20 of the Best Fantasy Books of 2023

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Leah Rachel von Essen

Senior Contributor

By day, Leah Rachel von Essen is the editor-in-chief of Chicago Booth Magazine at the University of Chicago. By night, she reviews genre-bending fiction for Booklist, and writes regularly as a senior contributor at Book Riot. Her blog While Reading and Walking has over 10,000 dedicated followers over several social media outlets, including Instagram. She writes passionately about books in translation, chronic illness and bias in healthcare, queer books, twisty SFF, and magical realism and folklore. She was one of a select few bookstagrammers named to NewCity’s Chicago Lit50 in 2022. She is an avid traveler, a passionate fan of women’s basketball and soccer, and a lifelong learner. Twitter: @reading_while

Leah Rachel von Essen

Senior Contributor

By day, Leah Rachel von Essen is the editor-in-chief of Chicago Booth Magazine at the University of Chicago. By night, she reviews genre-bending fiction for Booklist, and writes regularly as a senior contributor at Book Riot. Her blog While Reading and Walking has over 10,000 dedicated followers over several social media outlets, including Instagram. She writes passionately about books in translation, chronic illness and bias in healthcare, queer books, twisty SFF, and magical realism and folklore. She was one of a select few bookstagrammers named to NewCity’s Chicago Lit50 in 2022. She is an avid traveler, a passionate fan of women’s basketball and soccer, and a lifelong learner. Twitter: @reading_while

There’s only ever so much time in a day and only so much that we’re allowed to read during the day (why do I need to go to work again?) No matter how I try, it seems like the publishing world is determined to sabotage my attempt to read every great book that’s ever been released.

So naturally, we can’t read every fantasy book that was released in 2023, no matter how much we try. That’s what these lists are for: to tell you what you missed. Out of the piles and piles of surely excellent books that are all over the shelves this year, which books should you actually spend some valuable holiday gift cards on? Which fantasy books are fully worth buying to get you through the next dreary winter — snf which books might finally be available at your local library after being so much in demand all last year?

Gathered below are the 20 best fantasy novels, novellas, and collections released in 2023. From fierce political battles to cozy fantastical bookstores, from bonds between a woman and her dragon to a lost princess struggling to keep her people safe, from wild court intrigue to cozy character quests, this list has something for every fantasy lover. Check out my list so that you can catch up on all the best fantasy books you may have missed!

The Water Outlaws by S.L. Huang Book Cover

The Water Outlaws by S. L. Huang

Lin Chong is an expert arms instructor who believes in following the rules. But when a powerful man decides to ruin her life, she’s tattooed as a criminal and driven out of town. She ends up with the Bandits of Liangshan, a gang of female mountain outlaws who fight for the common people in an Empire full of corruption and toxic political machinations. This incredible fantasy is full of epic action scenes, devastating betrayals, and queer love. The character arcs are incredible, and the narrative is written with superb skill.

Content warnings for violence, sexual assault, torture, misogyny, cannibalism, classism, suicidal ideation.

Starling House by Alix E. Harrow book cover

Starling House by Alix E. Harrow

Anyone who enjoyed Gallant by VE Schwab simply has to check out this southern gothic featuring a delightfully creepy sentient house and the people haunted by it. Arthur is its current warden — his parents are long dead. But he needs help managing the house. And Opal seems to fit the bill: a twentysomething with few dreams except getting her younger brother Jasper out of this small, ugly town of Eden, Kentucky, she’s willing to take on whatever job will help her raise enough money to do it…even if Starling House and its dark secrets risk tearing everything apart all over again.

Content warnings for grief, parental death, misogyny, suicidal ideation, violence, self-harm, homophobia.

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty book cover

The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

Amina al-Sirafi was an iconic pirate in the Indian Ocean for decades, defeating all kinds of seafaring rogues and monsters. But now she’s retired: a mother living a happy life. At least, until an old crew member’s daughter is kidnapped, and she is forced back onto the ocean in order to save that young girl. And, of course, the drama and adventure only unspools from there, as an epic story begins from the author of The City of Brass. Who doesn’t love a queer woman-driven pirate tale?

Content warnings for violence/body horror, torture, grief, misogyny, animal death, sexual harassment, transphobia.

The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw book cover

The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw

This dark, poetically written novella features a deadly tale that kind of, sort of draws on “The Little Mermaid” — except that the bride who came out of the waters to marry a prince is a terror with long, sharp teeth. And her daughters have eaten the kingdom alive. So where is she to go now? Soon, she and a plague doctor are on a journey through a terrifying snowy forest, where they discover a group of children who themselves might host terrors far past their own dark, jagged abilities.

Content warnings for body horror, violence, cannibalism, animal death, abuse, miscarriage.

