QTL – The Most Anticipated Books Of 2021

This week 2020 is finally rolling to a close and we have been spending some time resting, recuperating, and catching up on a number of books from this year. Yet, the show must go on and we have been furiously planning a site refresh and scheduling all of our content for 2021. In the midst of doing all of this we built a pretty comprehensive calendar of all the fantasy, sci-fi, and other books we want to keep an eye on – and discovered that 2021 is shaping up to be a very strong year for books. This is nice, given how difficult 2020 has been. While we were making this list, we figured it might be fun to highlight some of our most anticipated books for those of you who don’t want to spend a week digging through every single publisher release schedule. We have listed them in release order, not in order of excitement. We have provided cover art where available.

maskofmirrors-cover-664x1024-11) Mask of Mirrors by MA Carrick – release date 1/19/2021 by Orbit: Renata Viraudax is a con artist who has come to the sparkling city of Nadezra — the city of dreams — with one goal: to trick her way into a noble house and secure her fortune and her sister’s future. But as she’s drawn into the elite world of House Traementis, she realizes her masquerade is just one of many surrounding her. And as corrupt magic begins to weave its way through Nadezra, the poisonous feuds of its aristocrats and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly become tangled — with Ren at their heart.

51nihz4w52l2) The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers – release date 2/16/2021 by Harper Voyager: With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop. At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through. When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

51ucj27xfcl3) A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine – release date 3/2/2021 by Tor Books: An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options. In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity. Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.

97812507570504) The Helm of Midnight by Marina J Lostetter – release date 4/13/2021 by Tor Books: In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power–the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city with a series of gruesome murders. Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question. It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.

61bym0xuusl5) Perhaps the Stars by Ada Palmer – released on 6/1/2021 by Tor Books: The long years of near-utopia have come to an abrupt end. Peace and order are now figments of the past. Corruption, deception, and insurgency hum within the once steadfast leadership of the Hives, nations without fixed location. The heartbreaking truth is that for decades, even centuries, the leaders of the great Hives bought the world’s stability with a trickle of secret murders, mathematically planned. So that no faction could ever dominate. So that the balance held. The Hives’ facade of solidity is the only hope they have for maintaining a semblance of order, for preventing the public from succumbing to the savagery and bloodlust of wars past. But as the great secret becomes more and more widely known, that facade is slipping away. Just days earlier, the world was a pinnacle of human civilization. Now everyone, Hives and hiveless, Utopians and sensayers, emperors and the downtrodden, warriors and saints scramble to prepare for the seemingly inevitable war.

42291958._uy1550_ss1550_6) Play of Shadows by Sebastian de Castell – released on 6/24/2021 by Jo Fletcher Books: Damelas Shademantaigne picked a poor night to flee a judicial duel. He has precious little hope of escaping the wrath of the Vixen, the most feared duellist in the entire city, until he stumbles through the stage doors of the magnificent Operato Belleza and tricks his way into the company of actors. An archaic law provides a temporary respite from his troubles – until one night a ghostly voice in his head causes Damelas to fumble his lines, inadvertently blurting out a dreadful truth: the city’s most legendary hero may actually be a traitor and a brutal murderer. With only the help of his boisterous and lusty friend Bereto, a beautiful assassin whose target may well be Damelas himself, and a company of misfit actors who’d just as soon see him dead, this failed son of two Greatcoats must somehow find within himself the courage to dig up long-buried truths before a ruthless band of bravos known as the Iron Orchids come for his head.

813aula04fl7) The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik – released on 7/6/2021 by Del Rey Books: At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules. The next installment of last years incredibly popular deadly education.

desert-torn-asunder-final-lg-768x1159-18) A Desert Torn Asunder by Bradley Beaulieu – released on 7/13/2021 by DAW: The final book in The Song of the Shattered Sands series closing an epic fantasy saga for the ages, filled with rich worldbuilding and pulse-pounding action. The plans of the desert gods are coming to fruition. Meryam, the deposed queen of Qaimir, hopes to raise the buried elder god, Ashael, an event that would bring ruin to the desert. Ashael means to journey to the land that was denied to him an age ago, no matter the cost to the desert. It now falls to Çeda and her unlikely assortment of allies to find a way to unite not only the desert tribes and the people of Sharakhai, but the city’s invaders as well. Even if they do, stopping Ashael will cost them dearly, perhaps more than all are willing to pay.

