This diverse slate of standout debut novels by women spans genre, from historical saga to contemporary comic novel to postapocalyptic fantasy, as well as the globe, from California to a far-flung Nordic isle.


Melissa Mogollon. Hogarth, $29 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-59490-2
In this riotous first novel, a Florida high school senior is thrust by her cantankerous Colombian-American mother into the role of caretaker for her grandmother. Nana is already struggling to complete her graduation requirements when doctors find a mass in her grandmother Abue’s gallbladder. With Nana’s older sister, Mari, away at college, Nana’s mother, Elena, expects her to accompany Abue to her doctor’s appointments and serve as interpreter. Shenanigans ensue as Elena insists they hide the full extent of Abue’s health crisis from her, convinced that “if Abue ‘finds out the wrong information at the wrong time,’ she’ll just give up and die.” Meanwhile, Nana argues in vain that they are robbing the family matriarch of the ability to decide on her course of treatment. Nana’s mordant wit supplies laughs—“Sorry if I’m out of breath. It’s all the running away from our problems”—even as family secrets spill forth to reveal the intergenerational trauma that caused Abue to cut off communication with nearly all of her relatives in Colombia. Amid the frequent histrionics—Abue often threatens to drop dead or kill someone to make a point—Mogollon also manages to convey the fierce love that binds the women across generations. When they finally arrive at varying degrees of acceptance, it feels inevitable rather than contrived. Mogollon wows with tenderness and uproarious profanity. Agent: Mariah Stovall, Trellis Literary. (May)

The Witches of Bellinas

J. Nicole Jones. Catapult, $27 (240p) ISBN 978-1-64622-180-6
Jones (Low Country: A Memoir) conjures a Northern California cult in her beautiful and eerie debut novel. The story takes the form of a written statement by Constance “Tansy” Black, who’s locked herself into a schoolhouse in the unincorporated coastal village of Bellinas to document how her husband, Guy, came to die there not long after the couple arrived from New York City. Her account begins with Guy announcing he’d finally like to have a child, Tansy’s greatest wish, while on a visit to Bellinas in June, and talking her into staying there with him at his cousin Mia’s guest house. When the couple return the following month, they’re welcomed warmly by Mia’s wellness influencer husband, Manny, and initiated as members of his “high-vibe” Bohemian Club. The next morning, Tansy can’t remember what happened at the ceremony. It turns out life in Bellinas is far from idyllic: Mia warns Tansy not to go into the forest alone; her relationship with Guy becomes strained after he reneges on their plans to have children; and she feels taunted by the strong nightly winds that cause her to have insomnia and nausea. By late August, while on a drive outside town, Tansy remembers that Manny raped her during the initiation. Back in Bellinas, she discovers that Mia and the other women are witches who can manipulate the wind. Jones’s lyrical yet ominous prose affects a bewitching vibe of its own (“Don’t believe those who say that the fog is just fog... that the thunderheads worn by nearby mountain peaks are merely weather”). Readers will find this haunting tale is tough to shake. Agent: Stephanie Delman, Trellis Literary. (May)

Road to Ruin

Hana Lee. Simon & Schuster, $18.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-6680-3561-0
Savage, sexy, and deliciously screwed up, Lee’s apocalyptic fantasy debut is sure to draw comparisons to Mad Max but sets itself apart through an inventive magic system and a thorny bisexual love triangle. Jin makes a living as a magebike courier, constantly risking her life in the face of mana storms, human raiders, and saurian predators to transport messages and illegal luxury goods across the wasteland between city-states. Her most lucrative gig involves carrying secret love letters between Prince Kadrin of Kerina Sol and Princess Yi-Nereen of Kerina Rut, neither of whom realizes Jin has developed feelings for them both. When Yi-Nereen asks Jin to help her escape an arranged marriage, the two flee into the wasteland, pursued by both Yi-Nereen’s betrothed, who can read minds, and Jin’s bounty hunter ex-girlfriend. Forced to take refuge during a mana storm, they discover a hidden community and uncover dark secrets about the nature of their world and the magical Talents which, in this highly stratified society, determine a person’s worth. As danger mounts, Jin is forced to call upon Kadrin for help. The twisty plot, complex emotional entanglements, and perilous landscapes keep the pages flying. Examining power, privilege, and passion, this dynamic adventure thrills. Agent: Paul Lucas, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (May)

The Blue Maiden

Anna Noyes. Grove, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8021-6280-9
Noyes’s bracing debut novel (after the collection Goodnight, Beautiful Women) charts the troubled history of a 19th-century Nordic family descended from a woman who survived a witch hunt. Near the isolated and windswept Berggrund Island lies its smaller sister island, the Blue Maiden, which is uninhabited and rumored to harbor demon spirits. One day in 1675, after months of passionate preaching by the priest of Berggrund, 27 of the island’s 32 women are accused of witchcraft and executed. Of the accused, only pregnant Signe is spared, despite wanting to “stay linked” to the others on their way to have their throats cut. The story then jumps to 1825 and Signe’s descendants Ulrika, 10, and Bea, six. Bea anticipates the return of their dead mother, Angelique, who Bea believes will summon her by tapping on the window with dirty fingers. Meanwhile, Ulrika seeks to distance herself from the memory of their mother and from their preacher father, whose love is often smothering. Noyes shows with incisive and imagistic prose how the specter of the eerie, ever-changing Blue Maiden hangs over the residents of Berggrund like a pall as the sisters come of age to face horrifying tragedies. Noyes evokes Shirley Jackson in this inspired and memorable gothic tale. (May)