After reading Molly Templeton’s two recent pieces on the To Be Read conundrum, I got to thinking about how my own queue is structured. Like many of you, my TBR is in constant fluctuation. I add more to it than I remove. At this point I would have to turn reading into a full time job in order to get through them all, and it would still take me literal years.
To help me prioritize my list, I thought I’d pull together the ten books I’m most eager to read off my TBR. I don’t have any big reasons for not having read them yet, other than a lack of time and *gestures vaguely at the panini*. Will I actually get to them in the near future? I certainly hope so. Until then, they’ll keep glaring at me from my bookshelves.
What’s at the top of your To Be Read queue?
Imaro by Charles R. Saunders
Let’s kick things off with a classic! (Yes, I’m making a very broad generalization here, but my point stands.) The oldest book on this list, Charles R. Saunders’ Imaro (1981)—and the sequels The Quest for Cush (1984) and The Trail of Bohu (1985)—helped expand and diversify fantasy fiction in some pretty influential ways. Set in an African-inspired fantasy world known as Nyumbani, the book collects several short stories that introduce our titular hero. Imaro goes from being an outcast in his village to a powerful warrior who takes on magical and mundane Big Bads.
Sword and sorcery is one of my least favorite subgenres of fantasy, largely because I just don’t care about a bunch of shirtless white dudes battling monsters and winning the love of poorly written female characters. But I am very interested in reading Saunders’ sword and soul twist. In particular I plan to read the 2006 Night Shade Books version with “The Afua,” a new story that apparently adds to Imaro’s backstory. Saunders is one of those titan authors who deserved more recognition than he got. Streaming sites should have been pounding down his door to buy the rights to the Imaro series.
The Good House by Tananarive Due
Angela Toussaint’s Sacajawea, Washington home, called the Good House, has been in her family for generations. Her grandmother tended to those in need with vodou and raised Angela after her mother took her life in the house. Years later, Angela’s troubled son also dies by suicide in the house. Now, Angela wants to get rid of it, but her abusive—and demon possessed—husband Tariq has other plans.
Although I’ve read a bunch of Tananarive Due’s short fiction, somehow her full length novels have slipped off my radar. Of all of the incredible-sounding books she’s written over the years, this is the one I’m eager for the most. What can I say? I’m a sucker for haunted houses, demon possessions, and authors that deftly blend social commentary with classic horror tropes.
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
In the not too distant future, humanity has colonized the solar system, with settlements on the Moon, Mars, and out into the asteroid belt. Jim Holden, the captain of an ice-hauler, gets caught in a disastrous rescue mission attempt, and he and his crew find themselves standing in the middle of an impending war. On a space station on the asteroid Ceres, a detective called Miller investigates the death of former socialite Julie Mao and learns she is connected to Holden and the rebels who will do anything to break free of colonial rule.
If there’s a speculative fiction subgenre I read less than sword and sorcery it’s hard sci-fi. My interest level in science-y terms and technical specs is negative zero. Please do not explain to me how the spaceship works because I do not care. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the TV adaptation of The Expanse and would love to spend more time in that world. Based on how the books had been described to me, I thought they were hard sci-fi, but I recently learned they are actually closer to space opera, a subgenre I adore. Starting what will end up being a ten-book series is intimidating enough without the books also all being over 500 pages. But if I’m going to willingly read an epic science fiction series, I might as well go big, right?
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Five centuries ago, Laia’s people, the Scholars, were conquered by the Martial Empire, a militaristic nation that crushes its enemies with brutal efficiency. When Laia’s brother is imprisoned for working with Scholar rebels, she becomes a spy and joins the Blackcliff military academy where Masks, Martial enforcers, learn warfare tactics. There she meets Elias, the son of a powerful Commandant who longs to escape a life of bloodshed and battle.
Like with The Expanse series, there is a lot of text to get through with Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series. There are only four books at over 400 pages instead of ten, but it’s still a lot of heavy duty reading for someone like me who reads a lot as it is. But oh my goodness does it sound so cool. Sabaa Tahir is a young adult fantasy author A-lister, and her work has entertained and inspired countless readers and writers. I haven’t read much in the way of ancient Rome-inspired fiction, young adult or otherwise, and this feels like the perfect series to explore that.
Dreadnought by April Daniels
After a strange accident, closeted trans teen Danielle Tozer discovers that not only does she now have superpowers but a body to match her gender identity as well. But things aren’t going so well. Tracking down a killer supervillain is proving more difficult than she anticipated, especially when there are those in her new superhero team who aren’t exactly welcoming. On top of that, her parents are determined to “fix” her gender identity.
