The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan (Simon & Schuster)
In the near future, the government's surveillance system has turned its eyes on mothers, scrutinizing women's behavior with dire consequences for any and every mistake. When 39-year-old Chinese American mom Frida Liu has one very bad day, her 18-month-old Harriet is taken away to live with Frida's ex-husband and his annoying girlfriend. To win her custody rights back, Frida must pass a yearlong course on how to be a good mother. Forced to live in prison-like conditions, Frida is given a robot doll modeled after her daughter to practice her mothering skills on. If Frida speaks out about the school's conditions or even questions policies, her record will be permanently marked, and she won't be able to see her daughter again. This devastating dystopian novel presents an honest glimpse into the difficulties of parenthood while calling out the culture of policing parents.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan (Harper Voyager; Jan. 11)
This debut fantasy based on the Chinese myth of the moon goddess, Chang'e, is as beautiful as its cover. When Chang'e becomes pregnant and the healers predict that neither she nor the baby will survive, she takes her husband's elixir of immortality, given to him by the celestials for shooting down the sunbirds setting fire to the land. However, saving her and her daughter's life has a cruel cost — the celestials exile her to the moon for taking her husband’s elixir, ensuring that she can never leave and never see her husband again. She keeps her daughter, Xingyin, a secret from the celestials. Xingyin grows up suppressing her magic so the celestials won't notice her, but she's forced to flee her moon home when the celestials catch on that something isn't quite right on the moon. At first, she works as a maid, but soon she wins a place as a companion to the Crown Prince of the celestials, and eventually she becomes famed for her archery skills and bravery. Her one goal in life is to free her mother and to see her again. This first book in a fantasy duology has everything a great fantasy needs: magic, action, romantic angst, nuanced characters, mythical creatures, moral dilemmas, and more.
The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder (Razorbill; Jan. 11)
The treasure hunters Fi and Shane could not be more different. Fi is measured and relies on her deep knowledge of archaeology and ancient history to find the best treasure. On the other hand, Shane relies on her luck and brawn to get her through scraps. While Shane would typically avoid teaming up with the droll Fi, she’s found a map she can’t decode, and Fi is the only one with the knowledge to help her find the map’s treasure. However, instead of finding treasure, the two find a curse that’s held Prince Briar Rose captive for centuries. This queer, gender-flipped YA retelling of Sleeping Beauty is an adventurous blast, and a great way to begin 2022 if you’re looking for a fun, lighthearted read.
Ashes of Gold by J. Elle (Denene Millner Books; Jan. 11)
The final book in the Wings of Ebony YA fantasy duology is as explosive as the first. This duology embodies Black girl magic, with cutting critiques of racism and how Black girls are treated in contemporary society combined with a powerful, no-nonsense magic-user protagonist, Rue. The second book provides more of a glimpse into the magical world of Ghizon, where Rue is determined to find a way to reclaim the magic stolen from her father’s people. Despite the supposedly ideal, fantasy setting, Rue finds many of the same inequalities in Ghizon as she did in Houston. Both books in this series are super fun and intense reads full of action and lots of twists that readers will have trouble putting down.
How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu (William Morrow; Jan. 18)
Written as a series of interconnected short stories, this searing literary dystopia makes for especially bleak reading in the midst of a pandemic. In the near future, climate change has caused severe melting of permafrost, releasing an ancient virus that quickly spreads. A culture of death develops, where theme parks are built to help children die while having fun and couture funeral homes cater to the wealthy. Scientists are also desperately trying to find ways of staving off death, growing human organs in pigs and building spaceships to find a better place to live. Each character is intimately drawn as they grapple with a future that gives very little freedom to hope or dream. The full cast audiobook is an excellent listen. It feels like an archive of personal stories about what the future may bring.
Akata Woman by Nnedi Okorafor (Viking Books for Young Readers; Jan. 18)
In the third book in the Nsibidi Scripts series, 15-year-old Sunny Nwazue is now a powerful Leopard Person. She and her coven — Orlu, Sasha, and Chichi — need to track down Udide’s magical scroll, and they have seven days to do so. The scroll is located deep within the most dangerous parts of the spirit realm, and, meanwhile, Sunny is struggling to come to terms with being doubled, being both Sunny and her spirit face Anyanwu. Entertaining and action-packed, this Nigerian-based fantasy series is a must-read for YA readers. If you’re new to the series, start with Akata Witch.
