Genre Fiction Books by Authors of Color You Won’t Regret Picking Up
Fantasy has a long history of having a reputation — often a deserved one — of being very white. In recent years that’s begun to change more visibly, as authors like Nnedi Okorafor and N.K. Jemisin have become more well known. This February, in honor of Black History Month and our #BooksSoDiverse campaign, here’s a few of our favorite stand-out genre books/series by authors of color.
- Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
This 2010 World Fantasy Award winner by Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor takes place in a fictionalized post-apocalyptic future Sudan where the light-skinned Nuru oppress the darker Okeke. The protagonist, Onyewesu (meaning “Who Fears Death” in Igbo) is one of the Ewu, a mixed race girl who is the result of her Okeke mother’s rape by a Nuru man, feared and shunned by her mother’s people. Discovering her own power, however, Onyewesu embarks on a journey across the wasteland to defeat her sorcerous father. A powerful, intense novel inspired in part by the 2004 Washington Post article “We Want to Make a Light Baby” about weaponized rape in the Darfur conflict, Who Fears Death is nonetheless ultimately a story that celebrates its heroine’s resilience and strength.
2. Zone One by Colson Whitehead
The zombie craze seems to be dying down a little (though the recent release of the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies movie might bring it back from the dead), but one of the standouts of the genre remains this melancholy novel by Colson Whitehead. It takes place in the ebb of the zombie apocalypse as protagonist Mark Spitz and his squad of “sweepers” clean up the stragglers on the streets of New York City, attempting to make the city habitable again. Less of an action/adventure story than a novel that dwells on survival and the struggle to make meaning out of devastation, Zone One tells a familiar story in a beautifully unfamiliar way.
3. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
No list of genre fiction would be complete without mention of Octavia Butler, who was not only a pioneering black woman writer in science fiction, but also a pioneering writer in general, pushing the boundaries of the genre and what it could do. Parable of the Sower takes place in a future that now seems uncomfortably prescient, in which environmental disaster has torn society apart, and the gap between rich and poor looms wide and exploitation by corporate entities is seemingly the only choice besides starvation. Lauren Olamina, born with the ability to sense the pain and sensation of others, begins to develop a philosophy and religion called Earthseed and the idea that “God is Change.”
4. The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
N.K. Jemisin, who recently began writing a review column on genre fiction in the New York Times, is one of the most exciting voices to emerge in fantasy in the last few years. This, her first series, tells the story of an empire that has enslaved its gods, and three different women, their stories intertwined, who will shake that empire to its roots. Lovely, exciting, and purely original, if this is the future of science fiction/fantasy then the future looks bright.
5. Storm: Make It Rain by Greg Pak
The first solo series in years for comics’ most famous black superheroine, Korean-American Pak’s take on Storm is beautiful and evocative, embracing Ororo Munroe’s enormous power hand-in-hand with her humanity and compassion. This comic also brought two of the most stunning and powerful covers as a smear campaign brings Storm into conflict with the law, printed around the time of the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
6. Redemption In Indigo by Karen Lord
A modern fantasy based in part on Senegalese folk tale, this short novel is about Paama, a woman who receives the power of Chaos after leaving her shiftless husband. However, she soon draws the attention of the Indigo Lord, a powerful spirit who believes that power should belong to him alone.
7. White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
Helen Oyeyemi’s haunting prose brings chilling life to this novel about generations of women connected through a strange house invested with a peculiar kind of power. Miranda Silver, the most recent descendant of her family, has struggled throughout her life with a peculiar eating disorder. Her story intertwines with that of an African adoptee, Ore, and as Miranda’s connection to her new friend begins to usurp her connection with the house, sublimated menace rises to something darker, sharper, and more obvious.
8. Huntress by Malinda Lo
This fairy-tale inspired fantasy, with two seemingly dramatically opposed female protagonists, follows an old plot imbued with fresh life. Something has gone wrong in the human world, and the source of the disturbance seems to have something to do with the Faeire realm. Strongly influenced by Chinese mythology, Lo crafts a compelling story and eventual romance around her two female protagonists: Kaede, solidly grounded, and Taisin, on the path to becoming a sage.
9. The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Another novel brimming with Chinese influence, The Grace of Kings is a fantasy based on Chinese literature and legend, with touches of Polynesian influence as well. Thief and ruffian Kuni Garu and fearless warrior and scion of nobility Mata Zyndu, become allies and then friends in the course of a revolution. With the arrival of peace, however, their friendship is tested and strained by their contradictory approaches to rule. This sprawling, epic tale juxtaposes the battles of gods and men, tracing developing friendships and relationships against the backdrop of struggles that change nations.
10. A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
A sequel, Winged Histories, is coming out this year, so it’s the perfect time to catch up on this underrated gem. Much of this story centers on the power of stories and language — “that seductive necromancy, reading”. On his yearly trading visit to Olondria, a country where books are as common as they are rare at home, Jevick finds himself haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young girl and caught in a power struggle between two cults.