Right now, we all might feel like we’re stuck in a world we don’t recognize. When you’re navigating this strange new world, you might not want a book that ends in corrupt dystopian systems, intergalactic war, or sinister magics. These fantasy and science fiction titles will still take you on an adventure, but they’ll remind you that even in all this strangeness, there’s still love, hope, and joy to be found. These are comfort reads, emotionally uplifting instead of draining, full of hope instead of despair.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The absorbing high fantasy novel follows Maya, the half-goblin son of the elvish Emperor, who has lived his entire life in exile. When his father and all the other heirs die in an “accident”, Maya becomes Emperor and must navigate an Imperial court filled with deadly intrigue. This novel about finding your place in a new, scary world is hopeful, heartfelt, and focused on characters who choose kindness and empathy even in circumstances when one might turn to cynicism.
The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
The writing in this novella is top-notch, vivid and sparkling with energy. There is so much world-building and character-building happening off-page that I’d love a full-length novel. Creeper, a scrappy young teen, is done living on the streets of New Orleans. Her sights are set on securing passage aboard Captain Ann-Marie's smuggler airship Midnight Robber, earning the captain's trust using a secret about a kidnapped Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls the Black God's Drums...But Creeper keeps another secret close to her heart-- Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, who speaks inside her head and grants her divine powers. And Oya has her own priorities.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
A no-nonsense caseworker from the Department in Charge of Magical Youth finds his investigation into six supernatural orphans, whose powers may be dangerous, complicated by the master of the orphanage, who will do anything to keep the children safe. The publisher calls this “an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.”
Written in Red (The Others #1) by Anne Bishop
This might be the coziest urban fantasy ever. When prophet Meg Corbyn escapes enslavement by hiding in the Lakeside Courtyard, a business district operated by the Others, she expects to find her death. The Others, shapeshifters who rule over humans in this somewhat familiar world of Thasia, are not known for their clemency. Instead, though, she’s given the job of Human Liaison--a go-between between them--where she finds a purpose, a family, and even love. This series asks, what if different, powerful species could find a way not just to co-exist, but to cooperate?
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Life aboard the Wayfarer, a patched-up ship crewed by a motley assortment of humans, aliens and AI, is fairly chaotic. It’s perfect for Rosemary Harper, who wants to get away from her past and find a place to belong. Life gets even crazier when the Wayfarer is employed on a lucrative mission to tunnel a wormhole through space to a distant planet to facilitate a galactic treaty. This is a hopeful and compassionate book, with lovable but complicated characters who become a loyal friend-family. Also, it has major Firefly vibes!
Ocean Light (Psy-Changling Book Two) by Nalini Singh
Security specialist Bowen Knight has come back from the dead. But there's a ticking time bomb in his head: a chip implanted to block telepathic interference that could fail at any moment--taking his brain along with it. With no time to waste, he should be back on land helping the Human Alliance. Instead, he's at the bottom of the ocean, consumed with an enigmatic changeling... Kaia Luna may have traded in science for being a chef, but she won't hide the facts of Bo's condition from him or herself. She's suffered too much loss in her life to fall prey to the dangerous charm of a human who is a dead man walking. And she carries a devastating secret Bo could never imagine…
Given by Nandi Taylor
Fierce warrior Yenni, of the Yirba tribe, sets off for a distant empire. Determined to find a cure for her father, Yenni travels to Cresh, where she comes face to face with culture shock, prejudice, and a brazen shape-shifting dragon, Weysh. As her gods, the Sha, watch and judge, Yenni only has two options: succeed and save her father, or fail and face exile. To complicate her journey, Weysh believes that Yenni is his "Given", his destiny—if only he knew that falling in love isn't part of her plan. “In her fresh take on princess and dragon tropes, Taylor eloquently marries Caribbean folklore, magical boarding-school tales, and whimsical interspecies romance.” - Booklist, starred review.
Witchmark by CL Polk
This novel takes place in a fantasy world reminiscent of WWI England. Miles Singer, a doctor at a veteran’s hospital, has a secret past: he has healing magic, which marks him as one of the nobility that secretly rule this world. When a patient is murdered, exposing Miles’ powers in the meantime, Miles risks his safety to investigate what becomes an earth-shattering supernatural conspiracy. Oh, and he falls in love along the way, with a gorgeous man hiding a similarly devastating secret. Part romance, part murder-mystery, part fantasy, all wonderful. This book won the 2019 World Fantasy Award for best novel.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells (plus the other Murderbot novellas)
There are four novellas that make up the delightful Murderbot oeuvre, plus a full novel called Network Effect that just came out in May, but this is where it all started. In a “corporate-dominated spacefaring future,” Murderbot is a Company-supplied SecUnit contracted to protect humans on distant planets. It’s hacked its governor module after gaining self-awareness, and it just wants to be left alone to watch the soap opera Sanctuary Moon and also figure out what it wants and who it is. However, it can’t help caring about its crew of stupid, fragile humans and the trouble they’ve found on their latest mission.
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
This time travel novel moves between our near-future (after time travel has been made available to academics for historical purposes), World War II, and Victorian England and is perhaps the funniest, most chaotic novel I have ever read. Hapless Ned Henry, an Oxford historian, shuttles between multiple timelines while researching Coventry Cathedral for a patron interested in rebuilding it. When it turns out another historian has caused a time incongruity, he’s sent to 1888 England to help fix it before it destroys the space-time continuum. This charming novel won both the Hugo and the Locus award for best novel in 1999.