Lost Places by Sarah Pinsker book cover

Lost Places: Stories by Sarah Pinsker

This glittering collection of short stories by the author of the marvelous We Are Satellites and A Song for a New Day includes a genre-smashing, Hugo Award–winning story, “Where the Oaken Hearts Do Gather,” in which the footnotes on a song-lyric analysis website reveal a haunting folkloric mystery. A half-remembered children’s TV show haunts a woman who lies compulsively to old friends at home. A group of Girl Scouts finds that the forest holds dark secrets, but they’re more than prepared to deal with all of them. All SFF fans should be reading Sarah Pinsker, and this is a great place to get started.

The Jasad Heir book cover

The Jasad Heir by Sara Hashem

In this Egyptian-inspired fantasy, the lost heir of the kingdom of Jasad is on the run. Sylvia can’t let anyone know about her true identity, not while her people are still hunted and eliminated by the Nizahl military. But when the Nizahl heir, Arin, appears in a local village hunting down rebels and discovers Sylvia has magic, he insists on having her help — whether she wants to give it or not — in tracking down the rebels. She makes a deadly bargain in the hope of rising back up as queen — but will it be of her own kingdom or of his? This book has all your high fantasy favorite tropes, including an enemies-to-lovers romance.

Content warnings for violence, torture, child abuse, sexual violence, pedophilia.

Lost in the Moment and Found by Seanan McGuire book cover

Lost in the Moment and Found by Seanan McGuire

Young Antsy lost her father. But it’s ok. She finds herself in the Shop Where Lost Things Go — a new place where maybe she can find her ideal home, opening doors and helping people find what they need the most. The Wayward Children series, in which young kids stumble onto magical doors that bring them to worlds that can save, hurt, or abandon them, is iconic at this point, and every fantasy lover should give them a try. As a big fan of the series, I was surprised to find that the 8th novella was the best yet: both whimsical and devastating.

Content warnings for parent death, gaslighting, child abuse, pedophilia, grief.

To Shape a Dragon's Breath book cover

To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose

When Anequs finds a dragon egg outside of her remote village on the Indigenous island of Masquapaug, her clan sees a glimmer of hope for the first time in too long. But the colonial powers of the Anglish descend shortly after to make demands: either she and the dragon she’s bonded with come to the big city and start getting official, structured training in their tradition, or they’ll take her dragon away from her — and end its life as well. This is a rich classic fantasy with a gorgeously written Indigenous twist and a strong, stubborn heroine.

Content warnings for racism, ableism, misogyny, classism, xenophobia, violence, sexual harassment, forced institutionalization.

The Blue Is Where God Lives by Washington book cover

The Blue Is Where God Lives by Sharon Sochil Washington

In this tale that combines magic and folklore with the Book of Job, a woman named Blue is struck into stillness and plunged into a flashback of sorts. She watches as her grandparents, Palmer and Amanda, use their power to try to avoid a plot that would doom their descendants to a life of poverty. When she emerges more than a year later, Blue wonders if she can access any of that power. It’s a book about spirituality, intergenerational trauma and knowledge, and surviving through pain.

Content warnings for sexual assault, suicide, violence, classism.

Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree book cover

Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree

In Baldtree’s follow-up to the viral phenomenon that was Legends & Lattes, we jump back in time: Viv is still in the midst of her career with her gang of mercenaries. When she’s wounded, she ends up recuperating, against her will, in a little town by the ocean. She spends her time at a small bookshop that’s struggling to make ends meet. But don’t worry, it’s got plenty of adventure. Still just as cozy as the first book readers loved, this book moves at a faster pace as Viv negotiates an unexpected mystery to solve and an adventure to conclude.

Content warnings for violence, animal cruelty, violence.

The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw, Richard Kadrey book cover

The Dead Take the A Train by Richard Kadrey and Cassandra Khaw

This new dark fantasy duology features a New York City underworld as a drug-laden, self-destructive woman named Julie Crews is trying to earn a place for herself in the local magical scene, even if it means taking some of the uglier, tougher jobs on the side. While Julie is determined to make it work, she doesn’t expect to attract the attention of an eldritch god in the process. This great, dark story critiques capitalism and vividly describes a NYC at risk of being plunged into total chaos.

Content warnings for body horror, substance abuse, self-harm, suicide, violence, domestic abuse, medical trauma, classism.

A Power Unbound by Freya Marske book cover

A Power Unbound by Freya Marske

Marske began this Edwardian-era trilogy of queer, romantasy reads with A Marvellous Light and now ends it with A Power Unbound. This third and final book in the series follows Lord Hawthorn, a complicated, often haughty nobleman with a mysterious past, and Alan Ross, a thief with no respect for elites like Hawthorn, who is willing to help the squad track down the last puzzle piece in a magical conspiracy…but only for the money, of course. Along with closing out the larger story, this is a delightful enemies-to-lovers romance with plenty of spice.

Content warnings for violence, grief, classism, xenophobia, suicide.

