The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Amongst author circles, women of color are one of the most marginalized groups, more so within the SFF (Science Fiction & Fantasy) genre. Despite having written phenomenal novels, their works are often overlooked in lieu of more popular culturally normative books. So here are some Science Fiction/Fantasy gems penned by WOC that you need to check out: who knows you might even find your next favorite. I, for one, certainly did.
Sub genre: urban fantasy/ thriller
Jade City is the critically acclaimed first book of The Greenbone Saga, whose third (and final) book comes out in December 2021. This book features the Kaul family, which is one of the two major mafia Clans in the fictional land of Kekon. The culture of this land revolves around the rare, magical element Jade which provides certain powers to the Kekonese who wear it- at a cost, of course. In the olden days, Jade warriors were meant to be guardians of the region, but times have changed. Kekon is now a bustling metropolis where the two rival clans have their own monopolies on Jade trade and utilization. But the Kekonese aren’t the only ones interested in Jade- the Espenian colonizers loom in the background, hungry to seize power. When tensions between the two rival clans begin to escalate, the future of Kekon rests on their shoulders.
Jade City is a book that has often been compared to Mario Puzo’s ‘The Godfather’ because of the similarity in the mafia system- but in my personal opinion, Jade City was a far better read. The action scenes especially stand out and the character work is top tier. If not for anything else, this book is a must-read because of the Kaul siblings: Lan, Hilo, and Shae. It is followed by the books Jade War and Jade Legacy, and though it might not seem possible, Miss Lee’s writing gets better and better with each book!
sub genre: Dark academia/ New adult
The Atlas Six reimagines a world where the Library of Alexandria wasn’t destroyed- instead, it was hidden. Today, it can only be accessed by members of the secret Alexandrian Society who devote their lives to taking care, and studying from, this hidden trove of academic knowledge. Once every ten years, six magicians from over the world are selected to join this society. They are given an opportunity to prove their worth and secure a luxurious life amongst the greatest of humans. This is where our protagonists come in: six 20-something-year-olds with sharp minds and even sharper personalities recruited by the mystery man Atlas Blake. When such volatile people come together, an explosion is bound to happen. Their rivalries reach new heights as it is revealed that only five out of six candidates will be able to join the society after a year of training- so of course, they fight with, and against each other to secure a spot in the life of their dreams.
The Atlas Six is a book with writing so smooth that it rivals literal butter. For real, Olivie Blake is a master of words who manages to make flowery prose very easy to read. The characters stand out with drastically distinct personalities which shine when they interact with each other. I cannot stress more about the character dynamic of this book: you never know if one is thinking of kissing or killing the other, it can go either way. Plus, there’s a realistic LGBT rep that doesn’t overshadow the plot, so that’s yet another reason to add it to your ‘To Be Read ‘ pile!
sub genre: Historical fiction/ grimdark
The Poppy War (book one of The Poppy War trilogy) is set in ancient China, with the plot taking inspiration from the Second Sino-Japanese war (book one) and the Chinese Civil War (books two and three). Even our characters are loosely based on historical and mythological figures. The protagonist Rin is a 15-year-old war orphan who aces the Keju (a SATesque entrance test) against all odds and joins the prestigious Sinegard Military Academy to avoid being married off for the benefit of her foster parents’ opium smuggling business. But getting out of an abusive household doesn’t quite guarantee a happy life for Rin – being a dark-skinned impoverished girl from the middle of nowhere, she needs to prove herself time and again in front of her prejudiced classmates and teachers. While at the academy, Rin finds out she has an affinity towards the mythical art of Shamanism- an act of calling down gods to gain their powers. With the help of a bizarre-at-best master and psychedelic substances, she must hone her abilities soon- because while her country Nikan is at peace right now, their technologically advanced neighbor Mugen has its eyes on their land. Nikan has fought two Poppy Wars for its freedom, now a Third Poppy War might lurk close- and it might fall onto Rin to save the day.
The Poppy War is a brutally honest book that showcases the atrocities of war. Because of this reason, it is advisable to check out the trigger warnings beforehand (linked here). Rin is a protagonist who is as morally grey as it gets. Watching Rin grab power and then hunger for more is a strange, horrifyingly fascinating experience. With all its ups and downs, The Poppy War sure is a thrilling ride!
sub genre: young adult / romance
The Heartless Divine is a criminally underrated Indian-inspired historical fantasy that takes the ‘star crossed lovers reunited in another life’ trope to new heights. The story begins when a college student named Suri finds a bloodied man called Kiran at her doorstep one winter night. As she tends to him out of the kindness of her heart, it is revealed that Kiran is actually a demigod linked to Suri. Through dual points of view- one being the current timeline, the other being a story from centuries ago- we see their story unfold, and despite all reservations, the reader finds themselves rooting for the two. But everything is not as light and breezy as it seems, for the threat of war and mysterious circumstances of a death loom in the background.
Despite this, The Heartless Divine is a very, very comforting book. Yes, it will probably make you cry, but it also feels like a warm hug at times. All in all, it’s a devastating yet heartwarming story of love, legacy, and gods. With gorgeous prose and fantastic character work, THD is a book that sticks with you for a long time!
So these were some books you can check out if you’re a fantasy fan, or even if you’re new to the genre. Happy reading!