I tried to make the title of this self-explanatory, but I think it still needs a little explaining. Basically, these are things that make me want to read a book as soon as I read/hear them in a blurb, review or recommendation. Some of them I think indicate an original, interesting plot. Some of them I just like and have decided to share.
In no particular order, here are the things that can make a book get added to my (already overwhelming) TBR list.
An interesting magic system
I read fantasy and sci fi, predominately, so magic systems are not exactly thin on the ground. But a magic system that sounds unique or interesting can be enough to make me want to read a series. For example, in Anne Bishop’s Dark Jewels series, the Blood are gifted a jewel that corresponds to their psychic strength. In Ilona Andrews’s The Edge and Kate Daniels series, characters with magic also have to fend for themselves in a world/time without it, and in Brandon Sanderson’s Wax and Wayne or Mistborn novels, characters can effect metals around them while said metal is in their system. Notable mentions for fascinating magic systems amongst my favourite books also include Brent Weeks’ Lightbringer and Night Angel series, Yoon Ha Lee’s Phoenix Extravagant, NK Jemisin’s Inheritance series, anything by VE Schwab, and Kate Mascarenhas’s Thief on a Winged Horse.
An absurd yet consistent social situation
I’m a big fan of fantasies of manners. I’m not sure if this stems from a childhood of reading historical romances interspersed with mythology/paranormal mysteries because they’re what I had access to, or if I would have liked this no matter what, but regardless, give me a situation where a main character has to face down social judgements and death threats with the same level of seriousness, and I will be captivated. Notable mentions for books featuring this dynamic include Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate, Finishing School and Custard Protocol series, Kate Locke’s Immortal Empire series, Ilona Andrews’ The Edge and Hidden Legacy series, and Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo.
Interesting setting and ragtag found family.
Not gonna lie, this may be my favourite of the bunch. Seanan McGuire excels at this dynamic. Blog team covering a political race during a zombie apocalypse? (Her Newsflesh series, which may actually be written under Mira Grant, her pen name). Children who returned from a fantasy world and can’t handle it? (Wayward Children). Changeling who don’t quite belong to this world or faerie? (October Daye). And perhaps the epitome, the InCryptid series where every character has a fascinating set of survival skills and niche, real world passions. Settings include a monster strip club, a reality dance show, a zoo with mythological creatures, a theme park hiding a deadly magical series, a circus with multiple interesting members, and so much more. Other series that do this well are the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo, the Menagerie series by Rachel Vincent, the Serpentwar Saga by Raymond E Feist, and Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series.
I think family drama really helps to ground a fantasy or sci-fi novel, and help with the willing suspension of disbelief. Even in space, people should act like people, and what’s more human than fighting with your family? Books that do this well include anything by Molly Harper, Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh or Shelly Laurenston. Other honourable mentions include the Inheritance series by NK Jemisin, Derek Landy’s Demon Road series, Devon Monk’s Allie Beckstrom series, and the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong
Some other things that make me interested: pirates, queer characters, mythological inspirations that aren’t the standard dragon/werewolf, vampire, fae, witch, demon etc (I like these monsters as much as the next person but it gets old. Throw in a kitsune, djinn or griffon sometimes, shake things up a bit). Anyway, I’d be genuinely interested in reading your automatic interest sparkers, and I could absolutely do an opposing list to this (interest killers), let me know if that’s something you’re interested in.