As a new year beckons, it's the perfect time to revisit the books that moved us throughout the year. 2019 was a brilliant year for speculative fiction, with legendary authors like Tad Williams and Guy Gavriel Kay releasing books alongside exciting newcomers like Sarah Gailey, Tamsyn Muir, and Paul Krueger.
For my debut here on The Portalist, I've gathered ten of my favorite 2019 books.
They range from sprawling epic fantasies in long-established worlds, to brand new standalones, noir mysteries with a dash of Harry Potter, and mind-bending stories about time travel, love, and courage.
Speculative fiction covers an infinitely broad range of possible stories, so I've tried to include a little bit of everything.
To help you find the right for your tastes on this list of 2019's best books, I'm leading off with some comparables.
If you like coming-of-age stories and weird, post-human societies...
The City in the Middle of the Night
Charlie Jane Anders' second novel is one of the most inventive and heartbreaking books of the year.
Sophie's journey alongside her best friend Bianca begins with a couple of naive students with big ideas, and ends with a world-changing revolution.
Their journey through Xiosphant and Argelo, and everything in-between on the tidally-locked planet of January, is fraught with danger, peopled by genuinely unique characters, and packed with Anders' trademark wit and insightful themes.
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If you like Starship Troopers ...
The Light Brigade
Hurley's known for breaking down tropes, and The Light Brigade takes on some genuine Military SF classics like Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Haldeman's The Forever War.
Following a raw recruit named Dietz, The Light Brigade rips apart time to reveal the capitalist underpinnings of a war raging across a feudalistic dystopic future Earth.
The Light Brigade is a cutting examination of loyalty and war, capitalism, and courage. Unlike a lot of authors, Hurley took on Heinlein and produced an equally revolutionary work.
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If you like melancholy...
A Brightness Long Ago
Where to start with Guy Gavriel Kay? I've long referred to him as my "rainy day author," because I save his books for those periods when I need a book I know I can sink into and forget about the outside world.
A Brightness Long Ago tells the story about the way lives intersect and how small happenings can cause major ripple effects across whole worlds. One of Kay's best books—which is saying a lot!
If you like big, sprawling fantasies...
Empire of Grass
Williams returned to his beloved world of Osten Ard in 2017 with The Witchwood Crown, the first in a sequel series to his legendary Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy.
Empire of Grass is a brilliant follow-up, cementing Williams as one of the genre's living masters.
Alongside fan favourites, this new trilogy introduces a new generation of characters in a fight against the deathly Norns who threaten to break the peace won by Josua Lackhand, Simon Snowlock, and their many compatriots two decades ago.
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If you like Veronica Mars with magic...
Magic for Liars
I've always been a huge fan of Gailey's short fiction, like "The Fisher of Bones", but their debut novel, Magic for Liars, smashed all my expectations. Ivy Gamble is a struggling private eye, scraping by day-by-day until she gets a call from The Osthorne Academy of Young Mages.
But there's one catch: Ivy Gamble was born without magic.
Reluctantly accepting the gig, Gamble finds a mystery that feels like the perfect mashup between Mean Girls and Veronica Mars, with a healthy dose of magic thrown in for good measure.
Smart, funny, and briskly paced, you won't have a chance to put Magic for Liars down until you've turned its final page.
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If you like time traveling war stories about spies falling in love...
This Is How You Lose the Time War
A noir war story about time travelling spies falling in love while trading letters across the broad stretch of time and space should not work.
But, with masters of their craft like El-Mohtar and Gladstone working their magic, This is How You Lose the Time War not only works, it's wonderful, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since finishing it months ago.
It's beautiful, thoughtful, punch-to-the-gut exciting, and unlike anything I've ever read before.
If you like stories about stories...
The Ten Thousand Doors of January
Three pages in, The Ten Thousand Doors of January changed how I thought about the letter D. 100 pages in, it changed how I thought about stories. By the end, it changed how I thought about love and perseverance, destiny and dreams.
Told across two generations, Harrow's debut follows January Scaller as she explores the costs of freedom, and discovers the inspiring story of a young, adventurous woman named Adelaide as she explores a multitude of worlds through mysterious doorways open for those who know to look for them.
A beautiful debut from one of speculative fiction's most acclaimed short fiction writers.
If you like Game of Thrones...
A Little Hatred
Got a Game of Thrones-shaped hole in your heart? (Or is that that sword-shaped hole? Sorry if you're dead.) Abercrombie first hit the scene a decade ago with his instant classic The First Law, and now he's back with a new trilogy set a generation later.
Get to know Savine dan Glokta, Leo dan Brock, and Rikke as they navigate a familiar fantasy world quickly being overrun by the advance of industrialization and capitalism. A Little Hatred is a treat for fans and newcomers alike.
If you like necromantic dungeon crawls...
Gideon the Ninth
Muir made waves this summer with the release of her debut novel, a mile-a-minute dungeon crawler about necromantic lesbians, bone citadels, labyrinthine puzzles, and a galaxy-spanning empire on the verge of collapse.
If that's not enough, Muir smacks you awake with a voice that Brooke Bolander described as "a rap battle in an opera house." Inspired by old-school Japanese RPGs, Gideon the Ninth is not only one of the most electrifying debuts of the year, it's one of the best books of the year. Period.
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If you like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Pokemon...
Steel Crow Saga
Sticking with video game-inspired fantasy, Paul Krueger's Steel Crow Saga takes Pokemon's creature-based battles, wraps them in a modern fantasy world reminiscent of The Legend of Korra, and recruits the most likeable cast of characters of the year.
Most remarkable is how he manages to flesh out a fully-built fantasy world in a standalone novel, and entwines his characters so deeply with this worldbuilding that it's impossible to separate them. A brand new book that feels a lifetime old.