Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer
VanderMeer weaves an ecological thriller set in a dystopian landscape defined by climate change and corporate greed with his trademark complexity and inventiveness. In her investigation of famed ecoterrorist Silvina’s murder, security consultant “Jane Smith” discovers a series of taxidermied animals, including a hummingbird and a salamander, as clues. But by investigating Silvina’s murder, she puts her family at risk. Much like in the Southern Reach trilogy, VanderMeer’s writing is claustrophobic and immersive, with clues within clues and plots within subplots for readers to untangle.
Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders
Aliens brought Tina, then an infant, to her adoptive human mother. They told her mother that one day Tina’s internal beacon would alight and they would come back for her. Now Tina is a teenager, and she’s begun to have flashbacks from a previous life, when an assassin was trying to kill her. She’s also started to glow. Part of her wants to fulfill her destiny and finally discover who she really is — but another part doesn’t want to leave her friends and family and face the dangers of an uncertain, alien future. This compulsive read perfectly captures teenage voices and feelings even as it travels from a normal teenage life on Earth to galactic battles. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Hynden Walch, who made it feel like Tina was sitting beside me and telling me her story.
Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart
This richly detailed and complex Jamaican-inspired fantasy takes place in a matriarchal world defined by magic. It’s told from two perspectives: Jazmyne is next in line for the Aiycan throne but hasn’t yet come into her magical powers — unlike Iraya, the rightful heir. Though Jazmyne and Iraya should be enemies, the two create an alliance to bring down their mutual sworn enemy, the current ruler of Aiyca and Jazmyne’s mother. Full of intrigue, this slow-burn fantasy debut will enthrall readers.
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers
This is the fourth and final book in the Wayfarers series! Like the preceding three books, The Galaxy, and the Ground Within is character-driven sci-fi at its best. This book is a bit different from the others in that all the main characters are alien species — there are no human POVs. The planet Gora serves as a waystation for galactic travelers — but after a technological failure, a group of travelers is stranded at the Five-Hop One-Stop, a place sort of like those big gas stations for truckers. As the travelers wait, they’re forced to find commonality among themselves despite their vastly different cultures. If you haven’t read the series yet, now is the perfect time to start with the first book, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.
Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur
In this fascinating and introspective novel, science and Korean mythology intersect when a scientist grapples with her career, family, mental health, and identity as a Korean immigrant. As a child, particle physicist Elsa Park’s mother told her their family was cursed, doomed to repeat stories from the Korean myths and folktales that make up their heritage. Elsa first sees a ghost in the Antarctic snow while working in an observatory. While ghosts and past traumas haunt Elsa, she studies in Sweden and then returns to her family home in California after her mother’s death. Once there, she discovers secrets in the handwritten pages of her mother’s stories. This novel is deeply moving, a complex tale about repressed grief, myth, and diaspora.
The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Two of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novels are being rereleased this year with lovely new covers: The Beautiful Ones (2017) and Certain Dark Things (2016). The Beautiful Ones takes place in a Regency-inspired fantasy world. Nina is a young, wealthy country girl with untrained telekinetic magic whose family is presenting her to society for the first time. However, no suitors court her because women with magic are frowned upon in high society. That’s not the case for men, however. Hector Auvray grew up poor but has become quite wealthy due to the popularity of his telekinetic performances. After Nina approaches Hector at a party as a fan of his telekinetic skills, he decides to court her to get closer to Valérie, Nina’s aunt and his first love. But his goal to reunite with Valérie becomes complicated when another part of him starts to fall for Nina. This slow-burn fantasy romance is perfect for fans of Jane Austen.
Much like Madeline Miller’s Circe, Ariadne centers the lives of women characters from Greek mythology through the voices of Ariadne and her sister Phaedra. When her mother gives birth to the minotaur, Ariadne is the only one to help her; King Minos shuns his wife and the child. She and her mother take care of and feed the minotaur, and though her mother never bonds with her beastly child, Ariadne feels a love mixed with pity for her brother. This makes her later betrayal — after she falls in love with Theseus — that much harder. Beautiful written and nuanced, Ariadne explores the bonds between women and their epic quest for agency in patriarchal Greek society.
Echo Tree by Henry Dumas
Hailed as “an absolute genius” by Toni Morrison, poet and short story writer Henry Dumas, at 33 years old, was shot and killed in 1968 by a police officer in a New York City subway station. Thankfully, due to Morrison and other Black writers and editors’ efforts, his writing remains in circulation, though underread. Echo Tree is a reissue of his fabulist short fiction. Using African mythology, folklore, and spiritualism, his vivid and surreal short stories depict Black life in America. Though his Africanfuturist stories are often destabilizing and rife with symbolism, they’re also grounded in the realities of racism and Black identity. His fiction is fascinating and powerful, and this collection is an excellent way for readers to discover his work.
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
This riveting and harrowing novel follows Vern, a 15-year-old albino Black girl who’s escaped into the woods from an abusive husband and the leader of a Black pride cult called Cainland. Pregnant with twins, Vern gives birth and raises her sons in the forest by herself until they’re 4. Members of Cainland received experimental drugs in their food or water, which caused nightly hallucinations. Away from Cainland, Vern’s hallucinations turn into vivid hauntings, and slowly her body begins to transform into something else, something not quite human. This novel vividly portrays how Black bodies have been used for unethical experiments while it also celebrates queer love, motherhood, and vengeance. It’s gorgeously written and sure to be one of my favorite books of the year.
