16 awesome Asian-inspired fantasy worlds

Books with Asian-inspired faNtasy worlds 2

I should’ve called this 16 plus books, since so many of these are series…es?! In any event, I’m here with some bookish representation for those always in search of more. These 16 books represent places throughout Asia and Polynesia through fresh takes on mythology, settings and retellings. Check them out below!

The Chanter’s Blade, by A.A. Lee – When I found this Philippines-inspired fantasy, it went on my TBR list. So far, the writing has grabbed me.
 

Sunbolt, by Intisar Khanani – The intersection of cultures (and monsters) features prominently in this book. Set in a West Asian-inspired country with a feisty FMC whose mother came from an East Asian-inspured country, Hitomi is sure to steal readers’ hearts. (My review here.)

Six Crimson Cranes, by Elizabeth Lim – A coming of age story for the ages–or maybe just a few days for a dragon. (My review.)
 
The Singing Hills Cycle, by Nghi Vo (The Empress of Salt and Fortune; When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain) – Literary, whimsical and inventive, Vo’s stories get me every time. (Read my review of book one and two.)
 
The Jasmine Throne, by Tasha Suri – This India-inspired world is as haunting as its characters.
 
The Priory of the Orange Tree, by  Samantha Shannon – Part of this story is set in an East Asian-inspired country. I thought the plentiful storylines thin in this novel, but it’s a favorite for others.
 
Maiden of Candlelight and Lotuses, by Anastasis Blythe – Blythe’s first book outside of Vella is a magic academy homerun, filled with sweet romance and convincing martial arts action. As of writing this, it’s free for her newsletter subscribers. (Check out my review here.)
 
The Pler Series, by Anna Velfman (Snowblind; Icedancer; Avalanche) – A fused East-Asian setting is the last great civilization in Velfman’s exciting, science-fantasy-leaning novels with a protagonist from the “uncivilized” south. (My review of Snowblind, Icedancer and Avalanche.)
 
Gunpowder Alchemy, by Jeannie Lin – Another novel on my TBR list! This one promises steampunk and I can’t wait to read it.
 
The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang – Steeped in World War II history (chapters on city warfare are rooted in an actual battle), this one can be hard to stomach, but is undeniably a true fantasy epic. (My review.)
 
Black Water Sister, by Zen Cho – Okay, so this one is urban fantasy, but its expert fusion of myth, tradition and modern Malaysia are not to be missed. (My review here.)
 
The Daevabad Trilogy, by S.A. Chakraborty – I haven’t had time to read The Empire of Gold yet (each of these books is LONG) but this series just gets better as it goes. I highly recommend it. (Read my review of The City of Brass.)
 
Desert Nights series, by Helena Rookwood and Elm Vince – The fairytale retelling duo tackles the story of Aladdin in this fun series. (Read my review of Throne of Sand here.)
 
The Whale Rider, by Witi Ihimaera – One of my all-time favorite books is a quick a read as it is memorable. I’m including this because of its magical realism. Forget the movie and grab the heartwarming book!
 
Red Winter, by Annette Marie – Rooted in Japanese mythology, I picked up this book after multiple recommendations.
 
Tales of Akatsuki, by Nicolette Andrews (Kitsune; Yuki; Okami) – Fairytales are retold and blended with Japanese myth in this series I can’t wait to read.

Review of Icedancer (Velfman)

Icedancer, by Anna Velfman

“‘You seem to enjoy all these games, Chowa,’ she said without energy. ‘What does that say about you?’

”‘Best you don’t ponder that overlong.’ Chowa bowed and turned to leave. ‘You might not like the answer you arrive at.’”

Thus the Pler Series returns for a second tale of political and romantic intrigue, and it’s just as riveting as book one. Even more so, actually!

Lanna continues to shed her naïveté in this book. She hasn’t forgotten the farming village she’s left behind, though she hides it well for most of Icedancer. But she’s changed from that new Imperial who loved the headman’s son, in record time, thanks to Imperial Chemist Chowa-no-Ota. Lanna’s learned a few things about Flower Pavilion theatrics—or at least she thinks she has. As her star rises, a target grows on her back, leaving Lanna with a dangerous question: How much power does the Imperial Seer really have?

