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All Science Fiction & Fantasy Coverage

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Fantasy romance has gone fully mainstream, some of the brightest new voices are taking surprising new directions and vampires might be back? This fall’s science fiction and fantasy offerings are practically too good to be true.

Babel by R.F. Kuang
Harper Voyager | August 23

R.F. Kuang’s standalone historical fantasy novel might be her most ambitious work yet—which is really saying something, since Kuang’s acclaimed Poppy War trilogy was inspired by the life of Mao Zedong. Babel is set in an alternate version of Victorian-era Oxford and follows Robin Swift, a Chinese orphan training to become one of the translators who power the British Empire. Words that have been translated from one language to another often lose something along the way, and in Kuang’s world, this dropped element can be manifested into magical silver bars. Both a celebration and interrogation of the dark academia aesthetic, Babel might be the most thinkpiece-friendly fantasy of the year.

The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez
Del Rey | August 30

The Vanished Birds, Simon Jimenez’s marvelous and ambitious debut, fully embraced all the storytelling capabilities of science fiction. With his sophomore novel, he’ll be providing his own spin on epic fantasy in a tale of imprisoned gods and wicked emperors filtered through Jimenez’ metatextual approach to storytelling. 

A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland
Tordotcom | August 30

Alexandra Rowland’s Conspiracy of Truths duology are the type of books that could become cult classics: funny, ambitious fantasy novels with a lot more on their minds than a simple good versus evil battle. For their third novel, Rowland will turn to fantasy romance, the uber-popular subgenre of the moment, while still diving into the type of government conspiracy plot that made their previous duology so unputdownable. All that and a lush, complex world inspired by the Ottoman Empire? We can’t wait to get swept away.  

Silver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco
Saga | September 13

Nostalgia cycles are faster than ever: We have just come to terms with Y2K trends being back in fashion (low-rise jeans, the horror!), but there are already rumblings of a 2010s reappraisal. In fantasy, that could very well mean that the vampire novel rises from the dead. Rin Chupeco’s delightfully pulpy tale of a vampire hunter and the vampires who make him question everything he’s been brought up to believe could be but the first in many a tale of the undead.

Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Tordotcom | September 13

It’s hard to talk about The Locked Tomb series without 1) sounding completely ludicrous or 2) spoiling all the surprises of Tamsyn Muir’s formally ambitious gothic space opera. Suffice it to say, readers of the third installment, Nona the Ninth, will be a bit confused, then intrigued, then thrilled.

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik
Del Rey | September 27

Naomi Novik’s bestselling trilogy comes to an end with The Golden Enclaves, which finds El and her classmates finally free of the Scholomance, a magical school so deadly that its infamous graduation ceremony has a body count. But of course, nothing comes easy in a Novik novel, so they soon find themselves facing evil once again . . . and having to return to the school they thought they had escaped forever.

House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson
Ace | September 27

The Year of the Witching, Alexis Henderson’s debut novel, mixed folk horror and religious extremism to marvelous effect, crafting a story that was in conversation with Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015) but also Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. In her sophomore novel, Henderson turns to vampire mythology and the increasingly industrial world that spawned classics like Dracula to craft an alternate Europe ruled over by vampiric aristocrats.

The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor | October 11

The Thin Man in space? Yes, please. Mary Robinette Kowal, author of the beloved and acclaimed Lady Astronaut series, will give a sci-fi update to the iconic mystery film, which bestowed upon audiences the gift of Nick and Nora Charles, a fabulous, wealthy and besotted married couple who party their way through solving crimes. Genius heiress Tesla Crane, Kowal’s Nora Charles avatar, is hoping to enjoy her honeymoon on a luxury space liner. But when Tesla’s new husband is accused of murder, she’ll have to clear his name to enjoy their vacation.

Will Do Magic for Small Change by Andrea Hairston
Tordotcom | October 11

Andrea Hairston continues the magical family saga she began earlier this year in Redwood and Wildfire with the story of Cinnamon Jones, the granddaughter of the protagonists of the first novel in the series. Many have tried but few have succeeded at balancing fantasy, sci-fi and history the way that Hairston can. We can’t wait to see what marvels she has in store.

The Atlas Paradox by Olivie Blake
Tor | October 25

Olivie Blake’s Atlas series is one of BookTok’s ultimate homegrown success stories. Blake originally self-published the books, which became so successful that Tor snapped them up and are now releasing them for a general audience. The Atlas Paradox continues the story begun in The Atlas Six, where six magicians compete for a chance to join a secret, world-shaping society. 

