By the way, this is by no means an exhaustive list- I’ve just received a lot of requests for recommendations from friends recently (it’s the actual best feeling, by the way, so thank you!!! Keep asking!!!), and wanted to share some of my favorites! I might not have written reviews for all of them, but they’re on the list. And in the meantime…
I’m actually ridiculously picky with sci-fi, so I was kinda surprised that three made it on to this list!
1. Red Rising
Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.
Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.
But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.
Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so. — Goodreads
I adooooorrred this book. It’s insanely sassy and cynical and raw and angry and honestly, it could have been written by the main character. Darrow’s personality really shines through, and the agony that he faces throughout it is so realistic you’ll want to probably claw your eyes out. Genre-wise, I’d put it as NA sci-fi/dystopian (as it deals with a lot of dystopian themes against a backdrop of space), but even then it’s hard to describe.
Red Rising IS actually NA for a reason, though (loooots of violence), so if that matters to you then you might want to avoid it. As a typically-YA reader myself, though, I really enjoyed this! Darker and more gory than YA, but spectacularly written.
“Manage your temper” he reminds me, his small voice darkening. “Manners, manners, then burn their bloody house to the ground.”
― Pierce Brown,
This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again. —Goodreads
THIS one was incredible. I mean, the MC’s name is Kady and obviously that makes it perfect.
Anyway, if this book was presented normally, words-on-a-page and nothing more, it would be excellent. But NO.
LOOK AT THIS.
IT’S TOLD THROUGH CHAT LOGS, EMAILS, TRANSCRIPTS, AND DIAGRAMS.
Please read this book. It’s brilliant.
“Um, because you’re loopier than Flacky McPsycho, Mayor of Crazytown?”
“My databases show no record of this Crazytown of which you speak. A brain the size of an entire city burns inside me. My intelligence quotient is beyond the human scale. I would prefer if you did not refer to me in such a fashion.”
“Oh, poor baby. Did I hurt the mass-murdering psychopathic artificial intelligence’s feelings?”
― Amie Kaufman,
Sixteen-year-old Cinder is considered a technological mistake by most of society and a burden by her stepmother. Being cyborg does have its benefits, though: Cinder’s brain interference has given her an uncanny ability to fix things (robots, hovers, her own malfunctioning parts), making her the best mechanic in New Beijing. This reputation brings Prince Kai himself to her weekly market booth, needing her to repair a broken android before the annual ball. He jokingly calls it “a matter of national security,” but Cinder suspects it’s more serious than he’s letting on.
Although eager to impress the prince, Cinder’s intentions are derailed when her younger stepsister, and only human friend, is infected with the fatal plague that’s been devastating Earth for a decade. Blaming Cinder for her daughter’s illness, Cinder’s stepmother volunteers her body for plague research, an “honor” that no one has survived.
But it doesn’t take long for the scientists to discover something unusual about their new guinea pig. Something others would kill for. —Goodreads
There are four books in this series, each a sci-fi retelling of a classic fairy tale- Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter. And you’d think that with
eight nine MCs by the end, it’d get busy- but NOOO. EVERYONE IS BRILLIANT. It’s diverse (lots of POC characters, for example), it’s unique, it’s definitely feminist, and I love it. So please read this one, too.
“Sorry. I seem to have lost my gumption when my foot fell off during a live netfeed.”
― Marissa Meyer,
Hahahahahaha guess what kinds of contemporary I like… xD I have to have really complex, significant themes in books in order to enjoy them, and these two definitely take that to the max.
4. The Hate U Give
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life. —Goodreads
This book. THIS. BOOK. Inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, this is one of the stories that comes along and could very well change the world. It’s just so brilliant and wonderful and heart-wrenching and so, so, so very important for humanity to have and be touched by.
If you read no other book on this list (and I’m being totally serious here, by the way), read this one.
“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”
― Angie Thomas,
5. The Female of the Species
Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.
While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.
But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.
So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad’s job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex’s protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.
Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever. —Goodreads
THIS one. This is basically a feminist manifesto, and basically addresses rape culture in high school. It’s very morally grey- I definitely do not endorse the way Alexis combats the issues in her town- but the messages are good. I think the quote below pretty much sums it up:
“But boys will be boys, our favorite phrase that excuses so many things, while the only thing we have for the opposite gender is women, said with disdain and punctuated with an eye roll.”
― Mindy McGinnis,
Definitely my favorite genre! My favorites tend to be sassy and dark, with a lot of morally grey and cynical themes. Pirates and thievery are excellent additions, as is brilliant worldbuilding! Seriously, though, I don’t know how I narrowed this down to only five options.
6. Six of Crows
Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker has been offered wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But to claim it, he’ll have to pull off a seemingly impossible heist:
Break into the notorious Ice Court
(a military stronghold that has never been breached)
Retrieve a hostage
(who could unleash magical havoc on the world)
Survive long enough to collect his reward
(and spend it)
Kaz needs a crew desperate enough to take on this suicide mission and dangerous enough to get the job done – and he knows exactly who: six of the deadliest outcasts the city has to offer. Together, they just might be unstoppable – if they don’t kill each other first.
