I love stories inspired by mythology. I love when mythology-inspired stories feel familiar, taking elements and ideas and motifs from stories that have stood the test of time, and telling them in a fresh, contemporary, and exciting way.
But, I’ve noticed that whenever I look for new books inspired by mythology, the lists often recommend books that are inspired by Greek mythology. Don’t get me wrong – I think Greek mythology is awesome and books inspired by Greek mythology are pretty rad. For instance, The Star-Touched Queen is a retelling of Persephone and Hades blended with Indian folklore and Promise of Shadows has a Black main character that is also a Harpy.
But the world is such a rich place, and there are so many stories and myths that aren’t Greek mythology. For instance, Varian is dressed up as Hou Yi – the famous mythological Chinese archer, who shot down nine suns when all ten of them scorched the earth. So today, I wanted to recommend – and celebrate! – some really cool books that were inspired by mythology (that isn’t Greek mythology)!
A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna
I know I’ve recommended this book before, but I’ll take every opportunity to recommend this book, because it’s one of my favourite books of all time. This is a YA SFF retelling of Mahābhārata and is inspired by Hindu mythology, one of the longest epic poems in the world, is phenomenal.
- Follows Esmae, the twin of an exiled prince, who longs to reunite with her family and help them win back their kingdom. Until, of course, this plan falls apart and she’s met with obstacles she could never have anticipated.
- The worldbuilding is gorgeous, put together by a simple but elegant system of gods and technology! It’s a magnificent blend of science-fiction (sentient ships! kingdoms built on space ships!) and fantastical elements (capricious gods and goddesses! celestial weapons!).
- The plot is brilliant, and I was honestly entertained throughout. There’s political intrigue, an organic romance, betrayal, fighting fate and questions of free will, and complex family dynamics.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I talk about this book often (and I gushed about it in my book review) because it truly is brilliant – and I want everyone to read this and ache with me. This is an adult historical fantasy inspired by Mayan mythology and it is truly glorious.
- Follows Casiopea, a girl who accidentally frees an imprisoned god of death when she opens her grandfather’s treasure chest. When the god of death requests her help to take back his throne from his brother, he promises her heart’s greatest desire should they succeed – or her life is forfeit.
- If you love immortal-mortal romances that are full of bittersweet yearning, then you’ll love the relatiosnhip between Casiopea and the god of death, Hun-Kamé.
- Set in 1920s in Southern Mexico and in the Mayan underworld, the world in Gods of Jade and Shadow is sweeping and vivid. Paired with Moreno-Garcia’s incredible storytelling, this is a story that you will not forget.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon
The Deep is unforgettable, and if you haven’t read it yet: rectify that immediately. The Deep is inspired by a song by clipping., a experimental hip-hop group, which was in turn inspired by Drexiciya‘s Afrofuturism mythology – that the survived children of African slave women thrown overboard founded an underwater civilization under the sea.
- Follows Yetu, a wajinru (like mer-people; descendants of pregnant African women who were thrown overboard during the slave trade who have no long-term memory and live in the moment), who is a Historian and holds the entire memory and history of her people – though at the cost of her wellbeing.
- Once a year, the wajinru hold the Remembrance, a ceremony wherein all the wajinru remember their history as one. This is a story that explores cultural loss, trauma, the burden of history and remembering.
- This is an imaginative and vivid story, rich with personal metaphors, and how history and memory is intertwined with identity.
Wicked Fox/Gumiho by Kat Cho
How about a YA contemporary fantasy that incorporates Korean mythology? Wicked Fox, also known as Gumiho, is a fun read if you’re looking for something with romance, monsters, and internal conflicts.
- Follows Miyoung, a gumiho or a nine-tailed fox, who lives with her mother who is as old as modern-day Korea, and Jihoon, a hard-working, rebellious, and fast-mouthed Korean human boy.
- If you love mythological creatures, then Wicked Fox will be a treat. In this book, you will get snippets of Gumiho history and legend that are intertwined with the main characters’ storylines.
- There’s a little bit of everything in this book – contemporary high school scenes, fantastical elements, mystery, an angsty romance, and even adventure as well!
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
The best word I have to describe Trail of Lightning is ‘cool’. It’s one action-packed and thrilling adult urban fantasy that incorporates Navajo mythology – and yes, it is as fun and awesome as it sounds.
- Follows Magadelena “Maggie” Hoskie – a monster slayer, killer, and the best sort of badass (with depth!) – as she sets off to uncover the mystery of monsters terrorising the Dinétah.
