Hi all! Jessi here with 21 of my favorite 2021 genre fic reads!
If you know me at all, you know I basically exclusively read inclusive sci-fi and fantasy. Well, this year I branched out a little - to horror and romance too.
Check out my list for some killer book recs and my reviews.
I've grouped them together by genre - romance first, then fantasy, followed by sci-fi and horror. (Disclaimer - some of these books are genre-mashups, so I put them where they fit best.)
Hope you enjoy. <3
Ever feel like a book has broken you open, bared your soul to the world, and made you more whole? Honey Girl is that book for me.
Grace has always been the girl with a plan: a plan her father gave her. For 13 years, Grace has stuck to her plan, working tirelessly towards her goal of a doctorate in Astronomy. But when she graduates and the real world bites and she marries a stranger in Vegas, all her plans start to unravel. And Grace realizes that maybe, just maybe, having a life plan isn't everything.
This coming of age story is perfect for the millennial dealing with the existential terror of figuring life out when all your plans crumble and you're forced to choose between the path that fulfills you and the path that you think you need to take. Filled with heart and humor and lyrical writing, this book is a glimpse into the burnout and exhaustion that comes with a plan you never wanted for yourself, but also showcases the strength of found family and intimate friendships.
For her whole life, August has never let herself grow attached to any place or anyone, preferring to study people rather than actually getting to know them. Until she meets Jane, an impossibly perfect girl on the subway who she's inexplicably drawn to. A girl who inspires her to let people in again and cracks her wide open. There’s just one problem: Jane is from a different time.
With subway parties, drag shows, and a band of hilarious and sweet queer friends I would love to be adopted by, One Last Stop manages to provide laughs, queer history and love, a heist, time travel, and a feeling of belonging that is impossible to get from most other books. This book really describes the feeling of being afraid to let people know you, but also the feeling of relief when you decide to be your unapologetic self and are embraced by a community. It cured my pandemic loneliness, and filled me with bubbling laughter and heart squeezing happiness. Like August, I felt myself open up to the impossible magic that is love. This book was a love letter to the magic of New York City and the heart that its people have. And also to the queer community. This book is one that is tattooed permanently on my heart.
Evike lives a life as a half-Pagan, half-Yehuli outcast in a village, where everyone else has powers blessed by the old gods except her. Every year, the Holy Order of the Woodsmen comes to her village to claim a pagan girl for the king’s nefarious purposes, and whoever is chosen is never seen or heard from again. When Evike is betrayed and offered to the Woodsmen by her townsfolk, she finds an unlikely ally in the Captain of the Woodsmen, a disgraced prince. During their travels they form a bond and join forces to overthrow the tyrants who have contributed to their alienation and oppression their entire lives.
This book is about faith, about feeling like an outsider everywhere you go, about what you are willing to sacrifice for a country who never cared about you, and much more. This blend of Hungarian history and Jewish mythology rooted me to the pages.
What would you sacrifice for your own ambition? Through dual POV narratives, this book tells the stories of Zhu and Ouyang, two survivors who suffered tragic losses and ruthlessly clawed their way into positions of power through manipulation and bloodshed. When they are set against each other as generals of rival armies, the threads of fate that bind them are set ablaze with their burning for power and their lives will never be the same.
This enthralling epic fantasy that swept me from burning monastery to burning battlefield crushed my open heart in its brutal searing palms and I felt blessed to be present for the entire journey. Heartbreaking, lovely, bloody, and burns with a radiance of ten thousand suns. An unmissable historical fantasy debut with sapphic romance!
The UNBROKEN is a captivating fantasy that captured the complexities of colonization and its gut-wrenching consequences.
Touraine is a soldier struggling to find her place in the world, ripped from her homeland to serve a country who hates her people. But when she is brought back to her homeland to quash a rebellion and act as a spy, she will be forced to make an impossible choice. Divided loyalties, sapphic romance, and betrayals upon betrayals make Clark's debut an edge of your seat read, and they are unflinching in their depictions of the brutality of colonization and rebellions.
Now I have finished the Sapphic trifecta (She Who Became the Sun, Unbroken, and Jasmine Throne) and lemme tell ya, this one was well worth the wait.
After trying to overthrow her brother the tyrannical emperor and refusing to be burned on a pyre, Princess Malini is imprisoned in isolation. But she isn't alone for long when she witnesses Priya, one of the maids, commit a murder.
Priya and Malini grow close while the fires of rebellion spark around them, but when an ancient power stirs within Priya, Malini and Priya struggle to find their place in the rebellion.
This is a book about the trauma that women endure in patriarchal systems, the societal pressures that crush women, the masks women wear to be palatable, and about how women who have ambitions of their own are viewed as monstrous by society. I loved EVERY second of it.
