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Maya Gittelman

The Smart, Specific Magic of Zen Cho’s The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water

There beyond the edges of the battlefield, there across a landscape of ruin and history in the making, of high stakes and hard choices, there is a coffeehouse. There is a motley, tight-knit crew of bandits, and here they meet a waitress who was a nun once, and from there, nothing will be quite as it seems.

Zen Cho’s novella The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a small-scale story on the crest of an enormous wave of war. The fight bleeds in in unexpected places. Cho crafts a different sort of intimacy within the story: we as readers don’t get very close to any one character, and so we can’t necessarily trust any of their perspectives. In this way, it feels almost like we’re one of their crew along for the journey, unearthing the rules of the world and their relationships from each of them in turn.

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Three Filipinx Authors Rocking Epic Fantasy

Today’s Filipinx genre fiction writers are crafting some of the most groundbreaking, immersive, anti-colonialist fantasy novels out here. Their protagonists unleash demons, raise the dead, save the world, and figure out how to rebuild it. Filipinx voices belong in the speculative imagination, and these authors take us there. With middle-grade mythic adventure, young adult historical decadence, adult epic, and so much magic in between—if you haven’t already fallen in love with all of these titles, you’ll want to add these authors to your TBR immediately.

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Queer Pining and a Reckoning of Empire: Emily Skrutskie’s Bonds of Brass

The propulsive first book in Emily Skrutskie’s Bloodright trilogy, Bonds of Brass is an action-packed, incisively clever, and unapologetically queer space opera. Skrutskie balances burgeoning galaxy-wide revolution with deliciously tender pining to craft a page-turning adventure simmering with slow-burn romance and an indictment of empire.

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Memory and Mythmaking: Queer Archive in Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune

History is written by the victors, and here in The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Nghi Vo brings a reckoning to the patriarchal architects of myth and power. Vo’s debut novella is slim but epic, spare yet breathtakingly evocative. It’s sharp as a needle and just as capable of weaving an entire tapestry of narrative—or undoing the carefully crafted fabric of a lie.

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The Electric Heir: Queer Healing and Power in Victoria Lee’s Feverwake Series

In The Electric Heir, the striking, cathartic conclusion to the Feverwake duology, magic isn’t a straightforward experience, and neither is the process of healing. Victoria Lee weaves together a compelling, terrifyingly plausible landscape of revolution with an intricate and original system of magic, but the heart of the two novels centers on an intimate, well-wrought investigation of power and abuse.

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Magic, Rebellion, and Queer Chosen Family: M.K. England’s Spellhacker Will Steal Your Heart

A clever, engaging magic system! Talented young folks waging a futuristic heist against a powerful, corrupt organization! Fast-paced, high-stakes adventure! There’s a lot to love about M. K. England’s epic new novel Spellhacker, but the throughline at its core is the tenderly rendered queer chosen family of the main cast.

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Harbinger of Hope: A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

The world is ending, but we already knew that. For many of us, the apocalypse has come already, in the shapes of imperialism, white supremacy, unaffordable healthcare, and anthropocene-induced climate catastrophe. For everyone else, it’s not a matter of if, but when. So it’s fitting that SFF is picking up post-post-apocalypse—less interested in the panicked chaos of the end of the world (we’ve got the news for that), and more focused on the challenging process of rebuilding. What comes after? What happens to the survivors? What will we bring with us into the future?

Mike Chen’s A Beginning At the End takes place six years after a devastating flu pandemic killed 70% of the human population. With the quarantines lifted, survivors tentatively try to cobble together a semblance of normalcy, though they collectively suffer from PASD: post-apocalyptic stress disorder, a combination of survivor’s guilt, PTSD, displacement, and profound grief.

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Reimagined Rulers, Lady Princes, and Queer Knights: Tessa Gratton’s Lady Hotspur

“Hal was not yet a prince when she fell in love with Lady Hotspur, but she would be within the hour.”

So begins Tessa Gratton’s latest masterpiece, unapologetically queer and brimming with vicious promise. Lady Hotspur is a companion novel to The Queens of Innis Lear, but it picks up generations later and stands alone. To call it a reimagining of part one of Shakespeare’s Henry IV is only part of its breadth—it functions in conversation, investigating war, love, and trauma, and Gratton’s deliberate genderfuckery and queerness deepens the project. The result is an epic, compulsively readable triumph that is not only an immersive addition to the canon of historical action adventure fantasy, but a reclamation of the genre and the history, a restoration: a revolution in and of itself.

