Sarah Guan is an editorial assistant at Ace/Roc. She’s a huge nerd and loves all things holiday-related, except for shopping mall Christmas music. She tweets at @sarah_guan.
Le Guin is one of my all-time favorite authors in any genre, and THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS is, in my opinion, one of her best books. It’s the story of an intrepid ambassador from Earth who must navigate the complex politics and culture of the ice planet Gethen with the help of the inscrutable Gethenian Estraven, whom he finds almost too alien to trust. Le Guin manages to pack an intellectual challenge and a heart-wrenching tale of love and loss into one short volume—a true sign of a master at work. This book is a science fiction classic for good reason—if you haven’t read it, you’re missing out!
For fans of traditional high fantasy, one of my favorite series is New Carol Berg’s Lighthouse Duet (of which FLESH AND SPIRIT is the first book). It’s got everything we love about the genre—princes, conspiracies, murky religions and secret societies—and protagonist who’s a troubled, delightfully morally ambiguous cartographer. Who steals a book. (Since he seems to be the only person who can read it, it’s not really stealing, is it?)
In case you’re worried about series attrition, there are only two books in this duology. But if you race through them (you will!) and are hankering for more… DUST AND LIGHT, book one of the next series in this universe, was just released this summer.
It’s December, so you’re probably wracking your brains for gift ideas for the children in your life. In my experience, a Brian Jacques book never goes amiss for any kid who loves animals, adventure, and rooting for the good guys. SALAMANDASTRON was my go-to Redwall novel when I was in grade school; reading about Mara, the daughter of the noble Badger Lord, and the brave young squirrel Samkin, always reassured me that the world was fair and that good would triumph over evil.
If you want hard-hitting, cerebral magical realism set somewhere that isn’t your usual North American or British metropolis, Nnedi Okorafor is the author for you. She’s part Octavia Butler, part Chinua Achebe, and entirely original in her take on post-apocalyptic African fiction that manages to be simultaneously gritty and lyrical. In WHO FEARS DEATH, Okorafor weaves a tale of Onyesonwu, a child of rape shunned by both her parents’ tribes, who develops powerful and unique magic that attracts the attention of someone mysterious and powerful—someone who wants her dead. It’s a moving book about identity, tradition, spirituality, and true love in the bleakest of circumstances.
If you just can’t wait another minute for George R. R. Martin’s next book, Anthony Ryan’s new Raven’s Shadow series might just hit the spot. The first book, BLOOD SONG, introduces Vaelin Al Sorna, the estranged son of the Battle Lord of the newly-Unified Realm. His father abandons him to be raised by the warrior monks of the Faith, and Vaelin never forgets that he was stripped of his birthright, even as he becomes the deadliest swordsman the Realm has ever seen. Vaelin’s destiny draws him into secrets and conspiracies that threaten the very foundations of the kingdom, and mark him for a future greater than any he had hoped to inherit from the Battle Lord. It’s a gripping medieval tale of dark magic and Byzantine intrigue—and best of all, book two, TOWER LORD, is already available.
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