It’s always difficult to pick out the best books of the year, regardless of genre (it’s even harder to do it for a general list). There’s the fear that you’ve missed some under-the-radar gem that you could have plucked from obscurity. But there’s also the worry that you’re giving too much adulation to a popular book that doesn’t necessarily deserve it.
I’ve read quite a few books this year, and I feel comfortable with this list. I think it really shows my personal preferences when it comes to what I read. I love fantastic world-building, and mysteries at the heart of a book. I enjoy learning new things as a result of my reading, whether it’s about other cultures or the scientific implications of the science fiction we read. I enjoy grand stories, with poignant social commentary, that focus in on characters and family. Hopefully you’ll find a little bit of all of that in these books. Without further ado, here are Fangrrls’ top science fiction and fantasy books of 2017, presented in no particular order.
The City of Brass - S.A. Chakraborty
If you want an example of incredible world-building, then The City of Brass is a perfect choice. There’s just one word for the fantasy setting that Chakraborty builds: exquisite. It’s hard to grasp just how big, or how detailed, the world is in this novel. The book’s characters and story are also fascinating; the author presents a blend of mystery and a coming-of-age story, as one young woman finds herself at the center of a world she doesn’t understand, in the midst of a simmering conflict that’s been brewing for centuries and is about to ignite.
The Stone Sky - N. K. Jemisin
The Stone Sky is the final installment in one of the best fantasy trilogies — not of the year, but period. It’s hard to describe just how good Jemisin’s books are. The series centers on a woman named Essun who is an orogene, which means she can control the movement of stones beneath the earth. The book has everything: rich characters, fantastic plotting, and intricate world-building that will constantly keep you guessing -- but at the core is a difficult, fraught mother-daughter relationship that will haunt you long after the last pages are turned.
Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty
It’s easy to forget about books released at the beginning of the year when it comes to year-end retrospectives, but anyone who discounts Mur Lafferty's murder mystery is doing themselves a disservice. This novel is a classic locked-room puzzle, but instead of being set on a train or in a remote house, it takes place in space. Six clone bodies wake up, with no memory of their lives. All they know is that their previous hosts were murdered, and one of them did the deed. It’s suspenseful, and it’s also amazing just how much background and character development Lafferty is able to pack into one book.
A Conjuring of Light - V.E. Schwab
Victoria Schwab’s fantastic fantasy trilogy, which began with A Darker Shade of Magic, comes to a close with A Conjuring of Light. Schwab has built an incredibly imaginative world with this series, and each installment builds and expands on the previous one. It’s hard to find a series where every book is great yet still unique, but Schwab managed to accomplish that with this series. It features a world in which there are four Londons that exist in parallel, but only the Antari can travel between them. Kell is one of the last two Antari that remains, and he travels between the Londons as an ambassador, occasionally smuggling items between the worlds. But when one of his jobs goes astray, it could have dire consequences for every London.
Leia, Princess of Alderaan - Claudia Gray
Whether you’re a die-hard Star Wars fan or relatively new to the franchise, Claudia Gray’s young Leia book will appeal to you — that’s why it’s so lovely. As a longtime Star Wars fan, it’s a lot of fun to see books that take a deep dive into this new canon. However, it’s also exciting to read books that are understandable to a wide audience. Gray has excelled at that accessibility in all of her Star Wars novels; this one shows us Princess Leia growing up on Alderaan, learning to be the leader we so admire in the movies. It’s clear that Gray really gets Leia; this novel is beautifully written, with so much emotion, and it presents a lovely perspective that’s so enjoyable, if a little bittersweet, to read.
Jade City - Fonda Lee
Jade City reads like a gangster novel, but it’s set on the fantasy island of Kekon, where jade is at the center of society. For a lucky faction of warriors, jade enhances their magical abilities, but it can be poisonous. It’s not the world-building that’s at the center of the novel; instead, it’s the characters and their intricate relationships. There are a lot of people to keep track of, so it’s a testament to Lee’s writing ability that she manages to dig into each of them so fully. I usually skim action sequences in books, but Lee’s are gorgeously wrought, and the fights spring to life in your mind. This is a fascinating setting, and I’m looking forward to revisiting it in sequels.
Under the Pendulum Sun - Jeanette Ng
Often, genre is just a cloak for a different type of story, and it works so well to that effect. Under the Pendulum Sun is a gothic mystery — think Crimson Peak or Rebecca — but set in a fantasy world. This novel focuses on Catherine Helstone, who follows her brother into Arcadia, the land of the Fae, from Victorian England. But once Catherine arrives, she finds herself alone in a rambling house where nothing is as it seems. The mysteries around every corner are worth reading this for, but the world-building and atmosphere are just incredible. It’s especially gripping because the normal rules don’t apply, and nothing is as it seems. It's a weird book (that's a compliment), but if you like gothic, you'll enjoy it.
After the Flare - Deji Bryce Olukotun
After a devastating solar storm cripples the world’s power grid, only the equatorial regions of the earth still have power infrastructure. These are the places that the eyes of the world turns. NASA relocates some of its operations to Nigeria, which has the only working spaceport in the world. It’s now up to the Nigerians to get their facilities in shape in order to launch a rescue mission to the ISS to save the lone astronaut who was unable to evacuate. I love near-future sci-fi, and this creative novel fit the bill. Nigeria isn’t your usual setting for this sort of book, and the change of pace was refreshing. Additionally, Olukotun combines local challenges and pressures, such as the Boko Haram, with this engaging sci-fi narrative.
Tomorrow's Kin - Nancy Kress
When I recommend Tomorrow’s Kin to people, I often describe it as the movie Arrival, but with a sharp science focus. When a group of aliens lands in New York Harbor, it’s unclear what they want or why they’ve come. The puzzle grows even more complicated when they finally allow humans aboard their spaceship, but only if geneticist Marianne Jenner is part of the group. This novel, the first in the “Yesterday’s Kin” trilogy, focuses on the scientific, sociological, and ecological implications of an alien visit, as well as the drastic consequences of well-meaning decisions. Despite the blockbuster premise, it’s a quiet, contemplative read that focuses first and foremost on one family that’s caught up in these struggles.
Want - Cindy Pon
Cindy Pon’s latest novel combines a high-stakes thriller with thought-provoking commentary on issues from the environment to the wealth gap. It features a group of teens living in a pollution-plagued Taipei who want to save their city from the corruption within the elite, and it’s hard to come away from it without contemplating the many societal ills Pon discusses. Despite that, Pon’s graceful writing ensures that the novel is never too heavy. She balances plot, character development, and commentary expertly, making this a fantastic and fun read that is difficult to put down.