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Winter is coming…er, well, I guess it’s already here. And what better time than this darkest and chilliest of seasons for some big, thick, beautiful science fiction and fantasy?
Maybe it’s just me, but wintertime is the perfect season for indulging in some impressively lengthy SFF. There’s something luxurious about the sprawling narratives full of magic, wonder, and adventure. Perhaps it has something to do with the long, dark nights and the relief they bring from obligatory social or physical activities. Or possibly it’s the cold, clear skies full of crystalline stars offering suggestions of other worlds. Who knows?
Whatever the reason, winter is a great season to grab a chonky work of SFF, a glass of hot cocoa (or mulled wine — pick your poison), and a cozy blanket and read until the sun comes up.
Lucky for you, there are a ton of amazing new SFF books out there to keep you warm during the winter months this year. I went for the longest, heaviest, most intimidatingly long books I could find. Because, you know: winter is looooooong, y’all! I’ve broken the list into two parts: one focused on standalone books and the other on books that are part of a series.
Whatever you’re in the mood for, I hope you find it on this list. When you do, keep your nose warm this winter by burying it in a good long work of SFF!
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Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R.F. Kuang
Craving some dark academia to go with the dark winter nights? Look no further than Babel. This delectable volume follows the orphaned Robin Swift from his birthplace in Canton to London. It’s 1829 and this London is similar to ours except that Oxford’s Royal Institute of Translation (a.k.a. Babel) is focused on both language and magic. The wealth and power of the British Empire comes from the magical silver bars composed of meanings lost in translation. Given this premise, it’s no wonder the novel delves into global power dynamics. After all, in the 1800s, the sun hadn’t yet set on the British Empire so colonization was in full swing. Robin can’t avoid these dynamics as he becomes more and more enmeshed in the perilous power struggles undergirding Babel.
The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez
“Before you arrive, you remember your lola, smoking.” So begins Simon Jimenez’s wild fantasy epic in the second person. The book switches between first, second, and third person narration in a really innovative way; right from the start, that direct address will pull you headfirst into the novel. It’s the story of the wronged Moon goddess, the sons she cursed the last emperor with (a.k.a. the Three Terrors, very aptly named), and a young warrior who gets tangled up in this larger-than-life conflict. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s at least one love story in the mix. It’s one of the most unique SFF books I’ve ever read, and it’s absolutely worth spending the winter with.
Fairy Tale by Stephen King
Seventeen-year-old Charlie Reade had a hard childhood, so when he befriends Radar, his elderly neighbor’s dog, he isn’t expecting to inherit the man’s big old house. And he’s definitely not expecting to discover that the shed out back is a Narnia-esque portal to another world. The ensuing adventures are perilous and creepy in that classic King way. Fairy Tale is a story of epic proportions, and Charlie and Radar find themselves at the heart of an inter-world battle between good and evil. You know King can do evil on a grand scale, so bring your brave face with you if you decide to while away your winter with this incredible contemporary fantasy.
Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi
All right, this is the shortest book you’ll find on this list. It’s not quite 350 pages long, so if you’re a little short on time but still want a sizable story to settle down with, this one’s for you. It’s set 30 years in the future when space colonies are a thing and the Earth’s population is dwindling. The landscape is bleak and populated by a hodgepodge mixture of scavengers, outcasts, and misfits. If you’re wondering about the title, yes, it’s a Biblical reference and it’s not an accident. Onyebuchi’s characteristic worldbuilding prowess is on full display in this sci-fi epic — get that cup of tea ready and cozy up by the fire with your cat, because once you open this book, you’ll have trouble closing it again.
Books in a Series
The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah
The Stardust Thief is the first book of the Sandsea Trilogy, which makes it a great place to start. (Bonus: the second book is tentatively expected in November 2023, so if you like this one then you’ll have built-in reading for next winter, too!) Chelsea Abdullah’s novel centers on Loulie al-Nazari (a.k.a. the Midnight Merchant) and Qadir (her bodyguard…who also happens to be a jinn). As if that wasn’t recipe enough for a whole winter’s worth of fantasies, there’s also a forced quest for a magic lamp (yup, you read that right) accompanied by a cruel prince and a thief. You may have guessed this, but these characters have their fair share of secrets they’re trying to keep from one another. Their journey will keep you on the edge of your seat, so don’t forget your lap blanket for this one!
The World We Make by N.K. Jemisin
It feels like forever ago that N.K. Jemisin released The City We Became, the first book in the Great Cities series — and it kind of was: that book came out right as the pandemic began sweeping the globe. The World We Make catches up with New York City’s newly minted avatars as they navigate the political and personal perils of their new roles. Jemisin’s masterful worldbuilding is just as rich in this book, and her characters are rendered in wonderful depth. The exploration of white supremacy and systemic racism is no less pronounced in this much-awaited addition to the Great Cities series, which took on the entrenched racism of Lovecraft’s narratives in imaginative and unexpected ways. I don’t know how long we’ll have to wait for the next book, but Jemisin’s worlds are so memorable that even a few years won’t dim the memory of this alternate NYC.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess & Heart of the Sun Warrior by Sue Lynn Tan
Weighing in at over 1000 pages collectively, Daughter of the Moon Goddess and Heart of the Sun Warrior make up Sue Lynn Tan’s Celestial Kingdom duology. It begins when the Moon Goddess’s daughter, Xingyin, angers the Celestial Emperor. In her solitary imprisonment on the moon, she finds an unlikely friendship in the emperor’s son. The power struggles and politics that ensue complicate Xingyin’s newfound friendship and unearth a host of other problems she’ll have to deal with. Without plot spoiling, I’ll say there’s magic and mythology and plenty of good turns in these books — more than enough to keep your imagination engaged all winter long.
The Dandelion Dynasty Series by Ken Liu
It was supposed to be a trilogy. As you might guess, Speaking Bones — the fourth and final book of Ken Liu’s epic Dandelion Dynasty quartet — was finally released in the middle of 2022. That means that if you’re looking for some SFF to take you all the way through this dark season, you have four books, for a total of over 3,500 pages of wonderful winter reading, to hunker down with. Ken Liu describes this fantasy series as “silkpunk,” and it’s pretty apt that he’s coining terms to describe the genre he’s working in because it’s one of the most inventive SFF works I’ve encountered in recent years.
More Fuel for Your Winter Fire
In case you’re curious about why so many of these books delve into power dynamics, you might want to read this essay about why magic users are often oppressed in fantasy works. However, if you’re looking for more suggestions for great SFF to burn through this winter, you’ll find lots of great suggestions on this list of fantasy books where the magic is book- or word-inspired or this list of SFF in translation.