To find the most structurally daring, format-breaking novels of 2021, turn to the far-flung worlds of science-fiction and fantasy. From story collections to novellas to sprawling epics, these books perfectly match form and function in their creation of universes both big and small.
10. The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter
With a magic system that’s two parts enchantment and one part pseudoscience, The Helm of Midnight is one of the most well-executed and original fantasy novels in recent memory.
9. The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec
Genevieve Gornichec’s beautiful, delicately executed debut shifts the focus of Norse mythology to one of Loki’s lovers, the witch Angrboda, with stunning and heartbreaking results.
8. The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie Liu
This astonishing, haunting short story collection overflows with vivid characters and relatable themes as Marjorie Liu puts her own spin on traditional archetypes.
7. A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
This novella is the perfect distillation of Becky Chambers’ ability to use science fiction to tell smaller, more personal stories infused with beauty and optimism.
6. Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
Boasting immersive settings, delightful characters and all-the-feels poignancy, Light From Uncommon Stars is also very, very funny, lightening its sweeping supernatural and intergalactic symphony with notes that are all-too human.
5. A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine
Clever, elegant and ambitious, Arkady Martine’s second novel eclipses her acclaimed debut, A Memory Called Empire.
4. Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor
Beautiful and enthralling on every page, Nnedi Okorafor’s elegiac and powerful novella is an example of how freeing the form can be.
3. Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
Black Water Sister terrifyingly depicts the otherworldly and uncanny horrors of the spirit world, but it is also funny and poignant, full of the angst and irony of a recent graduate living with her parents.
2. The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova
An instant classic, Zoraida Córdova’s magical family saga is complex but ceaselessly compelling, and features some of the most beautiful writing to be found in any genre this year.
1. She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
Shelley Parker-Chan’s gorgeous writing accompanies a vibrantly rendered world full of imperfect, fascinating characters. Fans of epic fantasy and historical fiction will thrill to this reimagining of the founding of China’s Ming dynasty.