Best SFF books of 2020

Well, it’s been a hell of a year. Pretty much everything has been a little bit rubbish except for 2020’s book releases–so it’s time for Grimdark Magazine’s best SFF books of 2020. We have a decent mix of fantasy and sci-fi, and even some urban fantasy. Something for everybody, picked by our team of reviewers.

Without further ado, in no particular order, I give you our best SFF books of 2020.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Picked by Julia Frazer

Best of SFF books of 2020: Black SunA rare and wonderful fantasy novel, Black Sun is one of the best books to be published in 2020. This thoroughly impressive work could stand alone, but the author has more books planned in the Between Earth and Sky series.

Read the rest of the review here.

Blurb:

A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.

Read Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Picked by Chris Napier

Best of SFF books of 2020: Harrow the NinthMore of the brilliant world building and razor-sharp dialogue that made Gideon so much fun, a deeper exploration of just how messed up, fabulously capable and utterly determined Harrow is, and a plot which, when it finally resolves, is a masterpiece in complex, mind-bending storytelling.

Read the rest of the review here.

Blurb:

She answered the Emperor’s call.

She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend.

In victory, her world has turned to ash.

After rocking the cosmos with her deathly debut, Tamsyn Muir continues the story of the penumbral Ninth House in Harrow the Ninth, a mind-twisting puzzle box of mystery, murder, magic, and mayhem. Nothing is as it seems in the halls of the Emperor, and the fate of the galaxy rests on one woman’s shoulders.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

Read Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Kings of Heaven by Richard Nell

Picked by Charles Phipps and Tom Smith

Best SFF Books of 2020: Kings of HeavenThe book does provide a satisfying and conclusive ending to the storyline. Romances never come to be, peace comes at a price, and there is a good portion of the cast dead but the results are realistic to the events. Kings of Heaven is a perfect end to a grimdark tale.

Read the rest of the review here.

Blurb:

In the final book of the Ash and Sand trilogy, Ruka, son of Beyla, faces the emperor of the world, yet even victory may not save his people…

With the death of his ally, Farahi Alaku, Ruka ‘Godtongue’ is alone. Or not exactly… The island prince Kale Alaku now haunts his mind, rattling within his once peaceful ‘Grove’, promising revenge and growing every moment in power. Meanwhile, the Pyu isles are in chaos; the coastal kingdom of the Tong is still Ruka’s enemy, and every day that passes brings the empire closer to destroying his dream of a new world for his people.

Once again, the son of Beyla will need the strength of his dark twin, Bukayag. Perhaps together they can unite three peoples, gather an army of ash, and defend or destroy their way to peace. But in the end, there can be only one king of heaven…

Read Kings of Heaven by Richard Nell

Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen

Picked by Elizabeth Tabler

Best SFF books of 2020: Nophek GlossNophek Gloss is a science fiction book for science fiction geeks. It is almost a love letter to those out there who find their passions in the wild and uninhibited imagination that science fiction offers. It won’t be for everyone, as some readers might not enjoy the story’s expansive nature. It is also incredibly dark. If there is a genre for grimdark science fiction, this is it.

Read the rest of the review here.

Blurb:

When a young man’s planet is destroyed, he sets out on a single-minded quest for revenge across the galaxy in Nophek Gloss, the first book in this epic space opera trilogy by debut author Essa Hansen, for fans of Revenger and Children of Time.
Caiden’s planet is destroyed. His family gone. And, his only hope for survival is a crew of misfit aliens and a mysterious ship that seems to have a soul and a universe of its own. Together they will show him that the universe is much bigger, much more advanced, and much more mysterious than Caiden had ever imagined. But the universe hides dangers as well, and soon Caiden has his own plans.

He vows to do anything it takes to get revenge on the slavers who murdered his people and took away his home. To destroy their regime, he must infiltrate and dismantle them from the inside, or die trying.

Read Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen

The Trouble with Peace by Joe Abercrombie

Picked by Mike Myers

Best SFF Books of 2020: The Trouble with PeaceT has everything we’ve come to expect from a Joe Abercrombie novel: complex characters and plot, snappy dialogue, brutal action, settings that affect the story, pitch-perfect narrative voice, and gripping emotion. And the ending is epic, surprising, and unforgettable. No, is not an unpredictable, unexpected choice, a hidden gem flying under the radar (to mix metaphors); it is exactly what the best novel of the year should be—totally fucking amazing and everyone knows it.

Read Mike’s review in GdM. You can find Jame’s review on our blog, here.

Check out an excerpt here.

Blurb:

Conspiracy. Betrayal. Rebellion.
Peace is just another kind of battlefield…

Savine dan Glokta, once Adua’s most powerful investor, finds her judgement, fortune and reputation in tatters. But she still has all her ambitions, and no scruple will be permitted to stand in her way.

