Some articles may include Amazon affiliate links. All proceeds go help us pay for original stories and support writers of speculative fiction. Read more here.

Free Friday: Today’s top free Amazon sci-fi and fantasy books for Apr. 23

By Maria Korolov

Did you know that Amazon has a list of the top-selling and free sci-fi and fantasy books?

The list changes constantly — authors set their books to free temporarily to promote their work, and, of course, books move up and down in the rankings. But are any of the books actually worth reading? WeI read the first few chapters of each to find out, so you don’t have to.

This week’s list is completely different from those of the previous weeks. So if you’re a fan of free books, it looks like there are going to be new things to read all the time.

I’ve also noticed that if you try to open the list on a mobile device, it will take you to the listings that cost money, instead. I’ve found that by switching to the “desktop site” in the mobile browser, the free list comes up. Oh, and if there’s a book that catches your eye, grab it quickly, since the books are often free for only a short time. And I also learned something new last week — Amazon allows you to lend your e-books, for free, to your friends. Even free e-books. Here are the instructions.

1. Return to the Enchanted Island by Johary Ravaloson

A debut novel, a retelling of the origin myths of Madagascar, this literary book won the Prix du roman de l’Ocean Indien. It’s the second week in a row that the book has made the top ten list, moving up from last week’s fourth-place position.

This is a slow, lyrical novel about a rich teenage boy who gets in trouble at school for taking drugs and is sent away to boarding school in France. It starts very, very slowly. The writing is beautiful, and reminds me a bit of Life of Pi.

Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of beautifully written stories. And I became even less of a fan after Life of Pi pulled me in with its lyrical writing and then destroyed me with its horrific ending.

I don’t know about the ending of the Return to the Enchanted Island — and I don’t plan to finish it — but I can say that the novel differs from Life of Pi in one other way, and that is that the protagonist, the spoiled rich kid, is not particularly sympathetic.

This reads like a book you’d get assigned in English class or chosen by one of those book clubs where people drink wine during meetings while soft jazz plays in the background. It’s the kind of book that seeks to elevate the soul.

I don’t want my soul elevated just now. I’m going to go back to that FBI dragon shape-changer book, thank you very much.

2. How We Survive by William Stone

This is the author’s first book on Amazon, a story of survival after an EMP blast sends civilization to the breaking point.

I’m not a fan of post-apocalyptic novels, so if you are, take this review with a big grain of salt.

I’m also not a fan of the word “smirked.” When it shows up, I have a hard time not putting the book down immediately, and this book has a smirk right on the first page.

It starts slow, with the main character, Trevor Hatfield, working as a welder, when a new kid is hired, fresh out of college but no real work experience. And Hatfield immediately thinks worse of the kid for having gone to college. Hey, I went to college. There’s nothing wrong with going to college. Nothing wrong with going into the trades, either, if that’s what you’re most interested in. But it bothers me when a main character who’s supposed to be sympathetic is prejudiced, either one way or the other.

Then there’s a power outage. They happen in the shop a few times a year. Everyone jokes about getting a paid break, but not Hatfield — he knows something else is going on. He walks outside, and the power is out outside, too. The traffic lights are down and cars are stuck in the middle of the street. So, an area-wide power-outage, not just the shop. Nope, not that either, and Hatfield immediately knows what’s happening — there’s been an EMP attack. How does he know? He’s had conversations with his dad about what he would do in case one happens.

So now I hate this guy. He’s a crackpot survivalist, who’s been preparing for this moment all his life. So now he knows what’s going to happen next — the power will stay off for ever and violence will break out and civilization will collapse.

People laugh at him for being an idiot, but he hurries home to get his family and get them out of the city, to the countryside, while crime is already breaking out all around.

Yeah, hard pass for me on this one.

3. Contain by Saul Tanpepper

This is the first book of the four-book Bunker 12 series, a post-apocalyptic thriller. The rest of the books are $3.99 each but are all in Kindle Unlimited.

There are zombies, and the contagion spreads by touch. Finn, 18, is one of the survivors, along with his dad. The book starts out with a nightmare, Finn’s memory of the deaths of the rest of his family three years previously. He’s bunkered down with a group of around 30 people, who might be the last survivors still alive. There’s a couple of other teenagers there with him, and they bicker about acne, count their supplies, take shift watching the cameras for any signs of other survivors — or of zombies. But things are starting to break down in the bunker. Not just the equipment, but the social ties as well, with people starting to turn on each other.

No zombies have been spotted for months, and some want to leave, while others want to stay in the bunker. Finn’s father, once in charge, has offered to step down as another survivor, badly burned in an accident, fights for his life. And the survivors’ sole doctor is hiding some secret about why the burn victim isn’t already dead.

