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2020 List

The Best Fantasy Books of 2020

Rebellious women made a strong showing in fantasy in 2020, as well as those who simply refused to take “Burn her!” for an answer.

 

23
Sharks in the Time of Saviors
by Kawai Strong Washburn – 2020

In 1995 Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on a rare family vacation, seven-year-old Nainoa Flores falls overboard a cruise ship into the Pacific Ocean. When a shiver of sharks appears in the water, everyone fears for the worst. But instead, Nainoa is gingerly delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, marking his story as the stuff of legends.

Nainoa’s family, struggling amidst the collapse of the sugarcane industry, hails his rescue as a sign of favor from ancient Hawaiian gods—a belief that appears validated after he exhibits puzzling new abilities. But as time passes, this supposed divine favor begins to drive the family apart: Nainoa, working now as a paramedic on the streets of Portland, struggles to fathom the full measure of his expanding abilities; further north in Washington, his older brother Dean hurtles into the world of elite college athletics, obsessed with wealth and fame; while in California, risk-obsessed younger sister Kaui navigates an unforgiving academic workload in an attempt to forge her independence from the family’s legacy.

When supernatural events revisit the Flores family in Hawaii—with tragic consequences—they are all forced to reckon with the bonds of family, the meaning of heritage, and the cost of survival.

An Amazon Best Book of March 2020.

22
Beneath the Rising
by Premee Mohamed – 2020

Nick Prasad has always enjoyed a quiet life in the shadow of his best friend, child prodigy and technological genius Joanna “Johnny” Chambers. But all that is about to end.

When Johnny invents a clean reactor that could eliminate fossil fuels and change the world, she awakens primal, evil Ancient Ones set on subjugating humanity.

From the oldest library in the world to the ruins of Nineveh, hunted at every turn, they will need to trust each other completely to survive…

“A beautifully constructed Mythos adventure… Mohamed’s writing sings in a hundred small ways.”
—Sublime Horror

21
The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home
by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor – 2020
Book 3 of 3 in the Welcome to Night Vale series

In the town of Night Vale, there’s a faceless old woman who secretly lives in everyone’s home, but no one knows how she got there or where she came from…until now. Told in a series of eerie flashbacks, the story of The Faceless Old Woman goes back centuries to reveal an initially blissful and then tragic childhood on a Mediterranean Estate in the early nineteenth century, her rise in the criminal underworld of Europe, a nautical adventure with a mysterious organization of smugglers, her plot for revenge on the ones who betrayed her, and ultimately her death and its aftermath, as her spirit travels the world for decades until settling in modern-day Night Vale.

Interspersed throughout is a present-day story in Night Vale, as The Faceless Old Woman guides, haunts, and sabotages a man named Craig. In the end, her current day dealings with Craig and her swashbuckling history in nineteenth century Europe will come together in the most unexpected and horrifying way.

“A chilling ghost story… A decades long, globe-spanning saga of adventure, betrayal, love, and fate [about] one of Welcome to Night Vale’s most enigmatic and terrifying characters… A funny, terrifying, and unpredictable slice of Night Vale’s macabre history.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

20
Shadows of the Short Days
by Alexander dan Vilhjálmsson – 2020

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.

“Readers who enjoy urban fantasy writers like China Miéville should enjoy this dark saga.”
—Booklist

19
Shakespeare for Squirrels
by Christopher Moore – 2020
Book 3 of 3 in The Fool Series

Set adrift by his pirate crew, Pocket of Dog Snogging—last seen in The Serpent of Venice—washes up on the sun-bleached shores of Greece, where he hopes to dazzle the Duke with his comedic brilliance and become his trusted fool.

But the island is in turmoil. Egeus, the Duke’s minister, is furious that his daughter Hermia is determined to marry Demetrius, instead of Lysander, the man he has chosen for her. The Duke decrees that if, by the time of the wedding, Hermia still refuses to marry Lysander, she shall be executed . . . or consigned to a nunnery. Pocket, being Pocket, cannot help but point out that this decree is complete bollocks, and that the Duke is an egregious weasel for having even suggested it. Irritated by the fool’s impudence, the Duke orders his death. With the Duke’s guards in pursuit, Pocket makes a daring escape.

He soon stumbles into the wooded realm of the fairy king Oberon, who, as luck would have it, IS short a fool. His jester Robin Goodfellow—the mischievous sprite better known as Puck—was found dead. Murdered. Oberon makes Pocket an offer he can’t refuse: he will make Pocket his fool and have his death sentence lifted if Pocket finds out who killed Robin Goodfellow. But as anyone who is even vaguely aware of the Bard’s most performed play ever will know, nearly every character has a motive for wanting the mischievous sprite dead.

With too many suspects and too little time, Pocket must work his own kind of magic to find the truth, save his neck, and ensure that all ends well.

