The Four Profound Weaves is a lyrical and complex novella set in Lemberg’s Birdverse Universe. She’s previously written short stories set in this world, but this is her first longer work. The two main characters — Uiziya and a nameless man called nen-sasair — are elderly and trans (referred to as “changers”). Uiziya has trained in three of the four magical weaves, but to learn the final weave and create a bone cloth, she needs to train with and her aunt Benesret, a Master Weaver. Benesret lives as an outcast in the Great Burri Desert and makes bone cloths for the Ruler of Iyar’s assassins. The nen-sasair has only recently changed and has lived most of his life as a woman. In his gender-divided culture, his people struggle with his new identity. Both carry many regrets, which prompts them to go on these quests togethers — and these quests will lead them to the evil Ruler of Iyar.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads; Sept. 1)
In Yadriel’s traditional Latinx family, women become brujas and practice healing magic, and the men become brujos and help spirits to the land of the dead. Yadriel is a man, but his family refuses to let him complete the ritual to become a brujo because he’s trans. With the help of his friend Maritza, Yadriel successfully completes the ritual without his family’s knowledge. When Yadriel’s cousin is murdered afterward, he and Maritza try to find out why — but in doing so, they accidentally raise the ghost of Julian Diaz, a teen who was also murdered. As the three try to help Julian and discover what happened to Yadriel’s cousin, Yadriel and Julian begin to fall in love. This is a fun and delightful young adult contemporary fantasy novel with a swoon-worthy romance.
Every child in the empire has a slice of bone carved from their necks for future use in the emperor’s magic. A few children die every year from the procedure. The emperor uses these bone shards to create monstrous constructs that serve as his spies, military, and servants. Lin, the emperor’s daughter, wants to ensure she inherits her father’s kingdom, but he refuses to teach her bone shard magic until she remembers her past — which she’s forgotten since her mysterious illness. Jovis is a smuggler bringing children away from the empire before their bone shard ceremonies. Ranami is a member of the Shardless Few, rebels fighting against the empire, and Phalue is the corrupt governor’s daughter. Phalue wants to marry Ranami, who keeps denying her, while Ranami wants Phalue to see how her life of privilege comes at the cost of other people’s lives and happiness. These stories intersect in this action-packed, must-read epic fantasy, where a leader who claims to protect his people is, in fact, power-hungry and corrupt, and it’s up to those who chose ethics over power to reimagine the empire. It’s one of the best debut fantasy novels of the year, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the second book in the series.
Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston (Tor.com; Sept. 8)
This slow-burn eco fantasy novel takes place in the African-inspired Arkhysian Empire. The Arkhysian Empire’s land is dying. The poison desert is spreading, killing farmland and animals. Djola, a spymaster in the lord’s council, is called the Master of Poisons because he can always find an antidote to the kingdom’s worst problems. But no easy solution exists to the environmental devastation the poison desert is causing, and in disgust, the council exiles him. Meanwhile, young Awa, who was sold as a child, is training to become a griot — people who can enter the spirit world and visit the kingdoms, animals, and people who live there. Master of Poisons is a lush, literary fantasy novel full of folklore and magic.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury; Sept. 15)
Piranesi’s world is a labyrinthine house filled with statues, where the sea rises and falls within its walls. He keeps a journal chronicling his adventures exploring his world and all the wonders he finds within it, as well as his meetings with the one other living person that inhabits the labyrinth, whom he calls The Other. Readers should note this novel is quite different from Susanna Clarke’s popular first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel. Written in journal entries, Piranesi is a short and beautiful novel that reads like a poem, not in its use of language (which is very accessible) but rather in its cumulative effect of expressing an emotion and state of being that is inexpressible. It’s a strange and lovely read.
Before starting art school in an alternate version of 1983, 18-year-old Susan Arkshaw decides to find her father, a man she’s never met. She starts at her uncle Frank’s house, but that quickly turns dangerous when Merlin appears and dissolves her admittedly creepy uncle — and then a murderous fog chases them both outside. The two escape the fog, and Susan learns Merlin is a member of a family of booksellers who police the mythic Old World when it creeps into the modern one. In the meantime, to make a living, they sell books. Attracted by the gender-fluid Merlin and curious about the possible connections between the mythic and her father, Susan inadvertently becomes entwined in the dangerous work of the left-handed booksellers of London. While Garth Nix is famous for his young adult fantasy, this book straddles the line between adult and YA and will be equally enjoyable for readers of both. It’s a thrilling, adventurous read with strong, complex characters and fascinating magic.
