As May is the Asian Heritage Month and I’m also participating in Wyrd and Wonder, I thought this would be a perfect time to share some of my most favorite Asian fantasy books with all of you. Some of these are quite hyped and popular and you may have already read them, while some may be underrated – but I love them with all my heart and it’s a pleasure to talk more about them.
Find Yourself on a Journey
I want to start off by talking about the fantasies which feature a journey. This is one of my favorite tropes because it helps in character development, there is a sense of adventure, and the characters get to spend time with each other and also understand themselves better. I feel like I’m a part of their journey and I love that feeling so much.
Shadow of the Fox is majorly a quest where our heroine Yumeko has a task to fulfil to prevent a dangerous event and meets other unlikely characters on her journey and this found family is the most amazing ever. Their journey is also filled with adventures and monsters and some stunning action sequences, and I promise it will keep you throughly entertained throughout.
Two female characters from opposite parts of the world undertake a journey to the center of their world in The Never Tilting World, to prevent their lands from being completely destroyed. Other than being full of fun characters and vivid world building, this story is a metaphor for the havoc of climate change and brilliantly evocative.
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water may not have lived up to my expectations, but it’s still a fun journey with a very unlikely group of rebels/bandits who are essentially on the run. Don’t expect much action here, but you will love if you go in looking for lots of fun banter.
Unlikely Heroines fighting for their place in the world
As a major fan of YA fantasies, it’s natural that I gravitate towards books featuring female protagonists. And there are many amazing ones out there, but the ones who are special are the ones who won’t follow the rules, create their own and standup for themselves despite all the opposition they face.
The protagonist of Descendant of the Crane maybe the new Queen after her father’s death, but she still has to prove her worth, while also investigating the King’s murder against everybody’s wishes and using unconventional methods to do it. Part murder mystery, part unraveling of past truths, this book is full of twists and turns that will blow your mind and keep you on your toes for every single page. The only drawback is that there is no planned sequel yet and I just hope we will get it soon.
The Bone Witch trilogy is one of my all time favorites and it has the perfect depiction of a young woman who has terrible powers, who is good and wants to do the right things – but society wont allow her to be herself and she has to fight every step of the way. World building, characters, romance, family, friendships, action, suspense – this series literally has everything and if you havent read it yet, you are missing out.
Most of the time in The Poppy War, I don’t even know what our heroine is fighting for. She can be naive as well as ruthless, helpless as well as brave – she is a study in contradictions and very fascinating to get to know. But beware that this world is dark and brutal and you will hardly find any redemption here.
Why did I have to be Chosen?
Chosen One trope may have been done many many times, but it’s not something I’ve become bored of yet and I love it even more when we got POC chosen ones.
Aru Shah is a like a subversion of this trope, with all the Pandava brothers being reborn as sisters in our world to fight off evil, and this book is such a delight to read. Steeped in the lore of the Mahabharata, it gave me all the nostalgia vibes I needed along with a super fun adventure.
I really can’t tell you much about Monstress because I don’t always understand what’s happening. But we do have a protagonist who happens to have a monster inside her which she didn’t chose, can’t get rid of and can’t control either – leading to many adventures and attracting all sorts of dangerous attacks. But what makes this series brilliant is the expansive world building and absolutely stunning artwork which you can’t help but stare at.
The Tensorate series might not exactly have a Chosen one trope but one of the twins is a Seer who can see the future, but she didn’t choose this for herself and spends the rest of her life struggling with the fact that she can’t alter the horrible futures that are forecasted and tries to learn more about her abilities. This series has wonderful world building, masterful writing and unforgettable characters – and you really are missing out if you haven’t heard about it.
Ohh the wonder of Myths and Legends
When I talk Asia and fantasy, I can’t forget mythology because every single country in this continent has its own robust set of myths and legends and adding these elements to a fantasy only brings more authenticity to the worlds. But I would like to recommend books only related to my country because those are the myths I know best.
Govinda can be called a reinterpretation of the Mahabharata but it is also different in many ways because it strips the original epic of its divine nature and tackles the socioeconomic and political aspects of it. And it’s really a very daring attempt by a debut author which doesn’t always succeed, but you really have to experience it for its sheer audacity. And I especially cherish it for giving me a different way to look at my favorite heroes.
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is a joyful representation of what Asian mythology is all about – stories covering many countries and their local legends, this collection is heartwarming and heartbreaking, but also ultimately feels like home.
Magical Women is also a similar collection of stories, but this time exclusively about desi myths and legends – and it’s strength lies in the women who wrote it and the fierce female protagonists that embody it. A must read book if you love desi fantasy stories.
It’s all about the Family
Despite the huge secondary worlds and wonderful magic systems, sometimes the beauty of these stories lies in the characters and the loyalty they have for their families.
I’ve only read Jade City, but I can tell you that the absolute loyalty to the family and clan that is featured in this book is something I’ve never seen before. And the best thing, we soon start feeling like we are a part of this family too and would give our lives for them. And don’t forget the masterfully written action sequences which you can just see happening in front of your eyes.
Every single character in An Ember in the Ashes series is fighting for their version of the family – whether it’s the heroes or the villains or the commoners, they all strive to protect the ones they love and that’s why this series is so full of heartbreak but you still can’t stop reading.
Let’s dive into the past
Historical fantasy is not something I gravitate towards usually but when your closest friends recommend something with a lot of fervor, it’s hard to ignore. And I have found that it takes a certain kind of skill to capture both history and fantasy in the same story, and make it captivating.
I really don’t need to recommend The Gilded Wolves to anyone but if I have to, I’ll just say that it captures both the beauty and the darkness lurking beneath nineteenth century Paris – with its extravagant dancing scene or Exposition Universelle, but at the same time also it’s colonization and exploitation of indigenous cultures across the world. If you are from a country which has been colonized by a European power, then this book hits you in a way that nothing else does.
The Ghost Bride is even more unique in that it captures the life of Chinese expatriates in British occupied Malay in the late nineteenth century, and it’s so full of their vibrant culture and mythology. I thought the combination of a historical setting and the fantasy aspects of an afterlife was perfection, and I really felt transported back in time. This book also has a mini series which you can watch, so what are you waiting for ??
What do you think of my recommendations? Have you already read and enjoyed them? What are your favorite Asian fantasy novels? Feel free to share all your recommendations in the comments below…