If 2017 disappointed us in a lot of ways, we can’t say it didn’t introduce to a whole stack of amazing debut novels, and we have no reason to expect that 2018 will be any different. While it’s easy enough to mark down, say, Iron Gold on your TBR list, it’s tougher to predict what debuts are going to be big—but we’ve never been shy about placing bets. Here are 25 sci-fi and fantasy debuts we’re looking forward to this year, most of them by authors you’ve never heard of, whose names you’re going to want to remember.
[Editor’s note: In a few cases, the authors below have previously published novels in the young adult arena, but are making their adult SFF debuts.]
The Wolves of Winter, by Tyrell Johnson (January 2)
As nuclear wars and a disastrous flu epidemic decimate the human race, Lynn McBride leads her family into the wintry hell of the Canadian Yukon, a desert of snow where they make a home and barely survive. The desolate landscape protects them, however—until the arrival of Jax, a young man suspiciously skilled with weapons and other skills. The McBrides’ suspicion only increases when more men appear, and are revealed to be from a group known as Immunity, supposedly seeking a cure for the flu. Immunity wants Jax, and the McBrides have to choose sides, leading to a brutal confrontation in the midst of a deadly winter. Early reviews paint a picture of a fast-paced, intelligently-plotted post-apocalyptic thriller.
The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert (January 30)
A YA novel with major crossover appeal, Albert’s debut has already generated the sort of buzz first-time novelists crave. Alice has grown up in turmoil, always on the move and forbidden to read the famous book of unsettling fairy tales authored by her reclusive grandmother. When her grandmother passes away, her mother cryptically declares that they’re free and immediately seeks to marry her way into a real life, leaving Alice just as miserable. But when her mother disappears, Alice must finally seek out the forbidden stories her grandmother penned, which will require venturing to the Hazel Wood, her grandmother’s mysterious estate. Along the way, and with the help of a school friend, Alice finally begins to uncover the truth of her legacy. [Full disclosure: Melissa Albert is the editor of the B&N Teen Blog, but the book’s bonafides (five starred reviews) speak for themselves.]
Semiosis, by Sue Burke (February 6)
Burke’s day job is in translation, and her debut novel is focused on communication, telling a planetary colonization story with a twist. As the Earth nears environmental collapse, a colony ship is launched in a desperate bid to ensure humanity’s survival. The ship is forced to land on an unexpected planet, which the colonists name Pax—and which is populated by sentient plants, among other lifeforms. Each chapter is told by a member of a subsequent generation of humans as they forge a symbiotic relationship with the native life on Pax. But the relationship isn’t always comforting—because unlike back on Earth, humanity isn’t sitting on top of the food chain, and communicating with plants is a complex art, one Burke’s talents make her especially qualified to render.
Gunpowder Moon, by David Pedreira (February 13)
In a future where Earth maintains mining operations on the Moon amidst escalating tensions back home, Caden Dechert, chief of the United States’ mining operation manages to maintain a cordial relationship with his Chinese counterpart, despite the drums of war beating in the background. But when petty sabotage and theft turns into murder, things begin to spin out of control in the unforgiving environment of the airless Moon. As the body count rises, Dechert has to balance his desperate investigation into the crimes against his attempts to talk sense to his superiors planetside. With a grounded premise and a political angle that has earned it comparisons to The Expanse, one sounds like just the sort of sci-fi thriller we’re looking for.
The Rending and the Nest, by Kaethe Schwehn (February 20)
The plot summary for this one starts off standard enough—The Rending is an apocalyptic event wherein 95 percent of the human population simply disappears; one of the survivors, Mira, forges an ersatz community called Zion out of the rubble. From there, however, Schwehn turns the tale in an unexpected direction: Mira works hard to maintain a veneer of normalcy as she scavenges for supplies and keeps everyone at arm’s length, but then, closest friend becomes pregnant, and is soon followed by other women in Zion—all of whom give birth to inanimate objects. As the careful illusion of normalcy is torn away, a mystery man arrives, preaching about other places beyond the borders of Zion. When Lana follows him and never returns, Mira has to decide how important human relationships are in this bizarre new world.
Quietus, by Tristan Palmgren (March 6)
All you really need to know about Quietus is that one of the main characters is a transdimensional anthropologist—when’s the last time you read a book with one of those as the protagonist? Anthropologist Habidah’s universe is beset by a deadly plague. By way of study, she’s been assigned to research a similar calamity in our universe, and observes the Black Death as it swiftly decimates Florence; moved by the tragic scene of a young Carthusian monk named Niccolucio, who watches as all of his brothers succumb to the disease, Habidah breaks all the rules and saves him. This merciful act sets off a chain reaction that ultimately reveals that there’s more to the plague in Habidah’s own universe, and her assignment to observe ours, than she first believed. There is a conspiracy at work, threatening to destroy a huge empire—and now, she and Niccolucio are part of it.
