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9 Thrilling Sci-Fi/Fantasy Action and Adventure Books

These edge-of-your-seat novels beat virtual reality any day.

Collage of action/adventure sci-fi/fantasy books

Some books simply grab you by the opening sentence and plunge you into the middle of an epic battle, an ingenious heist, or a death-defying quest. For the next few hours, you’re on another planet or in a different time period with an odd cast of characters, uncovering secrets, fighting bad guys and saving the world. The best part about such action-oriented speculative books is that you’re having so much fun that you hardly notice time pass by.

So, if you’re in the mood for some exciting page-turners to add to your bookshelf, you’ve come to the right place. Each of these novels promise to be a thrilling roller coaster ride. 

Thrilling SFF Action and Adventure Titles

iron widow

Iron Widow

By Xiran Jay Zhao

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao is an action-packed adventure filled with long, drawn-out battle sequences between giant mechas ala Pacific Rim, a delicious polyamorous romance, and plenty of powerful moments of smashing the patriarchy. 

Inspired by Chinese mythology, the novel unfolds in a futuristic world where misogyny reigns supreme. Boys pilot giant transforming robots (Chrysalises) that fight the aliens, drawing upon the strength of the girls they’re paired with. Many of these girls don’t survive the ordeal, but that’s considered a necessary sacrifice. 

Yet, when Zetian’s plan of assassinating the male pilot and avenging her sister’s death is fulfilled in a surprising way, she realizes she’s opened up a whole new can of worms for the sexist society to contend with. 

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes

Chilling Effect

By Valerie Valdes

Valerie Vades’s debut novel, Chilling Effect, is a fun-filled romp across several wondrous planets and star systems. Captain Eva Innocente and the motley crew of La Sirena Negra (that includes psychic cats, among other strange, sentient life forms) cruise the galaxies making odd deliveries and completing dangerous missions as part of a bargain to rescue her kidnapped sister from a shadowy organization. 

Packed with pop culture and video game references, and endearing and hilarious in equal measure, Chilling Effect is a fast-paced space opera that you can devour in a day or less. 



By Alan Dean Foster

Midworld by Alan Dean Foster, published in 1975, is set in an Earth-like planet, covered with lush rainforests, and inhabited by a peaceful society attuned to the needs of plants and the natural environment. But this tranquil world is disrupted by the arrival of a man and a woman (the aliens here) keen to exploit the planet’s resources. 

Set in the author’s larger science fiction universe (“the Humanx Commonwealth”), Midworld is an engaging and enthralling read that may have even inspired the James Cameron blockbuster film, Avatar.

asian sff releases 2023

Guardians of Dawn: Zhara

By S. Jae-Jones

I fell in love with S. Jae-Jone’s gorgeous writing after reading her lyrical debut, Wintersong. But while Wintersong was dark and decadent, with Gothic undertones, Zhara: Guardians of Dawn is light-hearted, dazzling and utterly delightful. 

It’s a Cinderella retelling of sorts set in an East Asian inspired fantasy world, where our protagonist Zhara has to keep her magical powers a secret, Prince Charming is an adorable himbo and there are demons rife in society. It’s immensely fun, filled with humor and adventure scenes, and perfect for anyone who loves refreshing fairytale retellings. 

Drifter's War

Drifter's War

By William C. Dietz

Published in the early '90s, this is the concluding novel in William C. Dietz’s Drifter series. In Drifter’s War, we follow the exploits of one Pik Lando, a smuggler with a large bounty on his head. He just wants to have a nice life but is unwittingly caught up in the crossfire of a holy war. 

If you enjoy military SF with fun characters, epic gun battles, and interesting alien species, you’re sure to love Dietz’s works.



By Dave Duncan

Dave Duncan was one of the most prolific SF writers, having written more than 50 books from the late '80s onwards. Interestingly, he published his first work at the age of 53 after a 30-year career as a geologist. 

In Wildcatter, published in August 2012, Duncan narrates the thrilling story of a crew who are determined to travel to a far-flung planet in search of new chemical resources before any other company can get there first. But what about the untold dangers that await them, there? Or is that no match for human greed?  

At just 151 pages, Wildcatter makes for a short but unforgettable read. 

hard fantasy books that are both magical and logical


By Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn is a riveting fantasy novel that combines the Chosen One trope with an exciting heist, in a searing tale about rebellion and resilience, unfolding in a high fantasy world plagued by mists and ashfall. 

It’s the first book in Sanderson’s ongoing Mistborn series, set in the planet Scadrial, and introduces the readers to Allomancy and Feruchemy—two interesting magic systems based on the usage of metals. The story follows the charismatic Kelsier train Vin, a street urchin and a rag-tag crew, even as he inspires the enslaved “skaa” to rise and overthrow the fascist Lord Ruler himself.  



By Catherine Asaro

Earthborn by Nebula Award-winning writer Catherine Assaro is the first book in her Lightning Strike series. 

The story begins when Tina, a waitress in East LA notices a man with a glowing box. This man is Althor, who has left his homebase in 2328 and somehow ended up in 1987. To make matters worse, the military has gotten hold of his spaceship, so he and Tina must find a way to get it back—before it detonates.  Overall, an exciting and enjoyable space adventure. 

Murtagh by Christopher Paolini


By Christopher Paolini

Over a decade ago, when I was still in school and sneakily reading fantasy novels under the desk, a classmate lent me Eragon by Christopher Paolini. Like with Middle Earth and Narnia, I was quickly entranced by the magical land of Alagaësia. Murtagh, with his tragic vibes, emerged as my favorite character. 

Fast forward to late 2023, I was thrilled to learn that not only had Paolini decided to revisit Alagaësia, but he did so through the point of view of Murtagh—now traveling the wilderness with his dragon, Thorn, grappling with trauma and a legacy of violence. 

Contemplative yet carefully-paced, Murtagh is an absolute joy to read and relish, suited not just for Eragon fans but anyone who wishes to get lost in a high fantasy action-adventure tale.