By Jenna Mark
- Caraval, by Stephanie Garber
This fantasy debut is a synesthetic delight, carrying readers away to a dream city of luminous magic and dark secrets, all seen through an enchanted haze that blurs the lines between real and make-believe. Scarlett Dragna is the abused daughter of a brutal man living on an island in a distant world. She sees marriage to the mysterious count with whom she has been exchanging letters as her only chance for escape—but her wild younger sister, Tella, has different ideas. The sisters have always longed to attend Caraval, a floating annual game in which participants navigate a fantastical arena in pursuit of a supernatural prize. A pair of free tickets from Caraval’s elusive ringmaster, Legend, leads the sisters into the heart of the game, where one will go missing and one will risk losing herself to Legend’s dangerous enchantments.
- The Beast Is an Animal, by Peternelle van Arsdale
In this fairy tale that’s as haunting as the darkest chapters out of the Brothers Grimm, a village’s entire adult population is decimated by the soul eaters, twin sisters who were transformed by their father’s abandonment into something inhuman. Alys is among the children left behind, a group of refugees “rescued” by a neighboring village and forced into service as night watchmen against the return of the soul eaters. The villagers see the children as marked by their tragedy, and fear any hint of witchcraft, but Alys communes in secret with the forest’s mysterious forces, and knows the world can’t be seen in stark shades of good and evil. Soon her strange connection not just with the sisters but with the misunderstood beast living in the trees will send her on a life-changing journey through a fairytale wood.
- The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco
When Tea accidentally raises her brother from the dead, the dark ability marks her out as a bone witch, and a pariah. Cast out by her community, she and her brother are taken in by a more experienced bone witch who becomes Tea’s mentor, training her to take on the mantle of a “dark asha,” who can defang the demonic forces threatening their world. But power comes with a price, and Tea is asked to trade in her own life force in order to keep a world that would ostracize her safe from encroaching evil.
- Blood Rose Rebellion, by Rosalyn Eves
Anna has long believed herself to be “Barren,” a daughter of a powerful magical family with no magical ability of her own. But when she accidentally breaks her sister’s spellwork at her debutante showing, Anna is sent away in disgrace to live with family in Hungary. But what got her exiled may also change her life: outside the bubble of high society, she starts seeing how the real world works, and how it perceives the magical elite. She also realizes the power she inadvertently displayed is its own kind of magic, one that could change the course of her world’s history.
- Lord of Shadows, by Cassandra Clare
Clare kicked off her hotly anticipated new Dark Artifices series, set in the world of the Mortal Instruments, with Lady Midnight, centering on the Los Angeles Shadowhunters and bringing in characters old and new. Bound Nephilim warriors Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn, grieving the tragedies of their pasts, navigated both new supernatural challenges and old grudges in a deadly, alluring world readers were itching to return to. In Lord of Shadows, Emma has finally gotten the revenge she hungered for, but finds it hasn’t brought her closure. She turns to a relationship with Julian’s brother, Mark, a former faerie prisoner who may be even more changed than she realizes. In the meantime, relations with the Unseelie court are increasingly uneasy, and the hard-won peace threatens to tip into war.
- Song of the Current, by Sarah Tolcser
Tolcser’s debut, set in a watery world of nature gods, royal intrigue, and the river-faring life, is a good old-fashioned fantasy adventure. Caro is a wherryman’s daughter, sailing up and down the river delivering goods, with a side of smuggling. But when she’s blackmailed into making a dangerous run without her father, who will be held in prison until her return, it makes her life a lot more complicated—and her horizons a lot bigger. The world building is delicately done, weaving a slow, convincing spell, and life on Caro’s wherry is rich with sharp detail and an undertone of magic. The combative relationship between her and her unwanted cargo, an alleged courier with a secret, shades satisfyingly into something richer. And all along there’s the tingling sense of something more under the surface of her life: like the wherries’ river god, speaking to his chosen people from beneath the water, there’s something bubbling up in Caro, a mystery that starts with strange dreams and hints at a bigger magical destiny to come. This is second-world fantasy you won’t want to miss.