It’s finally here! My list of the best science fiction and fantasy releases of 2018. Yes, I know 2018 isn’t over. But really, I’m not likely to fit any more books in, so why not get ahead of the game with a list of my absolute favorite new releases?
1. The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
The Poppy War is already making plenty of “best of 2018” lists, and I’m sure it will receive more attention during award season. And there’s a reason for all of that: The Poppy War is an incredibly powerful novel, if also an incredibly dark one. If you’re in a place where you can handle a fantasy novel inspired by the Sino-Japanese War, then I highly recommend reading The Poppy War.
Rin is an orphaned peasant girl in the backwater Rooster Province, but despite all the odds, she aces the national exam and gets into the country’s most elite military academy, Sinegard. But Rin’s struggles are not over, and she still faces discrimination for her class, her skin color, and her gender. As hard as she worked for the exam, she will need to work even harder to succeed at Sinegard. Beyond the limits of her studies, other conflicts lurk. Ancient gods are not dead, myths are realities, and a war with the Federation of Mugen is on the horizon.
2. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
I stayed up to a ridiculously late hour to keep reading Dread Nation. I love the writing, the pacing, the plot, the themes, and our unforgettable protagonist, Jane McKeene. This is the young adult, historical zombie novel I had no idea I needed.
At the battle of Gettysburg, the dead began to walk, changing history forever. Jane McKeene was born only a few days after that historic event, and she has never known a world where humanity isn’t threatened by the ravenous hunger of their own dead. Under the Native and Negro Reeducation Act, Jane and other black children are required to go to combat schools and then enter patrols to fight the dead. Jane attends the prestigious Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, and upon graduation, she is expected to go into service to a wealthy white woman, becoming her personal protector. Jane isn’t much interested in becoming a companion. Instead, she wants to return to the Kentucky plantation of her birth, where she hopes her mother is still alive. But Jane’s plans are derailed by a massive conspiracy, one that will see her struggling to survive in both the undead and some all too human threats.
3. The Infernal Battalion by Django Wexler
The Infernal Battalion is the last book in Django Wexler’s The Shadow Campaign series, and it delivers everything the previous books promised and more. Military fantasy isn’t usually my forte, but this series is near and dear to my heart.
(SPOILER ALERT FOR PREVIOUS BOOKS) The Beast, a demon that can spread itself by taking over people’s minds, has gotten free of its prison. And it has seized the mind of Janus, the military general who was possibly humanity’s best hope for defeating it. Of course, most people don’t know that the Beast is actually real, let alone that it’s escaped its prison and is quickly enacting its desires for world domination. Winter is the only one who can possibly destroy it once and for all, and she’s stuck up north, far away from her allies in Vordan. She needs to reach them, even as the Beast is determined to see her annihilated.
4. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
This speculative fiction mystery is so deliciously twisty that I couldn’t put it down. I’m lucky enough that I had a friend who read it immediately after me so that we could fangirl together. Oh, and sidenote, it was published as The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle in the United States.
Aiden is repeating the same day over and over again. He has eight tries to solve the mystery of Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder… or his memory will be erased and he will repeat this all over again, as he has done so many times before. Aiden doesn’t remember who he is or why he’s trapped solving Evelyn’s murder. A mysterious figure in a plague mask appears to be the architect of this scenario, and he appears and reappears, giving Aiden warnings and explaining the rules. Aiden is not the only one trying to solve the murder — he’s got two competitors, and only one of the three can go free. As he tries to solve the murder, he must take care that one of his competitors doesn’t murder him.
5. Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
I started Girls of Paper and Fire at breakfast and finished it later the same day. Girls of Paper and Fire is like YA fantasy meets The Handmaid‘s Tale… only it’s queer too! This book is probably one of the most buzzed about YA fantasies of the year, and it so lives up to the hype.
Lei is a human girl, the lowest caste in a kingdom ruled by demons. Years ago, her mother was stolen by the royal guards, so when royal guards again come to her village, Lei knows it must mean bad news. And she’s right. In short order, her family has been threatened, her dog has been killed, and Lei herself has been kidnapped and taken to the palace to serve as a “Paper Girl” (AKA concubine AKA sex slave), along with eight other girls. In a grotesque situation, survival is Lei’s focus… but sometimes surviving goes beyond just staying alive. When Lei falls in love with another Paper Girl, the mysterious and beautiful Wren, she is tempting death and is on the edge of discovering a world-shattering conspiracy.
6. Witchmark by C.L. Polk
Witchmark is a very compelling book with great writing, a twisty plot, and a well-developed world. If you like Martha Wells’ Ile-Rien books, then you need to read Witchmark.
Miles Singer is in hiding. He ran away from his family, escaping a dehumanizing future as a walking magical battery. But if witches like him aren’t bonded to the elite weather mages, then they’ll be carted off to an asylum for sure and never heard from again. Nobody knows about Miles magic or who his family really is. He values his freedom, and he’s careful to keep it. He’s working as a doctor in a veteran’s hospital when a patient arrives who recognizes Miles both for a witch and for his family background. He begs Miles to help find his murderer before he dies of a fatal poisoning. One person overheard all of this: the mysterious and handsome Tristan, who has his own reasons for wanting Miles to investigate the murder. And he promises that if Miles helps him, he can teach Miles how to hide his magic, even from other witches.
7. Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
If Django Wexler’s Shadow Campaign series taught me to love military fantasy, then Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series taught me to love military science fiction. These novels brim with brilliant characterization, imaginative world-building, and powerful thematic material. Revenant Gun is the end of the trilogy, and while I’m sad it’s over, I can’t wait to see what Yoon Ha Lee does next.
Shuos Jedao wakes up with the memories of a seventeen-year-old cadet, one who has not yet begun his military career. Yet, everyone tells him he is an accomplished general? They also seem afraid of him, knowing more of his history than he himself. Jedao quickly realizes he’s trapped in a terrible situation. He’s being used by Kujen, who plays at friendliness when he’s anything but, and he’s forced to use the Kel under his command, who have been compelled by the standard brainwashing to obey him and Kujen.
8. Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller
Blackfish City is an incredibly immersive science fiction novel where the setting is almost a character in its own right. Like legit, the city in Blackfish City is right up there with Ankh-Morpork for my favorite fictional cities. I would recommend this novel to anyone looking for a hopeful dystopian, a queer cast, a splendid setting, a focus on climate change or the strength and resilience of community and family.
Into the contentious, floating Arctic city of Qaanaaq, a stranger arrives riding an orca with a polar bear in tow. She may be the last of an oppressed culture of nano-bonders, people who use an unknown science to create neural bonds to animals. Her purpose is unknown, but four citizens of Qaanaaq find their lives becoming intertwined in the wake of her arrival.
9. Artificial Condition / Rogue Protocol / Exit Strategy by Martha Wells
Is it cheating to group three of Martha Wells’ Murderbot novellas together? I just can’t pick between them, and there’s not room on this list for them to all have separate entries! But if you’ve read any of the Murderbot stories, then I don’t think you’ll begrudge me this choice. This novella series follows Murderbot, a delightfully snarky and anxiety-ridden SecUnit who’s hacked its governor module and gained autonomy over its own actions. The first book, All Systems Red, was published last year (and made my best of 2017 list too), and the three novellas from 2018 round out the series… but Martha Wells has a Murderbot novel on the way!
10. A Ruin of Shadows by L.D. Lewis
A Ruin of Shadows is one of my favorite novellas of the year. It’s a quick read, but wow does it make an impression. Anti-heroines are amazing, and I really loved this story of a badass, older, female general who has Had Enough.
General Daynja Édo has spent decades building the Boorhian Empire. With her “army” of seven shadows (assassins), she has spent her life in brutal violence. Now, after thirty years, she’s wondering if she’s made the right choices with her life. When the new Emperor, a man she has no respect for, gives her an order she finds abhorrent, General Daynja Édo plots rebellion.
11. Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria
I knew anything by Destiny Soria would be amazing, and Beneath the Citadel did not disappoint. It’s kind of like a queer, young adult version of Lies of Locke Lamora. It’s an excellent stand-alone fantasy novel with a fantastic cast of roguish characters.
Cassa’s the daughter of dead rebels, and she desperately wants to overthrow the council. But the rebellion is over, and she doesn’t have a movement — only a few friends. When she and her friends are caught breaking into the Citadel, they head into the tunnels below to escape. Beneath the citadel, they find one more prophecy: that Cassa will overthrow the council. But prophecies are only as trustworthy as the prophets that make them…
12. The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards
I’m so so glad I listened to everyone telling me to read The Last Sun. It’s a stunningly imaginative urban fantasy novel with characters I came to care deeply about. The best comparison I can think of is Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence crossed with Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniel series, but gayer.
The city of New Atlantis is ruled by the courts — powerfully magical families, all named after a card in the Major Arcana. Rune Saint John is the last child of the Sun Court, which was destroyed in a devastating night twenty years ago. Rune and his companion/bodyguard Brand were the only survivors, and Rune still has no idea who was behind the destruction of his court and his assault. Now, he makes a living working odd jobs with Brand. Currently, he’s been hired by Lord Tower to find Adam, his missing godson and the son of Lady Justice. Whatever happened to Adam involves a magic strange and powerful, one not even Atlantians believe in…
13. Swordheart by T. Kingfisher
I can’t remember the last time I laughed this much while reading a book. Swordheart is a romantic fantasy novel that’s brimming with humor. Everything Ursula Vernon writes is delightful, and I will continue to eagerly rush to read anything by her.
Halla is a respectably widowed housekeeper who spent more than a decade looking after an old man… who just died and left everything to her. Unfortunately, his relatives want to keep the money “in the family” and have locked her in her bedroom until she agrees to marry Cousin Alvin. Halla’s taken up the old sword that hangs on the wall and started wondering how to fall on it when she summons the Sarkis, an ancient warrior who has been magically bound to the sword and commanded to defend its wielder. He’s more used to battling armies than in-laws, but Sarkis will help Halla escape and reclaim her inheritance.
14. The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
The Black God’s Drums is one of the best steampunk stories I have ever read. It’s a quick little novella that is unforgettable in spite of its brevity.
The Black God’s Drums follows Creeper, a girl in the free and neutral city of New Orleans. She’s a street urchin living in a hidey-hole near the airfield, watching the airships come and go and dreaming of seeing the world. When she overhears some valuable information involving a Haitian scientist and a weapon called the Black God’s Drums, she sees her chance — use the information to try and buy her way onto the smuggler ship The Midnight Robber, lead by the famous Captain Ann-Marie. But Creeper also has another card up her sleeve: the goddess Oya of winds and storms who grants her divine powers and sometimes visions. Including a vision of a giant skull in the skies over New Orleans…
15. Worlds Seen in Passing: Ten Years of Tor.com Short Fiction edited by Irene Gallo
Out of all the short story anthologies I’ve read in 2018, Worlds Seen in Passing has to be my favorite. Short story anthologies will always contain some stories I like and some stories I dislike, but Worlds Seen in Passing skews heavily towards stories I liked. Of the forty short stories in this collection, so many are plain wonderful! To see more information about each, you’ll need to visit my review. But to tempt you into reading it… this collection includes stories by fantastic authors such as JY Yang, Ruthanna Emrys, N. K. Jemisin, Leigh Bardugo, Jeff VanderMeer, Yoon Ha Lee, Ken Liu, Kai Ashante Wilson, Kameron Hurley, Rachel Swirsky, Alyssa Wong, Max Gladstone, Mary Robinette Kowal, Cassandra Khaw, and Charlie Jane Anders.
16. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Trail of Lightning was one of the most anticipated urban fantasy releases of the year, and I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint. I imagine I won’t be alone in considering it one of the best SFF books of the year!
After Maggie Hoskie’s grandmother was killed by monsters and the witch who raised them, she was taken under the wing of a legendary hero Neizghani and trained as a warrior and monster-slayer. Only, then Neizghani left her without a word and Maggie found herself alone in the world. She isolated herself from human company and swore off the life of a monster-slayer. Of course, that changes at the start of the novel, when a town begs her to rescue a missing girl. The monster responsible is like nothing Maggie has encountered before, and it isn’t alone. Similar monsters are being reported across Dinétah. With the help of Kai Arviso, a medicine man who might just become a friend, Maggie sets out to find the witch responsible.
17. Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews
Magic Triumphs is the last book in the Kate Daniels series, my all-time favorite urban fantasy series. What am I going to do without more Kate Daniels books to look forward to? As with any last book in a beloved series, reading Magic Triumphs was a bittersweet experience.
(SPOILER ALERT FOR PREVIOUS BOOKS) In the prologue to Magic Triumphs, Kate gives birth to a son, whom she knows Roland will try to take. Kate and her father have an uneasy truce, but she knows it can’t last forever. While she’s focused on her father, a new threat arises, announced with a box of ash on her doorstep and the disappearance of an entire neighborhood. Battle is inevitable, but can she convince the rest of Atlanta to join her? And what about her father?
18. Imposter Syndrome by Mishell Baker
In 2018, I had to face the end of not just one of my favorite urban fantasy series, but two! The Arcadia Files by Mishell Baker is an absolutely wonderful series starring Millie, an unforgettable anti-heroine. I also really love how the series deals with issues of disability and mental health, and that’s something I want to see more of in fantasy novels.
(SPOILER ALERT FOR PREVIOUS BOOKS) After learning that spells are sentient (and enslaved) spirits and that the head of the Project handed a child over to be tortured, the LA branch of the Arcadia Project is in revolt. Someone, London HQ finds a way to frame Millie’s partner Tjuan for murder. They can’t think of any way to stave off the power of the London HQ but then Millie comes up with the idea of a heist that will take them from London to the palace of the Seelie Queen.
19. Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
I swear Brandon Sanderson has something on this list every year. This year, it’s Skyward, the start of a new young adult, science fiction series. I love Skyward‘s twisty plot, its fast pacing, and the mysteries of the world
Spensa has always longed to be a pilot like her father… even when he flees in the middle of battle and is shot down by his own side in punishment for cowardice. But her world needs pilots. Spensa is one of the descendants of a wrecked space fleet who found a precarious refuge in the caverns of a graveyard of a planet while an unknown alien species launches constant attacks, trying to destroy what civilization humanity has managed to recreate.
20. In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard
I’ve been telling everyone I know about In the Vanishers’ Palace, a f/f retelling of “Beauty and the Beast”… with dragons!
Yên is a failed scholar in a harsh world. She and her mother are barely accepted in their village community for her mother’s skills as a healer, but Yên knows their situation is precarious and that they are likely to someday be cast out or killed. When Yên’s mother summons the dragon Vu Côn to heal the daughter of a village leader, Vu Côn demands a life in payment. The village chooses Yên, and she’s sent to Vu Côn’s home in the labyrinthine palace left behind by the rulers of the world. Yên thinks she will die, but she soon finds that Vu Côn has another use for her: Vu Côn is the mother of two, and she needs a tutor for her unruly children.
The Dreaming Stars by Tim Pratt
I really love this incredibly fun space opera series, which started with The Wrong Stars. It’s got excellent aliens, snappy dialog, a fast pace, and lovable characters. What more do you want?
(SPOILERS FOR THE PREVIOUS BOOK) Humanity has no idea the danger it is in. An ancient alien race, the Axiom, ruled the entire universe. At the moment, they are sleeping, but if they are alerted to humanity’s existence, they will be sure to destroy us. The crew of the White Raven are the only humans that know the truth, and they believe that this is a chance to destroy the Axiom once and for all. Only, that’s easier said than done, giving that the Axiom are into casually destroying planets. Even while they sleep, they have some hellish defense mechanisms. Case in point, ships start to go missing out by a secret Axiom base, and the Liar sect in the area has gone totally silent. The crew of the White Raven is off to investigate, and what they find poses an imminent danger to all of humanity.
Minimum Wage Magic by Rachel Aaron
Minimum Wage Magic was a whole lot of fun, and I expected nothing else of a Rachel Aaron novel! Her work would likely appeal to fans of Ilona Andrews, as this book is a fast-paced urban fantasy novel with excellent world building and a strong heroine at its center.
