content by

Alex Brown

Mechas and Monsters: New Young Adult SFF for January and February 2021

2021 certainly has gotten off to a rocky start. It’s a good thing there is such good young adult science fiction and fantasy being published in January and February to take the edge off. Let’s dive into the new year with some of my most anticipated YA with books about embattled assassins, deposed monarchs, petty gods, Nazi punchers, and more.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: December 2020

So long 2020. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. 2020 may have been a trash fire of epic proportions, but at least the short speculative fiction was good. These ten science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories were some of my favorites of the end-of-the-year crop. Genderqueer knights, resurrections, people made of fungi, sentient robots, it’s all here, and then some.

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Truth as Fiction: When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

There was a moment toward the end of The Empress of Salt and Fortune where Chih learns the truth about the new empress when I realized just how supremely talented Nghi Vo is. I experienced that realization again in When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, the second book in her Singing Hills Cycle, with the resolution of the story of the foxes. Tiger proves that all the praise thrown her way is warranted.

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War Is Hell: King of the Rising by Kacen Callender

After Sigourney Rose’s attempted coup and Løren’s slave rebellion, the islands of Hans Lollik are in turmoil. The Black islanders have taken control of several islands, but the Fjern have them blockaded from external resources and aid. Now imprisoned by her own people, Sigourney wants nothing more than to take freedom and power for herself.

But King of the Rising, the second book in the Islands of Blood and Storm duology, isn’t her story, although she does play a prominent role. Instead, we focus on Løren, the unprepared and too naive leader of the islanders who must find a way to turn a small uprising into a full-fledged revolution, and a successful one at that.

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Best Young Adult Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror of 2020

“Best Of” lists are so hard to create! I lost count as to how many times I added and removed and added back in books, paring down an original list that was absolutely massive to just thirty. They cover the gamut, from pirates to princesses, dystopian hellscapes to alternate histories, magical realism to folklore retellings, spaceships to aliens, ghosts and gods to witches and werewolves. Compiled by extensive reading and extensively reading reviews, here is my list of best young adult science fiction and fantasy books published in 2020.

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Sing Me a Song: Ruinsong by Julia Ember

Do you want a book with an ownvoices fat main character? With a diverse cast including queer, racial, disability, and polyamourous rep? With vivid descriptions and an intriguing world? Where tropes find deeper meaning in the current political climate? And where two girls from different worlds can’t stop sneaking lusty glances? Then you absolutely need to pick up Julia Ember’s The Phantom of the Opera-inspired YA fantasy Ruinsong.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: October 2020

By the time you’ll read this, Halloween season will be over and done, but for me right now the world is nothing but decorative gourds and creepy decorations and weird costumes. And, of course, scary stories. Okay, so not every short speculative fiction piece on this list is of the horror variety, but don’t let that stop you from indulging in ten absolutely excellent stories.

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A Fantasy Worth Savoring: The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk

It’s the start of Bargaining Season, the yearly weeks-long event where prominent young men woo eligible young women in the hopes of securing a bride. At least that’s what it’s supposed to be. In reality, the men bribe and buy their brides from fathers eager to benefit off their daughters’ backs. Of the three nations who participate in Bargaining Season, Chasland is the least advanced and most conservative of the group, and it’s there that Beatrice Clayborn grew up. The fear that a spirit might take over the body of an unborn child has led to the creation of silver collars that block out magic. In other countries the women only wear the collar when she might be pregnant, but in Chasland, the collar is locked around her throat at marriage and not removed until after menopause. Beatrice, who is secretly teaching herself magic, can think of no worse fate than to be sold off to a man and denied access to the one thing that makes her truly happy. So she hatches a plan.

Of course, that plan immediately begins to fray when she meets the gorgeous Lavan siblings, the brash Ysabeta and her dashing brother Ianthe. She hoped to skate through Bargaining Season unnoticed, but her heart yearns for Ianthe as much as it does for magic. Soon there are several suitors vying for her hand, despite her best efforts. With her father’s demands increasing and her options dwindling, Beatrice will have to choose: a life of faux-freedom married to a man she loves but can never be equals with or one of magic but where she will be hidden away as the shame of her family. But what if there is a third choice? What if she can bring the whole sexist system crashing to the ground?

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Ancestral Magic and Battle Dragons: New Young Adult SFF for October, November, and December 2020

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the publishing industry, and scheduled released dates have been pushed back and pushed back and pushed back. At least the young adult science fiction and fantasy books that have made it through the chaos are worth the wait. Get ready for powerful magic, grand conspiracies, and sweeping romance.

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