Top Ten Tuesday: Best Debuts of 2021

Title in white on navy starry skies

Top Ten Tuesday is a fun weekly meme, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Everyone is welcome to join in the fun.

This week’s prompt is actually something different to what this list is about. However, there’s a prompt in two weeks’ time (new-to-me authors of 2021) that I realised I had enough responses for that I could do a debut and a non-debut list, so I substituted!

2021 was a heavy debut year for me (over 40 read!) so whittling it down to just ten was not an easy task! The order is random.

Everina Maxwell

Genre: Sci-fi
Age Range: Adult
Book cover for WINTER'S ORBIT: title in green above a sci-fi landscape

The inclusion of WINTER’S ORBIT on this list should probably not come as any surprise, given how much I’ve been raving about it this year. I absolutely adored this sci-fi political mystery merged with a romance – it was just so cosy and indulgent feeling.

After a prince dies in mysterious circumstances, his widower is married off to the prince’s cousin to ensure a treaty holds, but the newly-weds must investigate whether the death was an accident or not before the treaty breaks.

Shelley Parker-Chan

Genre: Historical/Historical Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Book cover for SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN: title in black on yellow with an orange dragon curled around it

SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN was the final of the “sapphic trifecta” books to be released this year (all were sapphic books written by queer authors of colour with gold/yellow covers.)

This book is a historical with fantasy elements (some call it a historical fantasy, but it was too light on fantastical elements for me to call it that.) It re-imagines the life of the first Ming Emperor with a twist; when the man destined for greatness dies in a famine, his sister takes his place – and destiny.

C. L. Clark

Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Book cover for THE UNBROKEN: title in white below a well-muscled figure pushes open doors against a yellow background

The first of the “sapphic trifecta” to be released (and the other debut), THE UNBROKEN is sometimes jokingly referred to as “Touriane’s arms” after the prominence of the character’s arms on the cover.

It follows a soldier (Touraine) who has been taken from her home by colonial powers as a child and indoctrinated to fight for them, and an imperial princess (Luca) fighting for her throne. The two meet and start to fall for one another. But revolution is simmering in the colony – and the soldier is drawn to fight for her native home.

Ava Reid

Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult

A lyrical debut inspired by Jewish and Hungarian folklore, THE WOLF AND THE WOODSMAN is as gorgeous inside as this cover is. It is full of stories that all feel like they are part of a unified mythology, despite many being made up – an impressive craft feat!

Exploring ethnonationalism and nation building, it follows an outcast girl sacrificed by her village who ends up defying and saving a country that does not want her to exist. It also has an enemies-to-lovers romance that involves him kneeling…

Anneliese Gray

Genre: Historical
Age Range: MG
Book cover for RACE TO THE DEATH: Title in black on a purple and yellows image of a girl on a horse looking over a landscape with a stadium rising in the background

RACE TO THE DEATH is the start of an Ancient Roman-set series about the racing world from a Latin Teacher (which shows in the attention to world building.)

It is a brilliantly paced book that I could not put down, following a girl who is forced to flee the Circus Maximus after her father is murdered by corrupt racing team officials. But she will return to get her revenge, and reunite with her beloved horse she had to leave behind. The only problem is the emperor in her way…

H. M. Long

Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Book cover for HALL OF SMOKE: title in white on a blue owl on yellow

The first debut I read in 2021, HALL OF SMOKE is the first in a series of companion novels set in the same world. It felt Norse-inspired without being a Norse book (the mythology is completely different) and it also felt very much like the classic fantasy books I grew up on (something I’m always craving.)

Hessa is a priestess, the last one as her people are butchered. To save her loved ones from endless wandering, she heads out on a quest to ensure they can reach the afterlife.

Freya Marske

Genre: Historical Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Book cover for A MARVELLOUS LIGHT: title in white on blue background with figures in orange and pink flowers behind

By contrast to the above, this historical fantasy was the final 2021 debut I read last year (there was a 2022 debut I read after it, though!) A MARVELLOUS LIGHT is set in the Edwardian Era (one I love because of the luxurious feel of the turn of the century contrasted to the social upheaval that had already started and would be exacerbated by the approaching world war.)

A money-strapped Baron suddenly discovers that there’s a magical society existing alongside his, and he’s now the government’s liaison to that. Worse, he has to work with the intriguing but close-lipped counterpart from the magical side.

Alexandra Overy

Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: YA
Book cover for THESE FEATHERED FLAMES: title in white on red surrounded by stylised border

A pre-Imperial Russian-inspired re-imagining of the firebird mythos, THESE FEATHERED FLAMES follows two twin sisters separated as children, one to be raised as the future queen and one to become the Firebird, the fearsome creature who grants wishes – and exacts the often brutal payment.

When their mother dies, the twins are reunited for the first time in a decade. But someone used the Firebird’s magic to kill their mother and the lords are gathering to take advantage of a new queen.

Tori Bovalino

Genre: Fantasy Dark Academia
Age Range: YA
Book cover for THE DEVIL MAKES THREE: title in white above book on marbled blue and gold

In THE DEVIL MAKES THREE, two students at a prestigious private school who are staying over the summer break accidentally open a hidden secret chamber, they awaken an old evil trapped in a long-forgotten book.

I loved how this book used psychological horror elements to make the characters (and reader) wonder if they could trust their own eyes. It was a really good use of book-related gore, turning something we bookworms all love into a source of terror.

June C. L. Tan

Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: YA
Book cover for JADE FIRE GOLD: title in black and while on a half yellow half orange cover split in two by a knife

If you’ve ever wanted to read a book that feels like it distils an entire K-drama season into one volume, then JADE FIRE GOLD is a book for you. The amount of action, character secrets revealed that link them all into a tangled mess, and romantic drama squeezed into these pages is enough to rival a 10-episode show!

Altan is the heir to the throne in hiding. Ahn is an orphan with no knowledge of her past. In each other they see the chance to change their lives and get what they want, but it will have a cost.

What debuts have you enjoyed this year?


17 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Best Debuts of 2021

    1. Oh, HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend those two (WINTER’S ORBIT and A MARVELLOUS LIGHT are very similar in terms of tropes/vibes, but completely different genres, so if you like one and go “I want more of this tropey goodness”, then I recommend reading the other to tide you over until November when the sequels/companions to both are coming out!)


    1. Oh, THE COUNCILLOR, DOWN COMES THE NIGHT, and THE GILDED ONES were also great this year (didn’t quite make it onto my list!) I have SISTERS OF THE SNAKE to read this year, so fingers crossed!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I hope you get around to it soon – it was just so different to the other things I read last year (helped it stand out!)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s