17 Indigenous Fantasy Books You Should Read

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month by reading these great books.

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Award-winning and prolific novelist Louise Erdrich typically writes haunting literary fiction set in the past and present, but this novel takes place in a near-future, where evolution has rolled backward and every fetus is undergoing a startling evolutionary shift. At the beginning of her pregnancy, before the government started rounding up pregnant women, Cedar began a journal directed towards her unborn child. In it, she relates visiting her Ojibwe family for the first time, before she was forced to hide in her house so no one would discover her pregnancy, as well as the joys and anxieties of being pregnant. As it becomes more and more unsafe to be a pregnant woman, she chronicles the U.S.’s harrowing spiral into dystopia. Erdrich narrates the audiobook, and I loved it. Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

16-year-old Jared’s life is a mess, and he’s desperately trying to keep everyone he loves safe. He pays the rent for his disabled dad by selling pot cookies, but his dad often uses the money for drugs instead. He takes care of his elderly neighbors, shoveling snow from their walkway and helping around the house. He worries about his mom, who’s dating a drug dealer and has parties every night, where Jared inevitably drinks far too much. He’s also recently lost his beloved dog. Meanwhile, Jared is also haunted by his grandmother’s words that he is really the son of the trickster god, and ravens speak to him, even when he’s not stoned. This first book in a YA crossover trilogy is both gritty and magical, funny and heartbreaking. Robinson is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations. She’s written several other books, including Monkey Beach, an adult novel full of ghosts and shapeshifters.

The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon

In this YA romp, Wyatt, a teen trans man hiding from the fae in the human world, is a witch. After accidentally setting fire to much of a town in the fae kingdom, he escaped and has now been pseudo-adopted by an Indigenous American family, who embrace his trans identity. While living in the fae kingdom, the fae prince Emyr bonded with him, and the two were engaged to be married. Four years later, Wyatt thinks he's safe in the human world, but then Emyr shows up and demands he return to the fae kingdom as his fiance. Wyatt feels he has no choice but to accompany Emyr, but this time he brings an ally, his best friend and sister by adoption, Briar. The audiobook read by Dani Martineck is a blast to listen to. Edgmon is Seminole and this is their debut novel. The second book in this series comes out next year.

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

In this coming-of-age werewolf novel, an unnamed narrator chronicles his life living with his werewolf aunt and uncle in a diary. The narrator’s mother died during birth, and his Aunt Libby and Uncle Darren — his mother’s sister and brother — are raising him. It’s a hard life for a werewolf family, and they constantly have to move from town to town as trouble arises, sticking to the South. The narrator longs to be a werewolf, but so far, he has yet to transform. Funny and fascinating, this novel isn’t nearly as scary as Jones’s other novels, but perfect for readers who don’t mind some creature horror in their fantasy. Jones is Blackfoot.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

In this harrowing dystopia set in a near-future Canada, everyone has stopped dreaming, everyone, that is, except Indigenous North Americans. The dreamlessness has led to madness, and now Indigenous North Americans are being hunted down and forced into residential schools so their bone marrow can be harvested and used to treat the dreamless. Indigenous teenager Frenchie is on the run with a group of other Indigenous folks. Together, they form a found family, a tribe, but they’re hunted at every turn. The second book in this compulsive YA crossover series, Hunting the Stars, came out in October. Dimaline is from the Georgian Bay Métis community.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Black Sun — the first book in a new trilogy — is set in a fantasy world inspired by the pre-Columbian Americas. Blinded as a child by his mother, Serapio’s destiny is to become the Crow God reborn and wreak vengeance on the Sun Priest and their followers, who have violently suppressed the holy city Tova’s indigenous religious traditions. Naranpa recently became Sun Priest, and she’s unprepared for the order’s political machinations and backstabbing. Xiala, a captain charged with carrying Serapio to Tova, can calm the waters with her voice, an inheritance from her magical, ocean-dwelling Teek heritage, but her sailors fear her. This violent and epic clash between colonizers and indigenous peoples pushes against Euro-centric fantasy. It’s also a thrilling and intriguing read. The second book in the series, Fevered Star, releases in April 2022. Also check out Roanhorse’s post-apocalyptic urban fantasy series, which starts with Trail of Lightning.

A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger

This Lipan Apache writer stunned readers with her exquisite first novel Elatsoe. Her second novel is equally excellent. Entwining multiple worlds, A Snake Falls to Earth revolves around two characters. Nina is a Lipan girl in our world. Nina’s great-great-grandmother Rosita’s stories have enraptured her since she was a child. Using translation software, she uncovers a mystery hidden in Rosita’s stories of a time when animal people still lived on Earth. Meanwhile, in the Reflected World, Oli, a cottonmouth snake person, moves in with other animal people. They can transform into humans and visit Nina’s world at will. When one of his friends becomes ill due to his species becoming extinct on Earth, Oli travels to Texas to try and save his friend. There, his and Nina’s stories become entangled.

