Debut novels can be tricky. There’s a lot of pressure, because half the time we reviewers go into these books thinking, “It’s a debut. It’s not going to be that amazing, because it’s a debut.” This stereotype pops up because the frequency of the truth of it – sloppy writing and subplots that go nowhere are common offenders.
But that’s not always the case. Many debuts are passable, containing only forgivable annoyances. Every once in a while, I stumble across one with a je ne sais quoi that hooks me. This could happen for any number of reasons, and these “awesome debuts” may differ from person to person. Today, I’m sharing seven different debut books that I really enjoyed.
by Amanda Foody
Although Daughter of the Burning City is much different than her books that came after it, I still maintain that it’s my favorite of Foody’s books. The setting is so vibrant and menacing. This novel takes place within a traveling carnival called Gommorah, where there are all sorts of incredible performances. It has the feel of The Night Circus while still being entirely different. The slow roll of the plot is sad and a little morbid and very intriguing. Overall, I simply loved it.
by Erin Morgenstern
Speaking of The Night Circus, no list of incredible debuts would be complete without including this book. In her debut, Morgenstern paints a world so magical and tangible that readers of many ages fell in love with it. The slow burning love story between Celia and Marco is sweet, although slow, and we get to see most characters the book grow up. Morgenstern’s writing is beautiful and engages the reader. It’s been years since I read it and I still think about the book often – always a good sign. While her sophomore novel The Starless Sea is also incredible, it is The Night Circus that took the reading world by storm and still a decade later readers are raving about it.
by Erin A. Craig
Erin A. Craig comes on to the scene as more of a quiet writer. I mean quiet in that… neither of her two novels to date have quite gotten the hype that the previous two on this list received. Still, Craig is a masterful storyteller. Her romances are complicated and her worlds are entirely immersive. While I admit to liking her sophomore novel, Small Favors, a little better… her debut House of Salt and Sorrows was bewitching. This novel is a retelling of the fairytale “Twelve Dancing Princesses” and unlike many retellings, it doesn’t water down the mood of the original fairytale to make it more palatable. This story is dark and alluring and well worth a read.
by Miranda Asebedo
If you haven’t heard of The Deepest Roots or Miranda Asebedo, you would likely be in the majority in this community… which is a shame! I stumbled upon The Deepest Roots in 2018 when I was working on my debut authors challenge and absolutely fell in love with her writing. If you enjoy Emily Lloyd-Jones, you’re certainly going to enjoy Miarnda Asebedo. Her debut novel reads like a something warm and familiar, but with just a dash of magic and trickery woven into the pages. The setting is a bit different than I read in most books, and while that intrigued me, it was the magical realism elements that hooked me in. The treasure hunt is intriguing and the friendships are wonderful. If you missed this one back in 2018, I seriously recommend reading it now.
by Emily X. R. Pan
Emily X. R. Pan is a self-confessed perfectionist in her work, so it should come as no surprise that her debut novel The Astonishing Color of After is a notable work. Threaded with bits of mythology and magic, The Astonishing Color of After is not a ghost story or a contemporary novel. It’s a little of both those things, tied together with a ribbon of grief, despair, hope, and acceptance. While many of the debts on this list excel at world building, the greatest attribute of The Astonishing Color of After is its ability to connect with the reader’s emotions and seize tight to their heart. The world building is fantastic, the characters well-developed, and the plot intriguing… but it’s really the emotional connection that makes The Astonishing Color of After special.
by Tracy Deonn
I think my favorite part of Legendborn was that I didn’t guess the twist. For a seasoned reader, it’s often difficult to find a book with a plot so strong and a writer so clever as to trick the reader into a false sense security – whether that’s about the character’s safety or their own theories about the ending. In Legendborn, Tray Deonn completely blindsided me and that is the best feeling in a book. Her writing was very reminiscent of the types of books I grew up loving, and getting back into that rhythm was comfortable… and something special. Between the harsh truths in her retelling to her skillful ability to lure the reader into a false sense of security, Legendborn is such a strong, exciting book. The fact that it’s her debut just makes it all that much more impressive.
by Asha Bromfield
You know… I had this post all wrapped up and ready to go, but I have to come back and add Hurricane Summer to this list. Wow, what a powerful debut. There is something strongly personal and deeply devastating about the story, and yet Bromfield manages to to make the book flush with power. Hurricane Summer is one of those book that physically hurt to read because of all the pain the protagonist endures, but there are scenes that stand out so vibrantly, they’ve left me thinking about the book long after finishing it. This sort of power over the reader is an impressive feat in any writer, but in a debut it’s remarkable. If you haven’t heard of or already read Hurricane Summer, I recommend it so highly. Be prepared to get angry and be hurt, but every tear and every throb of aching pain in your chest will be well worth it.
What debut novels are on your favorites list? Do you believe that debuts are usually the author’s weakest work, or do you prefer to approach each book as its own thing? Let me know in the comments!