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Best Fantasy of the 2020s

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The Best Fantasy Books of 2020, an Unfantastic Year

If the genre of fantasy were a house, it’d have an infinite number of doors. Some would be an inch high, others towering; none would have obvious keyholes. There are just so many doors in fantasy. Or magic-door-like things, at the very least—portals hidden away, tunnels to fall through, wormholes that wibble-wobble time. To the characters traversing them, these openings are quite literal, with stuff on either side. To us, though, they’re more complicated. We recognize them as sort of supermetaphors for the genre: Fantasies are, themselves, doorways to other worlds.

Or they can be. In 2020, a notably unfantastic year, it got weirdly less complicated. The boundaries between the real and the not-real have always glitched a bit, gone fuzzy around the edges; now, they seem to be dematerializing altogether. For fantasy, what this literally means is: more and more stories set in our world. Metaphorically: doors opening and/or collapsing onto themselves.

Naomi Novik’s last two books, Uprooted and Spinning Silver , were enchanting little Polish-ish fairytales. Her new one, A Deadly Education , is none of those things. It takes place in modern England, at a school of magic that resembles Hogwarts in all ways but three. One, there are no teachers. Two, students die a lot, partly as a result of this macabre Montessori milieu. Three, there are significant nonwhite characters. The narrator is half Indian. She has a Chinese friend. There promises to be a Black character in the sequel, a girl with “hair in a million braids.”

Never mind that these racial differences are irrelevant to both plot and character development and strike sour notes on occasion—they’re meant to make A Deadly Education more “realistic.” So is the fact that the richer and more connected your family, the less likely you are to get eaten alive. Instead of graduation, students must fight their way through the school’s megamonster-infested basement and out the doors of opportunity to freedom. What’s the metaphor, Naomi?

A more visceral, but no less literal, reading experience is Tochi Onyebuchi’s Riot Baby , a novella that’s been publicized as “what if Black people got superpowers?” Don’t think Marvel. It’s a loud-soft race fantasy of vengeance, with its sights set on revolution. The action moves from the real worlds of South Central and Harlem to a near-future Watts, and Onyebuchi is never subtle with his themes. As he put it in a recent interview (emphasis added): “I wanted to literalize the obliteration of the police state.” No room for misinterpretation there. Perhaps if you’ve been misunderstood, or unheard, for long enough, elaborate metaphors lose their appeal.

They seem to have for N. K. Jemisin, our writer of the decade and now a certified genius . One of the biggest, if not quite best, books of 2020 was her The City We Became , expanded from a short story in which present-day New York City comes, literally, alive. After years of sending readers to intricate, far-off realms, such as Gujaareh or the Stillness, so that they might be forced to look back, with new eyes, at the realities of Earth, here Jemisin has built a door to her own backyard, a dead-ahead urban fantasy, and said, without inflection, “Walk through it.”

Police are the henchmen of the enemy. Locals have sensitivities that out-of-towners don’t. As a figuration for gentrification, it’s all rather two-dimensional, and further flattened by the uncharacteristically silly writing. In her acknowledgments, Jemisin says City We Became “required more research than all the other fantasy novels I’ve written, combined,” but only the wrong sort of reader cares about verisimilitude. When your fantasy is set in a real place, it’s the fantasy elements, not the factual ones, that stand out, and must bear greater scrutiny.

2020 was perhaps most notable, however, for a fantasy book that did not come out, perhaps because it couldn’t: the third and final chapter of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, at one time the most promising trilogy in a generation. Technically, it hasn’t come out every year for the last nine—book two, Wise Man’s Fear , was published in 2011, four years after the legendary debut, Name of the Wind —but this year, whatever hopes remained that Rothfuss was making at least some progress, however slight or in secret, were shot to pieces. “I’ve never seen a word of book three,” his editor complained on Facebook , in July. “I don’t think he’s written anything for six years.”

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fantasy fiction books 2020

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Fans were, predictably, outraged. They cursed and screamed at Rothfuss on Twitter, fantasy forums, Goodreads, as if by force of invective they could will some sense of closure into being. Good luck with that. Also, there’s nothing shocking about Rothfuss’ incapacitation. Just look at the working title of his as-yet-unpublished book three: The Doors of Stone .

Doors! Again! And these doors operate, sure enough, on levels literal, metaphorical, and supermetaphorical. Literal, because they exist for the hero, a young wizard in a distant land. Metaphorical, because to get past them, he’ll probably need to discover something about himself. And supermetaphorical, because Rothfuss has an evident case of writer’s block. For nearly a decade, he’s been standing before his own doors of stone, as stumped as Gandalf at the Doors of Durin.

Gandalf didn’t stay stumped, of course. He tried every language he knew, which was a goodly many and took all day, until he finally realized he was saying the wrong word. This may comfort Rothfuss, and if it does not, there’s always the example of Dumbledore, who, at the rocky mouth of Voldemort’s cave, simply sliced his hand open to reveal the path to the underground lake. Basic tenet of wizardry, that: The greater the wizard, the more passages he can find a way through.

So is Rothfuss a great wizard? Almost everybody says so—fans, fellow writers, Lin-Manuel Miranda—on the basis of his books, his bearing, his magnificent beard. In 2020 and beyond, though, that may not be enough. Wizards draw their strength from the world, and the world is changing. It’s moving away from the ancient sources of power, the traditional ways of doing magic, the European metaphors and medievalisms of Rothfuss’ brand of otherworldly, boy-genius, save-the-girl fantasies.

All of which Rothfuss knows. He once said of Jemisin, by way of a compliment, that she’s “stomping all over the genre.” Meanwhile, he seems to be retreating to its edges, or up against the stone doors of his mind. If he looks very closely, he might even glimpse a little writing on the rock. It’s hard to make out, some lost Elven script, but it seems to say this: The age of the wizards will end. Dumbledore is dead. Gandalf has sailed far away. On them—these old white men in hats—the doors of power are slamming shut.

A Luminous Republic , by Andrés Barba

Tender Is the Flesh , by Agustina Bazterrica

Piranesi , by Susanna Clarke

Surrender , by Ray Loriga

Network Effect , by Martha Wells

Riot Baby , by Tochi Onyebuchi

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fantasy fiction books 2020

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fantasy fiction books 2020

25 Must-Read New Fantasy Books

fantasy fiction books 2020

With the dumpster fire that is 2020, I have been unapologetically escapist in my reading. Reading new fantasy books has been my top choice, and with the breadth and talent of fantasy releasing in 2020, I’ve had a feast to choose from. From collections and anthologies to novellas and novels, 2020 has been a magnificent year for the fantasy genre. The below list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it’s a great jumping off point for you to get in on the escapism too.

New Fantasy Books: 2020 Collections & Anthologies

fantasy fiction books 2020

The Big Book of Modern Fantasy , edited by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer

While a new release for 2020, this compendium allows us to explore renowned fantasy stories from the end of World War II to 2010. It’s a fantastic resource to study works by titans of the genre, from Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from the Omelas” and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” to more recent stories such as Aimee Bender’s “End of the Line” and Victor LaValle’s “I Left My Heart in Skaftafell.” For fervent readers and writers of fantasy, this is a must-have.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Dance on Saturday: Stories by Elwin Cotman

Small Beer Press has published some of my favorite collections, and Cotman’s glorious book certainly makes the list. Cotman utilizes the entire spectrum of fantasy and speculative fiction to write powerful stories on race, power, and human nature. The title novella is particularly stellar, about a group of immortals in Pittsburgh who can extend their life (and limbs) by growing and consuming certain fruit. It’s a timely collection filled with wit and beautiful language.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Final Cuts: New Tales of Hollywood Horror and Other Spectacles , edited by Ellen Datlow

This is a horror anthology, so not all of the stories listed would fall under the term fantasy, but horror can also be dark fantasy. Specifically, the stories “Exhalation #10” by A.C. Wise, “From the Balcony of the Idawolf Arms” by Jeffrey Ford, and “Lords of the Matinee” by Stephen Graham Jones are both beautiful and horrifying. From the use of extraordinary hearing to solve murders to watching a shapeshifting creature devour its master to having a disembodied voice reveal a horrific secret, these stories are some of the best fantasy (and horror) I’ve read this year.

New Fantasy Books: 2020 Novellas

Under the umbrella of new fantasy books, there’s new fantasy short books. This list will focus on novellas published as books. It’s important to note that, while all of the below are from publishing (as they publish novellas as individual books), it is by no means the only place to find fantasy novellas. I recommend Asimov’s Science Fiction , The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction , and Clarkesworld for magazines that publish fantasy novellas in their issues and/or online. For reference, this category includes works that are at or under 40,000 words.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children #5) by Seanan McGuire

The Wayward Children series is one of my favorite series of all time and, five books in, McGuire still does not disappoint. In Come Tumbling Down , we return to fan favorite characters Jack and Jill from the Moors. We see main characters from previous books band together, fight for each other, and most importantly, grieve for each other and what they’ve lost. I am already counting down the days until book six releases in 2021.

Cover of Drowned Country by Tesh

Drowned Country (The Greenhollow Duology #2) by Emily Tesh

The first book in Tesh’s duology, Silver in the Wood , is an absolutely masterpiece of a novella. Drowned Country continues the mythos and beautiful queer romance of Silver in the Wood and expands on it in this stellar sequel. I cannot yell about Tesh’s work enough. Especially in this quarantine age, if you’re aching for that feeling of being utterly embraced by nature and magic, Drowned Country will provide.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

It’s not easy to compress epic fantasy into a novella, but Nghi Vo does so with astonishing skill. This is a superb feminist fantasy about a handmaiden who befriends the emperor’s lonely wife and becomes a tale of rebellion, love, hope, and anger.

fantasy fiction books 2020

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho

A bandit walks into a coffeehouse. A fight ensues. Hard to beat an opening like that. This novella is such a joy to read, full of action and wit. I am a huge sucker for fun ensemble casts in both books and movies, and this book’s eclectic band of thieves hits all the notes.

New Fantasy Books: 2020 Novels

fantasy fiction books 2020

The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

For those seeking a supernatural Sherlock Holmes mashup, I give you The Angel of the Crows . Follow Dr. J.H. Doyle as he teams up with the enigmatic Crow and they both scour London to find Jack the Ripper. This book has been described as Sherlock Holmes fanfic, and it’s a fair description: easter eggs and nods to characters and arcs are scattered throughout. It’s a delightful, fun-filled supernatural mystery.

fantasy fiction books 2020

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart (September 8, 2020)

Stewart makes a strong epic fantasy debut with The Bone Shard Daughter . Lin, the daughter of the emperor, spends her days behind locked doors. Her father, the emperor, refuses to acknowledge her as his heir, so Lin promises to master the art of bone shard magic. This is another glorious take about power and forbidden magic.

fantasy fiction books 2020

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin

The incomparable and stellar N.K. Jemisin starts a new series with The City We Became , this time focusing on New York City, working off of the notion that every great city has a soul. NYC has six. From Manhattan to the Bronx to Brooklyn, Jemisin introduces us to these souls in a completely unique and powerful fantasy about culture, love, hate, and hope. And if you’re interested in reading a lead-up to the novel, you can also check out Jemisin’s story “ The City Born Great ” on Jemisin said on Goodreads that The City We Became starts where the story leaves off.

fantasy fiction books 2020

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik (September 29, 2020)

Dark school of magic story! And this school of magic, Scholomance, tries to kill its students. This book is about an unwilling dark sorceress navigating (and surviving) Scholomance, a place filled with monsters, where even breakfast can kill you. Hell yes. As a huge fan of Novik’s previous novels Uprooted and Spinning Silver , A Deadly Education is at the top of my list for 2020.

fantasy fiction books 2020

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry

If you’re looking for a genre-defying historical fantasy, then this checks all the boxes. Imagine the French revolution but with Robespierre as a necromancer. It’s got political intrigue and magic, and is a powerful story about the fight for freedom in the early modern world.

The House in the Cerulean Sea cover

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

For those looking for a lush, soft fantasy about finding, belonging, and becoming, this lovely book will warm your soul. The book is about Linus Baker, a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth who is sent to an orphanage determine whether six magical children might bring about the apocalypse. There he meets the orphanage’s master, who is determined to keep the children safe. It’s beautiful and romantic, and such a lovely escape for those seeking solace from doomscrolling.

fantasy fiction books 2020

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (October 6, 2020)

Fans of Schwab’s work will no doubt love this expansive and utterly heart-wrenching novel. Addie is faced with an isolating and lonely curse: No one is allowed to remember her. Yet, after 300 years of persisting through such an existence, Addie finally stumbles across a young man who remembers her name. This is a novel that is both heartbreaking and hopeful. I read the last hundred pages well into the night, gasping and sobbing. It’s a beautiful read.

fantasy fiction books 2020

The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso

Melissa Caruso returns with a new series with magnificent world-building and deadly magic. Ryx has the power to drain the life from everything she touches, and after accidentally killing someone in self-defense she goes on the run. She finds a group of magical experts (I love ensemble casts!) and as groups are wont to do in epic fantasy, they have to save the world. Fans of Caruso’s previous Swords and Fire series will surely be thrilled with this new fantasy release.

fantasy fiction books 2020

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (October 13, 2020)

Follow three sisters who join the suffragists in New Salem in the late 1800s, and then add some witchcraft to the mix. Um, yes please. If you enjoyed The Ten Thousand Doors of January , then get ready for more awe-inspiring writing, though keep in mind: as Alix noted on Twitter, while January was mostly G-rated, The Once and Future Witches is definitely not.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (September 15, 2020)

As a huge fan of Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell , Susanna Clarke’s new novel is sure to be another triumph. A labyrinthian story about a house with infinite rooms and the man who explores it is exactly the kind of story I like to sink into for hours and hours.

fantasy fiction books 2020

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

When I hit chapter one after reading the deliciously dark prologue (I love prologues) and a priests painted a line of blood on the protagonist’s face, I was hooked. Dark feminist fantasy? A forbidden Darkwood? This has it all. For those looking for a mix of gothic, horror, and dark fantasy, this is the book that will having you licking your lips for more.

New Fantasy Books: 2020 YA Fantasy

fantasy fiction books 2020

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

A crown princess and a refugee are brought together, both with the intention of killing the other. Add their growing attraction, and things get real interesting. This a strong fantasy debut by Roseanne A. Brown, including enemies-to-lovers romance, ancient evils, a competition, and all the backstabbing. This is part of a duology, too, so once you’re done, be prepared to make grabby hands for the follow-up.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (September 1, 2020)

A trans boy is desperate to prove himself a brujo to his traditional Latinx family, so he summons a ghost. The problem is: the ghost won’t leave him alone. I love, love, love bothersome, attractive ghosts, and the chemistry between Yadriel and Julian is *chefs kiss.* It’s such a powerful book, where LGBTQIA and Latinx kids can see themselves being powerful heroes.

The empire of Dreams

Empire of Dreams by Rae Carson

I read the Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy early into the pandemic, and its magic system and thoughtful critiques of power and religion was a fantastic escape during those days. Empire of Dreams is set in the same world as the Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy but is a standalone novel. Carson focuses this book on an orphan who joins the Royal Guard, intent on protecting those dearest to her. However, no woman has survived recruitment year.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Let me introduce you to do the feminist queer fairytale you didn’t know you needed. And you need this very much. Soraya is a princess who is cursed to poison anyone she touches. Her twin brother’s wedding approaches and she must decide who she is and will become. Is she a princess, or is she a monster? I love books that tackle this question.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Ruthless Gods (Something Dark and Holy #2) by Emily A. Duncan

For those looking for a dark fantasy that revels in its villains and enemies-to-lovers romance, this is the series for you. Ruthless Gods continues the blood magic and war that Wicked Saints left off with, but this time add WAY more body horror, dangerous questing, and this-is-a-bad-time-to-make-out-but-let’s-anyway delicious moments.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez

Ibañez crafts a beautiful fantasy in this book about Ximena, who can spin thread from moonlight. Ximena is the decoy for the last remaining Illustrian royal, and when the usurper Atoc requests the royal’s hand in marriage, Ximena goes in her place. This is a beautiful and magical tale of revenge, romance, and revolution.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles

Where Dreams Descend has been described as Moulin Rouge meets Phantom of the Opera, but there is also a heavy vibe of Caraval meets The Night Circus . For those seeking a book that captures the mystery, magic, and romance of the stage, this is the book for you.

This list barely scratches the surface of all the great new fantasy books. There are so many books to enjoy and so many to still to look forward to releasing later this year. Please don’t hesitate to include your own 2020 fantasy recommendations and favorites on social media! And if you’re looking for additional 2020 book releases, check out Book Riot’s Best Books of 2020 so far . If you’re looking for different sub-genres of fantasy, check out our new high fantasy , best YA fantasy , and best epic fantasy lists.

fantasy fiction books 2020

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The best sci-fi and fantasy books of 2020 to catch up with

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2020 was quite the year for science fiction, but it wasn’t all about escaping to other worlds. It’s easy to imagine flights of fancy in a spaceship to be a reprieve to reality, but science fiction and fantasy literature is the product of people with real concerns about the real world, and accordingly, they write about the challenges that we see in the world around us . Over the last 12 months, I’ve been thinking about the value of speculative literature in a time like this. There’s a meme going around that reading is a collective hallucination that we get by staring at bits of a dead tree. That’s certainly accurate, but I like to think of science fiction as a sort of cheat guide or rough map of directions.

This year’s crop of books are ones that have a thumb on the pulse of everything that’s been going on around us. But they’re not screeds lecturing readers about the evils of the world — they’re thoughtful, interesting stories with characters that you root for, fighting against huge challenges. They’re fighting against oppression, wealth inequality, and racism. The characters are all trying to survive, to build new worlds, or save their friends and family from harm. Collectively, they’re the stories that show us the way out of a dismal world and into a slightly better one, one page at a time.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Robert Jackson Bennett’s Foundryside was a cyberpunk fantasy wrapped up in an epic fantasy novel. It’s set in a world where magic permeates everything, imbuing objects with a sort of low-level intelligence through a process called scriving. In meddling with the source code of the universe, a door might be scrived to open only under a certain set of circumstances, or an arrow might be “convinced” that gravity is higher, prompted it to fly faster than it might otherwise. In that book, a woman named Sancia Grado has been altered to see the underlying magic in the world, and with some unlikely allies, saved the city of Tevanne from destruction.

In this sequel, Bennett returns to Tevanne and Sancia as a new threat emerges. In ancient times, a man named Crasedes turned himself into a god through the power of scriving, and was eventually defeated. After millennia, someone has figured out how to resurrect him, and he plans to remake the world and humanity, in the effort to improve humanity. This latest tale is a gripping read as Sancia and her allies encounter the otherworldly horror that Crasedes is, and work to counter his plans. At the heart of the novel is the mechanics of his plans, and Bennett has a good grip on how inequalities in society break the world and lead to revolutionary change.

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark cover

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

The cover of P. Djèlí Clark’s short novel Ring Shout should gives you an immediate sense of the threat at hand. Set in 1922 in Georgia, the Ku Klux Klan experiences a resurgence in support, but not from the places you’d expect: their ranks are being infiltrated by otherworldly creatures who are drawn to their hatred and racism, and who are planning to use magic (in the form of the racist movie Birth of a Nation ). Facing them are three black women, Maryse, Sadie, and Cordelia, who have come out of the First World War with a deadly skillset and a willingness to use it to fight against the evils of our world and others.

After a summer of protests against police brutality and racial inequality, Clark’s book strikes a balance of cathartic justice and pulpy adventure fiction as Maryse and her companions begin to understand the Lovecraftian threat they face. The otherworldly Ku Kluxes have found an easy avenue into our world through racists and bigots, but Maryse learns that power corrupts, and that even if her cause is just, she can easily turn down a devastating path that will destroy her home and everything she’s fought for.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke  cover

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

A man named Piranesi lives a solitary existence within a seemingly endless labyrinth of rooms, each with their own flavor and character. Its hallways are lined with statues of all types, and within those walls is a trapped ocean, which ebbs and flows. Piranesi has made it his mission to explore as much of his world as possible, and the only other evidence of other humans are 13 skeletons and a man called the Other.

Piranesi and the Other are searching for a better understanding of what their world is, and when the Other asks Piranesi about a 16th person, he begins to suspect that there is far more to their shared world and his own past than he realized. At its heart, Clarke has produced an exquisite novel about the walls and world that surrounds us, and the importance of questioning the very nature of the world.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow cover

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

After her fantastic, world-hopping debut The Ten Thousand Doors of January , Alix E. Harrow follows the story of three sisters, Agnes Amaranth, Beatrice Belladonna, and James Juniper, who reunite after years of estrangement in Salem on the cusp of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Salem, of course, is synonymous with its witch trials of the late 1600s, and witchcraft has been largely stamped out throughout the country. The three sisters realize that women not only seek the right to vote, but also the foundational power of witchcraft that threatens the male-dominated world.

