One of the reasons that I find fantasy so appealing is the epic scope and the wondrous worlds that we can explore using the power of our own minds. Fantasy novels have transported us to worlds where (in the right circumstances) swear words pop into flying creatures, or where giant crustaceans roam about, a place where snarky demons can be summoned, and even where dinosaurs are knights. But even with all of this a lot of fantasy comes back to the Euro-centric, psudo-medieval settings. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good fantasy in that setting. It’s a staple of the genre for a reason! (As well as some other Tolkien orientated reasons that I won’t go into here) but there’s so much more that could be explored! I think that recently there is more fantasy fiction being written in settings inspired by other cultures, a big one recently that comes to mind is Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, and part of the lure of epic fantasy is its scope and several large works (Malazan, or the Demon Cycle for example) focus on cultures that feel inspired by medieval Europe but also steppe tribes, Middle Eastern cultures and more. But there are a few areas I think could be explored more, and in writing this post I found a few books (although haven’t read them) so I’ve included some books where I can!
I’m sure I’m not the only one who is interested in the cities covered in stories of blood and gold. There’s so much rich mythology here and especially with the idea of feathered dinosaurs taking hold what better culture to explore with its giant feathered serpents? A few books: Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard
Year One-Knife, Tenochtitlan the capital of the Aztecs. The end of the world is kept at bay only by the magic of human sacrifice. A Priestess disappears from an empty room drenched in blood. Acatl, High Priest, must find her, or break the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead.
Born in the Highlands, Kuini thought his life was simple. You hunt and you fight, defending your towns against the raids of the Lowlanders and then raiding their lands in turn. His father was the Warriors’ Leader, and he wanted to be just like him. Yet, Texcoco, the mighty Capital of the Lowlands, seemed incredibly beautiful, sparkling, its pyramids magnificent. A friendship with the Lowlander boy, the First Son of the Texcoco Emperor, seemed harmless in the beginning. They were just boys, and their clandestine meetings were always fun, providing great entertainment. However, on the day Kuini agrees to finally enter the magnificent city, it would all change. He expected to get into trouble, but he could not foresee the extent of the trouble and, worst of all, he did not expect to uncover hidden secrets concerning his own family.
Blood and Bone by Ian C. Esslemont Although this is part of a larger series, when I was reading it I felt like the jungle and culture it explored (which isn’t one explored in any other Malazan novel at the moment) felt very much like the Amazon:
In the western sky the bright emerald banner of the Visitor descends like a portent of annihilation. On the continent of Jacuruku, the Thaumaturgs have mounted yet another expedition to tame the neighboring wild jungle. Yet this is no normal wilderness. It is called Himatan, and it is said to be half of the spirit-realm and half of the earth. And it is said to be ruled by a powerful entity whom some name the Queen of Witches, and some a goddess: the ancient Ardata. Saeng grew up knowing only the rule of the magus Thaumaturgs — but it was the voices out of that land’s forgotten past that she listened to. And when her rulers mount an invasion of the neighboring jungle, those voices send her and her brother on a desperate mission.
This is a setting that I can’t find any that suit what I’m after but I’ve been keeping my eye out for a fantasy book set in an ancient tribal African setting which seems quite specific and not in line with traditional fantasy.
I’ve put these together purely for geographic convenience as I am absolutely certain that the differences between them are many and varied; unfortunately, I am not well versed enough to say what they would be (and if I were to hazard any guesses it would most likely just highlight the massive gaps/presumptions in my knowledge).
Of course I could be wrong, I’m far from being the fount of all knowledge in the fantasy genre, so if you know of any books that cover some of the cultures I’ve mentioned please let me know! I’ll be happy to throw them to the top of my ‘to be read’ pile!
Featured Image: Boat-Ride-Under-Full-Moon-on-Magical-River-Fantasy-Photo-Art by Kim Seng Aztec Image: