The following books are unlike anything you've ever read in fantasy before. I guarantee that you'll find your next favorite story in one (or all) of these books!
Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone is being adapted into a film for Disney. The rights were acquired by Fox 2000 first, but now that Disney and Fox have merged, the film will be under Disney as well. It is being produced by Lucasfilm, which has brought Star Wars and Indiana Jones to Disney. Children of Blood and Bone is the first film that Lucasfilm is producing for Disney that isn’t apart of those franchises.
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There are a lot of exciting sequels coming up, and if you’ve left preparation for the last minute, don’t panic: here are four forthcoming books and how you can catch before they come out!
1. When She Reigns – Jodi Meadows
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A lush fantasy world and slow burn plot that’ll keep you thinking until the final book on September 10th, pick up this book if you want an amazing story that’ll make you feel things. Plus you’ll love the complexity of the characters and their relationships.
2. Wayward Son – Rainbow Rowell
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Where to start: Carry On
This series is a great take on wizard school. We start in the last year. Simon Snow’s got a lot of power, but he’s not good at using it. Also he’s pretty sure his roommate is a secret vampire. And something is eating magic in great, horrible swathes. Also, LGBTQAA+.
3. Supernova – Marissa Meyer
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This is a post-Utopian urban fantasy about villainy and revenge. Superpowers, syndicates, and spy craft make this different from other entries into the genre, and you’ll find the characters awfully charming or charmingly awful. Sides are set in stone, and one person’s interests might contradict.
4. Children of Virtue and Vengeance – Tomi Adeyemi
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Where to start: Children of Blood and Bone
Magic and it’s users were killed off by ruthless invaders, but now there’s one chance to bring it back. To do so will require crossing territory filled with beasts and magic, side by side with an enemy, but the greatest struggle may be controlling the magic that’s left.
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What makes a fantasy series successful isn’t the number of dragons its author jams into it. Given the grand scale of fantasy, both readers and writers can sometimes forget that stories don’t necessarily come from big stakes, but from small moments. Although the genre deviates from reality, the center of any story is an emotional one: an exploration, however abstract, of the things that make us human. (Or, at least, what makes elves human enough that we bother reading on.)
Clearly, Tomi Adeyemi has done something right—more than one thing, by the looks of it. At only twenty-three years old, Adeyemi scored a shockingly lucrative book deal for Children of Blood and Bone, a YA fantasy trilogy inspired by Nigerian culture & mythology. One Entertainment Weekly article entitled “Is Tomi Adeyemi the next J.K. Rowling?” emphasizes Adeyemi’s cultural feat: “it’s not every day that an unknown-23-year-old sells the movie rights to an unpublished fantasy trilogy for seven figures.” In a rare move, Fox 2000 bypassed the optioning phase entirely and purchased the rights directly. Adeyemi credits her Nigerian immigrant parents with much of her success, claiming that they instilled a hard work ethic into her from an early age. But perhaps some of her success has come from the weight of her mission: “Write a story that’s so good and so black that everyone’s going to have to read it—even if they’re racist.”
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Many think that writers primarily sort themselves into one of two categories: plot writers and character writers. In reality, there are at least four. There are good plot & character writers—and there are the others.
Adeyemi self-identifies as a writer to whom plot comes more naturally, but that doesn’t mean she neglects her characters. After writing the plot, she told attendees at her 2019 BookCon panel, she spends “every draft” figuring out the ways in which the plot changes her characters. “Fantasy has to be human,” she emphasized. “Fantasy needs to be especially human.” Authors can get caught up in the gravitas of their own worlds, often forgetting that our own reality holds the same high stakes. The world tends to be ending, not as a prophecy but as a general statement of fact. That tends not to be our main motivation on any given day. Even if you are an activist whose primary focus is societal responsibility, there are friends and events and moments that matter to us outside of that objective. Adeyemi discussed the ways in which some high fantasy can draw a low level of engagement:
There are a lot of popular fantasy series that are the fantasy series of our day, and I just don’t care about those people. I don’t care if they get killed by a dragon. I don’t care if it happens – I’m hoping for it to happen. I know I cracked a character when I fall in love with something about that character. The most epic moments in our lives… for you it’s epic, but for someone else, it’s nothing. Reality is something different to every single person.
As for good and evil, the binary of most works of fantasy, Adeyemi believes it’s all a bit more complicated than that. “I have to believe what my characters believe,” she admitted, but at the same time, “I have to acknowledge what is right and wrong about those beliefs. Everybody is a little bit right, and that’s why they keep coming against each other.” In order to create engaging characters, we have to acknowledge that evil is a buzzword, not a motivation. “I’m not letting people off the hook,” she emphasized, “but I find the percentage of people being bad for bad reasons is incredibly small.”
So… is Adeyemi the next J.K. Rowling? Probably not—it’s a different fantasy world that inspired her from an early age.
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Avatar: The Last Airbender inspired Adeyemi’s worldbuilding and changed her perception of the role culture could play in a story. She recalled one Twitter user recommending A:TLA to cure their Children of Blood and Bone book hangover:
I was so honored because that’s the world I want to live in. Even when it wasn’t my dream to be a writer, it was my dream to create a world that people get lost in. A lot of people were so inspired by Harry Potter, but for me it’s Avatar. Culture is more than what people wear, what they eat. It’s the way they interact with each other in the world. So it was a joy to do that with my own heritage.
