Historical fantasy enthusiasts looking for their next epic should look no further than The Poppy War (Harper Voyager, $26.99) by R.F. Kuang. This story is set in a fantastical version of medieval China known as the Nikara Empire. Readers follow the life and trials of Rin. Orphaned as a result of the Empire’s recent war, Rin finds her life full of loss, hardship, and mystery. With the help of her one ally she aces the Keju, an Empire-wide test, propelling her into the ranks of Sinegard, the world's elite military school. There she begins to unlock the secrets of her past and of magics thought long lost. But always looming is the rumble of renewed war with the Federation of Mugen, the Empire’s ancient enemy across the sea. After two bitter confrontations, known as the Poppy Wars, the Federation is eager to reclaim what they lost to the Empire. Based on Chinese history and filled with pulse racing- action this is an excellent addition to any shelf.
For any fan of Ursula K. Le Guin’s beloved Earthsea fantasy series, the upcoming release of The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition (Saga, $59.99) has been a long time coming. After four years of intensive collaboration between Le Guin and fantasy artist Charles Vess, and unfortunately less than a year after Le Guin’s passing in January, this compendium is finally setting sail to reach our shores. For the first time, readers will experience all five Earthsea novels together in brilliant color, from the story of the wizard Ged and his first days learning magic at the island of Roke, to the epic flight of the dragon Kalessin, or the dark passageways of the Tombs of Atuan and their princess, Tenar. The volume will also present Le Guin’s Earthsea short stories, including one never before printed, and her “Earthsea Revisioned” Oxford lecture—ensuring that there’s something for everyone amidst these magical, dragon-filled pages.
Catherynne Valente’s Space Opera (Saga, $19.99) reads as if Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and David Bowie had a baby, except this baby is even funnier, more glamorous, more queer, more, well, everything. Space Opera is over the top, it is fabulous, sparkly, and incredibly entertaining. Valente's prose brims with stage effects and makes your whole self vibrate with color and glam and pure joy. And yet it is also a book about the times we live in and how we treat those who are different, and how we deal with dictators (or a whole planet of them), and make wars, and make love. This is the book everyone on your list needs this year.