by Margaret Kingsbury
While admittedly Black History Month might not be the best time to discuss works of fantasy, many, if not all, of the novels by these fifteen black fantasy authors are steeped in black history, whether they be alternate histories of the Civil War or infused with the Carribean and/or African folklore and mythologies or steeped in the historical political/social cultures of blackness. These writers have won many, many major SFF awards and are some of my favorite fantasy writers, yet, after a quick search of Best Fantasy Novels, the Google preview only shows The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi by black authors. While these are both excellent fantasy novels, there are many, many more black fantasy writers that deserve to be on that preview, which is predominantly white (48/52 authors), and predominantly male (36/52 authors).
The fact is, black fantasy writers fail to receive the same kind of coverage as white fantasy writers. There have always been black fantasy writers. There always will be. While I preview 15 here, there are so many more. I tried to include both well known and lesser read authors so that everyone can find a new author no matter how steeped in diverse fantasy reading they are.
15 Black Fantasy Authors
N.K. Jemisin is not only a personal favorite fantasy author, but she’s also won numerous awards, including becoming the first author to win three Best Novel Hugos in a row for her Broken Earth trilogy, my favorite of her series, although they’re all excellent. Her newest novel, The City We Became, begins her first urban fantasy series and releases on March 24th. Until then, start with The Fifth Season, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, or The Killing Moon, whichever sounds most interesting to you because there’s literally no bad starting point for her work.
Rivers Solomon is a fairly new author with two published novels. Their first, An Unkindness of Ghosts, is a science fiction that takes place on a dying space ship that is socially stratified like a plantation. Their second novel, published last year, is a fantasy that shows how fairytales and retellings can grapple with complex topics in meaningful ways. It’s based on a song by Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes. In the song, mermaids are descended from the pregnant African women thrown overboard by slavers. Solomon’s novel uses this premise to examine trauma narratives, history and how it passes down trauma, and the potential of collective healing. It’s a gorgeous novel.
Nnedi Okorafor is an award-winning author of both science fiction and fantasy. Her Akata Witch series is often labeled as a Nigerian Harry Potter, although I find comparing every single middle grade fantasy series that takes place in a school to Harry Potter does a disservice to the books. The Akata Witch series is super fun to read and full of Nigerian magic. In August of this year, she releases a middle grade novel called Ikenga, about a twelve-year-old boy who is gifted superpowers. Okorafor also writes a graphic novel series for Marvel based on the Balck Panther’s sister Shuri. Start with Black Panther: Long Live the King, Vol. 1.
Samuel R. Delany
Samuel R. Delany is a classic writer of science fiction and fantasy. Though best known for his science fiction, he also wrote a sword and sorcery style four-book fantasy series that begins with Tales of Nevèrÿon. His books are smart and subversive.
Nalo Hopkinson combines fantasy and science fiction in many of her works. Her first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, takes place in a dystopian Toronto and is infused with Caribbean folklore, as much of her work is. In my favorite of her novels, The New Moon’s Arms, a menopausal woman discovers she has the power to find lost objects, including a small child.
Sofia Samatar’s Olondria duology is incredibly intelligent and lush. It’s the kind of fantasy for people who love stories about stories. Samatar also addresses themes of colonialism and identity. The duology begins with A Stranger in Olondria. Samatar also writes fantasy and science fiction short stories, many of which are collected in Tender.
Primarily known for their middle grade and young adult novels, Kacen Callender’s first adult fantasy title, The Queen of the Conquered, is set in a lushly drawn and very dark fantasy world based on a postcolonialist Carribean. It’s both disturbing and hard to put down. Their most recent novel is the middle grade King and the Dragonflies, which is about twelve-year-old Kingston James, who is convinced his brother turned into a dragonfly after his death.
Marlon James has won many awards for his literary fiction. In 2019, he made his fantasy debut with the dense and violent Black Leopard, Red Wolf, which is based on African mythology and folklore. This is a novel best read slowly as its full of time jumps, surrealist twists, and dense dialogue. It’s the first in a planned trilogy, though no word on when book 2 will be released.
Karen Lord’s debut novel, Redemption in Indigo, retells the Sengalese folktale “Ansige Karamba the Glutton.” It’s funny, it’s weird, and it’s imbued with an oral storytelling feel. Her most recent fantasy novel, Unraveling, is a thriller about a therapist drawn into the netherworld to solve a series of crimes for the gods.
Evan Winter was a successful director and cinematographer when he decided to write his first novel, The Rage of Dragons. Billed as The Game of Thrones meets The Gladiator, what I like most about this epic fantasy is how it subverts typical fantasy tropes. The protagonist Tau is not gifted with magic. He doesn’t want to be. But when violence and disaster ruin his conventional plans, his anger and sorrow transform his goals into something far more violent. Book two in the series is expected to be released this year.
Children of Blood and Bone was one of the most popular books published in 2018. It’s a YA fantasy adventure steeped in African mythology, about a girl, Zélie, with magic in a kingdom where an evil king wants magic to die at any cost. My favorite aspect of the series is the relationship between Zélie and Amari, the King’s daughter. Book two, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, released in 2019, and the third and final book has yet to be published.
P. Djèlí Clark
P. Djèlí Clark writes award-winning fantasy novellas and short stories. My favorite of his novellas, The Black God’s Drums, takes place in a magical, steampunk New Orleans in 1884. It’s an alternate history where the Civil War ended with the North and South separated, and New Orleans a neutral territory. The main character, Creeper, wants to escape New Orleans and see the world. But she’s hiding her divine and magical powers. This is a fun, fast-paced read.
Justina Ireland’s YA series Dread Nation is also set in an alternative history after the Civil War. But in her world, after the battle of Gettysburg, the dead rise and become zombies. The protagonist Jane McKeene is a badass zombie slayer. This series is a blast. Her YA book Promise of Shadows is about a harpy who really just wants to pretend to be a normal human. But she’s also mourning her murdered sister and lives in a literal Hell because she murdered the half-god that murdered her sister. Lots of murdering, but also lots of humor.
Victor LaValle is a master of fantasy horror. In his novella The Ballad of Black Tom, he resituates the racism in H.P. Lovecraft’s work to create a diverse, urban fantasy horror set in Queens. His multiple award-winning novel The Changeling is a deeply disturbing fairytale retelling, that also managed to make me smile quite a few times. All of his books are lushly written with characters that feel real.
Tananarive Due also writes compelling fantasy horror. Her most popular novel, My Soul to Keep, is about a woman who discovers, after a string of murders, that her husband is actually an immortal. This is the first in an urban fantasy series that takes a common urban fantasy trope to new places. She’s won many awards and teaches Black Horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA.
Interested in reading more diverse fantasy authors? Check out my post on African fantasy novels, as well as this one on Asian YA fantasy, and this one on Latina books inspired by folklore and mythology.