Fantasy, as a genre, is noted for how homogenous it can be—medieval European setting (adjusting for British or Continental tastes accordingly), wizards, royalty, and, of course, white people. But there are two titles on my reading list that fight this by injecting some much needed diversity into the genre. (And, for the first time in a while, an actually recent release!)
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
In his latest innovative novel, the award-winning author evokes the dazzling Tang Dynasty of 8th-century China in a story of honor and power.
Inspired by the glory and power of Tang dynasty China, Guy Gavriel Kay has created a masterpiece.
It begins simply. Shen Tai, son of an illustrious general serving the Emperor of Kitai, has spent two years honoring the memory of his late father by burying the bones of the dead from both armies at the site of one of his father’s last great battles. In recognition of his labors and his filial piety, an unlikely source has sent him a dangerous gift: 250 Sardian horses.
You give a man one of the famed Sardian horses to reward him greatly. You give him four or five to exalt him above his fellows, propel him towards rank, and earn him jealousy, possibly mortal jealousy. Two hundred and fifty is an unthinkable gift, a gift to overwhelm an emperor.
Wisely, the gift comes with the stipulation that Tai must claim the horses in person. Otherwise he would probably be dead already…
Under Heaven popped up on my radar as I was reading Kay for the first time. While I wasn’t impressed with The Summer Tree, Tigana blew me away, so it’s high time to see for myself one Kay’s famous “historical fantasies”, especially one inspired by Imperial China.
Under Heaven was published on April 27, 2010.
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
From Saladin Ahmed, finalist for the Nebula and Campbell Awards, comes one of the year’s most anticipated fantasy debuts, THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON, a fantasy adventure with all the magic of The Arabian Nights.
The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers, is at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings:
Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter’s path.
Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla’s young assistant, a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, is eager to deliver God’s justice. But even as Raseed’s sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia.
Zamia Badawi, Protector of the Band, has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the Lion-Shape, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man’s title. She lives only to avenge her father’s death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt her father’s killer. Until she meets Raseed.
When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince’s brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time–and struggle against their own misgivings–to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.
Ahmed has been on my radar for a bit; he was on an episode or two of Writing Excuses discussing worldbuilding and, of course, promoting his book. But it was Aidan Moher’s review at A Dribble of Ink that really caught my attention (and reminded me it was coming out).
Moher enjoyed it—while he notes the pacing can stutter, he also notes that Ahmed deals with the religion that pervades his characters’ lives deftly and authentically. Mihir Wanchoo at Fantasy Book Critic loved it.
Throne of the Crescent Moon is being released today!