The best debut science fiction and fantasy novels with immersive worlds

Who am I?

I've been a book doctor and acquiring editor for almost twenty years. I've read hundreds of debut novels, both published and not. I've always been amazed and impressed when an author is able to create a unique and internally consistent universe for their story. I also know—as a writer of ten fantasy and science fiction novels—that building a vivid, alternate world is a very difficult thing to do well. In the best stories the fictional world defines the characters in it, shapes them, and gives their struggle meaning. It's why we relate to their journey and make their success our own. 


I wrote...

Liferock

By Jak Koke,

Book cover of Liferock

What is my book about?

In Jak Koke's debut novel, you get to dive into the mysterious world of Obsidimen. Born fully formed from their Liferock, they live for a thousand years before they are reabsorbed to share their souls with their brotherhood.

Young Pabl Evr returns home for his Naming, only to find his liferock threatened by a mining crew and in peril from an apocalyptic remnant of the Scourge that threatens to destroy the Liferock, kill the whole community, and erase the entirety of their ancestral memories.

The books I picked & why

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The Traitor Baru Cormorant

By Seth Dickinson,

Book cover of The Traitor Baru Cormorant

Why this book?

How can a fantasy novel about a math and economics genius in a world governed by an empire top my list? Suffice it to say that these subjects fascinate me. And I read it at a time when the housing crisis devastated so many people, many of whom I knew personally, so the economy and its manipulations were front of mind. The world of Baru Cormorant is rich and gritty. Baru herself is complex, brilliant, and likable, but deeply flawed. She has a plan, but to accomplish it she might have to choose between the people she loves and her drive to destroy the Imperium that erased the culture of her home. What she does and the choices she makes are shocking and heart-wrenching.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant

By Seth Dickinson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Traitor Baru Cormorant as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

[Published as The Traitor Baru Cormorant in the US]

Baru Cormorant believes any price is worth paying to liberate her people - even her soul.

When the Empire of Masks conquers her island home, criminalizes her customs, and murders one of her Fathers, Baru vows to hide her hate, join the Empire's civil service, and claw her way up enough rungs of power to put a stop to the Emperor's influence and set her people free.

As a natural savant, she is sent as an imperial agent to distant Aurdwynn - a post she worries will never get her the…


Ancillary Justice

By Ann Leckie,

Book cover of Ancillary Justice

Why this book?

I really resonate with Breq, the protagonist of Ancillary Justice. Even though she's a fragment of an AI in a human body, Breq is more passionate about fairness and justice than the human characters. She's a truly singular protagonist. Breq's unique and insightful view of the Radch empire makes this book one of the best debut science fiction novels I've ever read. The worldbuilding is impressive here, too, showing the dark underbelly of a monolithic civilization as it, like many imperialist expansions have on Earth, absorbs and destroys local cultures.

Ancillary Justice

By Ann Leckie,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Ancillary Justice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Once, she was the Justice of Toren -- a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.


Our Lady of the Islands

By Shannon Page, Jay Lake,

Book cover of Our Lady of the Islands

Why this book?

Unlike many fantasy novels, the protagonist, Sian Katte isn't an adolescent. When I read this book in my 40s, I identified with the main characters. They've already come of age, but their lives are nonetheless turned upside when Sian gains an unexpected and unwanted magical ability. She is forced out of her routine and becomes a lynchpin in the political turnings of the tropical island nation of Alizar – a fantasy setting that resonates with the familiar while maintaining its uniqueness and rich history. 

Our Lady of the Islands

By Shannon Page, Jay Lake,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Our Lady of the Islands as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set in the lush and dangerous world of Jay Lake's Green, Our Lady of the Islands is a vibrant, enchanting tale of political intrigue and divine mystery."Our Lady, heal us ..."Sian Katte is a successful middle-aged businesswoman in the tropical island nation of Alizar. Her life seems comfortable and well-arranged...until a violent encounter one evening leaves her with an unwanted magical power.Arian des Chances is the wife of Alizar's ruler, with vast wealth and political influence. Yet for all her resources, she can only watch helplessly as her son draws nearer to death.When crisis thrusts these two women together, they…


The Blade Itself

By Joe Abercrombie,

Book cover of The Blade Itself

Why this book?

I've always been impressed and fascinated by fantasy that feels realistic and down to Earth. That's why I was sucked into (and was blown away by) Joe Abercrombie's world. It is grittier than Game of Thrones; his characters are brutal and realistically flawed; and his writing is by turns vivid and hilarious. This first book in The First Law trilogy pulls you into a harsh world filled with likable barbarians and sympathetic torturers. Against the backdrop of war and its atrocities, Abercrombie brings fantasy archetypes into a realistic (if very dark) world – and it's an unforgettable journey.

The Blade Itself

By Joe Abercrombie,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Blade Itself as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inquisitor Glokta, a crippled and increasingly bitter relic of the last war, former fencing champion turned torturer extraordinaire, is trapped in a twisted and broken body - not that he allows it to distract him from his daily routine of torturing smugglers.

Nobleman, dashing officer and would-be fencing champion Captain Jezal dan Luthar is living a life of ease by cheating his friends at cards. Vain, shallow, selfish and self-obsessed, the biggest blot on his horizon is having to get out of bed in the morning to train with obsessive and boring old men.

And Logen Ninefingers, an infamous warrior…


A Ragged Magic

By Lindsey S. Johnson,

Book cover of A Ragged Magic

Why this book?

A Ragged Magic hooked me from the opening when Rhiannon watches while her family is falsely accused and then publicly executed.  Rhiannon herself is captured and undergoes a torturous ritual against her will – one which infuses and amplifies her burgeoning magical aptitude. The magic in The Runebound series is unique and fascinating. This book and its vulnerable main character drew me into her world.

A Ragged Magic

By Lindsey S. Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Ragged Magic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rhiannon has the Sight - the ability to glimpse the hearts and minds of others. Her visions attract the attention of the powerful kirche, which has condemned all magic outside the holy orders. Thrust into intrigue and danger, Rhiannon must learn to control her growing power, and master ...

A RAGGED MAGIC

"Lindsey S. Johnson debuts strongly with her tale of betrayal, magic and political intrigue. She breaks our hearts open in the first chapter ... with her fast-paced, often poetic prose ... "
--KEN SCHOLES, award-winning author of The Psalms of Isaak

"Lindsey S. Johnson's strong, confident voice ...…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in war, artificial intelligence, and barbarians?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about war, artificial intelligence, and barbarians.

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