Readers of science fiction and fantasy novels can lose themselves in fantastic worlds where fantastical creatures roam and exciting adventures unfold. Novels in these categories have seen a surge in recent years, with many of them going on to win awards. In this piece, we’ll introduce you to some of the best-known works of science fiction and fantasy, certain to take you away to fantastical places and leave you changed forever. Both devoted readers and those curious about the genres will enjoy these must-read works.
The “Broken Empire” trilogy by Mark Lawrence begins with “Prince of Thorns.” The protagonist, Jorg Ancrath, is a prince who plots his father’s assassination and pursues vengeance on his enemies.
The book is set in a harsh and unforgiving universe, and it is narrated through Jorg’s point of view, giving the reader a special understanding of his motivations and cognitive processes. Despite his youth, Jorg is an intriguing and dangerous figure because of his turbulent past and cruel streak.
Lawrence’s prose is cutting and visceral, with vivid depictions of battle and bloodshed that put the reader in the thick of the action. He develops a complex setting with a rich history and mythology that enriches the narrative.
Lawrence’s skill at keeping the reader on their toes is one of the novel’s greatest features. Lawrence takes the plot in unexpected directions at several points in the novel, keeping the reader on their toes the entire while.
In general, “Prince of Thorns” is a thrilling and suspenseful story of vengeance and atonement that will keep you on the edge of your seat. For those who appreciate dark fantasy with complex characters and a vividly drawn universe, this is a must-read, although it is not for the faint of heart due to its graphic brutality and mature themes.
The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
The Three-Body Problem’s first volume was first published as a serial in Science Fiction World in 2006. In 2008, it was released as a separate book and became one of the most popular Chinese science fiction books of the last 20 years. The book has won a lot of awards over the years, including the Chinese Science Fiction Yinhe (“Galaxy”) Award in 2006. By 2015, a Chinese movie with the same title was being made.
Tor Books came out with Ken Liu’s English translation in 2014. Then, it won the Hugo Award for Best Novel and was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel. It was the first Asian book to win either award.
The books in the series show a made-up past, present, and future. In the first book, Earth meets an alien civilization in a nearby star system with three sun-like stars that orbit each other in an unstable three-body system.
In December 2019, The New York Times said that The Three-Body Problem helped spread Chinese science fiction around the world. They cited the quality of Ken Liu’s English translation and the fact that George R. R. Martin, Mark Zuckerberg, and Barack Obama all backed the book.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
“The Fifth Season,” written by N.K. Jemisin, is a science fiction novel that tells the story of a world on the brink of disaster due to catastrophic climate change. The novel follows a group of characters as they struggle to survive in a world where the seasons have become unpredictable and extreme weather events are commonplace. Jemisin’s unique and captivating style of writing has been praised by critics, and her skillful world-building and characterization have earned her numerous awards, including the Hugo Award for Best Novel three years in a row, a feat that has never been achieved before. The novel is the first in the Broken Earth Trilogy, and the rest of the series has also been widely acclaimed.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
“Uprooted” is a solo fantasy novel that reimagines fairy tales. Novik’s narrative of friendship, adventure, and sacrifice is engrossing and gratifying.
Agnieszka, a young woman from a village on the border of the Wood, is the story’s protagonist. Agnieszka finds her magical skills when the community’s magician, the Dragon, picks her as his servant. She fights the Wood to preserve her village.
Novik’s prose is beautiful and evocative, bringing a magical, dangerous world to life. The Wood is a truly scary monster, and Novik’s description of its twisted and malignant power over the surrounding countryside is vivid and unsettling.
The characters in “Uprooted” are rich and diverse, with hidden motivations and depths exposed over the course of the novel. Agnieszka is a powerful protagonist with a ferocious personality and unyielding commitment to protect those she loves. The bond between Agnieszka and the Dragon is also a feature of the book, as they gradually come to understand and rely on one another as they confront the dangers of the Wood together.
Fans of conventional fantasy should enjoy “Uprooted.” Novik’s writing and fresh perspective on fairy tale themes and clichés make for a memorable read. With its beautifully detailed world-building, intriguing characters, and captivating plot, “Uprooted” is a modern fantasy masterpiece that will leave readers wanting more.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
2013 saw the release of Ann Leckie’s science fiction novel Ancillary Justice. Author Ann Leckie’s first novel, it kicks off her space opera trilogy Imperial Radch, which also includes Ancillary Sword (2014) and Ancillary Mercy (2015). In the novel, Breq, the protagonist, is the sole survivor of a starship that was destroyed by treachery and also the host for the artificial consciousness of that ship. John Harris created the artwork for the cover.
