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‘Silk Road Fantasy’, or Fantasy Set in Non-European Worlds

12 June, 2014

Earlier today, I saw a Twitter discussion of the recent increase in ‘Silk Road fantasy’ novels, or fantasy that is set outside the Western Europe-influenced settings that so dominate the genre. This is a topic I find dear to my heart – it’s a section of the genre that I’ve been continually searching out for a number of years, and which I find tends to draw together better-developed fantastic worlds, poetic writing, and – surprisingly frequently – more compelling female characters than is unusual in fantasy.

I can’t exactly put my finger on what drew me to non-European fantasy, particularly as it was authors like Tolkien and Terry Brooks who inspired me to write fantasy at all. The third novel I wrote, aged 18, was set in a decidedly non-European desert city, but I don’t remember anything specific at the time spurring me to choose that setting. I’ve moved onto a range of non-European worlds in my writing over the years, both because I was reading so many excellent similar books, and because fantasy set in yet another version of Western Europe was ceasing to feel ‘fantastic’ at all.

This isn’t a post about me, though, but rather a celebration of a whole host of writers and novels I adore. I want to share a couple of links to sites mentioned in that Twitter discussion. In the first, Saladin Ahmed has compiled a list of his ‘Top Ten Epic Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery Novels set in ‘Nonwestern’ Worlds’, and there are some excellent choices. ‘A Shadow in Summer’ and ‘Range of Ghosts’ both featured in my last reading update, whilst I read ‘Acacia’ when it first came out; N.K. Jemisin and Amanda Downum, meanwhile, are two of my favourite authors in any genre. Ahmed’s own novel, alongside ‘The Desert of Souls’ are both on my ‘to be read’ list, whilst ‘The Scrolls of Years’ is new to me, but looks to be exactly the sort of novel I’d love.

The second link is to this post by Paul Weimer over on SF Signal, and is where I first saw the term ‘Silk Road fantasy’. He mentions an excellent selection of authors, with a fair bit of overlap with Ahmed’s post – the comments are also a goldmine. Chris Wooding! Mazarkis Williams! Aliette de Bodard! These are all authors I’ve read and enjoyed, and there are many more to discover in those comments. I am heartened both by how many of these excellent books I’ve already read (or at least have waiting to be read), and by how many more there are out there waiting for me.

Do I wish there were more? Of course. Could I happily read two or three non-European fantasies for every European fantasy? Absolutely, if not more! Still, if you’re a fantasy reader who’s been looking for a way to expand their reading horizons, I can highly recommend every single author I’ve mentioned in this post – and now I hope your ‘to be read’ list is starting to look as monumental as mine!

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