In the last few years, I’ve lucked into so many wonderful fantasy novels and novellas. Here are some of my faves, most diverse in some way, all magically wonderful. I hope you find something new here to read and fall in love with. (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.)
Any book on this list I loved at the time I read it, whether I had a chance to write a review or not. Obviously a re-read years later might reveal a problematic aspect I didn’t pick up on back then. Please let me know via my contact form if you find something yikes in a book I recommend.
“Being an intern at One Wizard sounds magical on the page, but in practice mostly means getting yelled at by senior mages and angry clients alike. And so, after receiving a frantic call from a young man who’s awoken to a talisman on his bedroom wall—and no memory of how it got there—Journeyman Wen jumps at the chance to escape call-center duty and actually help someone for once.”
Read this if you:
– have ever worked a soul-crushing, dead-end office job
– see a surly/vulnerable teenager and want to wrap them in a blanket and feed them cookies
– dig a found family story
– love a sparkly best friend character
I also want to ask the universe for more second person POV in fiction! It’s not the right fit for every story, but when it’s right – like it is here! – it’s perfection.
A fantasy book about Jewish boxing in 1920s NYC, with organized crime, magical tattoos, and two guys falling in love. The worldbuilding was fantastic, I adored both main characters, and the secondary characters were also great. If any of that sounds interesting to you, pick it up. (Romance friends, I would say the romance subplot has an HEA that’s unconventional yet very appropriate for the plot.)
“‘Kid’ Wolffe is an up-and-coming boxer in 1920s New York. An honest fighter’s got little chance at success on the mob-controlled circuit—until ambitious lieutenant “Hinky” Friedman starts making moves to take over her boss’s business, and sees a use for the kid.
Teitelstam is a struggling tattoo artist, whose natural talent for ink magic won’t amount to much without formal training. So he’s got no idea why Hinky would offer him ten times what he’s worth to come work for her.
But Hinky has a vision for a better world, and her high-stakes plan to make it reality requires both Wolffe’s fists and Teitelstam’s magic. What neither Wolffe nor Teitelstam expects is to fall in love; and in this world, love might be more dangerous than deadly magic or an underworld turf war…”
If you like your small towns supernatural, queer, and full of danger, pick up this novella series starter! It’s about an aroace MC arriving in her mother’s hometown thinking she’s going to get a boring job at mom’s pawn shop, and instead finding out that the whole town is full of vamps, shifters, and humans with magical powers.
It didn’t take me far into this before I was hooked and I can’t wait for the next book in the series. I mean, obviously I can, because I have to, but I would have bought the second one immediately if it was available.
[Update: I’ve read the second one now, and it was great.]
I can’t remember the last time I fell in love so hard with a book that spent so much time kicking me in the heart. This is a paranormal police procedural / mystery / thriller series about Jennifer Jones, a bisexual vampire with a history of serial killing who reformed and now works as a detective for the police division that handles supernatural threats and crimes. It’s somber, often tense, and at times heartbreaking. Cain’s characterization skills are amazing to me, especially given how many characters she brings in over the course of all three books.
I’m still kind of staggered that it’s over because of how much I invested in everyone on Team Good and how real this fictional world felt. Absolutely gripping, I adored the bi rep, and I can’t wait to see what Cain does next.
“Kris Claus has spent her entire life preparing to become the next Santa Claus. After all, she’s Santa’s daughter, so she’s certain to be next in line for the title. She’s gotten the degrees, served as his assistant… nothing can stop her. Well, nothing except her lawyer ex, who is trying to sneak his way into the title by bringing up an archaic gender law that says women can’t be Santa.
Steeped in small-town politics and a rivalry for the ages, Kris won’t stop until she’s gotten what she’s fought for her whole life, but she won’t give up who she really is — a proud woman — to reach her dreams. When a letter from a transgender girl down South reminds her of herself as a child, Kris knows exactly what’s at stake, not just for her own dreams, but for the dreams of girls everywhere.”
I’m not even a big Christmas fan but I fell hard for the trans gal MC of this book, Kris, and her struggle to overcome others’ prejudice to follow in her father’s footsteps. The truly frustrating small town politics she’s battling and her jerk boyfriend are beautifully counterbalanced by supportive friends & the lovely exchange of letters between Kris and the girl. If you’re going to read it, make sure you have (a) tissues, because there were a couple of moments that really got me, in a good way, and (b) cookies, if you like cookies, because after reading the descriptions of cookie baking in this you’ll really want some!
