In the last few years, I’ve lucked into some fantasy stories that reminded me why I love the genre. Here are some of my faves, most diverse in some way, all magically wonderful. I hope you find something new here to read and fall in love with. (Update: republishing this post with many new books added!)
The way my life is organized these days, it’s tough for me to write reviews. Some of the books below have them, some do not, but I love them all.
Before we jump in:
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“Jessamyn Teoh is closeted, broke and moving back to Malaysia, a country she left when she was a toddler. So when Jess starts hearing voices, she chalks it up to stress. But there’s only one voice in her head, and it claims to be the ghost of her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma. In life Ah Ma was a spirit medium, the avatar of a mysterious deity called the Black Water Sister. Now she’s determined to settle a score against a gang boss who has offended the god–and she’s decided Jess is going to help her do it.
Drawn into a world of gods, ghosts, and family secrets, Jess finds that making deals with capricious spirits is a dangerous business. As Jess fights for retribution for Ah Ma, she’ll also need to regain control of her body and destiny. If she fails, the Black Water Sister may finish her off for good.”
“It is the turn of the century in an England that never was. Bright new aqua-plants are generating electricity for the streetlights; news can be easily had on the radio-viz; and in Gundisalvus’ Land, the war is over and the soldiers are beginning to trickle home.
Amongst these is Lt. Benjamin Braddock, survivor of the massacre that ended the war, and begrudgingly ready to return to a world that, well, doesn’t seem to need him any more than it did in peacetime. His friends have homes and families to return to, while he’s got nothing but his discharge papers and a couple of unwanted medals. Oh, and one new thing: the furious ghost of his commanding officer.”
I was absolutely gripped by this 1920s New York remix of Cthulu mythos. Its main character is a young black man in Harlem, Charles Thomas Tester, who hustles to support himself and his sick father. He’s drawn into an occult world that’s arguably just as creepy for the reader as it is for Charles.
The book is by an African-American author, and it’s based on what’s said to be one of the most racist of very racist man H.P. Lovecraft’s works. One hopes that Lovecraft would either be enlightened to his own terribleness and repent, or at least roll over in his grave, from this subversion’s commentary on racial prejudice mixed with, like, tentacles of otherworldly monsters and stuff.
LOVE this series! It’s a ghost-y urban fantasy, multicultural noir, magical war type thing with a large, distinct, and very diverse cast across the trilogy and so much amazing worldbuilding that I don’t even know what to do with myself. Carlos Delacruz, who is the most central main character, is a half-alive half-dead agent of New York’s Council of the Dead, doing the dirty work of their bureaucracy, until he discovers he’s not the only partially resurrected dude around – and the other ones may be up to Very No Good.
I adore it so much that when the second book heavily featured insects that I am legit terrified of, I convinced myself to think of them as plastic toys so I could read it anyway. Seriously good stuff.
Diversity note: Older is Latino.
“Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires… Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, must feast on the young to survive and Domingo looks especially tasty. Smart, beautiful, and dangerous, Atl needs to escape to South America, far from the rival narco-vampire clan pursuing her. Little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his effervescent charm. Vampires, humans, cops, and gangsters collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive?”
Diversity note: Moreno-Garcia is “Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination.” :)
Miss Claus by J.R. Hart (Amazon TBD / Goodreads)
“Kris Claus has spent her entire life preparing to become the next Santa Claus. After all, she’s Santa’s daughter, so she’s certain to be next in line for the title. She’s gotten the degrees, served as his assistant… nothing can stop her. Well, nothing except her lawyer ex, who is trying to sneak his way into the title by bringing up an archaic gender law that says women can’t be Santa.
Steeped in small-town politics and a rivalry for the ages, Kris won’t stop until she’s gotten what she’s fought for her whole life, but she won’t give up who she really is — a proud woman — to reach her dreams. When a letter from a transgender girl down South reminds her of herself as a child, Kris knows exactly what’s at stake, not just for her own dreams, but for the dreams of girls everywhere.”
The role playing adventure (in novel form) of my dreams, if I’d ever dreamt about a reluctant heroine woman of color forger and a guilt-ridden demon-possessed white guy paladin on a quest to discover the origin of giant unstoppable war machines that are ravaging the world. Kingfisher is amazing at updating the classic adventure and fantasy feeling with deep character development, huge worldbuilding, and feminism. She is so funny and so imaginative, and she knows how to break my heart in the best way. I tried not to immediately start the second book of this duology when I finished the first, and I failed. Really, really good stuff.
I highly recommend this aromantic Chinese fairytale about two immortal beings – a dragon and a phoenix, passing as humans – who make their living at an opera house. Love to see representation of queerplatonic relationships, and Kan did a great job biting off just a small little bit of story and doing it justice.
Kan has written that it “explores the love that comes from a millennia-long companionship, as well as the love one can have for one’s passions.” That rings quite true after reading it.
Diversity note: Kan is an aroace-spec writer and a 1.5 generation diasporic Chinese.
“The Haunting of Tram Car 015 returns to the alternate Cairo of Clark’s short fiction, where humans live and work alongside otherworldly beings; the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities handles the issues that can arise between the magical and the mundane. Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr shows his new partner Agent Onsi the ropes of investigation when they are called to subdue a dangerous, possessed tram car. What starts off as a simple matter of exorcism, however, becomes more complicated as the origins of the demon inside are revealed.”
Diversity note: Clark is Black.
“When an uncommon housekeeper meets an unconventional mage, both women’s lives are irrevocably changed. Ancient peril threatens from another world, but their bond could be the catalyst for deliverance.”
