17 Amazing Fantasy And Science Fiction Novels

These SFF releases are staggeringly good, from subversive takes on classics to innovative futures.

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Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf; April 5)

Mandel’s most recent novel is a thought-provoking look at time, pandemics, and the nature of reality and combines settings, themes, and characters from her previous books, particularly Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel. In 1912, Edwin — the youngest son of a wealthy British family — is exiled to the Canadian wilderness after an outspoken moment. There, he witnesses a peculiar event at a tree involving a violin and an airship terminal. More than a century later, a girl named Vincent takes a video of the same event at the same tree, a video that winds up in one of her brother’s performance pieces. Gaspery-Jacques Roberts lives on a moon colony and works as a time detective in the far future. He’s investigating the time anomaly Vincent and Edwin witnessed. In his investigation, he also meets Olive Llewellyn, a writer touring Earth after her novel about a pandemic becomes a hit. Mandel’s latest is an intriguing, complex, and emotional read that still manages to explore her trademark theme of finding hope in dark times.

This Rebel Heart by Katherine Locke (Knopf Books for Young Readers; April 5)

After the communists seized power in Hungary in the wake of WWII, all color drained from Budapest, leaving the landscape and the people draped in monotone. Csilla survived the Holocaust thanks to the Danube River and her father’s quick thinking. However, both her parents were put to death by the communists, and now Csilla and her aunt Illona — her only surviving relative from the concentration camps — plan to escape Hungary for Israel, where they hope to find safety and acceptance. When Csilla’s parents are unexpectedly exonerated of crimes against the country and their bodies reburied, their careful planning could go awry. Many Hungarians are ready to rebel against the communists. Csilla wakes up the following day with secret police watching her and the Danube River whispering its warning. She only escapes their grasp thanks to the mysterious Azriel. This YA historical fantasy set during the Hungarian revolution of 1956 is a haunting, beautiful read that centers queer Jewish characters.

Saint Death's Daughter by C.S.E. Cooney (Solaris; April 12)

Gideon the Ninth meets the Addams family in this first book in a wildly inventive new fantasy series. It’s been a century since the death-obsessed Stones family produced a necromancer, but Miscellaneous “Lanie” Stones has broken the cycle. However, an allergy toward death accompanies the necromancy gift, and since the Stones are also a family of assassins and executioners, Lanie gets sick a lot. When Lanie’s parents die, a debt collector arrives, threatening to take the Stones’ ancestral home unless Lanie pays her parents’ debts. Lanie’s only option is to ask her capricious and not a little bit scary sister Nita to come home and help. Nita applies to Liarat’s ruler to replace her parents as chief assassin and executioner, but when the ruler dies, the nation is thrown into chaos, and it’s up to Lanie and Nita to try and save their home. Meanwhile, the goddess of death has other plans for Lanie.

The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe (Harper Voyager; April 19)

This collection of six thought-provoking science fiction short stories grapples with a future of surveillance, racism, and police states and expands on the world Monáe created in her album Dirty Computer. In the title story, memory librarian Seshet controls the city of New Dawn by remembering all and wiping clear the memories of those who cause trouble. When she goes on a date with a woman, memories from her past begin to resurface, and she questions her role in the city. In “Nevermind,” a group of women has fled New Dawn and created their own utopia called the Pynk Hotel. The group struggles to adhere to their utopian principles when attacked by New Dawn agents, questioning the loyalty of a trans member. Each story in this collection is a searing but ultimately hopeful glimpse into how marginalized groups can hope and create in a world set against them. Written with a group of collaborators — including award-winning authors and sociologists — this book is reminiscent of the anti-racist and community-building themes present in N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor’s work, as well as the utopian philosophy of Ursula K. Le Guin and the dystopian technological vision of Philip K. Dick. It’s a stunning collection of short stories.

Fevered Star by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga Press; April 19)

The second book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy picks up immediately after the events in the first book, Black Sun. After the annihilation of the Watchers, Tova’s power dynamics are in turmoil. Serapio recovers from a wound made by the false Sun Preist’s mask among Tova’s Crow clan. The Crow clan and the other matriarchal clans on Tova are conflicted about whether his coming heralds prosperity or the ruin of them all. Xiala wants nothing more than to reunite with Serapio, but instead she finds herself on a voyage away from Tova, where she realizes she may be more helpful to him as a spy. Meanwhile, Naranpa has returned from the dead with new powers gifted by the Sun God, but still struggles to connect with her brother. However, as the never-ending solar eclipse continues, a battle of epic proportions is making its way toward Tova. This second book is a brilliant follow-up to the first, mapping the rich terrains of each character’s inner world while moving the plot’s puzzle pieces in ever more intriguing ways.

