The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison (Tor Books)
Set in the same world as Addison’s previous book, The Goblin Emperor, this fantasy murder mystery can still be read as a stand-alone. It's a quieter novel than its predecessor and takes place in the city of Amalo, where murders need to be solved and Witness for the Dead Thara Celehar is the one to solve them. While the officials of Amalo try to negate Thara’s authority, Thara resolutely works on several cases: an elven opera soloist found drowned in the river, a small-town plagued by ghouls, a suspected serial killer who marries his victims. He may not be well liked by politicians, but his steadfast honesty and perception earn the respect of the common folk. This nuanced and immersive detective novel is a lovely addition to The Goblin Emperor’s world.
Star Eater by Kerstin Hall (Tordotcom)
In this unique and dark fantasy, cannibalistic nuns rule a floating city in the sky. These nuns renew their magic — a lace they can shoot at people — by eating preserved nuns who’ve reached a certain age or whose children have grown into adulthood. The main character, Elfreda, is a young member of the Sisterhood of Aytrium. She's horrified by what she and her fellow nuns do, but, at the same time, she accepts it. Her two best friends are involved in a plot to bring down the sisterhood, which she knows but pretends she doesn't. When another nun conscripts her to spy on the sisterhood, what she learns makes her push back against everything she's been taught. This enthralling read is as intriguing as it is disturbing.
Questland by Carrie Vaughn (John Joseph Adams)
Full of action-packed scenes, this fantasy sci-fi is steeped in RPG storylines and is just a delightful read from start to finish. Literature professor Dr. Addie Cox specializes in the crossover between literature and gaming, but that doesn’t prepare her for a mission from billionaire tech guru Harris Lang. Lang has been building a high-tech fantasy LARPing adventure island, but one of the team members working on the island has cut off all communication, and the coast guard team Harris sent to investigate has disappeared. So now he’s hiring Dr. Cox — whose ex-boyfriend is on the island and possibly the chief suspect — to lead a group of soldiers onto the fantasy island and figure out what’s going on.
This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron (Bloomsbury)
Briseis works in a flower shop with her two moms, but when the landlord raises their rent, her parents aren’t sure how much longer they can hang on to the shop, even with Briseis’s unique magic: She can grow plants with a touch, and she’s immune to poison. It feels like luck is finally on their side when Briseis’s aunt, whom she’s never met, dies and leaves Briseis her estate in rural New York. The semi-decrepit mansion even has an apothecary and sprawling gardens, perfect for Briseis to practice her secret magic. However, the more Briseis learns about the home and her family history, the more sinister truths she unearths. This is the kind of YA contemporary fantasy readers will want to finish in a single sitting. It’s a bewitching and entertaining read.
Song of the Forever Rains by E.J. Mellow (Montlake)
This character-driven, high-stakes fantasy romance is a captivating read and the first book in a new series. Nineteen-year-old Larkyra is the youngest of three sisters, and her voice holds a deadly and commanding magic. Their father, the Thief King, rules over a secret and magical kingdom integral to Aadlior, though few know of it. When they discover the Duke of Lachlan is stealing a poisonous drug from the Thief Kingdom, Larkyra is given her first mission: to spy on the duke by pretending to be his potential bride. Her task is complicated as she finds herself slowly falling in love with Lachlan’s rightful heir, Darius.
Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Princess Shiori has a secret that could put her in grave danger — she can manipulate magic, and she’s not the only one. After she discovers her stepmother can also use magic and has a dragon’s pearl lodged in her chest, her stepmother curses her and her seven brothers: Her brothers are condemned to live their days as cranes, while Shiori has a bowl placed over her head, disguising her looks, and for every word she utters, a brother will die. Shiori must create a net of sharp nettles to capture the dragon’s pearl and hopefully save her brothers. This lovely YA fantasy entwines a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Wild Swans" with various tales from Chinese folklore and legends, including dragon folklore, the tales of Madame White Snake, the myth of Chang'e the Moon Goddess, “Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” and “Girl with the Black Bowl.” It’s one of my favorite fairy tale retellings of the year.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (Tordotcom; July 13)
Hugo Award–winning author Becky Chambers begins a new series with this delightful and quietly philosophical novella that presents a hopeful glimpse into a future where humanity actually does the right thing. When Dex, a nonbinary tea-mixing monk, decides to travel into the wilderness to search for a sound that haunts their dreams, they meet a wild-built robot named Mosscap, and the two form a friendship. Years earlier, when robots became sentient, humans agreed to let them live their separate lives in the forest. Now Mosscap will help Dex find the sound they long for, though what awaits them in the forest surprises them. In exchange, Mosscap asks that Dex help the robot learn more about humanity.
Appleseed by Matt Bell (Custom House; July 13)
This ambitious work of climate fiction weaves together three timelines to depict the myriad of ways humans destroy their environments. In 18th-century Ohio, two brothers — one a faun, one a human — attempt to remake the wilderness and become the basis of the Johnny Appleseed folktale. Fifty years into our future, a corporation owns the country in the wake of massive climate upheavals and provides all food and resources. John, one of the corporation’s founders, has had a change of heart and has become an eco-terrorist, journeying to the West to try and restore the land to its prehuman condition. Finally, a thousand years later, the Earth is covered in ice, and C-433 is the last sentient being. C-433’s primary task is to find biomasses, but he undergoes a dangerous quest in search of humanity when he uncovers long-forgotten instructions. This fascinating novel is rich in thought-provoking ideas and world-building.
The Freedom Race by Lucinda Roy (Tor Books; July 13)
This gut-wrenching read takes place in a near-future United States where white people once again enslave African Americans. This future is bleak. Enslaved Black women are forced to become “seedlings” and bear their enslaver’s children, which are judged on a color wheel. If the child is too dark, the enslavers take them away to work in hard labor camps. If they’re light-skinned, they might find freedom and a place at their father’s side. Jellybean “Ji-Ji” Lottermule’s skin tone falls somewhere in the middle, and her only hope of freedom is to compete in the Freedom Race. The winner is granted freedom and a chance to petition for the freedom of others. However, by the time the race begins, everything Ji-Ji holds dear may already be lost. This powerful, riveting novel provides a glimpse into a nightmarish future that’s all too similar to our past.
Sword Stone Table, edited by Swapna Krishna and Jenn Northington (Vintage; July 13)
The 16 stories in this remarkable anthology present a vast and varied selection of inclusive Arthurian legend retellings. From a story by Nisi Shawl where an albino Ugandan sorceress trades magic with Merlin to a story by Star Trek: Discovery star Anthony Rapp about an HIV-positive man and his partner watching a hospital magic show hosted by, you guessed it, Merlin. While Merlin features in many stories, quite a few center Arthur, Morgana, Lancelot, Elaine, Gawain, and more. This anthology shows the diverse multitude of stories that can be told based on Arthurian legend. It’s a must-read for any Arthurian legend fan.
Midnight, Water City by Chris Mckinney (Soho Crime; July 13)
Hawai'i author Chris Mckinney's seventh novel marks his first foray into science fiction. The unnamed protagonist works as a police detective and former private security guard to the famed scientist Akira Kimura. In 2102, Akira spotted an asteroid plummeting toward Earth and invented a cosmic ray to destroy it. Forty years later, she's still famous, though she's now retired. However, she asks the protagonist to once again take up his post as her security guard when she senses her life might be in danger. When the detective arrives at her home, he finds her dead. The detective has an unusual ability that allows him to detect murders: His combination of synesthesia and color blindness causes him to see a green mist surrounding murder victims. His unique ability might help him solve the mystery of who killed his former employer and one of his oldest and dearest friends. This gritty noir set in a sci-fi landscape is a real page-turner.
