I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I love reading sci-fi and fantasy — they’re my all-time favorite genres. They’re also my most read genres, which I’ve recently confirmed through The Storygraph’s handy dandy stats (aren’t they amazing?). What I want to say is that I read a lot of SFF. But, perhaps surprisingly, I didn’t read SFF standalone books until a few years ago. I just thought, very naively, that they weren’t as good as book series because they didn’t have as much time to develop their characters. But boy was I wrong — and I’m so glad for it.
I can’t quite tell when I began reading SFF standalone books. But I began to love them so much I now read more standalones than series. There’s something truly magical and satisfying about reading a shorter story that is resolved within a single volume. Besides, we all get series fatigue from time to time right?
There are a ton of great SFF standalones out there — so this list is by no means exhaustive or definitive. Narrowing it down was hard, and there are so many amazing SFF standalone books out there that aren’t in here — including novellas. Plus, the genre is pretty big — so there is some overlap with other genres as well. But hopefully you will all find something new to read in this list.
So without further ado, let’s get to it!
10 of the Best SFF Standalone Books
Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
This book is an urban contemporary fantasy inspired by Malaysian mythology — and it’s absolutely brilliant! Zen Cho is a genius, and her unique plots and amazing characters leap off the page. Which is especially true with Black Water Sister. The book follows Jessamyn Teoh, a closeted and broke woman who moves back to Malaysia with her parents. There, she starts hearing voices. What she chalks up to stress is actually the ghost of her grandmother, Ah Ma. In life, Ah Ma was a spirit medium for the mysterious deity called Black Water Sister. So when a gang boss offends the deity, Ah Ma seeks revenge — and enlists Jessamyn’s help.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
I just love when fantasy books revolve around witches — and this is one of the best SFF standalones that do so! The Once and Future Witches is magical, imaginative, and incredibly well-written. The world building is brilliant too — and it’s technically a historical fantasy as it’s set in Massachusetts in 1893. The story follows the Eastwood sisters, who join the suffragist movement of New Salem. They’re constantly pursued by shadows and sickness, as well as forces who would do anything to prevent women from gaining the right to vote. There’s no such thing as witches in New Salem. But as the Eastwood sisters pursue the forgotten ways — there might be.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This fantasy standalone also has a historical setting. But it’s also a very different and unique story with its setting in 1920s Mexico. In general, Silvia Moreno-García writes great SFF standalones (and only standalones). We have a reading pathways if you want to check out her other amazing books. But I chose this one because it’s a perfect example of her work. Gods of Jade and Shadow follows a girl named Casiopea, who is constantly scorned by her family. One day, she opens the mysterious box that sits in her grandfather’s room — which unleashes a Mayan god of death. Which is how Casiopea’s new adventure begins.
Unraveling by Karen Lord
You know that perfect mix of fantasy and mystery/thriller? Yep, that’s Unraveling for you. There’s a maze, a serial killer, old gods — all steeped in Caribbean folklore. The book follows a therapist named Dr. Miranda who just helped put a serial killer behind bars. It seems like her life will go back to normal, until she has a near-death experience and wakes up in a realm out of time. There, she bumps into two siblings named Chance and Trickster. They show her that maybe she didn’t capture the killer after all. So together they set out to find this evasive killer in a magical and thrilling adventure.
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is a more low-key kind of fantasy — as its fantastical component is magical realism. If you loved Disney’s animated film Encanto, you’ll undoubtedly love this book! Even Zoraida herself has pitched it as a more adult version of the movie. The story follows the Montoya family — starting with Orquídea. She’s the matriarch, and one day she invites the entire family to her funeral. Instead of revealing their magical secrets, Orquídea is transformed. Seven years later, the Montoya cousins Marimar, Rey, and Rhiannon realize that someone is tearing through their family. So to save everyone, they embark on a mission to Ecuador to learn the truth about their inheritance.
The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
You know what’s super interesting and makes for a great story? The existence of a multiverse and the ability to travel within it! That’s only one of the things that make this book so unique — as it also takes time to examine identity, privilege, and belonging. The Space Between Worlds is set in a world where multiverse travel is possible as long as your counterpart in that world is dead. Enter Cara, who for some reason has only eight doppelgängers amid 372 worlds. So she’s recruited to work for Eldridge Institute, collecting off-world data. This gives Cara a chance for a peaceful life. One that will be retailed when one of her eight remaining selves dies under mysterious circumstances — forcing Cara to reveal secrets that should’ve stayed buried.
The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
Let’s move to another SFF standalone that is also a thriller — except this one is a sci-fi rather than a fantasy. It has some serious Westworld vibes, complete with human replicas. The Echo Wife follows a scientist named Evelyn who is at the forefront of cloning technology. She actually cloned herself, and Martine is everything Evelyn swore she’d never be. She’s also having an affair with Evelyn’s husband. Evelyn is very upset at this turn of events. But when her husband winds up dead, she teams up with Martine to clean up their mess. It’s twisty, atmospheric, and absolutely unputdownable!
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This might be the most popular SFF standalone on this list — and for a reason. Many people love this beautifully written story with an amazing cast of characters. So if you haven’t read it, this is your sign to do it! Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi that follows a troupe of Shakespearean entertainers called the Traveling Symphony. It also follows a man named Arthur Lear, an actor who died hours before the world as we know it collapsed. The book jumps back and forth between those storylines.
Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
Okay, technically this book is a straight-up mix of sci-fi and fantasy. There are aliens and interplanetary travel — but there are also deals with devils and cursed violins. Even though the ending leaves room for more, as of now this book is a standalone — and the story works quite well as is! Light From Uncommon Stars follows three characters. There’s Katrina Nguyen, a young trans violin prodigy; Shizuka Satomi, a violin teacher that has to deliver the souls of talented musicians to the devil; and Lan Tran, an alien with a donut shop. When they all meet their lives irrevocably tangle in a beautiful (yet sometimes difficult) story about identity, family, and hope.
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This Is How You Lose the Time War might be the strangest book on this list because of its epistolary format. But let me tell you that it’s a stunning book with some seriously lyrical writing. I do have to say that some people consider this a novella. But I looked up the estimated word count and I think it’s more of a short novel — so I’m definitely including it on this list. It’s a romance with a sci-fi setting between two time traveling agents named Red and Blue. They’re sworn enemies, belonging to opposite sides of the time war. But one day, Blue leaves a letter behind for Red to find. This sparks a strong connection between them, which turns into a bond that could change history as they know it.