The best dystopian books to devour your soul

The Books I Picked & Why

Red Rising

By Pierce Brown

Red Rising

Why this book?

Red Rising is a visceral assault. Brown holds nothing back, and you relish each literary punch. There are twists, shocks, and many throw-the-book-across-the-room moments. It’s one of my favorite books in one of my favorite sagas of all time. Set in a futuristic dystopia, society is color-coded by role. Brown navigates issues such as class, race, rebellion, and rebuilding through the eyes of Darrow, a low-born Red who becomes an elite Gold. I can’t recommend it enough—as long as your stomach is iron and your mind is steel. There are elements of space opera, military warfare, and so many cry-yourself-to-sleep emotions that you’ll run out of tears.


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This Is How You Lose the Time War

By Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone

This Is How You Lose the Time War

Why this book?

This Is How You Lose the Time War is such a stunning experience. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. The worldbuilding is exquisite, and the prose is breathtaking. It’s an epistolary novella told in letters between our two main characters, Red and Blue. They’re soldiers on opposite sides of a war between the Agency, a tech dystopia, and the Garden, an organic hive mind. Gradually, they fall in forbidden love through letters and question the war to fight for each other. If you want painfully gorgeous descriptions and mind-blowing storytelling, then this is the perfect book for you.


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Shadow & Claw: The First Half of the Book of the New Sun

By Gene Wolfe

Shadow & Claw: The First Half of the Book of the New Sun

Why this book?

Shadow & Claw is a titan of a story. It is dense and delicious and requires a caffeinated state. In the far future, Earth has returned to a medieval-esque society, the sun is dying, and technology is mostly forgotten. In this dystopia, the Guild of Torturers exiles apprentice Severian for showing his victim mercy. From there, Severian embarks on a rich journey that is part quest, part prophecy, and part adventure as he searches for his destiny and the meaning behind an ancient relic. This book is madly ambitious and deserves a slow clap for all it accomplishes.


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Oryx and Crake

By Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake

Why this book?

Oryx and Crake is a literary marvel. The narrative bounces back and forth between pre-apocalypse and post-apocalypse events with our main character, Jimmy. In flashbacks, he and his childhood friend, Crake, watch graphic videos about surgery, executions, and child pornography. One of the porn videos features a girl, Oryx, who becomes entangled in a love triangle with Jimmy and Crake. Because of the violence in these videos, Crake studies bioengineering and genetics to make humanity gentle and peaceful, but it all dissolves from there. Equal parts disturbing and insightful, Atwood paints a gritty picture with superb characters and arcs.


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The Moon Hunters: A Thrilling Dystopian Adventure

By Anya Pavelle

The Moon Hunters: A Thrilling Dystopian Adventure

Why this book?

The Moon Hunters is a masterpiece of dystopian literature. Told through flashbacks, journal entries, and a nautical rescue, we follow Leilani through post-apocalyptic, post-plague island life in a society with inhumane laws and toxic religious conditioning. There’s forbidden romance, ruthless royalty, thrilling action, and jaw-dropping prose. Leilani is strong and willful, and society punishes her for her strength. With universal themes of love, loss, revolution, and retribution, Pavelle hooked me from the start and possessed me till the end. I adored the characters, the world enchanted me, and the prose bewitched me. It’s truly a dystopian jewel.


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