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Thistlefoot by GennaRose Nethercott (Anchor; Sept. 13)
Jewish and Eastern European folklore entwine in this magical, queer-inclusive contemporary fairytale about inherited trauma and sibling relationships. Bellatine Yaga and her brother Isaac haven’t seen each other in years, not since Isaac ran away from home as a teenager. Since then, Isaac has been traveling from city to city using his shapeshifting ability to con people, while Bellatine has become a woodworker and hides her powers to animate inanimate objects. They meet again when they inherit a house on chicken legs from a distant relative and decide to take it on the road and become a traveling puppet show. However, Isaac and Bellatine aren’t the only ones interested in the house. An evil follows them, the Longshadow Man, intent on destroying the house. To combat the evil, the siblings must look to the past and their Jewish ancestry for answers. It’s a captivating read, at turns both dark, disturbing, whimsical and sweet.
Bindle Punk Bruja by Desideria Mesa (Harper Voyager; Sept. 13)
This 1920s historical fantasy set in Kansas City is such a fun read. The sexy part-time reporter and part-time speakeasy owner Luna Alvarado gets her bruja skills from her Mexican abuela and her fair skin tone from her no-good wealthy white father. She uses that skin tone to pass as white in a world where being Mexican means constant racism and fewer opportunities, and she already has few enough being a woman. She’s saving up to buy her own jazz club when she crosses the wrong mobsters. Her plans for the future begin to crumble as all the crooks in Kansas City descend upon her. She does have one trick up her sleeve: her magical ability to charm men with a touch of skin. Her magic is growing, too, but she needs to figure out how to harness it before she ruins her business and puts her family’s lives in danger. Frankie Corzo narrates the audiobook and it’s great.
Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (Tordotcom; Sept. 13)
The third book in The Locked Tomb quartet is as mind-bendingly complex and intriguing as the previous books. Nona does not remember anything before awakening six months earlier in the care of cavaliers Pyrrha and Camilla and necromancer Palamedes. While she inhabits Harrowhawk’s body, she has Gideon’s eyes, and Camilla and Palamedes take extensive notes in their quest to discover who exactly Nona is. The sweet and naive Nona is very unlike either of her possible previous selves and has neither Harrow’s necromancy powers nor Gideon’s skill with the sword. She likes to spend her days volunteering at a local school, trying to impress one of the students, and walking the science teacher’s dog. Unfortunately for Nona, the Emperor Undying would like to use her as a weapon, and the entire planet is on the verge of war in their quest to eliminate zombies. In her dreams, Nona remembers herself as Harrowhawk speaking with the Emperor as he tells her about how necromancy powers came to be thousands of years earlier.
Rust in the Root by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray; Sept. 20)
This action-packed YA historical fantasy set during the Great Depression has big stakes and memorable characters. 17-year-old unlicensed mage Laura Ann Langston dreams of becoming a baker and making delicious and beautiful treats using her magic. To do so, however, she must have a magic license, but it’s especially difficult to earn a license when you’re Black. She joins the all-Black Bureau of the Arcane’s Conservation Corps in hopes of earning a license. She thinks it will be menial work to help all-white mechomancers, but instead, within two days of signing up and apprenticing with the Skylark — the leader of the Bureau — she’s unraveling necromantic magic in Ohio as the land and its people are drained of life, with horrible monsters and the KKK trying to stop her.
The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Sept. 27)
The constant cliffhangers finally come to a more than satisfying conclusion in the final book in the Scholomance trilogy, my favorite book of the three. It’s a high-octane blast of a novel that at turns had me sobbing and biting my fingernails. El’s plan to escape Scholomance and save every student in it has mostly succeeded, with one big exception. She’s now bemoaning her life in an angsty, depressive rut at her mother’s hut and refusing to communicate with her friends. She once again joins the real world when the London enclave asks her for help, which sends her on a whirlwind spiral of heroism, saving enclaves and the people she reluctantly loves from destruction while awaiting her grandmother’s dark prophecy to come true. If you haven’t read this snarky and compulsively readable magic-school trilogy yet, now’s the time to pick it up. It begins with A Deadly Education.