The Magician's Daughter by HG Parry book cover

The Magician’s Daughter by H.G. Parry

In this cozy historical fantasy, a young orphan named Biddy grew up on the strange island of Hy-Brasil, a land of sea salt and mysterious black rabbits, and the person who raised her, the magician Rowan. But as she grows up, Biddy wonders if there’s more to the world off of the island. And when her guardian disappears on an excursion off-island, Biddy has a chance to find out herself by diving into his nightmares and figuring out how to protect her island home.

Content warnings for violence, body horror, death, torture, grief.

Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries book cover

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

There are two things you should know about Emily Wilde: first, she’s an absolute expert on faeries. Second, she’s really not good with people. So, on her quest to find out as much as possible about the Hidden Ones, the most mysterious faeries of all, she really doesn’t need any distractions. She especially doesn’t need her academic rival breathing down her neck, especially because his handsome charm keeps winning over the townsfolk. This cozy romantasy is witty, fun, and super, super charming.

Content warnings for violence, animal death, self-harm, child abuse, torture, ableism.

He Who Drowned the World by Shelley Parker-Chan book cover

He Who Drowned the World by Shelley Parker-Chan

If you haven’t already read She Who Became the Sun, go do it so you can read its sequel, which was unquestionably one of the best fantasy releases of 2023. The genderbent Zhu Yuanzhang, a woman who secretly usurped her older brother’s fate, has officially become the Radiant King after defeating the Mongols. But her new ambition is to take it all: to be emperor of all of China. As new contenders break onto the scene of twisting political games and lethal vengeance, all the characters — many of them queer — are complicated and their world brutal, leaving the reader pleasantly uncertain who exactly they want to win the crown.

Content warnings for self-harm, violence, sexual assault, misogyny, homophobia, torture, transphobia, suicidal ideation, miscarriage.

Prophet by Helen MacDonald and Sin Blanché book cover

Prophet by Sin Blaché and Helen Macdonald

Two intelligence agents need to figure out how a diner just appeared from nowhere in the middle of a field in England. Colonel Adam Rubenstein is the physical side of the mission — Rao can sniff out lies. Their mission becomes more and more important as people start dying and their happiest memories turn against them. Meanwhile, the two agents’ queer romance begins to blossom. While readers seem to agree that this is a weird one and not for everyone, fans are drawn in by the strong romance at the core of this twisty, wild read.

Content warnings for death, violence/body horror, suicidal ideation, torture, substance abuse, suicide.

The Daughters of Izdihar by Hadeer Elsbai book cover

The Daughters of Izdihar by Hadeer Elsbai

Both Nehal and Giorgina are women with fierce powers. But their choices are limited. Nehal, an excellent waterweaver, is forced to get married rather than pursue an education in the magic she craves to master. And Giorgina, an earthweaver who can’t quite control her own strength, buries herself in the Daughters of Izdihar, a feminist group fighting for the right for women to have autonomy over their lives. It’s a vivid fantasy inspired by contemporary Egypt but flush with elemental magic and slow-burn reveals.

Content warnings for misogyny, police brutality, violence, classism, homophobia, sexual assault, ableism.

A Season of Monstrous Conceptions by Rather book cover

A Season of Monstrous Conceptions by Lina Rather

It’s 1600s London, and babies are being born around every corner with strange deformities. Sarah has her own secrets, but she’s channeled her gift for the uncanny into helping to deliver children. Midwives are technically illegal but much needed as births continue to be tricky and suspicion around the uncanny infants — and the women who give birth to them — grows. But when one woman’s husband gets too curious and asks Sarah to help him in his scientific investigation of the uncanny, she’s caught up in a Lovecraftian plot in this dark, twisting novella.

Content warnings for child death, body horror, misogyny, violence, homophobia.

The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi book cover

The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi

Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada was beautiful and wealthy. She agreed to marry a young, dedicated scholar with one catch: he could never ask about the mysterious circumstances that haunt her past. It all goes well until they have to return to her family home, the House of Dreams, a crumbling gothic mansion full of secrets and hidden turns, and he starts asking questions about her best childhood friend, a girl named Azure. Will he dig too deep and risk the marriage that’s been fine for so long?

Content warnings for violence, pedophilia, gaslighting, sexual harassment/assault, animal death, body horror, self-harm, suicidal ideation.

our share of night book cover

Our Share of Night by Mariana Enríquez, translated by Megan McDowell

I’ve been raving about this book since 2023 began, and I have no plans to stop now. This chunky novel by the Argentine writer of dark gothic tales is a rich story about young Gaspar and his father, Juan, who is determined to keep his son’s magical abilities secret from the rich, powerful family that already has Juan do their dirty summoning work for them, even with his weak heart. As Gaspar grows up, he has to face the dark cult and their horrifying secrets in this vivid, frightening, suspenseful tale that mixes rich fantasy with Argentinian history.

Strong content warnings for violence, body horror, domestic & emotional abuse, trauma; also warnings for suicidal ideation/suicide, homophobia, ableism, substance abuse, r-slur, self-harm.

Want to dig deeper into the incredible backlist options on offer? Check out Book Riot’s best books of 2023, from nonfiction to sci-fi and everything in between.