Brimming with magic, romance, and mystery, A Marvellous Light is simply marvelous. Robin is a cheery, warm, nonmagical person who is thrust into a world of impossible magic and hair-raising danger when he is accidentally assigned to work in a magical bureau. He is partnered with Edwin, a cold, enigmatic magician who seemingly wants nothing to do with Robin or the liability he presents. But when Robin and Edwin encounter a terrifying curse, a mysterious fog faced man, a murderous maze, a sentient house pulsing with ancient magic, and powerful contract magic that would be deadly in the wrong hands, they realize that the only way to survive is to stick together.
This historical fantasy/romance was equal parts gripping, sexy, and thrilling, and had me flipping pages for sleepless night after sleepless night. I am infatuated with Robin and Edwin and can't wait to see where Freya Marske takes them next!
If someone told me this book had queer women in suits, a murder mystery in steampunk Cairo, and LOTS of women fighters with swords, I would have broken down the Tor door for a chance to read it AGES AGO. Fatma is an investigator of supernatural crimes, and is investigating a mass murder when she uncovers a heist, a person who can control all djinn, and powerful memory magic. This story took me in all sorts of unexpected twists and turns and always kept me on my toes. I loved Clark’s immersive writing, and his characters were funny and relatable.
With horrifying visuals, blood pounding tension and terrifying monsters, Star Eater is a book that will stick with readers long after they’ve finished it. Elfreda is an acolyte of the Order, a group of women who practice blood magic. However, this magic comes at the cost of other martyred Sisters, whose flesh must be eaten to sustain their power. Elfreda is sickened by the fact that she is slowly consuming her own mother and wants a different life for herself. But when magic comes with such a steep price, there are many who would defile the Order’s laws to claim more power for themselves.
Hall weaves an intricate story of power and its cost and intergenerational trauma among a world with cutthroat women ruled -and sometimes destroyed - by their own ambition.
A moving portrait on grief and acceptance, Under the Whispering Door is the perfect book for people who need to be reminded it’s ok not to be ok.
Wallace Price lived a life of wealth and career success, but it’s only after he dies that he truly learns how to live with the help of his found family. He also learns to embrace the unknown when he starts to fall in love with the ferry man who’s supposed to help him ultimately cross to the other side.
Full of heart humor and emotion, this book comforted me and held me in my feelings in a way other books just don’t. It’s like TJ Klune can see humanity’s pain and suffering and wants all of us to know we don’t have to face it alone, which is so powerful and beautiful.
This book will be my go to comfort read whenever life throws big hurdles my way next.
This book kicked off the Roaring Twenties with quite the memorable bang. I was fully enraptured by Jordan Baker as she seemingly effortlessly navigates the casual cruelty of her enemies and friends. Nghi Vo’s debut is full of glittering shadows-but some of that gleam may be demon teeth, not gold.
In a world where America’s wealthy elite drink the blood of demons and sell their souls for power, Jay Gatsby emerges as an icon of the ages-magnetic personality, intoxicating parties, and no soul. To Jordan’s resignation, Jay enlists her help to win her Daisy's heart. But Jordan can see the yawning chasm of emptiness and hunger inside Gatsby, and inside Daisy herself.
Chosen and the Beautiful gave us the glittering parties of Gatsby but lifted the veil to show us the selfishness, greed and ambition that led to the downfall of so many people who seemingly have it all. I was mesmerized by this book.
Dex is a traveling tea monk, and although they love making people smile, they are still struggling to feel fulfilled. They seek solitude in the wilds, mysterious lands where robots were set free hundreds of years ago to roam.
When Dex encounters Mosscap, a robot with a childlike sense of wonder for human behavior, and deadly insects, the last thing they want to do is embark on an adventure with it-after all, they are the first person to encounter a robot in two hundred years! However, Dex has no idea that Mosscap will actually be teaching Dex what it means to be human.
Warm, lush and as cozy as a Studio Ghibli film, this book made me want to wander into the woods with my friends and build a yurt commune and never return. This book was the equivalent of talking to a friend about life over coffee — or tea — and feeling like the world may just end up ok in the end. Dex and Mosscap are the new friendly faces of hopeful sci-fi!
Our favorite Cheeto-loving trash talking corvid is back and better than ever in Feral Creatures. Shit Turd (S.T.) takes on the impossible - raising the last MoFo on Earth as a human in the isolated wilderness of Alaska.
During his harebrained - or crow brained - scheme, he encounters Changed Ones, humans who have mutated into animal hybrids, a byproduct of the virus that ravaged their population. Their plan? To wipe out all other sentient life on Earth and breed with the last human.
Luckily, S.T. has a murder of crows, a herd of musk ox, a troop of gorillas, and no tolerance for bullshit to keep his child Dee safe. But will it be enough to defeat the forces of human evolution gone horribly wrong?
