I don’t know about you, but after decades on a steady diet of European-inspired fantasy and western sci-fi, it’s been an absolute joy to find more speculative fiction based on other cultures and perspectives. Talk about a fictional feast! Since I’m South Asian American, I am particularly thrilled to see more Indian-inspired books hitting the market, penned by and starring brown women. Here are five of my must-read recs.
A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi (2017)
The richly woven follow-up to Chokshi’s debut, The Star-Touched Queen, is rooted in Hindu traditions and Indian folklore, teaming a badass princess and a determined prince in a competition for a life-changing wish. Gauri and Vikramditya face philosophical and fantastical challenges and encounter beings of legend like yakshas, vishakanyas, and vetalas—all while contending with their growing attraction to one another. Packed with mouth-watering descriptions of food and dozens of cultural Easter eggs, Chokshi’s sophomore outing is ultimately a sweeping adventure about coming to terms with your responsibilities and your legacy. If you wish for a riveting book, it’s definitely granted here!
The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (2008)
A retelling of the Hindu epic The Mahabharata from Draupadi’s point of view, Palace of Illusions is in turns dreamy and difficult as it sketches out the life of a sheltered princess whose choices shape an entire nation’s destiny. It’s a meditation on war and a woman’s place in a patriarchal society, etched in gorgeous prose and embellished with blood and tears. I don’t necessarily recommend it for people who aren’t familiar with the source material, because you kind of have to know what narratives are being flipped, but I do think it’s a fascinating and beautifully written read for anyone who wants to give it a shot!
A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna (2018)
A Mahabharata-inspired tale set in space (!!!), Mandanna’s 2018 series-starter takes recognizable elements of the epic poem and molds them into her own gorgeous art pieces, centering abandoned princess Esmae in the role of beloved warrior Karna, who was famously caught between the birth family that scorned him and the cousins who accepted him. Esmae and Karna’s stories don’t parallel exactly—largely because Esmae makes very different choices once she finds out who she really is—and that proves to be a very positive change, as readers get a satisfying romantic set-up, plenty of intergalactic court intrigue, and a compelling hook for the next book!
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri (2018)
Taking its cues from the Mughal Empire, which reigned from the 14th century to the 19th, this lush first book in Suri’s Books of Ambha series renames and reimagines Indian places and belief systems, resulting in a fantasy world that’s at once familiar and brand-new. A governor’s daughter forced to suppress her cultural and magical heritage, Mehr lands in the middle of mystical and political intrigue—and a forced marriage to a stranger—after her powers come to light. What ensues is a powerful, page-turning, journey of self-determination as Mehr and her new husband Amun engage in a delicate dance—quite literally—to save their lives and the very world around them.
The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala
Teerdhala’s debut isn’t out as of the writing of this piece—it comes out April 23, 2019—but the blurb for the ancient India-set YA fantasy screams “one-click!” Esha is a rebel spy known as the Viper, on a mission to kill a general and take down a usurper king. When she encounters the general’s nephew, career soldier Kunal, they quickly become embroiled in a broader conspiracy that neither one of them could have anticipated. Assassinations, power struggles, and romance, oh my! This trilogy kick-off sounds like it has a little bit of everything—like the perfect Indian spice blend—and I can’t wait to pick up a copy!