Dragon Heists and Choose-Your-Own-Futures: July’s Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books

Summer has started early, if the recent heat dome is any indication. Escape the stifling weather, if only for a little while, with new science fiction, fantasy, and speculative works from a mix of debut and established authors, as well as works in translation and one from a certain beloved celebrity. The start of your summer TBR includes a Persephone retelling in West Africa, near-future allegories involving invisibility-as-social-class and reality TV that runs on quantum mechanics, and fantasy adventures involving secret spells and stealing from dragon hoards.

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In addition to the list below, a sentimental shout-out to the graphic novel adaptation of Tamora Pierce’s First Test! Writer Devin Grayson and illustrator Becca Farrow have brought the first installment of the Protector of the Small series out of our imaginations and onto the page, for both new young readers and nostalgic older fans like yours truly.


O.O. Sangoyomi, Masquerade
(Forge Books, July 2)

Debut author O.O. Sangoyomi makes it clear that the pre-colonial West African setting of Masquerade is historical fiction, not fantastical. Yet the fact that it’s an alternate-timeline Persephone retelling earns a spot on this list, as young blacksmith Òdòdó finds herself forcibly wed to the warrior king of Yorùbáland after he conquers her home of Timbuktu. Whisked away to Sàngótè, Òdòdó struggles against her metaphorical bonds to the Aláàfin, yet also relishes the power of queendom after a lifetime of being shunned for her metalsmithing back home. But at the same time, she must navigate the political tensions threatening the Aláàfin, and by extension his new queen.

pink slime

Fernanda Trías (translated by Heather Cleary), Pink Slime
(Scribner, July 2)

Uruguayan author Fernanda Trías envisions a terrifying future in which forces of nature and disease hem us into claustrophobic living conditions, as a red wind poisoned with toxic algae sweeps into a South American city. Though plenty flee, just as many—like our unnamed narrator—are forced to shelter in place while avoiding the sickness brought on by the very air they breathe. Soon the only palatable food source is the mysterious pink sludge of the title, both its origins and its potential side effects not worth dwelling on. But Trías’ story is also about how we cope with inhospitable environments—think of the fiery skies and heat domes of seasons past and current—and continue to take care of one another, like the narrator vacillating between watching a young boy with a strange eating disorder while tending to her own mother and ex-husband.

all this and more

Peng Shepherd, All This and More
(William Morrow, July 9)

Imagine if your unfulfilling life could be a Choose Your Own Adventure novel! That’s the premise presented to Marsh, who is nearing a midlife crisis at 45 when she’s offered the chance to star in a reality TV series based on alternate realities: On All This and More, she gets the opportunity to explore myriad roads less taken when it comes to romance, career choices, and the people she builds a life with and around. But with the eager eyes of viewers on her, and glitches appearing in the quantum mechanic tech depicting Marsh’s seemingly perfect lives, this too-good-to-be-true opportunity becomes much more sinister.

this great
Mateo Askaripour, This Great Hemisphere
(Dutton, July 9)

Set 500 years from now, Mateo Askaripour’s sophomore novel applies a dystopian lens to the very contemporary plight of those who feel ignored or forgotten, by envisioning a world in which half the population is invisible. Sweetmint is one of the Invisible, clawing her way to a better future alongside the Dominant Population, which she hopes to procure through an apprenticeship with the Northern Hemisphere’s greatest inventor. But when she discovers that her brother Shanu is alive after having disappeared years ago, she also learns that he’s the prime suspect in the murder of the Chief Executive. Swept up in various political intrigues, Sweetmint must clear Shanu’s name and make herself seen—if, indeed, that’s what she really wants.

the sky on fire

Jenn Lyons, The Sky on Fire
(Tor Books, July 9)

While Jenn Lyons is known for her epic Chorus of Dragons saga, this thrilling new standalone is set in an entirely distinct dragon world—and it’s a heist adventure! In a world ruled by dragons, humans like Anahrod know better than to steal from their fire-breathing betters, lest they be sentenced to death. Except that fifteen years later, a group of bounty hunters discover Anahrod, having escaped her sentence yet leading a solitary life. They offer her a tempting bargain: They won’t bring her back to the dragon Tiendremos… if she helps them steal a hoard of diamonds belonging to the dragon queen Neveranimas, who happens to be Tiendremos’ superior. Complicating matters is the appealing yet frustrating dragonrider Ris, who gives Anahrod even more reason to join such a risky yet rewarding heist.

the spell shop

Sarah Beth Durst, The Spellshop
(Bramble, July 9)

This cozy romantasy debut from fantasy author Sarah Beth Durst sounds like the ideal reprieve from the summer heat: A cottagecore tale about starting over, as librarian Kiela flees a book-burning revolution in the empire for the distant island of Caltrey, also her estranged hometown. Aided by sentient spider plant Caz, Kiela sets up a secret spellshop in town, utilizing her librarian skills to impart knowledge in the form of magic to the commoners long overlooked by the empire’s rule. This carries considerable risk, as teaching magic to commoners is punishable by death; and yet, the greatest danger to Kiela is opening herself up to trust people again, including a handsome love interest.

The Book of Elsewhere copy

Keanu Reeves and China Miéville, The Book of Elsewhere
(Del Rey, July 23)

 If the John Wick movies—not to mention his delightful cameo in Always Be My Maybe—have taught me anything, it’s that I will follow Keanu Reeves into whatever sort of adventure, or genre, that his heart desires. Take his new collaboration with The City & the City author China Miéville on a novel set in Reeves’ comic book universe of BRZRKR, about a warrior who has seen centuries come and gone without being able to die. But while B’s immortality used to be a boon, now it is an albatross. In The Book of Elsewhere, the warrior known as the Child of Lightning is finally given the opportunity for mortality… after he delivers someone else to a U.S. black-ops team. But Death’s bargain with the devil involves resurrecting other soldiers, and might require B to remain on this earthly plane to fight off a new evil. There seem to be similar themes to Reeves’ Wick: a seemingly unkillable one-man force who nonetheless longs for some sort of end to his existence. So long as dogs are spared in this one, count me in.

Aliette de Bodard, Navigational Entanglements

Aliette de Bodard, Navigational Entanglements
(Tordotcom Publishing, July 30)

In Aliette de Bodard’s charming space opera novella, four navigator clans (Rooster, Snake, Ox, Rat) compete to explore occupied space. But when a Tangler—a spindly, deadly beast of nightmares—escapes from the Hollows of space into their communal territory, they must begrudgingly cooperate in order to save all of their futures. That doesn’t mean that the clan elders have any qualms about sending disposable junior members into certain death, however. That’s where it’s up to Việt Nhi (of the Rooster clan) and rival Hạc Cúc (from the Snakes) to put aside their differences, recognize that their reluctant crew may hold the seeds of a found family, and (gulp) confront their feelings for one another.

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