Like you, I’m watching the protests all across America this week and realizing that racism is more pervasive than I thought, still, and that I need to be more active in doing what I can to get rid of it once and for all. To start compiling a list of constructive actions I can take, I’ve read many very thoughtful and articulate Facebook posts, had great conversations on Twitter with fellow authors that are black, and researched organizations that I can support in their efforts to uproot systemic racism. I’d also like to help by amplifying the voices of black authors, to cast more light on who they are, their hopes and dreams. To that end, I’ve compiled a list of speculative science fiction and fantasy books by black authors that I recommend because they each add a unique richness to those genres:
Fantasy Books by Black Authors
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
You’ve probably already heard me raving about this book here and on Instagram:
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I’ve never read a more vibrant book. It’s YA fantasy, about a girl’s quest to get magic back, for her and her people, from the ruthless king who killed it and is bent on seeing her killed too. More than that, though, it’s about what we do with fear. The link to my review, wherein I spill my guts and talk about fixing society, is in my bio. How’s your Friday going? #bookaddict #bookstagram #bookish #booksofinstagram #bookreview #bookreviews #fantasybooks #fantasybooksrus #yafantasy #bookshelf #magic #amreading #reading
It was written, in part, as a manifestation of Adeyemi’s frustration with police brutality against black men, although you see that frustration borne out in her book against all holders of power. This is ironic, given the struggle Zelie faces against her own nascent power. Thus, part of the genius of this book.
Favorite quote? Not only because it shows the vibrancy with which this book was written but also for its relevance to today’s real-world happenings: “We are all children of blood and bone. All instruments of vengeance and virtue.”
Also, I loved this book’s cover so much I made a bookmark that’s my “artistic interpretation” of it:
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
If Goodread’s profile of Okorafor is any indication, this is a black author from whom we can expect to see many great books (and movies!) in the future. Here’s how Goodread’s describes Akata Witch’s plot:
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 just 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 against a threat whose powers greatly outnumber theirs?
Rather than tell you what I thought of this book, I refer you to BlackBooksMatter.com’s review of it.
Best deal? The least expensive version of Akata Witch is new paperback on Amazon, for $8.59.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
This book is one of a growing number of books published by Rick Riordan Presents (a small branch of the Disney-Hyperion Publishing group), whose goal is to publish great middle grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, “to let them tell their own stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their own heritage.”
Basically, Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American gods John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and some allies need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal a hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price.
The book is full of voice and humor. It’s a fun read. I wish I could give you a good quote from the book as a sample of that, but I have it on audiobook and haven’t yet figured out how to “underline” spoken words.
Best book deal? $6.99 on Kindle.
The Water Dancer by Ta-nehisi Coates
I learned about this one when Oprah Winfrey recommended it on CBS This Morning. It’s about a slave boy with a mysterious power. It’s got an impressive average rating of 4.07 from 44,855 ratings and 5,757 reviews on GoodReads. This book’s strength is it’s achingly beautiful style.
Best quote? “Power makes slaves of masters.” Amen.
Best book deal? You can get a PDF of it on eBay for $1.99.
Sci-Fi Books by Black Authors
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
I can’t, in good conscience, recommend any good sci-fi books by black authors without including Octavia Butler, of course. I had an interesting, 54-comment discussion with other sci-fi aficionados on Facebook about which book of hers was best, and while there was no consensus because they’re all good, my preference is Parable of the Sower, which is about an America whose society is falling apart in the mid-2020’s (hmmm), and a young, black girl who wants to help.
Best deal? The best price across all the platforms I looked at was $3.99 for the Audible audiobook.
I’ve also raved about this book, but for different reasons. The main character’s struggle isn’t against holders of power, it’s against a plethora of other things:
- the Meduse, a race of people that look similar to the Greek goddess Medusa, and are locked in a war with the galactic university Binti hopes to study at
- other people’s perceptions of her
- feelings of separation from her marginalized culture and close-knit family
The thing I loved most about this book was its uniqueness, the fact that it blended elements of a marginalized main character from a marginalized culture with some classic sci-fi elements like space travel, many species under one roof, war, and politics, with some not-so-classic sci-fi elements like living space ships, a sentient, war-crazed jellyfish species, etc.
Best price for this one, across all the sites I looked at? $12.99 for the Kindle version on Amazon.
Rosewater by Tade Thompson
Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless—people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers.
Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again—but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.
Although it ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger, it’s an intriguing premise played out in a cool way.
Also, it’s quite graphic, with two explicit sex scenes, fourteen swear words, and one violent zombie scene all in the first 29 pages. Not my cup of tea, but it might be yours.
Best price? $4.99 on Kindle
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
How do I even begin to describe the scope and plot of this book? It’s hard to put into words, but suffice it to say it’s somewhat like The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey. Not for the faint of heart. And since I tend to be faint of heart, a bit of a rough read, but super compelling.
Best price? $9.99 for a new paperback from Amazon.
So there you go! If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend you pick up copies for yourself and start reading. I know there are a good number more such books out there; this list is not meant to be comprehensive at all. It’s meant, in part, to be a conversation starter. What sci-fi or fantasy books by black authors have you read that you think I should add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.