Friday by Robert Heinlein
In which an creche-born would-be assassin discovers the joy of polygamy. There isn’t much in the way of plot here, and the misogyny is horribly dated, but there is still plenty of charm in this comic and irreverent romp. Friday is a fun character with brains and beauty in equal bounty who searches for a place to belong–and has a lot of adventure on the way.
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
An enchanting and powerful book set in an alternate reality 9th-century China with the usually deft world-building from Kay. The story weaves together many disparate threads and characters around Shen Tai, the son of recently killed general. To honor his father, Tai attempts to bury all the dead soldiers from his father’s army. An epic tale of honor with equal parts historical fiction and fantasy.
The Runelords: The Sum of All Men by David Farland
On his way to ask the beautiful Princess Iome for her hand in marriage, Prince Gaborn uncovers an assassination plot and subsequent war with the powerful Raj Ahten whose thousands of endowments make him a virtually invincible opponent. A dark, gritty fantasy that has shades of Robert Jordan and one of the most unique magic systems in the genre. However, it is the mysterious elementals and their clandestine power grabs that makes this book a must for this list.
Out of the Black Land by Kerry Greenwood
The sister of the beautiful Nefertiti and a lowly scribe, Ptah-hotep, find themselves revealing secrets and dangerous conspiracies in the court of Amenhotep IV, the father of King Tut. An alternate history fiction novel with hints of magic that contains a mystery and enough political intrigue to make fans of A Game of Thrones salivate. Wonderful characterization with alternating chapters from narrators that bring ancient times to life.
The Moon and the Sun by Vonda McIntyre
In an alternate history 17th century France during the reign of Louis XIV, the spunky Marie-Josèphe de la Croix develops a strange connection to a sea creature that kicks off a debate between the pope and the king about the humanity of the monster and its immortal soul. A lush, evocative and enthralling story that features a great protagonist in Marie-Josèphe and her sweet romance with a royal dwarf. A perfect, award-winning novel that should appeal to everyone, even those who don’t normally read genre fiction.