The book was a delight to read in 2020, especially in the aftermath of a contentious presidential election. Harrow imbues the novel with fiery understanding of the history of women’s rights, and the book is brimming with anger over how men have found ways to shut women out from equality for centuries. Witchcraft and magic might be the focus of the plot, but its banishment and criminalization is just one way that those in power have found to undermine women throughout history.

a glowing city on the cover of The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin is easily one of the best living writers working with speculative fiction today: her Broken Earth trilogy earned her numerous accolades, and earlier this year, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation named her a MacArthur Fellow for her body of work.

She frequently explores the nature of racism and its fallout in her books, and in her latest, The City We Became , she puts a fantastical spin on the gentrification of New York City, exploring racism through the lens of upended, Lovecraftian cosmic horror. Jumping off from her short story “ The City Born Great ”, we learn that the world’s major cities each birth avatars — their essence in human form, and New York City has created several, one for each borough.

As these avatars awaken and begin to realize their purpose, they also begin to realize that they face a new threat — a woman in white – who looks to destroy our world and remake it for her own, otherworldly purposes. Jemisin weaves together a wonderful love letter to the city and the people who make it great, and how forces like white supremacy and gentrification go hand-in-hand to destroy its vibrancy and spirit.

vagabonds cover

Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang (translated by Ken Liu)

A long-standing trope in science fiction is what would happen after humans establish a colony on Mars: how long would it be before they begin to resist governance from Earth, and how would the two worlds diverge from one another, culturally?

That’s the premise behind Hao Jingfang’s debut novel, Vagabonds . A century ago, Mars fought Earth in a bid for independence, and won. Now that the embers have cooled, Mars has begun to send its first cross-cultural emissaries (known as the Mercury Group) to Earth to reestablish diplomatic and cultural ties.

After returning home after five years, the members of the Mercury Group find themselves caught between two very different worlds: hyper-capitalist Earth and a more collective / socialistic Mars. They’re disillusioned with their lives and opportunities back at home, and one member, Luoying — the granddaughter of a Martian leader — begins to question her family’s role in the separation between the worlds. Hao’s story is a slow burn, but excellent examination at the cultural differences and inequalities that separate us.

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson cover

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

If ever there was a time that it felt like we accidentally skipped onto the wrong timeline, this year was it. Multiple, alternate worlds is a trope that Micaiah Johnson plays with in her debut novel, The Space Between Worlds , which follows a young woman named Cara as she travels between worlds. Years earlier, a man named Adam Bosch discovered a method for traveling to other, alternate realities — around 400 of them. A traveller could make the trip, but only in realities in which their alternate selves weren’t around. Enter Cara, who grew up in the post-apocalyptic slums and who’s alternative selves seem to have bad luck: she can travel to 372 different worlds.

Working for the Eldridge Institute to collect data about the various worlds, but even with her new, privileged status as a Traveller, she’s caught between worlds: she’s only valuable to the company because of the misfortunes of her alternate selves — a status that could easily vanish in a snap. Through Cara, Johnson looks at big picture themes of economic and racial inequality and privilege, and how the boundaries we set up define who we are, all through the eyes of a powerful character looking to change the world.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones cover

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

In the opening moments of Stephen Graham Jones’ latest novel, The Only Good Indians , a Blackfoot man is killed in the parking lot of a midwestern bar after confronting an elk in a parking lot. Ricky is one of his four friends who will soon encounter the elk, spectral payback for choices they made a decade ago.

The quartet grew up on a reservation and headed out to a forbidden area to try and bag a kill before the end of hunting season. They hit the jackpot: a herd of elk sheltering in the midst of a snow storm, and who quickly fall to their bullets. A decade later, a spirit of one of their victims has returned and begins to quickly track them down to exact its revenge.

Jones has constructed a gripping horror tale, one that brings you into the lives of each man before finishing them off. But while there’s certainly horror in the final acts, he masterfully builds up the tension by injecting each with paranoia, fear, and greed, tapping into the racism inequality that’s directed towards indigenous Americans.

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal cover

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

A couple of years ago, Mary Robinette Kowal wrote “The Lady Astronaut of Mars,” a short story following “lady astronaut” Elma York in an alternate space race that kicked off after a devastating asteroid strike on Earth.

In her latest, The Relentless Moon , Kowal tugs further at some of those themes, following experienced astronaut Nicole Wargin as she’s tasked with heading up security on a lunar base. The space program has come under threat as unrest as religious extremists work to sabotage rockets and the program’s facilities, while Wargin fights to keep the people she works with safe.

Throughout the series, Kowal has looked at the inequalities that shut out women and astronauts of color in our own real space program. The Relentless Moon takes an excellent look at how people cope with trauma, mental illness, and inequalities under extreme pressure in extraordinary situations.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia cover

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican socialite Noemí Taboada is dispatched to a rural estate called High Place in rural Mexican after her father receives a distressing letter from her cousin, writing that she’s being held against her will and that the house is full of ghosts. What Noemí discovers is more than an ill relative: a sinister plot on the part of a decaying English family with a horrifying secret.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s electrifying and wonderful novel contains all the fixtures that you’d expect from a gothic story: a family that’s long since past its glory days, strange supernatural influences, and a wonderful, crumbling family home. As Noemí works to figure out the strange happenings at High Place, Moreno-Garcia sketches out a determined and empowered heroine who’ll stop at nothing to save herself and her family.

Moreno-Garcia goes beyond mere genre homage and bulds on the horror by utilizing the history of the European colonization and conquest of Mexico. The history of High Place and its bloody, oppressive legacy is integral to the scene that Noemí discovers, and its reveal is masterfully laid out, making for a gripping and thoughtful read.

Tochi Onyebuchi’s dystopian book Riot Baby cover

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

Tochi Onyebuchi’s debut adult novel is set in the modern day, following a young Black woman named Ella and her brother Kev, who was born in the midst of the Los Angeles Rodney King riots in the early 1990s. Ella has some special powers: she can see the future, fly, and project herself to other places. As the story progresses, the two children grow up, and Kev winds up arrested, brutalized, and jailed by the police and justice system.

Over the years while he’s incarcerated, he’s visited by his sister, who helped to keep him sane as he endures a brutal sentence. Ella, with all of her powers, is helpless to change his circumstances after he leaves his cell and into a new, high-tech and dystopian world. Onyebuchi’s slim book is a powerful read that brims with anger at the cyclical nature of oppression and violence directed at Black people, and how they might break free.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Rebecca Roanhorse’s latest book is a bit of a departure from her first two novels, Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts . Where those two urban fantasies were breezy, action-packed thrillers set in a future and fantastical United States ravaged by climate change, Black Sun is an ambitious fantasy about a power struggle in an Indigenous American-inspired world.

As a winter solstice approaches, the city of Tova readies itself for a great celebration, unaware of a threat that’s emerged from a forgotten clan that was once massacred for their beliefs by one of the city’s Sun Priests. The remaining members of the Carrion Crow clan haven’t forgotten the attempt to exterminate them, and have sent along a special weapon — a boy raised as a weapon revenge — to exact revenge for those crimes. Roanhorse’s novel is a heartbreaking (and dark) look at the impact that trauma has over generations, and how the characters involved fight against the systems that they’re caught within.

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Ministry For The Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

If there’s any book that hit me hard this year, it was Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future , a sweeping epic about climate change and humanity’s efforts to try and turn the tide before it’s too late.

Robinson has explored these themes before: his novel Aurora is a realistic take on what space exploration might look like, and ultimately comes to the conclusion that we really need to focus on Earth before we go out into the cosmos; New York 2140 follows a series of characters in a drowned city, looking at what the impact of climate change might after catastrophe strikes.

The Ministry For The Future jumps just a couple of decades forward, and Robinson presents a horrifying look at what we might be in for. Earth faces cataclysmic heat waves that kill tens of millions in weeks, massive migrations, and conflicts all driven by a rapidly-warming planet. Through the members of an agency designed to save the planet — as well as with chapters exploring everything from intrepid scientists working to stop Antarctica’s glaciers from falling into the ocean to hydrogen and carbon atoms — Robinson lays out the likely hard steps that we’ll have to take to change our way of life to save the plant.

Burn-In by P.W. Singer and August Cole

Take the headlines about artificial intelligence and machine learning from the last decade or so, and use that as the basis to tell a story about an experimental police robot being partnered up with an FBI agent. That’s the premise of P.W. Singer and August Cole’s latest ripped-from-the-near-future technothriller, in which they construct a gripping read about what our near future of robotics might plausibly look like.

FBI Special Agent Lara Keegan is tasked with evaluating TAMS (Tactical Autonomous Mobility System) as a potential new tool for the Bureau. It comes in handy as Washington DC faces a new threat: a technology-adverse extremist who is looking to attack the city at its various weak points — launching cyberattacks against infrastructure and using drones to conduct assaults against people. Singer and Cole come from the policy and think tank worlds, and look at not only the potential threats that our current technological lives bring, but how the growing white nationalist movement seems poised to take advantage of those problems.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab cover

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

In 1714, a young woman named Adeline lives a quiet existence in her home village of Villon-sur-Sarthe in France. She yearns for something more — to travel beyond the world she’s familiar with, and to do more than just marry a fellow villager. She’s poised for such a marriage when she encounters an otherworldly stranger that promises to grant her wish, which she eagerly accepts.

As anyone who’s familiar with Faust knows, such bargains come with a high cost. Adeline will live for as long as she wants, completely free to explore the world, but nobody will remember her. For the next three centuries, she gets her bearings on the world, moving from place to place and learning to survive, completely alone in the world, except for her shadowy benefactor. All of that changes in 2014 when a boy remembers her for the first time. V.E. Schwab’s story is emotional and heartbreaking, and highlights the importance of those connections we make as we move through life — even in a year filled with virtual meetings, distanced gatherings, and time spent alone in our homes.

Network Effect by Martha Wells cover

Network Effect by Martha Wells

Martha Wells’s four Murderbot novellas set up a compelling character: a security robot that’s broken free of its internal governors, and which has taken to calling itself Murderbot. But unlike the Terminator, it just wants to be left alone to watch soap operas and avoid pesky humans. Network Effect is Wells’ first full-length novel in the series (it’s not the last adventure — another novella, Fugitive Telemetry , is due out next year), and like its predecessors, it’s an exploration of humanity and consciousness.

Network Effect finds Murderbot and its companions are ambushed and captured by unknown assailants, forcing the android to take drastic action to keep the people it’s reluctantly come to care about safe. Wells forces Murderbot to confront the things that it’s reluctant to do, and forces it to realize that caring for people isn’t a bad thing, and that the people and friends — even if they can be annoying — you bring around you in your immediate circle are valuable, not just for the help that they might immediately provide, but for one’s sense of being in the world. In a year where we’ve had to put many people at a physical distance, it’s a powerful story about the connections we form with those around us, and how those connections make for a better world.

The Salvage Crew by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

The Salvage Crew by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

In the distant future, humanity has advanced to the point where we’re able to spread into the stars, allowing us to settle down on distant worlds. People survive the long distances and times of space by going into stasis, or uploading their consciousnesses to become advanced artificial intelligences. In Yudhanjaya Wijeratne’s latest novel, The Salvage Crew , OC, a Buddist-turned-AI poetry enthusiast expects his trek to Urmahon Beta to be a routine run to pick apart a downed UN colony ship.

What he and his motley crew of helpers, Simon, Anna, and Milo, find on the planet’s surface is a far more challenging environment, full of megafauna, cybernetic cultists, and diseases that threaten their survival while they try and pull together enough junk from the ship’s wreckage to make a profit. Wijeratne spins together a fabulous space adventure that takes an unexpected turn into the philosophical as his characters are forced to confront what it means to be human, and what intelligence beyond Earth might look like.

Runners up:

Providence by Max Barry The Wall by Gautam Bahatia A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen Finna by Nino Cipri, Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow Agency by William Gibson Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez Orders of Battle by Marko Kloos The Burning God by R.F. Kuang Goldilocks by Laura Lam The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir Pacific Storm by Linda Nagata A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik Veil by Eliot Peper, Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L. Powell Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson 88 Names by Matt Ruff The Last Emperox by John Scalzi Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie Creatures of Charm and Hunger by Molly Tanzer Cyber Shogun Revolution by Peter Tieryas A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers The Fires of Vengeance by Evan Winter The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata.

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Fantasy Fiction

Experience the magic with our wide selection of the best fantasy fiction books. 

Title: The God of Endings: A Novel, Author: Jacqueline Holland

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fantasy fiction books 2020

Best science fiction and fantasy books of 2020

Best science fiction and fantasy books of 2020

From Kim Stanley Robinson to Diane Cook, visions of a climate emergency-ravaged near future came to the fore

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson, Orbit Robinson is a writer who believes fiction can make a difference to the world. His latest is a bold docu-fictional extrapolation of how humanity might tackle the climate crisis, blending practical ideas and information with vivid prose – the astonishing opening chapter, in which a heatwave kills millions, will stay with me for a very long time. Robinson knows we can’t be saved by a single heroic flourish but by difficult, drawn-out and, above all, collective labour. A crucial book for our time.

Mordew by Alex Pheby

Mordew by Alex Pheby, Galley Beggar The Gormenghastly city of Mordew is built on living mud – we discover it’s God’s body, not quite dead – that teems with grotesque and fantastical life. Pheby’s protagonist Nathan rises from the slums to meet a special destiny. It may sound like a cliched storyline, but the relentless inventiveness and verve of Pheby’s imagination make this book stand alone. Startling, baroque, sometimes revolting – but always amazing.

The New Wilderness by Diane Cook

The New Wilderness by Diane Cook , Oneworld Evidence of the increasing interpenetration of SF and literary fiction, this Booker-shortlisted novel is set in a climate emergency-ravaged near future. Bea and her daughter Agnes get the chance to escape the choking City for a Wilderness zone where they must relearn humanity’s old hunter-gatherer skills. Cook leavens her satire with sly wit and real wisdom, expertly deconstructing the borderline separating human beings and other animals.

King of the Rising by Kacen Callender

King of the Rising by Kacen Callender, Orbit The follow-up to Callender’s award-winning Queen of the Conquered returns to their Caribbean-inspired fantasy world. A noblewoman and her former bodyguard use any and every means to overthrow colonialist invaders, and the revolution in which they are involved is a messy affair. This is a more action-filled story than the slower-burn first volume, always alert to the ways justice inevitably compromises with realpolitik.

War of the Maps by Paul McAuley

War of the Maps by Paul McAuley, Gollancz Nobody writes hard SF better than McAuley. This novel is set on a far-future cosmic megastructure whose godlike builders have long since departed, leaving behind myriad scattered populations. Across this dilapidated territory a lawman chases a dangerous criminal. The titular maps are cartographic, but also refer to inhabitants’ gene lines, under threat from a “red plague” that rewrites biology into ghastly new forms. Narrative drive, sense of wonder and some gorgeous monstrosity come together in McAuley’s graceful prose.

Browse the best books of 2020 at the Guardian Bookshop .

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The 45 best fantasy books of all time

Check out our picks of the most exciting new fantasy novels of 2023, the best of 2022, as well as the top fantasy books of all time..

fantasy fiction books 2020

Fantasy books offer readers the perfect escape into another world. Here we share some of the top fantasy books to give you some inspiration for your literary bucket list. From Megan Giddings dystopian The Women Could Fly , to the magical multi-dimensional universe of Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library, and the dark academia world of The Atlas Six – if you’re a fantasy fiction fan we’ve got you covered.

The best new fantasy books of 2023

The thousand eyes, by a. k. larkwood.

Book cover for The Thousand Eyes

The epic sequel to The Unspoken Name – could you sacrifice your dreams to escape a nightmare? Csorwe, Shuthmili and Tal survey abandoned Echentyr worlds to make a living. The empire’s ruins seem harmless but fascinating. Yet disaster strikes when they stumble upon ancient magic during a routine expedition. This revives a warrior who’d slept for an age, reigniting a conflict thousands of years old. And the soldier binds Csorwe to her cause. Shuthmili is desperate to protect the woman she loves. However, as events escalate, she’s torn. Can she help Csorwe by clinging to her own humanity or by embracing her eldritch powers? 

One For My Enemy

By olivie blake.

Book cover for One For My Enemy

In New York City, two rival witch families fight for the upper hand in Olivie Blake's new fantasy fiction. The Antonova sisters and their mother, Baba Yaga, are the elusive supplier of premium intoxicants while the Fedorov brothers and their crime boss father, Koschei the Deathless, dominate the shadows of magical Manhattan. For twelve years, the two families have been in stalemate, but that is about to change. While fate draws together a brother and sister from either side, the siblings still struggle for power, and internal conflicts could destroy each family from within. 

Under the Whispering Door

By tj klune.

Book cover for Under the Whispering Door

TJ Klune brings us a warm hug of a story about a man who spent his life at the office – and his afterlife building a home. When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own sparsely-attended funeral, Wallace is outraged. But he begins to suspect she’s right, and he is in fact dead. Then when Hugo, owner of a most peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace reluctantly accepts the truth. Under the Whispering Door is a witty, haunting and kind love story from TJ Klune – the master of queer fantasy. 

The best fantasy books of 2022

Guns of the dawn, by adrian tchaikovsky.

Book cover for Guns of the Dawn

For generations, peace reigned over Denland – until revolutionaries assassinated their king. Next, they clashed with Lascanne, their neighbour. Both countries are now locked in fierce war, pitching war machines against warlocks. Genteel Emily Marshwic has lost much to the war. Then the call for more soldiers comes for her. Alongside other conscripted women, she finds herself on the battlefield, braving the harsh reality of warfare. But she begins to doubt her country’s cause, and her choices could determine the fate of these two nations.

The Atlas Six

Book cover for The Atlas Six

Dark-academia fantasy novel  The Atlas Six  was originally self-published by Olivie Blake, and was then snapped up for re-publication after it shot to fame on TikTok. The story follows six young magical practitioners as they compete to join the secretive Alexandrian Society, whose custodians guard lost knowledge from ancient civilizations. Yet each decade, only six practitioners are invited – to fill five places. Following recruitment by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they travel to the Society’s London headquarters. Here, each must study and innovate within esoteric subject areas. And if they can prove themselves, over the course of a year, they’ll survive. Most of them.

The Atlas Paradox

Book cover for The Atlas Paradox

Six magicians were offered the opportunity of a lifetime. Five are now members of the Society. And two paths lie before them. In the second installment in the Atlas Six series, the secret society of Alexandrians is unmasked. Its newest recruits realize the institute is capable of raw, world-changing power. It’s also headed by a man with plans to change life as we know it – and these are already under way. But the cost of this knowledge is as high as the price of power, and each initiate must choose which faction to follow.

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The Atlas Six books in order

Stone blind, by natalie haynes.

Book cover for Stone Blind

At last, Medusa's story is told. The sole mortal raised in a family of gods, Medusa lives with an urgency that her family will never know, and is alone in her ability to experience change and to be hurt. Then, when the sea god Poseidon commits an unforgivable act in the temple of Athene, the goddess takes her revenge where she can – and Medusa is changed forever. Writhing snakes replace her hair, and her gaze now turns any living creature to stone. Unable to control her new power, she is condemned to a life of shadows and darkness. Until Perseus embarks upon a quest . . .

This retelling of the famed myth of Medusa asks who the real monsters are, after all.

The Discord of Gods

By jenn lyons.

Book cover for The Discord of Gods

The unmissable conclusion to the epic A Chorus of Dragons series by Jenn Lyons, containing the final battle between gods, demons and dragons. As Kihrin seeks an eleventh-hour reprieve for the universe – with Relos Var and the demon Xaltorath continuing to wage war on each other – his body threatens to betray him. Reeling from the aftereffects of a corrupted ritual, one that twisted both him and the last dragons. Worse, he’s now bound to the avatar of a star, a form that’s becoming catastrophically unstable. All of which means he's running out of time. One curse. One man. One destiny.


By susan dennard.

Book cover for Witchshadow

Susan Dennard’s  New York Times  bestselling fantasy series continues – with the story of Iseult, the Threadwitch. The Witchlands have been on the brink of war, and in the fourth book in this epic fantasy series, it arrives. Iseult has found her heartsister Safi at last, but their reunion is brief. For Iseult to stay alive, she must flee Cartorra while Safi remains. As villains from legend reawaken across the Witchlands, only the mythical Cahr Awen can stop the gathering war. Iseult could embrace this power and heal the land, but first she must choose on which side of the shadows her destiny will lie.

The Witchlands series books in order

By frances hardinge.

Book cover for Unraveller

In a world where anyone can cast a life-destroying curse, only one person has the power to unravel them. Kellen does not fully understand his unique gift, but helps those who are cursed, like his friend Nettle who was trapped in the body of a bird for years. She is now Kellen's constant companion and his closest ally. But the Unraveller carries a curse himself and, unless he and Nettle can remove it, Kellen is a danger to everything – and everyone – around him . . .

Legends & Lattes

By travis baldree.