The Beholden by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Erewhon; Jan. 18)
This sweeping, rich standalone has lots of classic fantasy vibes. It opens with two orphaned sisters hiring a boat owner to take them into a dangerous jungle at night so they can beg a favor of a goddess, the Lady of the Seraphine. Celestia asks the Lady to grant her a wealthy and kind husband to help the sisters’ farm thrive, but the Lady exacts a price. At some point in the future, she will require a favor of the sisters and the boat owner, and they must repay the debt, or else. Five years later, the kingdom is on the brink of war and disease is rampant, but Celestia and her sister Izara are thriving. Celestia is pregnant, and Izara is studying to be a mage. When the emperor calls Celestia’s husband away for a secret mention, the Lady of the Seraphine calls in her debt, and her demands put everything the sisters have worked toward at risk.
Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi (Tordotcom; Jan. 25)
This complex dystopia takes place 30 years into a future where Earth has been decimated by climate change. The wealthiest have fled and live in space colonies, leaving those without the means to escape struggling to find some kind of normalcy in a crumbling infrastructure and environment. Jonathan and David are white men who decide to leave their space colonies and return to Earth. As they begin to rebuild in New Haven, Connecticut, their white privilege is in sharp contrast to the Black existence in New Haven. While Jonathan and David idealize their return to Earth, the laborers Linc, Bishop, and Sydney — who salvage buildings for space colonies to use — are just trying to survive the radiation poisoning, street violence, gentrification, and the general inhumanity in how they’re forced to live. With interweaving timelines and characters, this is a dense read that, like the best dystopias, critiques current political and social problems.
Light Years from Home by Mike Chen (Mira; Jan. 25)
Rich in character development, this literary science fiction centers on family drama in the wake of an alien abduction. Fifteen years ago, aliens took Jakob to become part of their military fleet, and his disappearance left his family in ruins. His dad became obsessed with finding him, and that obsession eventually led to his death. His younger sister, Evie, took over her dad's mission to find the truth and joined a UFO hunters group, becoming an integral member. Jakob's mother now has dementia, and his twin sister, Kass, takes care of her and doesn't believe for a second that aliens abducted Jakob. She believes her carefree, lazy brother is probably backpacking across Europe high on drugs, which is precisely what he tells his family when he reappears 15 years later.
At The End of Everything by Marieke Nijkamp (Sourcebooks Fire; Jan. 25)
The Hope Juvenile Treatment Center may claim to rehabilitate juvenile delinquents, but their treatment of the teens in their care is borderline abusive. When a plague sweeps the world, instead of informing the teenagers of the problem, the guards and every adult associated with the center abandon them, leaving them with very little food or medical supplies. When a group tries to leave the center, one of them is shot out of fear that they might be contagious. The defiant Grace is appointed as de facto leader of the center, while Leah, nonverbal and autistic, takes over food distribution after her twin sister is the first to come down with the plague. Emerson, a nonbinary violinist kicked out of their home by their strict Catholic parents, takes up the responsibility of burying the dead. This compulsive YA postapocalyptic novel shows how the "problem" teens society would rather forget can step up and make things better when given the respect they deserve.
Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu (Tin House; Feb. 1)
This collection of 12 inventive and mesmerizing short stories depicts the monstrous hiding within the everyday. In “Liddy, First to Fly,” a young girl begins growing wings on her legs, revealing them only to a group of her elementary school friends. In “Twenty Hours,” a new printer technology that can reprint humans leads a husband and wife to experiment with murdering one another. In “June Bugs,” a woman moves into a rental after leaving her abusive boyfriend, only to find herself overrun by a June bug infestation. Vivid and surreal, readers of Carmen Maria Machado will enjoy this collection.
Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James (Riverhead Books; Feb. 15)
This second book in the Dark Star Trilogy — pitched as the African Game of Thrones — occurs simultaneously as Black Leopard, Red Wolf and can be read first or second. In the first book, Sogolon the Moon Witch is Tracker’s antagonist. Now the perspectives are switched, and Sogolon tells her 177-year-old story of how she became the Moon Witch and her feud with the Aesi, the king’s chancellor. Abused by her brothers as a child, then saved from a whorehouse by a woman and her pet monster, Sogolon eventually comes to work in the royal house. She sees kings rise and fall and remembers everything. Her expansive memory serves as a threat to the chancellor and also contradicts Tracker’s version of events in Black Leopard. Moving, vivid, and thought-provoking, this second book is, if anything, even more brilliant than the first.
Mickey7 by Edward Ashton (St. Martin’s Press; Feb. 15)
Mickey7 is an engrossing sci-fi thriller with a unique premise. The main character, Mickey7, is an Expendable, someone who is sent out on dangerous missions but can be regrown if they die. He used to be a historian, but with little need for historians, he signed up to be an Expendable on the icy colony Niflheim. When Mickey7 falls into an ice crater on an exploratory mission, he’s assumed dead, and the colony promptly regrows a Mickey8. However, the local wildlife decided to save Mickey7, and when he arrives back to the colony, he finds his replacement in his bed. Clones are loathed by everyone so, to save his and his clone’s life, Mickey7 has to hide Mickey8. Meanwhile, the colony is struggling to survive.
Reclaim the Stars edited by Zoraida Córdova (Wednesday Books; Feb. 15)
This anthology of young adult SFF short stories features works by 17 Latin American diaspora authors. “Reign of Diamonds” by Anna-Marie McLemore features queer magical space princesses. In “Leyenda” by Romina Garber, a water witch seeks to free witches from an oppressive system. When a manifesto reaches a prison colony in “This Is Our Manifesto” by Mark Oshiro, it ignites a revolution. Other authors include Daniel José Older, Isabel Ibañez, and Maya Motayne. This is a much-needed and magical anthology.
Sisters of the Forsaken Stars by Lina Rather (Tordotcom; Feb. 15)
The second book in the Our Lady of Endless Worlds novella space opera series is as fantastic as the first, Sisters of the Vast Black. In the second book, the sisters of The Order of Saint Rita are feeling unmoored after the events in book one and their separation from the Catholic Church. As they travel among the stars trying to remain hidden from the Church, each sister is tormented in their own way by questions about their faith. Despite their efforts to remain hidden, they become enmeshed in a rebellion against Central Governance. This feminist and queer series wraps philosophical and moral issues within an entertaining and riveting intergalactic setting.
A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross (Harper Voyager; Feb. 15)
It’s been a decade since harpist Jack Tamerlaine set foot on the Isle of Cadence, where he was born and spent his childhood. He’s now an assistant music professor on the mainland, but when he receives a letter asking him to return, he immediately hires a boat owner and journeys to the isle, risking his place in the university. Cadence is an island full of capricious spirits and enchantments. While Jack assumes Cadence’s ruler asked him to return to the isle, it’s actually his daughter, Adaira — Jack’s childhood enemy — who seeks his help. Young girls have begun disappearing on the island, and Adaira believes Jack’s harp skills and her knowledge of stories and enchantments may be the key to saving them. Delightfully atmospheric, this compelling first book in a new fantasy series makes for a perfect rainy day read.
The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh (Feiwel & Friends; Feb. 22)
Based on the Korean folktale “The Tale of Shim Cheong,” this feminist YA novel is set in a fantasy version of a long-ago Korea. Mina’s grandmother has always told her tales of the gods, especially of the Sea God. Every year, a young bride is sacrificed to the Sea God in hopes of calm waters for the rest of the year. This year, the girl chosen to be the Sea God’s bride is Mina’s brother’s love, and to save her brother pain, Mina sacrifices herself in the girl’s stead. As she plummets beneath the surface of the water, Mina is transported to the spirit world, where she becomes entwined in the politics of mythical creatures. This YA fantasy is an enthralling mix of magic, romance, and high stakes, with lovely worldbuilding at its center.
