Thu
Mar 11 2010 2:51pm

Lutins and Tengu and Were-Bears. Oh, my.

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.

ASIA:
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)

MIDDLE EAST
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)

AFRICA:
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.

10 comments
Kate Nepveu
1. katenepveu
Karen Healey's _Guardian of the Dead_ is set in New Zealand and involves Maori mythology.

Also technically Pierce's Trickster duology are a faux-Indonesia, being secondary-world fantasy.
Heather Tomlinson
2. HeatherTomlinson
Yes, a number of the books on the list are set in secondary worlds. I didn't distinguish between "fantasy world inspired by X location" and "fantasy set in X location," or the list would have been even shorter.
Dragonrose
3. Dragonrose
Tamora Pierce's The circle Opens quartet and The Melting Stones are also good examples of non-western fantasy and the rest of her books have snippets of this.
Dragonrose
4. Gorbag
The Halfmen of O, The Priests of Ferris and Motherstone by Maurice Gee. One terminus of the trilogy is set in New Zealand, on the South Island's West Coast if I remember correctly, and the other terminus is set in O, a world where the balance between good and evil in the human heart has been upset.

Not strictly speaking a YA book, but like Ursula Le Guin's EarthSea trilogy, it ends up in that territory.
Dragonrose
5. Charlotte's Library
Great list!

Here are a few more:

The Ear, The Eye, and the Arm, by Nancy Farmer (Africa)

These next ones were first published in Germany and Japan, respectivly, but then were translated and published in the US:

Tiger Moon, by Antonia Michaelis (India)

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, and its sequel Nahoko Uehashi (Japan)
s g
6. skg
Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion is set in a near-future Mexico.

I think it would be worthwhile distinguishing intended-realistic settings from secondary world settings. Eon: Dragoneye Reborn's setting is not very much like historic China, though of course such judgments are subjective.
Kate Nepveu
7. katenepveu
I wasn't suggesting you take the Trickster books off the list, I was suggesting that someone expecting real Indonesia and getting faux Indonesia might have liked to know that going in.
Dragonrose
8. Elaine Thom
I haven't check in-print status, but Patricia Wrightson's trilogy featuring Wirrun was heavily based on Aboriginal myth, and Wirrun was Aborigine. The first one is _The Ice Is Coming. They're set more or less in contemporary Australia.


Not set in exotic places, but using some Native American myth, as well as a bit of Polynesian, is Alma Alexander's Worldweaver trilogy. Coyote, Grandmother Spider, ..drat, I can't remember the Sun God's name, and sipapus feature.
Dragonrose
9. ofostlic
Elaine: _The Ice is Coming_ is not in print in the US. It seems to be available used, though. I may well try to obtain a copy and see how it stands up to re-reading -- I remember liking it when it was new(ish).

I was sad to see that _The Plum-Rain Scroll_ by Ruth Manley is out of print at last; it would have been a nice example of Japanese mythology.
Dragonrose
11. hapax
Kara Dalkey has any number wonderful books set in Japan (THE NIGHTINGALE, LITTLE SISTER, THE HEAVENWARD PATH) and Africa and India (THE BLOOD OF THE GODDESS trilogy).

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment