Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (Penguin Teen)
This innovative YA science fiction novel integrates figures from Chinese history into a futuristic, feminist plot. Eighteen-year-old Zetian — based on Empress Regnant Wu, the only woman ever to rule China (during the Tang dynasty) — plans to avenge her sister’s death. She volunteers to become the concubine-pilot to the man who killed her sister in the hopes of assassinating him. Pilots defend Huaxia from aliens by using giant robots called Chrysalises. Psychic energy powers these robots. Male pilots channel the concubine woman pilot’s psychic energy to battle the aliens, and sometimes those women pilots die in the process. However, when Zetian goes into battle as the subservient woman pilot, she drains the male pilot’s psychic energy. She emerges from the Chrysalis as the Iron Widow, a woman who can suck the psychic powers of men and steer the Chrysalis herself. Officials try to force her into compliance by pairing her with the strongest male pilot, but Zetian refuses to be a tool for any man.
The Tensorate Series by Neon Yang (Tordotcom)
The Tensorate Series combines all four of Neon Yang’s expertly crafted silkpunk novellas. In this world, children decide their gender and, until they make a decision, use they/them pronouns. The first two novellas follow twins Mokoya and Akeha. As children, their mother, the Protector, sold them to the Grand Monastery, where they are raised. While there, Mokoya — who decides she’s female — discovers a talent for prophecy, while Akeha — who decides he’s male — learns to read people and their political maneuvering. Fed up with his mother, Akeha leaves the monastery and joins the rebels, but in doing so he leaves his sister behind. Meanwhile, Mokoya, disturbed by how her prophecies never seem to affect the future, abandons her husband and the monastery in search of the naga that killed her child. The last two novellas focus on political threats to the Protectorate.
Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (Tor Books; Sept. 28)
This delightful mix of fantasy and science fiction set among the classical violin scene revolves around three main characters. Famed violin teacher Shizuka Satomi, known as the Queen of Hell in the violin world, made a pact with the devil to deliver seven souls. Once she has, she'll be able to perform her music once more. She's already delivered six souls and is struggling to find her seventh. Katrina Nguyen, whose most cherished possession is her violin, flees her home because her abusive family doesn't accept her as a trans woman. She has no safe place to escape to. Lan Tran, an alien starship captain, fled an intergalactic war with her family across space and landed in a donut shop — which they bought and now run. When these three characters meet, they form their own found family, but with the devil knocking, their close-knit community is in peril.
The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Sept 28)
The second book in the Scholomance trilogy shows El stepping up her game and becoming the most powerful sorceress in the school’s history. With graduation approaching, seniors like her need to prepare if they’re going to survive. The school helpfully creates a deadly maze to test their skills. However, El decides surviving isn’t enough. She wants to save everyone in the school, not just the seniors — but to do so, she needs more than powerful spells. She needs to be likable and earn everyone’s trust. Meanwhile, El’s mother has smuggled in a note that warns her to stay away from Orion, but teenage hormones outweigh a mother’s warning. This second book is as compulsive a read as the first. As a warning, it ends on another killer cliffhanger.
The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed (ECW Press; Sept. 28)
This slim, literary dystopia explores a mother and daughter’s relationship in a setting ravaged by climate change. Reid and her mother live on a college campus in Alberta that has been transformed into a tight-knit community. In a future without electricity, running water, or refrigeration, they have little ability to contact anyone outside their own village. Both Reid and her mother have been infected by a parasite called Cad, which invades bodies and can even control the host’s thoughts. When Reid receives a letter informing her she’s received a full scholarship to attend a university within a dome, she’s at first ecstatic for the chance to escape. However, her mother’s guilt trips and constant gaslighting have her questioning whether she should go, or even if the university is real.