Gallant by V.E. Schwab (Greenwillow Books; March 1)
This delightfully dark YA gothic may very well be my favorite by this prolific author. Olivia Prior is living in the wretched Merilance School for Girls when she receives a letter from an uncle she never knew she had, inviting her to his home, Gallant. Eager to leave the other girls’ abuse and the mundanity of daily life at Merilance, Olivia travels to Gallant full of hope, bringing with her the strange diary her mother gave her when she left her at Merilance as a toddler. When she arrives at Gallant, she finds no uncle waiting for her, but rather a raving cousin who wants her gone, two kind housekeepers — one of whom signs and so can communicate with Olivia, who cannot speak — and a haunting mystery in the garden. Olivia’s life has always been haunted by ghouls no one else can see and now, in this house, she sees ghouls she knows are family, and they all seem to be warning her away. With nowhere else to go, Olivia sets out to solve the house’s mystery.
A Thousand Steps Into Night by Traci Chee (Clarion Books; March 1)
Chee’s newest YA fantasy takes place in a Japanese-inspired world filled with creatures from Japanese fairytales. Miuko is a serving girl at her father’s inn. She’s too loud, too clumsy, and too honest, and even though she knows all these things about herself, she can’t seem to change. Then one day, on the way to the village, she comes across a magical creature and is cursed. She’s slowly turning into a demon whose touch is deadly. She has to break the curse, and the only way to do so is to go on a quest that will have her confronting fox tricksters, demon princes, and evil gods. Readers will love Miuko’s vibrant character development and the fairytale setting.
Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore (Feiwel & Friends; March 8)
This lovely YA contemporary fantasy centers two neurodiverse, trans nonbinary, Mexican American teens. Bastián, who has ADHD, creates alebrijes (Mexican animal sculptures) to help calm their spinning thoughts and relieve their anxiety. However, their alebrijes come to populate Lakelore, the town’s lake, and form a magical landscape there. Lore, who has dyslexia, has just moved back to the town. They were once touched by the lake’s magic when they were a child after an incident with a bully. Lore’s family has moved after a violent incident that haunts Lore and causes them PTSD. When the lake’s magic explodes and begins to haunt Bastián and Lore’s steps, the two must find a way to come to terms with their past traumas and embrace their unique ways of looking at the world.
The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller (Tor Books; March 22)
Mueller creates an intricate and richly characterized world in her gothic fantasy debut. The Orchard House is an elite brothel where Borenguard nobility play cards and pay for women, but these are no ordinary women. Charm, the mistress of the house and the emperor’s mistress and prisoner, is a bone witch. She separates parts of herself and creates them into the house’s concubines — Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain. She is divided within herself as well, and is both The Lady and Charm. When the emperor is poisoned, he charges Charm with discovering who murdered him and placing her own choice on the throne. With a mindlock in place, she has to complete this task in order to be truly free.
Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus (Tor Books; March 29)
This first book in a new Afrofuturist space opera trilogy depicts an empire of city-states grappling with threats from within and without in the far future. The novel opens with the naming ceremony of Amachi Adisa, the adopted daughter of one of the seven founding families of the Muungano empire. These seven founding families form a tight-knit community despite their differences and vast distances apart. Immediately after her ceremony, the young Wachiru is announced as leader of his family, a surprising move for one so young. However, when an act of violence occurs, Amachi, Wachiru, and officer Maulana Buhari are forced to test their empire's utopian, nonviolent values in order to save it.
Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May (Redhook; March 29)
This sapphic romantic fantasy with The Great Gatsby vibes takes place after WWI. When Annie Mason’s father dies, he leaves behind an estate on Crow Island, where rumors of magic and darkness abound. Annie’s father had left her and her mother in near poverty, so Annie isn’t interested in magic — she wants to close out her father’s estate and return home to her safe life, though a part of her yearns for adventure. She rents a cottage by the sea on Crow Island, and beside it is a sprawling mansion where parties are held every night. The alluring witch Emmeline Delacroix lives there. When Annie witnesses a fight between Emmeline and her best friend Beatrice, she finds herself inexorably drawn into the magic and mayhem of Crow Island.
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