Africa is a large continent with over fifty countries, but it’s only in recent years that fiction has allowed Black voices to really shine and be heard. YA Fantasy, in particular, has been dominated by Euro-centric worldbuilding and lore in past years, but that’s changing with the help of authors like Nnedi Okorafor and Dhonielle Clayton.
In my Jane Eyre retelling Within These Wicked Walls, a young, unlicensed debtera named Andromeda is hired to cleanse the Evil Eye from a cursed castle in a secluded desert. She gets in over her head, however, when she discovers that the castle’s eccentric and difficult owner was not being completely honest about the severity of the curse. Now Andromeda has to decide if she’ll risk her life and earn the money she needs or if she’ll do the wise thing a run…her decision made all the more difficult when she realizes she’s falling for her troubled host. This book is Ethiopian inspired—which is located on the horn of Africa—building from the culture of the country and its folklore of the evil eye.
While we still have a ways to go before the playing field is level, allow me to provide you with a Fantasy Starter Set into the beauty and power of Africa and it’s many cultures.
Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray
Koffi works at Night Zoo, striving to pay off her family’s debt by caring for strange and magical creatures. Ekon is set to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an elite warrior, known as a Son of the Six. But, one fateful night, Koffi discovers she has a power that isn’t supposed to exist, and at the same time Ekon’s final warrior test is ruined. Now, despite hating each other, the only way they’ll both get what they want is to hunt a vicious monster through a dangerous and magical jungle. However, they soon wonder if they’re doing the hunting, or if they’re being hunted. Beasts of Prey is a fun, fantasy adventure which Ayana herself refers to as having “Pan-African” influence—so not only one country or region, but flavors of the continent in the broad sense as well as the diaspora.
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
Deka is dreading the upcoming blood ceremony—if her blood runs gold instead of red she’ll be seen as impure and will never become a member of her village…and worse. When her blood is revealed to be gold, a mysterious woman gives her a choice: stay in the village and discover what “and worse” means or join the Alaki—an army of near-immortal girls with rare gifts just like her, charged to fight for the emperor. The capital is not what it seems, but then, maybe Deka isn’t either. The book is influenced from West African culture and the use of child soldiers in Sierra Leone. Brutal imagery paired with beautiful worldbuilding and craft make it one not to be missed!
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
Raised in isolation, Tarisai has never known family other than her distant and mysterious mother, known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council, where she’ll be connected with the other council members through a deep bond called the Ray. Longing for closeness, Tarisai would kill for a chance to be chosen…though she never imagined it would be literally. Because The Lady has cursed her with a magical wish to kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust, and now Tarisai has to decide whether she’ll be used for a political plot or fight back. Jordan Ifueko is Nigerian, and Raybearer is influenced by West African mythology and legends, but it also draws from many other cultures, creating a rich, immersive world.
Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
Arrah is heir to two lines of powerful witchdoctors—her mother being the most powerful priestess in the Kingdom—and yet has no magic of her own. But when children all over the Kingdom begin to disappear, Arrah finds a way to buy herself the magic she needs to help…through a forbidden and dangerous ritual that will only grant her power by trading away years of her own life. But how much more will it cost to defeat the Demon King? This book paints an exploration of the beauty and magic of Rena Barron’s West African heritage.
A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy
Eva is a princess, born with terrible and rare magick that hasn’t been seen in generations. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be any easier to face her sister, Isa, in the traditional battle to the death—a battle that will decide who will rule over the that will reign on the Ivory Throne—in a Queendom where only the strongest, most ruthless rulers survive. Then, weeks before her sisterly duel, Eva is attacked by an assassin—making it more than obvious it isn’t just her sister who wants her dead. She realizes if she’s ever going to beat her sister she must seek out help in the form of an instructor, to increase her magick abilities before the day of the battle. She doesn’t really want to kill the sister she loves, but only one can rule…and one must die. A River of Royal Blood is powerful and lush, inspired by North African culture.
Lauren Blackwood is a Jamaican American New Yorker living in Virginia who writes Romance-heavy Fantasy for most ages. When not writing, she’s a PTA and violinist who really doesn’t know how to settle on one career field. Within These Wicked Walls is her debut novel.