Observer’s Roundup of the Best New Books of 2023

This year's must-read new books spanned genres and included several notable author debuts.

On the cusp of the new year, many of us feel the urge to look backward and to take the measure of the twelve previous months. Lists of the best books of the year abound because in addition to cataloging the year’s ups and downs, it’s also a great time to remember all the new books we’ve read and loved.

Observer’s picks for the must-read books of the year. Courtesy the publishers

Many of our favorite things aren’t things at all but rather the stories we encounter in the pages of these books. They stick with us, whether we’re fans of heartwarming love stories like Heartstopper, escapist fantasy fiction, bone-chilling horror novels or deep literary titles. This year, our favorite new books included everything from Young Adult fantasy to intense thrillers to the scariest new Horror and sweeping Romance novels—particularly those that portrayed a diversity of perspectives.

Ultimately, your list of the best books of 2023 and the list of the best books of 2023 below may look very different, and that’s fine. We invite you to consider ours in the spirit in which it’s offered: a roundup of reading recommendations you can take with you into the new year. And if you’d like to share your must-read books with us, via email or on social media, all the better.

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

‘Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries’ by Heather Fawcett. Courtesy the publisher

Heather Fawcett’s 2023 Fantasy novel is a hard book to shake off. An adventurous romantic fantasy, it crosses genres and will appeal to both romance readers and fantasy readers with its folklore and snowy landscapes. It follows introverted folklorist, Emily Wilde, as she traverses an ice-cold Nordic village on a research trip. Emily’s colleague, Wendell Bambleby, follows her and helps solve a mystery in the icy north. The eerie faeries and slow-burn romance give the story flavor, but it’s the depth of the characters and Fawcett’s flawless writing that really make it memorable.

Starling House by Alix E. Harrow

‘Starling House’ by Alix E. Harrow. Courtesy the publisher

Gothics have been trending for a while now, but in 2023, Southern Gothics started making their way onto our shelves. Alix E. Harrow’s Starling House references several genres of Gothics, providing us with a deceptively smart tale while also being very meta. Emotionally poignant, it’s a book that carves deep truths. At the heart of the story is Opal, a Southern girl trying to make ends meet, and Arthur, a modern knight guarding a gothic house full of nightmares. Pulled in by the secrets of the house and the nightmare creatures beneath, Opal can’t avoid the monsters that lie waiting within.

Song of Silver, Flame Like Night by Amélie Wen Zhao

‘Song of Silver, Flame Like Night’ by Amélie Wen Zhao. Courtesy the publisher

This must-read YA fantasy is laced with epic yet brutal relationships and propulsive action. Taking a note from C-dramas like The Untamed, the author shares a story that’s as impossible to put down as your favorite binge-able drama. Set in a fallen kingdom inspired by Chinese history, in a land of colonized people, it tells a tale in which practitioners of magic must stay hidden from militaristic leaders. Protagonist Lan, who has many secrets, is saved by a stoic magician and escorted to a secret order. Her story is beautifully told and completely unforgettable, making it one of the best new books of 2023.

Monstrilio by Gerardo Sámano Córdova

‘Monstrilio’ by Gerardo Sámano Córdova. Courtesy the publisher

Gerardo Sámano Córdova’s debut novel had a quiet but memorable release. It’s an unsettling tale that mixes literary fiction with horror in the vein of Guillermo del Toro. It’s a creature book that meditates smartly on grief in its most raw expressions. The novel follows a family living in Mexico City as they mourn the death of their son. When his lung is removed from his body and placed in a memory jar, it eventually develops into the monster, Monstrilio. Frightening, yes, but this is a complex novel about human loss, queerness and the lengths we go to keep the people we love with us.

To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose

‘To Shape a Dragon’s Breath’ by Moniquill Blackgoose. Courtesy the publisher

Moniquill Blackgoose’s debut fantasy fiction is arguably the best dragon book to come out in 2023. Her book subverts expectations and leaves readers wanting to know more about the characters and their visceral, brutal world. It follows a young Indigenous woman enrolled in the dragon-riding school of her people’s colonizers. Blackgoose develops her characters’ complex relationships slowly, in a way that feels authentic—nothing is fixed with the flip of a switch. And as you might expect, the dragons are a lot of fun.

The Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas

‘The Vampires of El Norte’ by Isabel Cañas. Courtesy the publisher

Many talented horror authors established themselves as stars this year, but Isabel Cañas is truly up there with the all-time best. The Vampires of El Norte follows Nena, daughter of a rancher in 1840s Mexico. When a disease leaves people drained of blood and her family’s land and way of life are threatened on the cusp of the United States’ invasion of Mexico, Nena and her old friend, Néstor, must join their people in the fight to survive. The book touches on the horrors of colonization, courage in the face of tragedy and romance between old friends in a compelling period setting. Canas’ prose is brilliant and hard to forget.

The Spirit Bares Its Teeth by Andrew Joseph White

‘The Spirit Bares Its Teeth’ by Andrew Joseph White. Courtesy the publisher

Andrew Joseph White is an author to follow. Set in the Victorian era, his The Spirit Bares Its Teeth is about Silas, an autistic trans boy who can communicate with spirits but lives in a society that does not accept that he’s a boy interested in becoming a surgeon. After escaping an arranged marriage, Silas is placed in a girl’s finishing school where students obey their strict orders or mysteriously disappear. White brilliantly spins a novel that deftly explores gender roles and queerness in a strict, laced-up society.

Rouge by Mona Awad

‘Rouge’ by Mona Awad. Courtesy the publisher

Highlighting the horrors of beauty, Mona Awad’s Rouge is a horror novel that will take up permanent residence in your mind. From the author of Bunny, the book takes on Snow White through the lens of parental abuse and the beauty industry. After her mother’s passing, Belle finds herself with a pair of red shoes and a way into a luxurious spa that seems to be at the root of her mother’s dark secrets. It’s a strange story but one that digs deep into society’s insecurities about beauty and the power we give to capitalism.

A Guest in the House by Emily Carroll

‘A Guest in the House’ by Emily Carroll. Courtesy the publisher

In this horror comic, Emily Carroll takes a note out of Rebecca, a gothic novel about a young woman who marries an older man with a suspicious past. With jaw-dropping visuals that absolutely stun, A Guest in the House spins the tale of a woman, Abby, married to a much older man with a hidden tragedy in his past: the life of his previous wife. Carroll intersperses black and white tones against neon splashes of color to depict Sheila’s fantasy world. This is one of those graphic novels that not only stays on your shelf but also gets picked up again and again.

The Fiancé Farce by Alexandria Bellefleur

‘The Fiancé Farce’ by Alexandria Bellefleur. Courtesy the publisher

The Fiancé Farce might have one of the best ideas for a queer romance novel of any book in its genre: a bookseller and cover model who marry each other in an arrangement to get what they want. Tansy, the bookseller, is looking for a way to save her family’s bookstore. Gemma, the gorgeous cover model, needs a wife to inherit her grandfather’s newspaper company. Lambda Literary Award-winning author Alexandra Bellefleur is one of the best romance authors out there for a reason. She writes romances that have the same energy as your favorite Taylor Swift song, Greta Gerwig film or sweet summer spritz.

The Secret Service of Tea and Treason by India Holton

‘The Secret Service of Tea and Treason’ by India Holton. Courtesy the publisher

This has to be one of the most Pratchettian adventures you’ll find in a romance novel—or any book published this year. The Secret Service of Tea and Treason is a wacky spy romance. Alice, or Agent A, is a top operative in a secret government intelligence agency assigned to prevent an assassination plot with her rival spy, Daniel Bixby (Agent B). The dialogue and humor are so fun that there wasn’t a single page of this book that I didn’t enjoy.

I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast Is Me by Jamison Shea

‘I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast Is Me’ by Jamison Shea. Courtesy the publisher

Jamison Shea’s 2023 debut Young Adult horror novel met all my expectations and then went above and beyond. It’s a wonderfully spun tale that puts monster horror against a background of racist institutions. Laure Mesny, a talented Black girl in the cutthroat world of Parisian ballet, is continuously overlooked for top positions. She goes to such extreme lengths to reach her ambitions that she makes a deal with a river of blood. Laure’s monstrous instincts pull her down into a grim underworld in a book that’s both perfectly disturbing and spectacularly cathartic.