For heroes like Leo dan Brock and Stour Nightfall, only happy with swords drawn, peace is an ordeal to end as soon as possible. But grievances must be nursed, power seized and allies gathered first, while Rikke must master the power of the Long Eye . . . before it kills her.

The Breakers still lurk in the shadows, plotting to free the common man from his shackles, while noblemen bicker for their own advantage. Orso struggles to find a safe path through the maze of knives that is politics, only for his enemies, and his debts, to multiply.

The old ways are swept aside, and the old leaders with them, but those who would seize the reins of power will find no alliance, no friendship, and no peace, lasts forever.

Mike’s thoughts: The has everything we’ve come to expect from a Joe Abercrombie novel: complex characters and plot, snappy dialogue, brutal action, settings that affect the story, pitch-perfect narrative voice, and gripping emotion. And the ending is epic, surprising, and unforgettable. No, is not an unpredictable, unexpected choice, a hidden gem flying under the radar (to mix metaphors); it is exactly what the best novel of the year should be—totally fucking amazing and everyone knows it.

Read The Trouble with Peace by Joe Abercrombie

Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

Picked by Jodie Crump

Best SFF books of 2020: Dead Man in a DitchDead Man in a Ditch is a good book and an even better series. It isn’t a typical urban fantasy story where magical creatures are supernatural power beyond human understanding. They are broken withered things; humans broke them eight years ago. Fetch broke them. Instead of approaching the story like many urban fantasy writers do where humans are weak in the face of magical power, here, humans are almost villainous. 

Read the full review here.

Check out our interview with Luke here.

Blurb:

A former soldier turned PI solves crime in a world that’s lost its magic in this brilliant sequel to actor Luke Arnold’s debut The Last Smile in Sunder City.

The name’s Fetch Phillips — what do you need?

Cover a Gnome with a crossbow while he does a dodgy deal? Sure.

Find out who killed Lance Niles, the big-shot businessman who just arrived in town? I’ll give it shot.

Help an old-lady Elf track down her husband’s murderer? That’s right up my alley.

What I don’t do, because it’s impossible, is search for a way to bring the goddamn magic back.

Rumors got out about what happened with the Professor, so now people keep asking me to fix the world.

But there’s no magic in this story. Just dead friends, twisted miracles, and a secret machine made to deliver a single shot of murder.

Welcome back to the streets of Sunder City, a darkly imagined world perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.

Read Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

Along the Razor’s Edge by Rob J. Hayes

Picked by Chris Haught

Best SFF books of 2020: Along the Razor's Edge“Handshakes are a dangerous business in some parts of the world.” This quote from Along the Razor’s Edge stuck with me, though Hayes meant it in a different light than how it pertains to most of us in this Covidic world right now. Still, it was no less deadly, as it turns out.

Read the full review here.

Read an excerpt here.

Blurb:

No one escapes the Pit.

At just fifteen Eskara Helsene fought in the greatest war mankind has ever known. Fought and lost. There is only one place her enemies would send a Sourcerer as powerful as her, the Pit, a prison sunk so deep into the earth the sun is a distant memory. Now she finds herself stripped of her magic; a young girl surrounded by thieves, murderers, and worse. In order to survive she will need to find new allies, play the inmates against each other, and find a way out. Her enemies will soon find Eskara is not so easily broken.

Read Along the Razor’s Edge by Rob J. Hayes

Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher

Picked by Nate Aubin

Best SFF books of 2020: Black Stone HeartBlack Stone Heart doesn’t disappoint the returning Fletcher reader. It’s much different in scope and perspective than earlier work but keeps the consistent tone and writing flow that we’ve come to look forward to with each new story. New readers will be just as entertained and will likely flock to his back catalogue as soon as they finish this one. But all readers will probably wonder about Fletcher’s sanity before it’s all over.

Read the full review here.

Check out an interview with the author here.

Blurb:

A broken man, Khraen awakens alone and lost. His stone heart has been shattered, littered across the world. With each piece, he regains some small shard of the man he once was.

He follows the trail, fragment by fragment, remembering his terrible past.

There was a woman.

There was a sword.

There was an end to sorrow.

Khraen walks the obsidian path.

Read Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

Picked by Fabienne Schwizer

Best SFF books of 2020: The Invisible Life of Addie LarueThis is one of those books that have a kind of universal appeal, that people who only read the bitterest of Grimdark will find something in just as much as people who don’t really read any fantasy at all. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a very special book about what it means to be human and to grow.

Read the full review here.

Blurb:

A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

Read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

The Worst of All Possible Worlds by Alex White

Picked by Eugene Vassilev

Best SFF books of 2020: The Worst of all worldsThis trilogy was an absolute joy to experience and The Worst Of All Possible Worlds is its crowning achievement. While undeniably derivative, I would contend that the quality and ingenuity of this work transcends, and in many ways surpasses, its inspirations to create something unique and wonderful that you should absolutely go and enjoy. TL;DR? Firefly meets Final Fantasy…do yourself a favour and pick up all three.

