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Books are great, and books that come in twos are even better! I’m talking about duologies — SFF duologies, to be exact. I remember when I read Octavia Butler’s Parable series (consisting of Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents), the idea of a duology was totally new to me.
I’m not sure if it was a product of my age or a reflection of the time, but I’d literally never heard of a duology. Interestingly, these days, it seems amazing new SFF duologies are being published with regularity — and I love this trend!
Let’s face it: sometimes, a trilogy or a quartet (or an even longer series) is just too time consuming. Don’t get me wrong, I dream of the days when I could plunge into a multi-book series with reckless abandon and reemerge whenever I was finished. It was common practice for me to read straight through a night (or three) to find out where the story would take me as I flowed seamlessly from book to book. Sadly, those days are over for this reader. But it’s not all tears, because duologies are my new favorite phenomenon!
SFF duologies provide enough sprawling room for fantastic world building, strong character development, and complex plot structures. They’re also generally compact enough for even the busiest reader to be able to get through them in a reasonable amount of time.
This list offers a sampling of very recent (and, in one case, currently unfinished) SFF duologies to help you double your readerly fun ASAP!
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The Great Cities by N.K. Jemisin
There’s so much going on in the Great Cities duology that it’s impossible to explain all the wonderful nuance. That being said, The City We Became and The World We Make make up one of the most enjoyable SFF duologies I’ve ever read (or SFF series, for that matter). It starts with a street kid who’s really kind of a god (and the city of New York)…but he’s been severely weakened and is in need of aid. Cue the five very real humans who are also avatars for the boroughs of NYC. They’ve got to find each other and figure out their emergent powers before it’s too late to stop the terrifying Woman in White (and all the Lovecraftian racism she embodies) from destroying not only NYC, but basically the entire universe. It’s a series about love and humanity, a love song to NYC, and an investigation of the vastly damaging effects of racism in our world.
The Book of Tea by Judy I. Lin
Magical tea? Royal politics? Accidental poisoning by tea? Yes, please! A Magic Steeped in Poison and A Venom Dark and Sweetare just as beautifully written as their covers are illustrated. Ning is a shénnóng-shi, which means her magic is tied to the ancient practice of making tea. She’s already guilt-ridden after her mother’s death (that would be the poisoning-by-tea I mentioned earlier), but her decision to enter a competition for shénnóng-shi thrusts her right into the heart of a political minefield she’ll be lucky to escape intact.
Of Mermaids and Orisa by Natasha Bowen
You know there’s no going wrong with a SFF duology about mermaids. And the mermaids in Skin of the Sea and Soul of the Deep are no ordinary mermaids (as if there’s such a thing as an ordinary mermaid!). In fact, they’re Mami Wata, and they’re tasked with ushering the souls of enslaved Africans thrown into the ocean to safety. Bowen’s novel brings together histories of the transatlantic slave trade and West African mythologies. Protagonist Simidele (a.k.a. Simi) is a complex and interesting character whose development across the two YA novels is satisfying and enchanting.
King of Scars Duology by Leigh Bardugo
The King of Scars duology is part of Bardugo’s Grishaverse, which offers a nice opportunity to either read this pair of books on their own or tap into the larger story world with some of Bardugo’s other books. However you decide to read this duology, King of Scars and Rule of Wolves will keep you plenty entertained. Ravka continues to be an imperiled realm in the aftermath of its civil war, and the curse plaguing Nikolai (its king) certainly doesn’t help. The duology tracks several characters as their paths cross and the mysteries each one grapples with bring them into contact with one another in interesting ways. It’s a YA duology, but it doesn’t shy away from adult issues like race and gender — and it’s all the more powerful for it.
We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Tehlor Kay Mejia’s YA SFF duology offers a pleasing pairing of books. Set in an island nation that has strong echoes of Mexico, this duology doesn’t shy away from real-world dynamics of gender, sexuality, and class. Book 1, We Set the Dark on Fire, follows Dani — a 17-year-old finishing school graduate poised to begin her life as a Primera (one of two wives) for a man who turns out to be brutal. Without giving too much away, We Unleash the Merciless Storm transfers the narrative to Carmen, a Segunda (you guessed it: the other wifely role available to women in this storyworld) who’s falling for Dani. The stories are obviously linked, and they’re also different enough to feel refreshing while also definitely a duology. In both books, the resistance plays a strong (and, if I may, very interesting) role.
Celestial Kingdom by Sue Lynn Tan
This SFF duology is as much about family as it is about love and mythology. Oh, and did I mention the dragons? Because there are dragons. Daughter of the Moon Goddess introduced readers to Xingyin, the Moon Goddess’s daughter (hence the book’s title) and her struggle to release her mother from her punishment. Book 2, Heart of the Sun Warrior, follows Xingyin as her journey continues — with plenty more adventure, peril, and action to keep readers on their toes!
Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi
Beasts Made of Night and Crown of Thunder comprise a YA duology that features (get this) sin-eaters. Yup, you read that right. The protagonist of this series, Taj, is one of the best skin-eaters (or, aki) in the realm. Fascinating mechanics of sin-eating aside, the storyline is every bit as engrossing and well written as you might expect from a writer as skilled as Tochi Onyebuchi. In addition to a compelling tale that features both romantic and political plot threads, the Beasts Made of Night series gets into the ethics of power in a way I didn’t fully expect (but definitely appreciated).
Alamaxa Duology by Hadeer Elsbai
This duology is the newest on this list, with book 1 The Daughters of Izdihar only having been released about a month ago. The story focuses on Nehal and Giorgina, two women from opposite ends of the class divide…but a whole lot in common. Both women possess incredible powers with water (Nehal) and earth (Giorgina), but they’re not able to fully control them. This is where this SFF duology really gets cooking: while their reasons for not being able to wield their powers fully or properly are different, they’re also similar in that they’re linked to women’s rights. In this way, Elsbai’s storyworld has roots in contemporary Egyptian history, especially where women’s rights are concerned. This is the first book of a duology that I cannot wait to finish!