Book cover for Legends & Lattes

After decades of adventuring, Viv the orc barbarian is finally hanging up her sword for good to open the first coffee shop in the city of Thune. Even though no one there knows what coffee actually  is . But old rivals and new stand in the way of success, and Thune’s shady underbelly could make it all too easy for Viv to take up the blade once more.

A Taste of Gold and Iron

By alexandra rowland.

Book cover for A Taste of Gold and Iron

Kadou, the modest prince of Arasht, has no plans to wrestle for imperial control with his sister, the queen. Yet he is in conflict with the father of queen's new child, who is a powerful ambassador at the court. Then a hunting expedition goes badly wrong, and Kadou finds himself accused of murder. This sensual tale of courtly intrigue, backstabbing politics and romance set against the backdrop of an Ottoman Empire-inspired world, is a must-read.

A Marvellous Light

By freya marske.

Book cover for A Marvellous Light

For fans of Bridgerton who'd like to welcome magic into their lives. Set in an alternative Edwardian England, this is a comedy of manners, manor houses, and hedge mazes: including a magic-infused murder mystery and a delightful queer romance. Young baronet Robin Blyth thought he was taking up a minor governmental post. However, he's actually been appointed parliamentary liaison to a secret magical society, and he’ll need the help of Edwin Courcey, his adversarial magical-society counterpart, as together they discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles.

A Restless Truth

Book cover for A Restless Truth

In the thrilling follow-up to  A Marvellous Light, Maud Blyth longs for adventure and finds exactly that when she agrees to serve as an old lady's companion on an ocean liner, and on the very first day of the voyage, her companion is found dead. Then, she meets Violet, who is everything Maud has been trained to distrust, yet can’t help but desire: a magician, an actress and a magnet for scandal. Surrounded by open sea and a ship full of suspects, Maud and Violet must work together to locate a magical object worth killing for – and unmask a murderer. All without becoming dead in the water themselves.

Book cover for Wolfsong

When Ox Matheson was twelve his father taught him that he was worthless, destined to be misunderstood, and then he left him. Four years later, the energetic Bennett family moved in next door, harbouring a secret that would change his life forever: they are shapeshifters, and can transform into wolves at will. Drawn into an unimaginable new world, Ox found a friend in Joe, the youngest Bennett brother, but when the pack was pulled apart by tragedy and murder, Joe left town . But now, he has returned, and Ox can no longer ignore the song that howls between them.

The Women Could Fly

By megan giddings.

Book cover for The Women Could Fly

Part fantasy, part dystopia,  The Women Could Fly  is a powerful novel that speaks to our times. In a world where witches are real and unmarried women over the age of thirty must be monitored by the state, Josephine Thomas is twenty-eight, ambivalent about marriage and on the cusp of losing autonomy over her own life. It's been fourteen years since her mother's disappearance, and Jo has heard ever possible explanation from kidnapping to murder . . . to witchcraft; but all these years later, she feels she's never understood her mother more. So when she's offered an opportunity to honour one last request from her mother's will, she takes it . . .

Origins of The Wheel of Time

By michael livingston.

Book cover for Origins of The Wheel of Time

This companion to Robert Jordan's internationally bestselling series, The Wheel of Time, will delve into the creation of a masterpiece, drawing from interviews and an unprecedented examination of his unpublished notes. Michael Livingston tells the behind-the-scenes story of who Jordan was (including a chapter that is the very first published biography of the author), how he worked, and why he holds such an important place in modern literature.

She Who Became the Sun

By shelley parker-chan.

Book cover for She Who Became the Sun

A Number One  Sunday Times  Bestseller, this absorbing historical fantasy novel from Shelley Parker-Chan reimagines the rise to power of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor. In 1345, China lies restless under harsh Mongol rule, and when a bandit raid wipes out her home and her brother perishes, Zhu resolves to overcome her destiny by taking her dead brother’s identity. Can Zhu escape what’s written in the stars, as rebellion sweeps the land? Or can she claim her brother’s greatness – and rise as high as she can dream?

Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments

By t. l. huchu.

Book cover for Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments

Ropa Mayo finds herself embroiled in another magical crisis in T. L. Huchu's sequel to the much-loved The Library of the Dead . Ropa thought her life would change forever after she discovered an underground occult library, in modern-day Edinburgh. But she's still unsuccessfully chasing a prized magical job with the city's secret societies, until her friend Priya offers her a job at Our Lady of Mysterious Maladies – a very specialised hospital. Here, a dangerous new illness is resisting both magical and medical remedies. If Ropa can solve this case, she might stand a chance of impressing her mentor, Sir Callander. 

Black Water Sister

Book cover for Black Water Sister

Broke, jobless and just graduated, Jessamyn is abandoning America to return ‘home’. But as she packs to return to Malaysia, a country she hasn't seen since she was a toddler, she starts to hear a bossy voice in her mind, which belongs to her late grandmother Ah Ma who in life, and apparently in death, worships a local deity, the Black Water Sister. When a business magnate dared to offend her goddess, Ah Ma swore revenge, and she isn't afraid to blackmail her granddaughter into helping her to make mischief . . .

Fury of a Demon

By brian naslund.

Book cover for Fury of a Demon

The third and final instalment in Brian Naslund's Dragons of Terra trilogy has come to paperback this year. Osyrus Ward has subdued most of Terra, but to finish the job and annihilate the dragons he must add to his huge army of skyships and create a machine that possesses unheard-of power. Rebels Bershad and Ashlyn are doing every everything they can to prevent this, but they have been captured in Dainwood by Ward's mercenaries. Ashlyn employs her dark magic against the terrifying forces massing around them, and Bershad summons his history of victory in battle. But will their combined energies be enough to save the world?

The House of Always

Book cover for The House of Always

The House of Always is the fourth book in Jenn Lyons’ epic fantasy series A Chorus of Dragons. As the novel opens, the Eight Immortals have catastrophically failed to stop Kihrin’s enemies, who are moving forward with their plans to free Vol Karoth, the King of Demons. Kihrin has his own ideas about how to fight back, but even if he’s willing to sacrifice everything for victory, the cost may prove too high for his allies. Now they face a choice: can they save the world while saving Kihrin too? Or will they be forced to watch as he becomes the very evil they had all sworn to destroy?

Jenn Lyons on world-building in her fantasy novels

The empire's ruin, by brian staveley.

Book cover for The Empire's Ruin

In the first book in Brian Staveley's epic fantasy trilogy, Ashes of the Unhewn, the great Annurian Empire is on its last legs, and its elite soldiers – the Kettral – are dwindling. Kettral soldier Gwenna Sharpe is given a quest, in order to restore the hawk-riding battalion. She must travel beyond the known world, to the place where the mighty war hawks nest. She will face obstacles along the way, from poisoned land to a monk turned conman to sinister forces massing against the empire. Gwenna's quest to save it is fraught with danger, but full of potential for recovery and renewal.

by Lucy Holland

Book cover for Sistersong

This folklore-inspired tale of betrayal, magic and murder is a 2022 must read. King Cador’s children inherit a land abandoned by the Romans, torn by warring tribes. Riva can cure others, but can’t heal her own scars. Keyne battles to be seen as the king’s son, although born a daughter. And Sinne dreams of love, longing for adventure. All three fear a life confined within the hold, protected from Saxon invaders. But when Myrdhin, meddler and magician, arrives, the siblings discover the power within themselves and the land.  

Best fantasy books of all time

Book cover for Bloodwitch

The brilliantly imagined coming-of-age fantasy series, Witchlands, continues with  Bloodwitch . The Bloodwitch Aeduan and Iseult the Threadwitch race for safety, desperate to evade the Raider King. His attempts to subdue the Witchlands are gaining momentum, as his forces sow terror in the mountains, slaughtering innocents. Despite differing goals, Aeduan and Iseult have grown to trust one another in the fight to survive. Yet trust is a tenuous bond . . .

We Free the Stars

By hafsah faizal.

Book cover for We Free the Stars

We Free the Stars  is Hafsah Faizal's spellbinding conclusion to the Sands of Arawiya duology. The battle is over, but the war is just beginning. Low on resources and allies alike, Zafira and Nasir are determined to finish their mission; to restore magic to their kingdom. But time is running out and if order is to be restored, sacrifices will have to be made. Both hopeful and devastating, this is YA fantasy at it's best. 

Children of Virtue and Vengeance

By tomi adeyemi.

Book cover for Children of Virtue and Vengeance

In this thrilling sequel to Children of Blood and Bone , Zélie and Amari have finally succeeded in bringing magic back to the land of Orïsha. But the ritual was more powerful than they imagined, reigniting the powers of the maji and some nobles with magic ancestry. With civil war looming on the horizon, Zélie finds herself at a breaking point: she must find a way to bring the kingdom together or watch as Orïsha tears itself apart. Children of Virtue and Vengeance is the perfect read for young adult fantasy fanatics. 

Empire in Black and Gold

Book cover for Empire in Black and Gold

This epic fantasy novel is the first book in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s critically acclaimed fantasy series The Shadows of the Apt. The Lowlands have lived in peace and prosperity for decades, but now an ancient Empire is conquering city after city, and the Lowlands are next . . . Stenwold Maker, spymaster, artificer and statesman, sees the threat, but can he convince his people of the danger that is coming? 

Adrian Tchaikovsky's books in order

The star-touched queen, by roshani chokshi.

Book cover for The Star-Touched Queen

Maya's world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges her marriage for political advantage. She becomes the Queen of Akaran and the wife of Amar despite a horoscope that promised a marriage of death and destruction. As Akaran's queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar's wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire. But Akaran has its own secrets. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger, but who besides her husband can she trust? Steeped in Indian folklore and mythology The Star-Touched Queen is an enthralling fantasy read.

The Lost City

By amanda hocking.

Book cover for The Lost City

The Lost City is the first book in Amanda Hocking's Omte Origins trilogy, an adventure set in her magical Trylle universe. When Ulla Tulin was abandoned as a baby, like many half-blood trolls she was raised by strangers who hid her away. But she never stopped wondering about her birth parents, and so when she hears about a project to help half-blood trolls she's determined to discover her true heritage. She enlists the help of the resourceful Pan and must contend with the mysterious Eliana. But as she and Pan fight to unravel the truth they realise that someone – or something – is determined to stop them . . .

The Fifth Season

By n. k. jemisin.

Book cover for The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season is the first fantasy novel in N. K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy. In a far-future Earth, a continent known as the Stillness is plagued by apocalyptic natural disasters known as Seasons, that can last for generations. Book one follows the story of Essun, a woman living an unremarkable life in a quiet town until three tragedies strike in one day. Her husband murders their beloved son in cold blood and kidnaps their daughter, a world-spanning empire falls, and a great rift has been torn into the Stillness throwing ash into the sky and blocking the sun's light for years to come. And so Essun's fight to save her daughters in this dying land, begins . . .

Blood of an Exile

Book cover for Blood of an Exile

In Brian Naslund's must-read debut fantasy novel we meet Bershad, an adventurer sentenced to kill dragons for a living after being caught trying to assassinate a fellow noble. When the king who sentenced Bershad offers him a way out of his forced occupation and exile, Bershad sees a way to earn redemption, but it won't be easy.  Blood of an Exile , the first book in the Dragons of Terra series is packed with adventure and of course, lots of dragons.

Sorcerer to the Crown

Book cover for Sorcerer to the Crown

Sorcerer to the Crown is the first book in Hugo Award-winning author Zen Cho’s fantasy series. In Regency London, Zacharias Wythe is England's first African Sorcerer Royal. He leads the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, whose duty it is to keep the levels of magic stable   – but they're failing. The supply of magic is being disrupted by the Fairy Court, and war with France means the government wants to drain this scarce resource even further. When Zacharias meets ambitious orphan Prunella Gentleman they find that her recent magical discovery might just change the nature of sorcery forever.  

The Invisible Library

By genevieve cogman.

Book cover for The Invisible Library

The Invisible Library is the astounding debut fantasy book by Genevieve Cogman, and the first novel in The Invisible Library series. Professional spy Irene works for the mysterious Library, along with her enigmatic assistant Kai. Their mission is to steal a dangerous book from an alternative London. But when they arrive, it's already been stolen. And to make things more complicated, this alternative world is infested with chaos, full of supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic.

The Invisible Library books in order

By john gwynne.

Book cover for Malice

Malice is the first book in John Gwynne’s The Faithful and the Fallen series , from bestselling author Conn Iggulden. Set in the Banished Lands where armies of men and giants clash in battle, Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his king’s realm. But that day will come all too soon. Only when he loses those he loves will he learn the true price of courage.

The Ruin of Kings

Book cover for The Ruin of Kings

The hugely anticipated debut by Jenn Lyons is the first fantasy book in the A Chorus of Dragons series. Brim-full of big ideas – body-swapping, prophecy, rich worldbuilding and grim commentaries on many aspects of empire – to name but a few, this is the tale of Kihrin, a young prince cursed with bad luck and worse prophecy.  The Ruin of Kings  is a fantastically complex and multi-layered fantasy book, and characters like Doc and Galen, alongside Kihrin's own well-balanced set of talents and flaws make this a promising new fantasy series. 

The Tiger and the Wolf

Book cover for The Tiger and the Wolf

The Tiger and the Wolf  is the British Fantasy Award-winning novel from Adrian Tchaikovsky and the first book in his Echoes of the Fall fantasy fiction series. Maniye is an outcast, the daughter of the chieftain of the Wolf clan and the queen of the Tiger clan, clans which have been deadly enemies for generations. Hiding a deadly secret, the power to shapeshift into the form of both a wolf and a tiger, she escapes. But Maniye is crucial to her father’s plan to rule the north, and he is determined to get her back. As she flees, priests foresee danger and rumours of war spread . . . 

by China Miéville

Book cover for King Rat

Blending eerie Pied Piper-influenced fairy tale with the ‘90s South London Drum and Bass scene, China Miéville’s debut is a thrilling urban fantasy novel. When Saul’s father is murdered, in a London where mysterious forces prepare for a showdown, Saul is left to pay for the crime. But help comes in the unlikely form of King Rat, who leads him to freedom where he confronts his inheritance at the gathering of the Junglist Massive.

Children of Blood and Bone

Book cover for Children of Blood and Bone

Tomi Adeyemi’s YA fantasy book is the first in her West African-inspired fantasy fiction series Legacy of Orisha. Zélie remembers when Orisha was full of magic. When different clans ruled with unique powers, including her Reaper mother who could summon forth souls. But everything changed when the ruthless king had anyone with powers killed. Now only a few people still have the power to use magic, and they must stay hidden. Zélie is one of those people, but now she has the chance to bring magic back to her people and strike against the monarchy . . . Tomi Adeyemi is the author of some on the best fantasy books for YA readers in recent years.

The Lord of the Rings

By j. r. r. tolkien.

Book cover for The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy is a classic of fantasy fiction and is a must-read for all fantasy fans. The story of the hobbit Frodo and his epic quest to reach Mount Doom and defeat the Dark Lord, Sauron, by destroying the One Ring, Tolkien’s epic fantasy was adapted into three of the most popular films of the 2000s. One of the best fantasy books ever written. 

Black Leopard, Red Wolf

By marlon james.

Book cover for Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Black Leopard, Red Wolf  is the first fantasy novel in Marlon James's Dark Star Trilogy. A New York Times bestseller, National Book Award finalist and Ray Bradbury Prize winner, it's no stranger to accolades. Set in an African-inspired fantasy world, the first book in the series follows Tracker, a mercenary with an extraordinary ability to follow scents, as he hunts down a missing boy. On his journey Tracker's crosses paths with strange companions, from shapeshifters to giants, who seek the same child and hide their own secrets . . .

A Game of Thrones

By george r.r. martin.

Book cover for A Game of Thrones

No list of the best fantasy fiction is complete without George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy fiction series, universally acknowledged to be some of the best fantasy books of all time. The first book in the series gave its name to the TV series that became one of the most talked-about in history. In a world where summers span decades and winter can last a lifetime, the battle for the Iron Throne has begun. The breakout success of A Game of Thrones means the series will feature on best fantasy books lists for years to come.

Books series to read if you love Game of Thrones

The colour of magic, by terry pratchett.

Book cover for The Colour of Magic

Terry Pratchett’s wonderfully inventive fantasy fiction series Discworld begins with  The Colour of Magic . Set in a flat world resting on the back of four elephants who are balanced on the shell of a giant turtle, this is a parallel time and place full of magic. When the first-ever tourist arrives, their survival is charged to a comically inept wizard who must face robbers, mercenaries and Death himself. Terry Pratchett is the author of some of the most-loved fantasy books of all-time.  

The Lie Tree

Book cover for The Lie Tree

When Faith’s father is found dead under mysterious circumstances, she is determined to untangle the truth from the lies. As she is searching through his belongings for clues she discovers a strange tree. The tree only grows healthy and bears fruit if you whisper a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, will deliver a hidden truth to the person who consumes it. The bigger the lie, the more people who believe it, the bigger the truth that is uncovered. Frances Hardinge's wonderfully evocative YA fantasy novel was the Costa Book of the Year 2015, and is one of the best fantasy books for younger readers. 

by Neil Gaiman

Book cover for Stardust

In the tiny town of Wall, young Tristan Thorn is madly in love with the beautiful Victoria Forrester. When she agrees to marry him if he retrieves a fallen star he doesn’t hesitate. But to find the fallen star he’ll need to cross the ancient wall which the town is named for, into a world of magic and danger. This charming fairytale fantasy will delight fans of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Spinning Silver . 

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The best epic fantasy book series through the ages, the best sci-fi and fantasy audiobooks, the best ya fantasy books to escape in.

NPR Books Summer Poll 2021: A Decade Of Great Sci-Fi And Fantasy

We asked, you answered: your 50 favorite sci-fi and fantasy books of the past decade.

Petra Mayer at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., May 21, 2019. (photo by Allison Shelley)

Petra Mayer

Deborah Lee for NPR

The question at the heart of science fiction and fantasy is "what if?" What if gods were real, but you could kill them ? What if humans finally made it out among the stars — only to discover we're the shabby newcomers in a grand galactic alliance ? What if an asteroid destroyed the East Coast in 1952 and jump-started the space race years early?

Summer Reader Poll 2021: Meet Our Expert Judges

Summer Reader Poll 2021: Meet our expert judges

Click If You Dare: 100 Favorite Horror Stories

Summer Reader Poll 2018: Horror

Click if you dare: 100 favorite horror stories.

We Did It For The LOLs: 100 Favorite Funny Books

Summer Reader Poll 2019: Funny Books

We did it for the lols: 100 favorite funny books.

This year's summer reader poll was also shaped by a series of "what ifs" — most importantly, what if, instead of looking at the entire history of the field the way we did in our 2011 poll , we focused only on what has happened in the decade since? These past 10 years have brought seismic change to science fiction and fantasy (sometimes literally, in the case of N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth series), and we wanted to celebrate the world-shaking rush of new voices, new perspectives, new styles and new stories. And though we limited ourselves to 50 books this time around, the result is a list that's truly stellar — as poll judge Tochi Onyebuchi put it, "Alive."

As always, a pretty extensive decision-making process went into the list, involving our fabulous panel of expert judges — but we know you eager readers want to get right to the books. So if you're inclined, follow these links to find out how we built the list (and what, sadly, didn't make it this year ). Otherwise, scroll on for the list!

We've broken it up into categories to help you find the reading experience you're looking for, and you can click on these links to go directly to each category:

Worlds To Get Lost In · Words To Get Lost In · Will Take You On A Journey · Will Mess With Your Head · Will Mess With Your Heart · Will Make You Feel Good

Worlds To Get Lost In

Are you (like me) a world-building fanatic? These authors have built worlds so real you can almost smell them.

The Imperial Radch Trilogy

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

Breq is a human now — but once she was a starship. Once she was an AI with a vast and ancient metal body and troops of ancillaries, barely animate bodies that all carried her consciousness. Poll judge Ann Leckie has created a massive yet intricate interstellar empire where twisty galactic intrigues and multiple clashing cultures form a brilliant backdrop for the story of a starship learning to be a human being. Your humble editor got a copy of Ancillary Justice when it came out and promptly forced her entire family to read it.

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The Dead Djinn Universe (series)

A Master of Djinn, by P. Djélì Clarke

What a wonderful world P. Djélì Clarke has created here — an Arab world never colonized, where magic-powered trams glide through a cosmopolitan Cairo and where djinns make mischief among humans. Clarke's novella Ring Shout also showed up on our semifinalists list, and it was hard to decide between them, but ultimately our judges felt the Dead Djinn Universe offered more to explore. But you should still read Ring Shout , a wild ride of a read where gun-toting demon-hunters go up against Ku Klux Klan members who are actual, pointy-headed white demons. Go on, go get a copy! We'll wait.

