As a Black woman and nerd-content enthusiast, I sometimes struggle to find representation of blackness in mainstream fantasy and sci-fi. While I enjoy stories like His Dark Materials, Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter, and they do include characters of colour, the stories are largely told from white protagonists’ perspectives. So I often seek to add other narratives that allow Black and brown readers to more easily put themselves in the protagonist’s shoes, and fortunately, more of these stories are coming to the forefront. Here are 11 books by Black authors whose characters embrace magic and the supernatural.
By N.K. Jemisin
N.K. Jemisin brings each borough to life in her newest work of fiction, The City We Became. The soul of each borough is infused within five individuals, as the city has given them powers in a time of need. A Brooklyn-born politician can hear the song of the city and feel its vibrations through her feet. A Lenape Gallery owner from the Bronx uses graffiti to discover the secrets of her city. As a Bronxite, I deeply enjoyed this story. A borough’s current and indigenous cultures being used as a magical trope is empowering, and all five boroughs have to work together when an insidious evil beneath the city desires to destroy their home.
By Namina Forna
Based in West Africa, The Gilded Ones follows Deka, a young girl who is more than what she seems. After a coming-of-age blood ceremony, it’s discovered that the blood in Deka’s veins is gold instead of red, revealing she does not belong with the villagers. Deka’s existence is threatened, but just before she is given a punishment worse than death, a mysterious woman invites her to join the “Alaki,” a band of warrior women like her with special abilities. She must now train to defend her life in an epic battle to take place in the capital city. Reminiscent of Hunger Games and Black Panther, Deka and the Alaki fight for the right to exist as they are. Author Namina Forna is a young Black woman originally from Sierra Leone whose life heavily inspires this debut novel.
After her mother is killed, Rue must leave her sister behind in Houston, Texas when her estranged father reveals she is a demi-god who must learn how to wield her power with others of her kind in the hidden island of Ghizon. I love when a fantasy novel is grounded in real-world locations, and having Rue from Houston allows for current politics and real-life experiences to fuel the novel’s magical realism. Rue makes her way back to Houston only to find Black and brown kids are being pushed into a life of crime and violence. When Rue sees her sister is falling prey to this, she knows has to use the full potential of her powers to stop it. This is Author J.Elle’s debut YA novel.
By Evan Winter
In a world that only knows war, a select few are given the power to call upon dragons, and others the power to transform into superhuman warriors. Main character Tau wants neither and plans to injure himself to lead a simple family life; unfortunately, those he loves are all sequestered to war or killed in battle, and the hopes for a simple life seem more like a dream. He then vows to be the greatest swordsman to seek revenge. This is the first in Evan Winter’s saga of fantasy novels and offers the larger dose of representation you may have yearned for in Game of Thrones — dragons and all.
By Bethany C. Morrow
Brown mermaids are the focus of Bethany C. Morrow’s novel A Song Below the Water. Tavia is a mermaid living in Portland, Oregon who must hide her powers from the world to exist as a normal teenager. After tragedy hits the siren community, the secret gets out — and Tavia and best friend Effie try to overcome this and the other obstacles high school throws at them. This tale reminds me of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, with teenage drama taken to supernatural heights. But it’s also a commentary on brown skin beauty and societal norms.
By Tomi Adeyemi
Children of Blood and Bone brings Afro-Caribbean Orisha spirituality to the fantasy world. Orishas are deities descended from Yoruba people in West Africa, and in this tale, Orisha powers made the land magical and people could wield their extraordinary gifts until an evil king suppressed that magic in an effort to control the people. Zélie Adebola uses her intuition and connection to her ancestors to restore power to the people and the land.
By Marlon James
Tracker, a young warrior known for his impeccable sense of smell, sets out to prove the extent of his remarkable skill by finding a missing boy. He picks up a ragtag group of gifted characters during his journey, including a shapeshifting leopard. Tracker and his team are thrust into danger as someone (or some thing) tries to stop their quest. This novel is the first of Marlon James’s suspenseful Dark Star Trilogy.
By Echo Brown
Echo Brown is a Black wizard stuck between two worlds as she cultivates her magic in one and tries to survive systemic racism in another. She lives in what is called “East Side” in the novel, where depression and drug use plague her community, and travels to her preppy wizard school to find a way to save her people from depression and poverty. This semi-autobiographical work by Echo Brown portrays a straightforward message using magical realism to instill hope in its readers.
By Nnedi Okorafor
Binti tells the story of a young woman who is accepted into the prestigious, intergalactic Oomza University. While an intergalactic race war rages on, she leaves her family and way of life behind to pursue higher education in a foreign environment where she is not always welcome. Binti is an afrofuturistic tale of Black excellence amongst strife that holds a mirror to the collegiate experiences of many young Black and brown adults today.
By Octavia Butler
Octavia Butler is known for her spell-binding science fiction stories and brave protagonists, and Mind of My Mind is no different. The second instalment of Butler’s Patternist series follows Mary, a humanoid experiment created by an immortal being named Doro. Mary, along all those who Doro creates, are given special abilities to control their actions, and Mary uses her power of telekinesis to fight against him and free herself from his control. Although this is the second in a series of many, it can be read on its own.
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
Hiram Walker is born a slave and sold away from his mother, leaving him with little knowledge of his past and who he is. When he develops unbelievable powers involving water, he vows to free himself and begin a life outside of what he has ever known. The Water Dancer is the first novel (outside of the Black Panther graphic novels) by Ta-Nehisi Coates; it’s been critically acclaimed and is currently being adapted into a motion picture to premiere on HBO.