In case you don’t know, it’s Black History Month in the US, and there is an amazing Blackathon ongoing! If you are thinking of joining, there’s still time! Whether you join or not, if you are looking to add more Black-authored Science Fiction and Fantasy to your life, I can highly recommend all the books below. I love, love, love SFF: the magic, the high tech, the intrigue, the adventures, and I’m excited to share some of my favorites today!
Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson
This is a recent read for me and the audiobook is amazing! It’s set in a Caribbean-colonized, high-tech world where Tan-Tan, a young girl, dreams of becoming the Robber Queen. When her father commits an unforgivable crime, he and Tan-Tan are swept away to the dangerous, magical world of the New Half-Way Tree, where folklore creatures are real. This was full of adventure, both whimsical and brutal – Nalo Hopkinson did something truly unique with the way she did the writing style for this book, and all the Caribbean folklore infuse the world of Midnight Robber with life. The audiobook for this is incredible and works perfectly with the way this book is narrated.
The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
This is also a recent read, and it has become a favorite for me! In The Fifth Season, Essun’s son has been murdered by his father and she hunts her husband down to save the daughter he took with him – at the same time, a man starts the apocalypse, killing most people in the Empire. This book is dark, gory, incredibly written and the world richly created in a way that felt real. I loved the plot twists, the writing style, the flawed and complex characters. Everything about this book just really, really worked for me! If you love epic fantasy a bit more on the darker side, you should definitely try this series!
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
I feel like this book is not for everyone – I loved it. This dark fantasy series tells the story of a group of characters who don’t trust each other but have a common goal: to find a boy who went missing years ago. Most people think the boy is dead, but if anyone can find him, it’s Tracker – they say “he’s got a nose”. This is a visceral, brutal book and what I love most is the premise that each book will tell the story of the search for the boy through the eyes of different characters, and each character tells a different version of what happened, and I think the reader is supposed to choose who to believe. Really a fantastic, unique book!
The Deep by Rivers Solomon
This novella left me wanting a bit more, because Rivers Solomon writes so wonderfully. The Deep tells the story of Yetu, a mermaid who is the descendant of pregnant slave African women thrown overboard. Her job is the hardest of all – she keeps all the memories of her people, so that they don’t have to relive the trauma of many generations. This book is about memory, trauma and grappling with your past. It’s a very poignant Sapphic fantasy read.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
This is a fast-paced, addictive young adult fantasy that had me completely hooked! In Children of Blood and Bone, we follow Zélie, a girl who remembers the time when magic existed and her people wielded it. With the help of a fugitive princess, she will do what she can to get that power back and free her people from oppression. I loved this when I read it a few years ago, the action-packed, magical story made me fall in love with YA fantasy again.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
If you like books that give you Feelings, this is a perfect choices. This perfect blend of sci-fi and historical fiction tells the story of Dana, who one day time travels by accident to antebellum Maryland and saves a boy. After nearly getting killed and being transported back in time right before getting shot, Dana lives in constant fear – she is brought back many more times, and each time becomes more dangerous than the past. This is a horror book, in my opinion, and I was properly terrified. My mom also loved it!
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
This is a wonderful novel about a young woman, Ada, who develops several personalities early on, and becomes more fractured as she grows. This can be both read as a fantasy novel or as a story about mental health – I believe the author intended it as a fantasy, though, and that is how I read it. This is an incredible, complex, heartbreaking story narrated by Ada and by the other selves.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Although this is not technically a book I loved (I hardly ever love novellas), there were so many unique things about it, this just had to be on this list. Binti is the first of the Himba people to be offered a place in the most esteemed University in the galaxy. She leaves her family and community behind in order to go – and is terrified when the ship she takes to get there is invaded by the Medusa, an alien race with whom humans have long been in war. This has some elements of horror, but it’s more an adventure kind of story, and I really liked how Nnedi Okorafor portrayed Ada’s culture, the Medusas and the universe this book is set in. Really a creative story!
Ring Shout by P. Djèli Clark
Another recent read, Ring Shout is a historical novella in which the Klu Klux Klan members are real monsters, and Maryse kills them with her sword. I highly recommend the audiobook! While this novella did not conquer my heart, I loved its theme, the creativity of the author in turning The Birth of a Nation into a spell that will turn the world into a big Klan. This is a fun horror story – while I thought the themes were laid on a bit thick, they were incredibly interesting (and relevant), plus the historical setting is done so perfectly, so atmospherically, and the story itself is such fun that I had to put Ring Shout on this list!
The Unbroken by C. L. Clark
This is a bit of a risky addition because I am still reading it, but I think it deserves to be in this list for a few reasons. This tells the story of Touraine, a soldier who’s been kidnapped as a child and taken to Balladaire to fight for the Empire, and the story of Luca, the princess who wants to take her rightful place as Queen and overthrow her uncle. This book absolutely stands out by how gloriously Sapphic it is, and by how it talks about colonialism. The story is entirely centered around colonialism and how the main characters approach it in completely different ways – Luca wants to do what’s best for her Empire, Touraine is not sure she thinks being colonized did her country any good, even if she has no emotional attachment to it anymore. My main issue with this novel are the writing style (which does not agree with me a lot) and the pacing, but otherwise I find the world incredibly interesting and I love the political intrigue.