And looooooook at the pretty painted pages… *dying*
I honestly am in love with every main character in this book. They are so sassy I’m just dying inside with how wonderful they are. I would totally marry and/or be best friends with anyone. There’s Kaz, who’s cynical and has PTSD and basically has no feelings but actually maybe might, Inej, who used to be an acrobat before she was sold into sexual slavery and then rescued by Kaz- also with a host of issues- and Jesper, who has a gambling addiction and is a biracial sharpshooter. Nina is a Grisha (basically magic, except it’s more manipulation of elements rather than conjuring something out of nothing) with a penchant for eating far too many waffles, Matthias a Grisha-hunter whose life was saved by said Nina and now is an Angry Yellow Tulip (that is canon, btw) because his life makes no sense anymore and what even is going on, and Wylan who is a bundle of cinnamon roll perfection who can also blow stuff up really well.
And basically everything goes crazy. So.
“Kaz leaned back. “What’s the easiest way to steal a man’s wallet?”
“Knife to the throat?” asked Inej.
“Gun to the back?” said Jesper.
“Poison in his cup?” suggested Nina.
“You’re all horrible,” said Matthias.”
― Leigh Bardugo,
7. This Savage Song
There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.
Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.
Hahahahahahahaha *fangirls incessantly* THIS IS LIFE BY THE WAY. And it’s a duology, too, and asdkhfdefghjkjhgfrdefghlkjhgfdefk. But anyway, it’s ALSO morally grey and filled with monsters, some who steal your soul by playing music, and daughters that will do anything if only they might be loved. It’s probably the most simultaneously gorgeous and dark book that I’ve ever read.
“She cracked a smile. “So what’s your poison”
He sighed dramatically, and let the truth tumble off his tongue. “Life.”
“Ah,” she said ruefully. “That’ll kill you.”
― Victoria Schwab,
8. A Darker Shade of Magic
Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive. —Goodreads
Honestly, anything by Victoria Schwab is something you need to put on your TBR instantly.
This is set in 1819, across a backdrop of four parallel Londons. Grey London, our London, is ruled by King George- even more senile than he was in 1776. There is no magic, or at least, so little that it is not significant. In Red London, it is healthy and a part of everyday life. White London is starved for magic, and the inhabitants will do anything- anything– if only to get a little. And no one speaks of Black London.
I mean, come on. Even with that, it’s promising. AND IT GET BETTER BECAUSE LILA IS MY ACTUAL FAVORITE CHARACTER IN THE WORLD SO
“Aren’t you afraid of dying?” he asked Lila now.
She looked at him as if it were a strange question. And then she shook her head. “Death comes for everyone,” she said simply. “I’m not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here.” She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
― Victoria Schwab,
Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.
But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.
Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever. —Goodreads
This one was incredibly gorgeous and absorbing and generally aesthetically pleasing. Even though the entire time I had one… particular song stuck in my head.
Otherwise, though, this book was Caraval. And I mean that quite literally, referring to the game itself. It tried to convince you it was real. You could see the colors, taste the cider, hear the music. And also, by the way, it had a sentient dress. A sentient dress. If that doesn’t convince you to read this, I don’t know what will.
“It is not fate, it is simply the future observing that which we crave most. Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave enough to fight for what they desire more than anything”
― Stephanie Garber,
10. The Night Circus
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
Within these nocturnal black-and-white striped tents awaits an utterly unique, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stare in wonderment as the tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and become deliciously tipsy from the scents of caramel and cinnamon that waft through the air.
Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves. —Goodreads
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about The Night Circus and Caraval being remarkably similar, which is true- but don’t stop reading. (the Night Circus came first, if you were curious) Both books are about a circus many are obsessed with, and both include similar curiosities. But they definitely aren’t the same. I don’t know about you, but I adore this kind of book, and to find an equally gorgeous and absorbing and sensory-detail-packed book after Caraval was wonderful. The Night Circus was basically the first of it’s kind, unique and imaginative- ignore the rest of the Goodreads blurb, this book is about a circus and not really as much about the people- and Caraval simply followed in its tracks. There’s sooooo much to see in here, and it’s the kind of book that sticks with you for ages, afterward.
“You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Rêves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus.
You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.”
― Erin Morgenstern,
Well. That was tough, forcing myself to narrow down my favorites. I’m almost tempted to do a part 2 in a few weeks…. (this is the part where you either agree or disagree and tell me about it in the comments). Have you read any of these? What did you think? I think I’m going to keep trying to do Top Ten Tuesdays, even though they’re technically on hiatus…. do you have any ideas for the next few weeks?
Anyway, hope you’re having a lovely day! And to my American followers, happy 4th!