Dark Rise by C. S. Pacat (Quill Tree Books; Sept. 28)
This first book in a new YA historical fantasy series set in Victorian London gave me The Dark Is Rising vibes, though with much denser and more complicated world-building. When Will Kempen’s mother died, she told him to run, and he’s been on the run ever since. He’s captured by a group of men who serve Simon, a wealthy aristocrat who seeks to resurrect the Dark King along with his evil magic. A secret society called the Stewards serves the light and helps keep Simon and his men from unearthing dangerous artifacts. Meanwhile, teenager Violet longs to one day join her brother Tom in becoming one of Simon’s chosen underlings. However, when the Stewards attack Tom’s ship, she discovers Will in chains below and watches as he saves everyone on the ship from a sword’s evil magic the fight accidentally unleashed. She decides to save Will and the two escape with the Stewards. When Violet hears her father say he brought her from India to England merely for Tom to kill her, she decides to switch sides. Both she and Will begin training with the Stewards in the hope of stopping the rise of the Dark King.
Activation Degradation by Marina J. Lostetter (Harper Voyager; Sept. 28)
Unit Four, a biological robot, awakens into war. Hours after its birth, Unit Four’s handler sends it out to fight an enemy spaceship set upon destroying Earth and all who live there, or at least that’s what Unit Four has been programmed to believe. However, when the enemy captures Unit Four, it finds a group of what it assumes are robots calling themselves humans, and they refer to Unit Four as a human and dub it Aimsley. As Aimsley attempts to sabotage the humans, it uncovers more and more information, leading it to doubt its programming. This character-centered sci-fi about found family and indoctrination combines thought-provoking concepts with action. While it works well as a stand-alone, I’m hoping for a sequel. I listened to the audiobook engagingly narrated by Hayden Bishop.
A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow (Tordotcom; Oct. 5)
This playful feminist novella retells Sleeping Beauty. Zinnia Gray is a contemporary Sleeping Beauty who has a rare, fatal disease. No one with it lives longer than 21. On Zinnia's 21st birthday, her friend Charm throws her a Sleeping Beauty surprise party, but when Zinnia touches the spinning wheel, she's thrust into another dimension and another Sleeping Beauty story. Zinnia doesn't know how to get back to her world, so she decides to help this Sleeping Beauty break the curse. As the two work together, Zinnia finds herself attracted to the other Sleeping Beauty. Accompanied by Arthur Rackham's original illustrations, this quick read is a must for fairy tale readers.
Sistersong by Lucy Holland (Redhook; Oct. 5)
In ancient Britain, a priest has decided to convert the kingdom of Dumnonia to Christianity. Siblings Riva, Keyne, and Sinne, children of King Cador, resist the priest’s influence. For Riva, Christianity means denying her healing gifts and losing her connection to the goddess Brigid. For Keyne, a transgender man in a time when there were no words for being transgender, converting means being forced into an identity that is not his own. For Sinne, still young, it means missing out on the freedom of play. Unfortunately, their mother has welcomed the priest in, and both the king and queen now bow to his desires. Meanwhile, the Saxons are coming, and the fortress may be the sibling’s only protection. A retelling of the British folk ballad “The Twa Sisters,” this lyrical and riveting historical fantasy presents a complex and magical portrayal of Anglo-Saxon England.
The Fox's Tower and Other Tales by Yoon Ha Lee (Andrews McMeel Publishing; Oct. 5)
Originally self-published in 2015, this collection of 25 magical microfictions is being rereleased by Andrews McMeel and includes five new stories. Since 2015, Yoon Ha Lee has published several popular SFF novels, including the award-winning Ninefox Gambit and the middle-grade sci-fi Dragon Pearl. Readers of Lee’s previous sci-fi novels may be surprised by these brief, lyrical fairy tales. Shapeshifting foxes, tiger wives, and dormouse paladins all make appearances. Many of the pieces present queer animal wives or normalize nonbinary characters. Taken as a whole, these mesmerizing fables present a beautiful, mythic world populated by animal characters.
