With the real world falling apart around us on what seems to be a daily basis, it feels more necessary than ever to find some kind of escape—and for many of us that means delving into a serious fantasy story and the more otherworldly magic or uber-complex worldbuilding is involved, the better.
Though the first half of the month is pretty light on fantasy titles—in many ways, this July feels like the industry taking a breath before the rush of late summer and fall releases—the back end more than makes up for it, with a positive deluge of worthwhile books hitting shelves beginning mid-month. Here are a few of our favorites that you should definitely make time to check out.
Release Date: July 19 from Clarion Books
Why You’ll Love It: These Hollow Vows, contemporary romance author Lexi Ryan’s first foray into the world of YA fantasy was one of last summer’s most delightful surprises, and its sequel These Twisted Bonds does not disappoint. As Brie is torn between the two sides of a Fae civil war and increasingly unsure of who she can trust, she’ll have to decide who she is—and who she wants. A rare YA fantasy with a love triangle that’s genuinely compelling from all angles, you’ll find yourself as torn between the two Faerie princes at the center of this tale as our heroine is.
Publisher’s Description: After Abriella’s sister was sold to the fae, she thought life couldn’t get any worse. But when she suddenly finds herself caught in a web of lies of her own making - loving two princes and trusting neither – things are not quite as clear as she once thought.
As civil war wages in the Court of Darkness, Brie finds herself unable to choose a side. How can she know where she stands when she doesn’t even know herself anymore? In this darkly romantic thrill ride, the more Faerie is torn apart from the inside, the clearer it becomes that prophecies don’t lie and Brie has a role to play in the fate of this magical realm – whether she likes it or not.
Release Date: July 26 from Delacorte Press
Why You’ll Love It: A rare YA fantasy with a difficult, prickly and nigh-on unlikeable heroine, Violet Made of Thorns feels like a breath of fresh air from its first pages. A powerful Seer, Violet isn’t at court to make friends, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes—whether that means tell lies, manipulate the citizenry, call forth false visions, or help craft a false betrothal for the royal prince—to survive. But whens she finds her future inextricably tied to that of the rude, handsome prince she’s hated for most of her life, will she sacrifice the kingdom to save herself?
Publisher’s Description: Violet is a prophet and a liar, influencing the royal court with her cleverly phrased—and not always true—divinations. Honesty is for suckers, like the oh-so-not charming Prince Cyrus, who plans to strip Violet of her official role once he’s crowned at the end of the summer—unless Violet does something about it.
But when the king asks her to falsely prophesy Cyrus’s love story for an upcoming ball, Violet awakens a dreaded curse, one that will end in either damnation or salvation for the kingdom—all depending on the prince’s choice of future bride. Violet faces her own choice: Seize an opportunity to gain control of her own destiny, no matter the cost, or give in to the ill-fated attraction that’s growing between her and Cyrus.
Violet’s wits may protect her in the cutthroat court, but they can’t change her fate. And as the boundary between hatred and love grows ever thinner with the prince, Violet must untangle a wicked web of deceit in order to save herself and the kingdom—or doom them all.
Release Date: July 26 from Redhook
Why You’ll Love It: A retelling of Rapunzel that centers its story around the witch who held the princess prisoner in her tower, The Book of Gothel will delight fans who have reveled in publishing’s recent trend of giving the often unfairly maligned and supposedly evil women from folklore and mythology their voices back. In addition to being a fairly groundbreaking reimaginging of the Rapunzel story, it’s also an excellent piece of historical fiction, weaving a complex tale about how medieval society treated women who dared to be different and featuring several intriguting real life figures including Hildegard of Bingen.
Publisher’s Description: Haelewise has always lived under the shadow of her mother, Hedda—a woman who will do anything to keep her daughter protected. For with her strange black eyes and even stranger fainting spells, Haelewise is shunned by her medieval village, and her only solace lies in the stories her mother tells of child-stealing witches, of princes in wolf-skins, of an ancient tower cloaked in mist, where women will find shelter if they are brave enough to seek it.
Then, Hedda dies, and Haelewise is left unmoored. With nothing left for her in her village, she sets out to find the legendary tower her mother used to speak of—a place called Gothel, where Haelewise meets a wise woman willing to take her under her wing.
But Haelewise is not the only woman to seek refuge at Gothel. It’s also a haven for a girl named Rika, who carries with her a secret the Church strives to keep hidden. A secret that unlocks a dark world of ancient spells and murderous nobles behind the world Haelewise has always known.
Release Date: July 26 from Fiewel and Friends
Why You’ll Love It: There’s plenty that’s both familiar and enjoyable about Tricia Levenseller’s Bladesmith duology, but what makes it worth your time is its unique heroine—Ziva, a skilled blacksmith with the rare ability to imbue the weapons she creates with magic and a girl who struggles with a severe anxiety disorder. A charming found family at its center and a love interest who doesn’t judge Ziva for her anxiety but is fully willing to both learn about and accomodate her condition, the series is full of great surprises. But when Ziva and Kellyn, the handsome young mercernary, are captured by an ambitious prince he wants to use her gifts for his own deadly ends, she’ll have to decide what she’s willing to risk to save them both.
Publisher’s Description: Eighteen-year-old Ziva may have defeated a deadly warlord, but the price was almost too much. Ziva is forced into a breakneck race to a nearby city with the handsome mercenary, Kellyn, and the young scholar, Petrik, to find a powerful magical healer who can save her sister’s life.
When the events that follow lead to Ziva and Kellyn’s capture by an ambitious prince, Ziva is forced into the very situation she’s been dreading: magicking dangerous weapons meant for world domination.
The forge has always been Ziva’s safe space, a place to avoid society and the anxiety it causes her, but now it is her prison, and she’s not sure just how much of herself she’ll have to sacrifice to save Kellyn and take center stage in the very war she’s been trying to stop.
Release Date: July 26 from Tor Books
Why You’ll Love It: A lush fantasy romance that is also a delightful upending of what we expect marriage of convenience stories to be and do, A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is a delicate exploration of trauma and trust. One part incredibly satisfying slow burn romance and one part gripping mystry, with some captivating worldbuilding thrown on top, if there’s any justice this is going to be a title we’re talking about all summer.
Publisher’s Description: Velasin vin Aaro never planned to marry at all, let alone a girl from neighboring Tithena. When an ugly confrontation reveals his preference for men, Vel fears he’s ruined the diplomatic union before it can even begin. But while his family is ready to disown him, the Tithenai envoy has a different solution: for Vel to marry his former intended’s brother instead.
Caethari Aeduria always knew he might end up in a political marriage, but his sudden betrothal to a man from Ralia, where such relationships are forbidden, comes as a shock.
With an unknown faction willing to kill to end their new alliance, Vel and Cae have no choice but to trust each other. Survival is one thing, but love—as both will learn—is quite another.
Release Date: July 26 from Engtangled Teen
Why You’ll Love It: The start of a new YA fantasy series based on Norse mythology, Tiana Warner’s Th Valkyrie’s Daughter is a colorful #OwnVoices adventure that’s a lot more diverse than most Viking and/or Viking-adjacent tales on shelves today. It follows the story of Sigrid who dreams of becoming a fearless valkyrie riding a winged steed into battle. But unfortunately, Sigrid is just a poor stable hand with a normal (if speedy) and most assuredly not winged horse, stuck wondering who her parents were and why she’s so different from everyone else. But after she has a vision of herself riding into battle on Odin’s legendary eight-legged steed Slepnier, she decides to grab onto her supposed destiny with both hands, even if it means working with an enemy to do so.
Publisher’s Description: For as long as Sigrid could remember, she’s wanted to become a mighty, fearless valkyrie. But without a winged mare, she’s a mere stable hand, left wondering who her parents were and why she’s so different. So when the Eye shows her a vision where she’s leading a valkyrie charge on the legendary eight-legged horse Sleipnir, she grabs the possibility of this greater destiny with both hands, refusing to let go.
Too bad that the only one who can help her get there is Mariam, an enemy valkyrie who begrudgingly agrees to lead her to Helheim but who certainly can’t be trusted?even if she does make Sigrid more than a little flustered. As they cross the nine worlds, battling night elves, riding sea serpents, and hurtling into fire to learn the truth about Sigrid’s birthright, an unexpected but powerful bond forms.
As her feelings for Mariam deepen into something fiery and undeniable, Fate has other plans for Sigrid. What happens when the one thing you think you were meant to do might end the nine worlds?
Release Date: July 26 from G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Why You’ll Love It: The highly anticipated sequel to Ayana Gray’s bestselling Beasts of Prey, Beasts of Ruin sees disgraced young warrior Ekon desperately trying to track down the daraja Koffi, who has been kidnapped by the god of death. As Koffi works with other kidnapped women to try and find a way to escape, Ekon teams up with her magical grandmother Themba to try and track her down. Though both protagonists are separated for a large part of the story, each manages to form new and meaningful communities on their way back to one another. Gray’s lush and detailed worldbuilding remains a highlight as the sequel delves even deeper into the history and heritage of Lkossa and its surrounding kingdom.
Publisher’s Description: Koffi has saved her city and the boy she loves, but at a terrible price. Now a servant to the cunning god of death, she must use her newfound power to further his continental conquest, or risk the safety of her home and loved ones. As she reluctantly learns to survive amidst unexpected friends and foes, she will also have to choose between the life—and love—she once had, or the one she could have, if she truly embraces her dangerous gifts.
Cast out from the only home he’s ever known, Ekon is forced to strike new and unconventional alliances to find and rescue Koffi before it’s too late. But as he gets closer to the realm of death each day, so too does he draw nearer to a terrible truth—one that could cost everything.
Koffi and Ekon—separated by land, sea, and gods—will have to risk everything to reunite again. But the longer they’re kept apart, the more each of their loyalties are tested. Soon, both may have to reckon with changing hearts—and maybe, changing destinies.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.