House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson (Ace; Sept. 27)
In this lesbian horror fantasy, girls are sold to wealthy houses as bloodmaids. Their aristocratic owners drink their blood to rejuvenate themselves. Marion Shaw sees the chance to become a bloodmaid as an opportunity to escape her poverty-stricken and miserable life. When she's sold to the mistress of one of the wealthiest houses, The House of Hunger, she finds herself falling in love with the mistress and gladly offers up her blood. While at first she and the other bloodmaids bond, when Marion supplants the first bloodmaid and becomes the mistress's favorite, the other bloodmaids begin to shun her. However, all is not what it seems at the House of Hunger, and Marion's rise in the household order puts her more at risk, not less, and the secrets she discovers could kill them all. This gruesome, feminist read is perfect for Halloween.
Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty (Ace; Oct. 4)
Mallory attracts murders wherever she goes and has an uncanny ability to solve them. Thus she becomes an amateur detective and a crime novelist while also desperately trying to seclude herself to prevent anyone else she knows from getting murdered. Alien contact offers her precisely the kind of escape she needs. As one of only three humans on board the sentient alien space station, she has very little chance of accidentally causing any murders. One of the other humans on board is Xan, who’s escaped the military and is hiding on the space station for unknown reasons. He and Mallory were acquaintances on Earth and make friends with some of the rock-like aliens aboard the ship. Mallory’s avoiding-murder plans come crashing down when the space station agrees to allow a contingent of humans aboard. The shuttle doesn’t even manage to land before the murders begin. This science-fiction murder mystery is a super entertaining read with great character development, neat aliens, and an engaging plot.
The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler (MCD; Oct. 4)
This thought-provoking and at times creepy eco-dystopian novel takes place in a near future where, amidst dwindling sealife, octopuses have developed their own language and culture. The DIANIMA corporation has sealed off a remote Vietnamese island where the mysterious octopus behaviors were first observed. They’ve hired a team of three to study the octopuses: marine biologist Dr. Ha Nguyen, who authored a book about octopus communication, the world’s first and only fully sentient android, and a war veteran security droid. While at first Dr. Ha is reluctant to believe the octopuses could be capable of communicating at the same level as humans, the more she observes, the more readily she believes that indeed the octopuses seem to have formed a communication system, and she might be just the person to break it. Meanwhile, an enslaved man tries to free himself on a commercial AI fishing vessel, and survivors share stories of octopus murders. Grappling with concepts of language, cognition, climate change, and free will, this is a truly unique sci-fi. Eunice Wong narrates the engrossing audiobook.
Tasting Light: Ten Science Fiction Stories to Rewire Your Perceptions edited by A. R. Capetta & Wade Roush (MITeen Press; October 4)
This collection of innovative YA hard science fiction short stories thoughtfully reimagines a gender-diverse future from an array of perspectives. In the opening story, "Cadence" by Charlotte Nicole Davis (The Good Luck Girls), a gender transitioning teen uses a technology that replaces a person's vocal cords with a deceased person's to better affirm their identity, and in the process makes an unexpected friend. "The Memory of Soil" by Wendy Xu (Mooncakes) is a lovely graphic short where a teenager meets a robot in the forest and grapples with questions of ethics, ecology, and self-compassion. Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson's "The Weight of a Name" explores what the author's Inupiaq culture might look like in the future as the protagonist prepares for her Name Day celebration. Each story is unique, brilliant, and brimming with hope.
The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern by Rita Zoey Chin (Melville House; Oct. 4)
Leah Fern’s magician mother gave birth to her in a carnival trailer and, six years later, left her in the care of an elderly man. Leah became the youngest fortune teller in the world. Able to sense people’s emotions, she guessed client’s fortunes and told them elephant stories because 6-year-old Leah loved elephants. After her mother disappeared, Leah’s ability to read emotions changed. Before, she could read both positive and negative emotions, but after, she could only read the negative. At 21, Leah decides it’s time to die. She plans an elaborate death day that includes dancing to Rage Against the Machine and praying to the fates. However, a knock at the door interrupts her perfect death plans. A beleaguered lawyer hands her a black box and informs her it’s her inheritance from her downstairs neighbor, whom Leah has never interacted with beyond exchanging Christmas cookies. Inside the box, she finds a check for $9,999 and a cryptic letter telling her that if she wants to find out more about her mother, she will need to go on a road trip to various addresses, where she will find more letters about her mother. Desperately curious, Leah abandons her plans for death and embarks on a road trip full of discoveries. Readers of Alice Hoffman, Erin Morgenstern, and Sarah Addison Allen will love this character-driven contemporary fantasy.
