With the dumpster fire that is 2020, I have been unapologetically escapist in my reading. Reading new fantasy books has been my top choice, and with the breadth and talent of fantasy releasing in 2020, I’ve had a feast to choose from. From collections and anthologies to novellas and novels, 2020 has been a magnificent year for the fantasy genre. The below list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it’s a great jumping off point for you to get in on the escapism too.
NEW FANTASY BOOKS: 2020 COLLECTIONS & ANTHOLOGIES
THE BIG BOOK OF MODERN FANTASY, EDITED BY ANN VANDERMEER AND JEFF VANDERMEER
While a new release for 2020, this compendium allows us to explore renowned fantasy stories from the end of World War II to 2010. It’s a fantastic resource to study works by titans of the genre, from Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from the Omelas” and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” to more recent stories such as Aimee Bender’s “End of the Line” and Victor LaValle’s “I Left My Heart in Skaftafell.” For fervent readers and writers of fantasy, this is a must-have.
DANCE ON SATURDAY: STORIES BY ELWIN COTMAN
Small Beer Press has published some of my favorite collections, and Cotman’s glorious book certainly makes the list. Cotman utilizes the entire spectrum of fantasy and speculative fiction to write powerful stories on race, power, and human nature. The title novella is particularly stellar, about a group of immortals in Pittsburgh who can extend their life (and limbs) by growing and consuming certain fruit. It’s a timely collection filled with wit and beautiful language.
FINAL CUTS: NEW TALES OF HOLLYWOOD HORROR AND OTHER SPECTACLES, EDITED BY ELLEN DATLOW
This is a horror anthology, so not all of the stories listed would fall under the term fantasy, but horror can also be dark fantasy. Specifically, the stories “Exhalation #10” by A.C. Wise, “From the Balcony of the Idawolf Arms” by Jeffrey Ford, and “Lords of the Matinee” by Stephen Graham Jones are both beautiful and horrifying. From the use of extraordinary hearing to solve murders to watching a shapeshifting creature devour its master to having a disembodied voice reveal a horrific secret, these stories are some of the best fantasy (and horror) I’ve read this year.
NEW FANTASY BOOKS: 2020 NOVELLAS
Under the umbrella of new fantasy books, there’s new fantasy short books. This list will focus on novellas published as books. It’s important to note that, while all of the below are from Tor.com publishing (as they publish novellas as individual books), it is by no means the only place to find fantasy novellas. I recommend Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Clarkesworld for magazines that publish fantasy novellas in their issues and/or online. For reference, this category includes works that are at or under 40,000 words.
COME TUMBLING DOWN (WAYWARD CHILDREN #5) BY SEANAN MCGUIRE
The Wayward Children series is one of my favorite series of all time and, five books in, McGuire still does not disappoint. In Come Tumbling Down, we return to fan favorite characters Jack and Jill from the Moors. We see main characters from previous books band together, fight for each other, and most importantly, grieve for each other and what they’ve lost. I am already counting down the days until book six releases in 2021.
DROWNED COUNTRY (THE GREENHOLLOW DUOLOGY #2) BY EMILY TESH
The first book in Tesh’s duology, Silver in the Wood, is an absolutely masterpiece of a novella. Drowned Country continues the mythos and beautiful
queer romance of Silver in the Wood and expands on it in this stellar sequel. I cannot yell about Tesh’s work enough. Especially in this quarantine age, if you’re aching for that feeling of being utterly embraced by nature and magic, Drowned Country will provide.
THE EMPRESS OF SALT AND FORTUNE BY NGHI VO
It’s not easy to compress epic fantasy into a novella, but Nghi Vo does so with astonishing skill. This is a superb feminist fantasy about a handmaiden who befriends the emperor’s lonely wife and becomes a tale of rebellion, love, hope, and anger.
THE ORDER OF THE PURE MOON REFLECTED IN WATER BY ZEN CHO
A bandit walks into a coffeehouse. A fight ensues. Hard to beat an opening like that. This novella is such a joy to read, full of action and wit. I am a huge sucker for fun ensemble casts in both books and movies, and this book’s eclectic band of thieves hits all the notes.
NEW FANTASY BOOKS: 2020 NOVELS
THE ANGEL OF THE CROWS BY KATHERINE ADDISON
For those seeking a supernatural Sherlock Holmes mashup, I give you The Angel of the Crows. Follow Dr. J.H. Doyle as he teams up with the enigmatic Crow and they both scour London to find Jack the Ripper. This book has been described as Sherlock Holmes fanfic, and it’s a fair description: easter eggs and nods to characters and arcs are scattered throughout. It’s a delightful, fun-filled supernatural mystery.
THE BONE SHARD DAUGHTER BY ANDREA STEWART (SEPTEMBER 8, 2020)
Stewart makes a strong epic fantasy debut with The Bone Shard Daughter. Lin, the daughter of the emperor, spends her days behind locked doors. Her father, the emperor, refuses to acknowledge her as his heir, so Lin promises to master the art of bone shard magic. This is another glorious take about power and forbidden magic.
THE CITY WE BECAME BY N. K. JEMISIN
The incomparable and stellar N.K. Jemisin starts a new series with The City We Became, this time focusing on New York City, working off of the notion that every great city has a soul. NYC has six. From Manhattan to the Bronx to Brooklyn, Jemisin introduces us to these souls in a completely unique and powerful fantasy about culture, love, hate, and hope. And if you’re interested in reading a lead-up to the novel, you can also check out Jemisin’s story “The City Born Great” on Tor.com. Jemisin said on Goodreads that The City We Became starts where the story leaves off.
