This is a fantasy edition of Mia’s Library, which should surprise none of you as it’s my favourite genre. I know there exists a great deal of literary sniffiness about fantasy- it’s too often considered low-brow or unchallenging- but that’s a nonsense. Good fantasy is more than just dragons and escapism- it’s literature that happens to be fun as well as evocative. One criticism I will accept of mainstream fantasy however is the fetishisation of Middle Age/swords and knights/Anglo Saxon themes. Time was, you could count on a fantasy novel to be full of white guys with swords, and to only mention people of colour as some sort of evil or impossibly exotic race with next to no ‘screen time’. That’s changing, happily, and here are two excellent, mold-breaking fantasy novels that deserve to be on your shelf.
1:Sorcerer To The Crown by Zen Cho
I kind of hate Zen Cho because she’s written the book I’d like to have written. Marrying Regency England with magic, this book is best described as a combination of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and Georgette Heyer. In other words, it’s bloody brilliant. The protagonist, Zacharias Wythe, is the Sorcerer Royal to the Crown, a position that ought to afford him every advantage in Regency London. He’s however hampered by the fact that he’s black, the adopted son of the previous Sorcerer Royal and, well, fantasy or not, everyone is still pretty racist. It’s not a dark or a heavy book however, it’s quite light and often hilariously funny- the best lines coming from Zacharias’ protegee and fellow magician Prunella. This book is so full of characters and rich humour that it fully deserves to be called a delight- I devoured it in about 3 hours on a flight and found myself smiling way too much. The cherry on the top is that this is the first in a trilogy, so we’ve lots more to look forward to.
Perfect for: lovers of whimsy and wit, and anyone who’s a bit tired of reading the same old fantasy novel.
2: The Fifth Season by N.K Jemisin
N.K. Jemisin has been on the fantasy scene, smashing up stereotypes and making things awesome, for a while now. Her first trilogy, The Inheritance Trilogy, was so mind-bendingly good that I read all three in about a second, then immediately added her (and gushed at her) in Twitter. Since then, she’s hit us with a second set of glory, in the form of the Dreamblood Duology, which I didn’t love as much but were still SO SO GOOD. Unsatisfied, she’s back for some more praise, this time with The Fifth Season, the first in a new trilogy. Guys, this book is intense. It begins at the end of two worlds- the internal, family unit of our protaganist, who has just discovered the murder of her son and kidnapping of her daughter (by her husband) and the end of the actual world, which is shattering as a result of massive earthquakes. Jemisin’s world building is intelligent and unyielding; nothing is spelled out, rather you’re rewarded with more and more as you press on. It’s a book that examines identity and self, power and prejudice, exploitation and oppression, family and betrayal. It has real, honest characters that make you care about them. It’s incredibly brave, both in the storytelling and in the scope but nothing about it pushes you away. This is a book that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. It’s not a light read, or a particularly happy one, but it’s real, raw, beautifully written and achingly poetic. I loved it.
Perfect for: intermediate fantasy readers who need their books to have some bite.
Hit me up with recommendations, or comments on these books if you’ve read them.