We come to it at last– my favorite genres in all the bookish world. Science Fiction and fantasy. They make up the bulk of my reading every year, and 2020 was no exception. I found plenty of incredible books with writing that took my breath away, compelling characters I couldn’t get enough of, and stories that made me look at the world in a new way.
And so, in no particular order, here are my favorite science fiction and fantasy books of 2020.
Note: these books weren’t necessarily published in 2020, but I did read them for the first time last year.
The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
– The Fifth Season
– The Obelisk Gate
– The Stone Sky
There is a reason that Jemisin won three straight Hugo Awards for Best Novel for this trilogy. The characters are some of the most compelling and complex figures I’ve ever come across in science fiction or fantasy, and their responses to the apocalyptic scenario they find themselves in are often heartbreaking and always, frustratingly sometimes, human. The Fifth Season opens with the end of civilization. Again. Middle-aged Essun arrives home to find her young son is dead and her husband has taken their daughter to parts unknown. And then calamity strikes in the form of a massive earthquake that literally shakes the world to its core. With nothing left of her old life, Essun sets out to find the remnants of her family– and there is nothing she won’t do to find her daughter, even if she has to break the world to do it.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Dana is a modern Black woman from 1976 who dreams of being a writer. One day, though, she is mysteriously pulled back in time and to another place– to the American South in the 1800s, and though she saves a young boy’s life, she is assumed to be a slave. This happens again and again, and neither Dana nor the boy, Rufus, fully understand the ties that bind them together through time. And the more time Dana spends in the past, the more she realizes that she and Rufus are separated by more than just a century and a half.
Circe by Madeline Miller
When the young nymph Circe is born, there is no word for what she is. And so she simply exists, haunting the dark halls of her father’s halls. Then one day, after an act of petty jealousy that goes horribly wrong, Circe is exiled to the island of Aeaea. As the immortal daughter of a god, she cannot die, and so to fill her endless days, Circe learns about the plants and creatures that live on the island with her. Through her studies she finds a power that will make the gods themselves tremble. But Circe is not alone forever, and even on her remote island prison, she will meet other extraordinary figures of Greek legend, including the great inventor Daedalus and the infamous warrior and wanderer, Odysseus. Madeline Miller’s writing is lyrical and her characterization of Circe as she grows from a naive young nymph into a powerful witch is flawless.
Jade War (The Green Bone Saga #2) by Fonda Lee
In the first book of Fonda Lee’s World Fantasy Award-winning series, the youngest generation of the Kaul family found themselves in unexpected positions of power as they faced the possibility of open war with the rival Mountain Clan. Now, in book two, the Kaul siblings have settled into their positions and the day to day tasks of maintaining their own power while enforcing a tenuous truce with the Mountain Clan. But the peace can’t hold forever, for the Mountain Clan has its own plans to expand its power base, and the Kaul family must do the same if they want to keep from being left behind. And the rest of the world isn’t content to sit back and let the little island of Kekon remain the sole source of the mysterious, superpower granting jade.
In the glittering, laissez-faire city of Amberlough, Cyril- a washed-up spy, Aristide- a charming smuggler, and Cordelia- a night club singer are just trying to get by in whatever way they know how. But a puritanical and fascist political group is waiting for its chance to stage a coup d’etat and seize power, sparking a war that will destroy Amberlough as they know it. Will Cyril, Aristide, and Cordelia be able to fight to defend the city they love, or will the tides of history wash them away forever?
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
Once upon a time, there were witches. There aren’t anymore, of course, as their devilish powers were long ago overcome by the Church. These days in New Salem, if a woman wants to exercise power, she must do it by fighting for her right to vote. But when a mysterious vision is summoned during a Votes for Women rally, the three Eastwood sisters must put aside their differences and pursue the half-forgotten words that could give all women their forgotten powers back. But dark shadows haunt the sisters through the streets, and those forces will not suffer a witch to vote– or even to live.
The Phoenix Empress (Their Bright Ascendancy #2) by K. Arsenault Rivera
Since childhood, Empress O Shizuka has believed herself to be an invincible goddess. In childhood, it was merely amusing, but as she grew up O Shizuka’s arrogance led to horrid mistakes that have cost her and her lover, Shefali, dearly. As the distance between O Shizuka and Shefali narrows, O Shizuka must face the defining moment of her past– a war not of her choosing, in which she and her grand army were sent to die. Shefali, on the other hand, must come to terms with her own mortality as the demonic force possessing her grows stronger by the day. Rivera’s lush writing gives the reader a beautiful story of two women fighting to save their world– and each other.
Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries #5) by Martha Wells
Murderbot is just going about its life (sort of, it’s complicated) when the family of a human not-friend is kidnapped. At almost the same time, another not-friend from Murderbot’s past calls for help, forcing Murderbot to try to rescue both the human and her crew and the not-friend. Most days, Murderbot just wants to be left alone to watch media, but when drastic measures are called for, drastic actions must be taken.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Fashionable young Noemí Taboada is going about her life of high class parties and school when she receives a letter from her cousin, who has recently married a mysterious Englishman and moved to his family’s estate, High Place, far from Mexico City. Soon, Noemí is on her way to High Place to help her cousin and find out what’s going on. But the mystery of the estate is far deeper than one young woman’s illness, and faced with a strange and menacing foreign family and with only one ally willing to help her, Noemí may find that she’ll never be able to leave High Place.