All too often, books by Black and brown authors are classed under the ambiguous ‘diversity’ category, as if diversity were a genre in itself. The message this sends is that authors of colour do not write ‘genre’ fiction, and that ‘diversity’ titles are only valued if they foreground racial struggles. True representation means moving beyond the appetite for racial pain. It means moving beyond lazy, alienating and stereotypical categorisations that fail to do justice to the complexities of genre. The goal is not to ‘other’ authors of colour, but to make diversity an industry standard and normalise non-white experiences, a task which genre fiction is well-placed to execute. In recognition of that, this feature reviews three books that prove authors of colour write everything from crime to romance to fantasy. This glimpse barely scratches the surface of the wealth of genre fiction by authors of colour, and we urge readers to look out for new releases by the likes of Talia Hibbert, Alyssa Cole, Farah Rochon, Chris Abani, Rachel Hall, S.A. Cosby, Zen Cho, Andrea Stewart, Nnedi Okorafor and many others.
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown
After reading many fantasy books with a majority white cast and elements of Greek/Roman mythology, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown is a masterfully crafted fantasy novel featuring Black and brown characters in a realm inspired by West African culture and folklore.
The novel tells a parallel narrative between a refugee, Malik, and a princess, Karina. Malik comes to the prosperous city of Ziran with his sisters, Leila and Nadia, hoping to settle and earn money to send to their family. The immigrant experience is explored thoroughly, as the siblings are conscious of their own underprivileged background, coming from a conquered region of Eshran, and are looked down upon by the citizens of Ziran. On the other hand, Karina struggles to accept her impending future as Queen of Ziran and uses music to cope with her traumas.
True to the fantasy genre, magic lurks in every corner of the city. Elements of folklore, religion and history are used to create the magic in this realm. The writing is fast paced, as one scene unfolds into another with surprising twists. The novel is vibrant: there is a festival, there are magical creatures, there are politics and power play. This is a wonderful fantasy novel.
Making Wolf by Tade Thompson
Tade Thompson is most known for his fantasy Rosewater trilogy, but he has also written a brilliant crime novel – Making Wolf is a gritty African noir thriller that plunges you into the sordid underbelly of West Africa.
After his aunt’s death, Weston Kogi returns home to Alcacia, a fictitious West African country gripped by civil war. During a night of drinking and reconnecting with old friends and enemies, Weston tells a little lie – that he is a police officer working for the Met, though his real job is in security at a supermarket. But this half-truth gives way to a nightmare when he is kidnapped (twice) by rival factions vying for power in Alcacia. Each faction tasks him with solving the murder of a beloved peacekeeper, with the implication that the other militia is to be found guilty.
Thrust into a world of murder, brutality and deceit, Weston begins to investigate, but as he digs deeper, what he finds may tip the country past boiling point.
Violent, darkly humorous and not for the faint of heart, Making Wolf is a journey into the dark recesses of humanity that you will never forget.
Pride by Ibi Zoboi
Dubbed a ‘Pride and Prejudice remix’, Ibi Zoboi’s Pride makes a supposedly universal story actually universal. While Jane Austen paints a universe of sprawling 19th century estates built on invisible fortunes and expects us to believe these bear no relation to the lucrative transatlantic slave trade, Zoboi is out to right these literary wrongs.
In this iteration, we get Zuri, a Haitian-Dominican who is prideful of her Afro heritage, her four sisters and her neighbourhood. Opposite her is the equally prideful Darius Darcy, the youngest in a family of wealthy African Americans who have moved into a renovated palace-like mansion next door. But while Zuri fights against growing gentrification, a process to which Darius’ family is making significant contributions, Darius simply believes that he should not be stereotyped for being filthy rich. In a novel where Zuri’s family are, ultimately, bought out of their own neighbourhood, gentrification is material oppression that cannot be slid under an evasive rug of star-crossed love.
That said, these classist issues are native to Austen’s original novel and it is life-affirming to see Black love poured into a timeless story of star-crossed love thriving against all odds. In spite of the hinted at, weighty social issues that sometimes go unexplored, Pride is a deeply representative retelling that foregrounds Black people’s right to exist in a canon that has always pretended they do not.