I like this book a lot more than the previous one on this list, but still not enough to keep reading. Finn comes off as a bit of a petulant teenager, quick to fight, and his dad, for some unknown reason, wants him to step up as the next leader. Meanwhile, someone might be sabotaging the bunker’s equipment, putting all their lives at risk.

There’s a lot of tension right from the start, and the stakes are as high as they could be.

The story is well-written, and the characters clearly drawn and compelling. I don’t personally like them, but someone who’s a bigger YA fan than I am might find them very much to their liking.

4. Knock Down Dragon Out by Krystal Shannan

This is the first book in the seven-book Soulmate Shifters in Mystery, Alaska series, a paranormal romance with shape shifters. The rest of the books are $3.99 to $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.

Col is a dragon out to avenge the death of the rest of his family. He follows his enemies, both also dragons, to another world, where he finds them in a forest, attacking a woman. He’s about to kill them when he’s distracted by the realization that their victim is meant to be his mate, and the other two dragons take the opportunity to escape.

He shifts to human form, bandages her up, flies her to a shelter — an abandoned cabin. He’s magically able to understand her when she speaks, and learns that she suffered a blow to her memory in the attack, and doesn’t know who she is.

Of course, they immediately fall in love and start making out.

Yes, the sex is pretty graphic.

When she wakes up in the morning, the woman’s memory is back. Her name is Naomi, she’s in Alaska to photograph local wildlife, and to get over the death of the only man she’s ever loved.

The point of view switches back and forth between these two characters. There’s not much mystery about whether they’ll get together or not — they meet and are mated for life right at the start of the book.  But Col still has his mission. Plus, he’s pursued by a pack of werewolves, one of them almost attacks Naomi.

I’m guessing at the some point, we’ll discover that Naomi has some magical powers of her own.

I’m not particularly drawn to these two characters, but the writing moves along quickly, and the story draws you in. I can easily see coming back and finishing off this book as if it was a box of chocolate bon-bons.

Get the Kindle e-book free from Amazon here.

5. Wanderer’s Odyssey  by Simon Goodson

This is a box set of the first three books in the six-book Wanderer’s Odyssey series. The other books are $3.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.

Jess was born a slave and had never set foot on a planet’s surface. His captors use him and other prisoners as cannon fodder. While investigating a mystery space ship for booby traps he and two fellow prisoners are mysteriously freed from their control collars and are able to use the ship to escape.

Jess is a pretty passive character at the start of the book. Things just happen around him, through no particular effort or ability of his own. I prefer my main characters to have a little bit more agency.

It looks like there’s a powerful and evil empire. After escaping from their captors, Jess and his companions pick up a distress signal and save a family of smugglers from the empire’s enforcers, blowing up one of the empire’s ships in the process.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the ship Jess stole has extremely advanced capabilities and is powered by an AI that can do nearly anything and was just sitting around waiting for someone to tell it what to do.

It’s a hokey premise. I love it.  I’m going to keep reading.

6. Hidden Game by Amy Patrick

This is the the seventh book in the ten-book The Hidden Saga series. The rest of the books are $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited, except for the first book, Hidden Deep, which is also free right now. Patrick also has another series on Amazon, The Crimson Accord series, the first book of which, Crimson Born, was the top free sci-fi and fantasy book on Mar. 19. Both series are YA paranormal romances.

Macy, a former gymnast, is backpacking across Europe when she’s invited to visit a castle owned by a famous soccer player, and then learns that she is trapped. She’s meant to be a gift — one of several young woman — for Nicolo, the soccer star. And something very creepy is going on.

But then the point of view switches to Nicolo, so I guess the two of them are going to get together.

At first, I thought that Nicolo and his people were vampires, but then I read ahead in the reviews, and they’re fae.

Also, while this is the seventh book in the series, it’s actually the first of a trilogy set within that universe, so you can read it without having read the previous six books.

But I’m not going to keep reading. I tend not to like books that switch back and forth between the two love interests’ point of views, and I don’t like either of the protagonists enough to keep reading despite that.

Get the Kindle e-book free from Amazon here.

7. A Spirited Manor by Kate Danley

This is the first book in the four-book O’Hare House Mysteries series. The other books are $0.99 to $2.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited. Kate Danley is also the author of the very fun Maggie MacKay Magical Tracker series.

I love Kate Danley and have read all of her Maggie MacKay books. This one is very different. Instead of being set in the modern day, it’s set in 1890.

Clara is a widow. Her husband died six months ago, with no warning. Thanks to the passage of the Women’s Property Act just eight years earlier, she was able to sell the old house and buy a new one, which she was able to get for a song because someone had died there a few yeas before. She also has a small pension as her husband’s widow, so she could not only buy the house but hire the home’s housekeeper and butler, so that they could stay on in their previous jobs.

