Top Ten Tuesday: exciting 2021 debuts

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s all about books, lists and sharing the love we have of both with our bookish friends. This week, it’s time to take a look at the releases we are most excited about for the first half of 2021.

There’s an amazing release schedule lined up for 2021 – it’s a year for which I’ve already given up any hope of ‘keeping up’ (not that I ever do) and adopted a daily mantra of ‘it’s okay, this is the year of chilled-out reading’ as the days whoosh by and I’m yet to pick up my first book of the year (don’t worry, I am reading – I’m finishing Season One of Bookburners, which I started in the dying days of 2020 and am thoroughly addicted to). So this week’s topic is both an excuse to play favourites (or expose my biases) and to watch my TBR expand explosively as you all point me at releases I hadn’t yet heard about (what goes around comes around; I’ve more than earned this).

All that made choosing just ten titles a daunting task – so I’m going to focus on ten exciting debut novels coming up in the first half of the year to make it a little easier. So, in expected order of publication…

The year kicks off with The Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson, released by Titan on January 26th. I talked about this one last week (along with other exciting January releases) and I’m delighted to confess that the author will be stopping by There’s Always Room For One More for Six Degrees of Separation shenanigans later this month. Expect a review to follow as soon as I get my hands on a copy…

Next up is Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell, due on February 4th from Orbit. This romantic space opera had me with the strapline of ‘one match can light up an empire‘ – in this case, the untimely death of a prince whose marriage is crucial to keeping the peace. His widower Jainan is hastily remarried to the Emperor’s disreputable grandchild, and the reluctant couple must – at least publicly – show their union is a strong one if they are to avert a civil war. But the prince’s death may not have been an accident – and Jainan is the most likely suspect…

Also in February (February 16th, to be exact) is Witherward by Hannah Mathewson. Witherward London is as contrary as you’d expect: a magical city ruled by rival factions, in which a young Changeling who grew up in our world is drawn home as civil war threatens… I sometimes suggest there are quite enough London-centric fantasies, but given how intrigued I am by this upcoming YA title from Titan, I’m clearly in denial about my own (and the market’s) biases.

March is a bumper month for tasty debuts, with three making my list. The Councillor by EJ Beaton is out on March 2nd (DAW Books – no news on a UK edition yet, but available on import) and zapped me right between the eyes: the Queen’s confidant is chosen to pick the new Queen when her friend is killed, but low-born scholar Lysande is certain that one of the candidates is the murderer. Expect uncertain allies, political ambition and personal turmoil as Lysande battles her demons – and discovers a taste for power.

On March 4th, The Conductors by Nicole Glover pulls into town, an alternate history set after the American Civil War. Hetty Rhodes once used magic to help slaves escape the South; now, she and her husband Benjy solve crimes nobody else cares to investigate – but the death of a friend will force them to confront dark truths about their community and each other. Out from Del Rey in the UK, but I used the gorgeous US cover art (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Not to judge a book by its cover, but one look shows why there’s so much thirst for The Unbroken by CL Clark (Orbit, March 25th). The blurb is equally inviting, promising an indentured soldier pressed into service against her own people and her conflicted relationship with a rebellious princess. Advance word is that the emphasis is on politics and romance, with a great North African-inspired setting. Bring it.

Sorry April, we’re zooming straight past your enticements to focus on May and June. I’ve had my eye on The Lights of Prague since last summer – Nicole Jarvis’s debut finally arrives from Titan on May 18th. Monsters stalk the streets of Prague at night, held at bay by the lamplighters, dedicated to guarding humankind. Expect Czech mythology, unreliable allies and twisted alchemy to keep you up late.

June is another bumper month of debuts I’m excited for. Indie fantasy The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin is first out of the gate on June 1st (Sourcebooks Fire). Practical Magic meets Twister is an absurd publisher promo that I just can’t resist, but more importantly the plot synopsis recasts the premise as weather magic vs climate change. Clara is a rare witch whose power is not bound by the seasons, if she can master them – and if she is willing to pay the price…

June 22nd sees the release of both my last two picks. KB Wagers sold me on Star Eater by Kerstin Hall ( by mentioning cannibalistic zombie-fighting space nuns, which is a helluva pitch (and a helluva lot more direct than the official blurb, which is so oblique I’d originally dismissed this altogether). Add politics, factions, espionage and disaster bisexuals for the full package of yes please.

Last up today is Cass Khaw’s first novel. I’ve loved her novellas in spite of myself, drawn in by her evocative prose and held captive in fantastical hellscapes. The All-Consuming World (Erewhon Books) sees her imagination unleashed on space, set on a planet named for a creepy Icelandic lava field (hey, I visited at dusk) where dangerous women – half clone, half machine – team up to rescue a comrade… if they can elude the sapient ageships who want them dead.

Given the current state of the world, all release dates should be taken with a pinch of salt.

What releases are you most looking forward to in the next six months?