From lesbian dragon riders to murder robots with existential dread, there was a lot to like in the fantasy genre in 2023. Let’s take a moment and celebrate the power and wonder of the best fantasy books from 2023.

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

the adventures of amina al-sifari book cover

The first book in a new series from popular author Shannon Chakraborty, The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi is a swashbuckling, high seas adventure. The novel stars a woman who is both a mother and a retired pirate. At the urging of a wealthy enough client, Amina emerges from her quiet life for one last grand mission. Assembling a crew of memorable characters, Chakraborty tells a heartfelt story full of poisoners, magic, pirates, and demons. A compelling main character balances the role as a fearsome pirate and as a caring mother, treading unusual emotional beats in the fantasy genre.  

A Day of Fallen Night by Samantha Shannon

a day of fallen night book cover

A prequel story about the reawakening of an ancient evil, A Day of Fallen Night builds upon the beloved world established in The Priory of the Orange Tree. Starring an entirely new cast of characters, the novel depicts a wide variety of queer relationships. Though paced more slowly than its predecessor, the novel manages to avoid feeling like a drag, instead bringing a quiet intrigue to its characters and worldbuilding. While technically a prequel, A Day of Fallen Night can be read as a standalone novel, providing options for fantasy readers who prefer to avoid series.

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Defiant by Brandon Sanderson

Defiant cover brandon sanderson

One of several Sanderson releases on our list, Defiant is the fourth and last book in the Skyward series. Concluding the story of an alien-fighting pilot with something to prove, the novel offers fast-paced, epic space battles. While Sanderson is most often praised for his worldbuilding, in Defiant, he shows off his character skills, bringing long arcs to heart-wrenching, satisfying ends.

Light Bringer by Pierce Brown

light bringer cover pierce brown

The epic Red Rising space opera continues in Light Bringer, the sixth installment in the series. A standout work from a fantastic author, Light Bringer even manages to surpass the sky-high expectations of Red Rising fans. Pierce Brown showcases his ability to weave gripping epic space battles in the novel, all while bringing back the levity and heart that made so many people fall in love with the series in the first place. 

The Sunlit Man by Brandon Sanderson

the sunlit man brandon sanderson cover

A treat for fans of the The Stormlight Archive, The Sunlit Man is a Western-style standalone from Brandon Sanderson. Depicting a redemption-driven space nomad, the novel explores a planet whose sunlight is so bright that it’s deadly. Another example of Sanderson’s original and compelling worldbuilding, the novel expands upon existing Cosmere canon in a deeply creative way.

System Collapse by Martha Wells 

system collapse book cover

A well-executed sequel, System Collapse obliquely explores mental health struggles through the lens of a murder robot having an existential crisis. Like many stories that center robots, it is a book that asks readers to think about what it means to be human. System Collapse manages to tread that familiar ground, but in a way that feels new, provocative, and satisfying, all while depicting deepening friendships and increasingly complex characters. 

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To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose

to shape a dragon's breath book cover

The first book in a new YA series, To Shape a Dragon’s Breath tells the story of an indigenous girl who goes to a magical school run by colonizers in order to realize her future as a dragon rider. A tale about enduring prejudice and remaining true to oneself, the novel is a pleasurable read that reminds readers that the best path is one of authenticity, not conformity.

Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson

tress of the emerald sea brandon sanderson cover

A fantastically satisfying hero’s journey, Tress of the Emerald Sea is a standalone novel about a strange girl who leaves her home island and braves a deadly sea to rescue her beloved. Inspired by The Princess Bride, the novel is a departure from Sanderson’s typical writing style, coming across like a fable with a sense of humor. The novel is an earnest story with a warm heart, with an ensemble of characters you can’t help but love. 

The Will of the Many by James Islington

the will of the many book cover

A knockout series debut, The Will of the Many is a novel about a fugitive who masquerades as one of the upper class to infiltrate a school of magic. His tasks are ambitious: solve a murder, find an ancient weapon, and discover secrets that can take down the corrupt overlords of his world. The novel centers an expertly crafted mystery in a Roman-inspired dark academia setting with gorgeous prose, gripping tension, and a beautifully flawed main character.

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Yumi and the Nightmare Painter by Brandon Sanderson

yumi and the nightmare painter brandon sanderson book cover

A standalone Cosmere novel, Yumi and the Nightmare Painter is a story about two worlds—and two lives—colliding, when a spirit-summoning priestess and an art-leveraging nightmare trapper become bound to one another. The novel has much to offer, as it is both a love letter to the arts and a beautiful depiction of a slow burn relationship, all while taking place in fascinating settings inspired by Japan and Korea.

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