Lore Olympus Vol. 4 by Rachel Smythe

‘Lore Olympus Volume Four’ by Rachel Smythe. Courtesy the publisher

One thing about being a long-time reader of the Webtoon comic, Lore Olympus, is that it inspires you to appreciate art in a graphic novel format. Rachel Smythe’s drawings are always as beautiful as her storytelling. In Volume 4, Smythe continues her contemporary interpretation of the myth of Hades and Persephone. While it is a romantic story, it’s also one that shines a light on abuse in relationships and the difficulties we face in taking steps to care for our own mental health. There’s just something bone-deep and real about Rachel Smythe’s storytelling.

A Study in Drowning by Ava Reid

‘A Study in Drowning’ by Ava Reid. Courtesy the publisher

A Study in Drowning melds Dark Academia and fairy tales. Protagonist Effy Sayre has always been entranced by stories about the Fairy King, which tell an epic tale about the girl who fell in love and destroyed him. In an opportunity that brings her closer to the gothic manor belonging to her favorite author’s estate, Effy participates in a contest that leads her to have to solve a mystery with her rival, Preston Héloury. Ava Reid writes such beautiful atmospheric novels, and the crumbling mansion by the seaside, literary academics, slow-burn romance and gothic imagery in this book are something to be savored.

All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby

‘All the Sinners Bleed’ by S.A. Cosby. Courtesy the publisher

S.A. Cosby’s All the Sinners Bleed is a gritty thriller that is legitimately hard to put down. It follows Titus, a Black sheriff in a small town where a serial killer is abusing children. After a school shooting, he has to unravel a mystery and combat the politics in a town marked by a horrible past. Cosby spins a complex story that is darkly intimate with truly raw moments that cut to the heart.

Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

‘Silver Nitrate’ by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Courtesy the publisher

In Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s latest horror novel, she summons a story inspired by Mexican cinematic history. Set in the 1990s, it follows Montserrat Curiel, a punk girl working as a sound editor at a film studio, and her best friend, Tristán, a handsome soap star consumed by his past. In between references every horror film fan will appreciate, Moreno-Garcia blends occultism with romance with rich characters and a pitch-perfect emotionally fraught atmosphere.

The Jasad Heir by Sara Hashem

‘The Jasad Heir’ by Sara Hashem. Courtesy the publisher

In The Jasad Heir, mythology and slow-burn romance spin together in a deadly serious fantasy novel. Sara Hashem’s Egyptian-inspired debut follows the hidden heir of a destroyed kingdom as she’s pulled into the world of the Nizahl in a game of thrilling politics, rebellion and corruption. This story is fast-paced, unexpectedly full of horrific creatures and absolutely epic in all the right ways.

Do Your Worst by Rosie Danan

“Do Your Worst” by Rosie Danan. Courtesy the publisher

An occult expert and an archeologist fall in love in this wonderful supernatural romance. Riley Rhodes follows in her family’s footsteps by forming her own supernatural investigation business. Together with rival Clark Edgeware, who is intent on a chance for redemption, they work together to get to the bottom of the curse on a spooky Scottish castle. Set in the Scottish Highlands, Danan’s sumptuous book unspools a perfectly haunted rivals-to-lovers romance.

The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi

‘The Last Tale of the Flower Bride’ by Roshani Chokshi. Courtesy the publisher

At its core, Roshani Chokshi’s adult debut, The Last Tale of the Flower Bride, is told like a memory spun as a modern fairy tale. A man, referred to as the Bridegroom, falls fast and deeply for his mysterious wife, Indigo. But when they return to her childhood home, her past starts to unravel. Chokshi’s prose is effervescent and her literary timing is impeccable.

Mortal Follies by Alexis Hall

‘Mortal Follies’ by Alexis Hall. Courtesy the publisher

From the author of A Lady for a Duke, regency romance takes on a Shakespearean spin. Set in 1814, Robin Goodfellow tells us a story of villainy, raging gods, nefarious fairies and courtly romance featuring Lady Georgiana, “the Duke” and the cursed damsel, Maelys Mitchelmore. If you can expect anything from Alexis Hall, it’s a great read that will make the gods quake in their boots. With elegant writing and comical situations, this 2023 book was a fun adventure to fall into.

 

Observer’s Roundup of the Best New Books of 2023