Good news! 2020 is brimming with brilliant fantasy authors, old and new.
Sorcerous revenge stories... Grimdark epics... and a few uplifting love stories that are simply magical - this year has everything.
I’ve carved out a list of only the 17 best, most breath-taking Fantasy books of 2020. It’s split into two major sections:
Scroll down, and you are guaranteed to find your next favorite read.
Note: This list is in no particular order. Everything on this list is excellent.
This book is fantastic.
Written by Susanna Clarke, author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, this book is a wonderfully-sculpted mystery that will drag you in, and spit you out.
Piranesi lives in a vast house of unknown boundaries. The Hallways, filled with beautiful stone statues, are flooded regularly by a complex of tides.
Only two people in this House: Piranesi, and the Other. But the Other lives far away from Piranesi, and only visits once a week.
One day, as Piranesi explores the house alone… a curious piece of evidence comes to light. Could there be a third person here? But that should be impossible.
Piranesi is the kind of book that makes you feel lost. But that feeling is 100% intentional. And so, so worth it.
This book is an arcane puzzle that reveals itself to you as you go, and it’s wonderful. This is one of those books that changes
Linus Baker is a working drone who follows the rules. Always.
As a caseworker for Magical Children, he goes from case to case, resigned to his lonely existence.
But one day, he is assigned to a unique case. A delicate case. On an island, there is an unruly Orphanage, and one of its inhabitants has the power to end the world.
Linus expects to get in, fix the place up with his usual “by the books” approach, and get out.
…but instead of an Orphanage in dire need of help, Linus finds a Caretaker named Arthur, who cares deeply about his family of remarkable children: a wayward forest sprite, a bearded gnome, and a wyvern obsessed with buttons.
Everyone here is damaged. And everyone here is learning to heal together. Here, at the House, Linus finds a whole cast of reasons to start caring.
The House in the Cerulean Sea has just the right amount of magic to carry you sweetly, softly into another world. This may be the perfect book to escape in 2020.
What do you do if the game you’re obsessed with begins to change the real world?
This is no ordinary VR world.
The Dungeons of Strata are brutally unforgiving and impossibly complex. Nobody has ever come close to reaching the end of the game.
Martin joins this world as one of the rarest class/race combos: an exorcist/rat person. With the help of a relentlessly upbeat guild leader and her small guild, Martin must use every ounce of his tactician’s brain to outsmart other players and the dungeons denizens.
But Strata is more intelligent than you think...
If you haven’t tried the LitRPG genre yet, start with this book.
I bought Dungeons of Strata on a Saturday morning, and finished it before dinner. The main character takes some warming up to, but his clever solutions and obsessive desire to explore make this novel impossible to put down.
In a world where men and women have different kinds of magic, Yadriel identifies as a boy and a brujo... but not everyone agrees.
Yardriel decides to prove his witching powers (and his real gender) by performing a ritual to commune with his cousin’s spirit. Instead, he accidentally summons the ghost of an old classmate, Julian, who has a record for causing trouble.
Before he can undo his mistake, Yadriel gets pulled into Julian’s reckless quest to solve his own murder.
To make matters much, much worse, Yadriel finds himself falling for his ghostly ex-classmate.
On the ice, the weak do not survive.
In the brutally cold world of Abeth, all children are judged. The weak ones are cast into gaping cracks in the ice to be eaten by whatever lives down there.
When Yaz is thrown into the cracks, she finds herself in a frozen wilderness, where the ice walls are studded with millions of “stars.”
By the glow of these stars, Yaz finds a whole tribe of people living below the ice. The “weakest” children, who should’ve died long ago.
But they are not alone. Deep in the frozen tunnels lurks a being so ancient and so powerful, it could change the course of history forever.
If only it could be awakened...
Some schools are filled with wizarding wonders: friendly elves and helpful giants, whimsical spells, and professors who actually help their students.
Not here. Not in Scholomance.
To survive this place, you will need every ounce of help you can get.