Just as full of heart and humor as the first installment. S.T. is the hero the apocalypse needs!
Cassandra Khaw's sci-fi debut exceeded every single one of my expectations and MORE - I still feel brain oozing out of my ears from my brain melting. They are definitely my favorite new author I've read this year.
All-Consuming World is like if Gideon the Ninth went out for coffee with Ancillary Justice and took it on a adrenaline-fueled ride through the galaxy.
Maya is a traumatized mercenary who has been more programmed killing machine than human for 200 years. She gets coerced into doing one last job by her only friend, a scientist/programmer Rita who rebuilds Maya after each gruesome death. Her task? To bring back a friend they all thought was dead. But to get her back, they must face the murderous AI who dominate the galaxy. To stand a fighting chance, they'll have to reassemble the Dirty Dozen, their old team of criminals, and maybe heal from their trauma. (If they have time between the firefights, that is.)
This book is brutal, gruesome, heart wrenching and a testament to life after trauma and its messiness and ugliness.
What do you get when all your favorite fanfic tropes come together in a space opera/romance hybrid? You get WINTER'S ORBIT.
Two princes find themselves in an arranged marriage to save an intergalactic alliance. But they get more than they bargain for when there's a murder mystery, political intrigue, a plane crash, a government conspiracy and much more.
Fans of Only One Bed, Snuggling for Warmth, Arranged Marriage, Miscommunication, and Cheery One/Gloomy One pairing will be delighted by this book.
This slasher horror novel absolutely rips, with a piercing look at the gentrification of Indigenous land, systemic intergenerational trauma of Indigenous women, and displacement of Indigenous peoples.
Jade is a slasher obsessed teen who is sick of her rural town and the people in it, when suddenly a final girl appears, straight out of her favorite horror film. Suddenly she realizes this summer will be one to remember - if she can find a way to survive. But she needs to remember that sometimes truth can be stranger and sadder than fiction.
Cutting with sharp teeth and heartbreaking at times, Jones’s prose will tear your heart to shreds.
With Japanese folklore, a sentient house that devours its victims with a black grin, and an incisive look at the complexity of people, this ghost story is vicious with visceral terror that cuts deep! Cass Khaw is a must-read.
This Gothic horror did not disappoint, with an unreliable narrator, psychological twists, and hungry entities that haunt the halls of a crumbling mansion at night. Jane is a practical, logical woman, prone to studying mathematical theorems in her spare time. But when she enters into an arranged marriage with Dr. Lawrence, an enigmatic surgeon, little does she know that he comes with a significant amount of baggage - a haunted mansion, and maybe even murder? The tension increases page by page as the characters question their sanity, and slowly sink into madness. I felt a sense of creeping dread reading this that left me shaken.
Gripping, twisty, horrifying and grotesque, I was repulsed by parts of this book but found myself unable to look away with the same sick curiosity that led to Jane and Augustine’s ruin.
So my original summary of this book, big closeted gay idiot moves to Tennessee to mourn the mysterious death of his best friend (first love) and then hangs out with bad boys to "Research" his death but really is just attracted to bad boys, isn't THAT far off.
Andrew's world is cleaved in two when his best friend Eddie dies from an apparent suicide. He then inherits the life Eddie left behind: a million dollar fortune, a plantation manor, a drag racing group of friends, an unfinished thesis on rural Tennessee folklore, and a very familiar revenant that haunts his every step.
This book is a nonstop thrill ride of subplots and genre mashups: a best friend to lovers romance, a backwoods drag racing, a murder mystery, a survival story, a Southern gothic horror tale, a ghost story.
Above all else, Summer Sons is a look at coming to terms with your identity after an unimaginable loss, and accepting grief as a weight you can't outrun.
A horror-thriller with a glossy exterior and a rotten core, with an unsettling, almost frenetic energy coursing through it to the very end. If you don’t read this in one setting and then question everything you know about humanity, you’re doing it wrong. Catherynne Valente’s writing is powerful and haunting, and accomplishes more in less than 100 pages than most authors do in full length novels. Absolutely astonishing!
Fans of the Wife Between Us and Black Mirror will love this brutally human sci-fi/thriller story of betrayal and revenge! Evelyn is a scientist perfecting clone technology when she discovers her husband is having an affair with a cloned version of herself that he created: Martine, who has been programmed by Nathan to be a more perfect version of Evelyn. One night, Martine calls Evelyn pleading for help, and when someone ends up dead, they’ll do the unthinkable to ensure that no one uncovers the truth. Secrets, plot twists, and lies are unearthed, one shovelful at a time, and Gailey’s words jab you like shards of bone - sharp and just as disturbing. I still feel this book burrowing into my mind like dirt shoved deep under my fingernails.