I’m calling it First Sentence Euphoria.
It’s that feeling you get when you read the first sentence of a novel and you know, you just know, that you’re in for something incredible. It’s the anticipation, the excitement of leafing through the first few pages of the book and finding a map or an elaborate family tree, the signal that you’ll be diving into beautifully complex world building. It’s the joy of intricate prose, a strong voice, the author’s elegant hand.
It’s a high I chase. The first sentence, the first few pages, I let myself be romanced by them. I let myself be seduced.
I had that feeling many times while making this list—a feeling which I cannot wait to share with all of you.
It’s why we love reading, isn’t it? We love feeling like a book can take us anywhere and make us feel everything. I could talk forever about the power of escapism (we are, after all, on a sci-fi/fantasy website and that word does pop up a lot in the discourse around SFF) but I think it’s more important right now to talk about the power of indulgence and reading as pleasure. If you’re a hardcore book person like me, you’ve probably at some point felt a sense of obligation—the sense that you need to be reading the next new thing, or that the books you pick up need to be important or recognizably valuable. You might feel pressured by lists like these (I think about this a lot, trust me) or literary awards that tell you which books are “best”. Sometimes I feel so pressured to “keep up” with things like this that I don’t get the chance to pick up books that I’m really interested in, and I miss getting to read as pleasure. I miss feeling enchanted by the first sentence, and letting myself be taken off into an adventure. I want all of us to remember just how beautiful that feeling is, and promise to spend more time picking up books for the joy of it, not because we feel like we’re supposed to.
That’s why I’m going to present this more like a big preview than a definitive list. Here are the books that I’m excited about for the first half of this year—I hope you find something to enjoy among them. Let’s get started:
There are a bunch of major releases and big genre moments to put on your calendar, including a new Cosmere novel from Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea (Tor Books, April 4). We’re also anticipating Fractal Noise, the sequel to Christopher Paolini’s space opera To Sleep in a Sea of Stars (Tor Books, May 16), a new addition to the Elfhame Universe from Holly Black called The Stolen Heir (Little, Brown January 3), and the conclusion to Adrian Tchaikovsky’s The Final Architecture series, Lords of Uncreation (Orbit, May 2). In addition to the next Cory Doctorow, Red Team Blues (April 25), you can also look forward to Max Gladstone’s Dead Country (Tor Books, March 7), Sue Burke’s Dual Memory (Tor Books, May 16), and the sequel to Leigh Bardugo’s dark academia Ninth House, Hell Bent (Flatiron, January 10). Martha Wells, author of the Murderbot Diaries, starts a new fantasy series with Witch King (Tordotcom Publishing, May 30), and James Rollins continues his epic Moonfall series with The Cradle of Ice (Tor Books, February 7), plus Grady Hendrix’s latest How to Sell a Haunted House (Berkeley, January 17) and Stephen Graham Jones’ follow up to My Heart is a Chainsaw, Don’t Fear the Reaper (Saga, February 07). In exciting news, we’ve got a new collection of novellas set in the universe of The Last Unicorn from Peter S. Beagle, The Way Home (Ace, April 4), and an Arkady Martine novella called Rose/House (Subterranean Press, March 1). Also be sure not to miss Matt Ruff’s The Destroyer of Worlds: A Return to Lovecraft Country (Harper, February 21) and an incredible prequel to Samantha Shannon’s epic Priory of the Orange Tree, A Day of Fallen Night (Bloomsbury, February 28).
Plus, there are some highly anticipated sequels to some of our favorite SFF series coming this year, including Kate Elliot’s follow-up to The Unconquerable Sun, Furious Heaven (Tor Books, April 11), Garth Nix’s The Sinister Booksellers of Bath (HarperTeen, March 21), a continuation of his smash hit The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, and a continuation of Edward Aston’s sci-fi thriller Mickey7 titled Antimatter Blues (St. Martin’s Press, March 14). We’re also looking forward to new Charlie Jane Anders in the form of Promises Stronger Than Darkness (Tor Teen, April 11), the final book in her Unstoppable series, plus Laura Sebastian’s Stardust in Their Veins (Delacourte, February 7), the follow-up to Castles in Their Bones, and the second in Chloe Gong’s Foul Lady Fortune series, Last Violent Call (Margaret K. McElderry, February 28). Fantasy fans can get ready for a new entry in Joshua Phillip Johnson’s Forever Sea in the shape of The Endless Song (DAW, February 14), G.R. Macallister’s Arca (Saga, March 7), the continuation of the Five Queendoms series, Kat Howard’s A Sleight of Shadows (Saga, April 25), the sequel to An Unkindness of Magicians, and the sequel to In a Garden Burning Gold from Rory Power, In An Orchard Grown From Ash (Del Rey, May 2). We’ll also see the conclusion to Sylvain Neuvel’s Take Them to the Stars series, For the First Time, Again (Tordotcom Publishing, April 18), These Infinite Threads from Tahereh Mafi’s This Woven Kingdom series (HarperCollins, February 7), the next in Marina Lostetter’s Five Penalties Series, The Cage of Dark Hours (Tor Books, February 14), and a return to C.L. Clark’s epic decolonialist fantasy started in The Unbroken with The Faithless (Orbit, March 7).
