The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of July

Best of the month in JulyA smart and white-hot military SF thriller, a debut fantasy novel in which trees and the earth itself become a second front in a renewed rebellion, a grim prequel to the Peter Pan story, and more are among our favorite science fiction and fantasy books published in July.

 

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Sungrazer by Jay Posey - If you like your military science fiction to be fast, chock-full of tactical details, and fun (as I do), then Posey's new tale should hit the sweet spot. Our heroes, the 519th Applied Intelligence Group (aka, the Outriders) are sent to stop a city-killing space-based weapon from being deployed…and to avoid starting a war between Mars and the American countries on Earth. Outriders team leader Lincoln Suh's perfect balance between hard-edged effectiveness and self-deprecation is what sets this novel apart from the rest of the military SF genre. Light on politics, heavy on problem-solving and engagement, and as generous with giving the tech people as much to do as the shooters, this kinetic space thriller is gripping. I didn't read Outriders, Posey's previous novel, before I read Sungrazer (and you don't need to either), but I plan to fix that oversight immediately.
 

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When the English Fall by David Williams - In this spare but tense novel, only the Amish have the skills and the food stores to survive after an unexplained event destroys most modern technology, causing planes to fall out of the sky and electricity to fail. Told through the diary entries of Amish farmer Jacob, the bubbling-up of anger and violence in the outside world slowly begins to affect the self-sufficient Amish, forcing them to rethink their relationships with the non-Amish and how they will stay true to their beliefs while under new pressure. A fascinating exploration of the corrosive effect of anger and the strength that can be found in holding true to one's beliefs, even if it leads to the harder path. When the English Fall won a spot on our overall Best of the Month list for July, making it a top 10 pick among all books published across all categories this month.
 

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Amatka by Karin Tidbeck - Jeff VanderMeer tipped me off to this book a few months ago, and I'm confident in saying that if you like VanderMeer's works, this book will be just right for you, too. The strange and unknowable aren't explained directly, and there's a deliberate opaqueness to the world-building that insists that you trust the author and just go along for the ride. Vanja, seeking a change, travels to the colony of Amatka to do research and finds herself surprisingly at home among the cold, dark town and its people. But there's a secret that the colony government is hiding, and Vanja's inquisitiveness threatens to reveal something that could destroy the entire community. Lovers of neatly resolved endings should look elsewhere, but those who enjoy submersing themselves in the surreal will be happy with Tidbeck's gritty, bizarre story.
 

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Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry - I went into Lost Boy with a lot of goodwill built up after reading Henry's bleak and scary Alice and Red Queen, and Henry came through in spades with her reimagining of the early relationship between Hook (here, Jamie) and Peter Pan. Peter is self-centered and a near-sociopath, while Jamie (Peter's first Lost Boy) is the mama bear to the new boys Peter brings to the island. Most boys die through adventures or a coughing sickness; others are killed by pirates or forced out if they get older. When a new, much younger Lost Boy joins the group, Jamie starts to challenge Peter's decisions, putting them on a collision course. Henry's novels are briskly paced while filled with color and nuance, and she isn't afraid to go to the dark side of our psyche, exposing that which makes us weak and strong at the same time.
 

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The Waking Land by Callie Bates - A hostage for 14 years in the king's court to assure her noble father's good behavior, Elanna is blindsided by the death of the king--a murder the newly crowned ruler quickly blames on Elanna. Escaping to her homeland, Elanna stumbles into a bubbling rebellion just as her own dormant powers to speak with trees, rocks, and the natural world begin to bloom, setting her at the heart of the uprising. Confident storytelling and a sympathetic protagonist overcome the initially hard-to-follow political shenanigans, and enough characters get killed off, Game of Thrones-like, to keep the reader on his or her toes. A strong start to a new trilogy.
 

Also on our list of the best SF and fantasy of July is Tad Williams' The Witchwood Crown, launching a new story arc in the world of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Kevin Hearne's Besieged and Diana Gabaldon's Seven Stories to Stand or Fall collect shorter works centered on their fan-favorite series. Sarah Beth Durst continues her excellent Queens of Renthia fantasy series with The Reluctant Queen.

Click here to see the full list of editors' picks for the month.

And although it's not on our SF and fantasy list, those who enjoy supernatural thrillers shouldn't miss Marcus Sakey's spectacularly twisty Afterlife, in which the world beyond death reaches into the world of the living, forcing two FBI agents to confront a power they never imagined.


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