9) The Pariah by Anthony Ryan – released on 8/24/2021 by Orbit: Born into the troubled kingdom of Albermaine, Alwyn Scribe is raised as an outlaw. Quick of wit and deft with a blade, Alwyn is content with the freedom of the woods and the comradeship of his fellow thieves. But an act of betrayal sets him on a new path – one of blood and vengeance, which eventually leads him to a soldier’s life in the king’s army. Fighting under the command of Lady Evadine Courlain, a noblewoman beset by visions of a demonic apocalypse, Alwyn must survive war and the deadly intrigues of the nobility if he hopes to claim his vengeance. But as dark forces, both human and arcane, gather to oppose Evadine’s rise, Alwyn faces a choice: can he be a warrior, or will he always be an outlaw?

10) The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie – released on 9/16/2021 by Gollancz: Chaos. Fury. Destruction. The Great Change is upon us. Some say that to change the world you must first burn it down. Now that belief will be tested in the crucible of revolution: the Breakers and Burners have seized the levers of power, the smoke of riots has replaced the smog of industry, and all must submit to the wisdom of crowds.

978125021734911) Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune – released on 9/21/2021 by Tor Books: When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead. Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over. But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life. When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

And here are some additional books that we are super hyped about that don’t have details out yet:

  • Blood of the Chosen by Django Wexler
  • Fury of a Demon by Brian Naslund
  • Furious Heaven by Kate Elliott
  • Leviathan Falls by James SA Corey
  • Fall of Babel by Josiah Bancroft

A Memory Called Empire – Foreshadowing Success

51dp2bmink2lThe word “Empire” is gaining a lot of traction these days. It shows up in the usual places such as fantasy novels and certain political circles, but I am finding myself hearing it more casually in conversation, tv shows, and YouTube videos. Now, I recognize that my particular tastes are not average, in that I often seek out media that provides some commentary on the state of the world. It could be that I just have my ear tuned to that frequency, but there is something alluring about the word empire. It is often employed to describe a large state in the past, typically in hushed tones of “we don’t do that kind of thing anymore.” It spoke to that retrospective context we often assign the word, but in a way that reinforces the conscious forgetting of how empires form. A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine, examines an individual’s relationship to their national identity through an intricately paced mystery story, all while seamlessly blending intricate worldbuilding and a compelling narrative.

The story follows Mahit Dzmare, who represents Lsel, the independent mining station where she was raised, as their newly-appointed ambassador to the Teixcalaanli Empire. Her predecessor is dead, and no one will admit whether it was an accident or murder. Unfortunately for Mahit, the leadership of the empire is also unstable, with open questioning of who is to succeed the current ailing emperor. Mahit enters the capital lost, uninformed, and nearly alone as she tries to figure out why her predecessor is dead and what promises he may have made to those in power. There is not much time as the Teixcalaanli grow bolder in their need for expansion, and her station’s independence might be at risk. With time against her, what will Mahit sacrifice for her people’s sovereignty?

Martine writes with astounding depth. Her use of language contrasting the Teixcalaanli to Mahit’s home culture is inspired. I cannot recall a time I felt so purposefully lost in a culture. I felt like an alien, and I think that was the point. Martine made the Teixcalaanli feel so different from the main character and the audience, without necessarily pitting the reader against them. I feel this is a hard thing to do, especially because it is easy to hate on a “big bad empire” if you are sympathetic to the ambassador of a smaller nation. From the names of the empire’s citizens to their job titles, Martine has created names for almost everything in the Teixcalaanli world. On top of that, to be Teixcalaanli is to be civilized. Everyone who is not a citizen is considered a barbarian, regardless of the fact they are all space-faring civilizations. What makes the separation even more intriguing is the lack of disdain behind word barbarian. Never did it feel overtly malicious, just characters consistently pointing out the obvious that “you are not one of us, nor can you ever be,” reminding Mahit and the reader of their place within the grand scheme.