The Brides of Maracoor by Gregory Maguire (William Morrow; Oct. 12)
Gregory Maguire returns to Oz 25 years after publishing Wicked with this spellbinding first book in a new series. Every day, the seven brides of Maracoor help keep time moving forward. When a bride dies, the Minor Adjutant, who visits yearly, brings a baby to replace her. When the youngest bride spots an unconscious girl, Rain, wrapped around a goose, she helps the goose bring her to shore. It’s only once Rain is inside that the youngest bride realizes she’s green. When Rain awakens, she’s lost all memory of her past. As the seven brides bicker over what to do with Rain and factions form, the Minor Adjutant arrives on his yearly visit. With its rich character development and a healthy dash of Maguire’s humor, this latest Oz tale is as satisfying a read as the Wicked Years quartet.
The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman (Simon & Schuster; Oct. 12)
The fourth and final installment of the Practical Magic series occurs after the eponymous novel's events. Making their appearances are the Aunts Jet and Franny Owens, Uncle Vincent, Sally, and Gillian, and Sally's children, Kylie and Antonia. Sally hasn't told her daughters that they're witches. Thus, Kylie and Antonia know nothing about the Owens' women's curse and how they should never fall in love. Kylie learns of their curse only when the man she fell in love with lies in a coma. In despair, she vows to break the curse no matter what it takes, even if it means unearthing the dark side of her magic. Despite the risk, her family rallies behind Kylie, traveling from Paris to London in search of clues to breaking the curse. The Book of Magic gives an engrossing and satisfying conclusion to the series.
The Cabinet by Un-Su Kim, translated by Sean Lin Halbert (Angry Robot; Oct.12)
Translated from Korean, these delightfully imaginative and humorous interconnected short stories examine the characters from Cabinet 13. Cabinet 13 catalogs people referred to as symptomers, humans who represent a jump in the evolutionary chain and might be considered a new species. Office assistant Mr. Kong works for Professor Kwon, who's in charge of studying and keeping track of this new species. From a man with a ginkgo tree blooming from his pinkie to a time skipper to a woman with a lizard growing inside her mouth, these symptomers are both fascinating and annoying to Mr. Kong. While the first half reads like a series of anecdotes, a larger plot slowly emerges. Quirky and inventive, this is the second of award-winning author Un-Su Kim’s novels to be translated into English.
Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood (Wednesday Books; Oct. 19)
This mesmerizing Ethiopian-inspired gothic reimagines Jane Eyre in a fantasy setting. Andromeda was trained as a debtera — an exorcist who cleanses houses of evil spirits — though her mentor refuses to license her officially. She’s barely making a living when the wealthy Magnus Rochester hires her to rid his castle of its evil spirits. When she arrives, she’s shocked by what she finds. Deadly manifestations fill the castle beginning at 10 p.m. and continue throughout the night. She’s never seen such a multitude of evil spirits all in one place and never this deadly. She’s unsure if she’ll be successful at ridding the castle of its hauntings, but, desperate for money and finding herself somewhat attracted to the handsome Mr. Rochester, she agrees to take the job.
Hunting by Stars by Cherie Dimaline (Amulet Books; Oct. 19)
The sequel to Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves does not hold back. In this dystopian future, plagues and natural disasters have decimated the population, and many of those remaining have stopped dreaming, except for Indigenous North Americans. Haunted and going mad, the dreamless set up or reopen residential schools to suck the marrow from Indigenous peoples and thus steal their dreams. Seventeen-year-old French belongs to a group of Indigenous folk who have recently rescued one of their members from a residential school. However, on the night of their celebrations, French is captured and imprisoned in a residential school. While he struggles to stay alive and sane, his found family tries to find him and plan for his rescue. Deeply disturbing and moving, Hunting the Stars is a must for those who enjoyed the first book or for those searching for more Indigenous voices in SFF, though do make sure to read The Marrow Thieves first.