A Deadly Education is the first book in a new fantasy series by Naomi Novik that’s very different from her previous books but equally amazing. Magical teens are being preyed upon by monsters; to protect their children, magical parents have built a school called Scholomance. Magical teens attend the school and stay until they graduate — but the school doesn’t ensure survival. Attracted by the magic, monsters gravitate to the school and find any way they can to slip inside and eat students. El is a student at the school with a penchant for destructive spells and sarcasm. As a poor student, she doesn’t have the magical resources the wealthier students have, and everything is twice as hard for her. She’s particularly irritated by the school’s hero Orion, a wealthy student whose mission in life is to save everyone from the monsters. Because he grew up with endless resources, he fails to understand how his life of privilege helps protect him. This book is such a nail biter; I wanted to gobble it up in a single sitting. It’s also funny and thought-provoking.
In 18th century France, Addie LaRue makes a bargain with the darkness to avoid a forced marriage. If the darkness can help her attain her freedom, she will give him her soul — when she’s ready. But the darkness is tricky. Addie’s freedom comes at a high cost; everyone who sees her immediately forgets her. Her parents and her friends fail to recognize her when she returns to the village. She lives for centuries — refusing to give in to the darkness — but is never able to have second conversation with a single person. Then one day in 2014, a bookseller remembers her name. She’s finally found someone to build a relationship with, but the darkness doesn’t give up his victims so easily. He wants Addie for himself. This is a beautiful, meditative novel with an ending that hit me right in the heart.
In Seanan McGuire’s 2019 novel Middlegame, the fictional novel Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker is mentioned frequently as a point of inspiration for the characters. Now Seanan McGuire, writing as A. Deborah Baker, is publishing that novel — and even though it’s a companion novel to Middlegame, it can be read and enjoyed as a standalone. It’s about two exceptional children (because all children are exceptional) who climb a wall on their way to school. But instead of finding themselves on the other side of the street, they find themselves in a new world, where the rules are entirely different. The improbable is probable, strange creatures lurk around every turn, and the two are in the midst of a political battle they can’t possibly understand. With nods to The Wizard of Oz and Through the Looking Glass, readers of portal fantasy and McGuire’s Wayward Children series will love this unsettling and imaginative adventure.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga; Oct. 13)
Rebecca Roanhorse sets Black Sun — the first book in a new fantasy trilogy — in a fantasy world inspired by the pre-Columbian Americas. Blinded as a child by his mother, Serapio’s destiny is to become the Crow God reborn and wreak vengeance on the Sun Priest and their followers, who have violently suppressed the holy city Tova’s indigenous religious traditions. Naranpa recently became Sun Priest, and she’s unprepared for the order’s political machinations and backstabbing. Xiala, a captain charged with carrying Serapio to Tova, can calm the waters with her voice, an inheritance from her magical, ocean-dwelling Teek heritage, but her sailors fear her. This violent and epic clash between colonizers and indigenous peoples pushes against Euro-centric fantasy. It’s also a thrilling and intriguing read.
This feminist fantasy takes place in a Regency-era type fantasy world, where magical women are married off and collared so they can’t practice their magic. Beatrice Clayborn doesn’t want to marry; she wants to improve her magic and become a great sorceress. However, after a recent financial disaster, her family is relying on her to make a good match and save them from destitution. Scoping bookstores, Beatrice finds a grimoire that could be the key to advancing her magic, but the wealthy Ysbeta Lavan snags it first. After meeting Ysebeta’s brother Ianthe at a marriage ball, Beatrice finds herself feeling unwillingly attracted to her adversary’s brother. This novel is a fast-paced, delightful read full of plot twists, romantic angst, and social justice themes.
