Would you look at that, we’re at the dawn of a whole new decade. Which means…well, it means a lot of things, but for our purposes it means there is a brand new cavalcade of books waiting to usher us into the future. And since I want to make sure your TBR stacks are healthy as we head into the worst bit of winter, I’ve rounded up four January titles (plus one from December that I want to make sure doesn’t get lost in the shuffle) that are sure to beat back the post-holiday doldrums. This month’s books range from Shakespearean fantasy to Cuban Magical Realism, from a gentle apocalypse to a world burning down. Plus there’s a talking blue fox on a mission through space and time who would like to have a word.
Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer
(MCD, December 3)
Look, it’s Jeff VanderMeer, so don’t be too surprised when I tell you that the book opens with a chapter about a messianic blue fox on a cosmic mission that requires him to follow a secret path of wormholes through time and space. Again, that’s the first chapter. There’s also an ancient fish with a secret who is reliving a past that may or may not belong to him. There is a nameless City that operates under a brutal, all-powerful Corporation, and within that City are three rebels who fight a shadow war against that Corporation. There is a man wandering a nearby desert, who believes he’s being pursued by an invisible monster. Except he might not be mad, the monster might be real, and he may have created it.
Much like in VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy and Borne, the book reflects a fractured world through a fragmentary, jumpy structure. The points of view shift constantly, so the reader experiences the story through many eyes and many truths, with the foxes and fish every bit as important as the scientists and former astronauts. As with his previous books, what VanderMeer is writing toward is a story that blurs the boundaries between species, space, and time, to help us better understand the ecology of our world.
Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton
(Tor Books, January 7)
The motto of the Lady Knights is “Strike Fast, Love Hard, Live Forever”—but how can that guide a Knight when revolution is brewing?
Tessa Gratton’s newest, set in the same universe as her King Lear-inspired novel, The Queens of Innis Lear, is a fantastical riff on Henry IV. Banna Mora is the prospective heir to the throne of Aremoria. She has been raised to put her love of her nation above all else, but this love is tested when the best friend of her childhood, Hal Bolingbrooke, threatens to usurp her. But does Hal even want the crown? She spent her youth as a knight, ruling a decadent underground “court” from the Throne of Misrule. But because of her mother’s rebellion against Banna Mora, Hal is now a prince in her own right, and honor bound to rule and wage war. But where is her own heart in all of this? Aremonia’s greatest warrior and leader of the Lady Knights, Lady Hotspur, might hold the key to that knowledge, but she’s caught between the woman she’s in love with, and the throne she’s bound to serve.
The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala, trans. by Anna Kushner
(FSG, January 7)
The author and architect Marcial Gala uses a chorus of voices to tell this tale of magic and utopia in Cuba. The Stuart family, led by their patriarch/preacher Arturo, moves to the city of Cienfuegos on the southern coast of the island. They’ve barely moved in when Arturo receives a divine mission: God wants the preacher to built a towering Cathedral, and awe-inspiring edifice that will be the fulcrum of a new Jerusalem. At the years roll on, and the cathedral rises and rises—but is never finished—Gala engages grittiness and whimsy in an intricate conversation between the people who live in its shadow. He orchestrates narratives from gangsters, religious fanatics, a serial killer, even a ghost, all to dissect modern Cuba and the blurry edges between the real world and the magic teeming just outside.
The Seep by Chana Porter
(Soho Press, January 21)
Playwright Chana Porter’s debut novel looks at grief, loss, and alien invasion. Trina Goldberg-Oneka is a fifty-year-old trans woman deeply in love with her wife, Deeba. They know that The Seep, an unstoppable alien entity, is coming to conquer Earth, and they do their best to steel themselves for its arrival. But when it comes, it isn’t what anyone feared—The Seep connects everyone in a bliss beyond imagining. Capitalism and class divisions fall, humanity is united, and people find that anything they imagine can become reality. With this new world opening before them, Deeba makes a joyful decision to be reborn as a baby. But this means leaving a heartbroken Trina behind. She stumbles through her life, numbing herself with alcohol, until she finds a boy as lost as she is.
Can the two free each other from The Seep? And even if they can…what kind of life can you live after you’ve rejected eternal happiness?
Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi
(Tor Books, January 21)
When civility fails, and politeness fails, and overachieving fails, and working yourself down until there’s barely any you left fails, sometimes all you can rely on is the kind of bright anger that destroys everything it touches.
But can hope rise from that destruction?
Ella and Kev grew up in Los Angeles during the Uprising. Like a lot of Black children of their generation, their earliest memories were scarred by the images of Rodney King on the news every night. Their mother moves them to the Bronx, where racism, gangs, and the constant threat of police violence tower around them. But Ella was born different. Ella can see the future, she can do…things…with her mind. And when she sees yet another news story, about yet another murder, she vanishes. She trains herself, stretches herself, begins to learn all the things her power can do. It’s exhilarating to realize you can raze a city to the ground. But when her little brother Kev is the next name in the news, the next Black boy thrown into Rikers and left to rot, Ella has to decide whether she’ll use her power to save him—or whether her power could create a new future.