Of course, Adeyemi wasn’t always as successful in her world building. Improvement is just as much practice as it is understanding the mechanics of storytelling—arguably, you can’t understand those mechanics until you practice! “All my fantasy worlds before were like, ‘ok, now they can do lightning!’ They didn’t have depth,” Adeyemi explained, “but now, I can build a world with heart and meaning.”
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Beautifully written and deeply moving, these nine books explore race and identity. Tinged with each author’s personal experience, these stories are raw, visceral, and unapologetic.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into separate villages. They go on to face wildly different fates; Effia marrys an Englishman and lives out a life of comfort, while Esi is sold into slavery and shipped off to America. One vein follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of turmoil in Ghana as the Asante and Fante nations wrestle with colonization. The other vein follows Esi’s descendants through the plantations to the Civil War to the birth of Jazz and dope houses of Harlem.
2. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Zélie calls Orïsha home, and her home once hummed with magic. Burners could set things ablaze, Tiders could pull forward waves, and Reapers like her mother could summon souls. Everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a tyrannical king, maji were killed, orphaning Zélie and leaving her people in darkness. Determined to bring back magic and tear apart the monarchy, Zélie enlists the help of a rogue princess. Together, they must defeat the crown prince, who is battling to eradicate magic for good. Danger lurks at every corner, but Zélie slowly learns what truly threatens her triumph. Already losing control of her powers, Zélie finds herself growing feelings for her enemy.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Tracey and Aimee dream of being dancers. However, only Tracey has the talent to succeed. Aimee is the observer, full of ideas and talented in another way. As the two friends grow older, they have a falling out, never to speak again. Tracey earns herself a few gigs as a dancer but eventually falls into poverty. Aimee becomes an assistant to a famous singer, traveling the world and learning what it feels like to live a lavish life. Empowered, Aimee travels to a small West African nation hoping to lift a village out of destitution. Through the pair, we explore how dance can and can’t transcend racial barriers.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
At thirteen years old, Jojo struggles to understand what it means to “be a man.” In his short life, he has had four key figures to study. Among them, his black grandfather Pop predominates. But there are other men who blur Jojo’s understanding: his absent white father, Michael, soon to be released from prison; his absent white grandfather, Joseph, who doesn’t acknowledge him; and the tales of his uncle, Given, who died as a teenager. His mother, Leonie, is a troubled woman too preoccupied battling her own demons. When Michael regains his freedom, Leonie packs the kids in a car and drives them north to a penitentiary in Mississippi. There, the ghost of a dead thirteen-year-old inmate teaches Jojo about fathers, sons, legacies, violence, and love.
We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Dr. Nzinga’s runs a clinic where anyone can get their lips thinned, their skin bleached, and their nose narrowed. You can even opt for a complete demelanization to unburden yourself the societal price of being black. When the opportunity presents, a father is faced with a choice to erase half of his biracial son Nigel’s identity. The pressure grows as violence swarms their home, a near-future Southern city. All the while, Nigel’s black birthmark grows larger and larger by the day.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
Eccentric and withdrawn, Aster isn’t phased when people call her an “ogre” and a “freak.” She lives in the slums of HSS Matilda, a space vessel as segregated as the antebellum South. The vessel carries the last of humanity to the Promised Land they’ve been searching for 325 years. The ship’s leaders police and dehumanize dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster. Meanwhile, Aster navigates the ship’s horrors looking for a way off. When she learns that there’s a connection between her mother’s suicide and the ship’s ailing Sovereign, Aster realizes she may prevail if she’s willing to fight for it.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
When Boy Novak turns twenty, she finds herself yearning for a new life. In what turns out to be a serendipitous twist, she lands in the town of Flax Hill, Massachusetts. It’s there she meets Aruto Whitman, craftsmen, widower and father of a young girl named Snow. To Boy, Snow is the mild-mannered endearing girl Boy never was. Soon after, Boy gives birth to Snow’s sister Bird. Bird is dark-skinned, exposing the Whitmans to be light-skinned African-Americans posing as white. A divide forms between Boy, Snow, and Bird forcing them to question unspoken power of the mirror.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
In this Pulitzer Prize winning novel, we follow the story of Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, as she tries to escape her shackles. She’s approached by a another slave, Caesar, and they hatch a plan to head north. Things go awry when Cora is forced to kill a white man trying to capture her as Ridgeway, a slave catcher, is hot on their trail. What follows is a harrowing tale, ripe with bravery and tragedy, as the pair set out to tread the Underground Railroad.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Saul and Saachi pray for a child, and they’re blessed with a baby girl named Ada. Ada grows into a mercurial and fractured child. Eventually, Ada moves to America for college where she is one day assaulted. The trauma causes the different selves inside her to manifest. Her alters, Asughara and Saint Vincent begin to take control of her mind as she slowly fades away. Spiraling out of control, Ada’s life begins to fall into danger and darkness.
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