- Set in a post-climate apocalypse world and at a Navajo reservation, this story is complete with terrifying monsters, gods and heroes of legends that walk the land, and humans imbued with clan powers – some of whom are monster slayers.
- This story is violent, thrilling, mysterious, and utterly delightful. You’ll love the array of characters that you meet on the rez, the terrifying and vividly realised world, and a story that never breaks momentum and is exciting from start to finish.
The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta
If you love a goofy story that will make you laugh and take you on a fun adventure, then The Serpent’s Secret is a delight – and this middle-grade contemporary fantasy is inspired by Bengali folktales.
- Follows Kiranmala, your average Indian girl who is actually an Indian princess from another realm, and the adventure she has of saving her parents.
- The story is a lot of fun, very goofy, and filled with silly jokes and riddles, and is a series of contained adventures and challenges. Intertwined with the story are influences from the Bengali folktales DasGupta grew up with.
- At its heart, this is a fun adventure that will make you laugh as well as a story about being proud of who you are and where you come from.
The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad
This is a book I haven’t read yet, but it’s been on my to-read list for as long as I can remember. Incorporating Islamic and Middle-Eastern mythology, this YA fantasy sounds spell-binding – and I’ll be reading this in 2021. Who’s with me?
Fatima lives in the city of Noor, a thriving stop along the Silk Road. There the music of myriad languages fills the air, and people of all faiths weave their lives together. However, the city bears scars of its recent past, when the chaotic tribe of Shayateen djinn slaughtered its entire population — except for Fatima and two other humans. Now ruled by a new maharajah, Noor is protected from the Shayateen by the Ifrit, djinn of order and reason, and by their commander, Zulfikar.
But when one of the most potent of the Ifrit dies, Fatima is changed in ways she cannot fathom, ways that scare even those who love her. Oud in hand, Fatima is drawn into the intrigues of the maharajah and his sister, the affairs of Zulfikar and the djinn, and the dangers of a magical battlefield.
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown
I remember reading this and just having an absolute blast. Inspired by West African folklore, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is a stunning debut and one to read if you haven’t picked this up yet!
- Follows Karina, crown princess and sole heir to the throne of Ziran, and Malik, a refugee entrapped by a wicked being and forced to assassinate Karina – or forfeit his little sister’s life.
- The worldbuilding in this was beautiful. So beautifully described and vividly imagined and I was immersed immediately. I loved the magic system, how we only see a glimpse of it, and that the events of the book lay foundations for an even more devastatingly magical sequel.
- The tension and high-stakes in this book was sublime. The dynamic between Karina and Malik was so taut, so juicy, and the build-up was so good.
The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao
This gorgeous middle-grade contemporary fantasy is a love letter to immigrants and diaspora kids everywhere, and I adored it. Incorporating elements of Chinese mythology paired with an exciting adventure, this book should go into the hands of young diaspora kids everywhere.
- Follows Faryn, a 12-year old girl who finds herself to be the foretold Heaven Breaker, a warrior powerful enough to wield a celestial weapon and able to command dragons.
- The Dragon Warrior has a fun and awesome mix of Chinese mythology. As well as a wonderful and exciting adventure, this is also a story about mixed identity, Asian culture, belonging, connection, and courage.
- There were some wonderful relationships in this book – enemies-to-friends, tenuous sibling relationships, and quirky relationships with mysterious but almighty deities.
The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala
And how about a YA fantasy with a cat-and-mouse enemies-to-lovers, inspired by Indian mythology? The Tiger at Midnight is a story rich with magic, lore, and mythos with gorgeous worldbuilding.
- Follows Esha, an assassin, who is framed for a murder she did not commit, and Kunal, a soldier who crosses paths with Esha. Thus unfolds a game of cat-and-mouse as they try to best each other – even if feelings start to grow between them.
- The characters in The Tiger at Midnight are wonderful, and I love that you get a deep dive of their character development, growth and their internal conflicts.
- The themes in this are wonderful – and you’ll love that this book explores the moral ambiguity of war and conflict, of the people who fight for justice, and that honour is subjective.
Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean
I started Empress of All Seasons and had to return to the library – not because the book had any issues, but because I seriously procrastinated reading it – but from what I read, I thought Empress of All Seasons was lush, fascinating, and so unique. There is Japanese mythology, action, and monsters. I definitely need to finish this one day.
In a palace of illusions, nothing is what it seems.
Each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. The rules are simple. Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms. Conquer Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Marry the prince. All are eligible to compete—all except yōkai, supernatural monsters and spirits whom the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy.