The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books; Oct. 11)
Tesla Crane, an engineer and wealthy heir, is honeymooning on a space liner when disaster strikes: A passenger is murdered, and the liner’s security peg the murder on Tesla’s husband, a former detective, and arrest him. Though Tesla’s lawyer warns her against investigating the murder, to clear her husband — and to satiate her own curiosity — Tesla can’t help but try to discover who is really behind the murder. After a horrible accident years earlier that caused permanent damage to her spine and PTSD, Tesla uses a pain-relieving implant, a cane, and an adorable service dog. Accompanied by her canine companion, Tesla conducts interviews with everyone connected to the victim and begins to unravel a complex conspiracy that puts herself, and her dog, at risk. This delightful, fast-paced science fiction murder mystery is hard to put down. The disability representation is excellent and realistic. I’m hoping this gets turned into a book series! I would love to read more Tesla Crane murder mysteries.
Poster Girl by Veronica Roth (William Morrow; Oct. 18)
Roth, famous for her Divergent series, returns to a future dystopian setting in her second adult novel. Once the poster girl for the Delegation — an oppressive, surveillance-driven regime — Sonya Kantor has spent the last ten years imprisoned in the Aperture, where all former Delegation members have been shunted off to after their overthrow and mostly forgotten. When a journalist writes an expose about the children of the Delegation who have spent most of their lives in the prison, the current government decides to free everyone imprisoned when they were 16 or younger. Sonya was 17. She’s now the youngest prisoner in Aperture and spends her days fixing broken appliances, bartering for basic needs, and dodging potential threats. While Aperture is well guarded, there are no guards inside the barbed wire fencing. Prisoners must fend for themselves. When the man responsible for Sonya’s imprisonment proposes a deal to allow Sonya out of Aperture, she rejects him at first. However, the chance at freedom is worth the cost, and she finds herself working for her former enemy. Divergent readers will find this compelling page-turner well worth reading.
Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura, translated by Philip Gabriel (Erewhon; Oct. 18)
A bestseller in Japan, Lonely Castle in the Mirror is a lovely portal fairytale centering children’s mental health. After being ruthlessly bullied in middle school, Kokoro, scared for her life, refuses to attend school or even step outside. She spends her days in pajamas watching TV, too afraid to open the curtains in case someone might see her. Her parents are desperate to help her and find another school for her to attend, but Kokoro, her stomach tied in knots of anxiety, can’t force herself outside. Then one day, her mirror glows supernaturally bright, and she’s pulled into another world, where a child wearing a wolf’s mask awaits. She tells Kokoro and six other teens that they are to become little red riding hoods on a quest for a hidden key in a magical castle. Whoever finds the key first will have a wish granted. There are rules, of course, and if any of the teens break them, the consequences will be dire for all of them. Kokoro quickly realizes that none of the other teens are going to school either, and as the group searches the castle for the key, they begin to share their personal stories of trauma. It’s a charming, heartwarming read with a bite of sadness.
Strike the Zither by Joan He (Roaring Brook Press; Oct. 25)
This epic YA fantasy novel inspired by the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms is full of high stakes and powerful women. 18-year-old Rising Zephyr might be one of the youngest strategists ever, but she’s also one of the most brilliant. She pledges herself to the service of Xin Ren, an honorable warlordess whose goal is to free child empress Xin Bao from her evil regent, Miasma. If everyone would just listen and closely follow Zephyr’s plans, they might have a chance at freeing the empress despite being outnumbered. However, after one of Ren’s swornsisters takes the initiative without checking with Zephyr first, Miasma’s forces corner them. Zephyr’s only chance at survival for both herself and Ren is to pretend to defect for Miasma, but defecting comes at a cost. Zephyr’s clever wit and cynicism are just as captivating as the action-packed scenes in this first book in a planned duology.
Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo (Tordotcom; Oct. 25)
The third novella in The Singing Hills Cycle opens with cleric Chih and their talking bird companion, Almost Brilliant, nearly getting in a brawl at a restaurant along the road. A martial artist saves them, and after discovering the martial artist and her sister are heading to the Riverlands like they are, Chih decides to accompany them. Along the way, Chih and Almost Brilliant are able to add to their folkloric records with thrilling martial arts stories, and we also find out more about how Chih became a cleric and their relationship with Almost Brilliant. It’s a thrilling, wuxia-style addition to the series. While it could technically be read as a stand-alone, I recommend reading The Empress of Salt and Fortune first. Each book in the series is written in different styles, but the first book provides background and context.
The World We Make by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit; Nov. 1)
The conclusion to Jemisin’s Great Cities duology is a searing commentary on present-day politics as manipulated by a primordial evil. New York City’s avatars thought they had mostly defeated the Woman in White, though her presence still looms over Staten Island. However, a series of events makes NYC’s avatars realize that the threat may be much bigger than the Woman in White. Padmini is on the receiving end of an anti-Asian attack manipulated by those familiar white tentacles, a racist rally lands Brooklyn’s daughter in the hospital, and a Republican mayoral candidate whose rallying cry is “Make New York Great Again” stirs hate groups into a frenzy. It’s clear that NYC is once again under attack. Brooklyn decides to run against the Republican candidate, but she needs everyone’s help to succeed. Meanwhile, Manny begins to visit the avatars in other cities, hoping to convince them to convene a council and help NYC. Neek senses that the enemy has a far bigger agenda than last time and that they’ll need every city to help if they have any hope of survival and of saving NYC. This riveting and powerful urban fantasy duology is masterfully written. Start with The City We Became.
Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse (Gallery / Saga; Nov. 15)
This fun novella takes place in an alternative version of the 19th-century American West, where, after Heaven’s War, Angels (Virtues) are at the top of the power ladder, and Demons (the Fallen) are at the bottom. Celeste’s mother was a Fallen and her father a Virtue, which makes her an outcast to both groups. As a child, Celeste’s Virtue father spirited her away from her Fallen mother and sister and educated her. As soon as her father died, Celeste returned to her sister Mariel, wracked with guilt for abandoning her. Celeste now works as a card sharp in the mining town of Goetia, in the same joint where her sister sings. When her sister is arrested for murdering a Virtue, Celeste vows to do anything to save her, no matter what. This compelling, dark fantasy mystery could easily be read in 1-2 sittings.
Heart of the Sun Warrior by Sue Lynn Tan (Harper Voyager; Nov. 15)
The second and final book in The Celestial Kingdom duology is as beautiful and lushly written as the first, Daughter of the Moon Goddess. A year after the events in the first book, Xingyin is trying to find peace and contentment living with her mother Chang’e on the moon once more. Liwei wants them to marry, which would require Xingyin to leave her mother and live in the palace, where she knows the Celestial Emperor and Empress won’t welcome her. Full of remorse, Wenzhi is also intent on winning Xingyin back. When uninvited immortals cause havoc on the moon and attempt to drug and steal a powerful magic object, Xingyin once more finds herself reluctantly in the center of the Celestial Kingdom’s political machinations, forced to leave her home. This epic fantasy series based on Chinese mythology is one of the year's best fantasies.
At Midnight edited by Dahlia Adler (Flatiron Books; Nov. 22)
This super entertaining collection of 15 reimagined fairytales includes stories by Malinda Lo, Rory Power, H.E. Edgmon, and so many more fantastic YA authors. In editor Dahlia Adler’s retelling of “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Say My Name,” a teenage computer hacker attempts to manipulate a rich girl into giving up her spot in a prestigious coding competition so the girl she’s crushing on can claim it. In Anna-Marie McLemore’s opening story “Sugarplum,” based on The Nutcracker, a brown ballerina is forced to perform at her father’s boss’s annual Christmas party, but not this year. This year, she’s been conscripted into entertaining the boss’s teenage daughter with a broken arm. Hafsah Faizal gives readers a hijab-wearing Little Red Riding Hood heist story in “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.” All 15 of these stories are inclusive, diverse, and so much fun. It would make an excellent gift for any fairytale-lovers over the holidays. (Adler is a BuzzFeed Books contributor).
An earlier version of this post misspelled the author Justina Ireland's name.