It’s been a tricky year to release a new book. Few signings, no cons, libraries and bookshops closed half the time so fewer opportunities for eyes to snag on display copies. If it was bad for established names, think how much harder it was for authors putting their very first book out into the world. So today I’m looking back at some of the fantasy debuts since last year’s Wyrd And Wonder.
While I rapidly overwhelmed myself with enough titles that I’m going to split this into two posts (part II later this month will focus on YA and crossover fantasy), I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface – especially when it comes to indie, self-published and/or titles released outside the US/UK. I’ve prioritised this list based on the number of Goodreads ratings received – so the further you go, the more likely you are to have come across the titles and the less I’ll say about them.
Chime in in the comments with other adult fantasy debuts that you feel merit our attention!
The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper – AJ Fitzwater | Queen of Swords Press
I wasn’t planning to include short story collections, but if you think I could resist the fantastic adventures of a dapper lesbian pirate capybara you don’t know me at all. That’s it, that’s the whole pitch, and I need to get my hands on a copy like woah.
The Sin In The Steel – Ryan van Loan | Tor Books
Sherlock meets Pirates of the Caribbean as a brilliant street rat and a disgraced soldier accept a hire to find out what’s disrupting island trade. But a ruthless pirate queen with a hold full of secrets and a goddess with a cult following will test even their unusual talents… High-octane swashbuckling, although I found it rather heavier on exposition than on character.
The Councillor – EJ Beaton | DAW
This is the political fantasy I’ve been pining for all year. When the Queen dies, her favourite scholar is appointed to choose her successor. But Lysande suspects her friend was murdered and as she tries to determine which of the candidates for the throne was responsible, she enters a dangerous world of intrigue and shifting alliances. You know what they say about the game of thrones…
The Hollow Gods – AJ Vrana | Parliament House Press
Black Hollow is full of superstitions, none darker than that of the Dreamwalker who possesses young women, leading to their death. Mason is sure there’s a rational explanation. Kai wakes up with no memory next to a dead body, uncertain of anything. And Miya has begun to suspect she’s next. A folkloric fantasy of fate, grief and ancient grudges.
The Forever Sea – Joshua P Johnson | Titan Books
In a world of prairie seas, ships sail the grass waves by the magic of song and burned bone. When a maverick captain disappears into the depths, her granddaughter is caught between a brutal island union, ruthless pirates and the call of the sea. Amazing worldbuilding in an unusual environmental fantasy.
The Brass Queen – Elizabeth Chatsworth | CamCat Book
Even a well-born lady needs a side hustle: ‘The Brass Queen’ is the alter ego of hot-headed Constance Haltwhistle, who secretly sells guns to maintain her family estates. Her life gets complicated when her mad scientist father disappears and an almost-handsome American spy saves her from assassins. Expect a steampunk romp dialled up to eleven.
The Shadow In The Glass – JJA Harwood | HarperVoyager
Cinderella gets a dark Victorian retelling. Forced to work for a lecherous stepfather, Ella gets a chance to change everything when she is offered seven wishes. But each wish comes at a terrible price. Ella must decide whether her happiness is worth her soul…
The Four Profound Weaves – RB Lemberg | Tachyon Press
A tale of identity set in Lemberg’s long-running Birdverse. Two transgender elders go in search of Benesret, weaver of bones, in an anti-authoritarian desert fantasy embracing craft, family and mythology.
The Library of the Dead – TL Huchu | Tor Books
In a city as haunted as Edinburgh, a school drop-out earn good money carrying messages for ghosts. But when the spirits tell Ropa something is attacking Edinburgh’s children and sucking them dry, she feels bound to investigate. A dark Scottish urban fantasy.
Hall of Smoke – HM Long | Titan Books
After refusing a divine command to murder a traveller, a priestess must try to win back her goddess’s favour to earn her place in the afterlife. An epic fantasy of highly-involved gods.
The Conductors – Nicole Glover | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / Del Rey
An alt historical crime/thriller: a married couple put their magic to work investigating murders in the Black community in Philadelphia after the American Civil War.
The Unbroken – CL Clark | Orbit
Military fantasy exploring the intentional and incidental cruelties of colonialism as a loyal conscript is caught between an ambitious princess, a ruthless commanding officer and her rebellious kin. My vote for best fantasy of the year so far. Just saying.
The Kingdom of Liars – Nick Martell | Saga / Gollancz
A political fantasy thriller: in a world where magic costs memories, a traitor’s son seeks proof of his father’s innocence – and ends up on trial for regicide himself.
We Ride The Storm – Devin Madson | Orbit
Madson’s complex grimdark epic gets a traditional release. Is it still a debut if a book was previously an SPFBO finalist? Shh, go with it.
The Stranger Times – CK McDonnell | Bantam Press
Manchester gets the urban fantasy it deserves as a journalist realises the weird stories she’s asked to report on can’t be taken with a grain of salt.
Flyaway – Kathleen Jennings | Tor.com
An atmospheric fairytale of family secrets in small town Australia. I’ve only ever encountered Jennings through her amazing artwork – happily it features too.
The Year of the Witching – Alexis Henderson | Ace / Bantam Press
A horror-tinged fantasy set in a religious dystopia. Currently shortlisted for Best Debut in the Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards.
…and of course The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart – but I think we’re talking about that one quite enough this month!
Watch out for Part II later in May, focusing on YA debuts from the past 12 months.
Read any of these titles? What did you think?