My idea of fantasy is fairly whitewashed. You know, with the Fair Folk and golden-haired maidens in towers. Although Western history is great inspiration—I too swoon over knights in shining armor who insist on being called “sir”—its domination has prevented me from seeing myself in fantasy novels. At best, I could be the “exotic” sorceress (read: villain) with a racially ambiguous name. Or worse, the token friend who dies or is sidelined.
Great fantasy stories don’t begin and end with western history, because you literally have the rest of the world for inspiration.
Indian history in particular is both beautiful and complex. One myth can be told 100 different ways by 100 different people for 100 different reasons. There’s no shortage of stories and inspiration. The languages, histories, religions, and subcultures within India have developed, syncretized, merged, and/or evolved over hundreds of years. It’s not some exotic culture that serves as a foil to western values, but rather a global force that stands on its own merits.
Here are some great fantasy books that have honored the history and culture of India while delivering fresh, diverse stories by #OwnVoices authors that the genre is sorely lacking.
Middle Grade Fantasy Novels by Indian Writers
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Aru Shah lost the autumn break lottery. Instead of going on a great vacation, she has to work at the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture while her mom is on an archeological trip. But when Aru unwittingly frees the Sleeper, a demon tasked with awakening the God of Destruction, Aru has to find the reincarnations of the famed Pandava brothers and venture into the Kingdom of Death to save the world.
The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta
It is Kiranmala’s 12th birthday, but instead of a party her parents suddenly vanish and a demon invades her kitchen. Things get even crazier when two princes come to save her, propelling Kiranmala into a magical world with moving maps and talking birds. Here, she must find her parents while avoiding demons, the Serpent King of the underworld, and the Rakkhoshi Queen.
Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda
Ash Mistry cannot stand India. His uncle brought Ash and his sister Lucky to Varanasi, a holy city by the Ganga river after getting a dream job with the enigmatic Lord Savage. However, Ash doesn’t trust the odd millionaire and suddenly finds himself trying to thwart Savage’s masterplan to open the Iron Gates and release Ravana, the demon king.
Young Adult Fantasy Novels by Indian Writers
Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar
Secrets aren’t new to Sheetal, the daughter of a star and a human. But her normal facade is shattered after she accidentally flares her starfire, sending her human father to the hospital. Sheetal needs the help of a star to save him. More specifically, she needs her mother, who returned to the heavens years before. Her adventure will lead her to the wondrous celestial court, where she has to champion her family in a competition.
Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena
Inspired by Indian and Persian mythology, Hunted by the Sky follows the story of Gul, who is on the run thanks to a star-shaped birthmark that makes her a target in the kingdom of Ambar. But Gul doesn’t want to flee—she wants revenge, which she gets a chance at when the Sisters of the Golden Lotus begin to train her as a warrior.
The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala
The first in a trilogy inspired by ancient India and Hindu epics, The Tiger at Midnight intertwines the stories of Esha, an assassin, and Kunal, a soldier. Esha lost everything after a royal coup and has sworn to take down its architect, General Hotha. As the general’s nephew, Kunal is sworn to protect King Vardaan. Despite being on opposing sides in a kingdom with deep secrets, Esha and Kunal’s paths cross, forcing them to make some difficult choices.
The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
Princess Amrita is a fugitive after a royal visit from Emperor Sikander goes awry. Her only companion is Thala, an enslaved oracle who urges Amrita to seek out the Library of All Things to reverse their fates.
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
I’ve written about The Star-Touched Queen before, but it’s worth mentioning again here. It’s the story of Maya, a cursed princess who marries Amar, the king of Akaran. The marriage is not what she expected; however, she finds her voice and possibly even love as queen. But Akaran is a kingdom of secrets, which catch up with Maya, who must decide if her husband is to be trusted.