Last month, there was an article published on Tor.com, The 10 Best Completed SF and Fantasy Series (According to Me) by Drew McCaffrey. There was a disclaimer that the list didn't include stand-alones, series that weren't yet complete, or any mention of books the writer hadn't yet read - though he did mention that there were a lot of diverse stories being published these days, he just hadn't read them. So his list was completely devoid of books by women, except J. K. Rowling, devoid of recent books, except Harry Potter, and devoid of any books that were based on non-Western cultures (or, in other words, not Medieval England inspired stories).
I just think the list as a whole is ridiculous, to be honest. In my opinion, including J. K. Rowling is a little too easy; she's well known and popular, and as the only woman, also kind of a token? Thrown in not to not be shouted at for not including any women. Otherwise, it's a list of old books by old white men from years ago. What was the point of this article? If you're not giving us anything new, why bother? Go back a number of years, and I'm sure you'll find a list of very similar titles. Nothing new, nothing diverse. A number of people complained about the article on Twitter, and I think for good reason. About the lack of women, about the lack of diverse voices. And sure, if he's not read them, he can't mention them, but maybe he should have held off on writing such an article until he had other stories to recommend? Rather than giving us more of the same thing we hear over and over.
Rather than continue to complain and talk about how problematic it is, I thought I would create a list of SFF, most written by women, inspired by non-Western cultures, by diverse authors, that should be highlighted.
N.B. My own disclaimer, these are books that are - or are soon to be - published in the UK. I've included a bulleted list of SFF inspired by non-Western cultures by diverse authors published in the US at the bottom of this post .
Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
(Published 6th June 2013 - Corvus)
'I will tell you a story, but it comes with a warning; when you hear it, you will become someone else.'
He calls himself Alif, a young man born in a Middle Eastern city that straddles the ancient and modern. When Alif comes into possession of a mysterious book entitled The Thousand and One Days, he discovers a door to another world - a world from a very different time, when old magic was in the ascendant and the djinn walked amongst us.
Thus begins an adventure that takes him through the crumbling streets of a once-beautiful city, to uncover the long-forgotten mysteries of the Unseen. Alif is about to become a fugitive. And he is about to unleash a destructive power that will change everything and everyone - starting with Alif himself... From Goodreads.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
(Published 11th Feb 2016 - HarperVoyager)
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death.
When Laia's grandparents are brutally murdered and her brother arrested for treason by the empire, the only people she has left to turn to are the rebels.
But in exchange for their help in saving her brother, they demand that Laia spy on the ruthless Commandant of Blackcliff, the Empire's greatest military academy. Should she fail it's more than her brother's freedom at risk . . . Laia's very life is at stake.
There, she meets Elias, the academy's finest soldier. But Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he's being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined – and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself. From Goodreads.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
(Published 6th April 2017 - Hodder & Stoughton)
A sumptuous, epic love story inspired by A Thousand and One Nights.
Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a terrible surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she may be falling in love with a murderer.
Shazi discovers that the villainous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. It's up to her to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.
"So you would have me throw Shazi to the wolves?"
"Shazi? Honestly, I pity the wolves." From Goodreads.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
(Published 8th March 2018 - Macmillan Children's Books)
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut Children of Blood and Bone.
They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.
Zelie remembers when the soil of Orisha hummed with magic. When different clans ruled - Burners igniting flames, Tiders beckoning waves, and Zelie's Reaper mother summoning forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, anyone with powers was targeted and killed, leaving Zelie without a mother and her people without hope. Only a few people remain with the power to use magic, and they must remain hidden.
Zelie is one such person. Now she has a chance to bring back magic to her people and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zelie must learn to harness her powers and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
Danger lurks in Orisha, where strange creatures prowl, and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zelie herself as she struggles to come to terms with the strength of her magic - and her growing feelings for an enemy. From Goodreads.