Notes From the Burning Age by Claire North (Orbit; July 20)
Claire North depicts a startling, richly developed postapocalyptic world in this beautiful and riveting novel. After a childhood trauma, Ven becomes a priest and scholar, decoding ancient texts and artifacts from the Burning Age, a time when climate disasters ravaged the landscape. Now trees and forests flourish, and humanity has humbled itself to nature, or at least, theoretically. Mythical beings called the kakuy, who crushed cities centuries earlier, still watch over the land, ready to release their wrath should humanity mess up once more. When a secret sect called the Brotherhood forces Ven to translate heretical texts, including military documents, Ven is forced to face two opposing ideologies: to honor nature as his priest training instructs or to respect humanity’s right to supremacy.
The Past Is Red by Catherynne M. Valente (Tordotcom; July 20)
With her trademark lyrical prose, Catherynne M. Valente takes readers to a future where the remnants of humanity live on giant islands of garbage. The main character, Tetley, has been shunned by society for a past transgression. She loves Garbagetown, the only home she’s ever known, and through shifting timelines tells the story of how she came to be an outlaw and why Garbagetown is the best despite all the cruel things it's done to her. This novella is a pointed critique of consumer culture and also a wildly inventive ride.
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (Tor Books; July 20)
This gorgeous and sprawling masterpiece of historical fantasy takes place in 14th century China, during the rise of the Ming dynasty. In a starving peasant village, only two children remain of what once was a large family with eight children: A boy, Zhu Chongba — who is destined for greatness according to a sage — and his sister. When bandits threaten them, however, the sister survives, not the brother. Taking Zhu Chongba’s name, the girl decides to become her brother and embrace the legacy of his greatness. She joins a monastery and, surprising everyone, eventually comes to lead an army successfully.
The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters (HarperTeen; July 27)
This YA contemporary fantasy entwines elements of horror and thriller to create a compulsive read. Someone is killing girls in a nature preserve. When Natasha's sister disappears, she worries she was the latest victim and goes to the nature preserve to investigate. A witch family lives nearby, garnering their magic from the forest. They might be the key to solving the disappearances — especially the intriguing Della — or they might be the cause of the murders. As Natasha and Della slowly start falling for one another, magic neither of them knew existed begins to bloom.
Hold Fast Through the Fire by K. B. Wagers (Harper Voyager; July 27)
The second book of Wagers's NeoG series continues with all the great elements of the first book: Wonderful character dynamics, engaging dialogue, compulsive action scenes, and a high-stakes plot. This year's boarding games are going to be a bit different. Rosa and Ma are retiring. Nika has returned to the crew to replace Rosa, Jenks is now chief, and a new Spacer, Chae Ho-ki (they/them), is welcomed aboard. However, Chae is hiding a deadly secret that puts the crew in deadly peril, but revealing their secret would put their loved ones at risk. Meanwhile, Intel has put Nika on a secret mission, and he's struggling with how to lie to the crew while maintaining a relationship with them, particularly with Max. This is a must-read series for space opera fans.
The Wild Ones by Nafiza Azad (Margaret K. McElderry Books; Aug. 3)
The Wild Ones are girls who have been wronged, abused, and discarded in a patriarchal society. They now save other victims of abuse, and their leader is Paheli, who many years earlier fled after her mother sold her to a man to be abused. As she fled, she ran into a boy with stars in his eyes who gifted her a box of stars. These stars allow her to walk between worlds and save others like herself. When she meets the boy again and realizes he’s in mortal danger, she and the Wild Ones make it their mission to protect him. This explicitly feminist contemporary YA fantasy is a haunting read. Switching between prose and poetry and between third person plural and Paheli’s perspective, the writing is as inventive as it is compelling.
