For this blog, 2015 was its first full year of existence. We can’t remember the last time we saw so many new science fiction and fantasy books, from all kinds of subgenres, in such a short amount of time. Below, we’ve chosen 25 of our favorite books from the last year. These are the best books of the last year, and any of them would be a good choice for any year. (Also, you can see our picks for 2014, 2016, and 2017 here.)
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
This sci-fi book could not have been written by anyone else. Valente has written a book that is a mix of Victorian wonder, pulp space adventure, lavish Hollywood excess, and a good old-fashioned murder mystery. The book looks into the mysterious disappearance of Severin Unk through script excerpts, lost film clips, interviews, and even old-fashioned commercials. Explore a version of our solar system that’s right out of your dreams, with callowhales swimming in the oceans of Venus and people living on Uranus
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Baru Cormorant hates the Empire of Falcrest for what it did to her family and her people when she was a little girl. When she was a little girl, the Empire of Falcrest came in force to the shores of their small island, took control, absorbed her people, and erased the markers of cultural identity deemed “unhygenic” by imperial science. Baru, on the other hand, is an expert at getting back at people. Her first step is to become a part of the empire. She has to earn the trust of the people who live there, and then she can strike a fatal blow. After just one book, Seth Dickinson has joined the ranks of the great evil geniuses of speculative fiction. These are authors who can make you care a lot about well-developed, complex, flawed, frustrating, and interesting characters, then do terrible things to them in return. But when the book is well-written, it’s worth the pain. It’s as tight as a watch, with the story ticking along with the complexity and certainty of a sweeping second hand.
Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch Series #3) by Ann Leckie
The sci-fi series that turned space opera on its head and won all the awards along the way comes to an end. The story of Breq, who was once the artifical mind that lived on a huge starship and a network of bodies that had been mined, now takes place in a single, frail human body. The action takes place mostly on a space station in orbit around an unremarkable but strategically important planet. Anaander Mianaai, the once-human, many-bodied Lord of the Radch, is split into two parts. Leckie’s trilogy deals with a lot of complicated issues about gender, sexuality, and cultural identity, but it also has a lot of fun when it comes to blowing things up. In this last installment, she does a great job of landing.
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Having taken a break from space exploration with Shaman, Kim Stanley Robinson came back to widescreen space exploration with a full-throated, believably science-y novel that turns one of sci-oldest fi’s tropes on its head. As a deteriorating ship nears its destination after a long journey, we follow a group of people who are both interesting and flawed as they try to avoid a death by a thousand loose screws. The ship itself is one of the most unique narrators we’ve ever come across: It’s an artificial intelligence that still doesn’t understand humans after hundreds of years of ferrying them across the stars.
A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic Series #1) by E. Schwab
Vicious, a supervillain story that broke new ground in 2013, is V.E. Schwab’s follow-up. In this book, she creates a fantasy world in which three different versions of London live side-by-side: Red London, where magic’s waters run deep; White London, where both power and darkness are present; and dull Grey London, where spells lose their shine (guess which one we inhabit). Travelers are the only people who can get from one city to another. They’re a dying species, which might be because someone is trying to kill them all. Traveler Kell, from Red London, has a coat with infinite sides that he uses to smuggle magical objects from one London to another. When he meets Delilah Bard, a clever pickpocket, he accidentally opens a door that should never have been opened, which allows bad magic to get into the city and cause a crisis that could wipe London off the map. Schwab makes characters as interesting as her world.
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Zen Cho’s first book is set in an interesting alternate-Victorian world where sorcery is a way of life. It deals with racial and gender inequality in a fast-paced magical mystery tour. Sorcerer Royal: When Zacharias Whythe, an orphaned slave child, magically inherits the title of Sorcerer Royal after the mysterious death of his adoptive father and mentor, England’s magicians are thrown into a rage by the news. Squabbling only hides the fact that the country’s magic is running out, leaving them open to attack by Napoleon’s sorcerers. During Zacharias’s journey to find the source of the problem, Prunella Gentlewoman, who lives at a school that teaches women to control their supernatural abilities, makes a startling discovery about her past. This could be important to restoring England’s place in the magic world.
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Ken Liu is a well-known short story writer who has won many awards for his work. In his first novel, he wants to rewrite the entire Western epic fantasy story from a different cultural point of view. One thing that makes this book so interesting is that it’s both wide-ranging and intimate. It looks at a rebellion, how it went down, and how two young leaders were caught up in the waves of history. Liu shows that as time goes on, even great deeds can seem small.
Ink and Bone (The Great Library Series #1) by Rachel Caine
In what way would Alexandria have been different if it never fell? What is the question at the heart of Rachel Caine’s novel? The Great Library is now everywhere on Earth, and it can give you any knowledge ever written down. You can’t own books, though. Many of the things Jess Brightwell knows come from his family’s forbidden private texts. As he trains to join the Library’s service, he has to keep this secret from his family. If you’re afraid of a world where owning a book meant risking your life, this book is for you. Even though the main character is 16, the book is for anyone who is afraid of a world where owning books meant risking your life.
The Fifth Season (Broken Earth Series #1) (Hugo Award Winner) by K. Jemisin
It’s a new epic fantasy series called the Broken Earth by the author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. It’s set in a world that has been split into pieces by a series of disasters. Essun and her children are orogenes, which means they can use magic to control natural forces, which is both hated and feared in equal measure. She has passed on her curse, and when her husband learns, he kills their son and their daughter goes away. In order to find her, Essun sets out on a journey that will take her across a ravaged, sparsely populated landscape and into her own hidden past. As she fights to save at least one small piece of a world that has already been lost, Essun’s story will be told. That’s just one thread in a tapestry that is both beautiful and terrible, made with daring, readable prose that goes from wry omnipresence to painfully intimate second-person.