This is the best of the best in recent science fiction and fantasy—and it’s missing only one thing: the Amazon Books Editors’ announcement of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2020.
But our editors’ lists of our favorite books is just around the corner. Check back here soon! Or you can sign up for our email newsletter to get the winners in your in-box.
While you wait, here are the recently named winners of the World Fantasy Awards, plus a reminder of who else nabbed big awards in sci-fi and fantasy in 2020.
Some awards cast their eyes back to 2019 releases, while others concentrate on more recent reads. Either way, there’s a lot to love here.
Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender
World Fantasy Award winner: Best novel
Callender’s Caribbean-inspired novel springs from a hurricane of colonization, power, and revenge, as a young woman rises from the ashes of her destroyed family to seize control of the islands where she lives. But don’t mistake this heroine for a Disney princess; Callander explores the darkness and destruction wrought by occupation in their first novel for adults, and the result is mesmerizing. Their follow-up, King of the Rising, reaches readers in December 2020.
Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh
World Fantasy Award winner: Best novella
While Tobias was once human, he no longer is, quite, and now he tends to the woods and their denizens. When the vibrant and confident Henry Silver moves into nearby Greenhollow Hall, Tobias’ world shifts, and he must reckon with the dark things hidden in the woods and in himself before opening himself to a new relationship and new future. A mix of dark fairy tale and romance, this novella had readers clamoring for book 2, Drowned Country. Lucky you—both novellas in this duology are now available, so you can read Henry and Tobias’ full story in a single marvelous weekend.
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
Hugo Award winner: Best novel
New ambassador Mahit is sent to the capital of the massive Teixcalaani Empire to represent 30,000 hardy souls living in an independent mining station—a dream she never expected to come true. But as Mahit is swallowed by sophisticated Teixcalaani protocols and traditions, she becomes the bone that sticks in the throat—unwilling to accept the flimsy story around her predecessor’s untimely death (or murder). Mahit’s gritty spywork and diplomatic sleight-of-hand in the face of overwhelming power make this space opera a page-turner. Book 2, A Desolation Called Peace, arrives in March 2021. (Psst: In June 2019, the Amazon Editors named A Memory Called Empire the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Book of the Year So Far. It’s great!)
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Hugo Award winner: Best novella
This Is How You Lose the Time War grabbed judges’ imaginations across several awards this year, also winning the Best Novella category at the Locus Awards and Nebula Awards. Agents Red and Blue fight for different sides in a war that spins up and down the threads of time, and Red and Blue are among the best time agents on the front lines. After Blue leaves a letter for Red at their latest battlefield, a playful correspondence turns into something far bigger. But neither can be sure that the other agent isn’t playing a very long game of subversion and double-cross. Emotionally riveting (and sometimes ravaging), El-Mohtar and Gladstone’s slim tale of love and loyalty despite time and place packs a wallop.
Emergency Skin by N. K. Jemisin
Hugo Award winner: Best novelette
Jemisin won the Hugo Award for best novel three years in a row, took a break, and has now won it again in 2020 with this delightfully subversive story about an alien visitor to the hostile planet Earth. Happily, Emergency Skin is available as a free download for Kindle Unlimited members. And if you’ve already read Emergency Skin, pick up The City We Became, which the Amazon editors named the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Book of the Year So Far in 2020.
The Last Emperox by John Scalzi
Dragon Award winner: Best science fiction novel
John Scalzi concludes his series with the looming end of civilization for billions who live in the Interdependency—a wide net of systems connected by The Flow. But The Flow is starting to disappear, and the only system able to sustain itself is the previously overlooked planet at End. As the noble houses battle among themselves to gain passage to End, Emperox Grayland II and her mathematician advisor/boyfriend are fighting to find a way to save everyone. A few perfectly placed shockers, the unstoppable and foul-mouthed Kiva Lagos, and Scalzi’s always-hilarious banter propel this series-ender to an epic conclusion.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Dragon Award winner: Best fantasy novel
In the newest novel by Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus), stories and myths fuel the existence of the magic-infused starless sea that resides beneath the earth. When Zachary checks out a book from the university library that tells the true story of when he, as a boy, declined to open a magic door painted on an alley wall, Zachary realizes that an opportunity he’d thought long gone has now appeared again. Pirates, cats, assassins, artists, and poets fill the pages of this scrumptious ode to the magic of storytelling. The Amazon Editors named The Starless Sea one of the top five Best Books of the Year in 2019.
Savage Wars by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Dragon Award winner: Best military science fiction or fantasy novel
Set in Anspach and Cole’s multibook Galaxy’s Edge universe, this novel launches a high-octane story line in which two groups—both originally from Old Earth—fight to dominate the galaxy. Many fans of the series call this a must-read, as it explores a key conflict in the Galaxy’s Edge saga and also sparks the birth of the beloved Legion.
A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker
Nebula Award winner: Best novel
With terrorism and rampant viruses forcing mass events to be shut down, musicians have to move their concerts to a virtual reality space, called Hoodspace. While some, like Rosemary, operate easily in Hoodspace, the adjustment is harder for those like Luce, a musician who wants to keep IRL as real as possible. A thoughtful and prescient examination of creativity in an only-online world that seems especially relevant now with so many people working remotely and connecting virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
Locus Award winner: Best fantasy novel
One of the things I appreciate most about Seanan McGuire’s stories is that she Has Ideas, and those ideas are not regurgitated in slightly different form from book to book. Plus, she crafts characters like she loves them, warts and all. Middlegame ambitiously pulls together alchemy, twins with spooky powers, and a villain who is playing a truly long game, and its atmospheric edge is as sharp as a scalpel. There’s a lot packed into this book, and readers who particularly enjoy immersive, twisty tales will find this book is exactly their jam.
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
Locus Award winner: Best science fiction novel
Charlie Jane Anders' second novel after All the Birds in the Sky is set on a planet colonized at some point by Earth, but whose human occupants no longer understand the technology that got them there. Nor do they understand that the "crocodile" creatures who live on the frozen, dark side of the planet are sentient. After being exiled into the dark and presumed dead, Sophie learns that the crocodiles are far smarter than any human suspects, and she slowly befriends them. But the political tensions between the humans' two cities are about to boil over, and Sophie's alliance with the crocodiles might be the one thing that can save everyone.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Locus Award winner: Best first novel
All Gideon wants to do is leave the Ninth House and join the military. But 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, the Ninth House leader coerces Gideon to join her in an audacious grab for power. But the other Houses want to win as well. As cavaliers and necromancers start getting killed in mysterious ways, it becomes clear that something far stranger is afoot. Gideon’s voice—hilarious, irreverent, and yet innocent of malice—propels the action forward in a rousing adventure that is a mix of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and an unpredictable D&D campaign. The Amazon Editors named Gideon the Ninth the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Book of 2019, and its sequel, Harrow the Ninth (August 2020), is just as delightfully bonkers.
Discover who won the recent World Fantasy Awards and then take a look back at other 2020 award winners in sci-fi and fantasy.