Notes from the Shire: Best Science Fiction Debuts of the Decade

 

As the decade draws to a close, so too does a decade of incredible debuts from authors of every stripe. And there’s nothing more that enthusiasts like more than collecting lists of favorites. (Just ask High Fidelity protagonist Rob Fleming.) But as lists come together, it’s impossible to fairly represent the incredible work done by authors in each genre; so today let’s take a moment and look at some of the best novels of the 2010s where new authors brought us to new and imaginative worlds.

(Ranking is hard - nigh on impossible - so we’ll present our list chronologically by publication date.)

 

February 2010 - The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin

 

 

After her mother dies, Yeine Darr is summoned to the city of Sky, where the Gods are enslaved, and she is named an Heiress to the King. She is ultimately thrust into a power struggle with the other two Heirs and soon realizes that the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first book in her Inheritance trilogy. It features exquisite world-building, well-rounded characters, and a romance that will leave you asking for more (not because it was lacking, but because it was THAT good). The diversity that Jemisin writes into the story, from race to sexuality, is also something to keep an eye on. Although Jemisin is most known for her Broken Earth trilogy, which won three consecutive Hugo awards, her debut novel is not to be missed. -Cassidy Washburn 

 

April 2013 - Promise of Blood, Brian McClellan

 

 

Ever wondered what would happen when you mix magic with an industrial revolution? Well, Promise of Blood is your answer. Field Marshal Tamas has overthrown the King and executed the corrupt aristocrats, now he must reckon with war, royalists, and internal strife. But when dark omens begin to appear, Tamas’ problems might involve far more than just angry citizens; they might just include battling the Gods. McClellan’s debut is filled with everything you love in a Fantasy novel. Political intrigue moves the plot forward, while the unique gunpowder and elemental magic weaves action into the story. However, the best part would have to be the incredibly flawed cast of characters. None of them are perfect, but that’s what makes them so easy to connect to. McClellan’s subtle character development and slow burning plot have proven him to be a master storyteller. He has now finished the Powder Mage trilogy, the first of which is Promise of Blood, and has since gone on to start another trilogy set in the same world. -Cassidy Washburn

 

July 2013 - Three, Jay Posey

 

Post-apocalyptic posthuman western. What? Walled cities are the last bastions of civilization, the wastelands overrun by creatures like zombies infected with a computer virus that takes over the technology that every human has wired into them. Eponymous protagonist Three, with his duster and futuristic hand-cannon revolver, agrees to escort a woman and her son through the wasteland against his better judgement. Exposition is sparse, especially on the enigmatic Three, but even passing familiarity with the tropes and a hunger for the sparse crumbs Posey leaves about the world leaves you hungrily tearing through the pages for more. Over the decade, despite largely flying under the radar compared to other authors on this list, Posey’s a strong writer who has since finished the Legends of the Duskwalker series that this started and has begun publishing the Outriders series as well. -Andrew Bugenis

 

October 2013 - Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

 

 

A woman who was once a starship reaches the conclusion of a twenty-year quest for revenge against the one who destroyed her. Along the way, she finds a former officer of hers, alone and vulnerable, and - not knowing why - takes her in and takes care of her, discovering something akin to humanity for herself along the way. Not content with thoroughly engaging characters and a plot hook that can only come from such a far-flung future, Leckie adds in an agendered society where she/her is the default, calling to task the “default” gender of the last century of science fiction. Leckie has continued challenging norms since completing this series, publishing a standalone in the same setting with three genders and releasing a fantasy novel with a transgender protagonist. -Andrew Bugenis

 

July 2014 - The Queen of the Tearling, Erika Johnasen

 

 

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea, who was raised in exile, is escorted by the Queen’s Guard back to the palace of her birth, where she will be expected to take her late mother’s place as Queen of the Tearling. Soon, Kelsea discovers that there are some who will stop at nothing to deny her the crown, even if it means using dark blood magic to do so. The Queen of the Tearling is a novel filled with action, magic, and a touch of mystery. The world-building is on a whole new level, as are the characters and their relationships with each other. You will absolutely fall in love with Kelsea and her guard Lazarus (the Mace), mark my words. Since writing this debut, Johansen has finished the Queen of the Tearling trilogy, all of which are spectacular. -Cassidy Washburn

