When life is full of work, school, kids, parents, significant others, and, yes, a heck of a lot of excellent TV shows, picking the next book to read can seem overly fraught. You might worry, What if it’s no good, but I’m the sort of person who insists on finishing a book even when I don’t like it? (BTW, I strongly suggest not being that person. Life is too short to read nearly indigestible books.)
We are here to ease those worries. We looked back at the sci-fi and fantasy books published this year between January and June and picked our 20 favorites from top-notch authors.
Here are eight reads that we think were unputdownable.
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
Mahit Dzmare is sent to the capital city of the massive Teixcalaani empire to represent her people on Lsel Station—30,000 souls living in an independent mining station on the edge of Teixcalaani space. Riding along with Mahit, in her brain, are the memories of the ambassador who preceded her, though the memories, unusually, are ten years out of date. As Mahit is swallowed by sophisticated Teixcalaani protocols and traditions, she becomes the bone that sticks in the throat—unwilling to accept not only the flimsy story around her predecessor’s untimely death but also the empire’s clear desire to assimilate Lsel Station. Mahit’s gritty spywork, diplomatic sleight-of-hand, and heightened awareness of the power and enticement of the empire’s embrace have made A Memory Called Empire the best science fiction novel of 2019 so far.
The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
As the third book opens in Arden's fantasy trilogy set in medieval Russia, Moscow is burning. Vasya is one of the few who can still see and speak with the old spirits who guard the hearth, calm horses, or lure unwary travelers into bogs, but her impatience and sense of invincibility has led to this disaster. Before the ashes of the city cool, old enemies rise to take their revenge on Vasya, and only through striking a bargain with a previous foe does Vasya have a chance to survive. Under the pressure of her mistakes, Vasya transforms into a battered but wiser warrior, and to save Russia from the all-too-human invaders at its borders, she must find a way for the old magic to work with the new. Arden's writing is almost luminescent in its power and emotion, and she bypasses lyrical fripperies for spare, white-hot storytelling. Not only does the Winternight Trilogy shine among Russian-inspired tales, it establishes a new high bar for coming-of-age fantasy epics. The Amazon editors picked all three books in the Winternight Trilogy as Best Books of the Month among all books published that month, and I can't wait to see what Arden creates next.
Tiamat's Wrath (The Expanse) by James S. A. Corey
Book eight of Corey’s nine-book series packs an emotional wallop—a rare feat among long-running stories that, too often, begin to meander. This novel takes a bit of time to get going, as the crew of the Rocinante are scattered on their own missions, but Expanse readers will be thankful they remained loyal as the series throws a bunch of unexpected curveballs into the game. The publication date for book nine hasn’t been announced yet, but the events of Tiamat’s Wrath promises an explosive finale. And if you haven’t started this series yet…? Well, you have quite a treat in store for you.
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
Taking a brief—though 848-page long—detour away from her Bone Season series, Shannon's newest high fantasy novel is filled to the brim with dragons, dueling religions, magic, and political intrigue. Among three kingdoms that have very different relationships to the dragons that ride their winds, the balance of power is shifting, causing cracks to form. Shannon excels in not only world building but how she crafts characters in this epic though self-contained and very relevant fantasy.
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
Charlie Jane Anders's second novel after All the Birds in the Sky is set on a planet colonized at some point by Earthlings, but whose human denizens no longer understand the technology that got them there. Nor do they understand that the "crocodile" creatures who live on the 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 overboil, and Sophie's alliance with the crocodiles might be the one thing that can save everyone. The two main characters of Sophie and Mouth will pull readers through the story as it skips from city to wasteland to city again, and it's the complex relationships of the two that gives this novel its gravity. With this novel, Anders might have bitten off more than she can chew (political power structures, environmental hazards, fear of the other, love, revenge), but the journey itself is a rewarding one, and the ambition is admirable.
Winter World by A.G. Riddle
SF thriller master A. G. Riddle lights a match to a new apocalyptic series in which an ice age is rolling across the planet, threatening humanity. Two people—the commander of the International Space Station and a wrongfully imprisoned scientist—must join forces to not only survive, but to save the rest of the world. Riddle excels in mixing speculative technology with crises that resonate today, and the oft-mentioned comparisons to Michael Crichton are well-earned. And if you love this novel, good news: The follow-up, The Solar War, releases at the end of June.
Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik
This highly enjoyable and action-filled read blooms in that normally barren zone between sci-fi and romance. Whirling together in a breakneck-paced space opera are a princess on the run from an arranged marriage, a vigilante super-soldier, a Very Bad Dude, lots of complicated heists and hand-to-hand combat, and a mysterious new way to recharge FTL drives quicker than ever before. After being on the run for two years from her father and the arranged marriage he wants for her, Ada is captured and locked in a cell with the notorious Devil of Fornax Zero. Her wits plus his strength are the perfect combination… if only they can trust each other. And that distrust runs deep on both sides. But when Ada realizes that a rival House might have developed a new technology that could tip the balance of power and start a galaxy-wide war, going home again might be the only way forward. This fun, tense, and sexy novel is clearly the beginning of an ongoing series, with the next novel featuring Ada's sister, Bianca.
You might also like:
- Best books of 2019 so far
- Editors' picks: Best science fiction and fantasy books of the month
- The 2019 Hugo Award nominees for the best in science fiction
- 2018 Nebula Award winners
- "A Memory Called Empire" and the little space station that could
- Charlie Jane Anders Challenges the definition of humanity, one book at a time
- 100 Science fiction and fantasy books to read in a lifetime
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