Catherine Thoms

Catherine Thoms

Our Summer Reading List: 15 Fantasy Books by Black Authors

Black stories matter. Black voices matter. And as important as it is for those voices to be heard and listened to in spaces of social justice and political empowerment, it’s just as important for Black voices to be allowed equal space to tell their stories of joy, wonder, and magic, too. Since those are some of our favorite things, we’re excited to use our voices to uplift these stories especially.

In this list are books we’re currently reading, books we’ve read and loved, and LOTS of books on our personal TBR lists. We hope you discover some new favorites here too, and we ask that if one of these catches your eye and you’re in a position to be buying books right now, consider ordering from one of these Black-owned bookstores.

1. A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow (YA)

Imagine the Salem Witch trials, but for sirens. And then set it in modern-day Portland where it’s already hard enough for Tavia to fit in with the mostly-white community without having to hide her siren identity. This book feels especially relevant to the current conversations of racism and social justice, and is especially powerful for centering on the story of a young Black woman with a magical voice. I’m really looking forward to this one.

2. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

I started this one last year and never finished because it was too physically heavy to carry around with me on the subway every day, but I’m looking forward to getting back to it this summer. The first of a trilogy, it blends traditional African mythology and history to tell the story of a young man hired to find a missing child in a vividly fantastical African world. 

3. A Phoenix First Must Burn edited by Patrice Caldwell (YA)

I’ve had my eye on this short-story collection for months now because of the star-studded contributor’s list. Stories from Elizabeth Acevedo, Dhonielle Clayton, Justina Ireland, L. L. McKinney, and so many more make up this collection that ranges from folktales to fantasies and reimaginings of the future, all told through the lens of the Black experience. 

4. Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi (YA)

In a Nigerian-inspired world where mages can create physical beasts from a person’s sins, this one follows the story of a sin-beast slayer who gets caught up in a conspiracy to undermine his city’s governing system. And of course, there’s a princess to be saved. (I love a royal love story! Sue me.)

5. The Dreamblood Duology by N.K. Jemisin 

This duology is a true epic in every sense of the word. Set in a peaceful city that subsists on the magic of dreams, harvested by the Gatherers—priests who keep the peace and pass judgment—it takes a sharp dark turn when someone starts using forbidden magic to murder dreamers in their sleep. This is definitely a world to get lost in, from one of the powerhouses of contemporary fantasy.

6. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (MG/YA)

Often described as an African response to Harry Potter, Akata Witch follows a group of 12-year-old Nigerian misfits who decide to form a coven to track down a notorious kidnapper. This is probably the youngest-skewing on this list as it is meant for middle-grade readers, but it’d be a great refresher in-between some of these longer reads.

7. The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

Goodreads calls this one “Game of Thrones meets Gladiator.” I saw “Dragons” and I was sold. It sounds a little like a grown-up Eragon, but in a war-obsessed society clearly divided by those who are gifted with magical battle-advantage powers, and those who are not. Sign me up!!

8. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown (YA)

Inspired by West African folklore, this book sounds like it has everything I love in a fantasy story: royalty, portentous festivals, ancient magic, assassins, and my absolute favorite trope, enemies-to-lovers. It just came out last week, and the description reminds me a lot of Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes series (which I also love and highly recommend).

9. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

It seems like everyone’s ordering Between the World and Me right now (myself included), but Coates’s first novel is also stunning and worth adding to your list—a story of family, magic, and freedom. I read it earlier this year and immediately fell in love with the gorgeous prose that wove such an intricate and layered historical fiction. 

10. Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

This beautiful cover has caught my eye in bookstores ever since it came out last spring, but I am sadly still on the library hold list. It’s a spin on gingerbread as a well-known fairytale element, as it follows a family of London gingerbread makers whose goods are especially popular in a faraway, potentially non-existent fairytale land. 

11. Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko (YA)

Okay, this one is technically not out until August, but it sounds SO GOOD! Tarisai has always longed for a family, so when she gets sent to compete for a spot on the Crown Prince’s close-knit council, it seems like it could be a perfect fit. But her mysteriously distant mother figure has another agenda: gain the Crown Prince’s trust and kill him. The blurb is short but the advance reviews are already raving. You’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for this one.

12. Kindred by Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler is one of the greats when it comes to epic sci-fi and fantasy. Her books tend to lean more heavily towards sci-fi, which I don’t typically read as much of, but Kindred has been on my list forever because I love a good time hop. Part slave memoir, part time-travel fantasy, I’ve been told that this is one of the best introductions to Butler’s work. 

13. Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender

Kacen Callender is the author of some fantastic books for both YA and middle-grade readers (which we’ll totally be boosting on the next list about awesome queer fantasies and authors), so I’m really intrigued by their Caribbean-inspired adult fantasy series, Islands of Blood and Storm, in which the main character uses her telepathic powers to confront oppressive colonizers and get revenge for her murdered family. 

14. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (YA)

Pet has been on my radar since it was a National Book Award finalist last year. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young girl determined to protect her best friend from the monsters in her home when a strange monster-hunting creature named Pet emerges from a painting. The twist? None of the adults will admit that monsters even exist in their world anymore.

15. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark

How did we get this far into the list without including an alternate history?? A possessed tram car leads to the discovery of unusual demons in this alternate version of Cairo, where humans and the supernatural work alongside each other to maintain the relationship between the magical and the mundane. It’s the same world as Clark’s short story “A Dead Djinn Set in Cairo,” and runs alongside the political turbulence of Cairo in the early twentieth century, which basically means it checks all of my personal boxes. 

(Note: If you’re looking at this list on Bookshop, you can also specify which store you’d like to receive the full profits of your order by selecting them on their map. If you don’t choose a store, the proceeds contribute to an earnings pool that gets equally distributed among independent bookstores. Ackerly Green may receive an affiliate commission from any sales placed through our Bookshop store.)