The best boundary-pushing fantasy novels

Who am I?

All of these books inspired me to become a better writer and to push my imagination to the limit by getting The Ballad of Perilous Graves onto the page. These books made me want to polish the contents of my own imagination and tell the biggest most heartfelt story I could. Ballad is in good company on library and bookstore shelves, so I wanted it to connect as hard as possible.


I wrote...

The Ballad of Perilous Graves

By Alex Jennings,

Book cover of The Ballad of Perilous Graves

What is my book about?

It’s an Afrosurrealist romp through an enchanted city where music is a kind of magic. Nine songs of power have escaped from Professor Longhair’s magic piano to manifest around the city of Nola as colorful street people. Failed magician Perilous “Perry” Graves, his little sister, Brendy, and Peaches, the strongest girl in Nola, have to find the songs and bring them home before the city loses its beat. Part of the problem is that one of the songs is Stagger Lee, the baddest gangsterest gangsta of all time—and he’s working for someone even worse. 

The books I picked & why

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Big Machine

By Victor LaValle,

Book cover of Big Machine

Why this book?

This book changed me for the better. Lavalle's deft hand takes urban Fantasy, the lingering trauma of belonging to a cult and watching one's family destroyed, and a serious brush with the weird to create something entirely new. This book also nudged me to better integrate myself into the fabric of New Orleans, to invite my neighbors in.

Big Machine

By Victor LaValle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Big Machine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ricky Rice is a middling hustler with a lingering junk habit, a bum knee, and a haunted mind. A survivor of a suicide cult, he scrapes by as a porter at a bus depot in Utica, New York, until one day a mysterious letter arrives, summoning him to enlist in a band of paranormal investigators comprised of former addicts and petty criminals, all of whom had at some point in their wasted lives heard what may have been the voice of God.

Infused with the wonder of a disquieting dream and laced with Victor LaValle’s fiendish comic sensibility, Big Machine…

Kindred

By Octavia E. Butler,

Book cover of Kindred

Why this book?

It's a fantasy novel, or is it horror? A Black woman is transported back in time to the slave plantation where her ancestors labored. The story has the reader asking vital questions from the beginning. The knife's edge tension almost never lets up—and when it boils over, the results are explosive.

Kindred

By Octavia E. Butler,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Kindred as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Parable of the Sower and MacArthur “Genius” Grant, Nebula, and Hugo award winner

The visionary time-travel classic whose Black female hero is pulled through time to face the horrors of American slavery and explores the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy then and now.

“I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.”

Dana’s torment begins when she suddenly vanishes on her 26th birthday from California, 1976, and is dragged through time to antebellum Maryland to rescue a boy named Rufus, heir to a slaveowner’s plantation. She soon…

Everfair

By Nisi Shawl,

Book cover of Everfair

Why this book?

This book is a great example of alternate history allowing a new and better perspective on a historical period. Set in the Belgian Congo during the reign of King Leopold and the atrocities committed in his name, this book offers heart, joy, and beauty. I believe a sequel releases next year, and I am here for it.

Everfair

By Nisi Shawl,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Everfair as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium's disastrous colonisation of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britian join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo's "owner," King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated. Shawl's speculative masterpiece manages to turn…

The City & the City

By China Miéville,

Book cover of The City & the City

Why this book?

Anyone familiar with this novel will see its influence on my own book. Mieville executes a perfect murder mystery against the backdrop of two cities that share the same space. Citizens are taught to unsee or unhear the other city whenever it interferes with their own, but it's possible to simply step from one city into the other, and there might just be a third city sharing the same location.

The City & the City

By China Miéville,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The City & the City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, the multi-award winning The City & The City by China Mieville is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.

'You can't talk about Mieville without using the word "brilliant".' - Ursula Le Guin, author of the Earthsea series.

When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to…


Lakewood

By Megan Giddings,

Book cover of Lakewood

Why this book?

Giddings takes the stories of Henrietta Lacks and the Tuskegee experiments and extrapolates them into the present day. A young woman dealing with crushing medical debt agrees to participate in medical trials with strange and debilitating side effects. This book is horrific, lyrically written, and brimming with emotion.

Lakewood

By Megan Giddings,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Lakewood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NPR Book of the Year 2020

Electric Literature: One of 55 Books by Women and Nonbinary Writers of Color to Read in 2020 | Lit Hub & The Millions: Most Anticipated Books of 2020 | Ms. Magazine: Anticipated 2020 Feminist Books | Refinery29: Books by Black Women We are Looking Forward To Reading | One of The Millions' Most Anticipated Reads of 2020 | Amazon Book of the Month Pick | Audible Editor's Pick | Essence's Pick| Glamour's Must Read | Ms. Magazine's Anticipated Read of 2020

A startling debut about class and race, Lakewood evokes a terrifying world of…


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