Must-Have Monday #143

Posted 26th June 2023 by Sia in Must-Have Mondays / 0 Comments

Must-Have Monday is a feature highlighting which of the coming week’s new releases I’m excited for. It is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all books being published that week; only those I’m interested in out of those I’m aware of! The focus is diverse SFF, but other genres sneak in occasionally too.

TEN books this week!

(Books are listed in order of pub date, then Adult SFF, Adult Other, YA SFF, YA Other, MG SFF.)

Hearts Forged in Dragon Fire by Erica Hollis
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: F/F
Published on: 26th June 2023

For fans of Abigail Owen and Samantha Shannon comes a breathtaking, energetic novel where the only way to defeat a dragon is to outsmart it…

Most dragontongues don’t live long enough to learn from their mistakes. Lotte Meer is luckier than most, surviving long enough to communicate with the fierce, sullen, and temperamental dragons who are not above enjoying a human as a light snack. And she has the scars to prove it.

Now a massive, foul-tempered dragon has taken over the town of Morwassen's Pass, taking the citizens hostage. As long as they bring him their gold and treasure, he won’t reduce their city to a smoking heap of ash and death. Only, the treasure is running out and Lotte—with the help of sharp-tongued, unbelievably cute Maryse Basvaan—is their last and only hope.

But this dragon is more cunning—and more cruel—than any other. Not only is he holding Lotte’s estranged mom captive, but he has a taste for betrayal…and somehow he’s stricken some kind of secret deal with the girl who’s already gone and stolen Lotte’s heart.

Lotte won’t fail. She can’t.

Because if she does…everyone dies.

I’ve been hearing about this one for quite a while, and mostly great things! And I must admit I’ve been craving some dragons lately, so this might be fun!

The Archive Undying (The Downworld Sequence #1) by Emma Mieko Candon
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Representation: Asian-coded setting and cast, gay MC, M/M
Published on: 27th June 2023

War machines and AI gods run amok in The Archive Undying, national bestseller Emma Mieko Candon's bold entry into the world of mecha fiction.


When the robotic god of Khuon Mo went mad, it destroyed everything it touched. It killed its priests, its city, and all its wondrous works. But in its final death throes, the god brought one thing back to life: its favorite child, Sunai. For the seventeen years since, Sunai has walked the land like a ghost, unable to die, unable to age, and unable to forget the horrors he's seen. He's run as far as he can from the wreckage of his faith, drowning himself in drink, drugs, and men. But when Sunai wakes up in the bed of the one man he never should have slept with, he finds himself on a path straight back into the world of gods and machines.

The Archive Undying is the first volume of Emma Mieko Candon's Downworld Sequence, a sci-fi series where AI deities and brutal police states clash, wielding giant robots steered by pilot-priests with corrupted bodies.

Come get in the robot.

As I think I managed to get across in my review, I absolutely adored this – it went straight onto my Best of 2023 list! I suspect most readers will either love it or hate it; basically, if you didn’t mind how confusing the Locked Tomb books are, you should be fine here. If the wtf-ery of the Locked Tomb bothered you, though, you might want to skip this one. (Although I must emphasise that, other than having similar levels of wtf-ery, Archive Undying and Locked Tomb are nothing alike!)

The Road to Roswell by Connie Willis
Genres: Sci Fi
Published on: 27th June 2023

A delightful romantic comedy about love, alien invasions, and the incredibly silly things people are willing to believe in—some of which may actually be true—from the Nebula and Hugo Award–winning author of Blackout.

When Francie arrives in Roswell, New Mexico, for her college roommate's UFO-themed wedding—complete with a true-believer groom—she can't help but roll her eyes at all the talk of aliens, which patently don't exist. Imagine her surprise, then, when she gets abducted by one.

Her abductor is not your typical alien—not gray, or a reptilian, or anything else the popular media might have led her to expect. Instead, the creature is more like an animate tumbleweed—a mass of lightning-fast tentacles and unexpected charm, given that it has no apparent ability to communicate beyond pointing.

Worse, the alien’s second abductee—an endearing con man named Wade—only compounds the problem, for Francie was supposed to spend the weekend talking her roommate out of the wedding, not falling in love herself. How can a guy who sells anti-abduction insurance for a living still manage to be the most sensible, decent man she has ever met?

The more Francie gets to know her abductor, however, the more certain she becomes that the alien is in trouble and needs her help—though she has no idea what the problem is, or how to solve it. Especially as the alien’s abduction spree seems far from over.

But with Wade’s assistance, Francie is determined to get their new friend to its destination—wherever that might be. Because who knows what could be at risk should they fail?

I loved Willis’ time travel books – even though they featured time periods I’m not interested in; that’s how great a writer she is! Now we’re getting a completely different kind of sci fi, and I am HYPED. This sounds like it’ll be delightful from start to finish, and I can’t wait to pounce on it!

Gods of the Wyrdwood (Forsaken, #1) by R.J. Barker
Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Published on: 27th June 2023

In a world locked in eternal winter and haunted by prophecy, a young boy trains for years to become the Chosen One, only for another to rise and claim his place in the start of an unmissable epic from a rising star in fantasy. 

