What is it about debut novels that make readers love them? Maybe it’s the hope for a fresh voice, the possibility of discovering the next great author, or even for the fun of teasing out those little tricks and tropes that debut novelists often employ. Debuts make us hopeful, and many even offer some satisfaction. A good novel explores the wheel ruts of our pains and joys and confusions in some new way, and 2018, though it’s not over yet, is overflowing with wonderful debuts to explore.
S.A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass is technically a (late) 2017 title, but as a 2018 World Fantasy Award finalist, I’m including it on this list! When healer Nahri awakens a hostile ifrit during an exorcism, she also unwittingly summons Dara, a daeva (djinn) who, recognizing her djinn heritage, transports her from the streets of Ottoman Cairo to the fabled city of Daevabad, where her presence exacerbates tensions between full-blooded daeva and half-human shafits. This compelling debut, which draws on Middle Eastern history and folklore, plunges readers into a vividly drawn world of conflicted family loyalties and political intrigue.
The Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence Longlist also features several fiction debuts, including Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon, Nafkote Tamirat’s The Parking Lot Attendant, and perhaps the most buzz-worthy, There There by Tommy Orange. His novel jumps through time and among the voices of 12 narrators, but its sense of place is constant and intentional. From the first chapter, you’re dropped into Oakland, California, biking from the Coliseum BART station to the Eastmont Mall and eventually ending up at the Oakland Coliseum for an emotional, chaotic powwow. Readers discover the vastly underrepresented urban Native American experience through Orange’s eyes, with a little environmental activism on this side. There There is also on the National Book Award Longlist!
Rebecca Roanhorse, another debut novelist with Native American roots, won the 2018 Hugo John W. Campbell Award for best debut scifi/fantasy with her title Trail of Lightning. Most of the world has perished, and Dinétah (the Navajo Nation) has risen. A wall has been built to keep the Diné safe from what remains, but little can keep them safe from the monsters that have woken up inside those borders and the witches who work to destroy what life is left. The first book in a trilogy, Roanhorse, the first Indigenous American to win a Nebula, has given us a sharp, wonderfully dreamy, action-driven novel.
Many other debuts are tucked in our shelves and lots are available in multiple formats - take a look at the titles on this list and make a debut discovery of your own!