September is blessed with an astonishing number of great new science fiction and fantasy reads. While our list of best SF and fantasy books of the month is usually 10 books long, this month the list easily stretched to 14 books.
Out of those 14 books, these stories about ships made of dragon bones, the crumbling of Gilead, Doors between worlds, and a sword-swinging cavalier who likes to wear aviator sunglasses in inappropriate moments are among our favorites.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
Alex E. Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January includes book ingredients we’ve seen many times before: a girl discovering her true identity, a faithful animal companion, a missing parent, a Very Evil Person, and a book of power. But Harrow takes this basic recipe for a coming-of-age adventure and bakes in an emotional and heroic resonance that thrums deep in the reader’s belly. January Scaller is left with her father’s patron on an expansive Vermont estate, while her father travels the world searching for interesting relics in the early 1900s. One such relic is a book titled The Ten Thousand Doors, which tells of Doors between worlds. When her father goes missing, January decides to leave her cossetted existence to discover his fate. Rejecting comfort in order to grow into one’s strengths is a theme that echoes throughout the novel. “I didn’t want to be safe, I suppose. I wanted to be dangerous, to find my own power and write it on the world,” one character explains to January. As she travels to new countries through new Doors, January learns how to be audacious, to write her power on the world, and to live a wild, exuberant life—a mighty reminder that heroism, done properly, should be dangerous indeed.
A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness) by Joe Abercrombie
Launching a new series, Abercrombie digs into the moments where lives are changed, often for the worse, and then sets his characters on paths that are only going to get tougher before they get better. A young woman who has visions whether she wants them or not, a male heir who prefers the briskness of battle to parsing the strategy behind it, an entrepreneur who thinks six steps ahead of everyone else, a soldier with fearsome PTSD, and other characters populate this world that’s on the cusp of the industrial revolution. Military grimdark fantasy at its finest.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
All Gideon wants to do is leave the Ninth House and join the military. But Harrow, the de facto ruler of the Ninth House, has other plans. Big plans. When the all-powerful and undead ruler of the galaxy asks the Houses to send their best necromancer and cavalier to compete to become the ruler’s newest advisors, Harrow coerces Gideon to join her in Harrow’s grab for power. But the other Houses want to win as well. When cavaliers and necromancers start getting killed in mysterious ways, it becomes clear that something far stranger is afoot. While it takes a few chapters to wrap your brain around who everyone is, Gideon’s voice—hilarious, irreverent, and yet innocent of malice—propels the action forward in Muir’s unique world. A mix of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and a rousingly unpredictably D&D campaign, Gideon the Ninth is among my favorite books of the year. You can also read my interview with Muir about Gideon, her penchant for aviator sunglasses, and how Muir chose necromancy as her magic system in her trilogy.
The Bone Ships (The Tide Child Trilogy) by RJ Barker
I think there’s an intersection between readers who like sea-adventure books (think Patrick O’Brian's oeuvre) and readers who like fantasy books. In both genres you’re often figuring out along the way what the heck is going on, and wondering, Do I really need to know precisely what a [insert nautical jargon or made-up magical word] is? Barker’s new fantasy book literally mixes the two genres, telling the story through the eyes of a sentenced-to-death ship captain who, in the first scene, loses his command of his decrepit ship to another naval officer who has great ambitions for the crew. Dragons, a war between seafaring nations, and a social structure that prizes mothers above all make a strange mix, but Barker pulls it off, delivering a fascinating fantasy read.
The Testaments: The Sequel to The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Last but certainly not least is Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, set 15 years after Offred’s disappearance. As fellow Amazon editor Erin Kodicek described this pair of novels, The Handmaid’s Tale is about how a totalitarian regime came to power; The Testaments is about how it crumbles. Told from the viewpoints of a sheltered young woman coming of age in Gilead, a young woman growing up across the border in Canada and well aware of the Gilead atrocities, plus an Aunt who helped prop up the Gilead regime, The Testaments is lean and gripping. Atwood peers into her characters’ heads with an empathy and wry wit that makes them feel very real, which in turn makes Gilead feel entirely too real as well. I’d worried before I started reading that The Testaments would be bloated, with the author telling the reader her ideas of what happened in Gilead instead of showing us, but my fears were entirely unfounded. Even if you skipped reading or watching The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments is not to be missed.
Looking for more? Check out Delilah S. Dawson’s new Star Wars novel, Galaxy's Edge: Black Spire, in which the Resistance needs to rebuild its forces after losses to the First Order, and fans also get insight into the new Star Wars theme park, Galaxy’s Edge. Sarah Pinsker’s A Song for a New Day stares into a near-future world of immersive digital experiences and all-too-real upheaval IRL; Rachel Caine’s newest addition to her Great Library series has already gained a 4.8 average customer star rating; G.A. Aiken’s The Blacksmith Queen delivers a bonkers action-fantasy; and Forward collects the visions of the future of authors N.K. Jemison, Andy Weir, Veronica Roth, and Blake Crouch, among others. A wealth of great reads, indeed.
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