7 fiction micro-genres you never knew you wanted to read

From magical realism to space opera

Young African American woman relaxing at home and reading a book.

With summer long forgotten and having piled all our beach reads off to the nearest charity shop, it’s time to restock the bookshelves in readiness for cosy nights in.

Whether you’re happiest browsing the shelves at your local independent bookshop or more comfortable grabbing the latest ebooks from the comfort of your sofa, it’s easy to fall into old habits and just keep reading the same authors in the same genres you’re used to.

We’re here to help with that. Here’s a list of seven fiction categories you might have never heard of and wouldn’t have thought to read, with one or two key reads from each to get you started.

7) Steampunk

Typically set in the not-too-distant past, Steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy fiction that involves a lot of steam-powered flying machines and clockwork-like contraptions. It’s what you would get if you pictured a high-tech version of Victorian England.

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook — Book 1 of the Iron Seas series

After freeing England from Horde control, Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire. And when Detective Mina Wentworth enters his dangerous world to investigate a mysterious death, Rhys intends to make her his next conquest.

Mina can’t afford his interest, however. Horde blood runs through her veins, and becoming Rhys’s lover would destroy both her career and her family, yet the investigation prevents her from avoiding him.

But when Mina uncovers the victim’s identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans — and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.

The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.
Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion — to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

6) Urban Fantasy

Set in modern urban (duh!) cities, this fantasy genre typically involves a lot of monstrous baddies (think fae, ghouls, vampires and werewolves), kickass sassy heroines and a not-too-overbearing sprinkle of romance. A supernatural world superimposed on our mundane existence.

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews — Book 1 of the Kate Daniels series

Kate Daniels is a down-on-her-luck mercenary who makes her living cleaning up magical problems.

But when Kate’s guardian is murdered, her quest for justice draws her into a power struggle between two strong factions within Atlanta’s magic circles.

Pressured by both sides to find the killer, Kate realises she’s way out of her league — but she wouldn’t want it any other way…

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs — Book 1 of the Mercy Thompson series

Mercedes Thompson runs a garage in the Tri-Cities. She’s a mechanic, and a damn good one, who spends her spare time karate training and tinkering with a VW bus that happens to belong to a vampire.

Her next-door neighbour is an alpha werewolf — literally, the leader of the pack. And Mercy herself is a shapeshifter, sister to coyotes. As such, she’s tolerated by the wolves but definitely down the pecking order.

As long as she keeps her eyes down and remembers her place, the pack will leave her in peace – but can she do that?

5) Space Opera

Bold tales of intergalactic exploration and cross-planetary politics. Space Opera plot lines tend to feature a combination of inter-species alliances, politics, exploration, mystery, and intrigue.

Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach — Book 1 of the Paradox trilogy

Deviana Morris isn’t your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. One of those is going to get her killed one day — but not just yet.

Not when she just got a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn’t misnamed: it likes to get into trouble. And with a reputation for bad luck that makes one year as security detail on this ship equal to five years everywhere else , Devi knows she’s found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her plan. But the Fool doesn’t give up its secrets without a fight, and one year might be more than even Devi can handle.

Leviathan Wakes by S. A. Corey — Book 1 of the Expanse series

Humanity has colonised the solar system — Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond — but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is an officer on an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew discover a derelict ship called the Scopuli, they suddenly find themselves in possession of a deadly secret. A secret that someone is willing to kill for, and on an unimaginable scale. War is coming to the system, unless Jim can find out who abandoned the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money — and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and Holden, they both realise this girl may hold the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries and secret corporations, and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

4) Time Travel

As the name implies, these novels feature either singular or repeated jumps in time, more often to the past than the future. Adventures, romances, and all-round struggles to return to the present.

Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon — Book 1 of the Outlander series

1946, and Claire Randall goes to the Scottish Highlands with her husband Frank. It’s a second honeymoon, a chance to learn how war has changed them and to re-establish their loving marriage.

But one afternoon, Claire walks through a circle of standing stones and vanishes into 1743, where the first person she meets is a British army officer — her husband’s six-times great-grandfather.

Unfortunately, Black Jack Randall is not the man his descendant is, and while trying to escape him, Claire falls into the hands of a gang of Scottish outlaws, and finds herself a Sassenach — an outlander — in danger from both Jacobites and Redcoats.

Marooned amid danger, passion and violence, her only chance of safety lies in Jamie Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior. What begins in compulsion becomes urgent need, and Claire finds herself torn between two very different men, in two irreconcilable lives.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

On her 26th birthday, Dana and her husband are moving into their apartment when she starts to feel dizzy. She falls to her knees, nauseous. Then the world falls away.