A DEADLY EDUCATION BY NAOMI NOVIK (SEPTEMBER 29, 2020)
Dark school of magic story! And this school of magic, Scholomance, tries to kill its students. This book is about an unwilling dark sorceress navigating (and surviving) Scholomance, a place filled with monsters, where even breakfast can kill you. Hell yes. As a huge fan of Novik’s previous novels Uprooted and Spinning Silver, A Deadly Education is at the top of my list for 2020.
A DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF MAGICIANS BY H.G. PARRY
If you’re looking for a genre-defying historical fantasy, then this checks all the boxes. Imagine the French revolution but with Robespierre as a necromancer. It’s got political intrigue and magic, and is a powerful story about the fight for freedom in the early modern world.
THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA BY TJ KLUNE
For those looking for a lush, soft fantasy about finding, belonging, and becoming, this lovely book will warm your soul. The book is about Linus Baker, a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth who is sent to an orphanage determine whether six magical children might bring about the apocalypse. There he meets the orphanage’s master, who is determined to keep the children safe. It’s beautiful and romantic, and such a lovely escape for those seeking solace from doomscrolling.
THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE BY V.E. SCHWAB (OCTOBER 6, 2020)
Fans of Schwab’s work will no doubt love this expansive and utterly heart-wrenching novel. Addie is faced with an isolating and lonely curse: No one is allowed to remember her. Yet, after 300 years of persisting through such an existence, Addie finally stumbles across a young man who remembers her name. This is a novel that is both heartbreaking and hopeful. I read the last hundred pages well into the night, gasping and sobbing. It’s a beautiful read.
THE OBSIDIAN TOWER BY MELISSA CARUSO
Melissa Caruso returns with a new series with magnificent world-building and deadly magic. Ryx has the power to drain the life from everything she touches, and after accidentally killing someone in self-defense she goes on the run. She finds a group of magical experts (I love ensemble casts!) and as groups are wont to do in epic fantasy, they have to save the world. Fans of Caruso’s previous Swords and Fire series will surely be thrilled with this new fantasy release.
THE ONCE AND FUTURE WITCHES BY ALIX E. HARROW (OCTOBER 13, 2020)
Follow three sisters who join the suffragists in New Salem in the late 1800s, and then add some witchcraft to the mix. Um, yes please. If you enjoyed The Ten Thousand Doors of January, then get ready for more awe-inspiring writing, though keep in mind: as Alix noted on Twitter, while January was mostly G-rated, The Once and Future Witches is definitely not.
PIRANESI BY SUSANNA CLARKE (SEPTEMBER 15, 2020)
As a huge fan of Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke’s new novel is sure to be another triumph. A labyrinthian story about a house with infinite rooms and the man who explores it is exactly the kind of story I like to sink into for hours and hours.
THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING BY ALEXIS HENDERSON
When I hit chapter one after reading the deliciously dark prologue (I love prologues) and a priests painted a line of blood on the protagonist’s face, I was hooked. Dark feminist fantasy? A forbidden Darkwood? This has it all. For those looking for a mix of gothic, horror, and dark fantasy, this is the book that will having you licking your lips for more.
NEW FANTASY BOOKS: 2020 YA FANTASY
A SONG OF WRAITHS AND RUIN BY ROSEANNE A. BROWN
A crown princess and a refugee are brought together, both with the intention of killing the other. Add their growing attraction, and things get real interesting. This a strong fantasy debut by Roseanne A. Brown, including enemies-to-lovers romance, ancient evils, a competition, and all the backstabbing. This is part of a duology, too, so once you’re done, be prepared to make grabby hands for the follow-up.
CEMETERY BOYS BY AIDEN THOMAS (SEPTEMBER 1, 2020)
A trans boy is desperate to prove himself a brujo to his traditional Latinx family, so he summons a ghost. The problem is: the ghost won’t leave him alone. I love, love, love bothersome, attractive ghosts, and the chemistry between Yadriel and Julian is *chefs kiss.* It’s such a powerful book, where LGBTQIA and Latinx kids can see themselves being powerful heroes.
EMPIRE OF DREAMS BY RAE CARSON
I read the Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy early into the pandemic, and its magic system and thoughtful critiques of power and religion was a fantastic escape during those days. Empire of Dreams is set in the same world as the Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy but is a standalone novel. Carson focuses this book on an orphan who joins the Royal Guard, intent on protecting those dearest to her. However, no woman has survived recruitment year.
GIRL, SERPENT, THORN BY MELISSA BASHARDOUST
Let me introduce you to do the feminist queer fairytale you didn’t know you needed. And you need this very much. Soraya is a princess who is cursed to poison anyone she touches. Her twin brother’s wedding approaches and she must decide who she is and will become. Is she a princess, or is she a monster? I love books that tackle this question.
RUTHLESS GODS (SOMETHING DARK AND HOLY #2) BY EMILY A. DUNCAN
For those looking for a dark fantasy that revels in its villains and enemies-to-lovers romance, this is the series for you. Ruthless Gods continues the blood magic and war that Wicked Saints left off with, but this time add WAY more body horror, dangerous questing, and this-is-a-bad-time-to-make-out-but-let’s-anyway delicious moments.
WOVEN IN MOONLIGHT BY ISABEL IBAÑEZ
Ibañez crafts a beautiful fantasy in this book about Ximena, who can spin thread from moonlight. Ximena is the decoy for the last remaining Illustrian royal, and when the usurper Atoc requests the royal’s hand in marriage, Ximena goes in her place. This is a beautiful and magical tale of revenge, romance, and revolution.
WHERE DREAMS DESCEND BY JANELLA ANGELES
Where Dreams Descend has been described as Moulin Rouge meets Phantom of the Opera, but there is also a heavy vibe of Caraval meets The Night Circus. For those seeking a book that captures the mystery, magic, and romance of the stage, this is the book for you.
This list barely scratches the surface of all the great new fantasy books.