The modern fantasy genre grew out of medieval European folklore and legends such as the tales of King Arthur, so it’s not surprising that the vast majority of fantasy literature is set in a world that closely resembles Western Europe during the Middle Ages. In recent years, however, a growing number of fantasy authors have looked to the myths and legends of other cultures for their inspiration. Here is a selection of 10 great fantasy novels set in or inspired by non-European cultures:
1. Ahmed, Saladin – Throne of the Crescent Moon
Arab-American fantasy author Saladin Ahmed’s award-winning debut novel draws from Middle Eastern mythology to create a thrilling fantasy adventure.
2. Bear, Elizabeth – Range of Ghosts
The first novel in Bear’s Eternal Sky Trilogy, which was inspired by the Mongols and draws heavily from Central Asian mythology and culture.
3. de Bodard, Aliette – Servant of the Underworld
A supernatural murder mystery by a French-Vietnamese fantasy author set in the pre-Columbian Aztec Empire.
4. Hearn, Lian – Across the Nightingale Floor
The first in the popular Tales of the Otori series inspired by feudal Japanese culture. If you’ve always wished fantasy had more ninjas, this is your book.
5. Hopkinson, Nalo – Sister Mine
An award winning urban fantasy novel from Jamaican author Nalo Hopkinson that is infused with Caribbean folklore and culture.
6. Hughart, Barry – Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was
A fun and humorous short fantasy novel inspired by Chinese folklore.
7. Jamisin, N.K. – The Killing Moon
African-American fantasy author N.K. Jamisin based the world of The Killing Moon loosely on the mythology and culture of Ancient Egypt and Nubia.
8. Kay, Guy Gavriel – Under Heaven
Kay has earned a dedicated following due to his fine fantasy novels inspired by unusual settings, including Tigana (Renaissance Italy) and The Lions of al-Rassan (Moorish Spain). Under Heaven, inspired by Tang Dynasty China, is widely considered one of his best works.
9. le Guin, Ursula – A Wizard of Earthsea
Among the first popular fantasy novels to feature an explicitly brown protagonist, le Guin’s classic Earthsea trilogy drew inspiration from Polynesian and Taoist cultures, among others.
10. Lord, Karen – Redemption in Indigo
If you love fairy tale retellings, check out this magical retelling of a Senegalese folk tale by a Barbadian author.
What are your favorite fantasy novels with non-European settings?
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