The Age of Madness Trilogy

A Little Hatred, by Joe Abercrombie

One of my pet peeves with fantasy novels is they sometimes don't allow for the progression of time and technology — but in Joe Abercrombie's Age of Madness series, the follow-up to his debut First Law trilogy, industrialization has come to the world of The Union, and it's brought no good in its wake. More than that — machines may be rising, but magic will not give way, and all over the world, those at the bottom of the heap are beginning to get really, really angry. This series works as a standalone — but you should also read the excellent First Law series (even though it's old enough to fall outside the scope of this list).

The Green Bone Saga

Jade City, by Fonda Lee

This sprawling saga of family, honor, blood and magical jade will suck you in from the very first page. Poll judge Fonda Lee's story works on every conceivable level, from minute but meaningful character beats to solid, elegantly conveyed world-building to political intrigue to big, overarching themes of clan, loyalty and identity. Plus, wow, the jade-powered martial arts sequences are as fine as anything the Shaw Brothers ever put on screen. "Reviewing books is my actual job," says fellow judge Amal El-Mohtar, "but I still have to fight my husband for the advance copies of Fonda's books, and we're both THIS CLOSE to learning actual martial arts to assist us in our dueling for dibs."

The Expanse (series)

Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey

Yes, sure, you've seen the TV show (you HAVE, right? Right?) about the ragtag crew of spacers caught up in a three-way power struggle between Earth, Mars and the society that's developed on far-off asteroid belts. But there's much, much more to explore in the books — other planets, other characters, storylines and concepts that didn't make it to the screen. Often, when a book gets adapted for film or TV, there's a clear argument about which version is better. With The Expanse , we can confidently say you should watch and read. The only downside? Book- Avasarala doesn't show up until a few volumes in.

The Daevabad Trilogy

The City of Brass, S.A. Chakraborty

Nahri is a con woman (with a mysteriously real healing talent) scraping a living in the alleys of 18th century Cairo — until she accidentally summons some true magic and discovers her fate is bound to a legendary city named Daevabad, far from human civilization, home of djinns and bloody intrigues. Author S.A. Chakraborty converted to Islam as a teenager and after college began writing what she describes as "historical fanfiction" about medieval Islam; then characters appeared, inspired by people she met at her mosque. "A sly heroine capable of saving herself, a dashing hero who'd break for the noon prayer," she told an interviewer . "I wanted to write a story for us, about us, with the grandeur and magic of a summer blockbuster."

Teixcalaan (series)

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine

The Aztecs meet the Byzantines in outer space in this intricately imagined story of diplomatic intrigue and fashionable poetic forms. Mahit Dzmare is an ambassador from a small space station clinging desperately to its independence in the face of the massive Teixcalaanli empire . But when she arrives in its glittering capital, her predecessor's dead, and she soon discovers she's been sabotaged herself. Luckily, it turns out she's incredibly good at her job, even without her guiding neural implant. "I'm a sucker for elegant worldbuilding that portrays all the finer nuances of society and culture in addition to the grandness of empire and the complexity of politics," says judge Fonda Lee. "Arkady Martine delivers all that in droves."

The Thessaly Trilogy

The Just City, by Jo Walton

Apollo, spurned by Daphne, is trying to understand free will and consent by living as a mortal. Athena is trying to create a utopia by plucking men and women from all across history and dropping them on an island to live according to Plato's Republic. Will it all go according to plan? Not likely. "Brilliant, compelling, and frankly unputdownable," wrote poll judge Amal El-Mohtar , "this will do what your Intro to Philosophy courses probably couldn't: make you want to read The Republic ."

Shades of Magic Trilogy

A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab

V.E. Schwab has created a world with four Londons lying atop one another : our own dull Grey, warm magic-suffused Red, tyrannical White, and dead, terrifying Black. Once, movement among them was easy, but now only a few have the ability — including our hero, Kell. So naturally, he's a smuggler, and the action kicks off when Grey London thief Lila steals a dangerous artifact from him, a stone that could upset the balance among the Londons. Rich world building, complex characters and really scary bad guys make Schwab's London a city — or cities — well worth spending time in.

The Divine Cities Trilogy

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

On the Continent, you must not, you cannot, talk about the gods — the gods are dead. Or are they? Robert Jackson Bennett's Divine Cities trilogy builds a fully, gloriously realized world where gods are the source of power, miracles and oppression, and gods can also be killed. But what happens next, when the gods are gone and the work of running the world is left to regular human men and women? What happens in that unsettled moment when divinity gives way to technology? This series spans a long timeline; the heroes of the first volume are old by the end. "And as ancient powers clash among gleaming, modern skyscrapers, those who have survived from the first page to these last have a heaviness about them," writes reviewer Jason Sheehan , "a sense that they have seen remarkable things, done deeds both heroic and terrible, and that they can see a far and final horizon in the distance, quickly approaching."

The Wormwood Trilogy

Rosewater, by Tade Thompson

Part of a recent wave of work celebrating and centering Nigerian culture, this trilogy is set in a future where a fungal alien invader has swallowed big global cities, America has shut itself away and gone dark, and a new city, Rosewater, has grown up around a mysterious alien dome in rural Nigeria. It's a wild mashup of alien invasion, cyberpunk, Afro-futurism and even a touch of zombie horror. "I started reading Rosewater on vacation and quickly set it down until I got home, because Tade Thompson's work is no light beach read," says judge Fonda Lee. "His writing demands your full attention — and amply rewards it."

Black Sun (series)

Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse

Author Rebecca Roanhorse was tired of reading epic fantasy with quasi-European settings, so she decided to write her own . The result is Black Sun , set in a world influenced by pre-Columbian mythology and rich with storms, intrigue, giant bugs, mysterious sea people, ritual, myth and some very scary crows. (They hold grudges, did you know?) This is only Book 1 of a forthcoming series, but we felt it was so strong it deserved to be here, no matter where Roanhorse goes next.

Words To Get Lost In

If you're one of those people who thought genre fiction writing was workmanlike and uninspiring, these books will change your mind.

Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

Susanna Clarke at last returns to our shelves with this mind-bendingly glorious story — that's a bit hard to describe without spoiling. So we'll say it's about a mysterious man and the House that he dearly loves, a marvelous place full of changing light and surging tides, statues and corridors and crossings, birds and old bones and passing days and one persistent visitor who brings strangely familiar gifts. Clarke "limns a magic far more intrinsic than the kind commanded through spells," wrote reviewer Vikki Valentine , "a magic that is seemingly part of the fabric of the universe and as powerful as a cosmic engine — yet fragile nonetheless."

Circe, by Madeline Miller

Imagine Circe, the fearsome witch of the Odyssey, as an awkward teenager, growing up lonely among scornful gods and falling for what we modern folks would call a f***boy, before coming into her own, using her exile on the island of Aiaia to hone her powers and build an independent life. Circe only shows up briefly in the Odyssey, but Madeline Miller gives her a lush, complex life in these pages. She has worked as a classics teacher, and as our reviewer Annalisa Quinn noted , Miller "extracts worlds of meaning from Homer's short phrases."

Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

A sharp young socialite in 1950s Mexico City travels to a creepy rural mansion to check on her cousin, who has fallen ill after marrying into a mysterious family of English landowners. What could possibly go wrong? Silvia Moreno-Garcia "makes you uneasy about invisible things by writing around them," said reviewer Jessica P. Wick. "Even when you think you know what lurks, the power to unsettle isn't diminished." Not to be too spoilery — but after reading this stylishly chilling novel, you'll never look at mushrooms the same way again.

The Paper Menagerie And Other Stories

The Paper Menagerie, by Ken Liu

"I taught Liu's 'The Man Who Ended History' in a graduate seminar one semester," says judge Tochi Onyebuchi, "and one of the toughest tasks I've ever faced in adulthood was crafting a lesson plan that went beyond me just going 'wtf wtf wtf wtf wtf' for the whole two hours. Some story collections are like those albums where the artist or record label just threw a bunch of songs together and said 'here,' and some collections arrive as a complete, cohesive, emotionally catholic whole. The Paper Menagerie is that."

Spinning Silver

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik

Judges had a hard time deciding between Spinning Silver and Uprooted , Novik's previous fairy tale retelling. Ultimately, we decided that this reclamation of "Rumpelstiltskin" has a chewier, more interesting project, with much to say about money, labor, debt and friendship, explored in unflinching yet tender ways. Judge Amal El-Mohtar reviewed Spinning Silver for NPR when it came out in 2018. "There are so many mathemagicians in this book, be they moneylenders turning silver into gold or knitters working to a pattern," she wrote at the time . "It's gold and silver all the way down."

Exhalation: Stories

Exhalation: Stories, by Ted Chiang

"I often get the same feeling reading a Ted Chiang story as I did listening to a Prince song while he was still with us," says judge Tochi Onyebuchi. "What a glorious privilege it is that we get to share a universe with this genius!" This poll can be a discovery tool for editors and judges as much as audience, so hearing that, your humble editor went straight to the library and downloaded a copy of this collection.

Olondria (series)

A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar

In Olondria, you can smell the ocean wind coming off the page, soldiers ride birds, angels haunt humans, and written dreams are terribly dangerous. "Have you ever seen something so beautiful that you'd be content to just sit and watch the light around it change for a whole day because every passing moment reveals even more unbearable loveliness and transforms you in ways you can't articulate?" asks judge Amal El-Mohtar. "You will if you read these books."

Her Body And Other Parties: Stories

Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado

These eight stories dance across the borders of fairy tale, horror, erotica and urban legend, spinning the familiar, lived experiences of women into something rich and strange. As the title suggests, Machado focuses on the unruly female body and all of its pleasures and risks (there's one story that's just increasingly bizarre rewrites of Law & Order: SVU episodes). At one point, a character implies that kind of writing is "tiresome and regressive," too much about stereotypical crazy lesbians and madwomen in the attic. But as our critic Annalisa Quinn wrote , "Machado seems to answer: The world makes madwomen, and the least you can do is make sure the attic is your own."

The Buried Giant

The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Axl and Beatrice are an elderly couple, living in a fictional Britain just after Arthur's time, where everyone suffers from what they call "mist," a kind of amnesia that hits long-term memories. They believe, they vaguely remember that they once had a son, so they set out to find him — encountering an elderly Sir Gawain along the way, and long-forgotten connections to Arthur's court and the dark deeds the mist is hiding. Poll judge Ann Leckie loves Arthurian legends. What she does not love are authors who don't do them justice — but with The Buried Giant , she says, Kazuo Ishiguro gets it solidly right.

Radiance, by Catherynne M. Valente

Do you love space opera? Alternate history? Silent film? (OK, are you me?) Then you should pick up Catherynne M. Valente's Radiance , which mashes up all three in a gloriously surreal saga about spacefaring filmmakers in an alternate version of 1986, in which you might be able to go to Jupiter, but Thomas Edison's death grip on his patents means talkies are still a novelty. Yes, Space Opera did get more votes, but our judges genuinely felt that Radiance was the stronger book. Reviewing it in 2015, judge Amal El-Mohtar wrote , " Radiance is the sort of novel about which you have to speak for hours or hardly speak at all: either stop at 'it's magnificent' or roll on to talk about form, voice, ambition, originality, innovation for more thousands of words than are available to me here before even touching on the plot."

Will Take You On A Journey

Sure, all books are some kind of journey, but these reads really go the distance.

The Changeling

The Changeling, by Victor LaValle

It's easy(ish) to summarize The Changeling : Rare book dealer Apollo Kagwa has a baby son with his wife, Emma, but she's been acting strange — and when she vanishes after doing something unspeakable, he sets out to find her. But his journey loops through a New York you've never seen before: mysterious islands and haunted forests, strange characters and shifting rhythms. The Changeling is a modern urban fairy tale with one toe over the line into horror, and wherever it goes, it will draw you along with it.

Wayfarers (series)

Wayfarers (series), by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers writes aliens like no one else — in fact, humans are the backward newcomers in her generous, peaceful galactic vision. The Wayfarers books are only loosely linked: They all take place in the same universe, but apart from that you'll meet a new set of characters, a new culture and a new world (or an old world transformed). Cranky space pacifists, questing AIs, fugitives, gravediggers and fluffy, multi-limbed aliens who love pudding — the only flaw in this series is you'll wish you could spend more time with all of them.

Binti (series)

Binti (series), by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti is the first of her people, the Himba, to be offered a place at the legendary Oomza University, finest institution of learning in the galaxy — and as if leaving Earth to live among the stars weren't enough, Binti finds herself caught between warring human and alien factions. Over and over again throughout these novellas, Binti makes peace, bridges cultures, brings home with her even as she leaves and returns, changed by her experiences. Our judges agreed that the first two Binti stories are the strongest — but even if the third stumbles, as judge and critic Amal El-Mohtar wrote, "Perhaps the point is just having a Black girl with tentacles for hair possessing the power and freedom to float among Saturn's rings."

Lady Astronaut (series)

Lady Astronaut (series), by Mary Robinette Kowal

What would America's space program have looked like if, say, a gigantic asteroid had wiped out the East Coast in 1952 — and started a countdown to destruction for the rest of the world? We'd have had to get into space much sooner. And all the female pilots who served in World War II and were unceremoniously dumped back at home might have had another chance to fly. Mary Robinette Kowal's Hugo Award-winning series plays that out with Elma York, a former WASP pilot and future Lady Astronaut whose skill and determination help all of humanity escape the bonds of Earth. Adds judge Amal El-Mohtar: "Audiobook readers are in for a special treat here in that Kowal narrates the books herself, and if you've never had the pleasure of attending one of her readings, you get to experience her wonderful performance with bonus production values. It's especially cool given that the seed for the series was an audio-first short story."

Children of Time (duology)

Children of Time (duology), by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Far in the future, the dregs of humanity escape a ruined Earth and find what they think is a new hope deep in space — a planet that past spacefarers terraformed and left for them. But the evolutionary virus that was supposed to jump-start a cargo of monkeys, creating ready-made workers, instead latched on to ... something else, and in the intervening years, something terrible has arisen there. Poll judge Ann Leckie says she can't stand spiders (BIG SAME), but even so, she was adamant that the Children of Time books deserve their spot here.

Wayward Children (series)

Wayward Children (series), by Seanan McGuire

Everyone loves a good portal fantasy. Who hasn't looked in the back of the closet hoping, faintly, to see snow and a street lamp? In the Wayward Children series, Seanan McGuire reminds us that portals go both ways: What happens to those children who get booted back through the door into the real world, starry-eyed and scarred? Well, a lot of them end up at Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children. The prolific McGuire turned up on our semifinalists list A Lot. We had a hard time deciding between this and her killer stand-alone Middlegame , but the Wayward Children won the day with their shimmering mix of fairy tale, fantasy and emotional heft — not to mention body positivity and solid queer and trans representation. (As with a lot of the also-rans, though, you should really read Middlegame too.)

The Space Between Worlds

The Space Between Worlds, by Micaiah Johnson

There are 382 parallel worlds in Micaiah Johnson's debut novel, and humanity can finally travel between them — but there's a deadly catch. You can visit only a world where the parallel version of you is already dead. And that makes Cara — whose marginal wastelands existence means only a few versions of her are left — valuable to the high and mighty of her own Earth. "They needed trash people," Cara says, to gather information from other worlds. But her existence, already precarious, is threatened when a powerful scientist figures out how to grab that information remotely. "At a time when I was really struggling with the cognitive demands of reading anything for work or pleasure, this book flooded me with oxygen and lit me on fire," says judge Amal El-Mohtar. "I can't say for certain that it enabled me to read again, but in its wake, I could."

Will Mess With Your Head

Do you love twisty tales, loopy logic, unsolved mysteries and cosmic weirdness? Scroll on!

Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James

Poll judge Amal El-Mohtar once described Black Leopard, Red Wolf as " like being slowly eaten by a bear ." Fellow judge Tochi Onyebuchi chimes in: " Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a Slipknot album of a book. In all the best ways." Set in a dazzling, dangerous fantasy Africa, it is — at least on the surface — about a man named Tracker, in prison when we meet him and telling his life story to an inquisitor. Beyond that, it's fairly indescribable, full of roof-crawling demons, dust-cloud assassins, blood and (fair warning) sexual violence. A gnarly book, a difficult book, sometimes actively hostile to the reader — yet necessary, and stunning.

Southern Reach (series)

Southern Reach (series), Jeff VanderMeer

The Southern Reach books are, at least on the surface, a simple tale of a world gone wrong, of a mysterious "Area X" and the expeditions that have suffered and died trying to map it — and the strange government agency that keeps sending them in. But there's a lot seething under that surface: monsters, hauntings, a slowly building sense of wrong and terror that will twist your brain around sideways. "If the guys who wrote Lost had brought H.P. Lovecraft into the room as a script doctor in the first season," our critic Jason Sheehan wrote , "the Southern Reach trilogy is what they would've come up with."

The Echo Wife

The Echo Wife, by Sarah Gailey

Part sci-fi cautionary tale, part murder mystery, The Echo Wife is a twisty treat . At its center are a famed genetic researcher and her duplicitous husband, who uses her breakthrough technology to clone himself a sweeter, more compliant version of his wife before ending up dead. "As expertly constructed as a Patek Philippe watch," says poll judge Tochi Onyebuchi. "Seamlessly blends domestic thriller and science fiction," adds fellow judge Fonda Lee. "This book is going to haunt my thoughts for a long time."

The Locked Tomb (series)

The Locked Tomb (series), by Tamsyn Muir

This series is often described as "lesbian necromancers in space," but trust us, it's so much more than that. Wildly inventive, gruesome, emotional, twisty and funny as hell, the Locked Tomb books are like nothing you've ever read before. And we defy you to read them and not give serious consideration to corpse paint and mirror shades as a workable fashion statement. There are only two books out now, of a planned four-book series, but Gideon the Ninth alone is enough to earn Tamsyn Muir a place on this list: "Too funny to be horror, too gooey to be science fiction, has too many spaceships and autodoors to be fantasy, and has far more bloody dismemberings than your average parlor romance," says critic Jason Sheehan. "It is altogether its own thing."

Remembrance of Earth's Past (series)

Remembrance of Earth's Past (series), Liu Cixin

Liu Cixin became the first author from Asia to win a Hugo Award for Best Novel, for The Three-Body Problem , the first volume in this series about one of the oldest questions in science fiction: What will happen when we meet aliens? Liu is writing the hardest of hard sci-fi here, full of brain-twisting passages about quantum mechanics and artificial intelligence (if you didn't actually know what the three-body problem was, you will now), grafted onto the backbone of a high-stakes political thriller. Poll judge Tochi Onyebuchi says, "These books divided me by zero. And, yes, that is a compliment."

Machineries of Empire (series)

Machineries of Empire (series), by Yoon Ha Lee

In the Hexarchate, numbers are power: This interstellar empire draws its strength from rigidly enforced adherence to the imperial calendar, a system of numbers that can alter reality. But now, a "calendrical rot" is eating away at that structure, and it's up to a mathematically talented young soldier — and the ghost of an infamous traitor — to try to repair the rot while a war blazes across the stars around them. " Ninefox Gambit is a book with math in its heart, but also one which understands that even numbers can lie," our critic Jason Sheehan wrote . "That it's what you see in the numbers that matters most."

Will Mess With Your Heart

Books that'll make you cry, make you think — and sometimes make you want to hide under the bed.

The Broken Earth (series)

The Broken Earth (series), by N.K. Jemisin

In the world of the Stillness, geological convulsions cause upheavals that can last for centuries — and only the orogenes, despised yet essential to the status quo — can control them. N.K. Jemisin deservedly won three back-to-back Hugo awards for these books, which use magnificent world building and lapidary prose to smack you in the face about your own complicity in systems of oppression. "Jemisin is the first — and so far only — person ever to have won a Hugo Award for Best Novel for every single book in a series. These books upheaved the terrain of epic fantasy as surely and completely as Fifth Seasons transform the geography of the Stillness," says poll judge Amal El-Mohtar.

Station Eleven

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Author Emily St. John Mandel went on Twitter in 2020 and advised people not to read Station Eleven , not in the midst of the pandemic. But we beg to disagree. A story in which art (and particularly Shakespeare) helps humanity come back to itself after a pandemic wipes out the world as we know it might be just the thing we need. "Survival is insufficient," say Mandel's traveling players (a line she says she lifted from Star Trek ), and that's a solid motto any time.

This Is How You Lose the Time War

This Is How You Lose the Time War, Max Gladstone & Amal El-Mohtar

Enemies-to-lovers is a classic romance novel trope, and it's rarely been done with as much strange beauty as poll judge Amal El-Mohtar and co-author Max Gladstone pull off in this tale of Red and Blue, two agents on opposite sides of a war that's sprawled across time and space. "Most books I read are objects of study. And more often than not, I can figure out how the prose happened, how the character arcs are constructed, the story's architecture," says judge Tochi Onyebuchi. "But then along comes a thing so dazzling you can't help but stare at and ask 'how.' Amal and Max wrote a cheat code of a book. They unlocked all the power-ups, caught all the Chaos Emeralds, mastered all the jutsus, and honestly, I'd say it's downright unfair how much they flexed on us with Time War , except I'm so damn grateful they gave it to us in the first place." (As we noted above, having Time War on the list meant that Max Gladstone couldn't make a second appearance for his outstanding solo work with the Craft Sequence . But you should absolutely read those, too.)

