We may not be in Kansas anymore, but still it can be challenging to add that tasty international flavor to a teen fantasy reading menu. It seems that most contemporary fantasy novels for young people are rooted securely in the Western European folklore tradition. Not surprisingly, English-language writers rely heavily on British, Celtic, Norse, and classical Greek mythology to populate their worlds. Contemporary urban fantasy authors have spread the net wider, including vampires and werewolves among their casts. Others go off the map altogether, creating brand-new creatures and mythologies (Monster Blood Tattoo-man, I’m looking at you!).
Trolling around the internet to assemble a list of current YA novels published in the U.S. but set far from these shores, I was surprised to see it so short!
As always, recommendations most welcome.
3/15/10: edited to add “SW” or “secondary world” fantasy based on given location.
Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale (SW-Mongolia)
Bound, by Donna Jo Napoli (China)
The Conch Bearer, by Chitra Divakaruni (India)
Dragon Keeper, by Carole Wilkinson (China)
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, by Allison Goodman (SW-China)
Shiva’s Fire, by Suzanne Fisher Staples (India)
Silver Phoenix, by Cindy Pon (SW-China)
Snow, Fire, Sword, by Sophie Masson (SW-Indonesia)
Tales of the Otori series, starting with Across the Nightingale Floor, by Lian Hearn (SW-Japan)
Toads & Diamonds, by Heather Tomlinson (SW-India)
Trickster’s Choice; Trickster’s Queen, by Tamora Pierce (SW-Indonesia)
Alphabet of Dreams, by Susan Fletcher (Persia to Bethlehem)
Beast, by Donna Jo Napoli (ancient Persia)
Cybele’s Secret, by Juliet Marillier (Turkey)
The Oracle Betrayed & sequels, by Catherine Fisher (SW-Egypt/Greece)
Wishing Moon, by Michael Tunnell (SW-Arabian Nights-inspired)
The Lion Hunter; The Empty Kingdom, by Elizabeth Wein (Arthurian legend & 6th century Ethiopia)
Zahrah the Windseeker, by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu (SW)
AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND:
Dreamhunter; Dream Quest, by Elizabeth Knox (SW-I know, I know, golems are traditional Jewish folklore figures, but the setting is too delicious not to include)
Magic or Madness trilogy, by Justine Larbalastier
LATIN AMERICA & CARIBBEAN:
City of the Beasts & sequels, by Isabel Allende
Stormwitch, by Susan Vaught (a bit of a cheat as the action takes place in the US, but the protagonist is from Haiti)
Also, writer Lloyd Alexander deserves mention for the wide variety of cultures represented in his fiction. His books tend towards middle grade rather than YA (so are not included here), and are worth seeking out.
* Illustration by Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Elephant catching a flying tengu
Heather Tomlinson lives on a sailboat in southern California, where she reads and writes fantasy novels for teens. Her latest book, Toads & Diamonds, is forthcoming spring 2010 from Henry Holt.