The world of fantasy is expanding (as you can see from the awesome, expansive titles we covered in 2019). While I still love a good tale of a farm boy from a feudal nation saving the kingdom (or the world), I’m thrilled that so many great titles from beyond the traditional fantasy white European setting (so, you know, a majority of the world) are hitting American bookshelves.
This list of most-anticipated non-western fantasies has some ongoing series titles, as well as conclusions to fantasy sagas, and brand new series starters. So whether you’ve been following titles inspired by world locations beyond western Europe, or whether you are brand new to this window into where the fantasy genre can go and has gone, we’ve got you covered. Here are some of the titles I’m most looking forward to this year.
Most Anticipated Non-Western Fantasy Books in January
Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez
The Illustrians have been usurped, and Ximena, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal, is ready to seek revenge. When the usurper, Atoc, demands the hand of the Condesa in marriage, Ximena goes instead, seeking a chance to destroy the relic that brought Atoc to power. Ibañez drew inspiration on stories of revolution in Bolivia, where both of her parents are from, in creating this South American influenced fantasy world.
Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim
This YA fantasy spin on The Count of Monte Cristo begins when Amaya rescues a mysterious stranger from drowning. Sure, she’ll face greater punishment aboard the debtor’s ship that has been her home for years, she instead finds herself rewarded. The only reward she wants? Revenge on those who have wronged her. But of course, revenge comes with its own costs, and as she becomes embroiled with the son of the man she wants to destroy, she uncovers truths that convince her to trust no one. The first in this duology comes from the author of the Timekeeper trilogy, and would pair well (for adult readers) with 2019’s excellent Queen of the Conquered, which has its own echoes of The Count of Monte Cristo.
Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi
In this contemporary dystopian fantasy, Ella can see the future of others. Her powers alienate her from her family, including her younger brother Kevin, who was born on the day that the police officers who beat Rodney King were exonerated in court. Alternating between Ella and Kev’s perspectives, the story follows the siblings from Kev’s promising childhood into his incarceration—for being a young black man in America. When Ella, who vanished years before, begins to visit Kev through astral projection, she leads him through the memories of others that she has experienced, guiding him to possibilities for a different future. Onyebuchi’s #OwnVoices story shines light on the realities of the structural racism and brutality faced by contemporary black Americans.
Most Anticipated Non-Western Fantasy Books in February
Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
Jane McKeen started putting down the restless dead in Dread Nation, and she’s back in the divided America of the 1880s. Summerland has fallen, but that doesn’t make Jane’s life any easier. Enemies are still around her, and she finds herself questioning if she really understands the world. It’s a good thing she’s got Katherine Deveraux watching her back. Kate never expected to be Jane’s ally, but she knows just exactly how important it is to have friends in a world as dangerous as this one. This sequel to Ireland’s celebrated first novel comes after Ireland penned a few Star Wars novels, and it’s great to see her back in the Weird West from a galaxy far far away.
The Seventh Sun by Lani Forbes
This Maya-and-Aztec-inspired series starter reveals that the sun is fading, despite all of Prince Ahkin’s efforts to the contrary. When he must select a bride from among six candidates—and sacrifice the other five—in order to ascend to the throne, he feels connected to Mayana. But the gods may be against them, and the world may be on the brink of a darker apocalypse.
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K. S. Villoso
A war tore Queen Talyien’s nation apart. A marriage was supposed to save it. But when her groom disappears, there’s no way to unite the rival clans of her nation, fracturing the kingdom. When, years later, he sends her a message requesting that they meet, she holds out hope that there will be peace—until someone tries to kill her. In order to save her people, and herself, she must become the Bitch Queen, the she-wolf, that her enemies have called her. Villoso grew up in the Phillipines and draws inspiration from that setting. This novel was originally self-published in 2018, but the traditionally printed books launched this year for an expected trilogy.
Most Anticipated Non-Western Fantasy Books in March
Thorn by Intisar Khanani
I loved the self-published version of Thorn when it was first released in 2012, and I’m excited to see a fully revised, expanded version coming out this year from HarperTeen. Drawing inspiration from the story of the Goose Girl, the story revolves around Princess Alyrra, whose identity is stolen from her by a sorcerer, robbing her of her royalty—but also granting her a chance to start fresh, free from the expectations of her family. However, when she uncovers a plot that threatens the prince she was to marry, she must decide whether to remain silent, or return to the royal world she longed to escape. This new edition of the #OwnVoices novel also includes Khanani’s fantastic short story, “The Bone Knife.”
Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa
The eagerly awaited conclusion of Kagawa’s trilogy is almost here! This third book in the “Shadow of the Fox” series follows the cliffhanger ending of Soul of the Sword. Hopefully this installment will reveal what has happened to Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko and her love-interest-slash-enemy, Kage Tatsumi, who was possessed by a demon.
Wicked as You Wish by Rin Chupeco
Tala doesn’t really care about magic—and she sometimes negates it accidentally. Her family is part Filipino—she descends from Maria Makiling, a Filipina heroine—and part tied to the old, disappeared country of Avalon. When the Snow Queen returns from the dead, and an Avaolian firebird shows up on Tala’s doorstep, she’s thrust into a dangerous world of spelltech in the Royal States of America…
A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
Although this Thai-inspired fantasy novel is geared toward middle graders, there’s no shortage of depth to the story. When prison-born Pong escapes, he discovers that the world he’d longed to see is just as unfair and impoverished as the one he left behind. The rich thrive in the supernatural lights of Chattana, but the poor remain struggling in the shadows. Nok, the prison warden’s daughter, is determined to bring Pong back inside before her family is at the center of a scandal. But her own experiences outside the prison make her question the truths she has long trusted. With inspiration drawn from Les Miserables, this middle grade fantasy also has plenty of adult appeal.
Most Anticipated Non-Western Fantasy Books in April
Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova
Renata is a memory thief, once in service of the king of Andalucia—though not of her own volition. She was kidnapped as a child and forced to carry out the King’s Wrath, leading to the deaths of thousands of her own people. Now, she has joined the rebellion, but even among the people who rescued her from the king, she is mistrusted. When she’s tasked with rescuing her commander—and love interest—from the palace, her rage and desire for revenge are tested. What will it cost her to keep her cover? Córdova is best known for the “Brookyn Brujas” series, and this Spain-set historical fantasy series starter is likely to feature some of the same appealing magic that made the contemporary fantasy series so popular.
The Ranger of Marzanna by Jon Skovron
This Russian-inspired epic fantasy features two siblings destined to oppose each other over the fate of the invading Empire. Sonya is training to be a ranger. Sebastian, her brother, is the world’s most powerful sorcerer. When their father is murdered by imperial soldiers, Sonya decides to take a stand against them, gathering together allies to push the invaders back. But Sebastian sides instead with the Empire, leading them to a final confrontation that will determine the fate of the world—and their family.
The Red-Stained Wings by Elizabeth Bear
Set in the same world as Hugo-winner Bear’s epic “Eternal Sky” trilogy, The Red-Stained Wings continues the story of “The Lotus Kingdoms” she began in her 2017 novel The Stone in the Skull. Both books follow The Gage, a wizard-created brass automaton, and The Dead Man, a former bodyguard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, who work as mercenaries. In the first book they delivered a message, and now all the Lotus Kingdoms are at war because of it. (While The Red-Stained Wings originally released in hardcover last year, we missed it in our 2019 roundup, and Bear’s work is too good not to mention.)
Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst
YA and middle grader readers will be familiar with Durst’s unique twist on fantasy stories, but her newest title gives adult audiences a chance to see her shine. Set in Becar, a land where your actions in life determine your next incarnation, the only way out of the cycle is to win the Races. Tamara and Raia, a trainer and a rider, work together to try to train a kehok—a monstrous mount—for Raia to ride in order for Raia to earn her freedom.
Most Anticipated Non-Western Fantasy Books in May
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
This gorgeous cover grabbed me immediately, and this ancient West African-inspired fantasy with a strong female lead looks like it could join Tomi Adeyemi’s series as a YA hit. Deka is different from everyone else, with intuition that marks her as separate. All she wants is to be a normal member of her village—but when her blood is revealed to be gold, the color of impurity, she must choose death, or a fate as a warrior for the emperor. Skewing older than Rick Riordan’s demigod fantasies, but with shades of the Dora Milaje from the Black Panther, this is definitely an #OwnVoices series starter to watch for.
Empress of Flames by Mimi Yu
Lu and Min, the warring sisters of The Girl King, continue their battle over the Empire of the First Flame in this epic sequel. Lu, the firstborn, was destined to rule, and Min, blessed with magic, grew tired of being in her sister’s shadow. Now, while the sisters plot for the throne, a greater threat arises outside their empire—but even if they work together, they might lose everything.
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
This pirate swashbuckling adventure full of Asian folklore stars Flora, an orphan girl who takes on the identity of Florian to gain respect from a pirate crew, and Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, whose dreaded arranged marriage is interrupted by pirates. The two are thrust together, forming an unlikely bond that leads them to team up to rescue a mermaid and escape their fates—if they can survive the sea, a witch, and the Pirate Supreme himself.