Mari has spent a lifetime training to become empress. Winning should be easy. And it would be, if she weren’t hiding a dangerous secret. Mari is a yōkai with the ability to transform into a terrifying monster. If discovered, her life will be forfeit. As she struggles to keep her true identity hidden, Mari’s fate collides with that of Taro, the prince who has no desire to inherit the imperial throne, and Akira, a half-human, half-yōkai outcast.
Torn between duty and love, loyalty and betrayal, vengeance and forgiveness, the choices of Mari, Taro, and Akira will decide the fate of Honoku in this beautifully written, edge-of-your-seat YA fantasy.
Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron
From the author of Kingdom of Souls comes a middle-grade story with West African mythology! Maya and the Rising Dark sounds like a gem of a book and I can’t wait to read it myself in 2021.
Twelve-year-old Maya is the only one in her South Side Chicago neighborhood who witnesses weird occurrences like werehyenas stalking the streets at night and a scary man made of shadows plaguing her dreams. Her friends try to find an explanation—perhaps a ghost uprising or a lunchroom experiment gone awry. But to Maya, it sounds like something from one of Papa’s stories or her favorite comics.
When Papa goes missing, Maya is thrust into a world both strange and familiar as she uncovers the truth. Her father is the guardian of the veil between our world and the Dark—where an army led by the Lord of Shadows, the man from Maya’s nightmares, awaits. Maya herself is a godling, half orisha and half human, and her neighborhood is a safe haven. But now that the veil is failing, the Lord of Shadows is determined to destroy the human world and it’s up to Maya to stop him. She just hopes she can do it in time to attend Comic-Con before summer’s over.
Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco
If you like the sound of a book set in an alternate reality where fairytales and magic are real, and the main character is a descendant of Maria Makiling, a famous guardian from Filipino folklore, then you’ll love Wicked as You Wish.
- Follows Tala, a biracial Filipino-Scottish teen who is the descendant of Maria Makiling and protector of a prince. When the Firebird appears, Tala and a ragtag group of warriors and friends will need to find their way back to their magical homeland, Avalon, which was frozen over by the Ice Queen.
- This book cleverly incorporates an array of beloved fairytales in the story, including them in fun and exciting ways, but also prominently features Filipino folklore – and has some of the coolest Filipino warriors you’ll ever read about.
- This is just a really fun and entertaining book that will keep you reading and at the edge of your seat with its dynamic action scenes.
Rick Riordan Presents
I think if we want to talk mythology, I feel obligated to talk about Rick Riordan Presents, an imprint that publishes middle-grade stories that are inspired by mythology from the author’s heritage/identity! I’ve read a few of these, and friends, they are wonderful. Here is a full list of them and really enjoyed:
Aruh Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi – Inspired by Hindu mythology, this follows Indian 12-year old Aru Shah, who accidentally unleashes an evil demon and must find the five legendary Pandava brothers, from the Mahābhārata, in order to stop the demon.
The Storm Runner by J. C. Cervantes – Inspired by Mayan mythology, this follows Mexican-American 13-year old Zane, who was born with a shorter leg and uses a cane, who discovers he is the center of a prophecy and that a dormant volcano is a gateway to another world.
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee – Inspired by Korean mythology, this follows fox spirit, Min, who joins the Space Forces to find her missing brother, who was suspected of leaving his post to search for the powerful Dragon Pearl. Read my review here.
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez – Inspired by Cuban mythology, this follows Cuban-American 13 year-old Sal, who magically places a dead chicken in a bully’s locker. While at the principal office, in comes Gabi, a Cuban-American girl who barges in and announces herself as the bully’s lawyer. From there, the two kindle a friendship – and chaos ensues.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia – Inspired by West African and African American mythology, this follows Black boy 13 year-old Tristan, who travels to Alabama to grieve the death of his best friend – but accidentally opens a portal to a world of folklore and mythology.
Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia – Inspired by Mexican mythology, this follows Mexican 12-year old Paola Santiago, who has to save her friend from a world of nightmares and spirits from the river.
Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse – Inspired by Navajo mythology, this follows seventh grader Nizhoni Begay who can ‘detect’ monsters. When her father goes missing, Nizhoni, her brother, and best friend must complete a series of trials to save her father.
I hope you found this book recommendations post helpful and that you have some cool mythology-inspired books to read! Again, I love Greek mythology as much as most people, but I’m also loving the stories that feature mythology from other cultures and places.
- Have you read any of the books that we recommended? What did you think of them?
- Do you have any books that you could recommend to us?