Fantasy is a genre that is enjoyed across all identities. Young people like fantasy, and older people like fantasy. Women like fantasy, men like fantasy and non-binary people like fantasy. Straight people like fantasy, and members of the LGBTQ+ community like fantasy. Folks of all races and ethnicities like fantasy.
But while the readership audience for the genre is quite diverse, it is commonly noted amongst readers and critics alike that the books themselves are shockingly not.
If you wandered your way into a book shop this very afternoon, you could throw a penny and probably hit at least five fantasy books with a straight, white, cis-male protagonist, most likely written by an equally straight, cis, white author.
One of the biggest examples of this is J.K. Rowling, who not only writes in a cisnormative, heternormative, whitewashed way, but most recently has been actively claiming her transphobia on social media and through her newest publications.
While the genre has a lot of growing to do, and arguably the most successful author is the face of it, it doesn’t mean that we need to cancel fantasy altogether.
Many major booksellers, in fact, have taken to providing their customers with more thoughtful alternatives to giving Rowling anymore of our hard-earned money. So, if you love fantasy but can’t stand the way that Rowling and authors similar to her shape the characters and subjects within the genre, here are four books to jumpstart your journey to diversifying your mystical, magical bookshelf.
“Pet” by Akwaeke Emezi:
In this YA novel, a young trans girl named Jam is utterly adored and comfortable in her environment. She loves her family and the city she lives in, Lucille, which is seeped in the black culture of its citizens and where she feels safe and comfortable.
The monsters that once roamed the city have been taken care of by the angels. Exactly what happens when good takes on evil. However, sometimes things are a little bit more complex than that.
Jam meets a monster named Pet, a creature who looks quite vicious but proceeds to strike up a loving friendship with Jam. With Pet by her side, the two of them set out to hunt down the “real” monsters that are apparently still hiding in Lucille.
“The Night Tiger” by Yangsze Choo
Set in Malaysia in the 1930’s under the rule of the British colonies, “The Night Tiger” follows the perspectives of Ji Lin and Ren, two young folks trying to find their way and their place in the world as their stories intertwine. Ji Lin, an aspiring student, and Ren, a doctor’s houseboy, both have their share of obstacles to overcome while trying to make their dreams a reality.
Along the way, their paths are littered with death, mourning, secrets, ghosts and even a potentially supernatural tiger who may be following them around.
Told while using folklore rooted in Malaysian and Chinese culture, the story weaves a magical tale rooted in very real issues of colonialism and family duty.
“Carry On” by Rainbow Rowell
Described by medium.com as “about as close as you can get to Harry Potter without a copyright infringement,” “Carry On,” based on a fanfiction from her bestseller, “Fangirl,” tells the story of two LGBTQ+ characters who attend a school of magic.
Without calling J.K. Rowling out directly, Rowell gave fans of Harry Potter and similar series what they had been lacking all of this time, non-heteronormative romance and representation in general.
In a realm of magic and mystery, Simon and his roommate, Baz, have to navigate what it means to be “the chosen one” when you don’t feel you can live up to everyone’s expectations. All the while dodging monsters and ghosts.
“Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi
In Zelie’s world, things were once happy. Things made sense and were safe. The land of Orisha, where she lives, was bursting with magic, as were the people.
That was until other groups began their attempt to destroy everything Zelig and her people love and cherish.
After the death of her beloved mother, and the ruin of hope for her community, Zelie must outrun the power and spirits who seek to obliterate everything for good.
While this tale might look like just an expertly written piece of Nigerian fantasy folklore, Adeyemi wrote this story as a direct allegory to the murder of innocent black folks at the hands of American police, making it all the more of an important read.
Ali Kochik is a third-year English Writing major with minors in Journalism and Women’s and Gender Studies. AK908461@WCUPA.EDU