Lobizona by Romina Garber
Argentine folklore comes to life in Miami in this #OwnVoices contemporary novel that tackles real-world issues of the treatment of undocumented immigrants—and the fantastic problems of descending from a bruja and a lobizón, a werewolf. Manuela Azul is hiding from her father’s Argentine crime family in Miami. When her mother is arrested by ICE, Manu makes more discoveries about her family than she’s ready for—including the fact that, according to the rules of her family’s magical world, she’s not supposed to exist…
The Archer at Dawn by Swati Teerdhala
This sequel to last year’s The Tiger at Midnight continues the story of the legendary rebel, Viper, in a saga based on Hindu mythology. Esha, known as Viper, and her partner Kunal infiltrate the court of King Vardaan. But while getting into the palace is easy, completing the tasks they set out to do may make them question their loyalties—to their countries, and to each other. This is the second book of a trilogy, so readers may need to expect a cliffhanger…
Most Anticipated Non-Western Fantasy Books in June
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
Sirens have to hide their powers—and Tavia is determined to keep her identity a secret rather than be forced to follow the restrictions against her people. At least she has her best friend, Effie, to help her navigate high school. But soon, Effie has to face the literal demons of her past, and Tavia’s powers are revealed in the worst moment possible. Black mermaids are taking the spotlight between Disney’s live action The Little Mermaid and Rivers Solomon’s excellent The Deep, and this #OwnVoices YA novel looks like another excellent addition to that growing subgenre. (Disclosure: this novel is not #OwnVoices for mermaids; as far as I know, Morrow is not a siren in hiding.)
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee
Lee might not be returning to the world of his middle-grade Korean-mythology space fantasy or his hard SF space opera, but the launch of a new fantasy series, full of magical automata, is just as exciting. When a symbol painter’s Phoenix Extravagant—the material they need to create pigments to program the automata—they set out to find the source. But the secrets of the Empire may be darker than the painter ever imagined. This #OwnVoices novel features a nonbinary main character in an Asian-inspired fantasy setting, and it’s at the top of my must-read list for 2020.
The Unconquered City by K. A. Doore
Doore’s “Chronicles of Ghadid” come to a conclusion in this third, action packed volume of assassins and warriors. Illi remembers the rise of the restless dead, and she works to protect her city from the guuls that travel the dunes. And Illi knows a secret that could allow her to end the threat of the dead—but only if she’s willing to risk sacrificing everything.
The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty
In the concluding volume of Chakraborty’s #OwnVoices “Daevabad Trilogy,” con-artist Nahri and exiled prince Ali are back in 18th Century Cairo after fleeing fallen Daevabad. But neither of them feel right having left their loved ones behind under the rule of a tyrant. Together with the djinn Dara, they have to find a way to remake the world. Den of Geek has been following this trilogy since book one, and it’s exciting to watch this series come to a conclusion.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
One of my favorite discoveries last year was Gods of Jade and Shadow, and while Moreno-Garcia takes this story in an entirely different direction with an all new cast, this re-envisioning of the gothic suspense genre in a Mexican setting looks to be just as fantastic. Noemí is a brave socialite called to rescue her cousin from a mysterious doom. When she arrives, she’s not sure whether the threat comes from her cousin’s intimidating English husband—or from the house itself, which plagues her dreams with visions of blood. Set in the 1950s, this #OwnVoices historical looks likely to feature the same kind of strong, unstoppable heroine as her 2019 title, twisting the tropes of another genre with a dose of horror.
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho
“A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there,” according to the marketing hook for this one—and I have to admit, that has me hooked! This novella from Sorcerer to the Crown writer Cho is a wuxia fantasy with a female lead in far over her head. Guet has to team up with a group of thieves in order to protect a sacred object.
Most Anticipated Non-Western Fantasy Books in July
Unravel the Dusk by Elizabeth Lim
This sequel to Lim’s Spin the Dawn continues the story of Maia Tamarin, once tailor to the king, and now cursed with demon blood. When she completed three impossible dresses and freed the trapped magician who served the emperor, she set into motion events that now have far-reaching consequences. Maia must assume the place of the emperor’s bride to keep the peace—but as she begins to lose herself to the demon curse, she also plans for a future for her family, and the magician that she loves, even if she herself doesn’t survive.
We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal
Zafir and Nasir are supposed to be enemies, but when they were brought together in We Hunt the Flame, they found that nothing is as simple as they thought. Now, both on a hunt for the same lost artifact, they find a far deeper evil than either has before experienced, and realize that their prize may be more dangerous than they can imagine. This is the second in Faizal’s #OwnVoices “Sands of Arawiya” series, and should relieve readers who have been waiting since the first novel’s cliffhanger ending.
