Top 10 fantasy novels of 2021 show promising evolution in genre

Another year is coming to an end and 2021 has been another big year for genre fiction. While we loved so many magical novels this year, we had to narrow it down to a list of the top 10 fantasy novels of 2021.

Many of the best fantasy novels of 2021 are from new authors

The fantasy genre is slowly evolving and evolving into something new and more inclusive. Many of the novels that make the top 10 fantasy novels list of 2021 feature early novels by women and authors of color. The Chosen One’s trope is still alive and well, along with many hero journeys. However, these new authors are also a game-changer by bringing in non-Western cultures and mythologies to bring their worlds to life. Let’s take a look at the top 10 fantasy novels of 2021, in no particular order.

The one who became the sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Image via Tor / Forge

The first book of the Radiant emperor series and the first novel by Shelley Parker-Chan. The one who became the sun is a historical epic that takes place in ancient China and subverts familiar figures and mythology. A young girl escapes starvation and death to become a monk, hiding her identity from her brothers. She struggles with her own identity, as well as the rising tide of wars and conflicts that inevitably loom. A beautifully written story with complicated protagonists and a touch of the supernatural. This novel also features themes about LGBTQIA identity and a trans hero whose complicated gender identity is a big part of the novel’s internal conflict.

Son of the storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

Son of Storm Okungbowa Image via Orbit Books

The first novel in a new fantasy trilogy by Suyi Davies Okungbowa – author of David Mogo Hunter of God. This story draws on African culture and folklore to create a world alive with magic and politics. Unique magical systems are fascinating to study, but it’s another very character-driven story. Each character is unique and deeply realized, with understandable fears and motivations. Son of the storm is also a fast-paced adventure story that reveals more about the world with every step the characters take.

The witch’s heart by Geneviève Gornichec

2021 Fantasy Novels The Witch's Heart Image via Penguin Random House

Based on Norse mythology, The witch’s heart tells the story of Angrboda. She is an ancient witch who was burnt by Odin for refusing to reveal the darkest secrets of her magic. After his heart is plucked out by the gods, it is returned to him by an unlikely trickster. Angrboda becomes Loki’s wife – and the mother of his unusual children. But she is a powerful character in her own right, who stands in the midst of legendary gods. An unexpected story that turns all over the place to tear your heart out of your chest and make you want more of this weird magic. Perfect for fans of Circe Where Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, it’s undeniably one of the best fantasy novels of 2021.

The chosen and the beautiful by Nghi Vo

2021 Selected and beautiful fantasy novels Image via Tor / Forge

One of the most acclaimed fantasy novels of the year, The chosen and the beautiful is a fantastic and weird reinvention of Gatsby the magnificent. The sparkling opulence of the Jazz Age is tinged with demonic power and the supernatural. Familiar characters are all here. But they’re deepened by Vo’s shimmering prose and keen eye for human nature. The characters come to life on the page, marked by desire and love while being corrupted by decadence and greed. In many ways, this story transcends the original while paying homage to a literary classic.

The ruin of the empire by Brian Staveley

Fantasy Novels 2021 Empire's Ruin Image via Tor / Forge

Brian Stavely is an established voice in the fantasy genre, and with The ruin of the empire he returns to the world he established in his Chronicles of the uncut throne trilogy. Several characters from POV show us the current state of the world and the new conflicts that arise. This series is full of gods, magic and mystery. The ruin of the empire is a classic epic fantasy novel that delves into the complexity of the world Stavely built.

The mask of mirrors by MA Carrick

MA Carrick's Mask of Mirrors Image via Orbit Books

The mask of mirrors is a new fantasy novel set in a glittering world of noble houses competing for power and a dark belly of poverty and crime. Nightmares lurk in the streets, carrying children who return unable to sleep and die soon after. In the midst of it all is a young woman who has returned to her hometown, ready to conquer one of the noble houses.

Along the way, she discovers much deeper mysteries and magic than she had imagined. In the dreams of the city, and in his own heart. It’s a great action-adventure story, with mysterious vigilantes fighting for justice, prophecies transmitted via tarot, and secret gods waiting underground. The second novel The liar’s knot is also available now, and this series just keeps getting better as it goes.

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

The Jasmine Throne Tasha Suri Image via Orbit Books

Tasha Suri has already established herself as an excellent fantasy author who draws inspiration from Indian culture and mythology in her previous work as Sand empire. In his latest novel – The Jasmine Throne – she is inspired by Indian epics to create a unique universe. The story follows two women from very different backgrounds – a princess and a maid who must learn to trust each other and work together to change the world and their own lives.

In a society where “unclean” women are burnt alive, these two struggle to survive the powerful forces opposing them and empower themselves. A carefully constructed world with quivering queer romance and magical connections. The story also delves into a deep philosophy about the nature of imperialism and the hierarchies in which we lock ourselves. The Jasmine Throne is undeniably one of the best fantasy novels of 2021 and makes Suri a writer in charge of her own culture and voice.

A master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

A dead Djinn in Cairo Cover Art for A Dead Djinn In Cairo | Image via Tor / Forge

The Dorées by Namina Forna

2021 Golden Fantastic Novels Image via Penguin Random House

Namina Forna’s debut novel has been eagerly awaited for several years, and it doesn’t disappoint. The Dorées tells the story of Deka, a young woman of strange abilities raised in a society that fears them. She must undergo a ritual to prove that she is worthy to fully join the village. But when the day comes, his blood flows in gold and reveals the truth of his magical nature. Deka finds a higher calling and a new goal: to fight for the Emperor alongside others like her. It’s a story about oppression and how these characters survive and learn to thrive in a system designed to keep them in their place.

For the wolf by Hannah Whitten

2021 Fantastic Novels for the Wolf Image via Orbit Books

I have a soft spot for fairy tale tales and this year Hannah Whitten has delivered on that front with her luminous novel For the wolf. On the surface, this story picks up on the familiar story of Red Riding Hood. However, he takes the basic concept and builds a whole world out of it. In a kingdom bordering an ancient forest, second daughters are delivered to the Wolf in order to ensure their protection.

In the vein of similar fairy tale stories like Uprooted and The bear and the nightingale, the wolf is not a creature of darkness but a man who must sacrifice everything to ward off dark terrors. This magical story is full of twisted trees, bloody rituals, and deep magic. But relationships are what makes this story shine. Not only the quivering romance that pays off but also the relationship between the two sisters at the heart of the story. Their bond enriches both characters and provides motivation and heartbreak for everyone involved. A beautifully reimagined fairy tale full of heart and soul.

What were your favorite and best fantasy novels of 2021? Let us know in the comments and be sure to follow Comic Years on Facebook and Twitter today.

(Image presented by Brandi Redd via Unsplash)

Emily O’Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her teeth in The Wizard of Oz books at the age of 6 and was reading epic fantasy adult novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction as if there is no tomorrow. She’s excited to be living the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She’s not ashamed of the amount of fanfiction that lingers online under her name.

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