That is (because this title would be too long), fantasy that is based on non-western cultures/outside of the western canon. Because god knows I’m tired of reading the same (Tolkein-esque) style fantasy over and over.
So this rec list is five of my favourite fantasies that are not based on that same sort of fantasy that, while it can be done well (especially when you take out the in-built misogyny, homophobia, and racism that we usually see), gets a little boring at times. A little repetitive, you might say.
As ever, I’m trying to rec some less well-known ones as well, to give some variety (though if I end up listing some more faves at the end? Don’t be surprised).
P.S. please ignore that I skipped out a post, two weeks back. I was knee-deep in a research project with a deadline the following Monday.
Empire of Sand
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.
I’ve been trying to push this book on everyone I know for the past year. It’s a Mughal Empire-inspired fantasy (by an actual desi author unlike that mess that showed up earlier in the week) and it’s lighter on the whole big epic quest scale if that’s what you want. It has an amazing romance too. And if you haven’t read it, or want a reread before book 2 comes out in November, then me and Shri (sunandchai) are doing a readathon and you’re welcome to join!
The City of Brass
S. A. Chakraborty
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 . . .
If you’re looking for an epic, slowburning fantasy to be wrecked by then look no further. The writing is beautiful, the characters wonderful, and then bam! you’ll have your heart ripped out just by a single line. Exactly what we all want, amirite?
Set in a Latinx-inspired world, a face-changing thief and a risk-taking prince must team up to defeat a powerful evil they accidentally unleashed.
To Finn Voy, magic is two things: a knife to hold under the chin of anyone who crosses her…and a disguise she shrugs on as easily as others pull on cloaks.
As a talented faceshifter, it’s been years since Finn has seen her own face, and that’s exactly how she likes it. But when Finn gets caught by a powerful mobster, she’s forced into an impossible mission: steal a legendary treasure from Castallan’s royal palace or be stripped of her magic forever.
After the murder of his older brother, Prince Alfehr is first in line for the Castallan throne. But Alfie can’t help but feel that he will never live up to his brother’s legacy. Riddled with grief, Alfie is obsessed with finding a way to bring his brother back, even if it means dabbling in forbidden magic.
But when Finn and Alfie’s fates collide, they accidentally unlock a terrible, ancient power—which, if not contained, will devour the world. And with Castallan’s fate in their hands, Alfie and Finn must race to vanquish what they have unleashed, even if it means facing the deepest darkness in their pasts.
I’m owed at least £50 every time someone calls this a “knock-off ADSOM”, because yeah I can see the books you’re coming for to call knock-offs, when you’ll happily ignore the white male authors writing the same fantasy world over and over. But I’m not bitter, because this book is better than ADSOM, so there. (Please read this book.)
Steel Crow Saga
A soldier with a curse
Tala lost her family to the empress’s army and has spent her life avenging them in battle. But the empress’s crimes don’t haunt her half as much as the crimes Tala has committed against the laws of magic . . . and her own flesh and blood.
A prince with a debt
Jimuro has inherited the ashes of an empire. Now that the revolution has brought down his kingdom, he must depend on Tala to bring him home safe. But it was his army who murdered her family. Now Tala will be his redemption – or his downfall.
A detective with a grudge
Xiulan is an eccentric, pipe-smoking detective who can solve any mystery – but the biggest mystery of all is her true identity. She’s a princess in disguise, and she plans to secure her throne by presenting her father with the ultimate prize: the world’s most wanted prince.
A thief with a broken heart
Lee is a small-time criminal who lives by only one law: Leave them before they leave you. But when Princess Xiulan asks her to be her partner in crime – and offers her a magical animal companion as a reward – she can’t say no, and soon finds she doesn’t want to leave the princess behind.
This band of rogues and royals should all be enemies, but they unite for a common purpose: to defeat an unstoppable killer who defies the laws of magic. In this battle, they will forge unexpected bonds of friendship and love that will change their lives – and begin to change the world.
This came out three days ago, why haven’t you already read it?? Jokes aside, this is the best book I’ve read this year, hands down. If you like some kind of mash-up of Pokemon, ATLA and FMA:B, you will like this. It’s also gonna be great for fans of Jade City and The Poppy War (two other books I would have mentioned on here if I was allowing myself more recs).
Kingdom of Souls
Magic has a price—if you’re willing to pay.
Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.
There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.
She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.
It’s kind of rare that I read first books in YA fantasy series and don’t get bored, so the fact I enjoyed this one is testament to its amazingness. So, yeah, I had issues (mostly things that could be attributed to its being a debut), but it was an enjoyable book, and definitely a fantasy world I want to return to.
What would you rec?