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com; Oct. 13)
In Clark’s version of 1922 Georgia, the Ku Kluxes are Lovecraftian monsters from another dimension, wreaking havoc while posing as Klan members. Maryse fights these monsters, armed with a magical sword that channels generations of vengeful anger, alongside shotgun-wielding Sadie and explosives master Chef. Then a far more dangerous monster arrives the — Butcher, who can direct the Ku Kluxes’s mindless hunger. Using the film The Birth of a Nation as a spell, the Butcher plans to bring the most terrible monster of all into this dimension to consume everyone, and Maryse is the only one who can stop him. To do so, she must face her past tragedy and contend with her anger. This emotional and riveting novella is infused with Black folklore and rich friendships and is my favorite novella of the year.
Witches learn their witch words from nursery rhymes and fairytales, but it’s the will they put behind those words that matter the most. However, women’s magic and women’s votes are both outlawed in this alternative version of 1893. The Eastwood sisters mean to change that. Pushed into New Salem by their father’s abuse, the three sisters live separate lives: Studious Beatrice Belladonna works in a library, beautiful Agnes Amaranth works in a factory, and wild James Juniper joins a women’s suffrage group. When a cruel and misogynistic politician throws his hat in the ring to become mayor of New Salem, the sisters unite against him. They gather other women willing to fight for women’s rights by using the most potent weapon at their disposal — magic. This year marks the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote, and reading this gorgeous novel is an excellent way to celebrate. It’s my favorite book of the year.
Phoenix Extravagant is a standalone fantasy set in a world reminiscent of Korea during the Japanese occupation of the early 1900s. Jebi is a nonbinary artist hired by the Ministry of Armour to paint magical sigils onto masks for the conquering government’s automata. Jebi doesn’t consider themselves political, but after befriending a pacifist dragon automata, Jebi decides they’ll do whatever it takes to keep the dragon from becoming a weapon of war used to kill and subdue their people. Unfortunately, Jebi discovers that sometimes you have to choose a side. Rich in character development, this inventive fantasy novel is a beautiful look at art and pacifism in a time of war.
The second installment of Evan Winter’s dark epic fantasy series, The Burning, opens with a desolate Tau mourning all those he lost in book one. When the Queen asks him to become her champion, a new chance at vengeance presents itself. But with a large force of the indigenous Xidda threatening to attack, and a false queen and her champion dividing the Omehi, his quest for vengeance is fraught — and in the meantime, correcting the social injustices against the Lessers may prove a more important goal and the key to saving them all. This gritty series set in a South African–inspired fantasy world is an intense reading experience, and the second book is just as phenomenal as the first.
Reconstruction: Stories by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Small Beer Press; Nov. 10)
The first story in this collection, the Nebula award-winning “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” opens in a prison where humans are contained for their vampire conquerors to feast upon. Key is a human caretaker doing what she can to survive in a world where hope and integrity are seemingly impossible. This theme of resilience in inhumane conditions continues throughout the collection. In the title story “Reconstruction” — one of two stories original to the collection — Sally uses her grandmother’s spells to help protect a Black Civil War regiment while meditating on anger. These ten immersive stories embrace multiple speculative genres and take place in worlds both real and unreal. They’re well worth reading.
The Burning God by R. F. Kuang (Harper Voyager; Nov. 17)
The Burning God completes the Poppy War trilogy, a Chinese-inspired grimdark fantasy series. Rin is a war orphan turned shaman warrior. The first book in the series, The Poppy War, chronicles her childhood in an abusive home, and her success at being accepted into the elite Sinegard military academy. The Nikara Empire has experienced two Poppy Wars with the nearby Federation of Mugen, and a third is anticipated at any moment. In The Burning God, Rin returns to her ancestral home and vows to do anything to protect her people’s shamanic powers. The series ending is incredible. While all three books are excellent, the final is the best of the bunch.
King of the Rising is the gorgeous and brutal sequel to Queen of the Conquered, and the final installment to the Caribbean-inspired fantasy duology, Islands of Blood and Storm. King of the Rising takes place two months after the first book’s events and follows Loren Jannik, Sigourney Rose’s personal guard. Sigourney is imprisoned, though Loren argues to spare her life. Loren’s craft is growing more powerful, and the formerly enslaved people of Hans Lollik respect him and want him to take charge of the island. The Fjern aren’t going to lose Hans Lollik without a fight, though. Loren’s powers might be the key to maintaining their freedom. The duology is inventive, searing, and dark, and the final book offers a perfect, though unexpected, conclusion.