Got all that? Good. Cuz I’m not done.
Part of the joy of reading SFF is discovering the unexpected, which is why I single out books that might not be on your radar yet. I hope that you try something different this year, explore uncharted worlds, and I hope that you find something new to love. Without further ado, here are some of the titles I want to draw special attention to this year:
The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz (January 31, Tor Books)
Who would you be, if you felt everything the land was feeling? Who would you be if damage to your environment had an immediate effect on you, if you could sense every change in the atmosphere, every disturbance? Destry, along with her moose companion, is one of the Rangers working to terraform Sask-E, a planet that is comparable enough to Earth that rich dudebros who believe experiencing that type of ecosystem is their birthright as homo sapiens come and destroy the land. Able to connect directly with the environment through a network of sensors, Destry works for a company that builds and develops planets like this, and she believes it noble work—until she and her fellow Rangers find a hidden enclave of people living under a volcano who claim to have been here first. Through a series of linked stories, Newitz crafts a unique cli-fi that centers land sovereignty and the dangers of capitalism, brought to life by their signature talent for weaving plausible science in with the tackling of big moral questions.
Threadneedle by Cari Thomas (January 31, Harper 360)
In this world of forbidden magic and mystery, young Anna lives with her cruel aunt, worked night and day and kept from practicing her abilities beyond the theory—they are Binders, practicers of a unique type of magic that uses knotted cord. Anna is awaiting the binding of her magic, which will prevent her from using it at all. She’s learned to accept her lot in life, that is, until Selene, a radiant and wild family friend, her daughter, and a mysterious young man come to visit for Anna’s birthday. Anna is pulled out from under her Aunt’s oppressive presence and shown a life she never thought possible, and all the trouble that comes along with it. Threadneedle is a sophisticated coming-of-age novel that is equal parts dark and daring. It showcases all the complexities of teenage friendships, woven (get it?) with sparkling magic all the way through.
Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez, translated by Megan McDowell (February 7, Hogarth)
You may be familiar with Enriquez’s previous work, the short story collections Things We Lost in the Fire and The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, both of which received tons of praise from literary circles—and with good reason. Enriquez is a singular visionary writer, and Our Share of Night is her first full novel translated in English. The story follows Juan and his son following the death of his wife. Juan, who is able to see “discarnates”—specters of the dead—has been trying and failing to contact his wife in the afterlife. He takes his son (who is just starting to develop his father’s strange ability) on a road trip to his wife’s hometown, only to be hunted by a mysterious cult known only as The Order who are looking to use Juan (and later, his son) to help them achieve immortality. Our Share of Night is a dark and bloody gothic—and like all good gothics, tells of the awful lengths oppressors will go to get and maintain their power and the scars of the past. It’s a sweeping novel that takes us through years of political strife in Argentina, holding a steady grip on the reader the whole way through.
The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi (February 14, William Morrow)
I don’t know how otherwise to explain this—The Last Tale of the Flower Bride is a Scorpio of a book. It is lush and extremely sensual from the very beginning, full of dark secrets and elegance that will sweep you off your feet. Our narrator, known only as The Bridegroom, is just as enchanted with Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada as I was by this novel. Indigo is the heiress to a hotel empire, drawn to the Bridegroom through their mutual love of fairy tales and rare books. Love, as we know, is the terrifying ordeal of being truly known—but to love someone, to know them completely, is both terrifying and an ordeal. To prove his devotion, the Bridegroom promises not to pry into Indigo’s past and to start a new chapter with her. But when they return to her ancestral home, The House of Dreams, the truth of her is revealed to be much wilder and darker than he could have ever imagined. The Last Tale of the Flower Bride is an absolutely gorgeous read, with prose like expensive perfume and pearls. You won’t want it to ever end.
Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth (February 21, Tor Books)
As a child, Antigone watched her father Oedipus die at the hands of her uncle, a violent and effective grasp for power. Now, Antigone and her brothers live with their uncle Kreon, and are pulled into his world of political schemes and backstabbing. It’s a story you may know, but with Roth’s hand, the characters are pulled into a future world where the dead’s genetic code are kept in an Archive to await resurrection—a way to create genetically modified children who are then implanted in one of the few people who is able to carry. Unfortunately for Antigone, she is one such person, and her impending forced impregnation clashes with ongoing political and familial drama. Queen of Dystopia Veronica Roth packs a lot of cool worldbuilding into Arch-Conspirator, offering a fresh take on a classic tragedy. If you’re a fan of mythology and schemes, definitely put this one on your list.
The Lies of the Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi (February 21, Tordotcom Publishing)
I flew through this riveting narrative, its beautiful prose providing something new to love on every page. Tutu and his mother live in the City of Lies, a place devastated by drought and ruled over by the corrupt Ajungo. In exchange for providing water, the Ajungo demand the tongues of everyone over the age of thirteen—an agreement which was made out of desperation. However, the ruling class has allowed children to choose to go off into the desert in search of water. Many children have left, none have returned. When Tutu’s mother’s life is on the line, he decides to make the treacherous journey beyond the city limits—where he finds unexpected allies, and the truth about their oppressors. The Lies of the Ajungo is a well-crafted fable that provides just a glimpse into a much larger world. Lucky for us, it’s the first in a series, and I personally cannot wait to see what else is in store.
The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill (February 28, Tordotcom Publishing)
If you’re looking for an eerie, atmospheric fabulist story, look no further. Barnhill’s take on The Crane Wife follows an unnamed protagonist who is understandably shocked when her mother brings home a man-sized crane and tells her children to call him Father. At first she isn’t sure if her mother sees what she sees—especially considering how affectionate she is with the crane in front of her children. The narrator tries not to be bothered—after all, her mother has brought men home before, and she assumes this one will be like the ones who came before and leave sooner rather than later. But then she begins to see bruises on her mother’s body, and notices how terrified the sheep seem to be of the crane. And her mother’s obsession with a new art project concerns her more than she’d care to admit. The Crane Husband is an emotional (and creepy) story about family and abuse told through a speculative lens that is sure to sit with you long after you finish.
The Wicked Bargain by Gabe Cole Novoa (February 28, Random House BFYR)
You know how we always talk about wanting a reverse Indiana Jones where stolen artifacts are returned to their cultures? This book has that kind of vibe mixed with the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. It’s a magical adventure on the high seas as Mar, the child of one of the few pirate captains left in the Caribbean. When el Diablo comes to collect on a deal made by their father long ago, Mar is left alone and stranded with nothing but their uncontrollable magic. They’re rescued, of course, by the very charismatic Bas and his crew, yet el Diablo is still hunting them, looking to make a new deal. The Wicked Bargain is an exciting, fast-paced debut with all the delightful tropes of the genre (swordfights! sea storms! romance!), all wrapped up in a heartwarming story about family—both biological and found.
She Is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran (February 28, Bloomsbury YA)
Creepy, sentient houses are probably my favorite subgenere of horror—the implication that something that is supposed to be home can turn on you is undeniably shiver-inducing. The idea that the house knows you are inside of it and can consume you is even more exciting, which is why Trang Thanh Tran’s debut She is a Haunting is on this list. The book follows Jade, a young girl who is in Vietnam visiting her estranged father for the summer. Her father is at work renovating an old house to turn into a bed & breakfast, and Jade later learns that there’s some family history attached to the house. Turns out there’s quite a lot of history attached to the house, still, in a very visceral way. Jade begins to have night terrors and sleep paralysis, which gives way to true terrors. She is a Haunting deals not only with dysfunctional family dynamics and the challenge of being a queer teenager, but the true terror is the history of colonization in Vietnam and the scars that have been left. It’s a well-paced novel, with dread creeping in slowly yet relentlessly, and one you’ll be thinking about days after you finish the last page.