The World We Make by N.K. Jemisin
Orbit | November 1

After becoming the only author in history to win the Hugo Award for best novel for every book in a trilogy (the masterful Broken Earth series), N.K. Jemisin shifted away from epic fantasy with The City We Became, a contemporary fantasy in which the great cities of the world have human avatars. It’s the perfect arena for Jemisin, whose work blends social commentary and high concept to spectacular effect. The story continues in The World We Make, as New York City’s six avatars (one for each borough) become involved in a mayoral campaign that’s a proxy battle for the soul of the city itself.

Ocean’s Echo by Everina Maxwell
Tor | November 1

Ocean’s Echo is set in the same world as Everina Maxwell’s critically acclaimed debut, Winter’s Orbit, where she perfectly balanced a love story and fascinating space opera world building. This sequel will introduce two fascinating new elements: readers, who are people with telepathic abilities, and architects, who can control the minds of others. Powerful reader Tennalhin Halkana has been conscripted into the military and paired with architect Surit Yeni, who has been ordered to break the law by merging his mind with Tennal’s, which will place him under permanent control. 

A Restless Truth by Freya Marske
Tordotcom | November 1

Marske’s delightful debut, A Marvellous Light, was a gay romance set in a world that was basically “Downton Abbey” with magic. Her sophomore novel will incorporate more tropes beloved by period drama devotees, chiefly a luxurious ocean liner and a mysterious murder! When the woman Maud Blyth was serving as a companion for is killed, she teams up with scandalous, sexy Violet Debenham to solve the case, which is connected to a far-reaching magical conspiracy.

Wayward by Chuck Wendig
Del Rey | November 15

Chuck Wendig’s hotly anticipated conclusion to the duology he began with 2019’s Wanderers will finally hit shelves this November. Here’s hoping Wendig can stick the landing and show readers the new world that’ll be born out of the ashes of the world that fell apart during Wanderers

14 brave new worlds to discover this autumn.

Winner of the 2021 National Book Award for fiction, Jason Mott's Hell of a Book is a searing portrayal of the Black authorial experience. At the center of the novel is an unnamed Black author on his first book tour struggling to navigate the publishing industry and make sense of the modern world. His narrative is offset by chapters recounting the story of Soot, a young Black boy in the South. Poignant and often funny, Mott's novel draws readers in as it scrutinizes race in American society and the power of storytelling.

Marlon James' epic fantasy Black Leopard, Red Wolf is narrated by Tracker, a hunter with an acute sense of smell. Accompanied by a shape-shifter named Leopard and a band of misfit mercenaries, Tracker travels through a landscape inspired by African mythology and ancient history on a dangerous quest to find a lost boy. Hallucinatory and violent yet marvelously poetic, this first entry in James' Dark Star trilogy won the 2019 L.A. Times Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction. There are an abundance of potential topics for discussion, such as James' folkloric inspirations and Tracker's unreliable narration.

Following the death of her aunt from an uncommon ailment called Chagas, or the kissing bug disease, Daisy Hernández decided to research the illness. She shares her findings in The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Family, an Insect, and a Nation's Neglect of a Deadly Disease. Hernández talked to physicians and disease experts throughout the United States, and her interviews with patients reveal the human cost of the American healthcare system's inadequacies. Hernández displays impressive storytelling skills in this masterfully researched volume, which won the 2022 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award.

In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado's powerful chronicle of a toxic love affair, won the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ nonfiction. In the book, Machado reveals that she fell hard for a magnetic, emotionally unpredictable woman who became abusive. In structuring her memoir, she draws upon various narrative devices and traditions (coming-of-age, choose your own adventure and more), and the result is a multifaceted, daring and creative portrayal of a deeply dysfunctional relationship.

Pick a guaranteed winner for your reading group.

The Monsters We Defy is a book about demons—or as Clara Johnson calls them, Enigmas. Clara was born with the ability to see and interact with Enigmas, making her highly sought after as a sort of broker between these dangerous spirits and the people who seek their help, costs be damned. Clara is all too aware of the severity of those costs: The only reason she has continued to act as spiritual go-between is to satisfy a compulsion from her own deal with an Enigma, made years ago. But when young people in her orbit start becoming listless or disappearing, she is dragged into a sordid conspiracy that could wreak havoc in the mortal world and must fight for both the survival of her peers and her own freedom.

