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
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo
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.
Red Hands by Christopher Golden
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.
D (A Tale of Two Worlds) by Michel Faber
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.
Top New Fantasy Books November 2020
Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson
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.
Comes a Pale Rider by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Type: Short story collection
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.
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
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.
Top New Fantasy Books October 2020
The Emperor’s Wolves by Michelle Sagara
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.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
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.
Shadows of the Short Days by Alexander dan Vilhjálmsson
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.
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee
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…
Top New Fantasy Books September 2020
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
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.
Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston
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.
The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
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.
Top New Fantasy Books August 2020
The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
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.
Publisher’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.
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.
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…
Top New Fantasy Books July 2020
The Book of Dragons: An Anthology by Jonathan Strahan
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release date: July 7
Den 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.
Or What You Will by Joe Walton
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.
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!