Hello and welcome back to my weekly series A Thousand Lives, where I recommend seven fantasy novels for you! This week’s list contains seven Asian-inspired fantasy books. Based on real Asian countries and historical events, the following recommendations possess elements of fantasy every lover of the genre will enjoy: war, political strife, romance, magic, adventure, secrets, and deception.
Some of the recommendations are stand-alone novels, while others are part of a series. No matter which book you choose (hopefully all of them), I guarantee you’ll find yourself lost in the magical world and feel as if you are right beside these characters on their journeys!
1. The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (series)
Rin is a war orphan from the Rooster Province. She surprises everyone around her when she passes the Keju, a prestigious test that determines which youth will receive an education at the Academies. An even greater shock came when she was accepted into Sinegard, an elite military school.
At Sinegard, Rin is quickly made an outcast due to her complexion, gender, and poor upbringing. However, Rin discovers she possesses a unique power: a talent for shamanism. As Rin explores and refines her powers, she learns that the gods she believed were dead are “very much alive,” and that mastering her gift could be more important than completing her schooling.
Although the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still poses as a threat across the sea. After the First Poppy War years ago, the Federation occupied Nikan, and nearly lost hold of the continent after the Second War. Most live their lives in harmony, but a select few know that another war may be within their nation’s midst. The only hope for survival may just be Rin’s shamanic powers. However, winning the war may come at the expense of her humanity and the opportunity may already be lost.
2. Wicked Fox by Kat Cho (duology)
Gu Miyoung possesses a secret: she’s a gumiho, nine-tailed fox whose ability to survive depends on devouring the energies of men. She resides in Seoul, the perfect location to live and hunt, as very few believe in the old stories anymore. There are so many evil men in the world that no one will notice if a few go missing.
One night, Miyoung meets Jihoon after rescuing him from being attacked by a goblin in the forest. Saving this human boy violated her rules of survival; as a consequence she loses her fox bead, her gumiho soul. Jihoon is fascinated with Miyoung; he knows what she is from the stories his grandmother once told him.
Murderers lurk in the background. Miyoung and Jihoon form an unlikely friendship that eventually turns into something more serious. And when a shaman attempts to reunite Miyoung’s bead with her, the consequences of this meeting force Miyoung to make a choice. She must choose “her immortal life or Jihoon’s.”
3. Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh (duology)
Mariko is the daughter of an esteemed samurai. She knows her place in society and what is expected of her. She’s a brilliant alchemist, perhaps even better than her brother. However, as she is not a boy, she has no control of her future. Mariko is promised to the son of her father’s favorite consort: Minamoto Raiden. The marriage between them will elevate Mariko’s family’s place in society.
However, on her way to Inako, Mariko barely escapes an ambush by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits. She learns the Black Clan was under orders to assassinate her before she arrived at the palace. Mariko dresses as a peasant boy and decides to hunt down the Black Clan and learn who’s behind the orders for her death. However, once Mariko is among the Clan, she is respected and admired for her talents for the first time in her life. And when Mariko begins to fall in love, she begins to question everything she knows, or everything she thought she knew, about “her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.”
4. Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean
Every generation, the next empress of Honoku is determined from a contest. The rules: survive the palace’s seasonal rooms, and marry the prince. All are eligible to partake in the contest except the yōkai, “supernatural monsters and spirits whom the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy.”
Mari has been training her whole life to become empress one day. Winning would be easy for her if she were not hiding a dark secret: she is a yōkai. She will lose her life if she is discovered. Fate brings her with Taro, the imperial prince with no wish to inherit his thrones, and a half-yōkai, half-human outcast named Akira. Honoku’s fate is dependent oh the choices of these three intriguing characters.
5. The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang (prequel to the Theonite series)
At the edge of the Kaigenese Empire lives a group of the world’s most powerful warriors. For centuries, these fighters have helped protect their Empire from enemies, earning their land the rightful nickname of “The Sword of Kaigen.”
Mamoru is fourteen years old. Born into a powerful family, his ambition is to become a skilled fighter to serve his country. However, the unexpected arrival of an outsider who reveals the truth of Kaigen’s supposed peaceful era means Mamoru will no longer have years to develop into the fighter he’s dreamed of being. Even worse, the empire he’s dreamed of defending his entire life may just be built on a “foundation of lies.”
When Misaki married into the Matsudo family, she swore to leave her past life behind. She put away her sword and identity as a former fighter, and resolved to be a good mother and dutiful wife. However, when her son begins asking questions about the world beyond their empire, the threat of invasion becomes more probable, and an annoying husband keeps pestering her, Misaki begins to dig deep to find her inner fighter once again.
When war makes its way to their peninsula, the Matsudo family will either need to muster the strength to defend their empire, or fight a losing battle against each other before the real danger even sets foot on their land.
6. Descendant OF the crane by Joan He
Princess Hesina of Yan has always been happy to neglect the responsibilities of the crown, but she unexpectedly finds herself as queen when her father is murdered. Hesina is determined to learn of her father’s murderer; to do so, she requires the aid of a soothsayer. The discovery of this alliance could be fatal for Hesina, as magic has been outlawed in Yan for centuries.
With the soothsayer’s information, and feeling untrustworthy of her own family, Hesina turns to Akira, a sectretive investigator and convicted criminal. Hesina wants justice for her father, to stabilize her kingdom’s future, but will the price of learning the truth be too high?
7. The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo (A reimagining of The Great Gatsby)
Jordan Baker is a queer, Vietnamese adoptee, growing up in 1920s America. She has money, an education, and invitations into elite Jazz Age parties. She’s treated as an “exotic” by those around her, and remains in the dark about the matters that mean the most to her.
In this exciting, wonderous world, are “infernal pacts,” “dazzling illusions,” “lost ghosts,” and “elemental mysteries.” Fire resides within all paper. Jordan knows she has the power to burn a paper heart out of a man. She needs only learn how.
To purchase any of the above-mentioned books, click on the book’s title!