Anyone who spends enough time reading will know that just because a book is popular doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s well written; just like people, popularity is not necessarily a sign of quality merely a sign of palatability.
Every few years there’s a push for people to read more books by writers who are not white or writers who are not male or (more recently) writers who are not cis-gendered or Western. People will argue that this is difficult, which is interesting because I accidentally didn’t read a book by a man until I read a book for work in July on newspaper pasteup (it’s an archaic form of laying out a newspaper).
But not everyone falls into a danmei hole that they can’t extricate themselves from, so with that in mind, here is a list of genre fiction that you can read that are not by cisgender white dudes. (Related caveat, I would totally be recommending Heaven Official’s Blessing here if it had an official English translation, but unfortunately it doesn’t–though it is available in Chinese).
I don’t know how to recommend Ring Shout to you without simply telling you what Ring Shout is. Like, the premise should be enough to sell you on the concept; the KKK are actual demons summoned by Birth of a Nation and hatred and the only thing that can stop them is a group of resistance fighters armed with guns, bombs, and one very powerful sword. It’s part urban fantasy, part historical novel, and it’s very, very good. There’s no reason you should not be reading Ring Shout this year.
Sanao Mokoya is a naga-hunter, but she hasn’t always been. Before, she was a prophetess and an important political figure, but after the violent death of her daughter she cast herself into the wilderness to hunt monsters. The novella Red Threads of Fortune follows her in a sort of pseudo one-last-job situation where she is pulled back to investigate a strange naga that threatens her former allies and family. The book is heavily steeped in the language of loss and grief, but also has a fascinating magic system and realized political world.
A fantastical adventure set in Jazz Age Mexico, infused with Mayan mythology, Gods of Jade and Shadow is the kind of book that promises you an epic quest and actually delivers. By the end you have traversed Mexico and the Underworld, in the company of a young woman (Casiopea Tun) and the Mayan death God Hun-Kamé as he attempts to wrest back control of his throne. The story is about magic and myth and humanity, and it’s somehow romantic without being heavy-handed about it. It’s a fantastic book.
This book was originally sold to me “lesbian necromancers in space,” which is actually pretty accurate, even if as the author points out, the word lesbian is never actually used in the text. The story follows two representatives (Gideon and Harrowhark) of a dying house in a space empire as they attempt to complete a series of quests and puzzles. They are sort of mortal enemies who are also maybe each other’s best friends; side effects perhaps of being the only children on a dying world made of corpses. Their relationship is easily one of the most fascinating things about the book (and it’s sequel) but honestly the world building and side characters are no slouch either.
Imagine a 1950’s detective movie, one in black and white with the light coming in through slatted windows and a woman who will only be referred to as a dame, smoke curling from cigarettes half smoked. Glasses of whiskey. The language of that, but combined with horror–the sticky wet kind that you know is full of blood and viscera. Hammers on Bone is that, a sort of noir that would be easy to call “Lovecraftian” if I had any sort of knowledge of the man beside the standard “oh he’s that tentacle guy who’s pretty racist.” Hammers on Bone is a novella and the start to a series, so it’s short and there’s the promise of more; honestly the perfect combination.
Silver in the Wood is a little fable about the Wild Man of Greenhollow and ultimately, about the men he loved and loves and the impact that they have on his life. As a novella (and also the start of a series) it’s short, but impactful and it builds a world of magic and intrigue with a small cast of characters that you nonetheless grow attached to in the short time you know them.
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