Though I technically first encountered mythology through Disney’s Hercules as a kid, I didn’t dive in headfirst until college. When I should have been studying for midterms or trying to figure out the difference between a motif and a theme, I was deep within the poorly lit maze of books in the library, poring over every mythology-related book available. Most of the books were on Greek mythology, and I loved it. The drama! The pettiness! It drew me in. It’s no surprise that now, years later, I’ve devoured numerous books inspired by mythology as well as novels that create their own mythologies. So, if you like a good story with deities, complicated characters, power clashes, tragedy, and the occasional romance, here are a few I’ve enjoyed and think you’ll enjoy too.
Following two main characters, Moremi and Orpheus, MORE PERFECT is set in near-future London, where almost everyone has opted to have a small device—the Pulse—implanted in their brains, making social media an augmented reality. Orpheus and his father, however, remain Pulseless and hidden from the Panopticon for reasons Orpheus doesn’t understand and his father won’t reveal. But one terrible night, everything changes for Orpheus. Meanwhile, Moremi has longed for the Pulse for years, and the day has finally come. But the very same day, a terrorist attack destroys almost everything she’s ever known. As a result of this attack, the British government is quick to give Panopticon more power in order to keep the city safe. Soon, the Pulse implant may no longer be a choice, but required by law. As the story unfolds, Orpheus’s and Moremi’s stories converge in a powerful and unexpected way. Together, they might just have the power to change the future. Based on the Greek myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, MORE PERFECT is a haunting and mesmerizing story.
A reimagining of the Greek myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, for fans of Becky Chambers and William Gibson by Alex Award–winning author Temi Oh.
Using the myth of Eurydice as a structure, this riveting science fiction novel is set in a near-future London where it has become popular for folks to have a small implant that allows one access to a more robust social media experience directly as an augmented reality. However, the British government has taken oversight of this access to an extreme, slowly tilting towards a dystopian overreach, all in the name of safety.
Easily my favorite book of 2021, BLACK SUN is the first in Rebecca Roanhorse’s Between Earth and Sky Trilogy. Inspired by the cultures and civilizations of the pre-Columbian Americas, this epic fantasy takes place on the Meridian and follows several characters as they each prepare for the Convergence—a rare celestial event in which the winter solstice coincides with a solar eclipse. Naranpa serves as the Sun Priest in the holy city of Tova and vainly attempts to bring balance and keep peace as the city prepares for the Convergence. At the same time, Xiala, a Teek whose song can tame the seas and invade the minds of men, is hired to transport a blind young man, Serapio, to Tova in time for the Convergence. But Xiala doesn’t know the power this young man possesses, for Serapio is a vessel for a god—and a vengeful god at that.
From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn comes the “engrossing and vibrant” (Tochi Onyebuchi, author of Riot Baby) first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.
A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun
In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial even proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created a “brilliant world that shows the full panoply of human grace and depravity” (Ken Liu, award-winning author of The Grace of Kings). This epic adventure explores the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in this “absolutely tremendous” (S.A. Chakraborty, nationally bestselling author of The City of Brass) and most original series debut of the decade.
THE MOUNTAIN OF LIGHT is a historical novel about the Kohinoor diamond (whose name in Persian means “mountain of light”), a legendary 186-carat diamond that originated in India and, according to Hindu belief, was deeply admired by gods such as Krishna. Beginning in the early 1800s, the story traces this diamond’s path as it’s passed around multiple rulers in India, Persia, and Afghanistan—and all the while, England increasingly exerts control over India. By then it’s no surprise when the diamond finally comes to rest in 1850 with Queen Victoria of England—a queen who claims the diamond, and India itself, for the British empire. With each chapter switching points of view depending on where the diamond travels, this unique novel is a vivid and heartbreaking journey.
From the internationally bestselling author of The Twentieth Wife, a novel based on the tumultuous history of a legendary 186-carat diamond—originating in India—and the men and women who possessed it.
As empires rose and fell and mighty kings jostled for power, its glittering radiance never dimmed. It is the “Mountain of Light”—the Kohinoor diamond—and its facets reflect a sweeping story of love, adventure, conquest, and betrayal. Its origins are the stuff of myth, but for centuries this spectacular gem changes hands from one ruler to another in India, Persia, and Afghanistan. In 1850, the ancient stone is sent halfway around the world where it will play a pivotal role in the intertwined destinies of a boy-king of India and a young queen of England—a queen who claims the Mountain of Light and India itself for her own burgeoning empire, the most brilliant jewels in her imperial crown.
The Mountain of Light is a magnificent story of loss and recovery, sweeping change and enduring truth, wrapped around the glowing heart of one of the world’s most famous diamonds.
KAIKEYI is a reimagining of Kaikeyi’s role in the Hindu epic Ramayana. The story follows Kaikeyi’s life, beginning in her childhood home as the only daughter of the Kekaya kingdom. Raised alongside seven brothers, including her twin, Yudhājit, Kaikeyi grows up being ignored by her father and—after her mother is banished by her father—learning to raise her younger brothers. After her mother’s banishment, she turns to the gods for help, but they never seem to hear her. Instead, she discovers she has a magic that is hers alone. As she grows up, she becomes King Dasharatha’s third wife, a beloved queen, a warrior, a counselor to her husband, and a loving mother. But her one wish for her family clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen, and the world she has carefully created for herself begins to crumble around her.
