Queen of the Conquered by Kacen CallenderThe setting: the islands of Hans Lollik, a Caribbean-inspired archipelago colonized by the white Scandinavian-esque Fjern, whose wealth and power depend on the continued enslavement of the black islanders.
The protagonist: Sigourney Rose, a mixed-race, magic-wielding woman whose comparatively privileged status gives her the cover she needs to formulate a plot to liberate her people and avenge her family's murders.
For fans of: the tragic heroine and courtly intrigue of Seth Dickinson's The Traitor Baru Cormorant; the explorations of power, privilege, and racism in Agnes Gomillion's The Record Keeper.
The Impossible Contract by K.A. DooreWhat it is: the (somewhat grittier) sequel to The Perfect Assassin, which expands on its predecessor's detailed world-building.
Starring: Thana Basbowen, a famous assassin's daughter eager to make her name by accepting a contract on a high-ranking necromancer -- who becomes her unlikely ally when the mission goes awry.
Why you might like it: This fast-paced, action-packed 2nd book in the Chronicles of Ghadid series offers an appealing cast of characters, an inventive magic system, copious intrigue, and a sweet f/f romance.
Anyone by Charles SouleWhat happens: An accidental scientific breakthrough sets off a seismic societal shift as consciousness-transfer (i.e. body swapping) becomes an integral part of life for many (but not all) people.
For fans of: the twisty, dual-timeline narrative of Blake Crouch's SF thriller Recursion.
Media buzz: a TV adaptation is already in the works, courtesy of the people who brought you Downton Abbey.
Realm of Ash by Tasha SuriWhat it's about: After a lifetime of concealing the magic she inherited from her Amrithi mother, widowed Ambhan noblewoman Arwa must come to terms with her heritage while working with a disgraced Prince to lift a magical curse that afflicts the Empire.
Read it for: a quest carried out amid courtly intrigue, a tender romance, and an immersive setting inspired by India's Mughal empire.
Can you start here? Although this 2nd novel in the Books of Ambha series stands on its own, the story refers often to events that occurred in Empire of Sand (in which Arwa plays a supporting role).
Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeerWhat happens: a trio of time-traveling astronauts -- both alive and dead, human and not -- attempt to destroy a sinister corporate entity known as the Company across a dizzying array of realities.
Is it for you? Although Dead Astronauts shares a setting with Borne and The Strange Bird, this stand-alone novel takes a more experimental approach to its prose style and narrative structure.
Reviewers say: "a kaleidoscopic and fractured mosaic" (NPR).
Westside by W.M. AkersA divided city: A 13-mile fence separates 1921 New York's affluent "Eastside" from the impoverished "Westside," where people disappear en masse while the landscape around them shifts.
An unusual detective: Gilda Carr, whose specialty is "tiny mysteries." Hired to locate a missing glove, Gilda follows a trail that leads to murder, corruption, and ancient magic.
Want a taste? "I answer the little questions...I solve the mysteries that spoil marriages, ruin friendships, and curdle joy. A murder is a dull thing. It simply ends a life. Tiny mysteries destroy us."
The Poppy War by R.F. KuangWhat it’s about: War orphan Rin surprises everyone when she aces the entrance exam for Sinegard, Nikan's elite military academy. Will her discovery that she has shamanic powers help her prove to herself and her classmates that she’s worthy of her place?
Why you might like it: Mysticism and martial arts drive the action in this debut (followed by The Dragon Republic), which is inspired by real events in 20th-century China.
The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell JohnsonIn a world... where the one-two punch of nuclear war and a global pandemic has brought about the apocalypse, 23-year-old Lynn McBride and her family establish a remote settlement in the Canadian Yukon.
What happens next: Lynn's hardscrabble but predictable life is upended by the unexpected arrival of Jax, a mysterious stranger pursued by a sinister quasi-governmental agency.
For fans of: post-apocalyptic wilderness survival stories such as Waubgeshig Rice's Moon of the Crusted Snow, Marcel Theroux's Far North or Beth Lewis' The Wolf Road.
The Luminous Dead by Caitlin StarlingWhat it's about: Having lied about her credentials to secure a coveted slot on a cavern-mapping expedition, Gyre Price discovers that her employers haven't been entirely honest with her, either.
Nevertheless... Gyre's survival depends on her "topside" handler, Em, who reveals little about herself beyond her ability to control every aspect of Gyre's life-sustaining high-tech caving suit.
Is it for you? Part psychological thriller, part horror-tinged SF, this debut introduces a pair of flawed protagonists whose complicated relationship develops against a creepy, claustrophobic subterranean backdrop.
Emily Eternal by M.G. WheatonWhat it is: a coming-of-age story narrated by Emily, an artificial consciousness created in a lab to help humans process trauma.
What happens: An inconvenient crush, an impending apocalypse, and a race against time to save humanity make Emily's job exponentially more difficult.
Read it for: a complex AI protagonist who embodies many of the ethical dilemmas surrounding the development of artificial intelligence.
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