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Fantasy Book Recommendations That Are Actually Diverse

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCT chapter.

If you’re an avid fantasy reader and a person of colour, you might feel the slightest bit of burnout by the overwhelming amount of super popular fantasy books that are decidedly whitewashed. 

Growing up in the 2000s/2010s like myself AKA the golden age of the dystopian future novel, it’s been a rather isolating experience to be faced with the same white protagonists over and over again. While I do love Tris and Katniss as much as the next Gen Z-er, it’s about time that readers like me can experience protagonists that actually look like them and reflect their experiences. 

Not only are a vast majority of popular fantasy books featuring mainly or even only white characters, many characters of colour in popular fantasy books fall under a distinctly racist and or stereotypical banner. This is not proper representation and does more harm to POC communities than good. 

Similarly, many fantasy books also base most of their world-building on European history or otherwise European settings. There is a lack of books that showcase POC history as well as that aren’t hugely Euro-centric. 

To this effect, I’ve made a list of some of my favourite fantasy book recs as well as the ones that are on my TBR! 

Being of Asian descent myself, many of my favorites feature world-building set in the broader Asian space and Asian characters that shatter the ceiling of stereotypes surrounding Asian characters and the larger Asian diaspora. 

I can’t talk about world-building without talking about the work of Chloe Gong. Featuring parallels with Chinese history in a creative reimagining of 1920s Shanghai, Foul Lady Fortune is a spinoff of the popular These Violent Delights book. Though it is a spinoff, the book can be read as a standalone as well. 

On the note of magnificent world-building, another author that I must mention is R. F. Kuang. R. F. Kuang boasts a writing portfolio of note with one trilogy – The Poppy War trilogy as well as Babel. Her books which are another example of historical fantasy which parallels Chinese history and creates a new world that is both familiar but also incredibly imaginative. 

Across the Asian continent, books that feature South Asian characters are incredibly close to my heart and there is a sore lack of hype surrounding fantasy books which are based in and around South Asia and feature South Asian characters. A book that has been sitting on my TBR is The Darkening by Sunya Mara. The book features some of my favourite aspects of fantasy: a cursed land, a badass female protagonist who isn’t afraid to manipulate and scheme and a touch of enemies-to-lovers romance with an evil prince all set in a South Asian inspired land. 

I have a lot of love for books that take such heavy inspiration from South Asian culture and countries, especially when they feature female protagonists which are strong-willed and independent. 

Another book I have been dying to mention is The Last Feather by Shameez Patel Papathanasiou. Shameez is a South African writer that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting myself after I read her debut novel. Her book features everything I mentioned earlier and more. It contains a badass female protagonist and world-building that moves away from the Eurocentric model as well some romance – just the way I like it. The second book of the trilogy: The Eternal Shadow just dropped in April. I’ve yet to read the sequel, but I cannot not mention this writer’s work when talking about diverse fantasy books I cannot help but recommend to anyone willing.

There are admittedly way more books which I could mention, and I implore every fantasy book connoisseur to go out there and pick out a book that features and elevates POC’s voices in a space that often silences them. 

And you never know, you might find works that speak to you in a way that you’ve never experienced before! 

Nuhaa Isaacs is a Cape Town born and raised student at the University of Cape Town. She is currently studying toward a BA triple majoring in English Literary Studies, Media and Writing as well as Gender Studies. She has been a staff writer for Her Campus UCT since 2021, and a current member of the Social Media Sub-committee at Her Campus UCT. Sappy romantic fantasy novels and incredibly specific Spotify playlists are everything to her (as well as her three cats: Zuri, Shelley and Peanut). You can find her on Instagram (@nuhaa_i) or Tiktok (@nuhaaorwhatever) probably posting silly little outfit videos. Get in touch via email for any formal inquiries: nuhaa.isaacs@gmail.com.