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Diverse Fantasy inspired by History and Myth

Here is my second list of diverse SFF recommendations, once again all written by women. Again, it’s certainly not all-encompassing, but these are books I’ve really enjoyed. I’m sticking to adult fantasy for this list, but I do plan to do a YA list very soon!

Gods of Jade and Shadow The Poppy War City of Brass Empire of Sand The Bird King The Tiger's Daughter

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno Garcia: This book is inspired by Mayan legend, and is wholly unique. The main character is very blunt and opinionated, and I really enjoyed her banter with the supernatural creatures she encountered along her journey.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang: If you haven’t read this book yet, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? Take this as your warning that this book is incredibly brutal and dark, and definitely not YA despite the teenage protagonist. Inspired loosely by historical events in China, the world of the Poppy war is rich and full of magic and political intrigue.

City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborthy: Another hugely popular book that really is worth the hype. City of Brass takes place across a large swathe of the Middle east and northern Africa. The writing style is lush and gorgeous, as is the world. The romance is a little angsty, but I really enjoyed the world building and getting to know the characters.

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri: Inspired by Mughal era India, Empire of Sand is a dark but beautiful story. Mehr is headstrong and does what she can to protect those she loves, no matter how afraid she is. I really like that she isn’t fearless, it makes her more relatable. This book is a great cross-over or entry-point into adult fantasy for people who usually read YA.

Circe by Madeline Miller: I adore this book, and I had the privilege of seeing Madeline Miller at my local library explain some of the thought process behind the word and a few easter eggs. This book is truly a gorgeous and incredibly thoughtful interpretation of classical Greek mythology through a feminist lens. My favorite factoid is that Circe only appeared in 2 books of The Odyssey, so Miller made sure Odysseus got no more than 2 chapters in her reinterpretation.

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson: This book is a lot less popular than the other books on my list, but no less captivating or unique. This book takes place in 1491, during the fall of the Muslim empire in Spain, as King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella begin to unify Spain as one kingdom. I wasn’t very familiar with the time period, but it was really interesting to see how Wilson wove in multiple cultures, mythologies, and historical fact into the story. This is a very slow-paced book, but the friendships and character growth made it worth it. Like City of Brass, this is an ownvoice Muslim novel.

The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera: This is an ownvoice sapphic love story between an empress and a nomad warrior. Although I enjoyed this overall, there were a few aspects of borrowing from Japanese and other Asian cultures that felt poorly handled and disrespectful…it’s a book that I loved when I finished it because of the emotional arc but my opinion has soured over time because of this. As much as I appreciate the queer rep, a bit more research or sensitivity when adapting a culture that was not the author’s own could have made this book so much better. I will recommend this with reservations, and I’d definitely like to hear your thoughts on this book in the comments! I think it’s important to acknowledge these complicated feelings.

I was also going to include an Elizabeth Bear book on this list, but after recent controversy I’m still not sure if she is an author I want to promote. It’s been tough to reconcile the differences in values or messaging from a book itself and the author’s actions. I know a lot of people have been grappling with this regarding their love of Harry Potter and absolute disagreement and disgust with JKR recently. I will probably write a much more in-depth post about just this, but while I’m still thinking about it, I will leave Bear’s book off of the list.

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