The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty (March 7, Harper Voyager)
Simply put, this book rules. Even within the first few pages, I kept having to put it down to kick and scream into a pillow like a schoolgirl with a crush. Chakraborty’s epic (and I mean epic, this one is a big grl) historical fantasy follows the legendary pirate Amina Al-Sirafi, and told in Amina’s own charming voice, it feels very much like listening to a grandparent divulge all the trouble they got into in their youth. When we meet her, Amina Al-Sirafi is retired, settled with her family, and bitching about having to fix her roof. But when a rich patron comes along with one last job—to rescue her kidnapped granddaughter—it’s an offer she can’t refuse. The adventure is pure, unparalleled fun, and everything you could possibly want in a pirate story. There’s magic, demons, monsters, and heists on the high seas. A win for all of you wanting stories with older protagonists, and a must-read for anyone looking for a joyful, un-put-downable reading experience.
The Curator by Owen King (March 7, Scribner)
“Yes. I see you. Your… face.” Those are the last words of Dora’s brother, which leave her haunted and curious about what might lie beyond. After all, it isn’t the first time he’s made allusions to other worlds. Many years and a class uprising later, Dora uses the connections her military partner has to be named Wartime Curator, with intent to gain access to the Society of Psykical Research—the mysterious place her brother worked at before he died. When she finds it burned down, Dora—or more typically, just D—begins to investigate the Society and its goings on, hoping to find information about what might have happened to her brother. And it leads her deeper into the unexplainable, the whimsical, the revolutionary, and the feline—yes, I said feline. King’s world is part moody Victorian, part Terry Pratchett, with a lot to discover alongside its plucky main character. The Curator is a true curio of a book.
The Foxglove King by Hannah Whitten (March 7, Orbit)
The Foxglove King is the start of a new series from Hannah Whitten, who has quickly proven herself a new queen of dark romantic fantasy. This one reminded me a lot of last year’s The Bone Orchard—with lush gothic vibes, court intrigue, and a woman rising above her station, this novel is incredibly enchanting. Lore makes her living as sort of a sugar baby who runs poison (drugs) on the side—in the city of Dellaire, there is trouble and darkness at every turn, and Lore knows its seedy underbelly like the back of her hand. Her ability to sense the Mortem in someone (a specific type of magic that is released upon one’s death) is kept secret from the religious order that regulates and channels Mortem to protect the city’s inhabitants, but when she’s caught by the royal guards, she’s pulled into the complexities of the court. This book is high on atmosphere and aesthetic, with plenty of romantic entanglements to keep you engaged.
Walking Practice by Dolki Min, translated by Victoria Caudle (March 14, Harper Via)
As you can imagine, a book about a shapeshifting alien who is learning how to appear human for survival deals with quite a lot. Walking Practice explores the burden of gender expectations, the struggle of having a flesh prison body, having to feed yourself and wanting to be loved, and even the awkwardness of dealing with other people on the subway. But what really makes this story sing is the uniqueness of the narrator’s voice—both compelling and witty, the alien narrator makes keen observations throughout, peppered with remarks like “there’s not even a booger’s amount of support for me in this universe”. It is moving and funny, critical and crass. This one is for anyone who is made to feel like an alien in their own body.
Lucha of the Night Forest by Tehlor Kay Mejia (March 21, Make Me A World)
When we meet her, Lucha Moya is… not in a good place. With her mother hooked on a drug that makes you forget everything you’ve ever known, Lucha is left to care for her sister and keep them off the streets of Robado, a city filled with greed, corruption, and demons. Thankfully she’s got a special ability—or perhaps a curse—that renders her invisible to the deadly monsters of the forest, and therefore makes her the perfect hunter. As much as she hates doing it, it puts food on the table. Lucha is rough around the edges, quick to anger, and suffering from some serious self-doubt—which is tested when she enters into a desperate situation that might just be the end of her. There’s romance, there’s sisterhood, there’s magic, and there’s mushrooms—all woven into a story about a girl learning how to use her skills and take her place in the world. The prose is rich and intricate, and there’s so much of this world to explore. Let yourself go deeper into the forest.
