Ah, Black History Month. It’s an annual reminder to us white people that we used to be really racist as a society. And wouldn’t you know it, we still are! In every level of society. And yes, that includes the book industry. I was scrolling through my Favorites list on my blog while preparing this article and realized that about 90% of the authors on my shelves are white.
While I make some new orders on Amazon, I wanted to share five sci-fi/fantasy books I’ve read that are written by Black authors that I highly recommend you check out. Most of these I’ve reviewed on my blog, so I’ve included links if you want a more in-depth review unrestrained by Luna Station’s word limit.
I’ve ordered them in my own personal preference, based on several arbitrary rules that I’ll never be able to explain.
5: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
This was Jemisin’s debut novel, the first of a trilogy. It features gods enslaved by humans in a floating city. The world used to by ruled by a trio of gods in a polyamorous relationship, until one of them got jelly and killed one of their partners, causing a war, which the other god lost, and now they’re stuck serving humans. In short: communication is the key to any relationship, especially if world domination is on the docket.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is told through the first person POV of the main character, who is new to the city, but also the granddaughter of the king. She grew up in this military matriarchal society as a warrior and now has to navigate the insane inroads of the political arena. Add a hefty dose of magic, romance, and death, and you can see why I plowed through this book in less than a week.
4: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
This one, I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it’s a really good book, even if it is dark (see my original review for all the trigger warnings). On the other hand, I’m a sucker for happy endings. I like to know that, after all the shit, at least some of the major characters will be alright.
They’re all either dead, insane, or in prison. Yay!
It’s been called “the African Game of Thrones,” which is an accurate statement. So if that, plus a lot of gay, plus a hefty dose of tragedy is your jam, this is definitely the book for you. Just don’t read it while on break during a sales job, because it will ruin your good attitude and affect your numbers for the rest of the day.
3: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Really, anything by Nnedi Okorafor is gold, but this one is probably the best (with Lagoon being a close second).
Who Fears Death is another African grimdark novel (again, trigger warnings), this one centered on Onye, who’s the product of rape and has the delightful combination of anger issues and magic. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic Africa, with several different cities, ethnic groups, and magic systems. While I wish that Okorafor had gone into the worldbuilding a little more, the focus is on Onye and her struggle to come to terms with herself and right the wrongs done to her family. Since this includes punching several rapists in the face, I’m on board with it.
2: Witchmark by C. L. Polk
Another debut novel, Polk hits the ground running with Witchmark, an amazing epic fantasy that dives into classism and mental health. Like Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the main character in Witchmark is a hot gay mess. But unlike James, Polk gives her protagonist and his slightly more emotionally stable boyfriend a happy ending.
In addition to larger societal issues, Polk also tackles emotional abuse and toxic family relationships, as the primary villain is the main character’s father, and also to a certain extent his sister. She’s in a weird gray area and has a whole redemption arc. She also stars in the sequel coming out this month.
1: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
(full review here)
Badass black girls! Historically accurate alternative histories! Zombies!
Words cannot express how much my little historian’s heart squealed with joy when I found this book. Set during the Reconstruction Era after the zombie apocalypse sidelined the American Civil War, Ireland gives us a thrilling YA novel that tackles racism on every level. It goes a little hard on the “truly man is the real monster here” theme, but American history doesn’t leave much room for any other conclusion.
Also there’s a sequel coming out. At this point, I should just give Jeff Bezos a hundred dollars every year or so and let him spoon-feed me sequels as they come out.
Tell us your favorite SFF books by black authors in the comments so we can check them out!