So far 2020 has been a pretty great year for SF and fantasy. Cynics might say that it's because any escape from everyday life feels amazing right now, but who wants to be a cynic?! Untamable beasts, (literally) starcrossed lovers, time-travelers, supernatural orphans, necromancers, and more not only populate some of my favorite reads of this year but make them unforgettable.
Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst
When people die, they are reborn as humans, animals, or monsters. Bloodthirsty, misshapen, and untamable, monsters are feared by all, even those who ride and race monsters. Disgraced rider and trainer Tamra takes a chance on buying a powerful monster that, if trained properly, could win her enough money in the monster races to keep her daughter at home. But this is no regular monster.... A delightful fantasy read that could be happily devoured in a weekend.
Now, Then, and Everywhen by Rysa Walker
Rysa Walker tackles the thorny plot device of time travel in her new Chronos Origins series. Luckily for readers, this is familiar territory for Walker, whose earlier books and short stories have embraced the mind-bending ramifications of people dodging in and out of the time line. Now, Then, and Everywhen begins with a time traveler wondering if a small mistake he made in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in 1963 is going to bring down the fury of CHRONOS headquarters on his head. As more and more people from different eras start intersecting in the South during the 1960s, the ripple effect surges outward along time, drastically changing the world as they know it.
The Last Emperox by John Scalzi
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 fight 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.
Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie
Orphaned by the seizure of his planet by the Umber Empire, Ettian sees the Umber military academy as his way to putting the past firmly behind him and living a pilot’s existence untroubled by hunger, fear, and bad dreams. But when his roommate, best friend, and secret crush, Gal, is targeted for assassination and then revealed to be the heir to the empire, Ettian finds that the past he’s tried to keep buried won’t stay put. Fast-paced, fun, and sweetly vibrating with longing, Emily Skrutskie's SF adventure delivers a humdinger of an ending that will have readers lining up for book two in the series.
Scarlet Odyssey by C. T. Rwizi
Battling expectations, Salo wants to become a magic user—a calling typically reserved for women. When an attack on his people reveals that his interest in magic has gone far beyond dabbling, he is sent on a quest to prove himself. Those who gravitate toward coming-of-age fantasy novels but who are looking for something beyond the European-styled sword-and-sorcery tropes will enjoy how Rwizi folds together magic, tech, and original world building, leaving readers eager for the next book in the series.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Signal to Noise, Gods of Jade and Shadow) cleverly doubles down on the gothic’s overwrought reputation by setting Mexican Gothic in the 1950s, putting a young socialite in the starring role, and then delivering a hair-raising horror novel. Unsettled by a strange letter, Noemí leaves cosmopolitan Mexico City to check on her newly married cousin, who now lives at a remote estate called High Place. Noemí—who smokes cigarettes, drives a convertible, and knows her mind—discovers that High Place lives in the past, plus the ancient English-born master of the house has a thing for eugenics, and Noemí’s cousin is clearly losing her mind. And then Noemí herself begins to hear voices.… You won’t want to stop for breaks while you race through Moreno-Garcia’s creepy, glorious read.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Linus Baker, a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY), investigates orphanages that care for magical youth to make sure that the children are safe. But he does everything completely by the book, and once he makes his recommendations about the children, the orphanages, or the people who run them, he doesn’t look back. When Extremely Upper Management sends Linus on a top-secret trip to a “non-traditional” orphanage that houses six children of various abilities, Linus expects the month-long investigation to be straightforward. But he soon learns better in this heartwarming story of finding and making one’s family in the most unlikeliest of places. The House in the Cerulean Sea is like a much-needed hug, at the end of which you’ll utter a happy sigh. Read our interview with author TJ Klune about this delightful fantasy.
Network Effect by Martha Wells
Everyone’s favorite part-human, part-machine security unit is back in the fray with a full-length novel, accompanied once more by ART, a “research vessel” that carries a remarkable assortment of armaments. Murderbot’s parenthesis-within-parenthesis thought processes feel a bit unruly in the beginning, but soon the action fires up and Murderbot does what it does best: delivers a rip-roaring adventure punctuated with humor and explosions. Happily, the next Murderbot novel is already scheduled for spring 2021.
Critical Point by S. L. Huang
Cas Russell is back—but just as she appears again in readers’ lives, her close friend Arthur disappears. Enemies from her past—as well as a brand-new bunch of enemies—keep things lively, but the best part about this hard-hitting series is Russell herself. A math genius with attitude dialed up to 11 and a penchant for guns, safe houses, and things that go boom, Russell struggles not just with staying alive but with learning how to be a good(ish) person. Fun through and through.
The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell
Michael Kingman has grown up the son of a traitor. But though he was much younger when his father was put to death, Michael knows secrets shroud the truth of what happened. When Michael gets the opportunity to find out if his father did commit the crime he was accused of, Michael seizes his chance. But as rebels approach the city, danger threatens him and his remaining family both inside the walls and out. A fast-paced and often surprising series starter that delivers a new fantasy world and an engaging hero.
Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
I think I spent the first third of Harrow the Ninth trying to puzzle out what the heck was going on—but that just kept me turning the pages even faster and staying up even later. Muir proved in Gideon the Ninth that she can put together a gripping mystery. That mystery continues as the Emperor trains Harrow to fight a planet-eating monster that desperately wants to eat the Emperor as well, but visions of a dead woman and the delivery of mysterious letters Harrow apparently wrote to herself make Harrow wonder what is real and what is not. And, most important, who she should believe. Necromancy galore, missing memories (lots!), and a centuries-long conspiracy spin up into a jaw-dropping revelation. Bring on Alecto the Ninth!
Our editors name recent must-read SF and fantasy books they can't stop thinking about.