I will be the first to admit that I am trash for George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. I love the world-building, the intricate plotting, the not-so-subtle parallels to real world history. I am willing to wait through another five to ten years of Martin teasing us with that Winds of Winter release date. But I will also readily admit that we're in desperate need of some new fantasy stories. Game of Thrones is great and all, but we've been stuck in a "Faux-Europe Fantasy World Starring Faux-Europeans" rut for a long, long time now. It's been done. Let's pick something a little more creative for the next international high fantasy sensation. Here are a few wildly imaginative books by POC authors that just might be the next Game of Thrones.
Now, when I say the "next Game of Thrones," I don't mean that all of these books are strictly swords-and-sorcery stories about would-be monarchs fighting over a fancy chair (although there's plenty of that, too). Some of them are set in a fantastical past, or far in the future. Some of them subvert classic fantasy tropes, while others take the genre in new directions entirely. All of them are worth reading, so stop moping over Winds of Winter for a while and check out one of these fascinating fantasy epics:
'The Fifth Season' by N.K. Jemisin
Admittedly, Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy is closer to Game of Thrones in terms of plot (royals, kingdoms, bloodlines, etc). But The Fifth Season already well on its way to becoming the next big TV fantasy spectacular. It's also a marvel of world-building, set on an Earth beset by seismic activity, where one woman must brave the coming season of destruction to rescue what's left of her family.
'The Grace of Kings' by Ken Liu
The Dandelion Dynasty is a sweeping epic that begins with two men: Kuni Garu, a charming bandit, and Mata Zyndu, the stoic son of a deposed duke. The two have precious little in common, but they find themselves on the same side of a risky uprising, fighting side by side against armies, airships, and shapeshifting gods to defeat the emperor himself and save the realm. Once the realm is saved, however, they have very different ideas of what to do with it.
'The Broken Crown' by Michelle West
Starting with The Broken Crown, the Sun Sword series is jam-packed with epic fantasy realms, thrilling battles, and all the magically-tinged court intrigue that any reader could possibly want. We follow a skilled general and a master of the magical arts — two people never meant to rule — as they attempt to take over the powerful Dominion. It's the height of high fantasy, with a multitude of nuanced lady protagonists and brilliantly orchestrated plot twists.
'Dragon Sword and Wind Child' by Noriko Ogiwara
Saya has lived her life among the people of Light, far away from the war between the Light and the Dark. She detests the Dark and all it stands for... until the day she discovers that she is a reincarnated princess of the Children of the Dark. Now two armies are coming to claim her, for Saya is the only one with the power to end a war that has lasted for generations.
'Who Fears Death' by Nnedi Okorafor
Yes, George R.R. Martin is indeed producing the upcoming HBO adaptation of Who Fears Death. Okorafor's novel may be set in the far future rather than in a far-off fantasy realm, but her epic hero's journey is still the perfect read for all high fantasy fans. Onyesowu was born different, possibly even born with the power to save her people—if only they can accept her and her terrifying gifts.
'An Ember in the Ashes' by Sabaa Tahir
The Martial Empire does not allow for any measure of defiance. The punishment for rebels is always death. But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, she is forced to make a choice: accept her Empire's ruling, or go undercover at the Empire’s greatest military academy to try and save her brother, risking her own life in the process.
'Sorcerer to the Crown' by Zen Cho
Look, I know that there are a lot of versions of Fantasy England out there, Martin's series included. But Zen Cho manages to breathe new life into the whole concept: her Fantasy England is running out of magic, and Zacharias Wythe, a freed slave and incredibly gifted magician, must journey to the border of Fairyland to save England's magic stores and cement his own place as Sorcerer Royal to the Unnatural Philosophers.
'We Hunt the Flame' by Hafsah Faizal
We Hunt the Flame doesn't hit bookstores until next year, but it's already shaping up to be the next big fantasy series: the kingdom of Arawiya is under threat, and two individuals seek to obtain a lost artifact that just might restore magic to their world. One is the Hunter, a girl who's been disguising her gender for years. The other is the Prince of Death, a boy sworn to bring her to "justice." This book has got kingdoms, death, darkness, elves, epic world-building, and everything in between.
'A Warrior's Path' by Davis Ashura
Rukh Shektan is a talented warrior and a loyal member of his Caste. He obeys the teachings of his elders without question. At least, until he enters into a contest that could decide the fate of humanity. Out there in the Wilderness, fighting Chimeras and risking his life, Rukh will start to wonder if his lessons have been entirely accurate — and if it's too late to save his city from certain doom.
'Song of Blood & Stone' by L. Penelope
Jasminda is an outcast, orphaned and exiled by her people for her dangerous ability of Earthsong. But when a band of soldiers arrives at her cabin, she finds herself pulled back into the politics of her homeland—especially once she falls for Jack, an injured spy with little left to lose. He sees her song as a gift that could save the land of Elsira from an ancient evil, if only they can survive long enough to try.
'Obsidian and Blood' by Aliette de Bodard
In Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztecs, the end of the world is close at hand. It's only kept at bay by the magic of human sacrifice. When a priestess disappears from a blood soaked room, however, it looks as though time is up for the Mexica Empire. Obsidian and Blood is an alternate-history fantasy that mixes murder mysteries with high-octane battles with mythology-inspired magic to create something wholly new.
'The Black Tides of Heaven' by J.Y. Yang
Let's be real: sometimes we want all the imagination and drama of a Martin-esque epic without having to read several thousand pages of family history. The Black Tide of Heaven is one of a pair of novellas that manages to create the fantastic world of the Tensorate in just a couple hundred pages, weaving together court intrigue, magical visions, and some good old fashioned family drama.
'The Poppy War' by R.F. Kuang
As a war orphan from the Rooster Province, no one ever expected Rin to amount to much (least of all Rin). So it was a shock to Rin, her scheming guardians, and the Empire at large when she aced her placement test, landing her at Sinegard, the most elite military school in all of Nikan. The Poppy War is a fantasy epic by way of historical fiction, following Rin as she struggles to avoid teasing at school while gradually unearthing a lethal power that she can barely control.