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Top 10 Fantasy Novels of 2021 Show Promising Evolution In The Genre

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BY January 10, 2022

Another year draws to a close, and 2021 was another great year for genre fiction. Although we loved so many magical novels this year, we had to narrow it down to a top 10 list consisting of the best fantasy novels of 2021.

Many Of The Best Fantasy Novels of 2021 Came From New Authors

The fantasy genre is slowly shifting and evolving into something new and more inclusive. Many of the novels that make the list for the top 10 fantasy novels of 2021 include debut novels from women and authors of color. The chosen one trope is still alive and well, along with many hero’s journeys. However, these new authors are also changing the game by bringing in non-western cultures and mythologies to bring their worlds to life. Let’s take a look at the top 10 fantasy novels of 2021, in no particular order.

She Who Became The Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became The Sun Image via Tor/Forge

The first book in the Radiant Emperor series, and the debut novel from Shelley Parker-Chan. She Who Became The Sun is a historical epic takes place in ancient China, and subverts familiar figures and mythology. A young girl escapes famine and death to become a monk, hiding her identity from her brothers. She struggles with her own identity, as well as the rising tide of war and conflict that looms inevitable. A beautifully written story with complicated protagonists and a touch of the supernatural. This novel also features themes of LGBTQIA identity,  and a trans hero whose complicated gender identity makes up much of the internal conflict of the novel.

Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

Son of the Storm Okungbowa Image via Orbit Books

The first novel in a new fantasy trilogy by Suyi Davies Okungbowa – author of David Mogo Godhunter. This story draws from African culture and folklore to create a vivid world of magic and politics. The unique magical systems are fascinating to study, but this is another highly character-driven story. Every character is unique and deeply realized, with understandable fears and motivations. Son of the Storm is also a fast-paced adventure story that reveals more about the world with every step taken by the characters.

The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

2021 Fantasy Novels The Witch's Heart Image via Penguin Random House

Based on Norse mythology, The Witch’s Heart tells the story of Angrboda. She is an ancient witch who was burned by Odin for refusing to reveal the darkest secrets of her magic. After her heart is ripped out by the gods, it is returned to her by an unlikely trickster. Angrboda becomes the wife of Loki – and mother to his unusual children. But she is a powerful character in her own right, who stands tall amongst the storied gods of legend. An unexpected story that twists and turns every which way to wrench your heart out of your chest and leave you wanting more of this strange magic. Perfect for fans of Circe or Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, this is undeniably one of the best fantasy novels of 2021.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

2021 Fantasy Novels Chosen and Beautiful Image via Tor/Forge

One of the most highly acclaimed fantasy novels of the year, The Chosen and the Beautiful is a queer fantastical reimagining of The Great Gatsby. The glittering opulence of the Jazz Age is tinged with demonic power and the supernatural. Familiar characters are all here. But they are deepened by Vo’s shimmering prose and sharp eye in regards to human nature. The characters come to life vividly on the page, marked by longing and love while also corrupted by decadence and greed. In many ways, this story transcends the original while also paying homage to a literary classic.

The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley

2021 Fantasy Novels Empire's Ruin Image via Tor/Forge

Brian Stavely is an established voice in the fantasy genre, and with The Empire’s Ruin he returns to the world he established in his Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy. Multiple POV characters show us the state of the world now, and the new conflicts that are arising. This series is full gods, magic, and mystery. The Empire’s Ruin is a classic epic fantasy novel that deepens the complexity of the world Stavely has built.

The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick

The Mask of Mirrors M.A. Carrick Image via Orbit Books

The Mask of Mirrors is a new fantasy novel set in a glittering world of noble houses competing for power, and a dark underbelly of poverty and crime. Nightmares stalk the streets, stealing away children who return unable to sleep and die shortly after. Amidst all of this is a young woman who has returned to the city of her birth, set to con one of the noble houses.

Along the way she discovers mysteries and magic that go far deeper than she imagined. Into the dreams of the city, and into her own heart. This a great action-adventure story, with mysterious vigilantes that fight for justice, prophecies delivered via Tarot, and secret gods waiting underground. The second novel The Liar’s Knot is also out now, and this series just keeps getting better as it goes along.

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Jasmine Throne Tasha Suri Image via Orbit Books

Tasha Suri has already established herself as an excellent fantasy author who draws from Indian culture and mythology in her previous work like Empire of Sand. In her newest novel – The Jasmine Throne – she takes inspiration from Indian epics to create a unique world. The story follows two women of very different backgrounds – a princess and a maid who must learn to trust one another and work together to change the world and their own lives.

In a society where “impure” women are burned alive, these two struggle to survive the powerful forces set against them and empower themselves. A carefully constructed world with a simmering queer romance, and magical bonds. The story also delves into deep philosophy on the nature of Imperialism and the hierarchies we trap ourselves in. The Jasmine Throne is undeniably one of the best fantasy novels of 2021, and establishes Suri as an author in command of her own culture and voice.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

2021 Fantasy Novels Gilded Ones Image via Penguin Random House

The debut novel from Namina Forna has been highly anticipated for several years, and it does not disappoint. The Gilded Ones tells the story  of Deka, a young woman with uncanny abilities raised in a society that fears them. She must undergo a ritual to prove that she is worthy of joining the village fully. But when the day comes her blood runs gold and reveals the truth of her magical nature. Deka finds a higher calling and a new purpose – to fight for the emperor alongside others like her. This is a story about oppression, and how these characters survive and learn to thrive in a system designed to keep them in their place.

For The Wolf by Hannah Whitten

2021 Fantasy Novels For The Wolf Image via Orbit Books

I have a soft spot for fairy-tale retellings and this year Hannah Whitten delivered on that front with her luminous novel For The Wolf. On the surface this story takes on the familiar story of Red Riding Hood. However, it takes the basic concept and builds a whole world out of it. In a kingdom bordering an ancient forest, second daughters are given up to the Wolf in order to ensure protection.

In the vein of similar fairy-tale retellings like Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale, the Wolf is no creature of darkness but a man who must sacrifice everything to stave off dark terrors. This magical story is full of twisted trees, bloody ritual, and deep magic. But the relationships are what make this story shine. Not only the simmering romance that pays off but also the relationship between the two sisters at the heart of the story. Their bond enriches both characters, and provides motivation and heartbreak for all involved. A beautifully reimagined fairy-tale full of heart and soul.

What were your favorite and best fantasy novels of 2021? Let us know in the comments and be sure to follow Comic Years on Facebook and Twitter today.

(Featured image by Brandi Redd via Unsplash)

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Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.

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