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23 Best Fantasy Books by Black Authors

Though almost absent in the early years of fantasy writing, the number of Black authors—and the recognition of their work—is growing year by year.

It’s impossible to talk about fantasy written by Black authors as a cohesive genre because, like writers of other skin tones, Black authors come from all over the world and write about a wildly diverse array of subjects in their own unique ways and voices.

Despite that, I’m including this list because most other lists of fantasy books tend to be heavy on white folk, and trumpeting the achievements of Black authors should help balance that out a little bit.

Note: I’m using “Black” instead of “African-American” because a number of these authors are not American.

 

23
The Haunting of Tram Car 015
by P. Djèlí Clark – 2019

Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards.

Cairo, 1912: The case started as a simple one for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities—handling a possessed tram car.

Soon, however, Agent Hamed Nasr and his new partner Agent Onsi Youssef are exposed to a new side of Cairo stirring with suffragettes, secret societies, and sentient automatons in a race against time to protect the city from an encroaching danger that crosses the line between the magical and the mundane.

“Fast-paced, elegantly structured, and with an eye for the ridiculous, The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is an absolute pleasure to read.”
—Locus

22
Kingdom of Souls
by Rena Barron – 2019
Book 1 of 2 in the Kingdom of Souls series

Heir to two lines of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. Yet she fails at bone magic, fails to call upon her ancestors, and fails to live up to her family’s legacy. Under the disapproving eye of her mother, the Kingdom’s most powerful priestess and seer, Arrah fears she may never be good enough.

But when the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, Arrah is desperate enough to turn to a forbidden, dangerous ritual. If she has no magic of her own, she’ll have to buy it—by trading away years of her own life.

Arrah’s borrowed power reveals a nightmarish betrayal, and on its heels, a rising tide of darkness that threatens to consume her and all those she loves. She must race to unravel a twisted and deadly scheme… before the fight costs more than she can afford.

21
A Blade So Black
by L. L. McKinney – 2018
Book 1 of 3 in the Nightmare-Verse Series

The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now, she’s trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.

Life in real-world Atlanta isn’t always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice’s handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she’ll need to use everything she’s learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head… literally.

“Mixing elements of Alice in Wonderland and Buffy the Vampire Slayer… Delectable.”
―Entertainment Weekly

20
Dread Nation
by Justina Ireland – 2018
Book 1 of 2 in the Dread Nation series

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.

In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.

But there are also opportunities, and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.

But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.

And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

“Abundant action, thoughtful worldbuilding, and a brave, smart, and skillfully drawn cast entertain as Ireland illustrates the ignorance and immorality of racial discrimination and examines the relationship between equality and freedom.”
—Publishers Weekly

19
The Ballad of Black Tom
by Victor LaValle – 2016

This novella was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, World Fantasy, and Bram Stoker Awards.

People move to New York looking for magic, and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.

Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table and keep the roof over his father’s head. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.

A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?

“This book is full of wonder and horror and pain and magic and I cannot recommend it enough.”
―BookRiot

18
The Good Luck Girls
by Charlotte Nicole Davis – 2019

Aster, the protector
Violet, the favorite
Tansy, the medic
Mallow, the fighter
Clementine, the catalyst

The country of Arketta calls them Good Luck Girls―but they know their luck is anything but.

Sold to a “welcome house” as children and branded with cursed markings.

Trapped in a life they would never have chosen.

When Clementine accidentally kills a man, the girls risk a dangerous escape and harrowing journey to find freedom, justice, and revenge in a country that wants them to have none of those things. Pursued by Arketta’s most vicious and powerful forces, both human and inhuman, their only hope lies in a bedtime story passed from one Good Luck Girl to another, a story that only the youngest or most desperate would ever believe.

It’s going to take more than luck for them all to survive.

“Davis creates institutions, systems, and power dynamics with real-world echoes, making the themes timely and resonant.”
—Publishers Weekly

17
The Palm-Wine Drinkard
by Amos Tutuola – 1952

This classic novel tells the phantasmagorical story of an alcoholic man and his search for his dead palm-wine tapster. As he travels through the land of the dead, he encounters a host of supernatural and often terrifying beings—among them the complete gentleman who returns his body parts to their owners and the insatiable hungry-creature. Author Tutola mixes Yoruba folktales with what T. S. Eliot described as a “creepy crawly imagination.”

16
The Water Dancer
by Ta-Nehisi Coates – 2019

Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

“[A] work of both staggering imagination and rich historical significance… Timeless and instantly canon-worthy.”
—Rolling Stone

15
Mumbo Jumbo
by Ishmael Reed – 1972

Hailed by Harold Bloom as one of the five hundred greatest books of the Western canon.

In 1920s America, a plague is spreading fast. From New Orleans to Chicago to New York, the “Jes Grew” epidemic makes people desperate to dance, overturning social norms in the process. Anyone is vulnerable and when they catch it, they’ll bump and grind into a frenzy. Working to combat the Jes Grew infection are the puritanical Atonists, a group bent on cultivating a “Talking Android,” an African American who will infiltrate the unruly black communities and help crush the outbreak. But PaPa LaBas, a voodoo priest, is determined to keep his ancient culture—including a key spiritual text—alive.

14
Skin Folk
by Nalo Hopkinson – 2001

Stories in this collection range from science fiction to Caribbean folklore, passionate love, and chilling horror. Author Nalo Hopkinson spins tales like “Precious,” in which the narrator spews valuable coins and gems from her mouth whenever she attempts to talk or sing. In “A Habit of Waste,” a self-conscious woman undergoes elective surgery to alter her appearance; days later she’s shocked to see her former body climbing onto a public bus. In “The Glass Bottle Trick,” the young protagonist ignores her intuition regarding her new husband’s superstitions—to horrifying consequences.