Author Leslye Penelope successfully blends a folkloric sense of the supernatural, derived from sources such as Ethiopia's Kebra Nagast, with a Gatsby-esque vision of the Roaring '20s in Washington, D.C's ‘s African American community. Replete with historical figures, including a youthfully insouciant Langston Hughes, the unflappably paternal Carter G. Woodson, who founded the Journal of Negro History, and even a cameo from W.E.B. Du Bois, The Monsters We Defy is a fascinating blend of the real and imagined. Even Clara is based on a real person: Clara Minor Johnson, a Black teenager who killed a white policeman in self-defense when she was a teenager. Penelope seamlessly weaves the historical figure into the character of Clara and her world of spirit magic. Throughout, she emphasizes the tenuous nature of Black high society in this era, existing within a white-dominated world it can never fully penetrate but cannot afford to ignore. In Penelope's hands, the glamour of all-Black masquerade balls, where bootleggers mingle with politicians and opera stars, is an act of defiance, both of the racial power structure of the day and of stereotypical depictions of African American life during this era.

The most effective aspect of The Monsters We Defy is how Penelope portrays the Black experience on its own terms. Even the magic is derived from a combination of African mythology and traditions from the African diaspora, particularly hoodoo. The result is a novel that is both a well-crafted fantasy romp (with a healthy dose of happily-ever-after romance) and a work of revisionist fiction that elevates a vital, oft-overlooked slice of history.

The Monsters We Defy is a well-crafted fantasy romp set among the Black elite of 1920s Washington, D.C.

These superbly crafted retellings present an opportunity to revel in tales we might think we know well but that still have the ability to surprise. 

The Book of Gothel

Framed as a medieval text found in a German woman's attic, The Book of Gothel centers on the woman who became the witch who imprisoned Rapunzel in her tower. As a young girl, however, Haelewise is neither powerful nor a witch. She is merely an outsider, marked by both her intermittent fainting spells and her deep, black eyes. Her mother, Hedda, is the respected local midwife, but most in their village believe that Haelewise's fainting spells are of demonic origin. After her mother dies and her father remarries, Haelewise takes refuge in a secluded tower called Gothel, where she becomes an apprentice to a wise woman. But despite her existence on the margins of her world, Haelewise is soon pulled into intrigue, from princesses fleeing cruel fiancés to princes with wicked spells cast upon them. With secrets behind every whisper, Haelewise must tread carefully if she is to survive. 

Mary McMyne's debut novel is dark and moody, full of distrust, doubt and more than a little bit of drama. Far from being a simple villain origin story, it explores Haelewise's family, her epilepsy and the stark world of 12th-century Germania. Despite the bleak nature of the era, McMyne's prose is full of vivid color, whether it's the mysterious golden fruit that Haelewise finds growing in Hedda's garden or the madder-red gown given to Haelewise by a childhood friend turned would-be lover. It's a world where Christianity and older religions and traditions coexist but where even a hint of witchcraft could put herbalists and midwives in danger of being stoned. This atmosphere, combined with the deep longings and confusion of a girl just entering womanhood and the fact that readers have a good idea of the fate that awaits her, shadows The Book of Gothel with an overwhelming sense of dread—but will also compel readers to keep going to the very end. 

★ The Daughter of Doctor Moreau

Silvia Moreno-Garcia's latest novel, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, starts in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula in the 19th century, as the titular doctor is looking for an assistant. He finds one in Montgomery Laughton, an Englishman with alcoholism and a mountain of debt. Montgomery helps the aging doctor create human-animal hybrids, which are destined to work the plantations of Dr. Moreau's wealthy benefactor. Carlota Moreau, the doctor's daughter, leads a relatively carefree life on the estate, with plenty of hybrid companions and her studies to keep her company. The only thing marring her life is a lingering childhood illness that requires her to have weekly injections of one of her father's mysterious serums. When the handsome son of Dr. Moreau's benefactor, Eduardo Lizalde, unexpectedly visits, the sheltered estate is thrown first into discord and then into total disarray as the Moreaus' secrets are pulled slowly into the light. 

Moreno-Garcia (Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow) is a master of dramatic tension. Her decision to reimagine H.G. Wells' visionary 1896 novel on an isolated estate instead of an island creates a sense of furtiveness, a constant fear of discovery. The insertion of Carlota, who is not a character from the original book, gives a human face to an inhuman (or, at the very least, inhumane) story, adding something precious that could be lost if the delicate equilibrium of Moreau's estate is unbalanced. 

Moreno-Garcia revels in her setting's tropical color palette, which is reflected in the rich green of Eduardo's eyes and the bold colors of Carlota's dresses. Moreno-Garcia also includes small, down-to-earth details of pastoral life on the estate, resulting in a world that feels immediate enough to slip into. The Daughter of Doctor Moreau will pull readers in even as a pit grows in their stomachs, given all the things they know can—and likely will—go wrong.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia takes on The Island of Doctor Moreau, and the witch from "Rapunzel" gets a haunting origin story.

The Book Eaters, Sunyi Dean's debut, is a dark, haunting fantasy that follows Devon Fairweather, a Book Eater who subsists on ink and paper and the knowledge it provides her. The Book Eaters, or ‘eaters, live on the fringes of human society, and were it not for the special, fang-like teeth that they unsheathe before a literary meal, they would look like ordinary people. Devon has always detested the staunch traditions of her isolated clan, and The Book Eaters jumps back and forth in time as she tries to forge her own path. 

One of the most memorable and haunting elements of Dean's world is how Book Eater society is structured around elements of Arthurian legend that are used to justify patriarchal, tyrannical rule. The young Devon lives a sheltered life as a Princess. Female Book Eaters are rare, and she is expected to marry early and promptly give birth to more of their kind. While her brothers eat books about politics, history and academics, she is limited to the same old fairy tales time and time again. Knights maintain order and govern the Dragons, who are born as Mind Eaters, unpredictable individuals who constantly crave human souls. Drugs keep their hunger at bay and force them to submit to their handlers' orders. 

Devon has always seen through the facade of the happily ever afters she consumes, and when she gives birth to a Mind Eater son, Cai, she realizes she is the only person who can save him from becoming a Dragon. In the present timeline, Devon and the now 5-year-old Cai have escaped the ‘eaters, but Devon is struggling to keep him under control and out of the Knights' grasp while she searches for a way that they can both be free for good.

Dean fully invests readers in Devon's struggles, both as a girl attempting to prise tiny snatches of freedom from a patriarchal society and as an adult mother frantic to protect her son. The Book Eaters‘ depiction of the sacrifices and joys of motherhood is particularly nuanced, grounding the fantasy elements of the story in the relationship between Devon and Cai. And Dean expertly expands the scope of the story to explore even more characters' experiences, such as the other ‘eater women's oppression and loneliness, Devon's friend Yarrow's isolation as an asexual person in the procreation-obsessed ‘eater society and Cai's pain at being viewed as a monster.

The Book Eaters is a far cry from the fairy tales Devon consumes: It is a winding, harrowing, deliciously nightmarish story of people taking control of their bodies and destinies after generations of repression and abuse.

In Sunyi Dean's debut, beings who consume books to survive hide on the fringes of society. It sounds like a fairy tale, but it's actually a nightmare.

If the climate crisis continues its horrifying course, will what's left of the land and ocean be salvageable? Or will we need to make the jump to an intergalactic existence? In Ruthanna Emrys' philosophical, warmhearted and intriguing novel A Half-Built Garden, humanity has a chance to chart a new course.

On a warm night in 2083, Judy Wallach-Stevens and her wife, Carol, take a stroll in their neighborhood. A collaborative community tasked with monitoring and preserving a local watershed, their town represents a triumph. The old corporations and nation-states that destroyed the Earth's environment have been banished from power, and communities like Judy's are slowly, painstakingly resurrecting our planet. Hope is starting to return—that is, until the aliens arrive. A massive, sleek spacecraft lands in front of Judy, and out step the Ringers. These strange beings have been searching the universe for signs of life and hope they can convince humanity to join their symbiotic civilization before Earth becomes unlivable. Because Judy is the first person they see, she instantly becomes their ambassador. Will humanity decide to leave Earth? Or is the progress they've made too precious to let go?

Emrys roots her story in Judy's reflective, empathetic perspective, and readers will waffle between courses of action right along with her. Humanity gets to know the Ringers, eventually coming to trust and collaborate with them, but Judy is fiercely loyal to the good work her community and similar groups are doing. Emrys takes her time building up arguments for both choices, letting her characters expound on the ethics involved in such decisions in thoughtful, somewhat sad passages.

Ruthanna Emrys wants more fraught Seders in literature.

When you think about aliens coming to Earth, you may picture a secret, paranoia-inducing invasion or open warfare a la Independence Day. But what Emrys does in A Half-Built Garden is far more interesting, creating a scenario in which aliens and humans delicately peel back each other's layers. How the two groups greet each other, raise children and celebrate, how they view themselves and what they believe in—all become key moments of understanding. The Ringers are offering humanity a spot in their collective community, and Emrys circles this theme again and again with questions on the nature of family: what it is, what it isn't, its boundaries, its rules, its flexibilities. 

Emrys ticks off all of the expected future-Earth details one would expect: wild technology, vast glittering cityscapes and cool spaceships. But such trappings are never the story's main concern. Emrys cares far more about the conversations that occur between “us” and “them” and about examining the distance between those two entities. Deciding to leave our planet behind would be an incredibly painful thing to do. But if we do have to leave Earth one day, I hope it would look something like the chance offered here: together, hand in hand, rising into the stars.

In Ruthanna Emrys' philosophical and warmhearted novel, humanity must decide between whether to heal a ravaged Earth or abandon it for life among the stars.

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