Best of 2019: Notable Debuts

Yep, it’s that time of the year again! Starting this week I’ll be making lists…lots of lists. All of it will culminate into an end-of-year roundup post with my favorites and best-ofs, but in the meantime there also other categories I’d like to explore, like notable debuts. Each year, I’m always excited to have discovered new authors who have broken onto the scene for the very first time, and 2019 was no exception. So let’s shine a spotlight on these rising stars whose first novels really made an impression on me this year, and I’ve also separated the list into Adult and YA categories.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow is a lush and spellbinding coming-of-age portal fantasy about a young woman who finds answers to her past in a mysterious old book that can open pathways to other worlds.  Transporting us to the early 1900s, the story follows January Scaller, who was just a little girl when she first discovered the Door. But as with many childhood recollections, soon the memory of that encounter began to fade, until many years later, when a teenage January stumbles upon a strange book that changes her life forever. As you know, I’m a huge fan of “books about books”, and The Ten Thousand Doors of January is in its own way a celebration of that love—not only in the way it reveres knowledge, but also in the way it recognizes reading as a form of escapism. If you love stories about the love of books and reading, you really need to check out this novel—and bonus if you enjoy portal fantasies. But this novel is also about so much more, including a thoughtful and heartfelt exploration of family, growing up, and finding your identify. (Read the full review…)

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton

I thought after years of reading all kinds of zombie fiction I could get my hands on, I’d seen everything, but clearly I was wrong. Yes, Hollow Kingdom is a zombie book, but I guarantee it’ll be unlike anything you’ve read before, because not only are animals the primary focus of the story, they are also its stars. Our protagonist Shit Turd, abbreviated S.T., is an appropriately crass and potty-mouthed crow who leads us through this apocalyptic narrative. His best friends are Dennis, a dim-witted but sweet old bloodhound, and their owner Big Jim, who raised S.T. as a hatchling and taught the little bird all he knew. Things couldn’t have been better for the three of them, living a happy and simple life in Seattle. But then one day, Big Jim’s eyeball falls out. That was when S.T. knew something was wrong, even before his owner tried to take a big bite out of him. All around them, the city is descending into madness, with all the humans of the world turning into hollow, ravenous shells of what they once were. Escaping into this terrifying new reality, S.T. and Dennis decide that their new mission in life is to liberate all the household pets and other helpless animals now trapped behind locked doors, gates, enclosures. Never mind that we’re talking about a crow and a dog here, but these two easily topped my list of favorite book buddy relationships this year, and bottom line, this was a seriously entertaining read. (Read the full review…)

Do You Dream of Terra-Two by Temi Oh

Set in a more technologically advanced version of our present world, this novel follows six young candidates for a highly competitive British space exploration program to establish a colony on far-flung Terra-Two, a pristine Earth-like planet possessing ideal conditions for life. Having spent years studying at the Dalton Academy for Aerospace Science since they were preteens, our six astronaut hopefuls have trained their hearts out for the opportunity, beating out millions of others across the country. However, with emotions already raw from having to leave their loved ones behind and knowing that they will all be living within the tight confines of a spaceship for the next twenty-three years, life aboard their spaceship Damocles will prove to be a rough process, with homesickness, self-doubt, depression and other personal fears plaguing each of them in turn. It’s probably no surprise that I, being a huge fan of books devoted to telling human stories, absolutely adored this book, and if you enjoy character-oriented tales with interesting relationships dynamics and lots of personal growth, then this is one you can’t afford to miss. (Read the full review…)

Titanshade by Dan Stout

So glad I was able to sneak this one in before the end of the year! In this debut, Dan Stout takes us to the gritty, bustling city of Titanshade, where our jaded protagonist named Carter ekes out a living as a homicide detective. The mystery heats up right away as he is called into the scene of a gruesome crime involving the murder of a high-ranking Squib diplomat who had been in town with his people’s delegation to negotiate the funding of a new source of energy which could have saved Titanshade’s dying economy following the depletion of its oil supplies. But now, all that is jeopardized as the pressure comes down hard on the police force to solve the case quickly in order to prevent the political shitstorm that would destroy all chances of a successful deal. Carter is assigned a partner, a Mollenkampi rookie named Ajax, but before they can make much progress, the city is rocked by news of another murder, this time of a family in the suburbs. Despite the differences in the two cases, Carter has reason to believe they are related, but soon he becomes a target himself. In a word, this novel was awesome. Every once in a while, a book that is so entertaining and fascinating in its uniqueness will come along and breathe new life into the genre, and Titanshade is definitely one of those. (Read the full review…)

Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner

Unnatural Magic was a solid read that was hard to pin down at times, but once you learn how to go with the flow, the book might end up surprising you in the best way possible. Set in a world where humans and trolls co-exist, albeit not always peacefully, the story opens on a setting which feels vaguely turn-of-the-century gaslamp. From an early age, Onna has displayed an aptitude for magic, though after being rejected from the local academy, she decides to forge her own path by traveling to the city of Hexos where they will be more appreciative of her talents. Meanwhile in another part of the world, Tsira is a half-troll who is also planning for a journey to Hexos. Despite being daughter of the clan leader, she has always been regarded as a bit of an outsider, and Tsira has had enough, choosing instead to find work among the humans. On the way to the city though, she saves the life of Jeckran, a human soldier who has been wounded. As Tsira nurses him back to health, the two of them grow closer and eventually become lovers, continuing on to Hexos together. While the ties linking all the storylines are initially tenuous, they quickly become more apparent when a brutal string of murders bring human and troll relations to a near state of war. As I said, once you get into the rhythm of things, Unnatural Magic can be absolutely delightful. It has the sprawling feel of an epic fantasy, but also features an intriguing mystery at its heart, and overall is a solid debut. (Read the full review…)

 

Young Adult

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Spin the Dawn is Elizabeth Lim’s debut original fiction novel, pitched as Project Runway meets Mulan–and believe it or not, for once we have a YA blurb that is completely accurate! Maia Tamarin is the only daughter in a family of tailors who had to take on duties of taking care of her family after her mother died and her father grew weak and old. The situation only worsened with the Emperor’s war, in which her two older brothers were killed, while her youngest brother returned home alive but broken. Soon after peace was reached, a messenger from the palace arrives at their doorstep with orders for their family to send a representative to work for the emperor, but of course neither Maia’s father nor her brother are in any condition to do so. Problem is, Maia knows she’s perfectly capable doing the job, being quite the accomplished dressmaker and seamstress herself, but of course girls are forbidden to fill the role. Instead, she takes matters into her own hands, disguising herself as a boy to travel to the palace, posing as her injured brother. Once there, however, Maia realizes how she had been misled. The invitation extended to her family was not for a position to work for the emperor, but for a competition to choose the best candidate for the role of palace tailor, judged by none other than the emperor’s bride-to-be, Lady Sarnai. Needless to say, I was quite enchanted. A sewing contest is not something you get to see every day, and I was pleasantly surprised how well the concept worked with some light magic thrown in. (Read the full review…)

The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala

Inspired by the culture of ancient India and Hindu mythology, The Tiger at Midnight features a cat-and-mouse game of deception and thrills between a rebel assassin and the reluctant young soldier tasked to bring her to justice. When Esha was a child, she and her family lived at the palace where they were close companions to the royal family. But that was until a bloody coup took everything she has ever loved away from her. Now a fighter for exiled prince’s resistance, she has dedicated her life to avenging her murdered parents and to taking down the current regime. By day, she plays the role of the innocent merchant’s daughter, but by night, Esha assumes the mantle of the Viper, a mysterious assassin who takes down important enemies for the rebels. And tonight, her mark is the ruthless General Hotha, a man who has the blood of innocents on his hands. Meanwhile, unaware that his life is about to be changed forever, a fort soldier named Kunal extends a helping hand to a doe-eyed young woman, unwittingly bringing the Viper one step closer to completing the task of assassinating his uncle, the general. The Tiger at Midnight was a novel that drew me in effortlessly with its vivid prose, robust world-building, and compelling story. The world felt lush and fully-realized, and I enjoyed the magic which began as a light touch in the early sections of the book only to play a major role later on. (Read the full review…)

Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

For 18-year-old Gu Miyoung, a half-human shapeshifting nine-tailed fox demon, immortality comes at a steep price. In order to survive, she must feed on the gi, or life energy of men. Unpleasant business to be sure, but it must be done, though making murderers and other evil men her exclusive prey is one way Miyoung seeks to assuage her conscience. But one night following a feeding, she encounters a Jihoon, a boy from school, out walking his dog and completely oblivious to the fact he’s about to become a goblin’s late-night snack. Miyoung rescues Jihoon, and inadvertently reveals her true nature in doing so, losing her fox bead to him and creating a connection between their life forces. At school, the experience has drawn them together, though Miyoung remains wary about letting any human boy get too close. Overall, I would recommend Wicked Fox for fans of urban fantasy and paranormal YA, especially if you are fascinated by East Asian traditions, cultures, and mythology. After a stellar beginning, the story took some time to develop, but time and patience will pay off in a big way in the end with plenty of delightful revelations and a satisfying conclusion. (Read the full review…)

Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau-Preto

Crown of Feathers takes readers to the Golden Empire, a land whose people are no strangers to war. To the victor goes the spoils, while those defeated are left to lick the wounds. For our protagonist Veronyka and her sister Val, however, it also means being on the run from the anti-magic forces who are now out to hunt them down. Both of them are animages, individuals with the power to form magical bonds with animals. In practice, this connection is also the relationship that allows the famed Phoenix Riders to control their mounts, before their order was dissolved following their loss in the war. Consequently, anyone with the talent are now considered enemies to the current rulers of the empire, but some have chosen not to flee. Together the sisters scour the land for any surviving phoenix eggs, hoping to hatch new bond companions. But after much heartbreak and a riff between the siblings, Veronyka is left to strike out on her own, arriving at a secret camp where a group of rebels are hoping to establish the Phoenix Rider traditions. Joining them and their mission is everything Veronyka has ever wanted, except of one major setback—the rebels are only looking to recruit males. But not content to let a little problem like that get in her way, Veronyka decides to disguise herself and gains access to the camp as a stable boy. While Crown of Feathers is a novel that requires a bit of time and emotional commitment, overall the story was very enjoyable and a solid beginning to a promising new series. (Read the full review…)

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

This story is really more of murder mystery—but with a twist. The book’s title refers to the four queens that rule the nation of Quadara, so named because it is divided into four quadrants, each boasting its own unique culture and specialties. Queens are sequestered in their palace, never allowed to leave, and the only through death or abdication could they pass on their rule to an heir, who must be a daughter of their blood. But what happens when a queen dies without an heir? This is the problem Quadara currently faces, with four queens on the throne who have yet to produce female issue, and now they are being systematically targeted by a mysterious assassin. Meanwhile, a plucky thief named Keralie has unwitting stumbled upon a find of a lifetime–a set of comm disks that contain records of how all four queens are brutally murdered. Together with Varin, the messenger she originally stole the disks from, Keralie must discover the identity of those conspiring against Quadara before it’s too late. The overarching plot was really the main drive behind the novel, which was a refreshing change and kept me engaged and turning the pages. It’s also a standalone that ties up quite nicely, but just because there will be no sequel to anticipate doesn’t mean I won’t be looking forward to Astrid Scholt’s future projects with interest. (Read the full review…)

30 Comments on “Best of 2019: Notable Debuts”

  1. I love seeing everyone’s lists this time of year. It’s such a fun way to find something you might have missed along the way. I do think Hollow Kingdom may very well be my favorite read this year – such an awesome book!

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  2. Awesome list! There were some spectacular debuts this year. I’m not doing a debut list because the first four books were all 5 star reads for me and they’ll be on my “best of the year” list at the end of the month.

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  3. Great list! I always love reading something fantastic from a new author. Earlier today I bought an ebook copy of The Ten Thousand Doors of January. Can’t wait to read it.

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  4. Do You Dream of Terra-Two is one I haven’t read, but suddenly everyone is talking about it! (Thanks #SciFiMonth!) I’ve definitely got it on my TBR for the future. Spin the Dawn was such a delight, I’m looking forward to the sequel!

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  5. I really need to get on with Spin The Dawn soon, I’m desperate to read it! Same with Crown Of Feathers and I’m also hoping to get The Thousand Doors Of January our of the library soon. I loved Four Dead Queens and can’t wait to pick up the authors next book (: I’d also love more set within the original world though, there are Quadrants that I’d like to see more of and I think a prequel about the lands past would be fascinating too.

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  6. I’m so excited for these lists Mogsy! I get loads of recommendations from them. I’m adding Hollow Kingdom to my TBR. I love zombie stories and this one sounds like one I’ll really like. I don’t know how I missed your review of it before.

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  7. Pingback: Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read For The First Time In 2019 | The BiblioSanctum

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