Icedancer Cover
Cover of Icedancer, Book 2 in what is now the Pler Series

The more time she spends in the palace, the more apparent it is that someone is always working in the shadows. Lanna finds one such person in Ethaan, head of the Hall of Enlightenment. He’s the only new character we actually meet besides Lanna’s assigned slave. While we also get to know Sonnatha, Itzander, Lucas and Ashioto more, the narrowed scope of Icedancer means characters like Epen, Frez and even Chowa become more peripheral.

Icedancer was refreshing in a lot of ways. The handsome emperor doesn’t get a pass just because he shows he cares and has plans to help the world (though the latter is exactly why Lanna helps him, and the former is a big part of why, despite herself, she finds herself wanting him). There’s so much more to powerful and cultured Ashioto, and Velfman (and the always formidable Lanna) never give in to girlish fancy.

Lucas, the mysterious voice only Lanna can hear, is also emerging as a very likeable and intriguing character. I’m excited to see what role he’ll play in the upcoming book. In all, another excellent book in this series with the writing to match.

To learn more about this author, visit annavelfman.com.

Review of Avalanche (Velfman)

A Review of Avalanche, by Anna Velfman
(Note: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. This book also contains mature content and allusions to non-consentual encounters.)
 
Lanna of the Clans is back–or at least she would be, if life at the palace didn’t have her so confused. This hard-hitting third installment of what used to be the Pler Trilogy brings readers a more introspective Lanna alongside true science-fantasy and an impeccable balance of action and character development. On top of that, it’s an excellent and binge-able read.
 
The main cause of the Southerner-turned-Imperial seer’s confusion is handsome Emperor Ashioto, who Lanna must marry after a period of seclusion. Nothing is black and white about their relationship. Ashioto can be tender and caring, yet dangles the fate of her old friend Mika, and the village she and Lanna came from, as bait whenever he wants something from her (and those things are never small). Still, Lanna is drawn to him and conflicted about her plans to bring down the Empire. Her background in the Machiavellian South doesn’t help that either. If Ashioto is cruel, it’s just a reminder that Southerners aren’t meant to bond anyway.
Avalanche (cover shown here) arrives November 20, 2021

A steamy scene very early in the book (there’s no dawdling in Avalanche, and the bedroom door is open) leaves Lanna to reckon with the truth: she’s sold herself to the Emperor, just as Lucas, the Augmented voice of reason who is literally in her head, warned her she would. Lanna has a price, and as she begins to question what she thought she wanted, we see her greatest development as a character.

As promised by Icedancer (review forthcoming) it’s also her biggest play for agency, even as the forces against her true freedom prove stronger and more calculating than she’d guessed. She’s also in her own way: forced into the position of sacrificial lamb, Avalanche takes time to ask what Lanna is worth to herself.
 
This, combined with her increasingly heart-warming relationship with Lucas, makes Avalanche Velfman’s most character-driven book yet. Given that Lanna is in seclusion, that seems natural–but the constant action and complications are unexpected and wonderful surprises. There is no shortage of action or plot twists in this book, even as Lanna’s character is fleshed out into the fifth dimension. We learn more about the midlands, too, as Lanna’s concerns stretch ever further from the Flower Hall. Even Chowa, who is mostly absent in the book, gets a fresh look.
 
Avalanche also lands firmly in science-fantasy territory (at last!). Gone are the teasers of another civilization; readers learn a whole lot more about where Lucas came from and how their world functions (hint: it involves more than a little tech). Both technology and its breakdown are to be feared in the Pler Series, as the marvels of that civilization behind the curtain may prove to be horrors for Lanna. Absolutely nothing in her world is simple.
 
This is one of the many reasons why I finished the book wishing I had the next title in the series already. Once again, I’m left eagerly awaiting whatever Lanna (and the charming Lucas) does next.

To learn more about this author, visit her website, annavelfman.com.