El, a snarky student witch, comes to Scholomance with an unparalleled affinity for dark magic. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of magic that makes it hard to win trustworthy allies.
El must make her way through Scholomance by studying harder than anyone else and somehow politicking her way into the right groups of people… without accidentally unleashing her cataclysmic powers on the world.
Fortunately, she has bitter, biting sarcasm on her side... and more wits than you can shake a wand at.
I love Naomi Novik’s writing voice. She pours this rich, “cynical” optimism into her stories, and it’s simply perfect in this new series.
A gritty, epic fantasy inspired by the ancient American Empires:
A Sun Priest who fights against an unjust hierarchy...
A captain whose voice can control the waters beneath her ship...
A blind boy, who happens to be a human vessel for the Crow God himself...
The solar eclipse is coming. A prophecy will be brought to bear. A destiny, fulfilled.
But the question is: whose?
Rebecca Roanhorse has already proven she’s an incredible writer with a gift for writing heart-wrenching endings.
Now, you’ll get to see her gift for massive beginnings. The first chapter alone deserves a read.
This is a fantastic dream of a book:
Addie LaRue is cursed by the devil to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
The curse also came with a gift: immortality.
Throughout the centuries, she fills the emptiness of her life with knowledge and art, always seeking the next masterpiece. Addie burns to leave her mark on the world. But lo, she is always forgotten...
...until one day, a boy sees Addie in a bookshop, and declares, “I remember you.”
E. Schwab’s stories are always supremely paced and ridiculously hard to put down, and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue might just be her masterpiece.
In the late 1800s, Magic is all but gone forever. And with it slow disappearance, the hope for a better and brighter future for marginalized peoples is fading…
...until three sisters are unexpectedly united after seven long years apart.
They are given one chance to mend their broken bonds and fight back against the suffocating ties of “normal society.” Fortunately, they have a secret weapon: the old magic.
This is the Finale of John Gwynne’s “noble dark” fantasy series:
Long ago, good triumphed over evil. The demons were banished to the darkest corners of the world, and a sect of Warrior Angels, the Ben-Elim, took to safeguard the light.
Riv aspires to join the Warrior Angels, but before passing her entrance trials, she discovers a terrible secret about the Ben-Elim’s origins.
Elsewhere, in the far corners of the world, a giantess and a trapper find unsettling signs and dark stirrings.
The demons are gathering once more.
This time, however, the lines of good and evil have blurred.
Who can stem the rising tide of darkness?
Tau burns for revenge.
As a “Lesser”, all he ever wanted was a quiet life, to escape from the oft-cruel social structures that govern his people, and to settle down with his family in peace.
But fate had other plans.
When everything is taken from Tau, he does not give up. He ignites.
With his sword in hand, he refuses to stay down in spite of the incredible odds mounting against him.
The action in Evan Winter’s debut series is so good. And Tau's progression as a swordsman is simply addicting.
This series is many things. Chiefly, it’s a noir-ish urban fantasy Chicago’s only professional wizard must confront the supernatural on a dangerously regular basis.
Sometimes, he solves mysteries. Other times, like in this book, Harry Dresden is more of a magical enforcer - he’s there to keep the peace.
Of course, nothing is ever that easy…
If you haven’t read any of the Dresden Files, start at the beginning of the series, with Storm Front.
The good news? These are so much fun to read. Butcher’s writing talents (and social consciousness) improve greatly with each book, so if you enjoy Book #1, it keeps getting better.
Take a thieving street urchin “accidentally” steals the world’s most valuable treasure: a talking Key that can open any door.
Pit her against a self-important (though often endearing) security guard who captures her only through sheer luck.
Then, turn the whole world upside down when they discover what this treasure is really capable of.
At its core, this is a series that uses heists to explore the wealth divide of a society - specifically, how the upper class pits the middle and lower classes against each other…
...until our heroes decide to jumpstart the revolution.
