We love returning to the work of a tried and true author—that level of trust brings us back to the bookstore (or BN.com) every time there’s a chance to read a new book by one of our favorite writers. And yet, there’s nothing like finding a new favorite author, and sci-fi and fantasy, perhaps more so than other genres, benefit overwhelmingly from fresh hands at the typewriter and new perspectives and new ideas on the page. Here are 10 must-read science fiction and fantasy debut novels arriving before the end of 2016.
The Devourers, by Indra Das
Prior to its publication in North America, Indra Das’ debut has already been shortlisted for a number of international awards. Precious little work in the burgeoning, distinct realm of Indian fantasy has received a wide release on this side of the pond—at least so far—so this one elicits additional excitement. It’s a centuries-spanning story of love, magic, and werewolves that begins in the 17th century at the building of the Taj Mahal and continues to the present day.
Arabella of Mars, by David D. Levine
The first full-length novel from Hugo-award winning short fiction author David Levine promises shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Patrick O’Brian with its story of young Arabella Ashby, born and raised on Mars in an alternate history in which humans travel the solar system during the time of Jane Austen. Sent to exotic Earth to live the life of a Regency-era lady, Arabella sets off on a naval adventure (in space) when her native planet is threatened, putting her Martian family at risk. It’s a space-faring story of privateers and pirates, offering an entirely new spin on steampunk.
The Race, by Nina Allan
Nina Allan’s debut is weird in all the right ways, taking place in a future where making gloves for smart dog racers—actual dogs, spliced with human DNA—is a perfectly valid way to make a living—even if the races are illegal. The book takes the form of four interrelated novellas, all lead by women with family issues, living in a near-future Britain that has been transformed by the fracking industry. There’s a lot more going on than that: while trapped in their own family dramas, each of the women is given glimpses into other lives and alternate universes.
An Accident of Stars, by Foz Meadows
Hugo-nominated fan writer Foz Meadows’ hotly anticipated adult debut tells the story of Saffron Coulter, who falls through a looking glass of sorts into a richly detailed world of magic and intrigue. Saffron is quickly embroiled in a civil war lead by another Earth-born visitor, one who sorely regrets providing aid to the fantasy kingdom’s ruler, Leoden, recent claimant to the throne. The story is as much about the complex relationships between a large cast of (mostly) women characters as it is about the building and exploring the realm of Kena.
Bite, by K.S. Merbeth
Merbeth’s debut novel puts a unique spin on post-apocalyptic horror: it’s all about the bad guys. The lead character, Kid, finds herself riding out the cannibal apocalypse with a crew of bloodthirsty raiders. We’ve read and loved plenty of stories of normal people beset by nasty criminals primed to take advantage of a new world order; Bite flips the script.
Behind the Throne, by K. B. Wagers
Her Imperial Highness Hailimi Mercedes Jaya Bristol is a very different kind of royalty. Bored to tears with court life and responsibility, she spent two decades as a privateer captain and gunrunner. Foul-mouthed and tough as nails, she’s feared throughout the Indranan Empire she’s destined by bloodline to rule. But she can’t escape responsibility forever, and a string of assassinations soon force her to confront her legacy, and an entire empire of danger. Wagers’ debut is full of fast-paced action and brutal palace intrigue, starring the fiercest princess this side of Westeros.
Kojiki, by Keith Yatsuhashi
The Kojiki of legend tells the origins of the home islands of Japan, as well as that of the Kami, or Shinto spirits. Keith Yatsuhashi’s novel is a modern riff on that ancient manuscript. It’s the story of Keiko Yamada, who travels to Japan to fulfill her father’s dying wish. What she finds there is a world of ageless spirits made manifest, and her father’s final poem come to life. It’s a cosmic urban fantasy on the streets of modern Tokyo, with shades of Miyazaki.
Ninth City Burning, by J. Patrick Black
Five hundred years after an alien race brutally subdued the people of Earth, we’ve learned to fight back. Select humans are capable of harnessing the power of the aliens’ own super-weapon, leaving the rest of mankind to either cower in the shadows or live in exile for having had the temerity to oppose the war. Black’s novel is about an unlikely band of allies fighting to save humanity, and its epic scope has already attracted attention from Hollywood execs eager for the next game-changing SF film or TV series.
The Burning Isle, by Will Panzo
A truly epic debut fantasy, Panzo’s first novel is the unapologetically grimdark story of a mage named Cassius who travels to Scipio, a lawless island ruled over by two competing warlords who nevertheless both answer to a reclusive general and the army that keeps him in power. It’s a world of intrigue, in which new factions frequently emerge to take advantage of the chaos. Cassius’ unique abilities make him a highly combustible element in an already dangerous place—it’s not called The Burning Isle for nothing.
Everything Belongs to the Future, by Laurie Penny
Though this is her debut novella, Penny has already made a name for herself as a feminist author and columnist, having published four non-fiction books. Everything Belongs to the Future is the story of a group of young punks and anarchists who challenge a just-a-few-years-down-the-road class system that grants the very rich have access to technology that prolongs their lifespans indefinitely, while others barely survive. It’s a social allegory about the nature of our 1 percent society, written by a woman uniquely qualified to tell the story.
What’s the best SF/F debut you’ve ever read?