The Poppy War Trilogy

The Poppy War Trilogy, by R.F. Kuang

What if Mao Zedong were a teenage girl? That's how author R.F. Kuang describes the central question in her Poppy War series . Fiery, ruthless war orphan Fang Runin grows up, attends an elite military academy, develops fire magic and wins a war — but finds herself becoming the kind of monster she once fought against. Kuang has turned her own rage and anger at historical atrocities into a gripping, award-winning story that will drag you along with it, all the way to the end. "If this were football, Kuang might be under investigation for PEDs," jokes judge Tochi Onyebuchi, referring to performance-enhancing drugs. "But, no, she's really just that good."

The Masquerade (series)

The Masquerade (series), by Seth Dickinson

Baru Cormorant was born to a free-living, free-loving nation, but all that changed when the repressive Empire of Masks swept in, tearing apart her family, yet singling her out for advancement through its new school system. Baru decides the only way to free her people is to claw her way up the ranks of Empire — but she risks becoming the monster she's fighting against. "I've loved every volume of this more than the one before it, and the first one was devastatingly strong," says judge Amal El-Mohtar — who said of that first volume, "This book is a tar pit, and I mean that as a compliment."

An Unkindness of Ghosts

An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

The Matilda is a generation ship, a vast repository of human life among the stars, cruelly organized like an antebellum plantation: Black and brown people on the lower decks, working under vicious overseers to provide the white upper-deck passengers with comfortable lives. Aster, an orphaned outsider, uses her late mother's medical knowledge to bring healing where she can and to solve the mystery of Matilda 's failing power source. Poll judge Amal El-Mohtar originally reviewed An Unkindness of Ghosts for us , writing "What Solomon achieves with this debut — the sharpness, the depth, the precision — puts me in mind of a syringe full of stars."

The Bird King

The Bird King, by G. Willow Wilson

G. Willow Wilson's beautiful novel, set during the last days of Muslim Granada, follows a royal concubine who yearns for freedom and the queer mapmaker who's her best friend. "It is really devastating to a critic to find that the only truly accurate way of describing an author's prose is the word 'luminous,' but here we are," says judge Amal El-Mohtar. "This book is luminous. It is full of light, in searing mirror-flashes and warm candleflame flickers and dappled twists of heart-breaking insight into empire, war and religion."

American War

American War, by Omar El Akkad

This was judge Tochi Onyebuchi's personal pick — a devastating portrait of a post-climate-apocalypse, post-Second Civil War America that's chosen to use its most terrifying and oppressive policies against its own people. "It despairs me how careless we are with the word 'prescient' these days, but when I finished American War , I truly felt that I'd glimpsed our future," Onyebuchi says. "Charred and scarred and shot through with shards of hope."

Riot Baby, by Tochi Onyebuchi

Poll judge Tochi Onyebuchi centers this story on the kind of person who's more often a statistic, rarely a fully rounded character: Kevin, who's young, Black and in prison . Born amid the upheaval around the Rodney King verdict, Kevin is hemmed in by structural and individual racism at every turn; meanwhile, his sister Ella has developed mysterious, frightening powers — but she still can't do the one thing she truly wants to do, which is to rescue her brother. This slim novella packs a punch with all the weight of history behind it; fellow judge Amal El-Mohtar says, "I've said it in reviews and I'll say it again here: This book reads like hot diamonds, as searing as it is precise."

On Fragile Waves

On Fragile Waves, by E. Lily Yu

Every year, we ask our judges to add some of their own favorites to the list, and this year, Amal El-Mohtar teared up talking about her passion for E. Lily Yu's haunted refugee story On Fragile Waves . "I need everyone to read this book," she says. "I wept throughout it and for a solid half-hour once I had finished it, and I know it's hard to recommend books that make you cry right now, but I have no chill about this one: It is so important, it is so beautiful, and I feel like maybe if everyone read it the world would be a slightly less terrible place."

Will Make You Feel Good

Maybe, after the year we've just had, you want to read a book where good things happen, eventually? We've got you.

The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

In a far corner of an elven empire, young half-goblin Maia learns that a mysterious accident has left him heir to the throne. But he has been in exile almost all his life — how can he possibly negotiate the intricate treacheries of the imperial court? Fairly well, as it turns out. Maia is a wonderful character, hesitant and shy at first, but deeply good and surprisingly adept at the whole being-an-emperor thing. The only thing wrong with The Goblin Emperor was that it was, for a long time, a stand-alone. But now there's a sequel, The Witness for the Dead — so if you love the world Katherine Addison has created, you've got a way back to it. "I just love this book utterly," says judge Amal El-Mohtar. "So warm, so kind, so generous."

Murderbot (series)

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

Oh Murderbot — we know you just want to be left alone to watch your shows, but we can't quit you. Martha Wells' series about a murderous security robot that's hacked its own governing module and become self-aware is expansive, action-packed, funny and deeply human . Also, your humble poll editor deeply wishes that someone would write a fic in which Murderbot meets Ancillary Justice 's Breq and they swap tips about how to be human over tea (which Murderbot can't really drink).

The Interdependency (series)

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

John Scalzi didn't mean to be quite so prescient when he started this trilogy about a galactic empire facing destruction as its interstellar routes collapse — a problem the empire knew about but ignored for all the same reasons we punt our problems today. "Some of that was completely unintentional," he told Scott Simon . "But some of it was. I live in the world." The Interdependency series is funny, heartfelt and ultimately hopeful, and packed with fantastic characters. To the reader who said they voted "because of Kiva Lagos," we say, us too.

The Martian

The Martian, by Andy Weir.

You don't expect a hard sci-fi novel to start with the phrase "I'm pretty much f****d," but it definitely sets the tone for Andy Weir's massive hit. Astronaut Mark Watney, stranded alone on Mars after an accident, is a profane and engaging narrator who'll let you know just how f****d he is and then just how he plans to science his way out of it. If you've only seen the movie, there's so much more to dig into in the book (including, well, that very first line).

Sorcerer to the Crown/The True Queen

Sorcerer to the Crown/The True Queen, by Zen Cho

A Regency romp with squabbling magicians, romance and intrigue, with women and people of color center stage? Yes, please! These two books form a wonderful balance. Sorcerer to the Crown is more whimsical and occasionally riotously funny despite its serious underlying themes. The True Queen builds out from there, looking at the characters and events of the first book with a different, more serious perspective. But both volumes are charming, thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable.

How We Built This

Wow, you're some dedicated readers! Thanks for coming all the way down here to find out more. As I said above, we decided to limit ourselves to 50 books this year instead of our usual 100, which made winnowing down the list a particular challenge. As you may know, this poll isn't a straight-up popularity contest, though, if it were, the Broken Earth books would have crushed all comers — y'all have good taste! Instead, we take your votes (over 16,000 this year) and pare them down to about 250 semifinalists, and then during a truly epic conference call, our panel of expert judges goes through those titles, cuts some, adds some and hammers out a final curated list.

What Didn't Make It — And Why

As always, there were works readers loved and voted for that didn't make our final list of 50 — it's not a favorites list if you can't argue about it, right? Sometimes, we left things out because we felt like the authors were well known enough not to need our help (farewell, The Ocean at the End of the Lane , Neil Gaiman, we hope you'll forgive us!), but mostly it happened because the books either came out before our cutoff date or already appeared on the original 2011 list. (Sorry, Brandon Sanderson! The first Mistborn book was actually on this year's list, until I looked more closely and realized it was a repeat from 2011.)

Some books didn't make it this year because we're almost positive they'll come around next year — next year being the 10th anniversary of our original 2012 YA poll, when (spoiler alert!) we're planning a similar redo. So we say "not farewell, but fare forward, voyagers" to the likes of Raybearer , Children of Blood and Bone and the Grishaverse books; if they don't show up on next year's list I'll, I don't know, I'll eat my kefta .

And this year, because we had only 50 titles to play with, we did not apply the famous Nora Roberts rule, which allows particularly beloved and prolific authors onto the list twice. So as much as it pains me, there's only one Seanan McGuire entry here, and Max Gladstone appears alongside poll judge Amal El-Mohtar for This Is How You Lose the Time War but not on his own for the excellent Craft Sequence . Which — as we said above — you should ABSOLUTELY read.

One Final Note

Usually, readers will vote at least some works by members of our judging panel onto the list, and usually, we let the judges themselves decide whether or not to include them. But this year, I put my editorial foot down — all four judges made it to the semifinals, and had we not included them, the final product would have been the less for it. So you'll find all four on the list. And we hope you enjoy going through it as much as we enjoyed putting it together!


A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

RD.COM Arts & Entertainment Books Best Books & Must-reads

40 Best Fantasy Books Readers Can’t Put Down

Molly Pennington, PhD

Looking for the best fantasy books ever written? You're in the right place. These novels will immerse you in magical, mythical worlds chock-full of sorcery and wonder.

Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.

40 Best Fantasy Books Ft

Escape your real life—you know you want to. The best fantasy books will let you do just that as you enter their epic dream worlds brimming with magic, myth and all things supernatural. You might travel back to the Middle Ages with a new twist on historical fiction , experience a mystical dimension or uncover some everyday magic that’s been under our noses this whole time. Nothing is off limits in these books that make the impossible possible to completely transfix you.

The fantasy books on our list are a mix of stunning debuts from new authors and stalwarts of the genre who have penned some of the best book series for you to devour. While we include classic books that easily qualify as some of the best books of all time, others are more recent bestsellers and young adult novels with thousands of five-star reviews and enthusiastic fans breathlessly waiting for the next installment. We also include a number that have been made into feature films or hit TV series, or have adaptations in the works, since they have made (or will soon make) a serious impact on pop culture.

Scroll through to find your next obsession, whether you’re curling up on the couch with one of the best books about friendship or you’re on the lookout for your next time travel books . You definitely won’t be disappointed.

The Locked Tomb by Tamsyn Muir (2019)

1. The Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir (2019)

The third book in the popular The Locked Tomb series was released in 2022 and follows the award-winning Gideon the Ninth and popular Harrow the Ninth . When you’re in the mood for wit or lesbian swordfighters (who happen to be necromancers), put this science-fiction-tinged romantic fantasy LGBTQ book on your list of can’t-put-it-down adventures. You’re in for riveting combat and a Gothic otherworldly mansion, a locked-up tomb that holds a secret and the eating of souls for vitality. Next, check out some of our fantasy romance book picks.

Atlas by Olivie Blake (2021)

2. Atlas trilogy by Olivie Blake (2021)

The Atlas Six blew up on TikTok, and the can’t-wait-for-it sequel in the trilogy, The Atlas Paradox , was recently released. The Atlas Six is a dramatic dark academia fantasy about a group of six talented magicians selected for initiation to study works from the Alexandrian library, which still exist in hidden archives. With such responsibility and access to knowledge from across the ages, magicians succeed at their peril.

Celestial Kingdom by Sue Lynn Tan (2022)

3. Celestial Kingdom series by Sue Lynn Tan (2022)

One of the most exciting debut Asian authors brings riveting suspense to her retelling of Chinese mythology in the first book of the Celestial Kingdom series, Daughter of the Moon Goddess . As a human, Chang’e was banished to the moon for stealing an elixir that grants immortality. Now Chang’e is a goddess, and her daughter no one knows about, Xingyin, embarks on a quest through the Celestial Kingdom to free her mother and herself. Readers can’t put down this bestselling page-turner filled with adventure and fantasy set in legendary realms bursting with dragons, palaces and courtly intrigue.

Edinburgh Nights by T.L. Huchu (2021)

4. Edinburgh Nights series by T.L. Huchu (2021)

Teenaged Ropa is a ghostalker–she delivers messages for spirits–supporting her family with paranormal work that leads her to a magical library hidden beneath the city of Edinburgh. T.L. Huchu mixes elements of both Zimbabwean and Scottish culture in these magical thrillers set in an apocalyptic future filled with twisty danger and occult lore. The Library of The Dead came out in 2021, and Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments in 2022—check out the rest of the best books published in 2022 .

The Dark Star Trilogy by Marlon James (2019)

5. The Dark Star Trilogy by Marlon James (2019)

In Black Leopard, Red Wolf , the first book in The Dark Star Trilogy, Sogolon is a witch and the hero’s nemesis. The sequel, Moon Witch, Spider King , published in 2022, focuses on the witch’s perspective with immersive, riveting detail. This acclaimed bestseller follows the 177-year-old moon witch contending with a vicious king and corruption that requires vengeance. This one’s inspired by African mythology, and like Indigenous books and other works immersed in distinctive culture, its dazzles in building a sense of time and place. This series is an award winner, but it isn’t for everyone; the books are intense, and scenes involving sexual violence may be too graphic for some readers.

A Conspiracy of Magic by Luanne G. Smith (2022)

6. A Conspiracy of Magic series by Luanne G. Smith (2022)

You can read the super popular The Raven Spell , book one in A Conspiracy of Magic, published in 2022, in Kindle unlimited books . Set in a fantastical Victorian England and centering on sister witches embroiled with a private detective they find left for dead on a riverbank, this riveting mystery will pull you in with its rich detail and twisty suspense. One of the sisters steals the man’s memories, but when he survives the two are forced to work together to solve a mystery.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (2019)

7. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (2019)

This luminous, magical debut captures the history of the early 1900s in the midst of fantasy world building with the rich detail of one of the best fantasy book series . The story follows young January, a girl stuck with Locke, her father’s wealthy employer. Locke sends her father, a Black man, across the world to collect artifacts, but then he doesn’t return—and January is told that her mother, a white woman, is dead. When January discovers there are doors that lead to other worlds, and that she can travel through them, she embarks on an adventure to find out the truth.

The House on the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (2020)

8. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (2020)

In this stunning, good-natured award-winning young adult novel, a caseworker with the Department of Magical Youth is sent to an orphanage to determine the risks of six magical children there. One of them is the child of Lucifer, and they might destroy the world. This is a wildly popular novel with a lesson about acceptance at its core. If you’re looking for more books to enrapture teens or young readers, try these best graphic novels with stunning visual storytelling.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (2018)

9. The Poppy War trilogy by R.F. Kuang (2018)

If you’re looking for gripping, page-turning dystopian books , try the award-winning The Poppy War trilogy. R.F. Kuang drops you into a military training academy following Rin, an orphan with talent and powers beyond anyone’s imagination. The young girl faces discrimination at every turn, but she finds herself connected to gods. One of them offers her powers that come with a sacrifice that may be too much to bear.

40 Best Fantasy Books 10 V2

10. Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron (2020)

This wildly entertaining feminist fairy tale is a Cinderella story for the ages. Set in a fantasy kingdom where young girls are forced to marry or they disappear, this revision of the classic tale offers empowerment and strength for young readers resistant to the boxes and limits demanded by society. In a world where a king puts girls on display, two teenage girls decide to oust him no matter the stakes.

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho (2021)

11. Black Water Sister by Zen Cho (2021)

Jessamyn’s grandmother, a ghost, starts off trying to shock her, letting her know she’s in on her personal affairs. The zippy, relatable novel follows the young woman to Malaysia, where she relocates with her parents and finds herself doing the bidding of her grandmother’s spirit, known as Black Water Sister. Cho’s novel is both moving and compelling as it delves into the heroine’s heart, a gangster world and family deities and mysteries. Be the first to know about stellar new releases like this by joining one of the best online book clubs .

The Wilderwood by Hannah Whitten (2021)

12. The Wilderwood series by Hannah Whitten (2021)

Delve into the mysterious Wilderwood in this beguiling, amped-up fairy tale about Red, a daughter fated for sacrifice to a powerful wolf that lurks deep in the forest. In book one, For the Wolf , as Red makes her way toward the great monster, she realizes that it’s actually a man—and that her own powers are much greater than she ever knew. Critics adore this fantastical New York Times bestseller for its captivating plot and brilliantly original redux of Little Red Riding Hood that takes the story beyond imagination.

The Nameless Republic by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (2021)

13. The Nameless Republic series by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (2021)

Suyi Davies Okungbowa’s genre-breaking fantasy, Son of the Storm , takes readers on a thrill ride to a fantastical, immersive world that reconstructs an old-world African empire infused with magic and intrigue. Book one of The Nameless Republic series follows Danso, a scholar who discovers the existence of ancient magic, though he was taught it was only myth. This discovery leads him on an epic journey filled with themes of oppression, discrimination and the power of questioning the truths you’re told. Here are more books by Black authors you’ll want to know about.

Supernatural Investigations series by B. B. Alston (2021)

14. Supernatural Investigations s eries by B.B. Alston (2021)

The debut book in the Supernatural Investigations series, Amari and the Night Brothers  begins with the relatable voice of 12-year-old Amari, who refuses to give up on finding her missing older brother while also standing up to bullies at school. After discovering a mysterious briefcase, she learns that the supernatural is very much real—and that she has a particular talent for magic. This addictive New York T imes bestseller, described as “ Artemis F owl meets Men in Black, ” will be the new book teens and preteens obsess over.

Radiant Emperor by Shelley Parker-Chan (2021)

15. Radiant Emperor series by Shelley Parker-Chan (2021)

Set in medieval China, She Who Became the Sun , book one of Radiant Emperor , is a powerful historical fantasy that follows a young girl, Zhu, whose fate has been cast for her at birth. Yet after she’s orphaned and loses her brother, she takes on his identity and also his destiny. He was ordained for greatness, but Zhu decides that greatness is now hers. This well-reviewed LGBTQ book explores queer identity as it captivates readers looking for an emotional, intense adventure with a bold heroine at its center.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011)

16. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011)

Fans can’t put down Erin Morgenstern’s lush and enchanting mystery about two ancient magicians told across multiple timelines and perspectives. Each mage has a young proxy, and the two become pawns in this bewitching novel filled with vivid descriptions and sensory world building. As Celia and Marco fall in love in this surreal world, they are caught in a game that they don’t fully understand but must play out.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna (2021)

17. The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna (2021)

Teenaged Deka isn’t like the other girls in her village. She grows up on a farm and intends to make her family proud and save their reputation, but during the Ritual for Purity ceremony, it is discovered that she has gold blood. This special trait drastically changes her life, leading her to an enormous city, where she is thrust into her fate to protect the empire. This stunning debut , described as a dark feminist tale, pulls readers into its young heroine’s world as she discovers her power.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo (2021)

18. The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo (2021)

This beguiling debut reinvents the classic novel The Great Gatsby . This time, Jordan Baker (Daisy Buchanan’s socialite friend in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original) is a Vietnamese queer woman who becomes the center of this tale filled with magic, ghosts and demons. This stunning retelling adds dreamy enchantment to the original and still-relevant themes of wealth and loneliness. This isn’t just one of the best fantasy books—it’s one of the best fiction books you’ll read this year.

Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart (2021)

19. Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart (2021)

Teen fantasy readers will fall in love with this bewitching young adult novel with an epic plot about two rival witches who work together to foil a common enemy … while determined to take each other down as well. Told from alternating perspectives, this female-authored book will transport you to a Jamaican-inspired world filled with magic and intrigue, and it will keep you hooked till the last page.

Legacy of Orïsha series by Tomi Adeyemi (2018)

20. Legacy of Orïsha series by Tomi Adeyemi (2018)

The first book in the Legacy of Orïsha series, Children of Blood and Bone topped bestseller and best-of-YA lists in 2018, making it a hit with critics and readers alike. In an ancient African-inspired world, a tyrannical king removes the magical powers of people known as diviners. His daughter, a princess, teams up with a young diviner to restore her power. The prince hunts them down, determined to keep magic at bay—that is, until he discovers his own abilities in this haunting story about power and wielding it.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (1995)

21. His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (1995)

The Golden Compass , the first book in this trilogy, pulls readers into an intricate world where human souls live alongside all people; these “daemons” appear in the form of animals. The story follows 12-year-old Lyra on an elaborate trek to the Arctic to discover what’s happening to so many missing children, including her best friend, Roger. The bestselling series, which has been adapted as both a movie and a series, is one of the best HBO Max TV shows to watch.

The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)

22. The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)

The Lord of the Rings isn’t just the bestselling fantasy book of all time—it’s one of the bestselling books of any genre, with more than 150 million copies sold in translations of 50-plus languages. J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary saga, set in Middle-earth, offers readers well over a thousand pages of epic world building filled with mesmerizing characters, including hobbits, wizards, talking trees, terrifying villains, warrior elves and so much more. And, of course, just like with the excellent movie adaptations , there are a few entries in this series to keep you happily occupied.

The Time Quintet by Madeleine L'Engle (1962)

23. The Time Quintet series by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)

Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved classic series begins with the Newbery Medal–winning A Wrinkle in Time , which remains one of the most thrilling fantasy novels for young readers. It’s a can’t-put-it-down page-turner that follows a young girl as she planet-hops across the universe to find her missing father. She visits worlds beyond imagination with her friend and kid brother along for the ride and three mystical witches offering guidance.