[Review of Book 1]
I had such a good time reading this urban fantasy about a trio of a wizard, vampire, and demon who go up against a Very Bad Vampire who’s trying to, like, be evil and stuff. Curtis is the wizard, Luc is the vampire, and Anders is the demon. Each of them had good reasons for pulling away from their “own kind”, and they ended up magically linking with each other instead. I liked the twisty mystery of this one, especially once Curtis meets a wizard ally, and the magic system was interesting, so I’ll definitely be reading the sequel.
However, a content warning: These characters are on the darker side. Anders and Luc routinely use their powers to help seduce men and feed on them (for life force and blood respectively), though they seem to pick men who MOSTLY (not all) would have been willing for the sex part, and they don’t kill or injure the men. Luc refers (multiple times) to Anders’s picks as “trash” which got under my skin. YMMV about whether that puts you off!
[Update: I enjoyed Book 2 as well, and I’m looking forward to Book 3!]
“Danielle Cain is a queer punk rock traveller, jaded from a decade on the road. Searching for clues about her best friend’s mysterious and sudden suicide, she ventures to the squatter, utopian town of Freedom, Iowa. All is not well in Freedom, however: things went awry after the town’s residents summoned a protector spirit to serve as their judge and executioner. Danielle shows up in time to witness the spirit—a blood-red, three-antlered deer—begin to turn on its summoners. Danielle and her new friends have to act fast if they’re going to save the town—or get out alive.”
[Review of the first book]
Loved this dark fantasy / horror, magic-monster-fighting novella with a queer anarchist female lead. I don’t know how Killjoy gets so much done in such a tight space – this could have easily been a full novel. The cast is large but balanced really well, and the atmosphere of foreboding is pitch perfect. Also it’s a great example of a cast that’s mostly queer without their queerness being the point of the story. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just nice to have a mix.) Plus a slow, careful maybe-romance gets started between the main character and another woman, awww.
I’m not normally a horror reader but this one stayed on the okay side of the gore line for me. Be aware, though, that there are undead animals and people getting murdered, and it’s a bit ecchhh at times.
[Update: The second novella in this series, The Barrow Will Send What It May, is IMHO even better.]
I’m not a great reviewer for allegorical fantasy, but I greatly enjoyed this story about two trans women trying to find home. It’s a lovely book, brimming with emotion and beautiful language, and I’m looking forward to DeNiro’s next work.
“The City doesn’t let certain people inside its walls. It’s a place where emotions can become visible, but it flees the approach of a makeshift army who want to enter. Two of the trans women in this army forge a deep, complicated, and at times contentious friendship spanning thirty years. They must deal with not only the City’s literal and figurative gatekeeping, but also other, even more sinister forces that use necromancy against them. As the narrator and her friend’s lives are sundered apart, they must come to terms with what it means to not have a home, and what it means to be queer and aching for such a home. A sword and sorcery tale with emotional resonance, City of a Thousand Feelings brims with both the visceral and the allegorical, allowing the two trans women at the center of the story to claim their own space.”
I adored the worldbuilding in this fantasy series starter about a magical apocalypse, and I can’t wait for the next book. One MC is gay, and one is aroace. CW: Eshu, the gay MC, has an abusive ex, who does appear in page in the book.
“When the sky breaks apart and an earthquake shatters the seaside city of Sharis, cartographer Rukha Masreen is far from home. Caught in the city’s ruins with only her tools and her wits, she meets a traveling companion who will change her course forever: the wizard Eshu, who stumbles out of a mirror with hungry ghosts on his heels.
He’s everything that raises her hackles: high-strung, grandiloquent, stubborn as iron. But he needs to get home, too, and she doesn’t want him to have to make the journey alone.
As they cross the continent together, though, Rukha and Eshu soon realize that the disaster that’s befallen their world is much larger than they could have imagined. The once-vibrant pathways of the Mirrorlands are deserted. Entire cities lie entombed in crystal. And to make matters worse, a wild god is hunting them down. The further they travel from familiar territory, the more their fragile new friendship cracks under the strain.
To survive the end of their world, Rukha and Eshu will need more than magic and science—they’ll need each other.”
LOVE this series! It’s a ghost-y urban fantasy, multicultural noir, magical war type thing with a large, distinct, and very diverse cast across the trilogy and so much amazing worldbuilding that I don’t even know what to do with myself. Carlos Delacruz, who is the most central main character, is a half-alive half-dead agent of New York’s Council of the Dead, doing the dirty work of their bureaucracy, until he discovers he’s not the only partially resurrected dude around – and the other ones may be up to Very No Good.
I adore it so much that when the second book heavily featured insects that I am legit terrified of, I convinced myself to think of them as plastic toys so I could read it anyway. Seriously good stuff.