City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty
(Published 8th March 2018 - HarperVoyager)
Step into The City of Brass, the spellbinding debut from S. A. Chakraborty—an imaginative alchemy of The Golem and the Jinni, The Grace of Kings, and One Thousand and One Nights, in which the future of a magical Middle Eastern kingdom rests in the hands of a clever and defiant young con artist with miraculous healing gifts
Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.
But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.
After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for... From Goodreads.
Lost Gods by Micah Yongo
(Published 5th April 2018 - Angry Robot)
In an epic fantasy kingdom inspired by African legends, a young assassin finds himself hunted by the brothers and sisters he has trained alongside since birth.
A teenaged assassin is hunted by his own Brotherhood as he seeks to uncover a supernatural conspiracy before it’s too late
Neythan is one of five adolescents trained and raised together by a mysterious brotherhood of assassins known as the Shedaím. When Neythan is framed for the murder of his closest friend, he pursues his betrayer, and in so doing learns there’s far more to the Brotherhood, and even the world itself, than he’d ever thought possible. From Goodreads.
The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
(Published 1st May 2018 - HarperVoyager)
When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late. From Goodreads.
Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh
(Published 8th May 2018 - Hodder & Stoughton)
The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family's standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.
Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she's quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she's ever known. From Goodreads.
Mirage by Somaiya Daud
(Published 28th August 2018 - Hodder & Stoughton)
The crown of Dihya had been stripped from me, my face changed, my body broken.
But I was not a slave and I was not a spare.
I was my mother's daughter, and I would survive and endure. I would find my way back home.
In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation, and of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventures, and travel beyond her isolated moon.
But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double to appear in public, ready to die in her place.
As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear and if Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection... because one wrong move could lead to her death. From Goodreads.
Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
(Published 6th Nov 2018 - Hodder & Stoughton)
Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It's the highest honor they could hope for...and the most cruel.
But this year, there's a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she's made of fire.
In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it's Lei they're after--the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king's interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king's consort. But Lei isn't content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable--she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she's willing to go for justice and revenge.
Presented by James Patterson, Natasha Ngan's lyrical, searing, visceral fantasy, Girls of Paper and Fire, will remind us how precious freedom is--and the price we must pay to achieve it. From Goodreads.
Empress of all Seasons by Emiko Jean
(Published 8th Nov 2018 - Gollancz)
In a palace of illusions, nothing is what it seems.
Each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. The rules are simple. Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms. Conquer Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Marry the prince. All are eligible to compete—all except yōkai, supernatural monsters and spirits whom the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy.
Mari has spent a lifetime training to become empress. Winning should be easy. And it would be, if she weren't hiding a dangerous secret. Mari is a yōkai with the ability to transform into a terrifying monster. If discovered, her life will be forfeit. As she struggles to keep her true identity hidden, Mari’s fate collides with that of Taro, the prince who has no desire to inherit the imperial throne, and Akira, a half-human, half-yōkai outcast.
Torn between duty and love, loyalty and betrayal, vengeance and forgiveness, the choices of Mari, Taro, and Akira will decide the fate of Honoku in this beautifully written, edge-of-your-seat YA fantasy. From Goodreads.
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
(Published 15th Nov 2018 - Orbit)
A nobleman’s daughter with magic in her blood. An empire built on the dreams of enslaved gods. Empire of Sand is Tasha Suri’s captivating, Mughal India-inspired debut fantasy.
The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.
When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.
Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…
Empire of Sand is a lush, dazzling fantasy novel perfect for readers of City of Brass and The Wrath & the Dawn. From Goodreads.
So over to you guys! Have you read any of these? And if so, what did you think? Any you didn't know of you're now looking forward to? Any published/being published in the UK that I've missed? Especially sci-fi stories, because I don't seem to know of many.
And how about others you would recommend, that may not be published in the UK? I know of:
- A Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
- The Reader by Traci Chee
- For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig
- A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna
- The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
- Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi
- Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
- Serpentine by Cindy Pon
- Want by Cindy Pon
- The Light at the Bottom of the Ocean by London Shah
- We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
- The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf
- Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
- The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad
- A Thousand Beginnings and Endings
Let me know what you've read and what you enjoyed!
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