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Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi (March 6)
Inspired by and drawing from West African folklore and myth, Adeyemi’s debut was acquired in one of last year’s biggest book deals, and the word of the street promises it will be both lushly written and complexly plotted. Zélie Adebola’s community was once a place of magic, where people like her mother called forth the elements and spirits to enrich the soil and their lives. But the king ordered magic driven out of the land, and the maji were all killed—including Zélie’s mother. Yet magic remains, and as the king’s son marches in a final attempt to snuff out its flame forever, Zélie finds herself dealing with her growing abilities, a rogue princess, and her own growing feelings for someone it’s very dangerous to love. If you’re in the market for the sort of fantasy that combines deep cultural respect with magic, spirits, and heart-pounding storytelling, this one belongs on your list.
Torn, by Rowenna Miller (March 20)
Bringing serious politics into fantasy literature is rife with danger, but from all accounts Miller has pulled it off. Sophie is a dressmaker, one so talented that her ball gowns have attracted the attentions of the royal family. But it’s not just her skill with a needle that draws attention—she’s also able to stitch discrete magical charms into the garments—charms for love, luck, or protection. Her rise in court brings her into contact with a handsome duke, and Sophie’s fortunes seem assured—until her brother Kristos becomes involved with the rising proletariat revolution. When her brother is taken hostage by the resistance, Sophie is ordered to sew a curse into the Queen’s dress or watch her brother be executed. Real stakes combined with a clever, unique magic system? Yes, please.
The Queens of Innis Lear, by Tessa Gratton (March 27)
Inspired by King Lear, Tessa Gratton’s adult fantasy debut has earned comparisons to the work of Guy Gavriel Kay. It tells the story of Innis Lear, an island kingdom long protected by wild magic. But the king—obsessed with prophecies—has grown unreliable and erratic, and the wild magic has nearly disappeared as a result. His three daughters encourage him to choose an heir, a strong monarch who can bring the magic back, but the king refuses to do so until the day specified by prophecy, leaving the island vulnerable to invasion from its enemies. The daughters, as different as can be, prepare for war—but how can they defend their home when their own house is divided and weak? Gratton’s editor Miriam Weinberg hasn’t stopped talking about this book on Twitter for months, so we can’t wait to finally experience it for ourselves.
Blackfish City, by Sam J. Miller (April 17)
Set in the floating city of Qaanaaq, built in the arctic circle in the wake of the terrible climate wars that saw ground-level cities burned and razed, Miller’s adult debut (his lightly fantastical YA The Art of Starving was one of the most acclaimed books of last year) looks to be a complex jewel of ideas. The floating city is a marvel of engineering, but is starting to show the strain: poverty is rising, and crime and unrest along with it. A new disease known as the Breaks—which throws the infected into the midst of other people’s memories—is sweeping the population. When a woman arrives in Blackfish City riding on an Orca and accompanied by a polar bear, she’s an instant celebrity, dubbed the Orcamancer. She takes advantage of her fame to draw together the citizens Qaanaaq and set in motion acts of resistance and rebellion that will have an incredible impact, leading four of them in paticular to see through the corruption, lies, and marvels of engineering in Blackfish City to the shocking truth beneath. This is the kind of swirling, original sci-fi we live for.
The City of Lost Fortunes, by Bryan Camp (April 17)
In Camp’s debut, New Orleans is a city filled with magic, gods, and demi-gods—like Jude Dubuisson. Once a street musician who used his magic powers to locate missing people and possessions, Jude was broken by Hurricane Katrina and the seemingly endless loss it bred in the city. He retreated into a hermit’s life, and cut himself off from the world. But when the God of Fortune is killed, Jude is pulled back into the mix in a big way. With steep odds against finding a happy ending for himself, Jude decides to save what he can in the city he loves, and for the people who live there. Appropriately, the style and storytelling of this one has been compared to jazz, with paticular priase for the transformation of post-Katrina New Orleans into an even more otherworldly place.
The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang (May 1)
In a world inspired by the recent history and culture of China, the Nikan Empire defeated the Federation of Mugen in the Second Poppy War, and the two countries exist in a fragile state of peace. Orphaned peasant girl Rin lives a life of misery in Nikan, but when she sits for the Keju, the empire-wide examination designed to find talented youth and assign their talents to the right places, she scores in the highest percentile and is shocked to be assigned to the prestigious Sinegard military school where the elite send their children. At Sinegard, Rin is bullied for her dark skin and low social status—but with the help of an insane teacher she discovers she is a shaman, able to wield powers long thought lost to the world. As she grows into her power and communicates with living gods, Rin sees clearly that a third Poppy War is coming—and she may be her country’s only hope if she can stand the price. The author is a Chinese-American, and the book’s worldbuilding is informed by her study of twentieth century China’s history. Did we mention she hasn’t even graduated from college yet?
