Science fiction and fantasy are often full of epic space battles and sprawling quests. But to me, they’re best at their most intimate and personal. Even with mystical abilities or cybernetic enhancements, people are still messy and complex and deeply flawed. Fantastical elements can often even intensify those aspects of human nature. Our relationships, our failures, and of course, our crimes.
I love a great whodunnit, and one with sorcery or sentient spaceships is even better. In my debut novel, The Longest Autumn, priestess Tirne must solve just such a mystery. As one of four seasonal Heralds, it is her job to escort the deity Autumn between the human and godly realms each year for his season. But this time, the magic mirror separating their worlds shatters after they pass through. Tirne is accused of sabotage, and her title of Herald is stripped from her. The world is trapped in endless autumn. While sorcerers and priests work to repair the mirror, crops fail and plague sweeps through the populace. Time runs out as Tirne dives into her temple’s intrigues to find the true culprit, clear her name, and regain her prestigious position as Herald.
In a similar vein, I’ve included some of my favorite fantasy and science fiction mysteries below.
The Death I Gave Him by Em X. Liu
This unique spin on Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a closed-circle, futuristic murder mystery set at Elsinore Labs. Hayden Lichfield works with his father on the Sisyphus Formula, a possible way to cheat death. When the elder Lichfield is murdered, the lab goes into lockdown. Hayden investigates the murder, which leads into a twisty tale of revenge, depression, and existentialism. The story also features a heartbreaking but charming take on sentient artificial intelligence. Told through fictional memoir excerpts, phone transcripts, and descriptions of security footage, it’s the perfect blend of the literary and science fiction genres.
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
Magical schools are a common setting in fantasy, but Gailey makes the concept fresh in this contemporary whodunnit. Ivy Gamble is a hard-drinking loner of a private investigator, hired to solve a grisly murder at a magical high school. Her estranged sister is a teacher there, and the story perfectly balances Ivy’s personal stakes and fractured relationships alongside the murder case. This fast-paced read is witty and breezy, with just the right amount of grittiness sprinkled in.
Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
In a world where cloning allows anyone to extend their lifespan indefinitely, the six-person crew of a spaceship all wake up as fresh clones in their ship’s lab. They emerge into their own murder scene. Their previous bodies are obviously decades older, but all memories of their time on the ship are missing. Together, they must discover what happened over the past years and solve the mystery. Complicating matters, every one of them has past crimes they’d prefer to keep hidden. It’s a compulsive read of a whodunnit with a truly compelling premise.
Voyage of the Damned by Frances White
This fantasy novel releasing January 2024 features twelve magical heirs of a kingdom–one from each province–embarking on a luxury ship for a pilgrimage to their sacred mountain. On the first night, one of their number is murdered. As the unwelcome, low-class pariah of the group, suspicion falls on Ganymedes Piscero. He searches for the true killer while guarding a secret of his own. He’s the only one on the ship without magic. It’s a page-turner of a book that’s equal parts humor, heart, and mystery.
Even Though I Knew The End, by C.L. Polk
A historical fantasy novella ripped straight from film noir, this story features Helen Brandt, a woman who made a deal with a demon ten years ago. The collection date for her soul is only days away when she receives an offer she can’t refuse. A new demon offers to return her soul if she uses her mystical abilities to track down the White City Vampire, a serial killer who’s been stalking the streets. Given the chance to spend the rest of her life with the woman she loves, Helen takes the offer. Her quest to find the murderer is full of twists and turns, with narration that would be right at home in a black-and-white detective movie.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Set in present day, Ninth House follows Alex Stern, a young woman with the rare and extraordinary ability to see ghosts. This gift earns her an invitation to attend Yale University, where she uses this talent to monitor the university’s mystical secret societies. The upper-class students use various forms of magic to charm their way into politics, manipulate the stock market, and climb the social ladder even higher. But when a girl is murdered and the underground societies are possible culprits, Alex must find the killer. An unsettling portrayal of the murkier sides of human nature, this tale is dark and troubling and beautiful.
The Deep Sky by Yume Kitasei
A clever and thoughtful whodunnit set on a spaceship traveling to colonize a new world, this book alternates between two timelines. In the past, the protagonist Asuka struggles with questions of identity, belonging, and family on a dying Earth, all while competing with other hopefuls for a place on the mission. In the present, an explosion during the journey kills three people and knocks the ship off-course. Asuka is the lone survivor of the explosion and accused of the crime. The remaining crew must band together to right the ship while Asuka hunts for the true saboteur. Poignant, lyrical, and tense, this is a stunning debut novel.
Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell
Equal parts whodunnit, science fiction, and romance, this read is like a sugary dessert. Set in a fictional high-tech solar system, a prince dies suddenly. His cousin Kiem is tasked with marrying the prince’s widower Jainan to secure political alliances. When it’s revealed that the prince was murdered, Jainan is the prime suspect. He and Kiem search for the truth behind the crime while they grow ever closer to one another. A deliciously slow-burn love story wrapped in a crime investigation, this book is comforting and sweet despite the murder at its heart.
Murder at Spindle Manor by Morgan Stang
This delightful gaslamp fantasy novel is perfectly balanced between darker elements and humor. Isabeau Agarwal is a monster hunter seeking her latest quarry at a quaint roadside inn. The beast can hide in human form, and she must determine which of the residents is actually the inhuman creature. But the investigation is made even more complicated when one of the guests is killed. Isabeau now must find both the shapeshifting monster and the murderer over the course of a single night. Jam-packed with twists and turns, this novel blends supernatural horror, magic, and a complex mystery that unravels perfectly.