I really enjoyed this contemporary fantasy about Jessamyn, a closeted young woman who’s moved with her parents back to Malaysia & starts receiving visits from her dead grandmother’s ghost. (Y’know, the everyday problems we all have to deal with sometimes.) To make things more complicated, turns out her grandmother was a spirit medium for a god, and the god and Grandma want revenge on a local gang boss… okay yeah, Jess has a lot to deal with while theoretically also job-hunting.
To me, one of the most striking things about the book was how well Cho paints Jess’s disconnection from life as the book begins – relocating to Malaysia, the distance that introduces between her and her girlfriend, the increasing distance between Jess and any kind of plan for her future, & even between Jess and her own identity. It feels like she’s standing in a hazy boundary between real and unreal (and we tread water alongside her) even before the supernatural events start to unfold. Watching her get swept into this further dimension of unreality, but then fight her way back – not just by fighting-fighting, but also with her mind and heart – was intensely satisfying.
I also really enjoyed Cho’s short story collection Spirits Abroad, which I listened to in audio, and narrator Emily Woo Zeller did a fantastic job. If you’re getting it in ebook or print, make sure you look for the second edition with added stories.
I adored this steampunk-y alternate 1912 Cairo fantasy novella. Agents from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities are sent to perform an exorcism of a demon-possessed tram car, but More Is Revealed and the agents must solve a mystery. The worldbuilding is fantastic, and I love the attention to women’s suffrage despite both main characters being men.
The earlier short story in the same world, A Dead Djinn in Cairo, turned out to be just as good.
I’ve read the first three books and all the bonus materials free on the author’s website. Waiting impatiently for the next book! My fave aspects: the queerplatonic relationship, the found family, and the worldbuilding. Content warning: sexual assault backstory, PTSD.
“Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Court, is hired to search for Lady Judgment’s missing son, Addam, on New Atlantis, the island city where the Atlanteans moved after ordinary humans destroyed their original home.
With his companion and bodyguard, Brand, he questions Addam’s relatives and business contacts through the highest ranks of the nobles of New Atlantis. But as they investigate, they uncover more than a missing man: a legendary creature connected to the secret of the massacre of Rune’s Court.
In looking for Addam, can Rune find the truth behind his family’s death and the torments of his past?”
I was absolutely gripped by this 1920s New York remix of Cthulu mythos. Its main character is a young black man in Harlem, Charles Thomas Tester, who hustles to support himself and his sick father. He’s drawn into an occult world that’s arguably just as creepy for the reader as it is for Charles.
The book is by an African American author, and it’s based on what’s said to be one of the most racist of very racist man H.P. Lovecraft’s works. One hopes that Lovecraft would either be enlightened to his own terribleness and repent, or at least roll over in his grave, from this subversion’s commentary on racial prejudice mixed with, like, tentacles of otherworldly monsters and stuff.
“A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart. Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot. Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith. When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts — and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.”
I really enjoyed this dystopia about a biracial, bisexual Black woman facing government-mandated marriage or a lifetime of surveillance under suspicion of being a witch. I do have to say that the pacing was a little different than I expected, I did have a couple of worldbuilding questions, and it was cis-centric for a book with a queer MC. But even with that, I felt so strongly for Jo’s situation, the choices she had available, and how hard she, her friends, and her lover were struggling to do the right thing under a system that cut off so many people’s choices. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for Giddings’ next book.
“Josephine Thomas has heard every conceivable theory about her mother’s disappearance. That she was kidnapped. Murdered. That she took on a new identity to start a new family. That she was a witch. This is the most worrying charge because in a world where witches are real, peculiar behavior raises suspicions and a woman — especially a Black woman — can find herself on trial for witchcraft.
But fourteen years have passed since her mother’s disappearance, and now Jo is finally ready to let go of the past. Yet her future is in doubt. The State mandates that all women marry by the age of 30 — or enroll in a registry that allows them to be monitored, effectively forfeiting their autonomy. At 28, Jo is ambivalent about marriage. With her ability to control her life on the line, she feels as if she has never understood her mother more. When she’s offered the opportunity to honor one last request from her mother’s will, Jo leaves her regular life to feel connected to her one last time.”
“Eurydice is dead, and there’s no rest in the Afterlife. The place is a college filled with classes like Hauntings, Controlled Baking Disasters, and Threads of Fate. When Eurydice was alive, she tried to find her voice in her music, in romance, and in her friends. While creating a suite of destruction that eventually led her to, well, being dead. Now, here among the shades (and newer, more ghostly, friends), Eurydice has to come to terms with the life she left behind: mostly in the enfant terrible boyfriend who put her here. The infamous Orpheus.”
And that’s the list!