Toto, I Don't Think We're in Middle-Earth Anymore

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Toto, I Don't Think We're in Middle-Earth Anymore

African, East Asian, and Middle Eastern Inspired Fantasy

Look, I love a good ole traditional sword-and-sorcery fantasy story complete with castles, dragons, and sundry knights, but these medieval European-inspired epics have cluttered mainstream fantasy for long enough. From J.R.R. Tolkien’s godfather of modern fantasy The Lord of the Rings to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (a.k.a Game of Thrones) series, there’s plenty out there to wet your whistle in this particular subset of fantasy. What sometimes gets overlooked is the wonderful treasure trove of fantasy inspired by African, Middle-Eastern and Asian culture, where dragons are traded for djinn, assassins and warrior-mages replace mounted knights and magic is seen through an entirely different prism of folklore and invention. Here are just a few of these fantastically inventive worlds.
 
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves and Reapers summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy. The latest buzzworthy novel in the YA and New Adult world, Children of Blood and Bone introduces readers to a dense, vivid world of intriguing politics, complex magic and a strong heroine fighting against brutal violence and oppression. The emphasis on fighting for justice and saving one’s own people speak to our times, and the buzz surrounding this title has already generated an impressive movie deal.
 
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes beyond, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani Al’Hiza can’t wait to escape from. In Dustwalk, Amani can only end up “wed or dead,” and she has no interest in either. Making use of her impressive sharpshooter skills, Amani dresses as a boy and enters a shooting contest where she meets Jin, a mysterious foreigner. She comes to view Jin as the perfect escape route, but flight will bring dangerous and devastating consequences across Amani’s path, both for herself and for the entire nation of Miraji. A refreshing break from the more traditional YA fantasy, Rebel of the Sands features a willful and witty protagonist, thrilling twists that feel familiar but soon take on a life of their own, and a great balance of humor and romance that will leave you satisfied but yearning for more after the final page.
 
Jade City by Fonda Lee
Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion. Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon's bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation. But when a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.  An adult, urban fantasy mob novel kickstarting a new series, Jade City draws on the complex history of Hong Kong gang culture to create a fully realized world populated with complex characters, intriguing plot twists, and a deep world whose secrets will entrance you from page one.
 
The City of Brass by 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. The City of Brass is an adult fantasy novel, enveloping and fast-paced from the opening, a plot-driven adventure story told in vivid prose that explores Middle Eastern culture and mysticism. You can tell that the culture and traditions of 18th century Cairo have been thoroughly researched, yet nothing is bogged down by excessive detail. The independent hero, wry humor and richly imagined alternate world make for an intriguing start to a series.
 
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Born in New York, but living in Aba, Nigeria, 12-year-old Sunny is understandably a little lost. She is albino and thus, incredibly sensitive to the sun. All Sunny wants to do is be able to play football and get through another day of school without being bullied. But once she befriends Orlu and Chichi, Sunny is plunged into the world of the Leopard People, where your worst defect becomes your greatest asset. Together, Sunny, Orlu, Chichi and Sasha form the youngest ever Oha Coven. Their mission is to track down Black Hat Otokoto, the man responsible for kidnapping and maiming children. Will Sunny be able to overcome the killer with powers stronger than her own, or will the future she saw in the flames become reality? This book is for readers, young and old alike, who want something more in their fantasy than just dwarves and elves. Though there are parallels to other famous fantasy novels, you won’t find the same retreaded realms here. Instead, this tale of African magic will marvel the curious reader, rewarding patience with masterful character building and insightful commentary on race, power, home, friendship and what it means to be talented.
 
Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
Paama’s husband is a fool and a glutton. Bad enough that he followed her to her parents’ home in the village of Makendha—now he’s disgraced himself by murdering livestock and stealing corn. When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones—the djombi—who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world. Unfortunately, a wrathful djombi with indigo skin believes this power should be his and his alone. A new age fairy tale inspired by a Senegalese folktale. Told with a great and assured voice, this fable-esque novel retells Senegalese legend with a mischievous, contemporary spin that explores family, tragedy, poetry and, naturally, the very nature of chaos itself.
 
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
The Nuru and Okeke peoples live in a far future, post-nuclear-holocaust Africa. The aggressive Nuru have decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke. But when the only surviving member of a slain Okeke village is brutally assaulted, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand and instinctively knows that her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means "Who Fears Death?" in an ancient African tongue. Reared under the tutelage of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers her magical destiny: to end the genocide of her people. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to grapple with nature, tradition, history, true love, the spiritual mysteries of her cultureand eventually death itself. Not for the fainthearted, this adult sci-fi/fantasy novel is the epitome of the feminist answer to white, male-dominated European mainstream fantasy. It tackles our ideas of gender roles, poverty and stigma along with asking us what the role of a hero is in society, and who is best-suited to fulfill that position.