Far From the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson (Orbit; Oct. 26)
This character-driven locked-room murder mystery set in space is as intriguing as the title. Michelle "Shell" Campion is a young captain of the colony ship Ragtime. However, human captains helm spaceships in name only, as the ship's AI does all the work. After 10 years, she awakens from stasis, ready to deliver the thousand-plus colonists to the planet Bloodroot, and discovers that 32 people have been murdered and cut into tiny pieces. On top of that, Ragtime's AI isn't responding appropriately to her commands. Meanwhile, on Bloodroot, detective Fin has been declared off duty after a disaster on the job. When word reaches Bloodroot of Shell's little murder issue, Fin's superiors put him on the job. If he can figure out who the murderer is, he'll have his job back. However, Fin hates space, and he has depression. With aliens, androids, too-curious politicians, and a rogue AI, this new novel from Tade Thompson manages to be both a romp and a puzzle.
A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske (Tordotcom; Nov. 2)
This steamy gay historical fantasy romp is perfect for fans of Witchmark by C.L. Polk. When boxer Robin Blyth takes on an obscure civil service job, he stumbles upon a hidden world of magic in Edwardian England. His coworker is the magical and infuriatingly cold Edwin Courcey, who seemingly cares more for books and reading than being cordial. The previous magical liaison has disappeared, and Edwin fears the worst. Edwin's fears are confirmed when Robin is painfully cursed and instructed to find a magical contract hidden in the office. Despite their dislike for one another, Edwin whisks Robin away to his childhood home to try and find a way to remove the curse and investigate the disappearance of Robin's predecessor. But in the magical halls of his childhood home, Edwin's coolness toward Robin begins to simmer away. Meanwhile, a dangerous magical plot puts both of their lives at risk.
The Seventh Queen by Greta Kelly (Harper Voyager; Nov. 2)
The second and final book in the Frozen Crown duology takes place immediately where the first book left off. Warrior Queen Askia has been captured by the tyrant and evil magician Emperor Radovan, who plans to make her his next bride. Imprisoned in his castle, she realizes that, to save both Seravesh and Vishir, she must play Radovan’s game, at least for now. As she spies on Radovan, Askia learns more about his past queens. Meanwhile, her guard Illya is attempting to find a way to rescue Askia. Both still pine for one another, even though they know they’re not meant to be together. The conclusion to this action-packed, romantic epic fantasy does not disappoint.
A Psalm of Storms and Silence by Roseanne A. Brown (Balzer & Bray; Nov. 2)
The second and final book in the A Song of Wraiths and Ruin duology is just as emotionally wrought and suspenseful as the first book and brings the series to a more than satisfying close. After the events in the first book, Malik has PTSD and his mental health is in shambles. He’s serving his master Farid, who is controlling Karina’s resurrected sister on the throne. However, with her sister’s resurrection, the balance between the real world and the spirit world is now out of place. To correct the imbalance, Malik needs to find Karina. Karina, in the meantime, is in exile. To win her kingdom back, she decides to explore the secret city of her ancestors and uncover the magical powers it hides.
The Perishing by Natashia Deón (Counterpoint; Nov. 2)
This philosophical and thought-provoking novel opens in 2102 with an immortal Black woman named Sarah reminiscing about her previous lives, specifically, her time spent as Lou in 1930s Los Angeles. One morning, Lou wakes up with no memories. Cared for by a foster family, Lou pursues education and eventually becomes the first Black woman journalist at the Los Angeles Times. However, flashes of memories haunt her, and she specifically finds herself remembering a man’s face, someone she’s never met before until one fateful day they do meet, and Lou begins to piece together her history as an immortal. Reminiscent of Octavia E. Butler, this ambitious new novel by Natashia Deón intermingles the past, present, and future.
Noor by Nnedi Okorafor (DAW; Nov. 9)
Nnedi Okorafor explores the hazards of capitalism and its effects on technology and population control in this slim yet searing Africanfuturist novel set in a near-future Nigeria. AO (which stands for Artificial Organism) was born with a physical disability, and then a car accident years later took away even more of her mobility. She chooses to alter herself with biotech modifications; the more modifications she makes, the stronger and more alert she is. However, many people hate those who use biotech modifications. After AO is attacked for being half-human, she flees into the desert and finds another escaping just like her, DNA. DNA and his two cows have also survived a heinous attack, this one politically motivated, and the two must flee to a hidden city within the stormy Red Eye to save themselves.