What Should Be Wild, by Julia Fine (May 8)
Maisie lives a life apart. Cursed with the power to kill or resurrect with her touch, she has been kept away from everyone else by her father, hidden away in their home. She’s taught to fear the woods, where men disappear, only to return changed. But her father doesn’t tell her that her female ancestors, similarly cursed, have also all disappeared into the woods. When her father goes missing, Maisie must not only emerge from the tiny universe she knows to try to save him, she must venture into the woods to do so—and seek a way to break the curse that has afflicted the women of her family for generations.
Free Chocolate, by Amber Royer (June 5)
In the distant future, Earth is part of a larger universe of alien civilizations, and there’s only one thing that we can supply that no one else in the universe can: chocolate. In order to protect our sole valuable export, chocolate plantations are heavily guarded and theft is swiftly punished—bad news for Bo Benitez, who’s just been caught trying to steal a cacao pod. Jumping onto an unmarked alien ship to escape the police, she’s momentarily safe—only to discover the ship is crewed by beings known for eating stowaways. Hunky aliens, a universe that prizes chocolate above all else, and a smart heroine on the run—these are key ingredients for a sweet sci-fi adventure we’re very much looking forward to devouring.
The Last Sun, by K.D. Edwards (June 12)
We’ve all heard of the island of Atlantis, lost to the waves before the beginning of recorded history. Edwards’ posits that the Atlanteans, their home destroyed by ordinary humans, removed to an even more hidden island—and persist today. On the island, the politics of the Atlanteans are brutal and deadly. Rune Saint John is the last survivor of a great house, the Sun Court, and is hired to find the missing scion of a powerful family. Joined by his friend and bodyguard named Brand, Rune discovers a connection between the missing boy and the massacre that destroyed the Sun Court—tying his personal torment to the fate of the island itself. Author Django Wexler describes this one as a fresh take on the urban fantasy genre.
Witchmark, by C.L. Polk (June 19)
Polk’s debut is set in a universe resembling Edwardian England, a world in which where elite magical families secretly control the fate of the nation. Miles Singer is from just such a family, when he goes off to war, he grows disillusioned with the trappings of power and takes the opportunity to fake his own death and assume a new identity. Posing as a doctor at a failing veterans’ hospital, he sees firsthand how war changes people, never for the good—soldiers are returning from the front plagued by terrible versions, and shortly thereafter, committing terrible acts of violence. When one of his patients is poisoned, Miles not only accidentally reveals his healing powers, he is thrust into a mystery that involves a mysterious, aloof, beautiful man who is more than human—and who may hold the secret to stopping a brewing inter-dimensional war.
Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (June 26)
The early word on Trail of Lightning compares it to Mad Max: Fury Road in terms of style and intensity, with a world drawn from the author’s Indigenous American heritage. In a post-apocalyptic world flooded by rising sea levels, the Navajo Nation has been reborn as Dinétah—and with it come the old gods and monsters of Native American legend. Maggie Hoskie is a monster-hunter, gifted with the power to fight and defeat these monsters. Hired by a small town to locate a missing girl, she teams up with a misfit medicine man named Kai Arviso and the two dive into a mystery that takes them deeper into the dark side of Dinétah than they could have imagined—a world of tricksters, dark magic, and monsters more frightening than any story.
City of Lies, by Sam Hawke (July 3)
As she’s personal friend of Robin Hobb, it’s no wonder Hawke’s debut is already being compared to her work. What’s brilliant about the concept is that Hawke has taken on a typical fantasy trope—the ever-popular assassin—and flipped the script. Jovan is secretly the heir to a family of Proofers, who dedicate their lives to protecting the highborn from poisons. Jovan’s uncle serves the Chancellor while Jovan protects his heir, pretending to be his highborn friend. When both Jovan’s uncle and the Chancellor fall prey to a poison no one has ever encountered before, even as the city falls under siege, Jovan must protect the heir at all costs. Rich worldbuilding and a twisty plot—there are worse things than being spoken of in the same breath as the author of Assassin’s Apprentice.
