We all grew up reading books like Harry Potter and the Hunger Games, but it doesn’t take much to recognize the lack of representation of people of color or the problems they face in fantasy literature, especially that of Africans. Starting with YA and moving towards more adult fiction, here are six fantastic fantasy novels that have African influences, African or African diasporic characters, or are set in Africa (and all happen to be written by women).
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Akata Witch (also known as What Sunny Saw in the Flames) is about a young athletic albino black girl from America, named Sunny. The twelve-year-old moves from America to her parent’s homeland of Nigeria where she is teased for being American. “Akata”, wild animal, they call her. One night her magical powers begin to awaken as she sees a vision of the end of the world. She makes three new friends who begin to introduce her to the world of magic.
The Nigerian-American writer, Nnedi Okorafor, is one of the biggest African writers of young adult fantasy and science fiction. She has many other books like Akata Witch, that incorporate Nigerian myths with modern story-telling. If you are a fan of the Greek myth series, Percy Jackson, you will enjoy Akata Witch because Rick Riordan himself loves it. Besides, when was the last time we saw an albino character in young adult fiction?
Boy Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Boy Snow Bird is a loose retelling of the fairy tale, Snow White, by British author, Helen Oyeyemi. Set in rural Massachusetts, the novel tackles issues of colorism and the politics of being “white-passing,” using the phrase “skin as white as snow” as a departure point.
The novel begins with a young white woman named, Boy Novak, who flees the home of her father, the “rat-catcher”, in the lower East side of New York and ends up in rural Massachusetts. She marries a man named Arturo Whitman, and becomes obsessed with his step-daughter, Snow. However, when the two have a daughter of their own, Bird, who comes out evidently “colored” it is revealed that the Whitman family is comprised of light-skinned African Americans who are passing as white to get ahead.
Though it is set in the 1950s and uses an ancient fairy-tale, this book tackles the complexity of race in our modern world.
The Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Of course,we have to talk about the Children of Blood and Bone as it has been making waves lately as Adeyemi’s YA debut. It already has glowing reviews and a movie deal with Fox 2000. Unlike the previously mentioned novels, this one creates an entirely new African myth-inspired world, called Orïsha.
The kingdom of Orïsha was once magical. A group of people called “magi” could once control elements and raise the dead, until one day when the magic deserts them and a tyrannical king murders them all, including one of the main character’s, Zélie’s mother. When she encounters the rebel princess, Amari, she is given an opportunity to go on a journey to restore magic to the kingdom. Like Boy Snow Bird, the novel tackles issues of colorism and race paralleling them with our modern world.
Kintu by Jennifer Makumbi
First published in Kenya, Kintu tells the history of Uganda through the cursed bloodline of the Kintu clan. The novel starts out with Kintu Kidda, as he sets out to the capital to pledge his allegiance to the new leader of Bugandan nation. Along the way however, he accidentally unleashes a curse that plagues his family for generations. The novel then follows his descendants as they deal with the curse as well as reconciling the problem of inheriting their family traditions and moving forward in the modern world, which a problem that many Africans in real-life face today.
The novel may fit more into the realm of magical realism than fantasy, but it is still worth reading as critics describe it as the “the great Ugandan novel you didn’t know you were waiting for.” It won the Kwani? Manuscript Project in 2013.
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
Zoo City takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa. In this fantastical Joburg anyone who commits a crime is attached to an animal familiar, whom they need to protect. If the animal dies, they die. The main character, Zinzi December, is a former journalist and recovering addict who was “animalled” after getting her brother killed. She lives in a suburb of Johannesburg called Hillbrow which is nicknamed “Zoo City”. The book focuses on her attempt to find a missing pop celebrity in order to get money she needs to repay her dealer.
The novel has won several awards including the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction Literature in 2011 and takes the reader through the good and the bad of Johannesburg using vivid imagery.
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