2019 Booklist: The Best is Yet to Come

With the new year comes a fresh calendar of book releases to look out for. As an avid reader of speculative fiction, Chung Kiu Kwok shares a few of her most anticipated titles hitting shelves in the coming twelve months.

Margaret Atwood in a red scarf, talking into a microphone on a podium.
Source: Flickr

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh – 7 March

Flying under the radar as Temi Oh’s debut, this alternate history, in which ten astronauts depart a “dying Earth” for a 23- year journey to a second habitable planet, could be March’s sci-fi sleeper hit. Self-described as “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet meets The 100m”, its premise teases a uniquely thought-provoking tale; not only because we may someday find ourselves in the position of sending astronauts to find our planet a new home, but also because the simultaneous isolation and vastness of space inevitably opens up an array of fascinating possibilities.

It remains to be seen how first-time author Oh will mix the profundity of exploring human nature with the thriller component of a space mission gone wrong, a delicate balance that has been managed to varying degrees of success by numerous novels and films such as Interstellar and Sunshine. As with all debut novels, it’s a coin flip between brilliant and boring: told effectively, this story will leave us dreaming of Terra-Two. Told poorly, it’ll drift off, lost in the vacuum.

The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang – 6 August

“How does somebody go from being an irrelevant, backwater, peasant nobody to being a megalomaniac dictator capable of killing millions of people?” Such goes the question R.F. Kuang had in mind when she set out to write The Poppy War trilogy. Inspired by Mao Zedong, protagonist Rin rises from orphan shopgirl to powerful shaman, graduating from the elite Sinegard Academy in the first book. But it’s far from Hog warts and harmony – the other pitch for The Poppy War is Song Dynasty China faces Imperial Japan, complete with all the bloodshed and atrocities implied by the latter. One infamous chapter is based directly on the Rape of Nanking, and the novel is dedicated to Iris Chang, whose 1997 book received acclaim for introducing the Nanking Massacre to the West. Kuang cites the “ongoing erasure of sexual violence against women who aren’t white across military history” as a key incentive for her writing. The “forgotten Holocaust of the Second World War” must be forgotten no longer, she suggests. Neither must we forget the horrifying ramifications of war echoing beyond ceasefire, which is where The Dragon Republic will take readers. War makes monsters of us all – and if Rin’s destiny is tyranny, she won’t be without our sympathies.

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Kuang cites the “ongoing erasure of sexual violence against women who aren’t white across military history” as a key incentive for her writing. The “forgotten Holocaust of the Second World War” must be forgotten no longer, she suggests. Neither must we forget the horrifying ramifications of war echoing beyond ceasefire, which is where The Dragon Republic will take readers. War makes monsters of us all – and if Rin’s destiny is tyranny, she won’t be without our sympathies.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – 10 September

Up there on the list of sequels I’d never have thought were happening is the followup to The Handmaid’s Tale, updating the 2019 BOOKLIST THE BEST IS YET TO COME oppressive theocracy of Gilead to reflect the world we currently live in. Feminist novels of our times, from Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours to Christina Dalcher’s Vox, to Atwood protégée Naomi Alderman’s The Power, inevitably cite the 1985 classic as a key source of inspiration. Yet none of them have ever measured up to the original Handmaid’s Tale when it comes to sheer iconic status: The blood-red Handmaid’s dress remains a universally recognised costume.

The Testaments takes place 15 years after the ending of The Handmaid’s Tale. In contrast to the original, which created a claustrophobic, unreliable narrative solely from the perspective of Offred, it will be narrated by three women whose identities are anyone’s guess. If that’s not enough Gilead for you, there’s always season 3 of the Hulu show airing in the spring.

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson ­– October

Rather than the tried and tested “boy and his dragon”, Brandon Sanderson has written a delightful “girl and her starfighter” story in Skyward, the precursor to Starsight. Combining the flight school mechanics of Ender’s Game with a touching coming of age, Sky ward set the stage for an epic sci-fi quartet where even the skies aren’t a limit. This book was just so much fun. It’s witty; it’s thrilling; it’s buoyed by an indefatigable heroine who undergoes much-needed character development. It’s rare that I feel so satisfied with a novel. What would I like from the sequel, Starsight? More of the same, please.

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Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas ­– Unknown

Anyone who has so much as casually strolled through a Waterstones in the past five years is likely to have at least seen the name Sarah J. Maas. Love, hate or grudgingly admire her, Maas’ impact on the YA and fantasy genres has been undeniable. For better or for worse, readers have already drawn the parallels between her forthcoming adult novel and Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series, a series of urban fantasies whose influence shines through in Maas’ recent novels. I may not be Maas’s biggest fan, but I’m looking forward to see if she can replicate her previous successes in a new market. Her Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses series are considered by many to be the gold standard in YA. With gorgeous prose and provocative character development, some of her earlier novels justify her top spot. On the other hand, her books have been met with various criticisms regarding their representation of women, people of colour and LGBT+ people, and taking more pages from Moning’s playbook isn’t likely to make the controversy go away. Add in the sloppier, cash cow-milking work that she’s produced lately, and Maas remains steadfastly hit or miss for me. All bets are off on which one Crescent City will be.

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