A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido; Nov. 9)
Lipan Apache writer Darcie Little Badger stunned readers with her exquisite first novel Elatsoe. Her second novel is equally excellent. Entwining multiple worlds, A Snake Falls to Earth revolves around two characters. Nina is a Lipan girl in our world. Nina’s great-great-grandmother Rosita’s stories have enraptured her since she was a child. Using a combination of translation software, she uncovers a mystery hidden in Rosita’s stories of a time when animal people still lived on Earth. Meanwhile, in the Reflected World, Oli, a cottonmouth snake person, moves in with other animal people friends. They can transform into humans and visit Nina’s world at will. When one of his friends becomes ill due to his species becoming extinct on Earth, Oli travels to Texas to try and save his friend. There, his and Nina’s stories become entangled.
The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart (Orbit; Nov. 9)
Lin struggles to cement her place as emperor in this second installment of the epic fantasy series The Drowning Empire, which begins with The Bone Shard Daughter. Though she’s shut down bone shard ceremonies and is returning bone shards to each island, it’s not enough to win the favor of the island’s governors. Meanwhile, her father’s constructs, now without orders, flock to Nisong, who forms an army and begins attacking islands. Jovis vacillates between his oath to Lin as captain of the Imperial Guard and his loyalties to the Shardless Few, and Phalue and Ranami rule their island together as governors and bid Lin to abdicate her throne. With islands continuing to sink and Lin and Jovis developing Alanga powers, this second novel further complicates the politics of the first and sets up a fantasy world that’s easy to get lost in.
Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow; Nov. 16)
Science fiction master Neal Stephenson is back with this sprawling epic set in a near-future Earth decimated by climate change and ravaged by wild pigs. The novel follows several groups of people as they navigate their crumbling world. Rufus is determined to kill the giant pig responsible for his daughter’s death. Saskia, queen of the Netherlands, leads the way in a secret meeting to address the political ramifications of climate change. Laks is a Punjabi Canadian martial artist who's wrestling with his religion. Stephenson plunges readers deeply into the lives of his characters while depicting a horrifying possible future. It’s an enthralling and thought-provoking read.
Even Greater Mistakes by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor Books; Nov. 16)
This inspired collection of 19 short stories from the author of All the Birds in the Sky depicts apocalypses and fairy tales, clairvoyants and zombie vampires, bookstores and space. In “As Good as New,” a housecleaner and aspiring playwright manages to be the only survivor of an apocalypse. Then she finds a theater critic turned genie in a bottle and has the chance to set things right with her three wishes if she’s clever. “A Temporary Embarrassment in Spacetime” is a hilarious space opera about two space travelers who need to eliminate the threat of a superweapon so they can open a restaurant. At turns funny, thought-provoking, and emotional, these stories depict the breadth of Ander’s imagination.
Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee (Orbit; Nov. 30)
The epic Green Bone Saga series concludes with this magnificent final book. The trilogy takes place on the gangster-controlled island of Kekon, where magical jade grants superhuman powers to whoever wears it. The Kaul family is one of two major crime syndicates that control the city. In this third book, the rest of the world now knows about the magical jade, and outsiders begin to converge on Kekon. This trilogy is a nonstop ride with electrifying fight scenes, cutthroat politics, and nuanced character development. If you’ve been waiting to read it until the final book is released, now is the time to start. ●
Margaret Kingsbury is a freelance writer, editor, and all-around book nerd based in Nashville. In addition to BuzzFeed Books, her pieces have appeared at Book Riot, Star Trek, Parents, The Lily, SFWA, and more. She runs a children’s bookstagram account @BabyLibrarians and aspires to write both children’s books and fantasy, if she can ever wrangle enough time to do so between working, reading, and parenting.