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A Clash of Love and Magic: Song of the Crimson Flower by Julie C. Dao

There is so much to love in every Julie C. Dao novel: the gorgeous worldbuilding, the atmospheric fantasy, the high-stakes plot — but my favorite element will always be her unapologetically complex characters. While Dao uses fairytale as her launchpad in the Feng Lu novels, her characters are consciously crafted as anything but archetypal. The immersive, lovely Song of the Crimson Flower revisits favorite characters from Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix while centering on a new, compelling cast.

Song of the Crimson Flower is set eight years after Phoenix leaves off. It continues the narrative of the world of Feng Lu, now prospering under the rule of Empress Jade, though the dark, entwining threats of black spice and bloodpox cast a rising shadow on her kingdom. Crimson Flower can be read and loved as a standalone, or prior to reading the Rise of the Empress books. However, as a reader who adores Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and its sequel, it was deeply fulfilling to return to Feng Lu and revisit the characters I love, exploring their roles in the next phase of their world.

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The Dark, Soulwalking Fantasy of Beyond the Black Door by A.M. Strickland

What shape does a soul take? For some, they are flourishing gardens. Others have tidy houses — and there are some whose souls are terrifying dungeons. This is called the “soul home,” or nehym. The state of a nehym reflects the person, and everything of that person is embodied in their soul…so what does it mean that Kamai doesn’t have a nehym of her own? And that in every soul, she sees a closed black door her mother warns her never to open? Thankfully, at least, these are secrets to bury, not stigmas to bear, as only a precious few have the goddess-gifted ability to soulwalk, Kamai and her mother included. This means that her mother, Marin, makes an excellent spy. She and her ersatz husband Hallan end up embroiled with an organization called the Twilight Guild. Kamai believed that her mother and Hallan pretended at marriage to mask their true occupations as pleasure artists, but discovers another layer of intrigue—their pleasure artistry serves as the perfect mask for soulwalking, in which the subject needs to be asleep.

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The Goddesses Are the Future: The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco

“A demoness is what men call a goddess they cannot control.” So opens The Never Tilting World and the legendary song of the ancestral goddess Inanna, with a call to powerful women and the systems that seek to manipulate that power.

Aeon was once a steadily spinning world, ruled by generations of twin goddesses beholden to a secret, terrible ritual. Until seventeen years ago, when one of the goddesses refused the ritual and caused the Breaking. The planet stopped turning, a Great Abyss splitting the earth into two unsustainable halves: Aranth, a storm-tossed freezing never-night, and a brutal, desert wasteland that houses the Golden City. Now, unbeknownst to each other, two young goddesses and their respective unlikely allies find themselves fighting their way to the Abyss from either side of the planet in an attempt to restore the wreckage of their world.

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Redemption, Remaking, and Revolution: Natalie C. Parker’s Steel Tide

Caledonia Styx returns knife-quick and bright as ever in Steel Tide, the thrilling, propulsive second installment of the Seafire trilogy. The novel picks up right where the first left off, Caledonia’s seafaring sisterhood pitted against the drugged and manipulated Bullet army, which is led by the vicious Aric Athair. A failed plot to destroy Aric and the murderous Bullet, Lir, leaves Caledonia horribly wounded and, worse, separated from her crew. She wakes to find herself recuperating in a camp of unlikely allies: former Bullets.

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Queer Love, Rage, and Magic Amid War: Red Skies Falling by Alex London

Twins Kylee and Brysen find themselves separated for the first time in their lives, each on either side of a world fluttering toward the knife-edge of war. Alex London’s Red Skies Falling serves as a soaring followup to the entrancing YA fantasy novel Black Wings Beating. The stakes raise enormously, the pace quickens, and ancient magic manifests in fresh, terrifying ways.

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A Queer Fairytale Reclamation, with Dragons: Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells

It begins in the aftermath. Two young women, in love, in a nation conquered by a powerful emperor. The mountain nation of Ilvera dragonriders was subjugated a generation ago, encompassed by the rule of the Zefedi downmountainers. Verrans could not resist the colonizers, not when they were armed with the very dragons they’d stolen from Ilvera. Maren has a relatively unique identity within her village—her father is Zefedi and her mother is Verran. They are a loving family, complicating Maren’s relationship with the Zefedi rule, especially as physically, she takes after her father, with lighter brown skin than her girlfriend and most of her village.

Despite the political landscape of her home, Maren wants little more than to remain on the mountain and live out her days in its peace and beauty. Her priority is her girlfriend, Kaia. As long as they’re together, she wants for nothing. Kaia, on the other hand, can’t wait to leave—to venture out past the ruins on the other side of the lake, to cross the mountain range of Anetka, to travel south to the ocean, and finally, to prove herself to the emperor, the Flame of the West, in hopes that he will christen her a Talon, one of his elite dragon guard. Even though Maren doesn’t share these aspirations, she would do anything for her, and so she plans to join Kaia on her adventures.

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