The northlands of Crua are locked in eternal winter, but prophecy tells of the chosen child – who will rule in the name of their God, and take warmth back from the South. Cahal du Nahere was raised to be this person: the Cowl-Rai, the saviour. Taken from his parents and prepared for his destiny.

But his time never came.

When he was fifteen he ceased to matter. Another Cowl-Rai had risen, another chosen one, raised in the name of a different God. The years of vicious physical and mental training he had endured, the sacrifice, all for nothing. He became nothing.

Twenty years later, and Cahal lives a life of secrecy on the edges of Crua’s giant forests – hiding what he is, running from what he can do. But when he is forced to reveal his true nature, he sets off a sequence of events that will reveal secrets that will shake the bedrock of his entire world, and expose lies that have persisted for generations.

Barker knocked it out of the park with the Tide Child trilogy, so I know I’m far from the only one Very Interested Indeed to see what his new series is like! From what I’ve heard, the worldbuilding is very different from Tide Child, but just as unique, and I’m always excited for stories where multiple gods are involved.

The Ghost Theatre by Mat Osman
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
PoV: 27th June 2023

A wild and hallucinatory reimagining of Elizabethan London, with its bird worshippers, famed child actors, and the Queen herself; a dazzling historical novel about theatre, magic, and the dangers of all-consuming love     

London, 1601—a golden city soon to erupt in flames. Shay is a messenger-girl, falconer, and fortune teller who sees the future in the patterns of birds. Nonesuch is the dark star of the city’s fabled Blackfriars Theatre, where a cast of press-ganged boys perform for London’s gentry. When the pair meet, Shay falls in love with the performances—and with Nonesuch himself. As their bond deepens, they create the Ghost Theatre, an underground troupe that performs fantastical plays in the city’s hidden corners. As their fame grows the troupe fans the flames of rebellion among the city’s outcasts, and the lovers are drawn into the dark web of the Elizabethan court. Embattled, with the plague on the rise throughout the country, the Queen seeks a reading from Shay, a moment which unleashes chaos not only in Shay’s life, but across the whole of England too.

      A fever-dream full of prophecy and anarchy, gutter rats and bird gods, Mat Osman’s The Ghost Theatre is a wild ride from the rooftops of Elizabethan London to its dark underbelly, and a luminous meditation on double lives and fluid identities and the bewitching, transformative nature of art and power, with a bittersweet love affair at its heart. Set amid the vividly rendered England of Osman’s imagination and written in rich, seductive prose, The Ghost Theatre will have readers under its spell from the very first page.

I found out about Ghost Theatre last minute, and I’m not sure what genre it falls under – I’ve seen it described as magical realism, outright fantasy, and historical fiction, so??? Nevertheless, I’m intrigued; I love the sound of secret theatres, and a falconer gifted at ornithomancy, and even if I didn’t, the promise of rich, seductive prose gets me every time.

Sing Me to Sleep (Sing Me to Sleep, #1) by Gabi Burton
Genres: Fantasy
Representation: Black MC, all BIPOC cast
Published on: 27th June 2023

In this dark and seductive YA fantasy debut, a siren must choose between protecting her family and following her heart in a prejudiced kingdom where her existence is illegal.

Saoirse Sorkova survives on lies. As a soldier-in-training at the most prestigious barracks in the kingdom, she lies about being a siren to avoid execution. At night, working as an assassin for a dangerous group of mercenaries, Saoirse lies about her true identity. And to her family, Saoirse tells the biggest lie of all: that she can control her siren powers and doesn't struggle constantly against an impulse to kill.

As the top trainee in her class, Saoirse would be headed for a bright future if it weren't for the need to keep her secrets out of the spotlight. But when a mysterious blackmailer threatens her sister, Saoirse takes a dangerous job that will help her investigate: she becomes personal bodyguard to the crown prince.

Saoirse should hate Prince Hayes. After all, his father is the one who enforces the kingdom's brutal creature segregation laws. But when Hayes turns out to be kind, thoughtful, and charming, Saoirse finds herself increasingly drawn to him-especially when they're forced to work together to stop a deadly killer who's plaguing the city. There's only one problem: Saoirse is that deadly killer.

Featuring an all Black and Brown cast, a forbidden romance, and a compulsively dark plot full of twists, this thrilling YA fantasy is perfect for fans of A Song Below Water and To Kill a Kingdom.

I would happily nab a copy of this just for that stunning cover, but the story also has my attention – creature segregation, and having to play detective on a case where you’re the murderer??? I’ll definitely be giving this a go!

Hymn of Memory by S. Jean
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Queer MC
Published on: 27th June 2023

As the Divine of Blackburn, Morgan sends its departed souls into the afterlife. It's a sacred job spanning generations of Divines before him, but there's a problem: the process invites the dead's memories inside and those memories quickly erode and erase his own. Before long, he fears he will completely lose who he is and no one seems to care.