Monkey Around by Jadie Jang (Solaris; Aug. 3)
This super-fun, adventurous romp of an urban fantasy takes place in San Francisco. Monkey King Maya McQueen works as a barista, but she’s also a part-time supernatural detective working for the owner of the coffee shop. Maya desperately wants to find other shapeshifters like her. While investigating the disappearance of a supernatural crime boss, she comes across a guard who mentions he’s met another like her. However, her investigation into her identity takes a turn when she realizes the being who looks like her is also murdering and eating the souls of other supernatural beings. In the meantime, she’s got Occupy Wall Street rallies to organize and an activist magazine to run. This utterly satisfying read is precisely what I’m looking for in an urban fantasy: engaging characters, intriguing creatures, and thrilling action scenes.
Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho (Small Beer Press; Aug. 10)
These 19 science fiction and fantasy short stories infused with Malaysian folklore are absolutely gorgeous. Originally published in 2014, before Zen Cho's debut fantasy Sorcerer to the Crown, Small Beer Press is now reprinting it with nine additional stories. In her Hugo Award–winning novelette "If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again," an imugi who wishes to ascend to full dragonhood has its plan thwarted by a human girl taking a selfie. In "The House of Aunts," a teenage pontianak (sorta like a vampire) lives with her overbearing female relatives and attends school where she tries to hide her food choices from her crush. Just as with her novels, Zen Cho merges humor and relatable characters with delightful prose and engaging storylines.
Cazadora by Romina Garber (Wednesday Books; Aug. 17)
Unlike Lobizona, Cazadora takes place entirely in the Septimus world and picks up where book one left off. The Cazadoras want to imprison Manu because of her hybrid status. They fear the myth of la ladrona — a half-human monster — and consider Manu a danger. She flees with her friends, but they need to try to convince the Cazadoras that she belongs, that a half-werewolf girl isn’t necessarily a monster. These gripping and magical books combine Argentinian folklore with themes of identity and the morality of deciding who is and isn’t illegal.
Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko (Amulet Books; Aug. 17)
Immersive and gorgeously written, the sequel and conclusion to the Raybearer duology is just as excellent as the first. Book one, Raybearer, ended on an intense note. For the first time in Aritsar's history, a woman is on the throne. Tarisai is now the Empress Redemptor, and she must form a council, come into her raybearer powers, and negotiate peace with the spirits of the dead before it's too late. Ghosts, assassination attempts, and a possible love interest all make Tarisai's already complicated rule even more intense.
After the Dragons by Cynthia Zhang (Stelliform Press; Aug. 19)
This quietly beautiful fantasy takes place in a Beijing populated by dragons, though they struggle to survive in the city’s pollution, and only the Eastern dragons remain. A new respiratory disease called shaolong is afflicting many of Beijing’s human population, including one of the main characters, Xiang Kaifei (Kai). Kai works in a pet shop and finds and takes care of dragons for the shop. Elijah Ahmed, the second main character, is a biracial American studying immunology in Beijing. When his overseer takes him to a dragon fight, he meets Kai, and as Elijah’s interest in dragons and their possible connection with shaolong grows, so too does his relationship with Kai.
Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis (Delacorte Press; Aug. 24)
This riveting contemporary YA fantasy left me in tears many times. Sixteen-year-old Katrell can bring ghosts back to life by writing them letters, but only briefly — long enough to speak with their loved ones before they fade away again. She hires out her abilities and uses the money from this gig along with her job at a fast-food joint to pay for pretty much everything because her gaslighting mother, who brings abusive men home, doesn't work. Thankfully, Katrell has an amazing BFF to lean on. Then Katrill's magic suddenly shifts, and she's able to bring back the dead for good. At first, she happily resurrects the dead and rakes in cash, but the resurrections take their toll on her health, and the people she brings back aren't quite the same. This novel is an intense read from start to finish.
Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton (Grand Central Publishing; Aug. 24)
Readers who fell in love with Hollow Kingdom will not be disappointed by book two, which centers on the crow S.T. and his human nestling Dee. S.T. had high hopes of Dee reenacting everything awesome about being human, but instead, Dee is drawn to the natural world and considers it her family. When the changed ones realize an unchanged human is alive, they begin to hunt her. S.T. must overcome his reluctance to team up with the animal kingdom if he wants to protect his nestling. Meanwhile, it might be Dee, who grew up on stories of Dennis the hero, who holds the key to saving the animal kingdom. S.T.’s struggles with parenting are both humorous and heart-wrenching in this powerful follow-up.