“It takes a certain amount of guts and wild abandon to recast a Shakespeare comedy as a hard-boiled detective story, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s master satirist Moore, whose gift for funny business apparently knows no bounds.”
—Booklist, starred review

18
The Trouble with Peace
by Joe Abercrombie – 2020
Book 2 of 2 in The Age of Madness series

Savine dan Glokta, once Adua’s most powerful investor, finds her judgment, fortune, and reputation in tatters. But she still has all her ambitions, and no scruple will be permitted to stand in her way.

For heroes like Leo dan Brock and Stour Nightfall, only happy with swords drawn, peace is an ordeal to end as soon as possible. But grievances must be nursed, power seized, and allies gathered first, while Rikke must master the power of the Long Eye… before it kills her.

Unrest worms into every layer of society. The Breakers still lurk in the shadows, plotting to free the common man from his shackles, while noblemen bicker for their own advantage. Orso struggles to find a safe path through the maze of knives that is politics, only for his enemies, and his debts, to multiply.

The old ways are swept aside, and the old leaders with them, but those who would seize the reins of power will find no alliance, no friendship, and no peace lasts forever.

“Abercrombie’s satisfying plotting and expert subversion of genre expectations are sure to please. Readers will be gripped.”
―Publishers Weekly

17
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin
by Roseanne A. Brown – 2020
Book 1 of 1 in the A Song of Wraiths and Ruin series

For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts his younger sister, Nadia, as payment to enter the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.

But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic… requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.

When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a heart-pounding course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?

“An action-packed tale of injustice, magic, and romance, this novel immerses readers in a thrilling world and narrative.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

16
House of Earth and Blood
by Sarah J. Maas – 2020
Book 1 of 1 in the Crescent City series

Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.

“The mystery element presents a stunning twist, and the emotional depth of Bryce’s relationships with both Hunt and Danika is incredibly moving.”
―Booklist, starred review

15
The Empire of Dreams
by Rae Carson – 2020
Book 4 of 4 in the Fire and Thorns series

Author Rae Carson returns to the world of her award-winning Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy in this stand-alone novel.

Red Sparkle Stone is a foundling orphan with an odd name, a veiled past, and a mark of magic in her hair. But finally—after years and years of running, of fighting—she is about to be adopted into the royal family by Empress Elisa herself. She’ll have a home, a family. Sixteen-year-old Red can hardly believe her luck. Then, in a stunning political masterstroke, the empress’s greatest rival blocks the adoption, and everything Red has worked for crumbles before her eyes.

But Red is not about to let herself or the empress become a target again. Determined to prove her worth and protect her chosen family, she joins the Royal Guard, the world’s most elite fighting force. It’s no coincidence that someone wanted her to fail as a princess, though. Someone whose shadowy agenda puts everything—and everyone—she loves at risk. As danger closes in, it will be up to Red to save the empire… if she can survive recruitment year—something no woman has ever done before.

“Action, adventure, betrayal, and poison add up to a winner.”
—Booklist

14
The Year of the Witching
by Alexis Henderson – 2020

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.

“Has a classic setup but updates the olde puritanical tale to deal with issues of racism and sexism.”
—The Washington Post

13
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
by V.E. Schwab – 2020

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever―and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

“Rich and satisfying.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

12
The Once and Future Witches
by Alix E. Harrow – 2020

In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters—James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna—join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote—and perhaps not even to live—the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

“A love letter to folklore and the rebellious women of history.”
―Publishers Weekly

11
The Obsidian Tower
by Melissa Caruso – 2020
Book 1 of 1 in the Rooks and Ruin series

Deep within Gloamingard Castle lies a black tower. Sealed by magic, it guards a dangerous secret that has been contained for thousands of years.

As Warden, Ryxander knows the warning passed down through generations: nothing must unseal the Door. But one impetuous decision will leave her with blood on her hands–and unleash a threat that could doom the world to fall to darkness.

“With The Obsidian Tower [Melissa Caruso] hits another level in terms of prose and tension. This is a truly excellent fantasy, and an epic beginning for a new trilogy.”
―Locus

10
The House in the Cerulean Sea
by T. J. Klune – 2020

Linus Baker is a by-the-book caseworker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.

Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.

“Quirk and charm give way to a serious exploration of the dangers of complacency in this delightful, thought-provoking Orwellian fantasy from Klune…. This tale of found family is hopeful to its core. Readers will revel in Klune’s wit and ingenuity.”
―Publishers Weekly, starred review

9
A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians
by H.G. Parry – 2020
Book 1 of 1 in The Shadow Histories series

It is the Age of Enlightenment—of new and magical political movements, from the necromancer Robespierre calling for revolution in France, to the weather mage Toussaint L’Ouverture leading the slaves of Haiti in their fight for freedom, to the bold new Prime Minister William Pitt weighing the legalization of magic amongst commoners in Britain and abolition throughout its colonies overseas.

But amidst all of the upheaval of the early modern world, there is an unknown force inciting all of human civilization into violent conflict. And it will require the combined efforts of revolutionaries, magicians, and abolitionists to unmask this hidden enemy before the whole world falls to darkness and chaos.

