February is Black History Month! And while it’s slowly coming to an end, I do believe (like everyone else, I’m sure) that black culture, history, and stories should be shared and celebrated all year round. I’ll always revel in the chance to put black authors, black creatives, and black people in general in the spotlight. And so, in celebration of BHM, here are 7 books written by black authors you should read. These are all speculative fiction books that I’ve either read or am planning to read.
The Lesson: A Novel by Cadwell Turnbull
Described as a literary take on an alien invasion story, Cadwell Turnbull’s The Lesson gives brilliant commentary on the concept of belief and the devastating effects of colonialism through the lens of a science fiction tale that is as captivating and complex as its characters.
An alien ship rests over Water Island. For five years the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands have lived with the Ynaa, a race of super-advanced aliens on a research mission they will not fully disclose. They are benevolent in many ways but meet any act of aggression with disproportional wrath. This has led to a strained relationship between the Ynaa and the local Virgin Islanders and a peace that cannot last. A year after the death of a young boy at the hands of an Ynaa, three families find themselves at the center of the inevitable conflict, witness and victim to events that will touch everyone and teach a terrible lesson. (Source: Goodreads)
To Astera, With Love (Witchkind Series) by Amanda Ross
Amanda Ross excels at writing dark, witchy fantasy that is both moving and enticing and leaves the reader wanting to spend even more time with the diverse and compelling cast of characters that she crafts—and To, Astera, With Love is the perfect example of this.
America, 2022 – drugs are legal, witches are real, and a literal vampire is President. In this world of boutique blood bars and policies that force witches to out themselves, 21-year-old Mercury Amell just wants to live. He wishes that the ages-old feud between vampires and witches didn’t exist. He wishes that his powers and his skin color didn’t increase his odds of being burned at the stake.
After making a powerful enemy, Mercury and his friends must travel to Astera, an annual gathering of all witchkind. They battle vampiric cops, evil witches, aggressive humans, and each other along the way as they struggle to make it in one piece. Will their collective power be enough to get them to Astera safely? Or will they fall prey to their enemies and the laws that spell their destruction? (Source: Goodreads)
Heavy is the Head: Love & War (Kingdom Come Series) by Katrina N. Lewis
Family, War, and Romance are just some of the themes explored in the first book of the Kingdom Come duology, written by Katrina N. Lewis. If you’re a fan of epic worldbuilding (like me), love drama and romance, and love complex characters, then you’re bound to enjoy delving into the world of Dragoon.
“By order of His Majesty the king…” These words changed Calla Emery’s life forever. With her father missing and her mother falling ill, Calla is forced to enter the world of nobility to leave her family’s commoner status behind to land a wealthy husband – despite her family’s messy history with the royal family. Little does she know, beyond her wildest dreams, that there’s magic that lies behind the castle walls, both good…and evil. And she’s going to get more than she bargained for.
“The sun will never set on the kingdom of Dragoon.” Prince Mekai Okoro would do anything for his father. He would fight in any war, at any cost – or so he thought. With a civil war looming in the realm, a fight for the royal crown brewing, and dragon magic coursing through his veins, Prince Mekai must decide if he will be his own man or will he be who his father wants him to be, a warmonger.
And, what will Calla and Mekai do when they realize that love is their greatest adversary…and ally? (Source: Goodreads)
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
One of my favorite (and most difficult at times) reads of 2021, An Unkindness of Ghosts is the Science Fiction novel that every black, queer, neurodivergent person deserves. Set on a spaceship reminiscent of the Antebellum South, this novel by Rivers Solomon is a beautifully heartbreaking tale about collective trauma, perseverance, and survival.
Odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn, Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, as they accuse, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remained of her world, save for stories told around the cookfire.
Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human.
When the autopsy of Matilda’s sovereign reveals a surprising link between his death and her mother’s suicide some quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother’s footsteps. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she’s willing to fight for it. (Source: Goodreads)
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
It’s been hailed as “African Game of Thrones”. Written by Jamaican author Marlon James, author of The Book of Night Women, Black Leopard Red Wolf is where mythology and fantasy meet history in a tale that follows a mercenary hired to locate a missing child. While it has been described as an ambitious read, it’s also an Epic (yes with a capital E) tale about power, truth, and ambition. (Fair warning, it might not be the easiest read and comes with a fair amount of trigger warnings.)
Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.
Drawing from African history and mythology and his own rich imagination, Marlon James has written an adventure that’s also an ambitious, involving read. Defying categorization and full of unforgettable characters, Black Leopard, Red Wolf explores the fundamentals of truths, the limits of power, the excesses of ambition, and our need to understand them all (Source: Goodreads)
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark (Dead Djinn Universe)
While it’s book 3 in the Dead Djinn Universe Series, this short fiction novel can be read as a standalone. P. Djèlí Clark (author of Ring Shout and The Black Gods Drums, both of which are also on my TBR list) crafts a complex tale full of alchemy, magic, and supernatural beings that features a possessed tram car.
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 returns to the alternate Cairo of Clark’s short fiction, where humans live and work alongside otherworldly beings; the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities handles the issues that can arise between the magical and the mundane. Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr shows his new partner Agent Onsi the ropes of investigation when they are called to subdue a dangerous, possessed tram car. What starts off as a simple matter of exorcism, however, becomes more complicated as the origins of the demon inside are revealed. (Source: Goodreads)
The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter
The Rage of Dragons—an African-inspired Epic Fantasy Novel—is a testament to the notion that indie authors can and do succeed. A self-published book that became so successful it was taken up by traditional publishers, The Rage of Dragons is Evan Winter’s stellar debut into the world of epic fantasy storytelling.
The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.
Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance. Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him. (Source: Goodreads)
Books written by black authors, and books that have black leads, hold a special place in my heart. They’re the books that I wish I had seen and read more of as a child—the books that, once I learned they actually existed in large numbers, led me to realize I could achieve my own dreams of being an author.
Have you had the pleasure of reading anything on this list yet? Let me know in the comments!