 

February 2017 - Kings of the Wyld, Nicholas Eames

 

 

What if there were a fantasy world inspired by rock ‘n’ roll of our past? The usual group of adventurers - “bands”, obviously - go from town to town, but rather than their gigs being to play music, it’s to kill whatever goblins, centaurs, or what-have-you are troubling the town. Bands gain glory and renown for their exploits, but clearly it was better in the old days - the band the protagonists were in broke up twenty years ago and the members have gone their separate ways. But now, to save the frontman’s daughter, it’s time to get the band back together for one last tour. They may be old, but Saga is about to show the new kids what real heroes look like. This imaginative debut is succeeded by Bloody Rose, furthering the world building and stakes with the next generation of adventurers. -Andrew Bugenis


 

February 2019 - Ruin of Kings, Jenn Lyons

 

 

Kihrin is an orphan who grew up on tales of heroes, long-lost princesses, and epic quests. When one day, he is claimed as the lost son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin soon realizes that not all fairy tales have happy endings; for he is not the hero destined to save the empire, he is destined to destroy it. This novel is a one of a kind reading experience. Not only does it feature plenty of diverse characters, political intrigue, magic, and even a dragon who feeds off songs, but it also has the most unique writing style I have ever seen in a fantasy novel. With three separate storylines, the reader is able to experience Kihrin’s journey through his own eyes, his past through the eyes of a demon named Talon, and a third character’s separate commentary on the tales through footnotes. Taking into account everything from the plot, to the writing style, Jenn Lyons really pushes the boundaries of what Fantasy can be. -Cassidy Washburn

 

March 2019 - A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine

 

 

When a new author comes from a background of city planning and Byzantine history, you know you’re in for a world-building treat. Fortunately, Martine avoids a dry far-future history lesson by only sharing detail as it impacts our characters, hinting at a much more complexly thought-out system beneath, and oh! Those characters! Protagonist Mahit Dzmare has everything stacked against her and suffers from imposter syndrome something fierce, but if she’s to keep her small space station from being annexed by the Teixcalaanli Empire, she’s going to have to think fast on her feet and be very careful about those with whom she surrounds herself. I can’t wait for this series to continue and see what else Martine’s unique backgrounds brings us as we move forward to the next decade. -Andrew Bugenis

 

April 2019 - The Binding, Bridget Collins

 

 

A masterful piece of storytelling, I could not put down this book. This is a modern literary gothic novel, but also, an epic love story and wow was it good! Some people find themselves gifted with the ability to be a Binder, whether they want it or not, one who has the power to bind memories into books. These tend to be bad, or traumatic, memories, ones that people would rather forget. But what if you had memories bound that you want back? We follow Emmet, as he finds out he is a born Binder, and a very talented one at that, as he begins his apprenticeship in a ramshackle country manor house, all the way to the seedier world of the big city, and the different lives, and ethics, of the binding trade and it’s players. It is also a beautiful love story, which is slowly revealed as the book progresses, and you will be very much drawn to these characters, and find yourself rooting for them. A book of three parts, which will keep you flipping pages into the wee hours. -Becky Doherty


 

September 2019 - Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

 

 

Gideon is forced to take up her sword and aid Harrow, her childhood tormenter who is also a necromancer of epic proportions. (And when your bully can call a legion of skeletons to her aid, your childhood is not an easy one.) Through the trials, Gideon maintains her sarcasm, her animosity toward Harrow, and a general air of badassitude that makes you want to be her, despite all the hardships she continues to go through. It is to the surprise of no-one who knows me that I continue my tradition of not shutting up about this book, so richly filled with wit, sass, and charm, and you’ll have so much fun reading about a gothic fantasy closed-room murder mystery in space with necromantic magic and queer characters that the emotional core pounces on you when you’re least ready. -Andrew Bugenis




 

Andrew grew up in Central New York and moved to the Saratoga region in 2010. He primarily reads science fiction, ranging from alternative history to far-future space fantasy, and this genre obsession carries over to his other hobbies of gaming and filmmaking.

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