Flux by Jinwoo Chong (March 21, Melville House)
We can all agree time is flexible, right? And genre is flexible along with it. Jinwoo Chong proves this in Flux, a voicy novel that weaves together the story of three lives in a mix of contemporary, neo-noir, and dystopian sci-fi. After Brandon is let go from his job, he is given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with a new employer that may or may not have discovered time travel. Alongside this runs the story of Bo, a young boy whose mother has just died tragically, and Blue, a middle-aged man in the midst of recovering his capability to speak through new technology. As the stories progress, they connect in the most unexpected ways, linked by explorations of time, identity, and grief. Jinwoo Chong is an exciting emerging writer with endorsements with Alexander Chee, and it’s no wonder—the prose here is brilliant and honest, and the plot cleverly crafted. You can try to guess what might happen in Flux, but it’s better to let it bloom beautifully before you.
White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link (March 28, Random House)
Look, I don’t know how to describe to you the way Kelly Link’s mind works. I imagine, like all of us, it’s some combination of electrical pulses and neurons firing through pink matter. But it’s also something much stranger. Link is the most brilliant writer of surrealist fiction—specifically short fiction, though we hear she’s working on a novel—we have today, proven many times over and verified by her MacArthur Fellowship. The fact is that you will never be able to guess where these stories go. They’re just absolutely insane in the best way, brilliantly crafted and relentlessly weird. I’m not even going to tell you any details because I want you to pick up this book, crack open that first page, and be prepared for absolutely anything. Kelly Link, we love you and your beautiful, wild, weird brain.
Lone Women by Victor LaValle (March 28, One World)
Adelaide’s trunk is heavy. It takes three men to lift it onto the steamer that serves as her means of escape. It weighs down all the horses. It takes all her strength to lift it and drag it. And it cannot be opened. Adelaide Henry is on her way to an empty plot of land in Montana, having fled California following the death of her parents. It’s a fresh start, she hopes. But the burden she carries—the darkness locked in the trunk—threatens to upset the peace she so longs to build in her new life. Victor LaValle is one of the best writers of speculative horror we have, and Lone Women is an absolute page turner. It’s a tale of hardship and strength and community, but also of the creeping quiet of the American Midwest, of loneliness, and the hauntings we cannot rid ourselves of.
Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh (April 4, Tordotcom Publishing)
Kyr is a warbreed soldier of Earth, genetically modified to fight in the war against the majo, humanity’s greatest enemy. She is among the best of Gaea Station, the strongest girl in her mess. So it’s a shock and disappointment when she’s assigned to the Nursery, forced to make more humans—a task which Kyr views as a waste of all her training. Even bigger of a shock is the news that her twin brother has refused his assignment and left the station, marking him a traitor like their older sister who abandoned the station years ago. And so, Kyr begins to question everything she’s ever known, alongside some very unlikely allies. I am the biggest fan of Tesh’s Greenhollow series of novellas and am no less blown away by her work in the space opera genre—Some Desperate Glory is sweeping and epic and everything you want, while maintaining the beating heart of hope at its core. It is unexpected, brilliant, and deeply moving.
Chain Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (April 4, Riverhead)
It’s a death match, a game like you’ve never seen. The crowd roars, the players are treated like rock stars. But they’re branded with the name of the corporation that sponsors these events, there are magnetic cuffs under their skin to control them at all times. They’re prisoners, locked in a system of entertaining the masses until they earn their release or die. Nana Kwami Adjei-Brenyah’s debut novel is equal parts Squid Game and Riot Baby, but also brought to mind Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, falling neatly in line with a long history of critical satire and “dystopias” by Black writers. Adjei-Brenyah writes characters that are both larger than life and intimately human, with a spotlight on the violence enacted on humanity by oppressive systems. It is funny, it is brutal, and it is an extremely necessary text.
One for My Enemy by Olivie Blake (April 4, Tor Books)
Olivie Blake, master of writing extremely sexy and dangerous women, is back with One for My Enemy, a tale of drug-dealing witch sisters lead by Baba Yaga clashing against a mafia run by Koschei the Deathless. In this novel, The Antonova sisters are a powerful witch coven that has New York City in their grasp—especially with the creation of a deadly new drug. The Fedorov brothers are ruthless, serving their father’s agenda of extortion and violence. The two families battle against each other while the young people’s lives become increasingly entangled. Like all Blake novels, this one is high on vibes and the vibes are very good. One for My Enemy is exquisitely written and immersive, you’ll feel like you just destroyed a box of chocolate truffles by the end of it. Do you feel devastated? Yes. Was it absolutely worth it? Also yes.
Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker (April 4, Tor Teen)
The fight to protect a family’s generational magic is on in Blood Debts, a searing debut rooted in Black ancestral magic practices. When Clem finds a hex doll under his sick mother’s bed, it’s clear that his family’s bad fortune is happening by someone else’s hand. Though his sister has given up magic after a terrible accident, they know they need to come together as they begin the task of calling the estranged family home to perform a protection spell. Clem and Cris are the descendants of a once-powerful family who used to rule the council of magic practitioners in New Orleans but were forcibly dethroned, with a magic that is specifically tied to Black culture (and when Cris’s white boyfriend Oz becomes interested in it, some underlying issues become qWhite clear). Their desire to protect the family and break the curse leads them into a fierce battle for justice. This is (as far as I know) a standalone urban fantasy with characters you’ll root for, even when things get messy.
Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee (April 11, Tordotcom Publishing)
Esther is an apprentice ruhker, learning how to train a roc named Zahra, a great falcon-like being with talons that could crush a man’s head. Esther is one of the few young women in the program, which brings with it all the hardships you can imagine—and makes her all the more determined to succeed. Not only to prove them all wrong, but to avenge the death of her mother and brother who were slain by a manticore years ago. Fonda Lee’s new novella is a tale of determination and trust as Esther faces the task of first bonding with Zahara, and then participating in a dangerous hunt. You know as well as I do that Fonda Lee is one of the best writers of epic fantasy we have working today, and it’s astonishing to see how much she accomplishes with the novella format. Spend an afternoon soaring with this one.
The Thick and the Lean by Chana Porter (April 18, Saga)
The followers of ALGN—All Lands Gone Now, a religious cult—believe in purity: purity of thought and purity of body, which is tied intrinsically to food. Beatrice has been raised to believe that indulgence in food is sinful, that food is only to be consumed to keep one alive, and that the ultimate goal is to eliminate the need for eating all-together before the two moons above them come crashing together and destroy them all. But she secretly dreams of cooking, of spice and butter and sweets, and along with that, the chance to control her own path. On the other side of town, Reiko is Free-Wan, a group who eat openly and are treated like second-class citizens as a result. As a student she struggles to prove herself in a society that it intent on keeping her down. Aided by a mysterious cookbook, both Beatrice and Reiko are set on unexpected paths, ultimately learning to rethink their ideas about pleasure, need, and the world they live in. Porter’s second novel is an intense story about gender expectations, sexuality, and class in a dystopian world that is both deeply creepy and very plausible. Do not read this one without a snack (also: proceed with caution if you’re in recovery for any food-related issues).
In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune (April 25, Tor Books)
If you don’t know by now, you should go into every TJ Klune book prepared to cry. I mean it. The last one had me sobbing at 3am, and this one promises to be no different. In the Lives of Puppets is found family at its finest—literally, because some members of this family are robots. There’s Dad—Giovanni, an android who loves to tinker and repair, sassy and morbid medical droid Nurse Ratched, and lovable anxiety baby vacuum Rambo, along with their human son/sibling, Victor. They live safely in the woods—but not for long. When Giovanni’s past comes back to haunt him, it’s up to Vic, Rambo, and Ratched to save the family. Along the way Victor learns the toughest of life lessons—that are parents are people, with their own histories and emotions, and sometimes family relationships are more complex than we’d like. Klune is—forgive me for this—a puppetmaster of emotions, able to pull on our heartstrings with the most delicate touch. I look forward to crying about this one with you all.
The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw (May 2, Tor Nightfire)
“And you shall know her by the trail of the dead”: The mermaid has come to shore and wed the prince, just as it says in the fairy tales. But what the tales forget is that mermaids have teeth, and in no time her daughters have eaten the whole kingdom (and from what it seems like, that was a good thing because the humans are awful). Now she is on the run along with the genderless plague doctor who has cared for her, leading her to discover the darkness in the world, and the darkness within herself. Cassandra Khaw just keeps getting better with each offering, a master of sharp knives and blood, with a singular dedication to their craft. The Salt Grows Heavy is unlike any of Khaw’s previous work in the most stunning way—poetic, fairy tale-esque, deliciously weird. This one is for fans of the creepy and monstrous.