Wonderful fantasy short story with so much subtle worldbuilding, a truly scary magical threat, and the quiet beginnings of an f/f romance.
I’m not sure how Green packed so much into such a small space but I’m impressed. Definitely worth reading!
Diversity note: Green is bi.
“Danielle Cain is a queer punk rock traveller, jaded from a decade on the road. Searching for clues about her best friend’s mysterious and sudden suicide, she ventures to the squatter, utopian town of Freedom, Iowa. All is not well in Freedom, however: things went awry after the town’s residents summoned a protector spirit to serve as their judge and executioner. Danielle shows up in time to witness the spirit—a blood-red, three-antlered deer—begin to turn on its summoners. Danielle and her new friends have to act fast if they’re going to save the town—or get out alive.”
Diversity note: Killjoy is a trans woman.
“Magic, in common with all things, is passing from this world. In a coastal village in eighteenth-century Cornwall, Penhallow — an honourable smuggler par excellence — has more pressing problems. One of her boys has just been hauled up before the magistrates. A mysterious King’s messenger has arrived from London. Something nasty — and possibly magical — is afoot in the smugglers’ caves beneath water. And then there’s Trevelyan, the town’s austere, beautiful Revenue officer…”
Diversity note: Datt Sharma is a British-Indian writer who uses they/them pronouns.
I also enjoyed the novella Sing for the Coming of the Longest Night (Amazon / Goodreads), which they co-wrote with Katherine Fabian, who is queer and Jewish. It’s a contemporary world + magic mystery with Hindu, Jewish, queer, and polyam rep. Also a lot of humor. :)
M. Arbon is an auto-buy author for me, and this short story did not disappoint.
“Bored with himself, his life, and everything in his imaginable future, Reed dared himself to appear on a haunted house reality show. The kitchen was a slaughterhouse. He had to stick his hand in a goat’s skull filled with maggots. He nearly pissed himself with fright on national TV.
He said he wanted to change his life. Now, in the days after his experience, it seems that his wish might be coming true–but not quite in the way he’d anticipated.”
Diversity note: Arbon uses they/them or she/her pronouns.
I can’t remember the last time I fell in love so hard with a book that spent so much time kicking me in the heart. This is a paranormal police procedural / mystery / thriller series about Jennifer Jones, a bisexual vampire with a history of serial killing who reformed and now works as a detective for the police division that handles supernatural threats and crimes. It’s somber, often tense, and at times heartbreaking. Cain’s characterization skills are amazing to me, especially given how many characters she brings in over the course of all three books.
I’m still kind of staggered that it’s over because of how much I invested in everyone on Team Good and how real this fictional world felt. Absolutely gripping, I adored the bi rep, and I can’t wait to see what Cain does next.
“Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Court, is hired to search for Lady Judgment’s missing son, Addam, on New Atlantis, the island city where the Atlanteans moved after ordinary humans destroyed their original home.
With his companion and bodyguard, Brand, he questions Addam’s relatives and business contacts through the highest ranks of the nobles of New Atlantis. But as they investigate, they uncover more than a missing man: a legendary creature connected to the secret of the massacre of Rune’s Court.
In looking for Addam, can Rune find the truth behind his family’s death and the torments of his past?”
Fascinating fantasy short set in the Chinese conception of Hell. A young woman named Siew Tsin is married against her will to a rich man in the afterlife. When he brings home a third wife, made of terracotta (basically a robot), Siew Tsin is intrigued, then develops a crush on Yonghua. There’s more going on than Siew Tsin realizes, though, because Yonghua’s existence threatens to change the rules of reincarnation.
It’s a short story that feels much bigger, without feeling crowded, like an amazing taste of a much larger world. Mythology-laced, kind of steampunky, sweet and sad. Loved it.
Diversity Note: Cho is a Malaysian writer who lives in London.
“A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart. Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot. Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith. When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts — and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.”
I had such a good time reading this urban fantasy about a trio of a wizard, vampire, and demon who go up against a Very Bad Vampire who’s trying to, like, be evil and stuff. Curtis is the wizard, Luc is the vampire, and Anders is the demon. Each of them had good reasons for pulling away from their “own kind”, and they ended up magically linking with each other instead. I liked the twisty mystery of this one, especially once Curtis meets a wizard ally, and the magic system was interesting, so I’ll definitely be reading the sequel.
However, a content warning: These characters are on the darker side. Anders and Luc routinely use their powers to help seduce men and feed on them (for life force and blood respectively), though they seem to pick men who MOSTLY (not all) would have been willing for the sex part, and they don’t kill or injure the men. Luc refers (multiple times) to Anders’s picks as “trash” which got under my skin. YMMV about whether that puts you off!
Diversity note: Burgoine is gay.
Gorgeously written novella about a witch who’s inherited the lifelong crushing burden of keeping a sea god captive to prevent the destruction of the world, and how she reacts to the woman sent by that god to change her mind. How do you decide when to let go of lifelong beliefs passed down to you by previous generations? When do you decide that your own life is worth more than obligations given to you by others, that you’ve accepted and worked to meet?
The characterization here is amazing, and so is the delicacy of witch Meriel’s internal coping (or not) with how her life has reached a breaking point.
The women do fall in love, but romance readers, don’t get your hopes up!
Diversity Note: Diemer is queer.
And that’s my roundup of fantasy stories I love and recommend. Hope you found something interesting. If you have any reading suggestions, let me know, and as always, if you found this post helpful, please share it!