The Stormlight Archive is a monolith of the Epic Fantasy genre.
At this point, I don’t think anyone can sum up Brandon Sanderson’s Magnum Opus in a couple of paragraphs.
Let me give you a few high notes:
Altogether it makes for an incredible reading experience.
Warning: Brandon Sanderson is a master of “addicting character progression.” The moment you feel Kaladin or Shallan begin to grow as people - you will get hooked.
Pick up the first book, and you will instantly lose hours of your life.
Fantasy and humor are the perfect match.
This is the second (and final?) book in a series that almost nobody has heard of. Since it takes place in the same City, I’ll talk about Book #1:
In The City (a fantasy version of ancient Rome), Orhan, a military Engineer, must deal with the daily mind-numbing bureaucracy of politicians and imperial leadership.
One day Orhan stumbles upon a field of fresh corpses. Somehow, the entire garrison walked out of the city and straight into a trap.
When he returns to the City to give warning of an impending attack by an unknown army, Orhan discovers that all the politicians - all the cities leaders - have fled. They have left behind countless citizens, defenseless people who have no idea what is coming.
It’s up to Orhan and his creative engineering to defend the City until some kind of help arrives. Sheer logic is his greatest ally… That is, until Orhan meets the Leader of the unknown army.
Each book in this series is built like a fine machine and the seeds of trouble are planted early and often. When they sprout, they hit you like a ton of fresh-cut lumber.
J. Parker writes the kind of books where you know in the very first chapter that you're going to love it. At a bare minimum, try a sample of this book.
Peace? The nation of Nikara has never known peace.
Situated between a war-mongering powerhouse on the east, and a technologically-advanced colonizer on the west, Nikara is perpetually on the brink of war.
But Nikara is no innocent nation. In the name of sovereignty, it has committed enough atrocities - sometimes, against its own people.
Rin, a Nikaran subject, must tear down to build anew. She longs for revenge - for herself and for her people.
When a cursed blessing manifests inside of her, Rin begins to grow into a flaming, vengeful avatar. But can she resist the destructive temptations of her newfound power?
If you love military tactics and fantasy battles, start reading this series today.
After so many years of war, peace is finally here. But what comes after peace?
Joe Abercrombie’s newest series is a grimdark tapestry with threads of all colors:
The clockwork gears grind against each other in this intricate, multi-faceted conflict.
Brilliant pacing, sympathetic viewpoints on all sides, and just the right amount of bloody humor all boil and froth together in this grimdark world.
That trilogy is the perfect introduction into what the world was like… before “the age of madness.”
I would also recommend The First Law Trilogy, as it fleshes out the world before “the Age of Madness.”
This book is a fantasy Ode to New York City. The avatars of the five bureaus must come together as the city struggles to “come to life.” Get this book if you love urban fantasy, social issues, or N. K. Jemisin’s masterful prose.
The Shadow Saint (The Black Iron Legacy #2)
Throughout the city that has always been, the dark gods are at war. Three of the lowest thieves in the city must work together to survive this dangerous, grungy landscape. Get this book if you love street-urchin worldbuilding.
A mage with unfortunate powers (it seems she can only drain life out of the living) is cast out from her home… at the worst possible time. She and her newfound group of magical experts must help save the people that exiled her. Get this book if you love mages who learn to grow (as magic-users and as human beings).
2020 roared with bright, bold, and grimly beautiful fantasy.
This list is filled with authors who pushed the envelope - both for the fantasy genre, and for social consciousness as a whole.
Fantasy is no longer a homogenous genre. Never before have we seen so many new books from so much diversity, and it's a beautiful thing. Best of all, these authors are starting to explore beyond the boundaries of established fiction.
Some of these books expand on old, favorite genres (Sword & Sorcery, Grimdark, etc.), while others seem to be staking claim to entirely new worlds.
I can’t wait to see what’s in store next year.
Thanks for reading. Let me know if I helped you find one of your new favorite books in the comments below.