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon (2021)

24. Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon (2021)

Sorrowland merges genres and upends them in this horror-filled, fantastical tale. While seven months pregnant, Vern escapes a cult where she was a child bride, then gives birth and goes on the run with her twin children. Critics and fans praise this 2021 book for its brilliant Gothic plotting and riveting originality in its presentation of America’s brutal history of racial oppression. For a real-world approach to this topic, check out these essential books about racism .

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron (2021)

25. This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron (2021)

Enter a botanical wonderland in this contemporary young adult novel about a girl and a magical grand estate. Briseis finds that she’s inherited a grand mansion with a thriving garden, but all the plants are alive in unexpected ways and she has the power to move them. It’s an exciting second novel from the author of the bestselling fairy-tale redux Cinderella Is Dead .

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)

26. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)

No list of the best fantasy books of all time would be complete without Lewis Carroll’s beloved fantasy , published in 1865 but still widely read (and watched) today. Alice falls down the rabbit hole, of course, and emerges in a true wonderland. Return to this early classic of the genre, filled with madcap adventures and oddball characters that build a world beyond imagination, as young Alice makes her way through the strangest of places.

The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini (2003)

27. The Inheritance Cycle series by Christopher Paolini (2003)

Author Christopher Paolini was a teenager when he started writing Eragon , the first book in this addicting four-part young adult fantasy series. The hugely popular novel, which spent more than a year on bestseller lists, follows a teen boy, Eragon, who discovers a mysterious dragon egg. Once it hatches, he finds himself bonded with Saphira, the dragon that emerges, and thrown into an odyssey in a world of elves, magic, dragon riders and adventure. If you love fantasy, it just may be the perfect beach read for your next vacation.

The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss (2007)

28. The Kingkiller Chronicle series by Patrick Rothfuss (2007)

Fall into book one of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicle , The Name of the Wind , if you’re looking for a world-building fantasy series told in poetic language. You’ll follow the mythic wizard Kvothe as he chronicles an intricate history both tragic and heroic. Prepare for 700-plus mesmerizing pages of riveting action with twists and turns set in an elaborate world and across two timelines. You’ll be glad there’s another book in the series (and a third supposedly coming … sometime!) when you reach the end.

Gentlemen Bastard series by Scott Lynch (2006)

29. Gentlemen Bastard series by Scott Lynch (2006)

The first book in the series, The Lies o f Locke Lamora , is both witty and brutal. Brace yourself for a genre-defying adventure that sets a crime caper in a fantasy world. Scott Lynch’s debut follows the Gentlemen Bastards, a gang of elite crooks in Camorr, a Venice-inspired world created with elaborate detail and a dash of Dickens. The novel alternates between the hero’s orphan childhood and his adult exploits as a brilliant con man taking down noblemen, an underworld ruler and the shadowy Gray King. If this premise piques your interest, you might also get caught up in these true crime books .

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004)

30. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004)

The best fantasy books captivate readers with magical journeys into spectacular worlds. Susanna Clarke’s award-winning debut fantasy novel takes place in England during the Napoleonic Wars. Only this isn’t familiar British history, but an alternate version where magic exists and gets put to use by a practicing magician and a student who’s prone to go off-script when it comes to powerful spell work.

A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin (1996)

31. A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin (1996)

You probably know it as Game of Thrones because of the hit HBO series, but that titular work is just the first in an entire series that’s considered the best fantasy series of all time—or at least of the last few decades. George R.R. Martin’s tales center around Winterfell, King’s Landing, all the seven kingdoms and the epic plots over who should rule them. Prepare for dragons, bloodshed, betrayal, sorcery and so much more in these addictive, highly readable books.

The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson (2010)

32. The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson (2010)

The Way of Kings is the first entry in the Stormlight Arc hive fantasy series, known for intricate plots and epic world building on the nature- and war-ravaged planet Roshar. Follow the various storylines of Kaladin, Dalinar Kholin and Shallan as secrets are uncovered about an ancient text known as The Way of Kings, the orders of the Knights Radiant and the real reason for the ongoing war. What else might you love? Try this list of the best books for you, based on your zodiac sign .

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (1995)

33. The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (1995)

In Robin Hobb’s epic fantasy Assassin’s Apprentice , you’ll be introduced to Fitz, a boy fathered by a prince but trained as an assassin. Rejected by his family and with magical blood running through his veins, he may be a threat to the throne—or the one who ends up saving it. It’s the first entry in The Farseer Trilogy , which is beloved for its immersive world building, well-drawn characters and transfixing details filled with magic, emotion and surprise.

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (1990)

34. The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (1990)

These complex fantasy books are known for pulling readers into their enthralling universe and holding them rapt until the last page. The first book (of 15!) in this series, The Eye of the Wo rld , is 800-plus pages of immersive fantasy that centers on Moiraine Damodred, who’s on a quest to find a prophesied hero who will fight the Dark One and save the world. Read this book and then curl up with the 2021 Amazon Prime series based on it. For something that’s less of a time commitment, check out these beloved short books .

American Gods series by Neil Gaiman (2001)

35. American Gods series by Neil Gaiman (2001)

Neil Gaiman’s inventive world mixes urban fantasy set in contemporary America with epic battles between the old gods and the new ones—and an ex-convict named Shadow caught in the middle. If it sounds familiar, that’s because the novel was adapted into a hit TV series. Read the two-book series, American Gods and Anansi Boys , if you’re looking for witty writing and fantasy that draws you in with its wondrous vision and strange violence.

The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin (1968)

36. The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin (1968)

Ursula K. Le Guin’s award-winning fantasy books build an immersive world with elaborate magical systems. The first story, A Wizard of Earthsea , follows young Ged, who starts his training as a wizard but experiments with forbidden magic and unleashes darkness and chaos. This leads him on an epic journey to conquer evil.

The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin (2015)

37. The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (2015)

This trilogy has garnered tremendous acclaim, including Hugo and Nebula awards, and the first in the series, Th e Fifth Season , melds and reinvents the science fiction and fantasy genres for a new generation. The novels build a world on Earth, far in the future, after devastating storms known as Seasons destroy civilizations over and over again. This Earth features floating obelisks and humans with magical powers drawn from Earth’s geology, and the books’ epic, complex plotlines mesmerize fantasy fans.

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (1998)

38. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (1998)

The enormously popular children’s fantasy series needs no introduction, but we’ll give it one anyway. The first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (or Philosopher’s ) Stone , will make you fall in love with the orphaned boy wizard and root for him as he battles various villains that, ultimately, lead to an epic showdown with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Magic mixed with school-aged drama makes for a series you won’t be able to put down. And even if you’ve read them a million times, you’ll be surprised by these hidden messages in the Harry Potter books .

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (1950)

39. The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis (1950)

While these books were written for children, adults also love the stories about four young World War II–era siblings who find themselves transported to a world filled with mythical creatures and talking animals. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe , the best-known book in the series (though actually the second, chronologically), you’ll travel to wintry, fantastical Narnia, where the wicked White Queen baits one of the brothers to betray his family. These books are heavy on symbolism and themes of kindness and redemption.

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay (1990)

40. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay (1990)

Guy Gavriel Kay’s epic novel , with its rich, evocative language, constructs an awe-inspiring and elaborate land of kingdoms, the Peninsula of the Palm, entangled in civil war. The complex plotting follows two rival sorcerers along intricate plotlines that build to a truly surprising climax. Sorry, no spoilers here—you’re going to have to read it to find out what happens! Next, check out the best horror books that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Molly Pennington, PhD

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Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2020

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AUG. 14, 2020


by Marie Brennan

An exciting delve into a conglomerate land filled with magic and mystery. Full review >


SEPT. 15, 2020

by Susanna Clarke

Weird and haunting and excellent. Full review >


SEPT. 8, 2020

by Andrea Hairston

This book’s lyrical language and unsparing vision make it a mind-expanding must-read. Full review >


MARCH 24, 2020

by N.K. Jemisin

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising. Full review >


JAN. 14, 2020

by Simon Jimenez

The best of what science fiction can be: a thought-provoking, heart-rending story about the choices that define our lives. Full review >


JULY 21, 2020

by Alaya Dawn Johnson

A sad, lovely, and blood-soaked song of a book. Full review >


MAY 5, 2020

by Laura Lam

A slow-burning fire of a novel that begs the reader to keep turning the page. Full review >


by Ilana C. Myer

A fitting end to a gorgeous experiment in art, worldbuilding, and character, growing in strength from book to book. Full review >


SEPT. 22, 2020

by Daniel Polansky

A fascinating concoction of metropolitan fantasy, mystery, puzzle, character study, and oblique fable. Full review >


OCT. 13, 2020

by Rebecca Roanhorse

Mark your calendars, this is the next big thing. Full review >

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fantasy fiction books 2020

Den of Geek

Top New Fantasy Books in 2020

fantasy fiction books 2020

fantasy fiction books 2020

Sometimes, the best time to read a book is after the initial hype has passed. Now that 2020 is over, we recommend checking out some of these fantasy books that dropped during the hectic year that you may have missed. From urban fantasy to completely fictional realities, from dragons to magicians, we have something here for everyone.

Top New Fantasy Books December 2020

fantasy fiction books 2020

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

Type: Novel Publisher: Tordotcom Release date: Dec. 8

Den of Geek says: A story of animal spirits intertwines with human history and love. Technically the author’s second book in this setting, it also functions as a standalone.

Publisher’s Summary: The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.

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Buy When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Red Hands by Christopher Golden

Type: Novel Publisher: St. Martin’s Press Release date: Dec. 8

Den of Geek says: In this fantasy with elements of thriller and science fiction, the magic is a compulsion: a zombie-like “killing touch.” This dark, weird novel might be one for fans of Supernatural . Publisher’s summary: In bestselling author Christopher Golden’s supernatural thriller  Red Hands , sometimes a story is a warning. Sometimes the warning comes too late

When a mysterious and devastating bioweapon causes its victims to develop Red Hands, the touch of death, weird science expert Ben Walker is called to investigate.

A car plows through the crowd at a July 4th parade. The driver climbs out, sick and stumbling, reaching out…and everyone he touches drops dead within seconds. Maeve Sinclair watches in horror as people she loves begin to die and she knows she must take action. But in the aftermath of this terror, it’s Maeve who possesses that killing touch. Fleeing into the mountains, struggling with her own grief and confusion, Maeve faces the dawning realization that she will never be able to touch another human being again.

“Weird s**t expert” Ben Walker is surprised to get a call from Alena Boudreau, director of the newly restructured Global Science Research Coalition. There’s an upheaval in the organization and she needs to send someone she can trust to Jericho Falls. Whoever finds Maeve Sinclair first will unravel the mystery of her death touch, and many are willing to kill her for that secret. 

Walker’s assignment is to get her off the mountain alive. But as Maeve searches for a hiding place, hunted and growing sicker by the moment, she begins to hear an insidious voice in her head, and the yearning, the need… the  hunger  to touch another human being continues to grow. When Walker and Maeve meet at last, they will unravel a stunning legacy of death and betrayal, and a malignant secret as old as history.

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Buy Red Hands by Christopher Golden.

fantasy fiction books 2020

D (A Tale of Two Worlds) by Michel Faber

Type: Novel Publisher: Hanover Square Press Release date: Dec. 8

Den of Geek says: This quirky novel has garnered praise from Neil Gaiman and looks like a modern The Phantom Tollbooth. As long as you have some tolerance for absurdity it might be a sweet and weird Christmas read. Publisher’s summary: It all starts on the morning the letter D disappears from language. First, it vanishes from Dhikilo’s parents’ conversation at breakfast, then from the road signs outside and from her school dinners. Soon the local dentist and the neighbor’s dalmatian are missing, and even the Donkey Derby has been called off.

Though she doesn’t know why, Dhikilo is summoned to the home of her old history teacher Professor Dodderfield and his faithful Labrador, Nelly Robinson. And this is where our story begins.

Set between England and the wintry land of Liminus, a world enslaved by the monstrous Gamp and populated by fearsome, enchanting creatures,  D (A Tale of Two Worlds)  is told with simple beauty and warmth. Its celebration of moral courage and freethinking is a powerful reminder of our human capacity for strength, hope and justice.

Buy D (A Tale of Two Worlds) by Michel Faber.

Top New Fantasy Books November 2020

fantasy fiction books 2020

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson 

Type: Novel  Publisher: Tor Books Release date: Nov. 17 

Den of Geek says: Sanderson’s famous Stormlight Archive series continues with book 4. 

Publisher’s summary: After forming a coalition of human resistance against the enemy invasion, Dalinar Kholin and his Knights Radiant have spent a year fighting a protracted, brutal war. Neither side has gained an advantage, and the threat of a betrayal by Dalinar’s crafty ally Taravangian looms over every strategic move.

Now, as new technological discoveries by Navani Kholin’s scholars begin to change the face of the war, the enemy prepares a bold and dangerous operation. The arms race that follows will challenge the very core of the Radiant ideals, and potentially reveal the secrets of the ancient tower that was once the heart of their strength. 

At the same time that Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with his changing role within the Knights Radiant, his Windrunners face their own problem: As more and more deadly enemy Fused awaken to wage war, no more honorspren are willing to bond with humans to increase the number of Radiants. Adolin and Shallan must lead the coalition’s envoy to the honorspren stronghold of Lasting Integrity and either convince the spren to join the cause against the evil god Odium, or personally face the storm of failure.

Buy Rhythm of War by Brian Sanderson.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Comes a Pale Rider by Caitlin R. Kiernan 

Type: Short story collection  Publisher: Subterranean Release date: Nov. 30

Den of Geek says: Kiernan’s dark, intricate prose injects a variety of stories with atmosphere and horror. As with any short story collection, there will probably be a range of quality here, but Kiernan is one to watch if you like lush writing. 

Publisher’s summary: Possibly Caitlín R. Kiernan’s most enduring character, albino monster slayer Dancy Flammarion has been carving a bloody swath across the American South ever since her first appearance in Threshold(2001), “laying the bad folks low.” In 2006, Subterranean Press published a World Fantasy Award-nominated collection of Dancy Flammarion short stories, Alabaster, and beginning in 2012, Dark Horse Comics released a three-volume graphic novel series introducing Dancy to comics in Alabaster: Wolves(winner of the Bram Stoker Award), Alabaster: Grimmer Tales, and Alabaster: The Good, the Bad, and the Bird. And now, with Comes a Pale Rider, Kiernan offers a second collection of Dancy Flammarion short stories. From Selma, Alabama to the back roads of Georgia to a South Carolina ghost town, Dancy continues her holy war with the beings of night and shadow, driven always on by her own insanity or an angel with a fiery sword—or possibly both.

Buy Comes a Pale Rider by Caitlin R. Kiernan.

fantasy fiction books 2020

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2020 by John Joseph Adams and Diana Gabaldon 

Type: Short story collection Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Release date: Nov. 3 

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Den of Geek says: A tumultuous year still includes this annual anthology with stories from Charlie Jane Anders, Ken Liu, Rebecca Roanhorse, and more. 

Publisher’s summary: Today’s readers of science fiction and fantasy have an appetite for stories that address a wide variety of voices, perspectives, and styles. There is an openness to experiment and pushing boundaries, combined with the classic desire to read about spaceships and dragons, future technology and ancient magic, and the places where they intersect. Contemporary science fiction and fantasy looks to accomplish the same goal as ever—to illuminate what it means to be human. With a diverse selection of stories chosen by series editor John Joseph Adams and Diana Gabaldon, The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2020 explores the ever-expanding and changing world of SFF today.

Buy The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2020 by John Joseph Adams and Diana Gabaldon.

Top New Fantasy Books October 2020

fantasy fiction books 2020

The Emperor’s Wolves by Michelle Sagara

Type: Novel  Publisher: Mira Release date: Oct. 13

Den of Geek says: Sagara’s urban fantasy sets itself apart with creative anthropomorphic characters. This new entry could be a good entry point into the pre-existing canon, since it starts a new series in the same world.

Publisher’s summary: Multiple races carefully navigate the City of Elantra under the Dragon Emperor’s wing. His Imperial Wolves are executioners, the smallest group to serve in the Halls of Law. The populace calls them assassins.

Every wolf candidate must consent to a full examination by the Tha’alani, one of the most feared and distrusted races in Elantra for their ability to read minds. Most candidates don’t finish their job interviews.

Severn Handred, the newest potential recruit, is determined to face and pass this final test—even if by doing so he’s exposing secrets he has never shared.

When an interrogation uncovers the connections to a two-decade-old series of murders of the Tha’alani, the Wolves are commanded to hunt. Severn’s first job will be joining the chase. From the High Halls to the Tha’alani quarter, from the Oracles to the Emperor, secrets are uncovered, tensions are raised and justice just might be done…if Severn can survive.

Buy The Emperor’s Wolves by Michelle Sagara.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse 

Type: Novel  Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press Release date: Oct. 13

Den of Geek says: Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning sent her careening into the urban fantasy world. Now she brings sharp action and an indigenous perspective to high fantasy with a story inspired by the pre-Columbian Americas.

Publisher’s summary: In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.

Buy Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Shadows of the Short Days by Alexander dan Vilhjálmsson

Type: Novel  Publisher: Titan Books Release date: Oct. 20 

Den of Geek says: A unique setting and a fantasy world reminiscent of China Mieville’s serves as the backdrop for a dark story. Both characters — one an artistic rebel and one an antiheroic wizard addicted to magic — sound like they have specific and intriguing ties to their brutal, magical world. 

Publisher’s summary:   Rebels and revolutionaries disappear into the infamous prison, the Nine, never to be heard from again. Masked police roam the streets, dark magic lurks in the shadows, and the implacable flying fortress casts its baleful eye over all below.

Sæmundur, addict and sorcerer, has been cast out from university, and forbidden to study magic. Dissident artist, Garún, is desperate for a just society and will do anything to achieve it.

Both seek revolution in their own ways. Both seek power.

Together, they will change Reykjavik forever.

Buy Shadows of the Short Days by Alexander dan Vilhjálmsson.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Type: Novel  Publisher: Solaris  Release date: Oct. 15 

Den of Geek says: If you read these lists often, you know I’m a big fan of dragons. Renowned science fiction author Yoon Ha Lee turns to fantasy-with-robots in this twist on the story of an unlikely knight, a mechanical dragon, and a corrupt kingdom. 

Publisher’s summary: Gyen Jebi isn’t a fighter or a subversive. They just want to paint.

One day they’re jobless and desperate; the next, Jebi finds themself recruited by the Ministry of Armor to paint the mystical sigils that animate the occupying government’s automaton soldiers.

But when Jebi discovers the depths of the Razanei government’s horrifying crimes—and the awful source of the magical pigments they use—they find they can no longer stay out of politics.

What they can do is steal Arazi, the ministry’s mighty dragon automaton, and find a way to fight…

Buy Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee.

Top New Fantasy Books September 2020

fantasy fiction books 2020

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Type: Novel  Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Release date: Sept. 15

Den of Geek says: Clarke’s atmospheric Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was an eerie, old-fashioned take on the fairy genre, delicate and complex at once. She returns with a haunted house tale (!) featuring endless rooms, mysterious characters, and “A Great and Secret Knowledge.” Publisher’s summary: Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house-a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe , Piranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

Buy Piranesi by Susanna Clarke on Amazon.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston 

Type: Novel Publisher: Release date: Sept. 8

Den of Geek says: A lyrical, apocalyptic fantasy epic, Master of Poisons sends two very different characters into an unforgiving world in a creative new alternate empire. Publisher’s summary: The world is changing. Poison desert eats good farmland. Once-sweet water turns foul. The wind blows sand and sadness across the Empire. To get caught in a storm is death. To live and do nothing is death. There is magic in the world, but good conjure is hard to find.

Djola, righthand man and spymaster of the lord of the Arkhysian Empire, is desperately trying to save his adopted homeland, even in exile.

Awa, a young woman training to be a powerful griot, tests the limits of her knowledge and comes into her own in a world of sorcery, floating cities, kindly beasts, and uncertain men.

Awash in the rhythms of folklore and storytelling and rich with Hairston’s characteristic lush prose, Master of Poisons is epic fantasy that will bleed your mind with its turns of phrase and leave you aching for the world it burns into being.

Buy Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston on Amazon.

fantasy fiction books 2020

 The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart 

Type: Novel Publisher: Hachette Books  Release date: Sept. 8

Den of Geek says: The magic system in this debut has a pleasantly video game-like system of magic talismans and animal automatons. Publisher’s summary: The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

Buy The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart on Amazon.

Top New Fantasy Books August 2020

fantasy fiction books 2020

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson 

Type: Novel  Publisher: Tor Release date: Aug. 11 

Den of Geek says: The Baru Cormorant series features as its hero a mentally ill accountant with the fate of an empire at her fingers. The third book in the series promises more dark, twisty introspection and grim, creative world-building. 

