10 Fantasy Novels About Asian Mythology, Written By Women

by Kerri Jarema

If you've been paying attention to bookish news at all recently, you'll know that J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved Harry Potter series, has come under scrutiny since the release of the trailer for the Fantastic Beasts film sequel, The Crimes of Grindelwald. Here's a quick summary of the situation: Rowling has rewritten the origin story of Lord Voldemort's snake Nagini as a Maledictus, a creature the author says is inspired by the ancient mythology of the Naga. But, according to many fans, Rowling incorrectly attributed this Indian lore to Indonesian myth and has been accused of ignoring the problematic racial undertones of casting South Korean actress Claudia Kim to play the role.

Whether or not you believe that Rowling made some poor choices in her creation of The Crimes of Grindelwald, you can probably acknowledge that the very best way to read fiction inspired by Asian folklore would be by embracing books that are both well-researched and come from diverse authors who experience these myths and legends as a part of their own vibrant cultures. Below are 10 books that do just that: Put authors' connections to their own cultural mythology at the forefront in fantasies that are both fun and illuminating to read.

'Empress of All Seasons' by Emiko Jean (Nov. 6)

Each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. All are eligible to compete — all except yōkai, supernatural monsters and spirits whom the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy. Mari has spent a lifetime training to become empress. Winning should be easy. And it would be, if she weren't hiding a dangerous secret: She is a yōkai.

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'Girls of Paper and Fire' by Natasha Ngan (Nov. 6)

Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it's Lei they're after — the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king's interest.

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'The Library of Fates' by Aditi Khorana

When her home is under siege by siege by Emperor Sikander, Princess Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by the Emperor's side as a slave. Thala encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates.

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'The Forest of a Thousand Lanterns' by Julie C. Dao

The stars say 18-year-old Xifeng is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins — sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed.

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'The Star-Touched Queen' by Roshani Choksi

With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, Maya has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. But her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. But Akaran has its own secrets — and soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger.

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'Shadow of The Fox' by Julie Kagawa

Raised by monks in an isolated temple, Yumeko has trained all her life to hide her yokai nature. Until the day she is forced to flee for her life with the temple’s greatest treasure — one part of the ancient scroll. And with an army of demons at her heels and the unlikeliest of allies at her side, Yumeko's secrets may just determine the fate of her world.

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'Flame in the Mist' by Renee Ahdieh

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose: to marry. So, at just 17 years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed. But Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, dangerous bandits who’ve been hired to kill her. She narrowly escapes, and dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible.

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'The Bone Witch' by Rin Chupeco

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she's a bone witch, feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

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'The Tiger At Midnight' by Swati Teerdhala (April 2019)

Esha moonlights as the Viper, the rebels’ highly skilled assassin. And now she’s been tasked with her most important mission to date: taking down the ruthless General Hotha. Kunal has been a soldier since childhood. His uncle, the general, has ensured that Kunal never strays from the path.. When Esha’s and Kunal meet, an unimaginable chain of events unfolds.

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'A Thousand Beginnings And Endings' by Various Authors

This short story collection, edited by We Need Diverse Co-Founder Ellen Oh, reimagines East and South Asian mythology and folklore with stories from authors like Renee Ahdieh, Sona Charaipotra, Roshani Chokshi, Julie Kagawa, Cindy Pon, and Aisha Saeed.

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This piece was updated on Oct. 5, 2019.