14 science fiction and fantasy books to check out this December
Space battles, magical kingdoms, and more to grace your to-read list
It’s December. I’m not quite sure how that happened. The year has stretched on forever and is gone in a blink. (I feel like I say that every time though, so I’m not sure it’s really a surprise.) But: we made it! Onto 2021.
Reaching the end of the year is always an interesting thing, because it reminds me of how many books I have left on my to-read list. I’ve got a bunch, and I’m now working to finish out the ones that I’ve been meaning to read before the new year is upon us.
In the meantime, here are 14 new SF/F books to put on your to-read or your holiday wish list.
(As always, most likes are affiliates, and any purchases you make might lead to a small commission to this newsletter.)
Queen of None by Natania Barron
The life of King Arthur and Merlin has long been told in a number of different ways, and in her latest, Natania Barron looks at the story of Anna Pendragon, Arthur’s sister. To help her brother, she married the king of Orkney, bringing the kingdom into a strategic alliance. Two decades later, she returned home after her husband dies, and has to deal with the people surrounding her brother, like Merlin, Morgan, Elaine, Morgause, and others.
Kirkus Reviews says that the book is “a captivating look at the intriguing figures in King Arthur’s golden realm.”
King of the Rising by Kacen Callender
In Kacen Callendar’s first novel Queen of the Conquered, we were introduced to Sigourney Rose, the only surviving member of her family after their home is colonized. When the ruler of the island kingdom decides to name a successor, she goes off to exact her revenge. In this sequel, a revolution has swept over the islands, and a former slaved named Loren Jannik is chosen to lead the uprising, and faces some impossible challenges.
Library Journal gave the book a starred review, says that “led by characters that have their own agendas, this story goes in directions that may surprise readers, but the emotional impact will linger.”
A young mother named Rachel is disturbed when her son Billy acquires a vivid imaginary friend named Delfy after he survives a nasty bout of a deadly flu. But Delfy has more of a hold over Billy than she realized, and it’s growing more concerning by the day.
Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “Green makes it easy to feel for Rachel as her family threatens to collapse and to root for Nina as she pursues her dream, and the sharp, empathetic characterizations make the mysterious threat of Delfy all the more chilling.”
Read an excerpt.
Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke
In Sam Hawke’s City of Lies, Jovan was a friend to Chancellor’s Heir, secretly acting as the master of poisons to protect the ruling family. But when the chancellor dies, his city is besieged by their enemies. In this sequel, the siege has awoken some ancient spirits, complicating the usual power structures and ways of life in the city as new threats emerge.
Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “Fans will savor Hawke’s well-shaded characters, the lavish descriptions of their fictional world, and Hawke’s acute analyses of self-doubt, guilt, discrimination, and recrimination. This is a political epic done right.”
Read an excerpt.
The Blade Between by Sam J. Miller
Photographer Ronan Szepessy left upstate New York years ago for the city, and only reluctantly returns when he needs a break and to help his sick father. His hometown of Hudson is slowly gentrifying, and he’s horrified at how it’s changing into something unrecognizable. Hudson’s deeper history as a whaling town has permeated the area with a supernatural presence, which help Ronan as he works to save his home.
Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, saying that “the story is also strongly informed by Miller’s own history as a gay man brought up in Hudson, the son of a butcher who lost his shop to a big-box store. An unsettling and visceral journey: powerful, twisted, and grim but ultimately uplifting.”
Read an excerpt.
Bone Chase by Weston Ochse
In this thriller, a math teacher named Ethan McCloud gets a mysterious box in the mail, and discovers a deeper conspiracy after his father mysteriously dies. The box contains a picture of a skeleton of a giant, and it sends him off on a quest to uncover the truth behind it, chased by mysterious figures and organizations. Kirkus Reviews says that “fans of Indiana Jones movies and Dan Brown novels will enjoy this one.”
Read an excerpt.
A Universe of Wishes: A We Need Diverse Books Anthology edited by Dhonielle Clayton
We Need Diverse Books has been pushing for better representation within the publishing industry, and has produced a new anthology: A Universe of Wishes. The book’s 15 stories feature a range of speculative stories, and includes authors such as Tochi Onyebuchi, Rebecca Roanhorse, and V.E. Schwab.
Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, and says that “Installments centering authors’ established properties will be of most interest to readers already familiar with them, but overall, this anthology resonates in its thorough enrichment of the canon, from fairy tale reconstructions to space operas.”