The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He
This dystopian YA sci-fi centers on the connection between two sisters, despite their separation. The novel opens with Cee marooned on an island with only an ancient android to keep her company. Her memories are mostly gone, but she does remember one thing: her sister Kasey and her desperate need to find her. Meanwhile, Kasey is disturbed by her seeming lack of grief at her sister’s disappearance and presumed death. She lives in an eco-city created by her father, a sanctuary to protect the Earth from humanity and where people live virtually as much as possible. She’s a STEM prodigy meant to help save the Earth — but when a blip briefly appears on her radar locating her sister, she wants to abandon everything to find her. The Ones We’re Meant to Find is a stunning and compelling novel full of twists and an emotional pull that will make readers want to finish it in one go.
We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker
A new technology threatens to tear a family apart in this prescient, character-driven sci-fi. Pilot is a brain implant that increases focus and cognitive abilities. Val, a teacher, first notices the Pilot’s effect in her upper-class students. Soon, her son is asking for a Pilot, as is her wife, Julie. But Val doesn’t like the idea of a brain implant, and Val and Julie’s daughter, Sophia, can’t have the implant due to her epilepsy. Pinsker explores each family member’s perspective as this new technology changes their lives. It’s a fascinating novel that explores how technologies can transform family dynamics.
A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
In a steampunk version of 1912 Cairo, Agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi investigates magical problems for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. Fifty years earlier, wizard and scientist al-Jahiz rediscovered magic, and now Cairo is steeped in the supernatural. When members of a secret brotherhood are killed by a person calling himself al-Jahiz, the Ministry puts Fatma on the case, but she must solve the murders quickly to restore Cairo’s peace. Thankfully, she has the help of her girlfriend Siti and her Ministry colleagues. From the richly detailed world-building to the fun whodunit plot and engaging characters, this sprawling historical fantasy is one to get lost in.
Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
This enthralling Nigerian-inspired epic fantasy centers on three characters: Danso is a young Juri scholar shunned for being mixed race. He’s engaged to Esheme, an upper-class and deeply ambitious woman. The two see ways of achieving and escaping their life paths when skin-changing warrior Lilong appears on a quest for a magic that could save her home, the mythical Nameless Islands. This sweeping and politically charged fantasy explores race, gender, and culture in a complex and compelling world.
Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
This entertaining urban fantasy is steeped in Malaysian mythology. Jess has recently graduated from Harvard but doesn’t have many work prospects. Mired in medical debt, her parents decide to move back to Malaysia, and Jess goes with them, though she’s lived her entire life in the US. She leaves behind a secret girlfriend she hopes to one day join in Singapore. In Malaysia, Jess’s dead Ah Ma (grandmother) possesses her, and Jess becomes a medium to both her grandmother and her grandmother’s god, Black Water Sister. As a medium, she finds herself wrapped up in a gang war. Black Water Sister is a twisty, feminist, and enthralling page-turner. Content warnings for attempted rape and anti-gay prejudice.
Illusionary by Zoraida Córdova
Illusionary completes the Hollow Crown duology, and it is as all-consuming as the first book, Incendiary, if not more so. Renata Convida has joined forces with her former enemy Prince Castian to find the fabled Knife of Memory and kill King Fernando, a cold-blooded and brutal ruler who will stop at nothing to kill them and continue his unquestioned control over Andalucia. This is no easy task, especially with the king’s forces hot on their heels and Ren’s awakening magical powers wreaking havoc on her memory and her sense of self. This dark YA fantasy full of twists and adventure is the perfect conclusion to the series.
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
Nghi Vo’s stunning and subversive retelling of The Great Gatsby subtly infuses the world with magic. Jordan Baker is a queer, adopted Vietnamese American raised in America’s wealthiest social circles. She can make cut paper come to life — though it’s a skill she has little opportunity to hone as it comes from her Vietnamese ancestry and she knows no other person of her heritage. She befriends Daisy as a child, and Daisy becomes the epitome of white wealth and privilege. Immersed in Jazz Age culture, Vo expertly draws out the white patriarchal racism and sexism of The Great Gatsby.
A Chorus Rises by Bethany C. Morrow
A Chorus Rises takes place soon after the events Morrow’s A Song Below Water. Eloko Naema Bradshaw was once beloved by everyone — almost everyone worshiped her for her magical charm and voice, from her friends and classmates to her giant online community. But after exposing Tavia and Effie’s secrets for the world to see, she’s universally shunned. Moreover, once revived from being turned into stone by Effie, she’s lost her Eloko powers, though she’s told no one. Needing to escape Portland, Naema visits her extended family for the first time and discovers more about her identity both as a Black girl and as an Eloko. Morrow transforms Naema from an unsympathetic villain in A Song Below Water into a relatable and nuanced human being in A Chorus Rises. It’s a fantastic counterpoint and companion to the first novel.