Superheroes! Cyborgs! Trans protagonist! What’s not to be excited about? I already know I’ll love this series—CB Lee’s take on queer teen superheroes, the Sidekick Squad series, is one of my favorites—but for some unfathomable reason it has stalled out in my TBR. The premise is fascinating; it’s really clever, exploring queerness and identity through the superhero trope. It sounds like April Daniels is working on book 3 of this series, which is even more reason for me to read the first two sooner rather than later.
The Unbroken by C.L. Clark
This North African-inspired fantasy, the first in a proposed trilogy, delves into the lives of two citizens of the Balladairann empire: Touraine, a soldier, and Luca, a princess. Kidnapped as a child from her homeland of Qazāli and forced to fight against her own people, Touraine is sent back home to escort Luca, who is secretly trying to depose her uncle from the imperial throne.
Continuing the trend of me getting hooked into wanting to read in subgenres I don’t generally care for is C.L. Clark’s military fantasy series. If you’d asked me about my TBR before I attended this year’s FIYAHCON, The Unbroken wouldn’t have made it to my top ten. I knew it was queer—hence being in my TBR in the first place, albeit low down on the list—but that was about it. However, after seeing Clark talk about their book in a couple panels, my vague interest quickly turned to flailing eagerness. I want to see how Clark explores colonialism, racism, messy queers, and what happens after the revolution when you realize you put the wrong person on the throne.
The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow
Aliens conquered Earth two years ago, and now all music, art, and books are illegal. Ellie keeps a secret, hidden library in New York City, in defiance of her Ilori overlords. M0Rr1S, an Ilori created in a lab, discovers her library, but his love of human music inspires him to escape with her on a journey across the country. The answers they seek may be in sunny California, but they have to get there alive first.
The very second I learned that this book was ownvoices demisexual rep, it went onto my TBR list. I’ve even gotten as far as borrowing the audiobook version from my library’s Hoopla app twice, but somehow life always seems to get in the way of me actually starting it. I’m going to have to read it soon, though. Are there any other Black acespec alien YA books on the market? Not that I can think of. All the more reason to bump this up in the queue. New goal: read The Sound of Stars after reading Alechia Dow’s next book, The Kindred.
Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older
As an inbetweener, or person who was resurrected from the dead, Carlos Delacruz is an agent for the New York Council for the Dead. When an ancient being sets out to shatter the walls between the living and the dead by releasing imp-like creatures that can kill inbetweeners, Carlos’ past life comes back to haunt him.
It’s rather surprising that I haven’t gotten to the Bone Street Rumba series yet, given how much I love urban fantasy. A wise-cracking, gruff, protagonist living in a dangerous metropolis full of dark magic where he helps the helpless while adhering to his personal code of ethics? Yes, please! And the main character is Latino? Even better. The thing that annoys me the most about urban fantasy is how crushingly white (and cis and allo and het) it is. Older won me over with his Shadowshaper series, and I expect I’ll be just as obsessed with this one.
Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
To save her own soul from eternal damnation, Shizuka Satomi made a contract with the devil to bring him the souls of seven exceptionally talented violinists. She only has one soul left before she’s free, and her sights are set on trans runaway Katrina Nguyen. But before Shizuka can score Katrina’s soul, she meets retired alien starship captain turned San Gabriel Valley donut shop owner Lan Tran and a romance blooms.
This is the most recent title on my Top TBR list—it only just came out a few weeks ago in September 2021—but how could I not want to read a book comped as Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet but with queer immigrants? I’m also a big fan of books that blend science fiction and fantasy together in unexpected ways. It sounds so gosh darn entertaining that I have moved it to the top of my queue several times since I got the advanced reader’s copy earlier in the year.
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
In a dystopian future North America, the only people who can still dream are Indigenous people. The Recruiters, Canadian government agents, hunt down Indigenous people and send them to boarding schools where their bone marrow is harvested for scientific experimentation. French, a Métis teenager, escapes the clutches of the Recruiters and sets off with a band of other Native people trying to keep one step ahead of their destruction.
I know, I know! It is one of the great shames in my reading life that I haven’t read this book yet. I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, but sometimes when a book in my TBR gets too popular and it feels like everyone has read it but me, I get too anxious to start it. Don’t ask me why, but yeah, that’s where I’m at. Now that the sequel’s out, I really need to set aside some time to read both back-to-back. Next year? Next year.
Alex Brown is an Ignyte award-winning critic who writes about speculative fiction, librarianship, and Black history. Find them on twitter (@QueenOfRats), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (bookjockeyalex.com).