The house is haunted by the ghost of the young woman who’d died there, and the ghost asks for Clara’s help, so Clara decides to investigate.

The writing is beautiful. Danley is one of my favorite authors, and this book does not disappoint. Based on the book’s description and cover, I would probably not have picked it up, except for the fact that Danley is the author. But having started reading, it’s hard to put it down so I can go on to review the other books on this list.

This is definitely a book that I will come back and finish.

This is the author’s first book on Amazon, and he doesn’t have an author page yet, but does have a LinkedIn profile. and some serious technology chops.

The book starts out with an over-the-top action scene — a middle-aged father, at an airport with his three sons, single-handedly stops several terrorists and saves everyone from a bomb. But no, it’s a fake-out — this scene was actually a chapter in a book that the main character’s father had written.

The main character, Joe, is a software developer with an idea for a video game that never ends, because there’s an AI that keeps generating new levels. The book treats this like an earth-shaking new idea that will change the world, like it hasn’t already been done by a ton of other game developers. But, moving on… Joe and his girlfriend Alex meet with an investor to pitch their idea. They’ve managed to attract two programmers from Google’s Deep Mind project to help them create a really next-level AI. The founder don’t have any video game experience, so they plan to hire some programmers from a local video game company that’s hit some hard times.

One interesting thing about their pitch is that the AI will continue to animate players’ characters even when they’re away from the game. I’m having a hard time just reading the book though, because in my day job I get to see a lot of pitches from software developers and have gotten really cynical as a result. For example, if the AI can play your character for you, what’s the point of even playing the game? Plus, the game’s business model is that they’ll be auctioning off particular characters. So, for example, if someone wants to play as a king, they have to pay up. That kind of approach has created problems for game developers in the past, because it makes people feel that they have to pay money to get ahead on the game, which is unfair.

But it turns out that Joe didn’t actually have the Google programmers on board yet. But the fact that he got the investor interested helps convince them. So right away, I’m a little annoyed at Joe.  Plus, I can’t help wondering what he’s bringing to the table. The investor is going to be the CEO and run the company. The Google team will build the super AI. The game developers will build the actual game. Then there’s contract negotiations, discussions of equity stakes, explaining to the new CEO what a video game engine is… I’m a quarter of the way through the book now and they’re still just assembling their core development team, and lining up the rest of their funding, and I see they still don’t have much of a sales strategy.

I am not going to keep reading this book. I had really high hopes for it, too — I’m a huge tech nerd, and I write about AI at my day job, so anything AI-related always gets my attention. Plus, my own books are set in a video game world.

The book reminds me a little bit of the HBO show Silicon Valley. But the show was funny, the characters were over-the-top and very engaging, and there were tension in all the episodes, with the company always on the verge of disaster. In this book, nobody seems to have anything at stake.

This is the first book in the six-book The Fire Heart Chronicles series. The other books are $3.99 each, and are not in Kindle Unlimited.

College student and ballet teacher Mirella is leaving the store after buying a pair of pointe shoes when a Romani fortune teller stops her in the street and tells her that death is coming for her. Mirella herself is of Romani heritage and has mystical powers, but doesn’t know how to use them and is scared to ask anyone for help.

Then people around her start getting attacked, and she doesn’t know what’s going on. Her mother knows, but refuses to tell her.

I’m ambivalent about this book. The description promises lots of action, magic battles, and a forbidden love, and I might come back to it, but the slow start doesn’t really grab me.

Get the Kindle e-book free from Amazon here.

10. Called by Cali Mann and Freya Black

This is the first book in the “reverse harem” paranormal romance Hell Baited Wolves trilogy, with a succubus as the protagonist and three werewolves as her lovers. The other two books are $3.99 each, but are both in Kindle Unlimited.

Del is a demon, a succubus. I love stories about succubi — like in the TV show Lost Girl. She’s doomed to be alone, because men can’t really love her for who she is. Nobody is immune to her power.

Jaxon is a werewolf, head of his pack. His brother Zeke lost the battle for alpha and now wants to bring in a demon to help take Jaxon down.  I’m guessing that the demon they’re going to summon is Del.

Since the point of view jumps between Del and the werewolves, and “reverse harem shifter romance” is right there in the subtitle, I’m going to guess that Del and the werewolves are going to get together for some hot, steamy action.

That could be interesting. I might come back and find out how it ends.

Get the Kindle e-book free from Amazon here.

See all the Free Friday posts here.

Do you have other free books for me to check out? Email me at [email protected].

MetaStellar publisher and news editor Maria Korolov is a science fiction novelist who covers artificial intelligence, extended reality and cybersecurity at her day job. See her Amazon author page here and follow her on Twitter here. Email her at [email protected].