Sci-Fi Fantasy 101: “Divergent” Author Veronica Roth Shares Where to Start With SFF (Exclusive)

To celebrate her newest, 'When Among Crows,' Roth guides readers into the wide world of SFF through genres like romance, mystery and literary fiction

<p>Flatiron Books; Doubleday; Tor Books; Del Rey; Small Beer Press; Tordotcom; Amistad</p> Science Fiction and Fantasy recommendations

Flatiron Books; Doubleday; Tor Books; Del Rey; Small Beer Press; Tordotcom; Amistad

Science Fiction and Fantasy recommendations

I’ve been writing science fiction and fantasy since I was 11 years old, and my published works have explored the breadth of those two genres, from the adventures of a teen girl surviving in a dystopia in Divergent, to a mildly satirical take on a chosen one after she defeats the Dark Lord, in Chosen Ones, to an all-in-one-night quest to find legendary witch Baba Jaga in a Chicago underworld populated by creatures from Slavic folklore, with my most recent story, When Among Crows (out now!). So let me tell you from experience: there’s a wide range of stories out there to choose from if you’re interested in dipping a toe in the science fiction and fantasy pond.

I love the genre because it transports you to new worlds, engaging your imagination and offering a break from the challenges of life — but it also invites you to examine your own world by exaggerating the familiar in the midst of the unfamiliar. You may not have a brain implant that tracks your behavior … but you do have a smartphone. You may not have lost a loved one to a tragic dragon attack … but you do understand loss. And by wrapping up the familiar challenges of our lives in a colorful, strange and wondrous package, you can process the hard things in a new way.

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It can be a little intimidating for people who don’t know where to start, which is where I come in. These recommendations use a few genres you already know you like as a springboard into new, exciting worlds. There’s something for everyone in science fiction and fantasy.

If You Like Romance

Full disclosure: the following books are not romances, but they are great for a reader who loves to watch the tension between people build and to guess who will pair off with who. These fantasy stories will wrap you up tight.

Related: Romantasy 101: Here's Where to Start Reading the Hottest Genre of 2024 (Exclusive)

'Sword Catcher' by Cassandra Clare

<p>Del Rey</p> Sword Catcher

Del Rey

Sword Catcher

Cassandra Clare is best known for her Shadowhunters books, but Sword Catcher is her first novel for adults. It's set in a lush, fascinating world that’s easy to get lost in … and populated by characters that I desperately wanted to pair off.

'The Atlas Six' by Olivie Blake

<p>Tor Books</p> The Atlas Six

Tor Books

The Atlas Six

There are six main characters in this series about a group of people selected for a very exclusive, secretive magical society. All of them are toxic (but like, in a fun way). All of them are interesting. All of them have chemistry.

'This Is How You Lose the Time War' by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

<p>S&S/Saga Press</p> This Is How You Lose the Time War

S&S/Saga Press

This Is How You Lose the Time War

If you’re more of a classic romantic, this novella will speak to you. It's told through the exchange of letters between two people on opposite sides of a futuristic war who are tasked with killing each other (and then fall for each other).

If You Like Mysteries

If police procedurals make your heart palpitate and murder mysteries mesmerize you, these fantastical reads are for you.

'The Spare Man' by Mary Robinette Kowal

<p>Tor Books</p> The Spare Man

Tor Books

The Spare Man

The Spare Man is a warm, engaging murder mystery on board a luxury cruise ship headed for Mars, populated by a cast of lovable characters you’ll want to spend more time with.

'The Thief' by Megan Whalen Turner

<p>Greenwillow Books</p> The Thief

Greenwillow Books

The Thief

The Thief sets you down in a fantasy landscape that feels almost historical, with a tricky-yet-winsome main character you know nothing about. The mystery isn’t just in what he’s seeking, but in who he really is — you’ll want to read it in one sitting.

'The Tainted Cup' by Robert Jackson Bennett

<p>Del Rey</p> The Tainted Cup

Del Rey

The Tainted Cup

A classic Sherlockian murder investigation story — down to the eccentric investigator and her straight-laced assistant — wrapped in a fascinating fantasy world of strange fungi and plants.

If You Like Action

These gripping, intense stories will grab you right away and refuse to let you go until the last page. If you love a high-speed chase and the thrill of danger, you should dig into these.

'All Systems Red' by Martha Wells

<p>Tordotcom</p> All Systems Red


All Systems Red

A somewhat morose — yet deeply lovable — murderous robot who just wants to watch soap operas gets swept up in some dangerous corporate intrigue … in space. This entire series is a blast. Just read it. You’ll thank me later, when you see this show pop up on Apple TV (where it’s currently being adapted) and you’re already in the know.

'The Stardust Grail' by Yume Kitasei

<p>Flatiron Books</p> The Stardust Grail

Flatiron Books

The Stardust Grail

Do you like Indiana Jones? Do you enjoy impossible, action-packed quests for mythical, powerful objects? Well, The Stardust Grail will give you both of those things — as well as a thoughtful exploration of interspecies friendships set against a futuristic, multi-planetary backdrop.

'The Space Between Worlds' by Micaiah Johnson

<p>Del Rey</p> The Space Between Worlds

Del Rey

The Space Between Worlds

This fast-paced, gritty story is about a woman who keeps dying under mysterious circumstances — in the multiverse. And that’s just the quick pitch. There’s a dash of Mad Max-esque desert vibes, a dollop of corporate greed and plenty of action to make your heart race.

If You Like Literary Fiction

These complex, beautiful books will satisfy your need for refined, beautiful prose while transporting you to another place entirely.

'Blue Ticket' by Sophie Mackintosh

<p>Doubleday</p> Blue Ticket


Blue Ticket

In a grounded dystopia where child-bearing is strictly regulated, a woman defies the system by getting pregnant. A nuanced, complex study of motherhood and bodily autonomy, told with clear, crisp prose.

'In the Quick' by Kate Hope Day

<p>Random House</p> In the Quick

Random House

In the Quick

In the Quick is a blink-and-you-might-miss-it Jane Eyre retelling with a grounded, near-future outer space setting. Both atmospheric and haunting.

'The Women Could Fly' by Megan Giddings

<p>Amistad</p> The Women Could Fly


The Women Could Fly

This genre-bending story takes place in a world where witchcraft is real, and women are required to marry by age 30 ... or else be monitored for the rest of their lives. The prose is gorgeous, and Giddings has a gift for making the fantastical elements feel real, pressing and grounded.

If You Like Short Fiction

And finally, if the last few years have robbed you of your ability to focus on anything for more than an hour at a time, I have good news: Science fiction and fantasy is one of the best places to go for amazing shorter works that you can read in one sitting.

'Spirits Abroad' by Zen Cho

<p>Small Beer Press</p> Spirits Abroad

Small Beer Press

Spirits Abroad

A short story collection that incorporates Malaysian mythology, startling humor and complicated family relationships with as much sly wisdom as you could ask for.

'Children of the New World' by Alexander Weinstein

<p>Picador Paper</p> Children of the New World

Picador Paper

Children of the New World

These short stories are sensitive, intriguing explorations of futuristic technologies that never lose their human touch.

'Empress of Salt and Fortune' by Nghi Vo

<p>Tordotcom</p> Empress of Salt and Fortune


Empress of Salt and Fortune

This novella is the beginning of a series, and each installment feels like folklore. This one is about a cleric named Chih and an old woman, Rabbit, who tells them stories about an empress. Fascinating, tightly-written and gorgeous.

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