2021 saw the release of a lot of diverse debut authors and also a lot of creative storytellers weaving intricate stories. Here are our picks for the best books of the year, from bards to backcountry roads, games to gunslingers.
Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace
Firebreak is a brutal, action-packed dystopia that feels unnerving when I read the cardboard boxes around my house about the power and scope of corporate overlords. Caster Mal goes from playing a video game to waging war against the de facto corporations that run the state as she investigates the details of where their supersoldiers come from.
The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu by Tom Lin
Tom Lin’s grotesque, weird Western stars a Chinese-American assassin on a mission to find the woman he loves. Will Ming Tsu’s bloody quest leave him satisfied? Or his place among the outcasts on the fringes of civilization?
Rabbits by Terry Miles
Rabbits, the novel, is so much more than a rehash of Rabbits the podcast. Instead, it explores yet another road untaken in a labyrinth of coincidences and worlds that feel just somehow off.
Pickard County Atlas by Chris Harding Thornton
Lyrical and haunting, Pickard County Atlas barrels down the dirt roads of rural Nebraska, following the brief, explosive interactions of claustrophobic housewife Pam Reddick and insomniac deputy Harley Jensen. As Pam looks for ways to escape her small-town existence, Harley grows over more obsessed with arresting Pam’s troublemaker brother-in-law, Paul.
The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman
A brutal, bloody fantasy told by an arch-rogue with sticky fingers and an eye for treasure. Horse-sized battle crows, alluring witches, and near-certain death await Kinch Na Shannack, who only grins in the face of battle to mask his terror.
Pearl by Josh Malerman
Josh Malerman’s terrifying fantasy about a psychic pig named Pearl was a terrifying fall read that came out in mass reprint this October after an initial limited run. A rural community finds itself gradually taken over by a horror they can’t begin to understand.