As mentioned in this blog post, I am spending February and March reading and reviewing works from women and/or non-white authors to highlight and celebrate diversity within the Fantasy and Science Fiction genre. For more information please see the hyperlink above.
Although I have allocated February and March for these reads, should I take longer, I will be continuing until I finish the whole list. In no particular order then, here is my list. Please let me know what you think in the comments or Twitter! And if you want to take part yourself, use the hashtag #SFFDiversityChallenge
Binti – Nnedi Okorafor
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
Binti is a novella, though part of a series of 2 more books. It is one of a very few number of African-inspired sci-fi books set in space, and I love the premise. This is one of the books I’m most intrigued about reading on the list!
You can find Nnedi Okorafor on Twitter
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…
I actually found this book (and series) a while ago after a pretty deep and interesting cultural discussion with a Muslim colleague, who was telling me about Djinns. I did a bit of googling and ended up researching novels that had Djinns in them. This was one of them and it’s been on my radar since, so was a natural choice when deciding which books to start with on my Diversity read.
You can find S. A. Chakraborty on Twitter
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro – KS Villoso
A queen of a divided land must unite her people, even if they hate her, even if it means stopping a ruin that she helped create. A debut epic fantasy from an exciting new voice.
‘They called me the Bitch Queen, the she-wolf, because I murdered a man and exiled my king the night before they crowned me.’
Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves, which nearly tore her nation apart. But her arranged marriage with the son of a rival clan should herald peaceful days to come.
However, her fiancé’s sudden departure before their reign begins puts a quick end to those dreams, and the kingdom is fractured beyond repair.
Years later, Talyien receives a message, one that will send her across the sea. What’s meant to be an effort at reconciling the past becomes an assassination attempt. Stranded in a land she doesn’t know, with no idea whom she can trust, Talyien will have to embrace her namesake.
A wolf of Oren-yaro is not tamed.
Follow KS Villoso on Twitter
We Ride The Storm – Devin Madson
War built the Kisian Empire and war will tear it down. And as an empire falls, three warriors rise.
Caught in a foreign war, Captain Rah e’Torin and his exiled warriors will have to fight or die. Their honour code is all they have left until orders from within stress them to breaking point, and the very bonds that hold them together will be ripped apart.
Cassandra wants the voice in her head to go away. Willing to do anything for peace, the ageing whore takes an assassination contract that promises answers, only the true price may be everyone and everything she knows.
A prisoner in her own castle, Princess Miko doesn’t dream of freedom but of the power to fight for her empire. As the daughter of a traitor the path to redemption could as easily tear it, and her family, asunder.
As an empire dies they will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.
I chose this novel because Petrik named it as one of his favourite books and thought I needed to give it a read! I’ve seen it recommended a few times on twitter too. I also wanted a good old war book to read!
You can find Devin Madson on Twitter
A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.
Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.
Every so often I treat myself to a hardback/hardcover book. They’re not as convenient and they’re usually twice as expensive as a paperback, but I just have a good feeling about this book! It’s been rated highly by a few reviewers I follow and the premise looks so interesting – unlike anything I’ve read before. I’m looking forward to settling down with this and a hot cup of tea and beholding the hardcover beauty!
You can follow Arkady Martine on Twitter
Blood of Heirs – Alicia Wanstall-Burke
Lidan Tolak is the fiercest of her father’s daughters; more than capable of one day leading her clan. But caught between her warring parents, Lidan’s world begins to unravel when another of her father’s wives falls pregnant. Before she has time to consider the threat of a brother, a bloody swathe is cut through the heart of the clan and Lidan must fight, not only to prove her worth, but simply to survive.
Ranoth Olseta wants nothing more than to be a worthy successor to his father’s throne. When his home is threatened by the aggressive Woaden Empire, Ran becomes his city’s saviour, but powers within him are revealed by the enemy and he is condemned to death. Confused and betrayed, Ran is forced to flee his homeland, vowing to reclaim what he has lost, even if it kills him.
Facing an unknown future, and battling forces both familiar and foreign, can Lidan and Ran overcome the odds threatening to drag them into inescapable darkness?
I’m always glad to support SPFBO (self published fantasy blog off) entrants and Blood Of Heirs is a 2019 finalist. Quite simply I’ve only heard good things about Blood of Heirs and what an exciting new writer Alicia Wanstall-Burke is. From what I’ve heard I envision this becoming a very popular series in the genre and I’ll glad to help the process!
You can find Alicia Wanstall-Burke on Twitter
The Rage of Dragons – Evan Winter
Game of Thrones meets Gladiator in this debut epic fantasy about a world caught in an eternal war, and the young man who will become his people’s only hope for survival.
The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.
Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance. Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him.
I’m not entirely sure this book needs any further support. It began as a self published novel before being taken on and published by Orbit in July of last year, and it’s been on fantasy bloggers’ lips ever since. Despite this, Mr. Winter comes across as so humble, as if it hasn’t quite sunk in that has been signed for 4 books! I’m ashamed to admit thus far I’ve never read a novel set in Africa/African inspired, and despite having read a few fantasy books over the last year, there haven’t been enough dragons! This is probably my most anticipated book from the list and one I need to read before the sequel is released later this year.
You can find Evan Winter on Twitter
Bloodchild – Octavia Butler
Years ago a group known as the Terrans left Earth in search of a life free of persecution. Now they live alongside the Tlic, an alien race who face extinction; their only chance of survival is to plant their larvae inside the bodies of the humans.
When Gan, a young, boy, is chosen as a carrier of Tlic eggs, he faces an impossible dilemma: can he really help the species he has grown up with, even if it means sacrificing his own life?
Bloodchild is Octavia E. Butler’s shattering meditation on symbiosis, love, power and tough choices. It won the Hugo, Locus, Nebula and Science Fiction Chronicle awards and is widely regarded as one of her greatest works.
Bloodchild really stood out to me and the premise is fascinating. It’s only after I had already decided on it that I realised it is a very short story! I therefore added another book onto the list but wanted to keep this story on my TBR for Feb/March. Octavia sadly passed away in 2006 but remains a highly respected and admired author. Despite being a short story I’m sure it will give me a thirst to read more of her books in future.
The Fifth Season – N. K. Jemisin
This is the way the world ends. Again.
Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.
This trilogy comes highly recommended from a couple of bloggers whose word I take for gospel, which is a good sign. I’ve seen it labelled as fantasy, I’ve seen it labelled as sci-fi; since I review both that’s all fine with me. The last book I read that that crossed genres, The Ninth Rain was fantastic, and I have high hopes for this. I’m a bit late to the party, but better late thank never eh?
You can follow N. K. Jemisin on Twitter
The Poppy War – R. F. Kuang
When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.
The Poppy War was published on May 1st, 2018 when the author was just 21. Rebecca F. Kuang has followed it up with The Dragon Republic this year, which has received really positive reviews. I wanted to read a book set in East Asia, and this reimagining of 20th century China certainly looks a unique and exciting read, the perfect introduction to fantasy in an East Asian setting.
Follow Rebecca F. Kuang on Twitter