Minimum Wage Magic follows Opal Yong-ae, a young woman whose barely making a living given a terrible streak of bad luck. She lives in the independent city of DFZ (previously Detroit), where almost everything is legal and life is risky but full of opportunities. Opal makes a living as a Cleaner, buying the rights to everything inside abandoned apartments and buildings. She has only a week to get the money she needs to ensure her freedom, but a streak of bad luck has left her struggling. Take her most recent job: all she finds are a bunch of papers and a dead body… but just maybe some of those papers could prove valuable, as one looks to be some sort of highly complicated spell involving all sorts of expensive ingredients. Finding them may be Opal’s only chance at making her payment.
Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
I think Record of a Spaceborn Few is my favorite story yet from Becky Chambers.
When Earth was dying, humanity created a giant fleet of generation ships and set out to find a new planet. In the centuries since, they made contact with the other sentient species in the galaxy and were given their own star to orbit around. Some left the fleet to settle on other planets, but the Exodus Fleet is a still-living community and as much the ancestral home of humanity as Earth. But how are things changing now that they’ve come into contact with the rest of the galaxy? Will they be able to hold on to their way of life and retain a future?
Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Tess of the Road is the story of one traumatized teen girl’s path to recovery. While it’s set in a fantasy world, Tess of the Road bears some resemblance to contemporary young adult novels dealing with issues such as sexual assault and teen pregnancy. Perhaps this is why reviews are falling into either “love it” or “hate it” camps. If you were wanting a fun, fantasy quest story, that’s not really Tess of the Road. Instead, it’s a deeply personal — and feminist — story of healing.
The story focuses on Tess, a young woman in a patriarchal fantasy kingdom who’s “ruined herself” and is held in low regard by her family. At her sisters’ wedding, Tess tries to drown out her demons with alcohol but ends up causing a scene and punching a priest (who’s also her brother-in-law) in the face. It’s the last straw for her family, who decide to send her to a nunnery to be rid of her. Tess, full of hurt and resentment, decides to run away. She’s lucky enough to encounter an old friend who’s a quigutl (sub-species of dragon) who gives her a semblance of purpose and destination. As she journeys along the road, Tess has to come to terms with herself, her past, and the pain and grief she’s holding inside her.
Before Mars by Emma Newman
Before Mars may not have reached the same heights as After Atlas or Planetfall for me, but it’s still a wonderful book that I’m very glad to have read. This series is unlike anything else out there and consistently of stupendous quality. I’m so glad there’ll be a fourth novel!
Anna Kubrin is a geologist, but that’s not why she’s sent to Mars; she’s also an artist, and the wealthy executive who owns all rights to planets has plans to sell her paintings for a fortune. So, when Anna on the Mars base, it’s not completely unpredictable that she encounters some animosity and doubts as to her scientific background. Only… that’s just the tip of the iceberg. She also finds a note written in her own handwriting, telling her not to trust the base psychologist, and her wedding ring has been replaced with a near-identical copy. As far as she can tell, there are only two explanations: she’s caught up in a giant conspiracy, or, more likely, she’s finally gone insane, falling victim to the same paranoia and hallucinations that afflicted her father.
This year, in particular, it was so hard to choose a top twenty and five honorable mentions. There were just so many good books published!
And, of course, I didn’t read every single science fiction or fantasy book published in 2018. That would have been impossible. While I got to the ones I really wanted to read, there are still a few that I am planning on finding time for sometime in 2019:
- The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander
- All the Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma
- Deadline by Stephanie Ahn
- A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe
- Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews
- The Descent of Monsters by JY Yang
- Ruin of Stars by Linsey Miller
- A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland
- Black Wings Beating by Alex London
- Breach by W.L. Goodwater
Out of curiosity, have you heard of all the books on my best of list? I’d be interested to know if I’m simply repeating the same popular books as all the other reviewers and readers. I suspect I’ve got a few lesser known titles, but I’d like to hear what you all think.
Also, are there any fabulous books from 2018 that I’ve been missing out of? I always love recs!