Space Unicorn Blues, by T.J. Berry (July 3)
We admit it: Berry’s book would make our list for the title alone. That said, her debut sounds like a humdinger in pretty much every other way: it’s set in a universe where people with magic are treated as slaves and mined like resources. Gary Cobalt knows this all too well: as a half-unicorn, he’s been held captive for years by Captain Jenny Perata, who grinds down his horn to power her faster-than-light engines. When he finally gains his freedom and reclaims his ancestors’ stone ship, Perata steals it out from under him—and considering that Gary also murdered her best friend, the wife of her co-pilot, it’s certainly not going to be a comfortable ship to be trapped on. The mix of magic and FTL travel? Books with this kind of genre-blending creativity are as rare as spotting a… well, you know.
Lost Gods, by Micah Yongo (July 3)
In a world inspired by African legends and myths, Neythan is one of a small group of children raised and trained as an elite assassin by the mysterious Brotherhood known as the Shedaím. When Neythan’s closest friend in the group is murdered, he finds himself framed for the crime. Forced to leave the only home he knows, he heads out into the unexpectedly complex outside world to seek justice and revenge, and discovers that the politics of the surrounding kingdoms are far from easy to navigate—especially now that he is being pursued by his former brothers and sisters. African legends? Assassins? We’re in.
Suicide Club, by Rachel Heng (July 10)
One of the buzziest books of 2018, Suicide Club is set in a future New York where those blessed with perfect genes can potentially live forever—if they dedicate their lives to the right kind of exercise, juicing regiments, and medical technologies. Lea Kirino is one of these lucky “Lifers,” a woman who makes a fortune every day trading human organs on the market and makes a perfect—if unfulfilling—life with her equally-perfect boyfriend at night. But when she spots her estranged father on the street, it leads her into the world of the Suicide Club, a group of people who reject the bland conformity that immortality requires in favor of chance and luck and the sort of life Lea suddenly finds irresistible. If only embracing chance and death weren’t illegal.
Annex, by Rich Larson (July 24)
Larson’s debut takes a familiar premise and subverts it nicely: when alien invaders conquer the world, Violet and her friends are at first terrified. But as the adults and the old order are swept away, the young transgener girl finds something unexpected: freedom—freedom for her and her fellow “Lost Boys” to be who they want to be and to do what they want to do. But they can only evade notice by the alien invaders for so long—and they slowly begin to realize just how reliant they were on the flawed infrastructure of their world. Violet and her friends must accept that survival means fighting back. Larson’s spectacular short fiction has earned him significant praise, and we wouldn’t miss his novel-length debut for the world.
Planetside, by Michael Mammay (July 31)
Promising to offer a high-octane mashup of military sci-fi and detective thriller, Mammay’s debut tells the story of former military officer Colonel Carl Butler, called out of retirement by an old friend to investigate the disappearance of a young officer from a space station halfway across the galaxy. Arriving at Cappa Base, which orbits a battle-scarred planet, Butler discovers he hasn’t been told the whole story, and the base is a snake’s nest of conspiracy and dirty-dealing soldiers. As he investigates, officers refuse to answer questions, witnesses disappear, and those in command won’t leave the planet below to meet him. Eventually, Butler has to drop down planetside—and directly into a war zone—to find the answers no one wants to give him. Mammy (who has served as a Pitch Wars mentor) has a background in the military, so we’re eager to see how that will inform his worldbuilding.
Rosewater, by Tade Thompson (September 18)
Thompson’s novel-length debut, published last year in ebook but is coming soon in print from Orbit, is set in the near future, after the Earth has seen alien settlers arrive, constructing a huge biodome in Nigeria. The newcomers are rumored to have healing powers, and the sick and suffering gather around the biodome, forming the city of Rose Water around it. Kaaro, a psychic who used his abilities to good effect in a prior career as a thief and all-around sketchy guy, now works as an interrogator and investigator. When his fellow psychics begin to die in mysterious ways, his investigation leads him to the biodome, and the true motivations of the aliens who built it. This non-linear story operates on a sprawling timeline, slowly revealing Kaaro’s many sins alongside the secrets of the aliens, with deeply imagined characters and vibrant, startling imagery. Thompson’s sci-fi/horror novella The Murders of Molly Southbourne was released last year to significant acclaim, and plans are underway to adapt it for the screen, so he’s clearly an author to watch.
The Sisters of the Winter Wood, by Rena Rossner (September 25)
Rossner’s story draws heavily from Jewish folktales and the very real persecution the Jews endured during the 19th century in Eastern Europe. It’s a story about two sisters, Liba and Laya, who have tried to ignore their magical heritage. When their people are threatened, however, they are forced to accept who they are and where they come from in order to save them. The setting and cultural pedigree alone would put this book on our list; comparisons to The Bear and the Nightingale just sweeten the deal.
What’s your most anticipated first novel of 2018?