All the new sci-fi and fantasy books you should check out in January

New year, new piles of books to take over your TBR pile

It's a new year: time to clear off the to-be-read pile and start looking for new reads. This month brings a whole bunch of cool-looking titles, from epic fantasy adventures to wars in the depths of space. I've rounded up 17 new SF/F titles that look like a good way to start off the year.

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Image: Andrew Liptak

Science Fiction

The Shattered Skies by John Birmingham (Jan 11th)

In 2019, John Birmingham published the first installment of a new space opera trilogy, The Cruel Stars, in which humanity was under threat from a splinter group called the Sturm, bent on eradicating anyone with genetic or cybernetic enhancements and who were eventually banished. Everyone thought they were dead, they've now returned to strike some massive blows against Earth.

Birmingham picks up the story with his sequel, The Shattered Skies, in which a single ship from the Armadalan Navy, commanded by Commander Lucinda Hardy and Admiral Frazer McLennan, to help fend off the attack and destroy the attacking fleet. Now comes the monumental task of rebuilding and tracking down the remains of the Sturm invaders.

Publishers Weekly says that "by shifting perspectives between factions, Birmingham allows his charismatic characters, especially bored tween Alessia and sassy Herodotus, to shine, adding humanity to the relentless and sweeping battle scenes.

Read an excerpt.

Light Years from Home by Mike Chen (Jan 25th)

In his latest novel, Mike Chen follows the story of a family broken apart by an incident fifteen years ago: while camping, Kass and Evie's brother and father vanished, and a couple of days later, their father reappeared, claiming that they'd been abducted by aliens. Their brother remained missing, and the two twins drifted apart: Kass stuck with the family, while Evie went down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories.

When a new incident pops up on Evie's radar and her brother Jakob reappears, he spins a tale of taking part in a galactic war, and he's returned to get something from Earth that might help save his new friends. Meanwhile Kass and Evie try and bring the family back together, all while FBI is after him — he might be telling the truth.

Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, saying that "rich backstory that explores the Shao family's disparate memories of the night Jakob and Arnold disappeared and a highly satisfying ending add welcome texture."

Read an excerpt.

Star Wars: The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray (Jan 4th)

The latest installment of Lucasfilm's High Republic prequel series is set after the events of Light of the Jedi and The Rising Storm, in which the galactic Republic is rocked by attacks from a marauder group known as the Nihil.

In this new installment, the Nihil have continued their attacks against the Republic, held back only by the Jedi operating out of the Starlight Beacon station. The station has become a refuge for those fleeing the attacks in the Outer Rim, and while they have a bit of a reprieve from the assault, the Nihil's leader, Marchion Ro is preparing for a new devastating blow against the Jedi and their station.

Read an excerpt here and here.

Seven Mercies by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May (Jan 25th)

Laura Lam and Elizabeth May pick up the events from their previous book in this series, Seven Devils, in which a group of resistance fighters wage war against the Tholosian Empire. That first installment followed Eris, the heir to the Empire who was recruited into the Novantaen Resistance, and who discovered a trio of fugitives who possessed valuable knowledge that would undermine the Empire.

In this followup, the Empire attacks the resistance movement, scattering them across the galaxy, and the survivors all have high bounties on their heads. They soon get word of a new development: an artificial intelligence known as the Oracle has plotted a coup against the imperial throne, and it has devastating plans for its new subjects, prompting the resistance movement to put aside their plans to unite with their former enemies to save humanity.

Read an excerpt.

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu (Jan 18th)

A group of scientists embark on an expedition to the Arctic, where they discover the body of a young girl who appears to have died from an ancient virus. The finding has devastating consequences: the virus reenters the human population and threatens to utterly change society. In this new world, Sequoia Nagamatsu follows a series of characters, from a theme park employee to a scientist, to a painter, all of whom navigate life in their own ways.

Writing for Lightspeed Magazine, Chris Kluwe says that it's an "emotionally heavy read," and that "this is a book that is innately, essentially human in a way few writers manage to capture."

Read an excerpt.

Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi (Jan 25th)

Tochi Onyebuchi blew the doors off with his novella Riot Baby, and he's back with a new science fiction novel in which people have begun to leave a wrecked Earth for better homes in space in the 2050s. It's the wealthy that are able to leave, and as they do so, they leave behind those who can't escape, and those who remain are forced to scavenge what they can in order to eke out a living, even as their homes are torn apart for those who've left. Onyebuchi looks at the state of the planet as an allegory for white flight and gentrification as some people opt to return decades later and have to deal with the harsh realities of their actions.