To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose (May 9, Del Rey)
They thought the Nampeshiwe, the native dragons of the island, had disappeared long ago. They thought the dragon breeds of the colonizers had driven them out, leaving the dragon temples to crumble to ruin. So when Anequs finds a single Nampeshiwe egg, she knows it is her job to protect it and raise it amongst its people. What begins is an emotional journey as Anequs bonds with her baby dragon and fights against the colonizer’s attempts to eradicate her culture. To Shape a Dragon’s Breath is, simply, breathtaking. Written with heart and skill, Blackgoose has created something truly special here, and if I could just let out a high pitched scream about this one, I absolutely would. This book is so good it made me emotional. I had to stand up and walk around the room a bit because I was overwhelmed. That’s not a joke.
Maeve Fly by CJ Leede (June 6, Tor Nightfire)
This book is like neon lights, sickly sweet candy, blistering heat and that coppery smell of fresh blood. It is—and I cannot stress this enough—deeply weird and fucked up, Palahniuk-esque in that “nothing is off limits” way. Our titular Maeve is young and living in L.A. with her grandmother, working as an ice princess a theme park while she kinda-sorta tries to make it as an actress. She mostly ends up wing womaning her friend Kate who is trying the Hollywood thing a little harder, which is how she meets Kate’s brother Gideon. She is pulled from her typical evenings spent masturbating to brutal nature videos and doxxing racist housewives on the internet (look, it isn’t hard to see how she could evolve into a nightmare, but I also know several girls who are into equally weird shit and are doing fine so, who am I to say) and into something much darker; she finds herself able to unleash something she has kept hidden inside her for too long—which leads to brutal results. Maeve Fly is a real trip of a book, and definitely not for the squeamish—but if you’re able to put on your big girl pants and look the nastiness of life in the face, you’ll find something special and sparkling here.
Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea by Rita Chang-Eppig (June 6, Bloomsbury)
It is the year of lady pirates and outlaws, friends! You’ll get no complaints from me, and with Rita Chang-Eppig’s debut, it’s definitely *Lizzo Voice* Bad Bitch O’Clock. As Shek Yeung watches her husband/captor/captain die, she knows that the security she has enjoyed as his right hand is about to be much less stable. A woman born to be at sea, Shek Yeung now controls half the pirate fleet—but it’s possible that her husband’s adopted son could challenge her capabilities and make life very difficult. And it hasn’t been an easy life, as you can imagine, for a woman amongst pirates. It’s refreshing to see not only a mixed-gender crew but also a woman with a complicated relationship to motherhood, her intended place in the world, and her ambitions. Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea is a non-stop adventure with danger at every turn, and Shek Yeung is forced to make decisions to ensure her survival. But she remains ruthless throughout, and her adventures will make you want to take up the sword and learn to sail. Not that you don’t already. I know you, you nerd!
The Water Outlaws by S.L. Huang (June 20, Tordotcom Publishing)
Lin Chong teaches a fight class for women—an intense program despite what any of her students’ husbands think. As a master and scholar of her craft, Lin Chong is highly respected—even without a husband—and a disciplined citizen. But when an authority figure crosses a boundary with her, Lin Chong’s instinct to fight back lands her in jail.
She is beaten and branded a traitor, she has no choice but to take matters into her own hands, which brings her to the Liangshan—a legendary group of female bandits. The Water Outlaws is a retelling of the Chinese classic Water Margin, and readers aware of the source material will find many familiar elements alongside fresh, thrilling updates. It’s S.L. Huang’s most ambitious project to date and it is executed brilliantly, telling a story of sisterhood and justice and rebellion.
The Archive Undying by Emma Mieko Candon (June 27, Tordotcom Publishing)
I love a protagonist who is like, kind of a shithead? Kind of a mess? Sunai has good reasons to be, but he also ended up on a salvage job to investigate an undiscovered AI after a drunken hookup, which I see and I respect. Sunai is both dead and not-dead, having been previously had his body used by a corrupted (read: destroyed the whole city it presided over) God-like AI from which he had to free himself. Think like, you know that episode of Doctor Who Season 1 where the girl is hooked up to Satellite 5 and used to run all the programs? Like that. Sunai now is a “relic,” a survivor of the AI’s destruction, left with abilities that will definitely come in handy on his insane journey. I will admit that this one is dense and complex, so go in with an open mind ready to go back over some of the beautiful sentences. But there are also giant mech battles and insanely cool worldbuilding, so it’s well worth your time.