Every year, there’s books that get hyped, and others that don’t. Sometimes passionate readers help a book make a splash after it’s been released; sometimes reviewers help a book make waves before release day.
And sometimes really great books fall through the cracks.
I thought I’d try and draw attention to some brilliant 2020 releases that I haven’t seen people talking about. So here are three brilliant books that deserve way more love than they’ve gotten!The Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig
Representation: Gay MC, M/M, M/M/M love triangle, WoC
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
The only thing August Pfeiffer hates more than algebra is living in a vampire town. Located at a nexus of mystical energy fields, Fulton Heights is practically an electromagnet for supernatural drama. And when a mysterious (and annoyingly hot) vampire boy arrives with a cryptic warning, Auggie suddenly finds himself at the center of it. An ancient and terrible power is returning to the earthly realm, and somehow Auggie seems to be the only one who can stop it.
- Not Meyer’s Vampires
- We Don’t Talk About the Haunted Doll
- The Gay Kid is the Chosen One
- badass grandmas
- Respect Your Math Tutor
The Fell of Dark is a book that manages to be deep and meaningful…by letting its protagonist not be deep. What I mean is; August, the MC, is allowed to be a teenager in a way we actually don’t see very often in YA Fantasy. He’s into his art classes and he’s terrible at math and he has a crush on the guy at the ice-cream parlor…even while he’s simultaneously at the center of a world-changing prophecy. I deeply loved the fact that he’s allowed to cry, when things are overwhelming and terrifying; and I equally adored how the romantic storyline (storylines?) are handled, how the love triangle trope was subverted in way that felt much more true to life than how these things are usually handled in fiction.
Generally, I’m not a fan of first-person narration, but I don’t think Dark would have worked nearly so well if we weren’t in August’s head. Although the lore behind the Big Bad is fascinating (and I dearly hope we get a sequel), August is what makes this book stand out. It would have been easy to take this story and make it nothing but tropey fun (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but that’s not what Roehrig did here: instead it taps that vein of white-hot emotion that too many adults forget that teenagers have. August is allowed to cry – which is still something pretty new when most heroes are packed full of toxic masculinity – and he’s also allowed to be angry in a way that flashed me right back to my own teen years. Remember when every emotion was turned up to 11? Roehrig makes you feel that again, and makes you cheer for August when he unleashes that part of himself. It’s awesome.
Basically this is a wickedly clever, super fun, addictive-as-hell story with a chosen-one plotline like none you’ve ever seen before. I love it dearly, and I want everyone else to love it too!Mermaid Moon by Susann Cokal
Representation: Minor queer characters
Genres: Secondary World Fantasy
An award-winning author tells of a mermaid who leaves the sea in search of her landish mother in a captivating tale spun with beautiful prose, lush descriptions, empathy, and keen wit.
Blood calls to blood; charm calls to charm.It is the way of the world.Come close and tell us your dreams.
Sanna is a mermaid — but she is only half seavish. The night of her birth, a sea-witch cast a spell that made Sanna’s people, including her landish mother, forget how and where she was born. Now Sanna is sixteen and an outsider in the seavish matriarchy, and she is determined to find her mother and learn who she is. She apprentices herself to the witch to learn the magic of making and unmaking, and with a new pair of legs and a quest to complete for her teacher, she follows a clue that leads her ashore on the Thirty-Seven Dark Islands. There, as her fellow mermaids wait in the sea, Sanna stumbles into a wall of white roses thirsty for blood, a hardscrabble people hungry for miracles, and a baroness who will do anything to live forever.
From the author of the Michael L. Printz Honor Book The Kingdom of Little Wounds comes a gorgeously told tale of belonging, sacrifice, fear, hope, and mortality.
- What if the little mermaid was the student of the sea witch
- mermaids = matriarchy
- the skulls have Opinions
- is there a dragon under this island
Mermaid Moon is a little reminiscent of The Little Mermaid, in the sense that we have a mermaid girl gaining legs and going onto land, and a sea witch who helped her do that. But the little mermaid isn’t looking for a prince she never spoke to – she’s on a quest to find her human mother, and as the student of her clan’s witch, she’s packing some impressive magic. Alas, that doesn’t mean her life with the matriarchal seavish (merpeople) has prepared her for the patriarchal, religious world she finds on land.
Of course, nothing’s prepared the land for her, either.
This is a book to linger over, with luxurious prose that turns the story into poetry. It’s pretty slow-paced, but that suits it, and I loved the worldbuilding and the various magics that come into conflict over the course of Sanna’s quest. It’s a really beautiful book with a wonderful take on mermaids, and it really ought to be getting so much more attention!The Fascinators by Andrew Eliopulos
Representation: Gay MC, M/M
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
A magic-infused YA novel about friendship, first love, and feeling out of place that will bewitch fans of Rainbow Rowell and Maggie Stiefvater.
Living in a small town where magic is frowned upon, Sam needs his friends James and Delia—and their time together in their school's magic club—to see him through to graduation.
But as soon as senior year starts, little cracks in their group begin to show. Sam may or may not be in love with James. Delia is growing more frustrated with their amateur magic club. And James reveals that he got mixed up with some sketchy magickers over the summer, putting a target on all their backs.
With so many fault lines threatening to derail his hopes for the year, Sam is forced to face the fact that the very love of magic that brought his group together is now tearing them apart—and there are some problems that no amount of magic can fix.
- Our world but magic
- magic club is geek club
- soft bois
- dON’t toUCh ThE sPOokY SpELlbOOk YOu MOroN
- friendship is magic but we have no ponies
The Fascinators is a lovingly written story that is sweet and soft, but is playing for high stakes indeed. It’s set in a world that looks just like ours, except everyone can do at least a little bit of magic (and for the record, I really love the magic system Eliopulos has built here). Most people don’t really want to bother, because it’s hard work, which is why Sam and his best friends – the only members of their school’s magic club – are seen as geeks and a Little Bit Weird. Their group’s dynamic is thrown more than a little when the new kid wants to join in, but honestly, most of the drama comes from the fact that James – Sam’s bestie and crush – is an idiot who’s gotten involved with some really alarming people.
Like, really alarming. They’re basically a creepy magic cult.
The last third of the book ramps up the pace as the aforementioned alarming people do Alarming Things, but mostly this is a book about friendship and being queer and how those things intersect with each other – and with the end of high school. It’s a story that makes you ache at the sweetness and the longing, and in some way I can’t put into words it feels like a gentle story. And yet not one moment of it is boring. I’m kind of stunned that I haven’t been seeing this praised all over the place, because it has very much the same vibe as some hugely popular books – like the Raven Cycle, which is mentioned in the blurb. (Ignore the reference to Rainbow Rowell. I have no idea who came up with that, Fascinators has nothing in common with Simon Snow except genre.) If you like Maggie Stiefvater’s writing, you really ought to pick this one up.
Annnd, done! Have you read any of these? What 2020 books do YOU think didn’t get enough love this year?