Martine makes the dynamic even more engrossing by meshing worldbuilding with the character’s narrative. The world is not just alien to the reader, as Mahit is also trying to grasp the reality of a culture she has only ever studied up to that point. It is a slow realization, but Martine paces it well. Mahit is lost upon her arrival to the capital, but confident in her abilities. In her mind, there was clearly a reason she was chosen to be entrusted with the ambassadorship, but as she spends more time with the empire, the less she feels she truly knows. Her liaison, Three Seagrass, is attentive, helpful, and her point of access to understanding the intricacies of Teixcalaanli political life, but she can only provide so much. This choice to have the reader discover the world as Mahit does engrossed me immediately in Mahit’s story. I felt I was relying on her to let me know how she thinks things work. When Mahit finds out she may have been wrong or used the language in a way that did not convey her meaning accurately, I did too. It made her fallible, but not necessarily unreliable.

The writing alone would have carried me through the book even if the story had been lackluster. Martine however, had other plans and wrote a tale of political intrigue that kept me on my toes. My brain was already firing on all cylinders adjusting to the language of the Teixcalaanli, so I felt I had to really work to stay on top of all the political intrigue and mysterious deaths. This was not a bad thing- it honestly added to the general anxiety of her situation. It was impossible to figure out who to trust, who might try to kill Mahit, or whether any of her plans would matter in the face of major political upheaval. It felt like Mahit was pulling a tightly but unevenly wound spring from a sink’s pipes. You just never knew when it would spring free and launch at you, or when it would require a little more effort to dislodge the next piece of the puzzle. The narrative never felt like it dragged, and I always wanted more. It was tiring only in that the reader is along for the ride when it comes to the enormous amount of work Mahit had to do.

There are a lot of great ideas that Martine plays around within this book, particularly examining the meaning of personal identity, empire, and civic duty. Martine never really gives an answer but does an excellent job of opening the discussion. Mahit’s characterization reaches above and beyond the task, Martine seems to have set out for her in terms of theming. Mahit perfectly encapsulates the “between two worlds” narrative often employed in fish out of water stories. I feel these stories entertain the idea that the character can transcend the bad parts of each and combine the strengths of two cultures to succeed. Instead, Mahit begins to lose track of where her loyalties lie. Clearly, she should do her best to serve her own people, but already she feels outcast from them for having studied the ways of Teixcalaanli. When she arrives, her studies keep her afloat, but she is viewed as an outcast there as well. In addition, both sides view Mahit alternately as a tool for an obstacle to their own ends, further separating her from any grander calling beyond “solve the problem directly in front of you.” It was incredibly alienating and made it hard to trust any of the other characters involved in the power struggle.

Martine added to this feeling by starting each chapter with a piece of poetry, a communique, or a snippet of history from within the Teixcalaanli and Lsel cultures she created. They served to highlight the differences in how these two peoples thought about themselves and the world they inhabited. They were never complete thoughts either and served the worldbuilding more often than the narrative. I did not care for them at first because they did not push the narrative, but when I started to pay more attention to them, the harder they were to ignore. It never felt like they built to a synthesis, instead always showing two very different worlds. It lent a sense of urgency and doubt to Mahit’s goals. How would the smaller Lsel station benefit from being integrated when they do not seem to fit? Who would they become based on how they were taken in by the Teixcalaanli? It is an ominous setup, and one I am keen to see play out in the sequel.

A Memory Called Empire is easily one of the strongest debuts I have read. The blending of worldbuilding into the narrative and characterization was refreshing, even though it required a lot of work on my part. The only bumps along the road I encountered were a few awkward dialogue scenes that broke the tonal immersion but never pulled me out. The ride to the end was thoughtful and intense, finishing with one of the most surprising and well-earned conclusions I have read in months. Everything converged together for a grand finale that left me with my mouth agape and made me immediately crave the sequel. If you are just looking for a tension-filled political space opera, this book covers that ground well. Martine, though, does so much more, so eloquently and in ways that cannot be ignored, forcing the reader to pay attention to the details. It is forceful, poetic, introspective and tragic. I can not recommend this book enough.

Rating: A Memory Called Empire – 9.5/10