Spear by Nicola Griffith (Tordotcom; April 19)

The lyrical writing in this queer Arthurian retelling reminds me of Patricia McKillip and Ursula K. Le Guin, where every sentence sings. When Peretur was a child, she had no name. She grew up with her mother in a hidden cave, never interacting with other people, though she learned the ways of nature and the forest. As she grew older, she ventured farther from the cave and discovered a small village, where she watched the village folk unseen. One day a group of knights pass through, and when bandits attack them, Peretur joins the battle, though she remains unnoticed. She feels called to the knights and their king Artos, so she says goodbye to her mother — who names her and cryptically warns her of the dangers ahead from their past — and sets out to become one of King Artos’s companions. This immersive and inclusive retelling is breathtakingly beautiful, sharing a vision of Arthurian legend that dismisses the stodginess of earlier retellings in favor of nuance and joy.

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher (Tor Books; April 26)

Sometimes a happily ever after is not what follows after marrying a prince. The eldest sister of Princess Marra, who's the youngest of three sisters, dies soon after marrying the prince of a nation threatening war on their tiny but strategically important kingdom. The king and queen send Marra’s second sister to marry the prince next while they shuffle Marra off to be raised by nuns in a convent. When an older Marra visits her pregnant sister, she realizes her princely husband is a cruel abuser. Determined to rid her sister of an abusive husband and to avenge her eldest sister’s death, Marra enlists the help of a witch with a demon chicken, a bone dog, a warrior stolen by the fey, and an eccentric fairy godmother. Kingfisher’s combination of comedy with feminist rage in a complex fairy-tale setting makes for a wholly entertaining read.

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel (Redhook; April 26)

In the Hindu epic The Rāmāyana, Queen Kaikeyi is the villain, using her influence to banish the rightful heir to the throne so her son can take his place. Patel’s brilliant debut novel humanizes Kaikeyi. Much like Circe by Madeline Miller and The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Patel depicts a world where patriarchal and misogynist norms attempt to force women into rigid roles, which their protagonists refuse to be forced into. The novel opens with a child Kaikeyi reeling after her father, the king, banishes her mother from the kingdom without so much as a farewell. In despair, Kaikeyi turns to the gods, but when none of them answer her prayers, she ventures into the library to find lesser-known gods who might have time to listen to her. Instead, she uncovers an ancient scroll with a meditation spell. When she practices the meditation spell, she can see the thread that binds her to everyone she knows. Soon she discovers she can influence people by tugging at this thread and suggesting her desires. She carries this ability into adulthood, where she has the power to shape the destinies of all.

Maria, Maria: & Other Stories by Marytza K. Rubio (Liveright; April 26)

These 10 lush and delightfully subversive short stories probe women’s love and women’s justice through the lens of witchcraft or, as the professor in the opening story “Brujería for Beginners” calls it, “spiritual vigilantism.” Rubio sets the titular novella in a sprawling, future California rainforest, where a young Maria traces the supernatural lineage of generations of Marias before her with the help of her aunt Maria after the death of her mother, also named Maria. Several of Rubio’s stories also explore animal perspectives and the environment, from a resurrected saber-toothed tiger to an art show created by animals. Clever and incisive, these stories simultaneously beg for laughter and for sentences to be underlined.

Elektra by Jennifer Saint (Flatiron Books; May 3)

Saint follows up her lovely debut Ariadne with another retelling of Greek mythology. This time Saint tackles one of the best-known stories from Greek mythos — the fall of Troy and the subsequent repercussions — by following three pivotal women. In Sparta, Clytemnestra reluctantly marries Agamemnon after her sister Helen marries Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus. While she sees nothing wrong with Agamemnon, she would rather spend her days at home with her sister, and for nothing to change. In Troy, Cassandra longs for Apollo to grant her the gift of foresight, but when she refuses to have sex with him, he curses her. She will become the most powerful seer in history, but no one will ever believe a word she says. In the future, Elektra, Clytemnestra and Agamemnon’s daughter, grapples with her father’s bloody choices and her mother’s constant anger, though she finds her father more sympathetic than her mother. She wants to escape the curse that plagues the House of Atreus, of kin murdering kin generation after generation, but she wonders if it’s possible to break free of destiny. As gorgeously written as her debut, this feminist historical fantasy is a must-read for anyone who enjoys Greek mythology.

Book of Night by Holly Black (Tor Books; May 3)

Though Black is a prolific writer of young adult and middle-grade fiction, Book of Night is her adult debut, and it’s my absolute favorite novel she’s written. It takes place in a world much like our own, except people’s shadows can be altered and, in some cases, awakened. Charlie Hall once worked as a con artist, stealing books and other valuables from shadow magic practitioners. It’s the only thing she’s ever been really good at, but after one too many close calls, she quit and now works as a bartender, saving money for her sister to attend college and dating a man who’s probably too good to be true. On the way home from work one night, she spots a shadow murdering a person she’d just seen in the bar. Her curiosity about the shadow leads her once more into the shadow-magic underworld, where her discoveries might illuminate her past as much as it does her present. Full of twists and turns, it’s impossible to look away from Black’s compulsive adult debut.