P ublisher’s summary: The hunt is over. After fifteen years of lies and sacrifice, Baru Cormorant has the power to destroy the Imperial Republic of Falcrest that she pretends to serve. The secret society called the Cancrioth is real, and Baru is among them.

But the Cancrioth’s weapon cannot distinguish the guilty from the innocent. If it escapes quarantine, the ancient hemorrhagic plague called the Kettling will kill hundreds of millions…not just in Falcrest, but all across the world. History will end in a black bloodstain.

Is that justice? Is this really what Tain Hu hoped for when she sacrificed herself?

Baru’s enemies close in from all sides. Baru’s own mind teeters on the edge of madness or shattering revelation. Now she must choose between genocidal revenge and a far more difficult path―a conspiracy of judges, kings, spies and immortals, puppeteering the world’s riches and two great wars in a gambit for the ultimate prize. 

If Baru had absolute power over the Imperial Republic, she could force Falcrest to abandon its colonies and make right its crimes.

Buy The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson on Amazon.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

Type: Epic Poem  Publisher: MCD x FSG Originals Release date: Aug. 25 

Den of Geek says: Headley got an intimate look at Beowulf in the modern interpretation The Mere Wife. She turns the intellect behind that inventive, scathing novel about complex and furious women to a translation of the poem featuring new research. 

Publisher’s summary: Nearly twenty years after Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf ―and fifty years after the translation that continues to torment high-school students around the world―there is a radical new verse translation of the epic poem by Maria Dahvana Headley, which brings to light elements that have never before been translated into English, recontextualizing the binary narrative of monsters and heroes into a tale in which the two categories often entwine, justice is rarely served, and dragons live among us. 

A man seeks to prove himself as a hero. A monster seeks silence in his territory. A warrior seeks to avenge her murdered son. A dragon ends it all. The familiar elements of the epic poem are seen with a novelist’s eye toward gender, genre, and history― Beowulf has always been a tale of entitlement and encroachment, powerful men seeking to become more powerful, and one woman seeking justice for her child, but this version brings new context to an old story. While crafting her contemporary adaptation of Beowulf , Headley unearthed significant shifts lost over centuries of translation.

Buy Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley on Amazon.

fantasy fiction books 2020

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe

Type: Novel (Reprint)  Publisher: Tor Books Release date: Aug. 11 

Den of Geek says: Gene Wolfe is a modern master of fantasy. This reprint of a 2004 duology provides both original stories in one paperback package. 

Publisher’s summary: A young man in his teens is transported from our world to a magical realm consisting of seven levels of reality. Transformed by magic into a grown man of heroic proportions, he takes the name Sir Able of the High Heart and sets out on a quest to find the sword that has been promised to him, the blade that will help him fulfill his ambition to become a true hero―a true knight. 

Inside, however, Sir Able remains a boy, and he must grow in every sense to survive what lies ahead…

Buy The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe on Amazon.

Top New Fantasy Books July 2020 

fantasy fiction books 2020

The Book of Dragons: An Anthology by Jonathan Strahan

Type: Anthology  Publisher: Harper Voyager  Release date: July 7 

D en of Geek says: I’m always looking for a good book about dragons, and this incredible list of authors promises adventurous and unique stories. Anne Leckie, Zen Cho, Seanan Maguire, J.Y. Yang, Patricia A McKillip, Brooke Bolander … it’s an astounding, literary-flavored list of people qualified to write cool creatures.

Publisher’s summary: Here there be dragons . . . 

From China to Europe, Africa to North America, dragons have long captured our imagination in myth and legend. Whether they are rampaging beasts awaiting a brave hero to slay or benevolent sages who have much to teach humanity, dragons are intrinsically connected to stories of creation, adventure, and struggle beloved for generations. 

Bringing together nearly thirty stories and poems from some of the greatest science fiction and fantasy writers working today— Garth Nix, Scott Lynch, R.F. Kuang, Ann Leckie & Rachel Swirsky, Daniel Abraham, Peter S. Beagle, Beth Cato, Zen Cho, C. S. E Cooney, Aliette de Bodard, Amal El-Mohtar, Kate Elliott, Theodora Goss, Ellen Klages, Ken Liu, Seanan Maguire, Patricia A McKillip, K. J. Parker, Kelly Robson, Michael Swanwick, Jo Walton, Elle Katharine White, Jane Yolen, Kelly Barnhill, Brooke Bolander, Sarah Gailey, and J. Y. Yang—and illustrated by award-nominated artist Rovina Cai with black-and-white line drawings specific to each entry throughout, this extraordinary collection vividly breathes fire and life into one of our most captivating and feared magical creatures as never before and is sure to become a treasured keepsake for fans of fantasy, science fiction, and fairy tales.

Buy The Book of Dragons by Jonathan Strahan on Amazon.

fantasy fiction books 2020

Or What You Will by Joe Walton 

Type: Novel  Publisher: Tor Books Release date: July 7 

Den of Geek says: Jo Walton is a writer’s writer, highly praised but still generally skating under the radar. I found her 2014 My Real Children to not nearly live up to its very high concept, but she’s one of those authors with technical prowess who is at least worth checking out for context for women’s science fiction. The metafiction plot sounds fun. 

Publisher’s summary: He has been too many things to count. He has been a dragon with a boy on his back. He has been a scholar, a warrior, a lover, and a thief. He has been dream and dreamer. He has been a god. 

But “he” is in fact nothing more than a spark of idea, a character in the mind of Sylvia Harrison, 73, award-winning author of thirty novels over forty years. He has played a part in most of those novels, and in the recesses of her mind, Sylvia has conversed with him for years. 

But Sylvia won’t live forever, any more than any human does. And he’s trapped inside her cave of bone, her hollow of skull. When she dies, so will he.

Now Sylvia is starting a new novel, a fantasy for adult readers, set in Thalia, the Florence-resembling imaginary city that was the setting for a successful YA trilogy she published decades before. Of course he’s got a part in it. But he also has a notion. He thinks he knows how he and Sylvia can step off the wheel of mortality altogether. All he has to do is convince her.

Buy Or What You Will by Jo Walton on Amazon.

fantasy fiction books 2020

The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal

Type: Graphic Novel  Publisher: First Second  Release date: July 14 

Den of Geek says: The Adventure Zone is a wildly popular humorous fantasy podcast. It’s part of the big 2010s wave of Dungeons & Dragons coming back into the geek space. Especially for someone who might not want to listen to hundreds of episodes of a podcast, the illustrated version does a good job of smoothing out the story into a graphic novel format without removing the goofy chaos of the original podcast. 

Publisher’s summary: START YOUR ENGINES, friends, Clint McElroy and sons Griffin, Justin, and Travis hit the road again with Taako, Magnus and Merle, the beloved agents of chaos from the #1 New York Times bestselling graphic novels illustrated by Carey Pietsch, The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins and The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited .

Our boys have gone full-time at the Bureau of Balance, and their next assignment is a real thorny one: apprehending The Raven, a master thief who’s tapped into the power of a Grand Relic to ransack the city of Goldcliff. Local life-saver Lieutenant Hurley pulls them out of the woods, only to throw them headlong into the world of battle wagon racing, Goldcliff’s favorite high-stakes low-legality sport and The Raven’s chosen battlefield. Will the boys and Hurley be able to reclaim the Relic and pull The Raven back from the brink, or will they get lost in the weeds?

Based on the beloved blockbuster podcast where three brothers and their dad play a tabletop RPG in real time, The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal has it all: blossoming new friendships, pining for outlaw lovers, and a rollicking race you can root for!

Buy The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal on Amazon.

Megan Crouse

Megan Crouse

Megan Crouse writes for Star Wars Insider and Star and is a co-host on Den of Geek's Star Wars podcast, Blaster Canon. Twitter: @blogfullofwords

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36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

Are you looking for your next fantasy must-read? From wizards and werewolves to weird happenings underground, we've pulled together some of the WIRED team's favourite fantasy series. Some are set in strange and fantastic worlds, while others start a little closer to home. And, if you'd like more reading ideas, try our guide to the best sci-fi books or our picks of the best books on Audible .

Cyber Monday has arrived and discounts on a wide range of tech and gadgetry are now live. The WIRED team has sought out the top true savings on quality products. Here’s the best Cyber Monday deals. ​​

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Piranesi is a wondrous, genre-defying book, but if it had to fit somewhere, 'fantasy' would be the label we'd give it. The less you know about Piranesi , the better, but as a taster, it follows the life of a man who lives within the spectacular, statue-filled halls of a vast, labyrinthine house. Waves roll into the halls, birds and sea creatures come and go, but he has no idea why he's there or how he got there. He's more concerned with writing journal entries and documenting things he encounters.

It's a twisting novel that's both beautiful and deeply unsettling. It's one you could read in a single sitting because the narrator seems so unnervingly naive, and the more you discover, the more you itch for what secrets are hiding beneath the surface. Released in 2021, Piranesi was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction and won a massive amount of critical acclaim for author Susanna Clarke. If her name rings a bell, it's because she's already well-known for her first novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell , which was published in 2004 and adapted into a TV series.

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By Caiwei Chen

fantasy fiction books 2020

By Tim Barber

MODOK in Ant-Man

By Marah Eakin

Floppy disk balancing on one corner against a purple background

By Jacopo Prisco

Price: £7.50 | Amazon | Waterstones | Audible trial

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Described as Game of Thrones meets Ocean’s Eleven , Six of Crows is set in the Grishaverse – like the award-winning Shadow and Bone trilogy, which is now a major Netflix show. In fact, the show might be called Shadow and Bone , but it draws from the cast of characters in Six of Crows , too. Six of Crows begins in Ketterdam, a raucous, busy hub of trade with an underbelly of crime. Kaz Brekker is a criminal mastermind who’s offered the chance to carry out a risky heist with a considerable reward. He handpicks a team to help, including a convict, excellent sharpshooter, and a spy – six outcasts in total, all trying to pull off the ultimate heist. Bardugo is brilliant at world-building, which is a treat if you’re entering the Grishaverse for the first time and a welcome return for anyone who’s read the Shadow and Bone trilogy or her latest duology set in the same universe, King of Scars . Yes, Six of Crows and the other Grishaverse books are technically YA, but don’t let that put you off.

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

If anyone deserves to be on this list twice, it’s Neil Gaiman. Stardust is a magical fantasy novel that’s a delight to read at any age. It’s about a young man called Tristran Thorn, who vows to find a star for the woman he loves after they see it fall from the night sky. 

What follows is a fairy tale that weaves in stories, characters and settings that are already embedded in our cultural make-up, like pirates, spells, curses, witches, power struggles, falling stars, otherworldly beings and much more. Gaiman said: “I wanted to write a story that would feel, to the reader, like something he or she had always known” – and that’s the enduring appeal of Stardust. The book was adapted into a movie in 2007 with a star-studded cast, including Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Claire Danes. Once you’ve read the book, you should find it on your go-to streaming service, as it does Neil Gaiman’s original tale justice.

Price: £9 | Amazon | Waterstones | Audible trial

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Another award-winning entry, Jade City bagged The World Fantasy Award in 2018 and was shortlisted for many others, including the Nebula Awards and the Locus Awards. It’s an epic story that many have said is reminiscent of classic Hong Kong gangster movies. However, the twist here is that it’s set in Janloon, a fantastical metropolis that Lee describes incredibly vividly.

The central premise of Jade City is, as you might guess, all about Jade. This is a stone that’s the lifeblood of the city and has magical properties as it can enhance a person’s natural abilities. That’s why it’s so precious and controlled by two warring families. But when a new drug emerges that gives anyone the power to take advantage of the mystical energies of Jade, tension rises, and violence ensues. It’s stylish, full of beautiful, gritty descriptions and, despite being a fantasy book, touches on all kinds of relatable themes, like family honour and tradition.

Price: £8 | Amazon | Waterstones | Audible trial

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Considered one of the best fantasy books ever written, The Last Unicorn is a magical story about a unicorn living in a forest. One day, hunters arrive in the forest and believe it must contain a unicorn because of the magic protecting the creatures there. One of the hunters shouts a warning to the unicorn that she might be the last of her kind, which urges her to embark on a quest to find more unicorns – or learn what’s happened to them. 

What comes next is full of sadness, adventure and wonder, with talking animals, witches, a harpy, spells, a magician, and much, much more. It’s another book that’s a trip back into the world of magic and fairy tales for adults, but a firm favourite for children of all ages, too. The Last Unicorn has since been adapted for the screen. In 1982, it was made into a movie featuring the voices of Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, and Christopher Lee.

Price: £16 | Amazon | Waterstones

Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor (2018)

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Written by award-winning science-fiction and fantasy writer Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death is set in Sudan in a far off, nuclear holocaust-ravaged future. There’s genocide and suffering between two warring tribes and, amidst this immense pain and violence, Onyesonwu is born – her name means “who fears death?” in an ancient language. Onyesonwu is special, displaying all manner of magical powers from an early age. This book is a mesmerising blend of magic, folk tradition, love and spirituality. But read it soon before it hits your TV screen if you’re a book-before-adaptation kind of person. Who Fears Death is being made into a TV series for HBO and George R. R. Martin is set to be an executive producer.

Price: £9 | Amazon | Waterstones | Audible

A Court of Thorns and Roses, by Sarah J. Maas (2020)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

Imagine Beauty and the Beast but ramp up the romance and fantasy even more, transform Beauty into a huntress and Beast into some kind of fantastical faerie lord and that’s A Court of Thorns and Roses . Sara J. Maas might have used the classic fairytale as a starting pont for this epic fantasical romance, but it’s a brilliant story in its own right. So much so that it’s the first in a best-selling series of the same name. A Court of Thorns and Roses begins with Feyre, a huntress who kills a wolf to feed her family. But this was no ordinary wolf. In fact, it wasn’t a wolf at all and Feyre has to face the consequences of her violent actions. This is, technically, a YA (young adult) novel, but don’t let that put you off, it has a huge adult fanbase.

Price: £7 | Amazon | Waterstones | Audible

The Power, by Naomi Alderman (2017)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

The Power could also be classed as science-fiction, but we’re including it in our fantasy recommendations because what’s more fantastical than every woman in the land suddenly being able to electrocute men Palpatine-style with their fingertips? That’s the searingly smart and brilliantly-explored premise of The Power , which allows us to imagine what would happen if the present balance in the world – or, more rightly so, imbalance, – was reversed in favour of women. Would we be living in a calm utopia within a fortnight? Would we face the same problems we always have? Or would there be a whole host of new challenges to contend with?

The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin (2016)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

It doesn’t feel like there’s a right way to begin explaining the truly monumental premise and proportions of The Fifth Season , so let’s just dive in. This book takes place on a planet with one massive supercontinent called Stillness. Every few hundred years the ‘fifth season’ occurs – a period of catastrophic climate change. The world-building prowess of Jemisin’s The Fifth Season is epic, there are different ethnicities, species, areas and castes with all kinds of powers and conflicts, and plenty of other details that won’t make sense until you read the book – be prepared to be a little overwhelmed when you’re first introduced to this new universe. This award-winning tome is the first in the Broken Earth series, with later books also scooping up prestigious Hugo Awards in their own right.

Riot Baby, by Tochi Onyebuchi (2020)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

Set in the near future, Riot Baby might be a story with fantastical elements weaved throughout it, but it explores very real, pertinent and important issues of race and bias algorithms. The riot baby in this book is Kev, a young Black man who’s in prison. His sister, Ella, has a number of special powers – like being able to see into the future. Riot Baby is novella length (perfect for anyone whose concentration span isn’t what it used to be) and written in a fast-paced style that makes us, as readers, feel as if we’re witnessing flashes of memories in a manner that’s wedded to some of the central themes of anger and injustice.

Price: £14 | Amazon | Waterstones | Audible

Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler (2018)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

Some might say Octavia E. Butler’s fantastic Kindred is a work of science-fiction or speculative fiction, but it’s in our list because Butler herself called it “a kind of grim fantasy”. This is a time travel narrative, but we’d bet it’s quite unlike any you’ve read before. Kindred follows the story of a woman called Dana who’s transported from 1976 Los Angeles to a Maryland plantation in 1815, where she’s assumed to be a slave. Like all good fantasy and science-fiction, the magical, surreal, time-travelling elements act as a way into a raw exploration of race, power and gender that’s as relevant and urgent now as it was when Butler first published it in 1979.

Price: £7.50 | Amazon | Waterstones | Audible

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch (2006)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

Renaissance Venice meets fantasy meets the twists and turns of a well crafted crime novel. Scott Lynch builds a fascinating fantasy city with real detail and real grit. No shining heroes and wistful princesses here. Instead criminal gangs, corrupt officials and the high likelihood of being mugged in a back alley. There is almost a sense of Oceans 11 meets venetian masquerade, blink and you’ll miss the sleight of hand! Fantasy is almost an afterthought in this novel and it is really about the character building and storytelling. Sure there are shark matadors and alchemical alcoholic fruits, not to mention the mysterious Elderglass, but these are more a backdrop rather than plot driving and all combine to make, subtle and intriguing read. There are plenty of twists and turns as Locke navigates the underworld of Camorr, but it’s unlikely you’ll see all of them coming!? This is the first book of a trilogy and although it stands alone you’ll want to read the other two to see what happens next in Red Seas Under Red Skies and A Republic of Thieves .

Earthlings, by Sayaka Murata (2020)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

Not one for the faint hearted, this dark fantasy comedy from the author of Convenience Store Woman is tricky to pin down into any one category and the final pages will probably leave you gobsmacked. Natsuki and Yuu are cousins who have long prepared to be abducted back to their home planet. So far, so childhood but then they grow up and the plan persists. In the meantime they have to try to function in regular society, securing partners and jobs and not drawing attention to themselves. No taboo is left unturned with Earthlings encouraging minor acts of rebellion from what 'society' tells us we have to do.

Price: £10.50 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial

Circe, by Madeline Miller (2018)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

Circe, daughter of Titan sun god Helios, finds herself overshadowed in the halls of the gods until she discovers her own, different power: witchcraft. Banished to a deserted island for abusing her magic, and repeatedly let down by the men she puts her trust in, Circe must forge her own path: as a goddess, a witch, and a woman. Miller’s novel offers a new perspective on tales of Greek myth, with Circe’s centuries-long story seeing her appear at the birth of the Minotaur, face off with goddess of war Athena, and host hero Odysseus on his long return from Troy. An accessible read with larger-than-life characters and an adventurous plot, Circe is mythology as you’ve never known it before.

Price: £7 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, by Tad Williams (1988 to 1993)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

The three books in this trilogy, The Dragonbone Chair , Stone of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower , are beautifully crafted fantasies that deftly interweave almost comically simple tropes with a rewarding complexity and depth. Game of Thrones fans will find much to enjoy – George R. R. Martin readily admits they were a big inspiration for him – as Williams takes a similarly methodical approach to creating the fictional continent Osten Ard and the races that inhabit it. His tales of the humble kitchen scullion who has great things ahead of him are full of joyful and sorrowful moments that will have you laughing and crying, making them a delightful diversion from life's ups and downs.

Price: £6 | Amazon | Abe Books | 30-day Audible trial

Malazan Book of the Fallen series, by Steven Erikson (1999 to 2011)

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Spanning 10 books and over 9,000 pages of brutal, beautiful and complex fantasy writing, Steven Erikson's series delivers world building on a larger scale than Tolkien and Jordan put together. Erikson will have you laughing and crying as you follow the lives of disparate heroes and anti-heroes across a sweeping vista of worlds peopled by a unique set of races and animals. You will fall in love with his characters and you will hate them, either way you will want to know what happens next. Beginning with the Gardens of the Moon , Erikson’s ability to write epic convergence is unparalleled and will leave you unable to stand the tension leading up to the major events he depicts.

The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie (2006 to 2008)

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Joe Abercrombie writes brilliant characters. Be it the story of an ageing berserker, a crippled torturer or a pompous noble, his The First Law Trilogy immerses you in a bloody mire of violent, visceral and gritty adventures. You will see the glory of battle in all its bowel spilling ineptitude and hopelessness, but there is always someone to root for even if it is not the god blessed heroes and heroines you might usually expect. As an added bonus there are also three standalone books and a collection of short stories that revisit some of the First Law characters and world, something you will be eager to devour once you’ve read the first trilogy.

Price: £17 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial

The Golem and the Djinni, by Helene Wecker (2013)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

Helene Wecker's debut novel is an eerie tale of two magical creatures set loose in 19th century New York. A golem – a mythical creature of Jewish lore – awakens during a sea voyage, and is taught to pass as human among the diverse groups of people living in the city. At the same time, a tinsmith in New York accidentally frees a genie from a flask after centuries of imprisonment, but he's trapped in human form seeking a way to return to his full power. The pair meet and become friends, and must team up to counter an evil sorcerer who wants to enslave them both.

Price: £10 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial

Dune, by Frank Herbert (1965)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

Welcome to a desert planet where water is more precious than gold, everyone wears moisture-preserving jumpsuits and giant worm creatures can come out of the earth's floor that can kill you at any moment. This is Dune, a stark wasteland where warring houses scheme against each other in bloody battles that can alter the course of human history. Although it's science-fiction on the surface, Frank Herbert's epic tome features the fantasy tropes of betrayal, redemption and freedom in spades, and is rightly considered one of the most important of the genre. Herbert's masterpiece not only helped to inspire Star Wars – it still resonates today, tackling environmental concerns, the rise of superpowers and rebellion of people exploited on their own land.

The Dark Tower series, by Stephen King (1998)

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"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." This iconic line kicks off Stephen King's iconic The Dark Tower, which mashes together fantasy, westerns and elements of science fiction. The first of seven books follows gunslinger Roland as he pursues a mysterious, malevolent presence across a strange world that's linked to our own. From there, it sprawls into a rambling epic that highlight's King's imagination as well as his touch for horror.

Price: £9 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial

A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin (1996)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

Fans of the television series have been distancing themselves from Game of Thrones in droves since that disastrous final season, but George R.R. Martin's books remain relatively untainted. A Game of Thrones , the first in the A Song of Ice and Fire Series, sets the tone – with violence and adult themes rarely seen in a lot of mainstream fantasy up to that point. Each chapter follows an individual character's point of view, and although the series does becomes slightly bogged down in later entries, it is gripping – and the ending is still to come.

Price: £8.50 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial

Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (1990)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

Both Pratchett and Gaiman feature in their own right on this list and Good Omens , composed in part over answerphone messages three decades ago, delivers on the promise of a fantasy literature titan team up. It's the extremely silly story of an angel, Aziraphale, and a demon, Crowley, played with glee by Michael Sheen and David Tennant in this year's Amazon Prime Video series, trying to stop Armageddon. Most fantasy books ask for a serious commitment but Good Omens is a fully formed, read-in-an-afternoon treat.

Rivers of London series, by Ben Aaronovitch (2011)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

Set in a lovingly described version of present-day London, the Rivers of London series charts the adventures of Detective Constable Peter Grant, one of two wizards in the Metropolitan Police. It grounds its fantastical elements in the scientific method, and the mixture of flying spells and police jargon gives the ongoing series a unique and enjoyable tone. The first book, Rivers of London describes an encounter with a malevolent spirit that draws Grant into the capital's magical underworld.

Price: £8 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial

The Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan (1990-2007)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

An epic fourteen novel saga, (as well as a prequel novel and two companion books), the author James Oliver Rigney Jr. (pen name Robert Jordan), published the first entry in 1990 and was still writing on his death in 2007. Too vast to summarise, the fantasy world – actually a distant version of Earth – is epic and magical, with a gigantic cast of characters. The series has spawned a video game, a roleplaying game, a soundtrack album and a forthcoming TV series, and the books have sold more than 80 million copies, making it one of the bestselling fantasy series since Lord of the Rings .

Price: £20 | Amazon | Blackwells | 30-day Audible trial

The Gormenghast series, by Mervyn Peake (1946-56)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

The first instalment of Mervyn Peake’s epic fantasy series, which features three books and a novella, was published in 1946. It follows the residents of Castle Gormenghast – a giant, gothic castle. In the first book, we meet title character Titus Groan, who stands to inherit the castle and its kingdom. Populated with a host of fantastical creatures, Gormenghast is like a Lord of the Rings that didn’t blow up. Unlike much of the fantasy genre gets high praise in literary circles too: Harold Bloom called the series best fantasy novels of the twentieth century.

Price: £20 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial

His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman (1995)

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Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights is a children’s book with a depth and complexity that can satisfy adults. We follow Lyra Belacqua and Pantalaimon, her daemon – her inner self given animal form – as she investigates rumours of children being separated from their own spiritual companions. Over the three-book series, this transitions into a battle between humanity and heaven. It functions in part as a retelling and inversion of John Milton's epic Paradise Lost . The second entry of a three-part sequel trilogy was published in late 2019.

The Book of Dust, by Philip Pullman (2018)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

Philip Pullman has returned with a follow-up to the His Dark Materials trilogy. The Book of Dust is a second trilogy set in the world of Lyra Belacqua and her inner self in animal form, Pantalaimon. At the point of writing two of the trilogy have been released: La Belle Sauvage (2018) and The Secret Commonwealth (2019). The first of these is set before the tumultuous events of His Dark Materials. But the second fast forwards to a decade after their conclusion. There's espionage, spies and frantic attempts to stop the world from vanishing into darkness.

Price: £7.50 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial

The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher (2000)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

Harry Dresden is a professional wizard in a version of modern-day Chicago where fantastical creatures lurk just underneath the surface. He makes his living as a private detective, solving cases that bridge the worlds of the real and the uncanny. In Storm Front , the first book in long-running series The Dresden Files, he finds himself duelling with vampires, werewolves, and the mob.

Price: £40 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial

Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville (2000)

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China Miéville's work falls more accurately under the banner of Weird Fiction, an amalgamation of fantasy and horror pioneered by HP Lovecraft. This work, one in a series of books set in the world of Bas-Lag, lies closer to the fantasy genre. As Mieville describes it "it's basically a secondary world fantasy with Victorian-era technology. So rather than being a feudal world, it's an early industrial capitalist world of a fairly grubby, police statey kind”.

Price: £11 | Amazon | Waterstones | 30-day Audible trial

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman (2001)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

The Amazon Prime series failed to spark, but Neil Gaiman's richly described novel is well worth a read. American Gods pits the abandoned folk deities of the old world against the modern idols we worship now. It follows Shadow Moon, a convict who finds out – days before his release – that his wife has died in a car accident, and falls into the surreal orbit of Mr Wednesday (Odin) and a looming showdown between the old gods and the new.

A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin (1968)

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Ursula Le Guin is one of the titans of fantasy and sci-fi – her books explore political and feminist themes in fantastical settings. The Left Hand of Darkness focuses on an androgynous civilisation, and The Dispossessed is set in anarchist Utopia. The Earthsea series is more traditional but still brilliant – we follow Ged, a teenager at magic school, who causes a disaster dabbling in the dark arts. Readers have pointed to the similarities between Ged’s school and Hogwarts.

The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobbs (1995-1997)

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Robin Hobbs' epic fantasy series hero follows FitzChivalry Farseer, or Fitz for short, the bastard son of the crown prince. Raised in a stable and trained as an assassin, the story charts his adventures through the kingdom of The Six Duchies: magic, murder, and political intrigue abound, as well as a zombie curse. Sound familiar? Definitely a good choice for those suffering from Game of Thrones withdrawal symptoms.

Price: £9 | Amazon | Waterstones | start a 30-day Audible trial

The Accursed Kings, by Maurice Druon (1955-77)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

A curveball: not fantasy (the books cover the French monarchy in the 14th century), but a book for fans of fantasy. Its author Maurice Druon is the hero of George RR Martin, who penned the series that became Game of Thrones . As Martin wrote in the Guardian: “ The Accursed Kings has it all: iron kings and strangled queens, battles and betrayals, lies and lust, deception, family rivalries, the curse of the Templars, babies switched at birth, she-wolves, sin and swords, the doom of a great dynasty and all of it (or most of it) straight from the pages of history."

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke (2004)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

One of the more recent publications on this list, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is set in 19th-century England around the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The book’s premise is that magic has returned: two men, Gilbert Norrell and Jonathan Strange, wield it. Written in a comedy of manners, Jane Austen style, it took its author British writer Susanna Clarke (see Piranesi above) ten years to write and was widely acclaimed on its release in 2004.

Price: £11 | Amazon | Waterstones | start a 30-day Audible trial

Mort, by Terry Pratchett (1987)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

One of the best entries in Terry Pratchett’s inimitable Discworld series, Mort focuses on a teenager who is taken under the apprenticeship of Death. Appearing in nearly every one of the Discworld books, Pratchett’s Death is one of the author’s greatest creations, and the source of some of the series’ most famous quotes ("Don’t think of it as dying, just think of it as leaving early to avoid the rush.”) It’s in Mort that Death grows into a sympathetic and likeable character, who loves cats and curry and is continuously baffled by the irrationally of humans.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (2019)

36 of the best fantasy books everyone should read

Marlon James, who won the Booker prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings , is not traditionally a fantasy writer, but he dubbed his latest book the African Game of Thrones . (Although he later revealed the comparison was a joke). This book focuses on the political tensions between warring states, in a world populated by a host of magical creatures: cannibals, vampires, witches, ghosts and sorcerers.

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fantasy fiction books 2020

fantasy fiction books 2020

December 22, 2020 by Betsy Bird

31 Days, 31 Lists: 2020 Fantasy Books for Kids

December 22, 2020 by Betsy Bird   Leave a Comment

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Can you believe that last year I had a nice, big, beautiful science fiction list and then entirely eschewed fantasy? For! Shame! Fantasy was my first genre love. I dedicated long hours of my childhood to Apple paperback ghost stories and Susan Cooper and Pern (which is technically science fiction, but shhhh!). This year I’m doing what I already did with the humor and science fiction lists. I’m broadening the scope a tiny bit. That means I’ll not just include chapter books but comics as well!

In sorting through all of this I also had to make some big choices. Does Magical Realism count as Fantasy? If it doesn’t (and I don’t think it does) then technically A Game of Fox and Squirrels doesn’t belong on this list. Does Horror? Yesss . . . I do think so. Talking Animal Fiction? No. Superheroes? Not really. There aren’t any hard and fast rules to this game so these rules are fairly arbitrary. With that in mind, here then are the books I read in 2020 that I thought were just stand up and cheer great. Please bear in mind, though, that I missed a LOT of middle grade books this year. I think we all did. This is just a sampling of what was on offer . . .


2020 Fantasy Books for Kids

Curse of the Night Witch by Alex Aster

fantasy fiction books 2020

I feel guilty. This year, I honestly don’t feel like I read enough high fantasy. That’s on me. It can be easy to get distracted by all the well-written realistic stuff out there. But fantasy was, as I mentioned before, always my first love as a kid, so when you stumble on a book that renders it really well, you should grab on with both hands. In the world of Emblem Island, each human is born with a small picture or emblem on their skin that indicates a particular skill or talent. For Tor Luna, he was born with the emblem of leadership. It’s a symbol he despises and so, on a day when wishes might come true, he wishes to change his symbol. It works, but at a terrible price. Now Tor and two friends are in search of the Night Witch. She’s the only one who can lift the curse on their heads, and to find her they’ll have to travel through an array of real Latinx folktales, any one of which could kill them. There are times when the book drove me mildly crazy (like when they’re lost yet have a compass that they keep forgetting about) and it ends on a cliffhanger, but it’s a GREAT cliffhanger. Aster honestly manages to conjure up all kinds of ideas and images I don’t recall ever seeing in children’s books before. If you have kids that are fantasy fans, hand them this first book in a new series. They’ll dig it. I know they will.

Eight Princesses and a Magic Mirror by Natasha Farrant, ill. Lydia Corry

fantasy fiction books 2020

What makes a princess excellent? An enchantress sets off to find the answer to that question and discovers the stories of eight entirely different girls, all of whom have big tales to tell. Tested this one out on my nine-year-old and I think it definitely works as bedtime fare. It’s a bit slight, but as princess fare goes it’s strong. Eight different “princesses” (the term gets a little loosey goosey at the end) are presented in different countries, cultures, nations, contexts, and times. The disposed Russian monarchs are the least subtle of the batch but the rest stand on their own. During the course of the year someone asked me to recommend middle grade fiction for a reader that has always loved Disney princesses and needed something along those lined but that would deliver a swift kick in the pants. This book fits the bill.

The Fabled Stables: Willa the Wisp by Jonathan Auxier, ill. Olga Demidova

fantasy fiction books 2020

Let us return now to early chapter fiction, if only for a minute. Auggie has a great job tending to magical creatures in the fabled stables, but he’s lonely. Will a mysterious moonlight critter prove to be the friend he needs? Very slight, very short, and to the point. Auxier writes in his note at the start that he wrote this because he wanted to find something that he could read to this differently aged kids, all at the same time. I will attest that you can read it to an 9-year-old and a 6-year-old with very little difficulty. A kid working in magical stables is a familiar concept that we’ve seen, even in early chapter books, before. That said, it moves at a fair clip, the hero is likable and comes up with a solution entirely on his own, and it’s sometimes hard to find chapter books that bridge the gap between easy books and longer fiction that are this precise length.

The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf

fantasy fiction books 2020

Suraya’s best friend has always been a ghost. He’s cruel and terrible and scary and he adores Suraya. So what happens when she decides the two can’t be together anymore? Yeah, this book is a bit of a wonder. I can honestly say I’ve never read anything quite like it before. I’m so sad it doesn’t have a chance at a Newbery, but at least it received a Kirkus Prize nomination. It’s hard to find too many middle grades that excel in emotional satisfaction quite as well as this one does. And hey! Hanna lived in Evanston for a number of years (via Northwestern) and she also has a piece in the collection Once Upon an Eid . I like where this is going.

Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon

fantasy fiction books 2020

A simple game of hide and seek turns into a nightmare when a malevolent monster starts pulling kids into its terrifying world. You can run, but you cannot hide! Essentially “Stranger Things” meets “It” with a mostly Black cast. This is exactly the kind of book I would have picked up as a kid, only I don’t think I ever read anything quite this dark when I was young. Hermon doesn’t pull any punches. The nightmare world the kids are trapped in is terrifying (our hero gets in by being buried alive). This is for those kids that saw the aforementioned scary fare on their own and are convinced that there’s nothing in the children’s room dark enough for them. Though definitely less psychological than last year’s Small Spaces , it has strong things to say about economic disparities. Not everyone’s problems magically disappear at the end (and there is at least one dangling thread that I imagine will get picked up in a sequel) but altogether it’ll keep you awake at night. My top scary book of 2020.

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas

fantasy fiction books 2020

When you’re dad’s deployed all over the place you get used to moving constantly. Nestor Lopez learned long ago never to unpack fully, never to make friends, and never to get attached to his new “homes”. But Nestor suddenly finds he has a hard time following these rules in this new town. Not only is he living with his abuela but there’s a mystery to be solved involving missing animals. Nestor and his two new friends are going to have to investigate. His secret ability that allows him to talk to animals? That should help. I was impressed by how elegantly the Latinx mythology was worked into the narrative. Sometimes when middle grade fantasies use myths it can feel awkward, but Cuevas really did the heavy lifting to make it feel inevitable. Good mystery elements and a nice military brat characterization. Nestor’s dad’s job doesn’t feel like a convenient plot element but is integral to our hero’s personality and inner life. Slick editing and a great final product.

Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico, ill. Karensac, translated by Dupuis

fantasy fiction books 2020

If you’re going to write an epic comic then by gum you need to go big. And this little Belgian import (which I didn’t even know WAS an import, so perfectly was it translated) is not afraid to go as big as possible. It tracks the heroine, Aster, in two different stories after she and her family have moved to the great outdoors. Naturally you hear all of this and you probably imagine it’s something like Hilda. That’s not a terrible comparison, actually. Of course, the most obvious difference is that Hilda is ALL about nature and Aster has to be persuaded to come around to it. There is also, along the way, an old lady with magic powers, a talking dog, chestnuts that are also knights, and an evil fox. All good things in a great big good book.

Beetle and the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

fantasy fiction books 2020

After all these years, Kat Hollowbones, former best friend of Beetle the goblin-witch, is back. But is she a good witch or a bad witch? Though my daughter and I would agree that the tacked on romance is entirely superfluous (you can save people without having to be in love with them) I thought Layne did a stand up and cheer job at her world building. This felt entirely original and entirely relatable. And cute! So so cute! Love the art, love the style, and really love that grandma goblin.

Black Sand Beach: Are You Afraid of the Light? by Richard Fairgray

fantasy fiction books 2020

The Twilight Zone meets Twin Peaks . . . for kids! When Dash and his friend Lily set out to spend the summer at Black Sand Beach, they have no idea how many ghosts, changelings, and malevolent forces they’ll have to encounter there. I have a bad habit of reading books to my kids before I’ve read them myself. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but once in a while I come across something that’s particularly creepy. That’s what happened with this book. You want a bit of psychedelic insanity? I’m taking horse people with giant toothy mouths on their bellies? Got your number. Of course both my kids ADORED the book, and the only reason they’re upset with it is that they won’t be able to read the sequel until the summer of 2021. I loved the humor and weirdness of it. As I mentioned, this is sort Twin Peaks-y, but the characters are so confident in this world that you take comfort in how they saunter through it. Oh, and my favorite character is Andy. You’ll soon see why.

Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter, edited by Calista Brill and Mariah Huehner

fantasy fiction books 2020

I heard the praise surrounding these critters and their dungeons (and there are a LOT of dungeons) long before I actually got my hands on the book. Note: Do NOT do what I did and skip around before you do a read. That is a terrible way to encounter this storyline. Be good and begin at the beginning and work your way through, because this thing is jam packed with plot, character development and color color color! LGBTQIA+ friendly? Oh yes indeed! Essentially, this the tale of four animal warriors that work to investigate and defeat a vast conspiracy. Nerd that I am, I was particularly fond of a section in the back called “How We Make Comics” that shows precisely how Natalie and Sara divvy up the work of something like Dungeon Critters . Anything that shines a light on that process puts my soul to rest. Hand this to your lovers of Bone and Amulet . So far it’s a standalone, but it’s epic-worthy. 

Lightfall: The Girl and the Galdurian by Tim Probert

fantasy fiction books 2020

What would you do if your grandfather (a pig wizard) went missing one day? If you’re Bea you team up with a cheery Galdurian warrior and find him in this sweeping adventurous tale. Clearly a labor of love, to say the least. It’s little wonder that Kazu Kibuishi is the one blurbing this book. The first in a series, it’s going all in on being epic. Beautiful, highly-detailed art and likable characters. I like how Bea’s anxieties take physical form too. Plus I just really like Cad. That guy’s got a good heart in him.

The Runaway Princess by Johan Troïanowski, translated by Anne Collins Smith and Owen M. Smith

fantasy fiction books 2020

Princess Robin just can’t stay put! In three lushly illustrated stories she helps new friends find their way, outwits a witch, and defeats a crew of nasty pirates. Three little books about a princess and her friends are collected into one and translated for American audiences. This is definitely a comic that’s on the younger end of the spectrum. I love verbal sophistication and wit, but there’s a lot to be said for dreamlike imagery and simple storytelling. Troïanowski definitely belongs to the same camp as your Johann Sfars or Lewis Trondheims, but it’s the colors that set him apart. He manages to be detailed and pack the pictures with images without being overwhelming. The book has lots of little interactive elements where the fourth wall falls to pieces and readers are invited to help the characters. I appreciated that the book sometimes says to put a piece of paper down to trace, rather than drawing in the book. Nice touch.

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

fantasy fiction books 2020

When she stumbles on the local witch in the woods, Snapdragon discovers a whole wide world where being the odd one is a blessing, not a curse. Personally, I liked it a lot. That creepy opening really hides how sweet a book it is. A second readthrough and you discover how so many of the book’s themes are hidden early on (did you notice the quick glimpse of violets at the start when Jacks realizes who Snapdragon is?). The art is so incredibly stylized that I don’t know how it’s going to be received widely, but it’s dead on in its LGBTQIA+ themes. Plus, I should probably confess, I keep rereading Jacks’s love story. It’s so frigging romantic! That moment when she chucks the violets at the sun! I love this book.

The Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse

fantasy fiction books 2020

Orphan adopted by two kindly old witches. What could be better? When Effie is unceremoniously dumped on the doorstep of her Aunt Selimene in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, the crusty old lady doesn’t want a thing to do with her. However, it soon becomes clear that she and Effie are kindred spirits (though it takes fellow witch Carlota to get them to that point). When a Taylor Swift-esque pop star shows up soon thereafter with a vermillion face and no way to remove the redness, Effie discovers her aunt’s true occupation and her own calling. Escabasse spins a good yarn and the storytelling matches the art panel-for-panel. A witch title for those folks in the mood for something a little more realistic than Beetle and the Hollow Bones and a little less fraught than Snapdragon . 

Want to see other lists? Check out what happened this month!

December 1 – Great Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations

December 3 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Funny Picture Books

December 7 – CaldeNotts

December 8 – Picture Book Reprints

December 9 – Math Books for Kids

December 10 – Bilingual Books

December 11 – Books with a Message

December 12 – Fabulous Photography

December 13 – Translated Picture Books

December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales

December 15 – Wordless Picture Books

December 16 – Poetry Books

December 17 – Unconventional Children’s Books

December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books

December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels

December 20 – Older Funny Books

December 21 – Science Fiction Books

December 22 – Fantasy Books

December 23 – Informational Fiction

December 24 – American History

December 25 – Science & Nature Books

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers

December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids

December 30 – Middle Grade Novels

December 31 – Picture Books

Filed under: 31 Days 31 Lists , Best Books of 2020

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About Betsy Bird

Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

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