Inspired by Mayan mythology as well as Mexican history and culture, GODS OF JADE AND SHADOW is set in the 1920s Jazz Age in Mexico. Casiopea Tun is a young woman who is forced to work as the family maid for her wealthy grandfather, but she yearns for a different life. She knows there is more to the world, and she wants to explore and find freedom for herself. So when she discovers and opens a chest in her grandfather’s room and unknowingly frees the Mayan god of death, Hun-Kamé, she agrees—with some reservations—to help him on his quest to reclaim his throne from his traitorous twin brother. The unlikely pair set out on their journey across Mexico to restore Hun-Kamé’s power and perhaps grant them both the freedom they desire. But, as they travel deeper into the Mayan underworld, they discover that the freedom they seek may come at a cost.
Sue Lynn Tan’s epic fantasy DAUGHTER OF THE MOON GODDESS was inspired by Chinese mythology and the legend of the moon goddess, Chang’e. The story begins with Xingyin fleeing from the moon, the only home she has ever known, to keep her existence—and her magic—a secret from the Celestial Emperor, who had imprisoned her mother on the moon. Forced to leave her mother behind, Xingyin makes her way alone to the Celestial Kingdom, disguising her identity. While there, she learns more about magic alongside the emperor’s son. In order to save her mother, she must set out on a dangerous journey and challenge the Celestial Emperor himself. But she may have to sacrifice all she loves to achieve her dream.
SHALLOW WATERS is Anita Kopacz’s reimagining of Yemaya, an Orisha (or deity) of the sea from the Yoruba religion often depicted as a mermaid. Primarily set in 1800s America, the story begins off the coast of Africa in the depths of the sea where Yemaya lives with her parents, until they both disappear. Although she initially feels lost, she discovers a new purpose: to save Obatala, the human who had once saved her from fishermen. When Obatala and his tribe are captured by violent white men who intend to sell them as slaves in America, Yemaya knows she must follow. She swims with the ship to America and, once she arrives, swaps her tail for human legs. From there, Yemaya begins a harrowing journey along the Underground Railroad to save Obatala and find freedom for them both.
In this “captivating” (Harper’s Bazaar) and lyrical debut novel—perfect for fans of The Water Dancer and the Legacy of Orïsha series—the Yoruba deity of the sea, Yemaya, is brought to vivid life as she discovers the power of Black resilience, love, and feminine strength in antebellum America.
Shallow Waters imagines Yemaya, an Orïsha—a deity in the religion of Africa’s Yoruba people—cast into mid-1800s America. We meet Yemaya as a young woman, still in the care of her mother and not yet fully aware of the spectacular power she possesses to protect herself and those she holds dear.
The journey laid out in Shallow Waters sees Yemaya confront the greatest evils of this era; transcend time and place in search of Obatala, a man who sacrifices his own freedom for the chance at hers; and grow into the powerful woman she was destined to become. We travel alongside Yemaya from her native Africa and on to the “New World,” with vivid pictures of life for those left on the outskirts of power in the nascent Americas.
Yemaya realizes the fighter within, travels the Underground Railroad in search of the mysterious stranger Obatala, and crosses paths with icons of our history on the road to freedom. Shallow Waters is a “riveting and heartbreaking” (Publishers Weekly) work of ritual storytelling from promising debut author Anita Kopacz.
THE DAWNHOUNDS is a queer, Māori-inspired fantasy, and the first of Sascha Stronach’s Against the Quiet series. Set in the port city of Hainak, the book follows constable Yat Jyn-Hok—a reformed-thief-turned-cop. Recently reassigned to the night shift after getting caught enjoying the intimate company of another woman, she’s having trouble adjusting. When she finds a corpse one night and calls for backup, two mysterious officers show up and kill her. Only Yat doesn’t stay dead—and she comes back to life with ancient magical powers. Fearful that she might be killed for good next time, Yat flees and finds herself joining a pirate crew. But dark forces are at work in Hainak, and she doesn’t have much time to stop an evil plague before her home is destroyed.
Gideon the Ninth meets Black Sun in this queer, Māori-inspired debut fantasy about a police officer who is murdered, brought back to life with a mysterious new power, and tasked with protecting her city from an insidious evil threatening to destroy it.
The port city of Hainak is alive: its buildings, its fashion, even its weapons. But, after a devastating war and a sweeping biotech revolution, all its inhabitants want is peace, no one more so than Yat Jyn-Hok a reformed-thief-turned-cop who patrols the streets at night.
Yat has recently been demoted on the force due to “lifestyle choices” after being caught at a gay club. She’s barely holding it together, haunted by memories of a lover who vanished and voices that float in and out of her head like radio signals. When she stumbles across a dead body on her patrol, two fellow officers gruesomely murder her and dump her into the harbor. Unfortunately for them, she wakes up.
Resurrected by an ancient power, she finds herself with the new ability to manipulate life force. Quickly falling in with the pirate crew who has found her, she must race against time to stop a plague from being unleashed by the evil that has taken root in Hainak.
Photo credit: iStock / tomertu