aetherbound promises to be more of what Johnston does best in spaaaaace.
Hard Reboot by Django Wexler (May 25)
Wexler’s name is coming up a lot on these lists. Is it my fault if he writes engaging, entertaining books and has a whole lot of them coming out in 2021? I think not! Hard Reboot is a substantial novella of mech-fighting, inadvisable bets, conflicts between the haves and the have-nots, and academic intrigue. And it’s queer as all get-out, so that’s going to be delightful. I can’t wait!
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo (June 1)
I believe it was Aliette de Bodard who said I should look forward to The Chosen and the Beautiful, although I could be wrong. But everything I’ve heard about Nghi Vo’s debut novel, makes it sound fascinating. And my kind of thing. From the cover copy:
Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society–she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer and Asian, a Vietnamese adoptee treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her. But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri (June 8)
The start of a new epic fantasy from the author of Empire of Sand and Realms of Ash, The Jasmine Throne looks set to be an excellent, sharp, and evocative adventure. I’m very much here for “epic—but make it queer!”
The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison (June 22)
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been hoping that Katherine Addison returns to the world of The Goblin Emperor for Quite Some Time now. Witness for the Dead is that return, and I don’t care what it’s about, I cannot wait to read it.
Cast in Conflict by Michelle Sagara (June 29)
There’s nothing quite like a long-running series where almost every novel has a self-contained plot, the characters are engaging and entertaining and actually grow over time, and the world keeps getting deeper and more interesting. And there’s a low angst quotient. That’s Michelle Sagara’s city-based second-world fantasy, the Chronicles of Elantra, and I’m really looking forward to the next installment in this year’s Cast in Conflict. If you haven’t tried these books, now is a great time to start!
Blood of the Chosen by Django Wexler (July 8)
This is the sequel to Wexler’s excellent epic fantasy Ashes of the Sun, where two siblings, separated in childhood, realised they stood on opposite sides of a war. Maya Burningblade is a prodigy of the Twilight Order, dedicated to upholding the Dawn Republic, while Gyre Silvereye is a thief, a bandit, and a revolutionary, determined to overthrow the Republic’s unaccountable, oligarchic rule regardless of the cost. I cannot wait to see what Wexler does here.
She Who Became The Sun by Shelly P. Chan (July 20)
Everything I’ve heard about this debut makes it sound awesome. Even the cover copy:
In Mongol-occupied imperial China, a peasant girl refuses her fate of an early death. Stealing her dead brother’s identity to survive, she rises from monk to soldier, then to rebel commander. Zhu’s pursuing the destiny her brother somehow failed to attain: greatness. But all the while, she feels Heaven is watching.
Can anyone fool Heaven indefinitely, escaping what’s written in the stars? Or can Zhu claim her own future, burn all the rules and rise as high as she can dream?
The Thousand Eyes by A.K. Larkwood (August 24)
A.K. Larkwood’s The Thousand Eyes is, I’m given to understand, a sequel to the (reads well as a standalone!) (very excellent) The Unspoken Name. I’m eager to see more of Larkwood’s intense worldbuilding weirdness, great character work, and sword-and-sorcery sensibility—and strange gods, necromancy, and peculiar magics.
Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo (September 28)
I’ve long admired Mandelo’s SF criticism, and this queer Southern gothic has an intriguing sound:
Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom that hungers for him.
As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble, letting in the phantom that hungers to possess him.
The Quicksilver Court by Melissa Caruso (November 9)
The Obsidian Tower opened a new epic fantasy trilogy by Melissa Caruso—epic and swashbuckling and full of colour. The Quicksilver Court is the sequel, and honestly considering the cliffhanger? I can’t wait.
The Origin of Storms by Elizabeth Bear (TBD)
Bear’s The Stone in the Skull and The Red-Stained Wings, the first two volumes in the “Lotus Kingdoms” trilogy, are among my favourite epic fantasy novels of all time. If you haven’t read them, now’s a great time to catch up—I cannot wait to read the conclusion.
There are books I’ve missed, in this brief survey of what to look forward to in the year to come. Plenty of them, I’m sure. Queer books, exciting books, books deeply engaged in discourse with history and society and with fun. I hope you’ll point them out to me in comments—what are you looking forward to, and why?
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. She was a finalist for the inaugural 2020 Ignyte Critic Award, and has also been a finalist for the BSFA nonfiction award. Find her on Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.