Publishers Weekly says that "Onyebuchi’s biblically inspired cautionary tale offers a hauntingly beautiful portrait of the decaying planet," and that he "doesn’t shy away from the more heart-wrenching moments. It’s urgent, gorgeous work."

Read an excerpt.

The Unfamiliar Garden by Benjamin Percy (Jan 4th)

Benjamin Percy follows up his novel The Ninth Metal with a standalone sequel. In that first installment, a comet passed through the solar system, leaving behind in its wake a trail of debris that Earth later plowed into. Meteors rained down, and in one Minnesota town, survivors discovered a new type of metal in the debris, Omnimetal, which various parties fought to control.

In this book, Percy turns his attention to Jack and Nora Abernathy (a biologist and detective, respectively) whose daughter vanished the night that the meteors started falling, and who never really recovered from that loss. Five years later, as the climate began to recover, Jack discovers a new type of fungi, while Nora is investigating some brutal murders, only to discover that their work is connected, and that it might lead them to their missing daughter.

Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that "the juxtaposition of malignant military-industrial machinations and well-delineated human tension works wonderfully, and sci-fi fans will appreciate Percy’s extraterrestrial biological lore."

Listen to an excerpt.

Deep Dive by Ron Walters (Jan 11th)

Video game developer Peter Banuk's last project ended in a dismal failure, and he jumps at a chance to redeem himself and his company when his partner offers up the opportunity to test out a next-gen VR headset. But midway through that first test, something goes wrong, and when he wakes up, he discovers that he's trapped in a world without his children, and he's having trouble discerning the difference between the virtual and real worlds.


Image: Andrew Liptak

Fantasy

The Beholden by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Jan 18th)

Be careful what you wish for. In Cassandra Rose Clarke's latest, Celestia and Izara De Malena are two aristocrats who have fallen on hard times on their estate. Out of desperation, Izara summons and asks a river goddess, the Lady of Seraphine, to bring Celestia a husband. The goddess grants the wish, but it comes with some costs.

She comes to collect five years later, taking Celestia's husband away on a secret mission for the Emperor, and pulls Izara away from her magical training. To pay their debt, the goddess sends them on a quest that'll pit the pair against the Emperor and Celestia's husband, as well as another, powerful god.

Read an excerpt.

Servant Mage by Kate Elliott (Jan 18th)

In her latest novella, Kate Elliott follows the story of a fire mage named Fellian who's been an indentured servant to the oppressive Liberationist Council, which has a low view of mages. She's soon saved by a group of Monarchist rebels, who need her particular skillset to rescue a dragon-born child from their prison in a mine. Along the way, Fellian discovers a conspiracy to destroy the Monarchists.

Publishers Weekly says that "Elliott builds a refreshingly complex world with a magic system not linked to familial lineage and with realistically thorny politics, as neither the Liberationists nor the Monarchists are depicted as infallibly good for the people."

Read an excerpt.

Engines of Empire by R.S. Ford

R.S. Ford kicks off a new epic fantasy series, The Age of Uprising, set in the country of Torwyn. The nation is run buy guilds that oversee its industries, and the Hawkspurs, Towryn's leading guild is responsible for its prosperity.

The Hawkspur's leader, Rosomon, sends her children and heirs to the various corners of Towryn: Conall joins the military where he learns of a possible revolution brewing. Tyreta is a sorceress who'll be vital in keeping the guild going, and is sent to the mines to learn how pyrestone (upon which everything they do relies upon) is extracted — only to discover the darker sides of that industry. Fulren is an artificer who's soon framed for a crime he didn't commit, one that could plunge the nation into war.

Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, saying that says that "Narrated from multiple points of view, the novel fully displays Ford’s ability to create dynamic and emotionally connective characters. Additionally, his ability to write and twist together numerous plot threads and have each one feel like the primary narrative makes this grand-scale tale seem less bloated and unwieldy."

Read an excerpt.

Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire (Jan 4th)

Seanan McGuire continues her Wayward Children series with Where the Drowned Girls Go, about the children who come from adventures to various portal worlds and who've had trouble readjusting to their lives after their experiences. They end up in Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children, which helps them return to the world.