Edie in Between by Laura Sibson (Viking Books for Young Readers; Aug. 24)
Edie’s mother has recently died, and she’s moved in with her grandmother, who lives in a houseboat in a small town. Edie misses her mother and her familiar Baltimore home. She also resents the magic that courses through her veins, the same magic her grandmother has and her mother had. However, when she discovers her mother’s teenage journal, she also discovers a magic she’s unwilling to ignore. For every object of her mother’s she finds, a new journal entry appears, and Edie is able to relive her mother’s memories. Meanwhile, Edie begins falling for the cute girl who works at the local occult shop. This sweet yet empowering YA novel is a lovely homage to family heritage and collective memory.
Forestborn by Elayne Audrey Becker (Tor Teen; Aug. 31)
Rora and her brother Helos are shapeshifters, born in the magical kingdom called the Vale but become outcasts when their parents and entire village are murdered. The siblings make their home in King Gerar's kingdom, where Rora works as the king's spy and Helios as an apothecary's apprentice. The people there don't much like the shapeshifter siblings, fearing their magic. However, when magic folk begin dying by a mysterious disease, and the king's youngest son comes down with it, the two shapeshifter siblings and the king's second child must journey into the Vale to find stardust, the only thing that can cure those afflicted. In their search, they find more than a cure; they uncover a plot to eliminate all magic. This high-stakes YA fantasy with a strong romance subplot is a thrilling and magical read and an excellent start to a new series.
In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu (Tordotcom; Aug. 31)
This lovely and surreal metanarrative novella is like nothing else I’ve ever read. The city Ora uses a living network called the Gleaming to maintain peace. Anima (who uses æ/ær pronouns) is an extrasensory, nonbinary human who can plug into the Gleaming to watch its inhabitants and its borders. When a mysterious visitor with a trunk arrives, Anima’s equilibrium is disrupted. Within the trunk are objects, and as Anima explores the stories behind each object, æ begins to question ær part of the Gleaming and to wonder if maybe æ wants something more.
No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull (Blackstone Publishing; Sept. 7)
Laina reels when she receives a call that her brother — who she hadn’t seen in many years — has been shot and killed by Boston cops. In anger, she lashes out at those she loves, but when a mysterious voice leaves her a recording of her brother’s death, what she finds is far stranger than she could ever imagine. The tape reveals that monsters are alive, and Laina can never unsee them again. Meanwhile, a professor quits his job to move back to his hometown and find his missing friend. He discovers a world of secret societies and hidden magic. This harrowing and lyrical novel combines elements of urban fantasy with biting social commentary.
You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo (Tor Books; Sept. 7)
This action-packed space opera is loads of fun with an engaging cast of characters. Niko Larson, former admiral in the Grand Military of the Hive Mind and current chef and restaurant owner, wants the prestigious Nikkelin Orb (like a Michelin Star) to solidify her restaurant’s prosperity. When the station housing her restaurant is attacked, she and her former crew turned restaurant employees flee to the ship You Sexy Thing. You Sexy Thing is a one-of-a-kind bio-ship, and the longer the crew stays aboard, the more the ship learns and begins to enjoy their company. Then pirates take the ship and imprison Niko and her crew, but Niko has secretly yearned to return to the pirates and rescue the woman she once loved. This might just be the chance she needs.
Among Thieves by M.J. Kuhn (Gallery/Saga Press; Sept. 7)
Avid fantasy readers will love this fun heist debut rich in world building with a rotating cast of characters and a complex magic system. Ryia, Nash, Ivan, and Tristan are all thieves and members of the Saints syndicate. They also all hide deadly secrets. They’re hired to steal a magical object from the Guildmaster’s stronghold, but they all have their own reasons for agreeing to this job, and they all rightfully mistrust one another’s motives. Fans of Six of Crows should check this one out.
