Dark Horse Round-Up: January-June 2021

Here’s a twist for ya: we’re halfway through 2021. Never saw it coming, right?! Well, as we continue to cope with the pandemic and other problems of the modern era in the only way we know how–by watching Bo Burnham’s Inside, of course–we can at least enjoy the various fantasy and sci-fi debuts that have graced our shelves. 

This year, we picked another handful of debuts to focus on, and we’re proud to report we reviewed every single one. Here’s our Dark Horse round-up for the first half of 2021, plus links to buy our picks if you’re interested (or a full shelf if you prefer to see them all at once). Stay tuned for our second-half picks, which we’ll release next month.

Ariadne By Jennifer Saint

From our review: “Jennifer Saint’s prose is as sweet as grapes grown under Dionysus’ watchful eye. Saint has a knack for writing in a tone that feels at home in Ancient Greece. At the same time, her words all feel fresh. It’s an impressive balance, and I noted multiple passages that felt equally at home in a classic myth or a modern tale.“

Hall of Smoke by H.M. Long

From our review: “Long has written a solid debut. Sure it has a rocky start, but if you stick with the story just a little bit, it will definitely be worth it. The descriptions of the land, and the people who inhabit it are fun and mesmerizing. The mythology is a blast in its own right, and Hessa’s journey through it truly is fantastic.”

The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis

From our review: “While I would say The Lights of Prague is not the strongest debut of 2021, it is still an interesting enough read especially if you want a plot that doesn’t stop.” 

The Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson

From our review: “Johnson’s prose is perfect at building the world. The landscape and natural elements often feel like moving stained glass, especially out on the sea. Arcadia, meanwhile, is rigid and grey filled with rules and a sense of dread.”

Reset by Sarina Dahlan

From our review: “I wanted to like this book, but it just wasn’t meant to be. If you’re into unrequited love in a time where memory is fleeting, you might find something special here, but there are plenty of other books out there for me to explore.”

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

From our review: “I was wildly impressed with Winter’s Orbit across the board: as a debut, as a romance, and as a strong contender for one of the best books of 2021. The characters are relatable and complex, the romance is different and compelling, and the world and politics are imaginative and fun. Cast aside any hesitation you have about this romantic story and give it a spin.” 

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

From our review: “Ultimately, my thoughts on The Unbroken remain unclear even after finishing it and thinking about this review. The premise and story have massive potential, and some of it is very clearly realized. However, there is a lot of energy lost thanks to the overwhelming sense of vagueness that the narrative exudes that sometimes smothered my interest in pressing further into the book.” 

The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes

From our review: “All in all, I definitely liked The Last Watch and recommend that you check it out. There are certain pieces of it that I struggled with, but the sum is definitely more than the parts. Its strange combination of characters and plot creates a wonderful vehicle for a wild and memorable ride and the character stories have me fully invested and excited for the sequel.”

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