Science Fiction/Fantasy

Magical BIPOC Reads

Erica Ezeifedi

Associate Editor

Erica Ezeifedi, Associate Editor, is a transplant from Nashville, TN that has settled in the North East. In addition to being a writer, she has worked as a victim advocate and in public libraries, where she has focused on creating safe spaces for queer teens, mentorship, and providing test prep instruction free to students. Outside of work, much of her free time is spent looking for her next great read and planning her next snack. Find her on Twitter at @Erica_Eze_.

Mourning Glory by L.L. McKinney and Bethany C. Morrow

The formerly close-knit Cauley sisters are unexpectedly brought together by the sudden passing of their mother. Returning to their ancestral home, the last Black-owned funeral parlor in the city, they try to come to terms with their grief. However, they’re facing more than one loss: For generations, the Cauley women have possessed a family magic to keep a powerful demon named Legion at bay. After their mother’s death, the power appears to be lost. As the women struggle to regain their magic and Legion closes in, the family must overcome their differences and prove that blood is thicker than evil.

These past few years, we’ve seen a wonderful explosion of all manner of magical books by BIPOC authors. As a long-time reader of the fantastical, one of the things I’ve always appreciated about books with magic and other fantasy elements is how familiar cultural aspects get woven into new frameworks. Reading a book based on Arthurian legend, for instance, would start me off with something I’d grown up reading about, and therefore felt comfortable with, but would end with an interpretation of the legend that hopefully added something new and engaging.

And, for a while, many of the magical books I read were based on things like Arthurian legends, Greek mythology, and other European lore. There were, of course, always fantasy books being published that were based on different lore and mythologies, I just didn’t always come across them. But now it is different. Now I can dip into a new look at figures in Greek mythology just as easily as I can a look at the ones of Sri Lankan lore.

And the books below will do that for you, too. They’ll take you from a conjuror-made safe haven in 1830s St. Louis to a modern-day Navajo New Mexico to 19th-century Buenos Aires, enchanting you along the way.

Magical Adult BIPOC Reads

cover of Ours by Phillip B. Williams

Ours by Phillip B. Williams

This is going to be one of the best books of the year. I’m calling it. This epic, nearly 600-paged, sweeping multi-generational tome starts with Saint, an enigma by all meanings of the word, whose righteous fury and conjuring ability destroy plantations all over Arkansas in the 1830s. She brings the newly freed people to a haven of her own making that she names Ours. It’s in Ours that Saint both shields — and maybe even entombs — her flock, protecting them from outsiders with her conjuring. But then her mind starts to slip, and her memories betray her. The fault lines in her creation are like beacons to other outside conjurors, and Ours becomes vulnerable. The narrative, bolstered by effervescent prose, Black spirituality, mythology, and surrealism, sweeps over four decades, showing what love can do to you.

island witch book cover

Island Witch by Amanda Jayatissa

In this Sri Lankan-inspired gothic story, Amara is the daughter of a traditional demon-priest, who was respected by the other townspeople before the new religion came in with the British colonizers. Now, men are being attacked in the jungle, and Amara’s father stands accused. She’ll have to solve the mystery of the strange happenings to clear her father’s name…but there’s also the issue of the connection she has to what’s going on.

cover image for Shutter

Shutter by Ramona Emerson

In New Mexico’s Navajo Nation, Rita Todacheene works as a supernaturally good forensic photographer. She’s able to capture details no one else does because the ghosts of crime victims point her to clues that would otherwise go unnoticed. Sometimes this ability is more of a curse than a gift, though, as it has ostracized her from her reservation. And now, it may even get her killed — the latest crime victim’s ghost has latched herself on to Rita and wants revenge.

Book cover of A Love Song for Ricki Wilde

A Love Song for Ricki Wilde by Tia Williams

Creative soul Ricki Wilde has never fit in with her family of socialites. So when one of her family’s older customers offers her the chance to rent the bottom of her Harlem brownstone, Ricki sees it as an opportunity for something new. She opens the flower shop she’s always dreamed of, and experiences the magic and wonder of Harlem — which includes meeting the mysterious and enchanting Ezra. But Ezra has quite the secret. While things between Ricki and Ezra heat up, there’s another timeline of a past Harlem. One that tells of Ezra’s past.

Magical YA BIPOC Reads

violet made of thorns book cover

Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen

Get ready for a morally gray witch who goes from being a pauper as a child to plotting in the palace. Violet is a prophet who will scheme and scam as it suits her, but when she’s asked to lie about a prophecy concerning the prince, a curse is awakened.

cover of What the River Knows

What the River Knows by Isabel Ibañez

From the author of Woven in Moonlight comes a romantasy that’s been compared to The Mummy and Death on the Nile. Inez was born into a life of privilege and old magic in 19th-century Buenos Aires. One day, her parents die during a trip, leaving her as the sole inheritor of a massive fortune. But with the money also comes a mysterious guardian with ties to Egypt. In search of answers as to what really happened to her parents, she travels to Cairo, where she’s led down a path of mystery, romance, and ancient magic.

cover of Into the Sunken City Dinesh Thiru

Into the Sunken City by Dinesh Thiru

Five hundred years from now, climate change results in a drowning world. In this dystopian future, even in places like Arizona, the rain never stops. It’s in this moist, hellish landscape that 18-year-old Jin Haldar is trying her best to keep her and her sister Thara afloat without their parents. With all this going on, it makes sense that when an eccentric stranger offers Thara a dangerous job, she accepts, and Jin eventually does, too. It’s a diving heist, replete with a motley crew that aims to make the score of a lifetime in a drowned Las Vegas. The sea beasts, pirates, and other mysterious figures they encounter may hinder them a bit, though.

cover of Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson

The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson

This is a YA retelling of Carrie, but I couldn’t really tell you how closely it stays to the source material since I haven’t read the original. My guess is that it strays a bit, since it’s about a (mostly) white-looking mixed girl named Maddy who lives in a small Georgia town where high school prom is still segregated in the year of our lord 2014. One day it rains, causing her hair’s natural texture to show. Maddy gets bullied with this revelation, some of which goes viral. To save her school’s reputation — thereby securing her own future at a future college — another student offers up her Black boyfriend to accompany Maddy to the prom to show how “progressive” the school is now. It gets real once a couple of white students push Maddy too far…I love how this had segments of a podcast discussing the massacre at the high school. We learned more about the incident as we learned more about Maddy, and that narrative structure kept me hooked.

For more BIPOC-centered recs, you should check out these influential authors you may have never heard of, this list of Indigenous books, and this list of must-read new books by Black authors.