Ageless Discussions: Beyond Merry Olde England

Friday, May 19, 2017

Not all fantasy books are inspired by real-world events or countries but a lot of the best are. A lot of my favorites admittedly fall into this category. Big SF/F genre names like GRRM tend to draw the best plotlines from real life events, like England's The War of the Roses and the Hundred Years' War between England and France, or Daniel Abraham's fantasy version of WWII in The Dagger and Coin series. I love the hook of real life meets dragons or direwolves. Sebastien de Castell's Greatcoats series takes place in an obvious version of fantasy-France and is another fave. Most of these popular and known books are loosely and noticeably drawn from Europe/England's history.

However, the same locations and inspirations can wear thin, especially when the same tropes are reused over and over. I don't want to keep reading the same versions of the same world; there's no invention or imagination to that, not to mention all the other perspectives and places ignored. Not every fantasy should be recognizable as a version of medieval England. Not all story influences should be drawn from European mythology or folklore. As with anything in life, adding diversity - in characters, mythology, authors you read from--  is the way to go. In my opinion and in my reading experience, fiction is at its best when it expands our views, introduces new ideas and different cultures. I read to stand in someone else's shoes -- and I don't want the same view every time.

In recent years, there has been a noticeable push to publish books that are less white and/or obviously inspired by Europe and its history, as well as authored by people of color and lgbtqia+ people. Despite the fact that Europe has always been more racially-mixed in population than art/media would show, fantasy writers tend to write white, straight male heroes saving fantasy-France over and over - and it can be hard to find a story centered on a nonwhite or nonhetero protagonist. The inclusion of a character of color, or a gay character, is rare and often a) a sidekick or b) a redshirt destined to die or c) an evil one-note villain.

It's a glaring issue in publishing and though more diverse books are being published (to wide acclaim and success!) gaining steam, predominant tropes revert to the WASPM perspective and default. Though I had not been as aware of this as I should have been as a reader, I've been trying to diversify my TBR. As I have learned over the last few years of Twitter, it's always better to go with Own Voices when it comes to other cultures and countries. The best fantasy set in non-European-inspired worlds are those from authors who have experienced or know cultures and heritages other than the predominant Western/European.

Read This, Not That:


Saladin Ahmed
The Throne of the Crescent Moon

Roshani Choski
The Star-Touched Queen, A Crown of Wishes

Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Summer Prince

Sabaa Tahir
An Ember in the Ashes, A Torch Against the Night  

Karen Miller
Empress, The Riven Kingdom, Hammer of God

Rin Chupeco
The Bone Witch

Karuna Riazi
The Gauntlet  

Sarwat Chadda
Ash Mistry & the Savage Fortress, Ash Mistry & the City of Death, Ash Mistry & the World of Darkness

Ken Liu
The Grace of Kings, The Wall of Storms

Labyrinth Lost

Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Certain Dark Things

Sangu Mandanna
The Lost Girl


Zoe Marriott
Shadows on the Moon, Barefoot on the Wind

Jay Kristoff
Stormdancer, Kinslayer, Endsinger

Brian Staveley
The Emperor's Blades, The Providence of Fire, The Last Mortal Bond

Alison Goodman
Eon, Eona 


Fiona McIntosh
Odalisque, Emissary, Goddess

Lian Hearn
Across the Nightingale Floor, Grass for His Pillow, Brilliance of the Moon, The Harsh Cry of the Heron, Heaven's Net is Wide

Jay Lake
Green, Endurance, Kalimpura

Howard Andrew Jones
The Desert of Souls, The Bones of the Old Ones

The best way to get more diverse literature is to support diverse voices. So, a few forthcoming fantasies worthy of a preorder:

The Tiger's Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera (Their Bright Ascendancy #1)
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao (Rise of the Empress #1)
The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
Assassins of Ghadid by K.A. Doore
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi
The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan (The Khorasan Archives #1)

Do you try to read diversely? Are there some diverse fantasy reccomendations I need to read?


  1. Loved this post! And you're quite right about fantasy tropes being constantly re-used. I think that's why I branch out less in fantasy than I would like to... they all start reading the same after a point. I admittedly don't try to read diversely but it usually ends up happening anyways. The City of Brass is definitely on my TBR but looks like I"ve got a few more to check out now too!

    1. Thanks for reading. I know I am not saying anything revelatory here, I just hope people search out books that challenge them as well as comfort them :)

      I am very excited for City of Brass -- love that cover and the premise.


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