10 Must-Read Books By Black Authors Using Fantasy to Explore Black Imagination

We've rounded up the best fantasy books by Black authors whose tales will transport you to new worlds of magic, mystery, dragons and more.

The outsized impact Fantasy has had on literature is often minimized because so many people view this genre as escapist fiction. But historically, authors have used Fantasy not only to entertain but also to comment on issues and injustices society avoided engaging with, and today, many talented Black authors are turning to Fantasy to shatter seemingly impossible-to-break-through glass ceilings, drive awareness of unchecked injustice and shine a light on revelatory Black storytelling.

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Why Fantasy? Because the genre can do something other forms of storytelling often can’t: reshape reality entirely, for better or for worse, to showcase the best and the ugliest truths about us all. Black History Month is a great time to restock your shelf with books by Black authors who are telling fantastical tales inspired by true events and otherworldly stories with wild Star-Wars-meets-the-Authurian-legend vibes. It’s also a great time to acknowledge that the best books in the genre are increasingly being penned by diverse voices. There’s a lot to love in this list of ten amazing books that use Fantasy to explore Black imagination.

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

A book cover featuring a woman with red light swiling around her wrist
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. Simon & Schuster

Legendborn is one of the most stunning books of recent years. Bree Matthews enters a secret society she discovers is connected to her mother’s mysterious death. They are the Legendborn, the exalted heirs of King Arthur’s knights who fight demons in the contemporary South. Members keep the famous tales of King Arthur alive but also exemplify the institutional racism of historical and modern-day America. This is a complicated tale of grief and Black girlhood but one that’s so full of what readers of Young Adult Fantasy find so appealing: secret societies, intense romantic moments in between demon fights, brooding goth boys and shocking family secrets. Deonn’s fresh take on the genre has been much needed.

I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast Is Me by Jamison Shea

A book cover featuring a woman floating in water
I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast Is Me by Jamison Shea. Henry Holt and Co.

Jamison Shea’s Young Adult novel is a fantastical read focused on Black girl excellence in a racist institution—it’s also one of the best books of 2023. Laure Mesny, a talented ballerina in the cutthroat world of Parisian ballet, is continuously overlooked for top positions. She’s ready to go to such extreme lengths to reach her ambitions that she makes a deal with a river of blood, and her monstrous instincts pull her down into a grim underworld in this book that’s both perfectly disturbing and spectacularly cathartic.

Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood

A book cover featuring a woman with braided hair looking outward
Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood. Macmillan

If you’re looking to read more gothics by Black authors, Lauren Blackwood’s Young Adult novel is a perfect book to add to your list. Within These Wicked Walls is an Ethiopian re-imagining of Jane Eyre with an exorcist in the titular protagonist’s role. Andromeda is hired to cleanse the household of ghostly manifestations and finds herself drawn toward Magnus Rochester, who is as interested in her as she is in him.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

A book cover featuring the words THE DEEP
The Deep by Rivers Solomon. S&S/Saga Press

The Deep, written by the author of An Unkindness of Ghosts, is ostensibly about the African slave women tossed overboard during the Middle Passage but in this short read, they are immortalized as mermaids in a mesmerizing underwater society. Originally a Hugo Award-nominated song by Daveed Diggs’ band, Clipping, this brilliant story tells the story of Yetu, who holds the memories of her people to keep the painful archives of their ancestors from disappearing. But keeping that trauma with her continuously proves traumatic. It’s a smart story that uses Fantasy to unpack the nuances of modern survival and generational trauma.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

A book cover featuring a close up of a woman looking down
Kindred by Octavia Butler. Beacon Press

Remembered as one of Science Fiction’s most iconic and canonical authors, Octavia Butler’s Kindred should be on every American’s shelf. Butler originally wrote Kindred as a response to the minimization of slavery and its impact. It’s an insightful, emotionally packed story about a Black woman facing the everyday horrors of her female ancestors. Dana is transported to the Antebellum South to the home of Rufus, the heir of the plantation where her ancestors were enslaved. Every time Dana is transported back in time, the closer she grows to knowing her ancestors and the difficult, complicated realities of their lives.

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

A book cover featuring a woman with her arms outstretched
The Unbroken by C.L. Clark. Orbit

A story of colonialism, The Unbroken was inspired by France’s brutal colonization of North Africa. Touraine, stolen as a child to be groomed as a soldier of the empire, breaks off from what is expected of her and joins the rebellion. Luca, a princess who takes a liking to her, brings Touraine into her plot against her uncle. Together, they live lives of allyship, revenge, political maneuvering and romance. C.L. Clark’s debut Fantasy novel is perfect for fans of military fiction—this book adds a complex perspective-driven layer that enriches the usual narrative.

Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark

A book cover featuring black gloves
Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark. Tor

In Ring Shout, or, Hunting Ku Kluxes in the End Times, P. Djeli Clark puts a demonic twist on the rise of the Klan after the release of 1915’s Birth of a Nation. Across America, the Klan spreads fear as part of a plan to bring Hell to Earth. Maryse Boudreaux, a Harlem Hellfighter, hunts the Klan’s demons and then sends them back to Hell. With fascinating worldbuilding and strong characterization, Clark uses Fantasy paired with African American folklore to comment on real historical events that had a long-lasting impact on the U.S.

The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

A book cover featuring a dragon skull
The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter. Orbit

Evan Winter’s debut novel, The Rage of Dragons, is a coming-of-rage tale for anyone who has been searching for a beautifully told, Africa-inspired Dragon Fantasy. The Emehi, who have the power to call dragons, have been stuck in a centuries-long war. Tau, enraged at the loss of a loved one, becomes a warrior intent on taking revenge on his enemy.

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

A book cover featuring two women underwater
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow. Macmillan

Tavia is a siren forced to keep her identity hidden in a society threatened by her kind. By her side is Effie, who is bent on escaping her own traumatic past in a city (a magical version of Portland, Oregon) that is buzzing about a siren murder trial. The girls try to live their lives as normally as they possibly can given this terrifying news. But when the murderer goes free, Tavia reveals her identity at the worst possible moment. A Song Below Water is Young Adult Fantasy set in a world where Black girls get to be mermaids, embrace Black girlhood and fight for justice in the same breath.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

A book cover featuring two people, one shorter and younger and one older and taller
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mballa. Rick Riordan Presents

Tristan Strong is mourning the loss of his friend after a catastrophic bus accident. When he’s sent to Alabama to live with his grandparents, a strange creature takes his friend Eddie’s journal and pulls them both into a world inspired by African-American folklore. With John Henry and Brer Rabbit, Tristan is determined to find a way back home—but he’ll have to barter with the famed trickster god of West African mythology, Anansi. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is a middle-grade Fantasy story that emphasizes the importance of children hearing the tales of their ancestors and knowing where their families come from.

10 Must-Read Books By Black Authors Using Fantasy to Explore Black Imagination