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova (Atria Books; Sept. 7)
This rich, intergenerational novel steeped in magical realism is my favorite novel thus far from this prolific fantasy author. In 1960, Orquídea Divina, born in Ecuador under unlucky stars, created a house for herself in the dying town of Four Rivers. The house seemed to appear out of nowhere, and the land around it suddenly prospered in a way no one in Four Rivers had ever seen. Decades later, she sends three of her grandchildren letters to return to Four Rivers for her funeral and collect their inheritance. Marimar and Rey both live in New York City, struggling to find their place and a sense of who they are in the bustling city. Tatinelly lives in Oregon and is expecting her first child. Seven years after the three cousins attend their grandmother’s funeral, their magical inheritance begins to surface. Then someone begins murdering the Orquídea family, and the cousins — including Tatinelly’s daughter Rhiannon — must travel to Ecuador to trace their grandmother’s origin and save their family. Readers of Isabel Allende will love this breathtakingly beautiful novel.
The Bones of Ruin by Sarah Raughley (Margaret K. McElderry Books; Sept. 7)
Both riveting and a slow burn, this YA fantasy takes place in Victorian London. Iris cannot die. She’s tested her mortality many times. Thus, she has no worries about her work as a tightrope walker in a circus, billed as “the Nubian Princess” by her less than ideal boss, Coolie. Her partner is “the Turkish Prince,” who everyone calls Jinn because he refuses to share his name. Iris remembers nothing about her past though, every so often, a memory will push its way forward. She’s determined to find out who she really is and why she’s immortal, and the mysterious Adam Temple gives her just the opportunity she needs. He claims the world is ending and that the committee he works for is hosting a competition to decide who lives and who dies in the coming apocalypse. He wants Iris to be his champion and, in return, he’ll tell her the truth about her past.
Speculative Fiction for Dreamers: A Latinx Anthology, edited by Alex Hernandez, Matthew David Goodwin, and Sarah Rafael García (Mad Creek Books; Sept. 8)
Packed with 38 YA pieces by Latinx authors, this anthology is a must for short story readers. Spanning genres from science fiction to fantasy to magical realism and also including comics, poetry, and plays, these stories are breathtaking in their expansiveness. Visit wormholes, follow characters as they trace their origins to their indigenous ancestors, cross borders, and more. This is the first published collection of YA Latinx speculative fiction and continues the editors’ mission to expand Latinx voices in SFF that began with the anthology Latinx Rising.
A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell (HMH Books for Young Readers; Sept. 14)
Derry and her magical sisters live in a lake house on the other side of the forest, protected by Frank, their caretaker, who tells them they must not enter the forest or go outside without him. The lake house is the only safe place for witches like them; everyone in the outside world seeks to kill anyone with magic. When one sister after another disappears into the forest, however, Derry realizes she must break away from Frank’s protection and find her family. This haunting YA contemporary fantasy is a dark and thrilling read and features lots of gender, sexuality, body, disability, and race diversity.
The Hollow Heart by Marie Rutkoski (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Sept. 14)
This highly anticipated conclusion to Rutkoski’s YA sapphic fantasy duology that began with The Midnight Lie does not disappoint. It picks up right where book one left off and switches between Nirrim and Sid’s perspectives, as well as that of an unknown god. Unbeknownst to Sid, Nirrim is now Queen of Herrath after offering her heart to the God of Thieves, and she will do anything to restore the Half Kith’s memories and free them from their subjugation. Meanwhile, Sid has returned to Herran to discover that her mother is indeed dying and that she’s been poisoned. She needs to find the assassin and, in so doing, perhaps try to repair her relationship with her parents. In Herran, Sid hears of an evil queen using magic to control her people, but she has no idea it’s her former lover, Nirrim, whom she still has feelings for. The conclusion to this heart-stopping duology is just perfection. ●