When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill (Doubleday Books; May 3)

This riveting historical fantasy set in the United States during the 1950s is deeply embedded in the patriarchy of the time. Alex Green is a child when the Mass Dragoning occurs, when 300,000 women — fed up with the daily misogyny they experience — transform into dragons. These women dragons take to the skies and do not return. Alex’s Aunt Marla is one of them, leaving behind her infant daughter, Beatrice. Alex’s mother adopts the child and not only demands Alex forget all about dragons, but also that she forgets she ever had an Aunt Marla. Instead, Beatrice has always been Alex’s sister. All of society insists that any mention of dragoning be covered up, for anything to do with women’s bodies is shameful. Alex keeps her eyes on the ground and tries to repress her memories of dragons and family, but she struggles to mold herself into the perfect girl her emotionally abusive father and the nuns at her school require. Everything about Alex is wrong, from her mathematical aptitude to her attraction toward girls. Barnhill’s child characters are deeply authentic and nuanced, which is no surprise considering she’s best known for her award-winning middle-grade novels like The Girl Who Drank the Moon. What’s surprising about Barnhill’s rare foray into adult fiction is its subversiveness and feminist rage. It’s a powerful, searing novel that feels deeply true, despite its magical premise.

The Ghosts of Rose Hill by R. M. Romero (Peachtree Teen; May 3)

This lovely YA novel-in-verse is full of magic and Slavik fairy tales. Ilana Lopez, a Jewish biracial Latina, just wants to play violin, but her parents want her to concentrate on school and choose a practical profession. To help her concentrate on her schoolwork over the summer, Ilana’s father sends her to her aunt’s home in Prague without her violin. In Prague, Ilana discovers an abandoned Jewish cemetery and decides to clean it. There she meets Benjamin, a ghost that haunts the cemetery, and a man with a violin no one else but the ghosts see. When the man gifts Ilana the violin, she plays better than ever before, but she senses something isn’t quite right, especially when she notices the ghost of a young girl slowly withering away.

Siren Queen by Nghi Vo (Tordotcom; May 10)

Vo reimagines 1930s Old Hollywood in this glittering and haunting historical fantasy loosely based on the life of Chinese American actor Anna May Wong. When starlets reach the height of fame, they’re granted a star in the sky, their name to be remembered forever. Luli Wei has always longed to be a starlet and earn her own star. She often bargained her way into a nearby movie theater to watch the latest movies as a child. When she stumbles upon a set one day, the director cajoles her into a one-line role as a beggar girl. This is a chance to achieve her dreams. She slowly begins appearing in more and more movies, but the deeper she gets into the world of Hollywood, the more insidious its magic. Bargains and sacrifices power the monsters who own Hollywood, and if Luli Wei wants to achieve her dreams, she’ll have to bargain away her soul and the women she loves in the process. This riveting novel so deeply enmeshes magic with reality that it often feels impossible to differentiate the two. It’s a breathtaking read.

Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings (Solaris; May 10)

In the distant future, a space-faring humanity is at war with the Felen, an alien species that communicates telepathically. The war is not going well for either side until a group of five individuals broker a piece. This group became known as the Fortunate Five. Now, 150 years later, a scientific vessel carrying an important Felen diplomat becomes lost in a time vortex and discovers the Fortunate Five’s vessel. Onboard, they find three of the five heroes, but they have yet to accomplish their critical mission, and even more concerning, they seem to have no idea that they should be working toward peace. Despite its far-reaching plot, this time travel space opera debut is deeply character-driven, following four characters back and forth in time as they slowly head toward the day that brought peace between the humans and the Felen. It’s an entertaining, engrossing read.

Together We Burn by Isabel Ibañez (Wednesday Books; May 31)

The Zalvidar family has run a famous dragon fighting arena for 500 years, but when someone sabotages their 500th-anniversary show, unleashing the dragons and causing mayhem and death, the father of 18-year-old flamenco dancer Zarela Zalvidar almost dies. He’ll never be able to fight dragons again. Zarela is determined to save her family’s arena, but it seems like everyone is against her. The head of the Dragon Guild refuses to believe sabotage was involved in the arena’s disaster and instead blames Zarela’s father. He forces her to pay a heavy fine to the guild. The only way to save the arena is to become a Dragonadoor like her father, but after a dragon killed her mother when Zarela was a child, she fears dragons almost as much as she fears losing her family’s legacy. She hires the stubborn and attractive Arturo Díaz de Montserrat to train her as a Dragonadoor, but he believes it’s wrong to fight the dragons. She has four weeks to learn dragon-fighting skills to earn enough money to save the arena, but in the meantime she also has a crime to solve. Someone is out to ruin the Zalvidor family, and they’re willing to murder to get their way. I listened to this intense YA fantasy on audio, delightfully narrated by Ana Osorio.

The Merciless Ones by Namina Forna (Delacorte Press; May 31)

The second book in the YA fantasy series Deathless picks up six months after the events in book one, The Gilded Ones. After Deka freed the goddesses and discovered her true identity, the Otereans now think Deka and the jatu are traitors. The people view Deka as a monster. Despite their disproval, Deka continues on her quest to free all the goddesses. However, after releasing each goddess, a strange symbol appears on their temples, a symbol that renders Deka temporarily unconscious and blocks her powers. While war wages within her kingdom, Deka fights an even darker force trying to tear the kingdom apart. This action-packed sequel is even more thrilling than the first. ●

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