Read the rest of the review here.

Blurb:

The greatest dangers hide the brightest treasures in this bold, planet-hopping science fiction adventure series.

The crew of the legendary Capricious may have gone legitimate, but they’re still on the run.

With devastatingly powerful enemies in pursuit and family and friends under attack planetside, Nilah and Boots struggle to piece together rumors of an ancient technology that could lead to victory.

Ensnared by the legend of Origin, humanity’s birthplace, and a long-dead form of magic, the Capricious takes off on a journey to find the first colony ship…and magic that could bring down gods.

Read The Worst of All Possible Worlds by Alex White

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Picked by James Tivendale

Best Books of 2020: Rhythm of WarSome moments that happen throughout these pages will have the SFF scene discussing and debating them for months. Although The Stormlight Archive is due to be a ten novel series, I believe the next book will be the last of this era, making Rhythm of War the penultimate entry. Events are poised expertly at the end of this narrative for the next novel to be beyond exceptional. I’m sure this time in three years I’ll be re-reading this series again before the next book and I cannot wait. The Stormlight Archive is epic fantasy at a level that is rarely equalled.

Read the rest of the review here.

Blurb:

After forming a coalition of human resistance against the enemy invasion, Dalinar Kholin and his Knights Radiant have spent a year fighting a protracted, brutal war. Neither side has gained an advantage, and the threat of a betrayal by Dalinar’s crafty ally Taravangian looms over every strategic move.

Now, as new technological discoveries by Navani Kholin’s scholars begin to change the face of the war, the enemy prepares a bold and dangerous operation. The arms race that follows will challenge the very core of the Radiant ideals, and potentially reveal the secrets of the ancient tower that was once the heart of their strength.

At the same time that Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with his changing role within the Knights Radiant, his Windrunners face their own problem: As more and more deadly enemy Fused awaken to wage war, no more honorspren are willing to bond with humans to increase the number of Radiants. Adolin and Shallan must lead the coalition’s envoy to the honorspren stronghold of Lasting Integrity and either convince the spren to join the cause against the evil god Odium, or personally face the storm of failure.

Read Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

High Tower Gods by C.L. Corona

Picked by Ryan Howse

Best SFF books of 2020: High Tower GodsBlurb:

Immortality is a burden, as alchemist Elian Maxwell could tell you. Decades after gaining notoriety as one of the Chimera Three – the group responsible for creating a biomechanical AI slave class – she has become a hermit living on the outskirts of the desert. These days she has little interest in mortals.

That is, until one of her creations is framed for a murder it could not possibly commit. Jaded and emotionless, Elian only opts to save the Chimera in order to clear her own name. Back in the city she finds herself up against the only other immortal in the world, and realises that the time has come to decide if she is a human or a demigod.

Is she truly above the world and the things she has done to it, or must she set right her previous mistakes and embrace her humanity again.

Read High Tower Gods by C.L. Corona

Stormblood by Jeremy Szal

Picked by Adrian Collins

Best SFF books of 2020: StormbloodStormblood is a magnificent and explosive adrenaline-fest that ends with an absolute gut-punch that ties all the threads back into one tear-inducing moment. Szal’s debut is an absolute must read for fans of gritty, action-packed, detective / military SF. Whatever book two is, I’m in.

Read the full review here.

Blurb:

Vakov Fukasawa used to be a Reaper: a bio-enhanced soldier fighting for the Harmony, against a brutal invading empire. He’s still fighting now, on a different battlefield: taking on stormtech. To make him a perfect soldier, Harmony injected him with the DNA of an extinct alien race, altering his body chemistry and leaving him permanently addicted to adrenaline and aggression. But although they meant to create soldiers, at the same time Harmony created a new drug market that has millions hopelessly addicted to their own body chemistry.

Vakov may have walked away from Harmony, but they still know where to find him, and his former Reaper colleagues are being murdered by someone, or something – and Vakov is appalled to learn his estranged brother is involved. Suddenly it’s an investigation he can’t turn down . . . but the closer he comes to the truth, the more addicted to stormtech he becomes.

And it’s possible the war isn’t over, after all . . .

Read Stormblood by Jeremy Szal

Honourable Mentions

There are a few other books the team mentioned that they loved that we couldn’t quite jam into our Best SFF Books of 2020 list. You can find links to our reviews below.

A Time of Courage by John Gwynne
The Light of All That Falls by James Islington
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
Vultures by Luke Tarzian
Thirteen Storeys by Jonathan Sims
Paternus: War of Gods by Dyrk Ashton
Legacy of Steel by Matthew Ward

Check out our previous years’ best of lists

What’s that you say? YOU WANT MOAR BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS? Our Best SFF Books of 2020 list wasn’t enough? Here are our last three year’s best of lists for you to sink your eyes in to.

2019

2018

2017

Share this
Tags:

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.