In this latest installment, Eleanor knew all along that there might be some children that she couldn't save, and her latest arrival, Cora determines that she would like a different fate, the headmistress reluctantly agrees to transfer her to another school. But while Cora gets her wish, she'll discover that there are new challenges ahead under a much harsher headmaster.

Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that "throughout Cora’s harrowing adventures, McGuire’s sense of whimsy never falters. She delivers a plot dense enough for a full-length novel in her signature lyrical prose, exploring the effect of cruel, oppressive systems on children’s psyches, while keeping the series’ fairy tale tone intact."

Read an excerpt.

Battle of the Linguist Mages by Scotto Moore (Jan 11th)

In a modern-day LA, Isobel has made a name for herself as a gamer in a VR world called "Sparkle Dungeon" and it's given her some good insights into her new job as a PR executive with the company, which has tasked her with learning all about "power morphemes", a sort of magical linguistics.

As she does so, she begins to realize that there's a powerful battle brewing between the state of California and a group of magical anarchists who are trying to save the state from destruction, and is soon forced to choose a side.

Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that "Moore never loses sight of his characters’ humanity or the underlying sense of adventure and humor."

A Practical Guide to Conquering the World by K.J. Parker (Jan 11th)

K.J. Parker continues his Siege trilogy (it's preceded by Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City and How To Rule an Empire and Get Away With It), in which he follows the adventures of Felix, a bureaucrat and translator who works for the Echmen empire. When his people, the Robur, are wiped out, he's left without a state, and the only person who'll take him in is the Hus ambassador and princess, who doesn't really like him. When the empire attacks and enslaves the Hus, Felix vows to help the ambassador and princess in any way he can.

Publisher's Weekly says that "Parker fills his well-designed fantasy world with vastly differing cultures and languages that are just as fun to read about as Felix’s audacious schemes."

The Starless Crown by James Rollins (Jan 4th)

Thriller writer James Rollins returns to fantasy with the first installment of a new series, The Starless Crown, following a handful of characters as they suss out a prophesy in a fantastical kingdom. When she's attacked by bats, a woman named Nyx discovers her blindness is cured, and imparts her with a vision of the future: an apocalyptic event called Moonfall (not the disastrous-looking forthcoming film, presumably) is coming.

That premonition brings her to the attention of King Toranth ry Massif, who fears that she's prophesied to bring about his own downfall. As Nyx escapes from his grasp and embarks on a quest to find her father, she's joined by a thief and a disgraced prince, and together, they might be able to stave off apocalypse.

Writing for SFFWorld, Rob Bedford notes that the book "is a helluva way to kick of 2022 and a bold, audacious, and fantastic path for James Rollins to carve a path back into Epic Fantasy."

Read an excerpt.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan (Jan 11th)

In Sue Lynn Tan's debut, she retells the Chinese legend of the Moon Goddess, Chang'e: Xingyin grew up in a lonely existence on the Moon, protected by her mother after she was exiled for stealing the Celestial Emperor's immortality elixir. However, she's soon discovered and forced to flee, and arrives in the Celestial kingdom, where she disguises herself and blends in as she works to find a way to save her mother from the Emperor, a quest that'll take her up against mythical creatures and impossible choices.

Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that "Tan paints a lush, sparkling world in her inventive reimagining of the age-old Chinese folktale. The result is a riveting page-turner that will leave fantasy lovers satisfied and eager for more."


Image: Andrew Liptak

Fiction

Devil House by John Darnielle (Jan 25th)

I've been reading this book for the last week or so, and I'm completely hooked. Darnielle is the frontman for a band that I really like, The Mountain Goats, and he's written some intriguing novels in recent years, Wolf in the White Van and Universal Harvester.

In his latest, a true crime author named Gage Chandler has scored a modest set of hits about gruesome murders around the country, and to research his next, he moves to a small town of Milpitas, California, to live in a house that had been the site of a pair of murders took place in the 1980s. As he delves into the crimes and the town, he begins to question not only his line of work, but his heritage (his family reportedly descended from English royalty).

Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, saying that Darnielle is "excellent at getting into the uncomfortable details of abusive homes and how fear sparks an urge to escape both physically and creatively."


What catches your eye this month?