Most Anticipated Non-Western Fantasy Books in August
Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar
Neil Gaiman’s Stardust meets Hindu mythology? Yes, please! Sheetal is the daughter of a mortal and a star. In order to save her father, she must travel to the celestial courts and serve as a champion in her mother’s family in a tournament. If she doesn’t succeed, she may never be able to return to Earth—or save her father’s life. This is a standalone #ownvoices fantasy novel that looks like it would definitely appeal to readers who loved Roshani Chokshi’s The Star Touched Queen.
Most Anticipated Non-Western Fantasy Books in September
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Julian Diaz wants to know why he’s dead, so it’s a good thing Yadriel summoned him—accidentally—instead of the ghost he meant to bring back. Now Yadriel can’t get rid of Julian without helping the ghost tie up some loose ends. As the two spend more time together, Yadriel realizes he doesn’t really want Julian to leave after all. This novel features a Latinx trans boy determined to prove his gender to his family in a really intriguing #OwnVoices YA fantasy debut.
The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
When Lin’s father, the Emperor, passes her over as his heir, she decides to take matters into her own hands, practicing the forbidden art of bone shard magic. But Lin isn’t the only one determined to take the throne, and the revolution at the palace gates may cost her everything. This first book in the “Drowning Empire” series is Stewart’s debut, and while the world is not specifically non-western inspired, Stewart is the Chinese American daughter of immigrants, and her new setting with its migratory islands is sure to grab the interest of readers who love fresh takes on fantasy.
Most Anticipated Non-Western Fantasy Books in October
Storm the Earth by Rebecca Kim Wells
Maren and Kaia may be reunited in this explosive conclusion to the Shatter the Sky duology, but their journey has changed them. Maren remains determined to set the dragons free, and to rescue their friend, Sev, now trapped by the emperor. Though Maren knows that she will fight, she’s not sure who will survive once the battle is over…
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Roanhorse’s Anasazi-inspired fantasy novel isn’t out until October, but the book is hitting many anticipated-fantasy lists of 2020. It’s no surprise, as Roanhorse is one of the most celebrated voices in fantasy right now, with a Nebula, Hugo, and Campbell all under her belt. While you’re waiting for more on this title, you can pick up the first two books in her Sixth World series, her Star Wars novel, or her 2020 middle-grade fantasy Race to the Sun.
Most Anticipated Non-Western Fantasy Books in November
The Conductors by Nicole Glover
A historical mystery crossed with a fantasy novel, this debut focuses on former Underground Railroad conductor Hetty Rhodes and her husband as they make their post-Civil War life in Philadelphia, solving mysteries the white authorities ignore. Hetty’s used to using her wits and her magic, and her new life is no different—especially when it comes to uncovering truths about the Black Elite of Philadelphia.
The Burning God by R. F. Kuang
The third, eagerly anticipated book in “The Poppy War” series sticks-the-landing (according to Kuang, quoting her editor in a Twitter post). The story finishes Rin’s saga in a world reminiscent of 20th Century, but filled with gods and monsters.
The Fires of Vengeance by Evan Winter
Winter’s sequel to last year’s The Rage of Dragons follows Tau as he continues fighting a war his people have been waging for generations. In a world where some women can summon dragons and some men can magically transform into larger, stronger versions of themselves, Tau has already realized that there are greater costs to the endless war than the Omehi have admitted to their people. Alongside Tsiora, the ousted queen of the Omehi, Tau strives to delay an attack by the indigenous people of Xidda, all while the queen makes a dangerous plan to retake the throne from her sister. The reviews of The Rage of Dragons make that novel sound un-put-downable, so expect another page turner when this one hits the shelves.
Most Anticipated Non-Western Fantasy Books in December
King of the Rising by Kacen Callender
Last year’s stunning Queen of the Conquered blew me away with its moral ambiguity and it’s gorgeous and terrible fantasy Caribbean setting. I had no idea Callender was planning a sequel, but I am incredibly excited to see where she takes the world, especially with the first novel’s secondary character Loren as the point of view character in this sequel. In the first novel, when Sigourney played the catalyst for a slave revolt—that led to her own unmaking, as well—Loren was one of the revolutionaries pulling her strings, and was the man who spoke up to request mercy for her. Now, with this former slave, the child of a colonist, at the forefront of the story, readers will get a very different view of the islands, and I cannot wait to see where this narrative takes us.