Like most of you, I grew up on Fantasy. I’d have to verify this with my mom, but I’m pretty certain I came out of the womb with a fantasy novel in hand (much to her dismay). Also like most of you, for many years, the books I read took place in a European middle ages sort of setting, had male protagonists (always assumed white) and were written by white men.
This left an impression on me. When I first began writing, all of my stories took place in a middle ages European type of setting, they all had male protagonists (always assumed white), with as few women in them as I could get away with. None of those stories have even made it past my elementary school writing teachers. But they are back there.
In some ways, my winding path through fantasy over the years of my life has been about finding and discovering myself in the books I read. It has been an inspiring journey truth be told. There are some amazing women out there writing truly amazing fantasy. More recently, though, this search for women in fantasy has evolved into a search for something that seemed even more rare. Fantasy written by women of color.
For most Americans, we hear so infrequently about women of color writing fantasy that it would be easy to think they simply aren’t writing any of it. But you would be wrong.
Below is a list of ten authors, all women of color, you should definitely read this year if you’ve not read them already. And don’t forget, drop a review on Amazon and/or GoodReads after you’ve had a chance to read them. Reviews are gold for authors.
Sabaa Tahir’s debut book, a young adult fantasy novel called An Ember in the Ashes, ended up on the New York Times Best Seller List and won several other awards in 2015. The second book of the series, A Torch Against the Night, is also available, and has also ended up on several best seller lists. These books are amazing. Don’t let the YA tag put you off, these books are gritty.
Truth be told, Octavia Butler is more of a sci fi writer than a fantasy writer, but many of her books blur the boundaries of these two, and I simply could not leave her off of this list. Regardless of which book you choose to start with, be prepared to head out on a deep and meaningful journey.
NK Jemisin burst onto the fantasy scene with The Hundred Thousand Kingdom’s trilogy and she’s not been out of the spotlight since. And rightly so. Her newest series, The Broken Earth, kicked into gear with The Fifth Season and won a Hugo for best novel in 2016. I’ve read her Dream Blood books and adored them. I’ll soon be sinking my teeth into The Fifth Season, I can’t wait!
Nalo Hopkinson is a new name for me and I’ve not read any of her books. When I posted a query to a Facebook group I’m a member of, however, her name kept popping up as recommended reading. I’ll be starting my exploration of her novels with The Salt Road, a Nebula finalist. If The Salt Road doesn’t grab you keep scrolling, she’s got a number of books out.
I recently read Who Fears Death, a World Fantasy Award finalist, and I instantly fell in love with its blend of folklore, tradition, and fantasy. It was a wonderful story, in a setting quite far from the usual rolling green hills of England.
Helen is another new author for me. But again, her name popped up frequently when asking for book recommendations. White is for Witching is at the top of my list. It is set in England (Oyeyemi is a British author), but it’s explorations of race, nationality, and family legacies makes it a compelling read.
Set in the tropics of Brazil, The Summer Prince is the book that comes up most often when I talk with people about Alaya Johnson. It’s described on Amazon as “A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.” The setting alone is enough to draw me in, but the focus on art definitely sealed the deal.
I stumbled on Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories earlier this year while seeking out books to read on my vacation. I do like vampires, but I’m pretty picky about them. (They can’t shimmer in the daylight, as an example.) While The Gilda Stories didn’t have the same erotic overtones as other vampire novels, I believe that is exactly the point. I greatly enjoyed this book. It was sort of a Dickens meets Interview with a Vampire, and was quite wonderful.
When Fox is a Thousand hit my reading list in February. I’ve not had a chance to dig my teeth into it yet. I’m really looking forward to a lazy Saturday afternoon with this book open on my lap. Magical, poetic, rich with folklore and fairy tale are how others describe this book. I love the blending of folklore into fantasy, so this book is right in my wheelhouse.
My first run in with Marie Lu was at a writers conference in Colorado a number of years back. She was delightful, and after hearing her speak and chatting with her I decided to pick up her young adult novel Legend. I was instantly hooked. She’s completed the Legend series, and has a second series out as well called The Young Elites that I’ve not had the opportunity to read as of yet.
I’m a book worm. I’d love to spend more time reading, but like most of us, I squeeze my reading time between my day job, my writing time, and trips to the gym. There are always more books being added to the leaning pile of books than I take off. This, however, is a wonderful problem to have! What are some of your favorite fantasy novels written by women of color?