“A witty, riveting historical fantasy….Parry has a historian’s eye for period detail and weaves real figures from history-including Robespierre and Toussaint L’Ouverture-throughout her poetic tale of justice, liberation, and dark magic. This is a knockout.”
―Publishers Weekly, starred review

8
A Deadly Education
by Naomi Novik – 2020
Book 1 of 2 in The Scholomance series

I decided that Orion Lake needed to die after the second time he saved my life.

Everyone loves Orion Lake. Everyone else, that is. Far as I’m concerned, he can keep his flashy combat magic to himself. I’m not joining his pack of adoring fans.

I don’t need help surviving the Scholomance, even if they do. Forget the hordes of monsters and cursed artifacts, I’m probably the most dangerous thing in the place. Just give me a chance and I’ll level mountains and kill untold millions, make myself the dark queen of the world.

At least, that’s what the world expects. Most of the other students in here would be delighted if Orion killed me like one more evil thing that’s crawled out of the drains. Sometimes I think they want me to turn into the evil witch they assume I am. The school certainly does.

But the Scholomance isn’t getting what it wants from me. And neither is Orion Lake. I may not be anyone’s idea of the shining hero, but I’m going to make it out of this place alive, and I’m not going to slaughter thousands to do it, either.

Although I’m giving serious consideration to just one.

“Hilarious and wild! Take any fictional magic school, make it as over-the-top dangerous as possible, and populate it with a bunch of snarky teenagers; the result is pure batshit fun.”
—N. K. Jemisin, New York Times bestselling author of The City We Became

7
Dance on Saturday: Stories
by Elwin Cotman – 2020

In the title novella, Cotman imagines a group of near-immortals living in Pittsburgh in an uneasy truce with Lord Decay. Their truce is threatened when one of them takes pity on a young woman who knows their secret.

In “Among the Zoologists,” a game writer en route to a convention falls in with a group of rogue Darwinists whose baggage contains a great mystery.

A volleyball tournament devolves into nightmare and chaos in “Mine.”

In Cotman’s hands, the conventions of genres from fairytales to Victorian literature to epic fantasy and horror give shape to marvelously new stories.

“Cotman wields biting wit, powerful emotion, and magic large and small throughout these six superlative stories. . . . Readers will be blown away. . . . Cotman’s bold and timely speculative fiction marks him as a writer to watch.”
―Publishers Weekly, starred review

6
The Bone Shard Daughter
by Andrea Stewart – 2020
Book 1 of 1 in The Drowning Empire series

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 recognize 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.

“[S]harp and compelling.”
—Booklist

5
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water
by Zen Cho – 2020

A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with an eclectic group of thieves (whether they like it or not) in order to protect a sacred object, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined.

“Fantastic, defiant, utterly brilliant.”
―Ken Liu, author and translator

4
The Empress of Salt and Fortune
by Nghi Vo – 2020
Book 1 of 2 in The Singing Hills Cycle

A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully.

Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor’s lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for.

At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She’s a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.

“Thoroughly entertaining blend of elegant fantasy, high royalty, and political intrigue is superbly brought to life.”
—Midwest Book Review

3
Drowned Country
by Emily Tesh – 2020
Book 2 of 2 in the Greenhollow Duology series

Even the Wild Man of Greenhollow can’t ignore a summons from his mother, when that mother is the indomitable Adela Silver, practical folklorist. Henry Silver does not relish what he’ll find in the grimy seaside town of Rothport, where once the ancient wood extended before it was drowned beneath the sea—a missing girl, a monster on the loose, or, worst of all, Tobias Finch, who loves him.

“Exquisitely crafted… This fresh, evocative short novel heralds a welcome new voice in fantasy.”
—Publishers Weekly

2
Come Tumbling Down
by Seanan McGuire – 2020
Book 5 of 6 in the Wayward Children series

Heads up: this is the fifth book in a series that began with Every Heart a Doorway, so you may want to start there.

When Jack left Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children she was carrying the body of her deliciously deranged sister―whom she had recently murdered in a fit of righteous justice―back to their home on the Moors.

But death in their adopted world isn’t always as permanent as it is here, and when Jack is herself carried back into the school, it becomes clear that something has happened to her. Something terrible. Something of which only the maddest of scientists could conceive. Something only her friends are equipped to help her overcome.

Eleanor West’s “No Quests” rule is about to be broken.

“Grotesque, haunting, lovely.”
—Kirkus, starred review

1
Piranesi
by Susanna Clarke – 2020

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.

“Enthralling [and] transcendent… the sweetness, the innocence of Piranesi’s love for this world is devastating to read. Clarke’s writing is clear, sharp ― she can cleave your heart in a few short words. . . The mystery of Piranesi unwinds at a tantalizing yet lightening-like pace ― it’s hard not to rush ahead, even when each sentence, each revelation makes you want to linger.”
—NPR

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