Crosshairs by Catherine Hernandez
In the near future, an environmental disaster transforms Canada’s government into an oppressive regime, which oppresses people of color and other marginalized communities, forcing them into labor camps. Kay is one such “Other” and as the government’s secret police force — The Boots — works to strip people of their rights, he works to fight back with an array of allies.
Listen to an excerpt.
Orders of Battle by Marko Kloos
A short while ago, Marko Kloos decided to take a break from his long-running military SF series, Frontlines, which kicked off with Terms of Enlistment back in 2013. He’d played out the adventures of Andrew Greyson and his comrades as humanity confronts several threats: war between the North American Commonwealth and the Sino-Russian Alliance and their conflict out in space as humanity expands outwards, as well as the mysterious and massive alien invaders known as Lankies, which are nearly impossible to kill and which have pushed us off of countless colony worlds. They’re fun reads.
Related: Interview with Marko Kloos
Now, Kloos is back with a new installment, Orders of Battle. The book picks up four years after the last book, Points of Impact, and humanity is finally getting back into the swing of things, pushing the Lankies out of our solar system. And now, the humans are taking the fight to them.
Memoria by Kristyn Merbeth
Kristyn Merbeth kicked off a new space opera series last year with Fortuna, following a family of smugglers in space who stumble upon a massive conspiracy that could tip the Nova Vita system into war. They managed to help avert war, but they left destruction in their wake on the planets Gaia and Titan. As the family relocates to a new world, Nibiru, Scorpia Kaiser needs to go back to space, and takes on a new gig to return to where she’s most at home. Meanwhile, tensions still run high, and as Scorpia discovers more about what caused the war, she might ignite a new conflict over again.
Read an excerpt.
Fleet Elements by Walter Jon Williams
Two years ago, Walter Jon Williams published The Accidental War — set in the same world as his Dread Empire’s Fall series — in which an exiled captain, Gareth Martinez and Lady Sula are itching for a fight, and when the Praxis experiences some significant financial crises, conflict begins to erupt that threaten to undo the empire.
In this continuation, humans have been blamed for the financial collapses and are disarmed. Martinez and his allies launch a preemptive strike to take control of the Praxis fleet, to try and save humanity from destruction. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “Williams never lets the tense action sequences overwhelm the complex inner struggles of his characters,” and that “newcomers will have no problem getting oriented in this rip-roaring sci-fi world, and returning readers will be thrilled to dive back in.”
Read an excerpt.
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo
Nghi Vo released Empress of Salt and Fortune earlier this year, a novella inspired by Imperial China, in which a member of a royal court recounts her story to a Cleric, involving an arranged marriage, an enslaved handmaiden, and their unlikely friendship.
In this standalone companion, cleric Chih deal with a band of fearsome tigers. When they learn that Chih is an archivist, they demand to hear a legend before devouring them. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “readers who missed Vo’s debut will have no trouble following the second leg of Chih’s travels, and those returning will be pleased to sink into another lush, sophisticated story of queer love and survival.”
The Star Wars Archives, 1999-2005 by Paul Duncan
Back in 2018, Taschen released a massive tome of a behind-the-scenes book: The Star Wars Archives, which provided an in-depth look at the making of the Star Wars trilogy. Now, Paul Duncan is back with a new one: The Star Wars Archives: 199-2005. This volume takes an in-depth look at Lucas’s efforts to create the Prequel trilogy, and according to review accounts, it also takes a look into what he might have done with the third trilogy.
Also of interest: if you don’t want the massive tome that is the first book (it is really unwieldy), Taschen is releasing a new edition, one that’s significantly cheaper ($25), and smaller.
Colonyside by Michael Mammay
Michael Mammay returns to his Planetside military SF series for a third outing with Colonyside. In the first installment, Planetside, he introduced readers to Colonel Carl Butler, who’s called in to help locate a high chancellor’s missing son on a battle-torn space station, leading him to a hostile planet. In Spaceside, Butler returns home and is pushed into retirement, where he finds work as a security specialist for a military contractor on Talca Four.
This latest adventure finds Butler exiled on a backwater world, only to be brought back into action when he’s hired to locate a CEO’s missing daughter. He’s sent off to a distant and dangerous colony world, and between corrupt officials, lawless military contractors, and more, he finds that his rescue mission is more complicated than originally promised.
That’s all for now. Thank you for reading! As always, please let me know what caught your eye on this list, and spread the word to your friends and fellow readers.