(Illustrations by Neiko Ng for The Washington Post; paper engineering by Simon Arizpe for The Washington Post; photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The Poppy War

By R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager)

This debut novel, the first in a planned trilogy, spans several years in the life of Rin, a dark-skinned orphan who thinks getting into the most elite military academy in the empire will solve her problems. It turns out her troubles are just beginning in this story inspired by East Asian history, including the brutality of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The book is a study in every kind of violence — the humor is a bitter laugh, the lessons bruising.

Blackfish City

By Sam J. Miller (Ecco)

Set in an island city in the Arctic that was built after society collapsed because of environmental disasters and war, the novel follows a battle to take over humanity’s last refuge. Miller’s urgent tale about the ties between technology, race, gender and class privilege is also surprisingly heartwarming. Ultimately, this is a book about power structures and the way that privilege is built on the backs of the disenfranchised — wrapped in an action-packed science-fiction thriller.

Alien Virus Love Disaster

By Abbey Mei Otis (Small Beer)

Otis, an exciting voice in contemporary science fiction, penned this short-story collection about those typically left behind in sweeping adventures — the children, discarded robots, school dropouts and blue-collar workers with the misfortune of being near something toxic. A standout story is “Moonkids,” about young humans from the moon who find themselves living and working in a beach town on Earth after being expelled from lunar society. Like many of Otis’s stories, it’s dreamy but with an intense physicality.


(Harper Voyager)

(Ecco)

Wonderblood

By Julia Whicker (St. Martin’s)

Plunging readers into a marvelous and brutal world of pseudo-magic, religion and astronomy, Whicker’s novel is set in a post-apocalyptic United States 500 years in the future, where a girl is living at a carnival run by her brother. When a rival faction attacks and conquers their encampment, the girl is taken captive to become the bride of the group’s leader. The political machinations that follow are thrilling, as is the lush and wild narration.

Senlin Ascends

By Josiah Bancroft (Orbit)

This debut, originally self-published in 2013, follows a square schoolmaster who loses his wife on their honeymoon trip to the Tower of Babel, leading him on a dangerous journey to find her. This is a classic hero’s quest, elevated by creative world building and memorable characters — including courageous farmers turned actors, pirates, steampunk armored assassins and painters.

Everdeen Mason reviews science fiction and fantasy for The Washington Post.