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2020 Staff Picks: Science Fiction, Dystopia, and Fantasy

By Skokie Staff Adult Services

Our expert staff members look back at the year and share their favorite titles.

  • Piranesi

    2020 by Clarke, Susanna

    Where Susanna Clarke’s extraordinary debut Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was a sprawling Regency work of fantasy, this follow-up, coming 16 years later, is, while more compact, no less powerful. The strange world of infinite halls filled with statues and ocean tides, inhabited only by two men, was mystifying at the start. The first 100 pages were some of the most enchanting of this whole year. Such stuff as dreams are made of. Recommended by Terry and Chris.

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  • The Secret Chapter: An Invisible Library Novel

    2020 by Cogman, Genevieve

    I truly cannot get enough of the Invisible Library series; this is the sixth installment. There is a time-traveling librarian with special library powers, a dragon prince, and secretive Fae. Throw in some steampunk, and it’s my perfect fantastical world. Recommended by Sharon.

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  • Magic Lessons

    2020 by Hoffman, Alice

    I absolutely loved this prequel to Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic. Beautiful, inspiring, dark, feminist, empowering, this is a magical ode to strong women, to storytelling, to love, and to books. Recommended by Megan.

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  • The City We Became

    2020 by Jemisin, N. K.

    Nothing else I read this year was as flat-out fun as this rollicking magical realist adventure story in which six random people learn that they now embody different aspects of New York City—which is about to "become." Jemisin slyly folds critiques of gentrification, institutional racism, and the toxic yet inevitable H.P. Lovecraft into the tale without ever feeling preachy. I'm eager to see what the rest of the trilogy brings. Recommended by Andrew.

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  • Trouble the Saints

    2020 by Johnson, Alaya Dawn

    This surprising debut novel starts off as "neo-noir with fantasy elements" but then keeps growing and changing. I can no more summarize the plot than I can tell you what genre(s) it winds up being. The magic is less important than the meanings the characters assign it and, like The Good Place, it all comes down to "What do we owe each other?" This book has a lot on its mind, and a heart that encompasses what should be profoundly unsympathetic people. Recommended by Andrew.

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  • The House in the Cerulean Sea

    2020 by Klune, TJ

    It didn’t take me long to fall in love with the characters and their world. This fantasy is magical, charming, and uplifting. Recommended by Sharon.

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  • A Children's Bible: A Novel

    2020 by Millet, Lydia

    Big fans of Millet’s short story collections, we were eager to read this novel from her and were not disappointed. Filled with her signature wit and surrealist charm, this book functions as a dystopian adventure as well as an allegorical tale of society’s failure to do anything about climate change. It's the perfect collision of allegory and harsh reality. Recommended by Lynnanne and Adam.

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  • Utopia Avenue: A Novel

    2020 by Mitchell, David

    David Mitchell is an author people tend to either love or hate, and this is definitely a book for people who love his work. Members of a British folk-rock group encounter characters (some not human) from the expanded Mitchellverse as well as icons ranging from Leonard Cohen to painter Francis Bacon. Utopia Avenue (the band) now ranks alongside the Hot-Time Swingers and the Band with Rocks In as imaginary groups whose music I would most like to hear. Bonus: the character on the autism spectrum really rang true to me. Recommended by Andrew.

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  • Harrow the Ninth

    2020 by Muir, Tamsyn

    This book absolutely blew my mind. I spent most of it saying variations of "what the heck just happened" out loud, in a good way. Not a series for the faint of heart (necromancy, murder, mild body horror), but some of the most creative storytelling I've ever seen and the rare sequel that's miles better than the first (great) book. Recommended by Perry.

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  • A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians

    2020 by Parry, H. G.

    As a big fan of historical fantasy novels, I adored this book set during the Age of Enlightenment. From the halls of Parliament to the guillotines of France to the shores of Haiti, magic abounds. Impeccably researched. I learned more about the French revolutions from this book than from all my history classes, and I'm looking forward to book two in the series. Recommended by Lynnanne.

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  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

    2020 by Schwab, Victoria

    A sweeping love/hate story between a French girl and a devil spanning 300 years, and still, the book felt too short for me. I adored this beautiful, tragic, hopeful, passionate, filled-with-ideas, and immersive book. Recommended by Megan.

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  • Road out of Winter

    2020 by Stine, Alison

    With echoes of The Road as well as Winter’s Bone, this book is an excellent feminist dystopian novel of survival, desperation, and, ultimately, hope. Even though the setting, narrative, and themes are harsh, I loved how hope and beauty emerged from the hard shell of the narrative and triumph over despondency and cruelty. Recommended by Lynnanne.

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