Positive reviews helped Ancillary Justice earn the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, BSFA Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award, and Locus Award for Best First Novel. The Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke prizes have never been given to any other novel.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Blending elements of science fiction and fantasy, “All the Birds in the Sky” tells the story of two childhood friends.
The protagonists of All the Birds in the Sky, Patricia and Laurence, are a witch and a tech geek, and the story takes place in the not-too-distant future. Patricia, at the tender age of six, realizes that she possesses magical powers, such as the ability to communicate with birds, but she is unable to exert any control over them or call upon them at will. From an early age, Laurence is a prolific inventor, constructing a two-second time machine out of a watch and, years later, a supercomputer in his bedroom. After being shunned by their peers for being too different, Patricia and Laurence meet at the middle school where they both go.
Unfortunately, their time together at school is brief, and they end up drifting apart. After being wrongly convicted of witchcraft, Patricia takes the form of a bird and soars away, only to be captured by a magician and enrolled in a school for witches. Laurence’s parents send him to a military reform school since he doesn’t act like everyone else.
In general, reviewers praised the book. It was the winner of the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novel, as well as the 2017 IAFA William L. Crawford Fantasy Award and the 2017 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. It was also a Hugo Award nominee in 2017. It was chosen as one of the “100 Greatest Fantasy Books of All Time” by Time magazine and ranked fifth in their list of the “Top 10 Novels” of 2016.
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
“The Poppy War” is the first book in a grimdark fantasy trilogy that draws inspiration from Chinese history and mythology. The novel follows Rin, a war orphan who rises through the ranks of a prestigious military academy, only to become embroiled in a devastating conflict. Kuang’s unflinching portrayal of war, combined with her intricate world-building and memorable characters, has earned “The Poppy War” critical acclaim and a loyal following.
The Poppy War was shortlisted for the 2018 Nebula Award and selected as the best book of the year by numerous media outlets as The Washington Post, Time, The Guardian, Paste, Vulture, Bustle, and The Verge. Several authors, including Kameron Hurley, Julie C. Dao, and Fonda Lee, have praised it. The World Fantasy Award for Best Novel was also considering it.
The Poppy War has been described as “an ambitious beginning to a trilogy” by Michael Nam of the New York Daily News, and as “a bold and dramatic launch to Kuang’s career” by Publishers Weekly.
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
An alternate history science fiction novel, “The Calculating Stars” is the first entry in the Lady Astronaut series. Set in the 1950s, the story follows mathematician and pilot Elma York as she strives to become the first female astronaut after a meteorite strike accelerates Earth’s space program. Kowal’s novel explores themes of gender equality, race, and climate change, while offering an engaging and scientifically plausible story.
The Calculating Stars was honored with the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Novel, 2019 Nebula Award for Best Novel, 2019 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, 2019 Sidewise Prize for Alternative History, and 2019 Nebula Award for Best Novel.
According to Publishers Weekly, Elma’s personal story “provide(s) a fascinating human focus to the apocalyptic background.”
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
“Gideon the Ninth” by Tamsyn Muir is the first book in the Locked Tomb Trilogy, and it is a story that defies categorization by combining aspects of science fiction, fantasy, and the supernatural with elements of a mystery. Gideon Nav, a brilliant swordswoman, is the protagonist of this narrative. She travels with her necromancer adversary Harrowhark to a deteriorating space station for a life-or-death competition. “Gideon the Ninth” has become a fan favorite and has gained critical acclaim, including nominations for the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award. Its distinctive setting, dark humor, and memorable characters all contributed to the story’s success.
In 2020, the work was a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Novel, the World Fantasy Award, and the Nebula Award for Best Novel.
NPR named Gideon the Ninth and the Locked Tomb trilogy one of the 50 finest sf/f novels of the 2010s in 2021.
The world of science fiction and fantasy is vast and ever-evolving, with award-winning novels offering readers unique and captivating experiences. These must-read books, which have garnered critical acclaim and won prestigious awards, transport readers to new worlds filled with unforgettable characters and engaging storylines. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the genres or just beginning to explore their boundless possibilities, these novels are sure to provide you with hours of immersive reading and inspire your imagination. So, pick up one of these award-winning science fiction and fantasy novels and let yourself be transported to fascinating new worlds.