She finds herself at the edge of a green wood by a vast river. A child is screaming. Wading into the water, she pulls him to safety, only to find herself face to face with a very old looking rifle, in the hands of the boy’s father. She’s terrified. The next thing she knows she’s back in her apartment, soaking wet. It’s the most terrifying experience of her life… until it happens again.

The longer Dana spends in 19th century Maryland — a very dangerous place for a black woman — the more aware she is that her life might be over before it’s even begun.

3) Dystopian & Utopian

Made famous by Young Adult series-turned-blockbuster-movies like The Hunger Games and Divergent, dystopian fiction reimagines our societies under authoritarian rules. Often post-apocalyptic or set in a distant future, these stories tell of the struggle against systems of injustice.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness.

But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire — neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.

Brilliantly conceived and executed, this powerful evocation of twenty-first century America gives full rein to Margaret Atwood’s devastating irony, wit and astute perception.

Uglies by Scott Westerfield — Book 1 of the Uglies trilogy

Tally can’t wait to turn sixteen and become Pretty. Sixteen is the magic number that brings a transformation from a repellent Ugly into a stunningly attractive Pretty, and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks, Tally will be there.

But Tally’s new friend, Shay, isn’t sure she wants to be Pretty. She’d rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the Pretty world — and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worse choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn Pretty at all. The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.

2) Magical Realism

Made famous by classic novelists such as Haruki Murakami and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Magical Realism comprises of stories which are set in our mundane worlds but where there is an element of the absurd or magical which is taken for normal.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Welcome to Bascom, North Carolina, where it seems that everyone has a story to tell about the Waverley women. The house that’s been in the family for generations, the walled garden that mysteriously blooms year round, the rumours of dangerous loves and tragic passions. Every Waverley woman is somehow touched by magic.

Claire has always clung to the Waverleys’ roots, tending the enchanted soil in the family garden from which she makes her sought-after delicacies — famed and feared for their curious effects. She has everything she thinks she needs — until one day she wakes to find a stranger has moved in next door and a vine of ivy has crept into her garden.. Claire’s carefully tended life is about to run gloriously out of control.

The Waterproof Bible by Andrew Kaufman

Rebecca has a most unusual problem: no matter how hard she tries, she can’t stop broadcasting her feelings to people around her. Luckily, she’s discovered how to trap and store her feelings in personal objects, but just how much emotional baggage can Unit 207, E.Z. Self Storage hold?

Lewis is grieving for his wife, Lisa, Rebecca’s sister. Inconsolable, he skips Lisa’s funeral, flies to Winnipeg, gets a haircut and meets a woman who claims to be God.

At the wheel of a stolen Honda Civic is Aberystwyth, aka Aby, driving across Canada to save the soul of her dying mother. She is green, gill-necked, and very uncomfortable out of the water.

An unexpected encounter with Aby sets off a chain of events which sends each of them on a personal quest. Can Rebecca, Lewis and Aby find redemption before a terrible flood destroys their chance at happiness?

1) Cosy Mystery

Everyday sleuths and mystery-solvers; where nosy neighbours and mysterious newcomers all play their parts in amateur investigations set in suburban settings. Often humorous and slapstick, these novels offer a more laid back take on the crime genre.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanna Fluke — Book 1 of the Hannah Swensen series

Hannah Swensen already has her hands full between dodging her mother’s attempts to marry her off, and running Lake Eden’s most popular bakery, The Cookie Jar.

But when the Cozy Cow Dairy’s beloved deliveryman is found murdered behind Hannah’s bakery with her famous Chocolate Chip Crunchies scattered around him, Hannah sets out to track down a killer. The more Hannah snoops, the more suspects turn up.

This is one murder that’s starting to leave a very bad taste in Hannah’s mouth, and if she doesn’t watch her back, her sweet life may get burned to a crisp.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith — Book 1 of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series

Wayward daughters. Missing Husbands. Philandering partners. Curious conmen. If you’ve got a problem, and no one else can help you, then pay a visit to Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s only — and finest — female private detective.

Her methods may not be conventional, and her manner not exactly Miss Marple, but she’s got warmth, wit, and canny intuition on her side, not to mention Mr J. L. B. Matekoni, the charming proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. And Precious is going to need them all as she sets out on the trail of a missing child, a case that tumbles our heroine into a hotbed of strange situations and more than a little danger.

Main Image © iStock/BraunS, book images via Amazon