“Hopkinson’s prose is vivid and immediate.”
—The Washington Post Book World

13
A Stranger in Olondria
by Sofia Samatar – 2013

Jevick, the pepper merchant’s son, has been raised on stories of Olondria, a distant land where books are as common as they are rare in his home. When his father dies and Jevick takes his place on the yearly selling trip to Olondria, Jevick’s life is as close to perfect as he can imagine. But just as he revels in Olondria’s Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drastically off course and becomes haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young girl.

In desperation, Jevick seeks the aid of Olondrian priests and quickly becomes a pawn in the struggle between the empire’s two most powerful cults. Yet even as the country shimmers on the cusp of war, he must face his ghost and learn her story before he has any chance of becoming free by setting her free: an ordeal that challenges his understanding of art and life, home and exile, and the limits of that seductive necromancy, reading.

“Samatar’s sensual descriptions create a rich, strange landscape, allowing a lavish adventure to unfold that is haunting and unforgettable.”
―Library Journal (starred review)

12
The Fifth Season
by N. K. Jemisin – 2015
Book 1 of 3 in the Broken Earth Series

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

“Intricate and extraordinary.”
―The New York Times

11
Black Leopard, Red Wolf
by Marlon James – 2019

Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.

As Tracker follows the boy’s scent—from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers—he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

“A fantasy world as well-realized as anything Tolkien made.”
—Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods

10
Beasts Made of Night
by Tochi Onyebuchi – 2017
Book 1 of 2 in the Beasts Made of Night Series

In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts—lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt. Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a member of the royal family, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves—and his own life.

“Unforgettable in its darkness, inequality, and magic.”
—VOYA (starred review)

9
Children of Blood and Bone
by Tomi Adeyemi – 2018
Book 1 of 2 in the Legacy of Orïsha series

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother, and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers―and her growing feelings for an enemy.

“[A] phenomenon.”
—Entertainment Weekly

8
The Rage of Dragons
by Evan Winter – 2017
Book 1 of 2 in The Burning series

The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable war for almost two hundred years. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.

Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war.

Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance.

Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him.

The Rage of Dragons is an uncompromisingly brutal fantasy in a unique, fascinating world I want to see a lot more of. Fans of Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song will love this.”
—Django Wexler, author of The Thousand Names

7
Everfair
by Nisi Shawl – 2016

What if the African natives developed steam power ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier?

Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

6
Zoo City
by Lauren Beukes – 2010

Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit, and a talent for finding lost things. When a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, Zinzi’s forced to take on her least favorite kind of job—missing persons.

Being hired by reclusive music producer Odi Huron to find a teenybop pop star should be her ticket out of Zoo City, the festering slum where the criminal underclass and their animal companions live in the shadow of hell’s undertow. Instead, it catapults Zinzi deeper into the maw of a city twisted by crime and magic, where she’ll be forced to confront the dark secrets of former lives—including her own.

“Beukes delivers a thrill ride that gleefully merges narrative styles and tropes, almost single-handedly pulling the ‘urban fantasy’ subgenre back towards its groundbreaking roots.”
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

5
Freshwater
by Akwaeke Emezi – 2018

Ada is an unusual child who is a source of deep concern to her southern Nigerian family. She is troubled, prone to violent fits. Born “with one foot on the other side,” she begins to develop separate selves within her as she grows into adulthood. And when she travels to America for college, a traumatic event on campus crystallizes the selves into something powerful and potentially dangerous, making Ada fade into the background of her own mind as these other selves―now protective, now hedonistic―move into control.

“An extraordinarily powerful and very different kind of physical and psychological migration story.”
―New Yorker

4
Redemption in Indigo
by Karen Lord – 2010

Paama’s husband is a fool and a glutton. Bad enough that he followed her to her parents’ home in the village of Makendha, now he’s disgraced himself by murdering livestock and stealing corn. When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones—the djombi—who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world. Unfortunately, a wrathful djombi with indigo skin believes this power should be his and his alone.

“An unnamed narrator, sometimes serious and often mischievous, spins delicate but powerful descriptions of locations, emotions, and the protagonists’ great flaws and great strengths as they interact with family, poets, tricksters, sufferers of tragedy, and—of course—occasional moments of pure chaos.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

3
Akata Witch
by Nnedi Okorafor – 2011
Book 1 of 2 in the Akata series

Sunny Nwazue lives in Nigeria, but she was born in New York City. Her features are West African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. And she has a lot of catching up to do.

Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But as she’s finding her footing, Sunny and her friends are asked by the magical authorities to help track down a career criminal who knows magic, too. Will their training be enough to help them combat a threat whose powers greatly outnumber theirs?

“Okorafor’s imagination is stunning.”
—The New York Times Book Review

2
The Famished Road
by Ben Okri – 1991
Book 1 of 3 in The Famished Road Trilogy

Winner of the Man Booker Prize

Azaro is a spirit child, an abiku, existing, according to the African tradition, between life and death. Born into the human world, he must experience its joys and tragedies. His spirit companions come to him often, hounding him to leave his mortal world and join them in their idyllic one. Azaro foresees a trying life ahead, but he is born smiling. This is his story.

“Okri shares with García Márquez a vision of the world as one of infinite possibility… A masterpiece.”
—The Boston Sunday Globe

1
Kindred
by Octavia E. Butler – 1979

Kindred is an astonishing, fantastic book. Author Butler is a master. This book is often considered science fiction, but it easily could be called fantasy.

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

“Truly terrifying… A book you’ll find hard to put down.”
—Essence

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