Then Fin, a familiar face from town, sneaks into Morgan's room to beg for a resending of his grandmother and Morgan quickly agrees, knowing it means an opportunity to escape.

As escape quickly turns into a road trip with Fin to replace the memories he's lost, Morgan has to confront what it means if he never returns. Without him to send souls, they die completely, leaving a void in the world where nothing will live or grow. Returning, however, means he will lose himself.

And so, Morgan must decide if never returning and living his life as himself—not the Divine—is worth more than the souls he's leaving behind.

Another super-beautiful cover, another story I’m very interested in! Trying to choose between your existence as a person or the salvation of souls sounds heartbreaking and terrible, and I’m hoping S. Jean does it justice!

Of Knights and Books and Falling In Love by Rita A. Rubin
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: M/M, Black love interest
Published on: 29th June 2023

A slice-of-life fantasy, perfect for fans of Legends & Lattes and Howl's Moving Castle.

Jayce has little memory of life before entering servitude to the Dark Lord, and no hope of ever escaping. Until he meets Alexius, the knight with a heart of gold. He offers Jayce, his enemy, a chance to break free of the Dark Lord's clutches, and Jayce is not about to let such an opportunity pass. When the war comes to an end, Jayce finds himself finally free, with Alexius's help, and surrounded by a new world of opportunity. And the prospect of a new love. The more time Jayce spends with Alexius, the more he finds himself falling for this knight in shining armour.

I am HERE for the adorable vibes – and I’m always pretty curious about Dark Lords and their minions, so I hope that’s explored a little too.

City of Stolen Magic by Nazneen Ahmed Pathak
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
Representation: Indian MC
Published on: 29th June 2023

A spellbinding, epic and heart-racing magical adventure from an exquisite new storytelling talent.

'An unexpected gem of a story . . . A stellar setting, a gut-punch of a twist, and an unforgettable heroine. This has all the hallmarks of classic children's storytelling' - Nizrana Farook

'A wonderful writer who paints a thoroughly convincing heroine' - The Daily Telegraph

'Phenomenal' - Sophie Anderson

'Dazzling from start to finish' - Abi Elphinstone

India, 1855. The British rule, and all across the country, Indian magic is being stamped out.

More terrifying still, people born with magic are being snatched from their homes. Rumour is that they are being taken across the sea - to England - by the all-powerful, sinister Company.

When Chompa's home is attacked and her mother viciously kidnapped, Chompa - born with powerful and dangerous magic that she has always been forbidden from using - must travel to the smoky, bustling streets of East London in search of her. But Chompa will discover far more treachery in London than she had bargained for - and will learn that every act of her rare magic comes with a price . . .

'A gripping and spellbinding fantasy woven together with threads of magic, secrets and colonial history . . . An incredible cast of characters and a truly multicultural Victorian London that we don't see often enough' - Rashmi Sirdeshpande

'A wonderfully vibrant debut . . . A vivid magical adventure' - Jasbinder Bilan

'Cracking pace, fabulous magic system, characters, relationships . . . The whole package' - Louie Stowell

WE ARE SO SPOILED WITH GORGEOUS COVERS THIS WEEK! I’m going to have to grab a copy of this for my little sister – and I might give it a read myself first!

Unpainted (The Weirdwater Confluence) by Dan Fitzgerald
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Queer MC/s
Published on: 30th June 2023

"I'm ready."

In the hermetic society of the Painted Faces, pale, unblemished skin is rewarded with station, wealth, and power.

Tera would almost rather go unpainted than enter into an arranged marriage with a total stranger, but that would mean giving up the only life she's ever known. Not to mention her share of her family's Pureline fortune.

She’s always thought love was a fairy tale and sex a joyless chore, but the alternative might be worse.

Enter Aven, a soft buttercup of a man, the kindest and most considerate person she’s ever met. A tropical honeymoon awaits, and with the help of her intimacy consultant, Tera is determined to make the best of this awkward ritual. Amid the island breezes, she and her new spouse form a bond neither of them knew they were capable of.

But trouble stirs beneath the polite veneer of the Painted Faces’ society, threatening to tear them—and their entire world—apart.

Unpainted is a queer arranged marriage fantasy romance, a standalone in the Weirdwater Confluence universe. It features a dual POV, magical currency shenanigans, mind magic, and inordinate amounts of steamy, fluffy goodness with a soft femdom dynamic. Coming June 2023.

Content warnings

Unpainted contains numerous explicit, consensual sex scenes, including light bondage and sex toys, as well as drug use and minor violence. It is intended for an adult audience and should not be read by anyone under 18.

Author's note

Unpainted has cameos from several characters in The Living Waters and The Isle of a Thousand Worlds but contains no spoilers, and no prior knowledge of these books is required to enjoy Unpainted .

The Weirdwater Confluence verse was recently recommended to me, and this new standalone seems like it might be a good place to start – I like the hints of worldbuilding in the blurb, and the promise of a femdom dynamic, which is something I’d like to see more of in my fantasy, honestly.

Will you be reading any of these? Let me know!


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