Beyond LOTR: 4 Epic Fantasy Novels From Outside the UK
This list of global epic fantasy novels for World of Fantasy Day is sponsored by Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty.
In Daevabad, djinn summon flames with the snap of a finger, blood can be dangerous as any spell, and a clever con artist from Cairo will alter the fate of a kingdom in the thrilling sequel to THE CITY OF BRASS. As Nahri carefully navigates life in the dangerous royal court, Ali has been exiled and must rely on the frightening abilities gifted to him by unpredictable spirits in order to survive. A new century approaches, but as the djinn gather for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north, one that seeks the aid of an ancient warrior trapped between worlds.
As a British person, while it’s certainly gratifying to see how many epic fantasy books owe their world-building to British history (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones),this means it does get a little repetitive. You know what I mean. We keep getting the same patriarchal society, same medieval clothes and social customs…and, of course, the same old sword-fighting. Books like Lord of the Rings seem to have set the mould for epic fantasy books way back in the 1930s. It’s proven an exceptionally difficult mould to break: male-dominated narratives, whiteness, and conservatism abound.
But today I’m going to move away from this Anglocentrism! Instead I’ll be focusing on epic fantasy books which feature authors, inspirations, and settings from all over the globe. I won’t go into the definition of the genre, or how it differs from high fantasy, in this article. Rather, I’ve covered that here.
The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury
This book is, in a word, beautiful.
Zahra is a jinni, trapped in a lamp for thousands of years – until an enterprising thief named Aladdin frees her. What follows is a deeply emotional narrative on the nature of love and loyalty.
Khoury, who is of Syrian and Scottish descent, has penned here a gorgeous tale rich with Arab mythology. While the characters are gloriously complex, the real gem of this book is its setting. It perfectly captures the exoticism of a fantasy world.
The Oracle (The Oracle Prophesies #1) by Catherine Fisher
While this is technically a children’s book, it’s had a powerful effect on me ever since I first read it a decade ago, and it’s certainly not too low-quality for teenagers and adults. This is the British cover and title; in the U.S., it originally came out as The Oracle Betrayed (apparently Americans need more dramatic titles to get them to pick up a book). (On a related note, I am NEVER going to get over how Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone became the ‘Sorcerer’s Stone’ for the U.S.!).
Anyway, back to my actual article. This is another book where, despite excellent characters, its greatest beauty is the setting. The world of the The Oracle consists of a blend of Ancient Egyptian and Greek cultures (with a dash of Mesopotamia): we encounter tomb robbers, sacrifices, and of course the titular oracle. With Fisher’s evocative writing topping it all off, the result is a compelling read for all ages.
The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) by R.F. Kuang
Rin, a dark-skinned peasant girl, is shocked when she gets into the most elite military academy in the country; an outcast for her class, colour, and gender, she eventually discovers that she is gifted in the art of shamanism.
Yes, this sounds like typical YA fare. But then the last third of the book takes an abrupt adult turn. It’s dark, violent, morbid…in essence, it’s all to do with the nature of war. The world of the novel is based on Ancient China and intricately designed. The author is Chinese American, incredibly young (born in 1996!) and – I’ve just discovered – is currently at the same university as me! Maybe I can get her to sign a copy…
Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean
Mari, a yōkai girl with the ability to transform into a monster, has trained her whole life for one goal: to become the next Empress of Honoku. Unfortunately, the path towards getting there is fraught with danger. She must compete against a host of other girls, meanwhile concealing her supernatural nature, and navigate encounters with the disillusioned Crown Prince Taro.
This setting is based on Ancient Japan. While I was somewhat underwhelmed by the characters, we got intriguing insights into Japanese folklore and mythology (for more, check out Julie Kagawa’s Shadow of the Fox).
And It Doesn’t Stop There…
I’ve previously highlighted five underrated diverse YA fantasy books. Plus, here’s why 2019 is going to be an awesome year for fantasy lovers!
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