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

When a small Anishinaabe community loses electricity, most people first remain calm, but with dwindling food supplies, the calm turns to worry. Then a white man from the south arrives, describing the horrors of the crumbling civilization outside the reservation. The reserve’s leadership invite the man to stay with their tribe, and, soon, more people arrive. As the man manipulates people on the reserve, the leadership slowly begins to lose their grip on the community, and a horrible truth they uncover forces them to make an even more horrible decision. The novel follows Evan Whitesky, an Anishinaabe man trying to help his family survive. It’s an intense, slow-burn post-apocalyptic novel. Rice is from Wasauksing First Nation.

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Humanity is decimated during the Robot War, yet not all hope is lost. In this action-packed novel, narrator Cormac "Bright Boy" Wallace recalls the events leading up to the Robot War. At first, AIs only showed slight malfunctions, and not many people even noticed. Then suddenly all AI machines united to create the child-like persona Archos, and Archos means to take over the world. This first book in a sci-fi series is thrilling and epic. Wilson is a Cherokee citizen.

Riding the Trail of Tears by Blake M. Hausman

In the near future, Cherokee Tallulah Wilson works on a virtual-reality ride where people can experience the Trail of Tears for themselves. When several people lose consciousness on the ride, Tallulah, as well as other employees for the ride, worry about terrorists. Instead, Tallulah discovers that Cherokee Little People are attempting to take over the ride by reprogramming it. This under-the-radar novel is both wildly inventive and compelling. Hausman is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

Lightfinder by Aaron Paquette

Another under-read novel, this YA fantasy by Cree and Métis illustrator Aaron Paquette integrates Cree legends into a classic fantasy quest narrative, creating a story that feels both familiar and yet unexpected. After Aisling’s brother Eric runs away from home, she, along with her grandmother and aunt, set out into the wilderness to find him. While Aisling has begun to learn more about her magical heritage, Eric has gone down a darker path. As Cree legends unfold before them and they realize their myths might actually be true, both siblings become entwined in a battle to save Earth.

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith

This Muscogee Creek Nation writer is best known for her children’s books — such as the picture book Jingle Dancer — and her work as an author-curator of Heartdrum, a Native-focused imprint at HarperCollins Children’s Books, but she also writes paranormal YA novels. Tantalize is the first book in a series of the same name. Orphan Quincie Morris lives with her uncle, and the two run her parents’ restaurant. With the restaurant failing, they decide to rebrand it with a unique vampire spin. However, when the head chef is gruesomely murdered while Quincie is only one room away, Quincie begins to question the logic behind the restaurant's new theme. Her best friend, hybrid werewolf Kieren, certainly thinks it’s a terrible idea, and now the cops are looking at him as a possible suspect. Though no native characters are in this book, it’s a fun romp.

Take Us To Your Chief And Other Stories by Drew Hayden Taylor

Ojibwe writer Drew Hayden Taylor was inspired by classic science fiction authors like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke in his collection of nine science fiction short stories. Yet these stories aren’t rehashes of the classics; each one takes a Native perspective definitely lacking in classic science fiction. An artificial intelligence comes to relate to Indigenous people’s history in “I Am.” In “Superdisillusioned,” environmental collapse causes mutations in an Ojibwe man. An Anishinaabe astronaut reconnects with his Turtle Island people despite their distance in “Lost in Space.” Both hopeful and dark, these imaginative stories are such fun reads.

Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction edited by Grace Dillon

Walking the Clouds is the first anthology ever to be published of Indigenous science fiction. In addition to Native American and Indigenous American writers, this anthology includes stories and novel excerpts from Maori and Aboriginal Australians. Leslie Marmon Silko, Stephen Graham Jones, and Nalo Hopkinson, among others, contributed to the 20 stories collected in the anthology. William Sanders explores apocalyptic visions, Gerald Vizenor takes on Custer and Crazy Horse, Eden Robinson presents a horrifying future. This is a much-needed and essential collection of Indigenous SFF works.

Love: Beyond Body, Space & Time edited by Hope Nicholson

This anthology collects eleven LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit Indigenous speculative fiction short stories. Cherie Dimaline and Darcie Little Badger, authors included on this list, both contributed to this collection. “Imposter Syndrome” by Mari Kurisato relates the horrors of a surveillance state for a noncitizen attempting to transform herself. David A. Robertson uses dreamcatcher imagery in “Perfectly You,” a sci-fi love letter. From the future of online queer dating to puppies in space to virtual realities, these stories are inventive and compelling.

Love After the End edited by Joshua Whitehead

This follow-up anthology to Love: Beyond Body, Space & Time contains nine LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit Indigenous short stories that take place after the end of the world. These stories portray environmental devastation, romances with AI rats (you read that right), and thought-provoking forays into utopian visions. This collection of Indigenous short stories is a fast but brilliant read.

Pemmican Wars by Katherena Vermette, Illustrated by Scott B. Henderson

This slim graphic novel is the first volume in the A Girl Called Echo series, which currently has four published volumes. In this first volume, we’re introduced to Echo Desjardins, a 13-year-old Métis girl living in foster care and starting a new school. Lost in worry about her mother, Echo tries to tune out everyone around her by listening to her headphones. However, she unwillingly becomes interested in her history teacher’s lecture on the Pemmican Wars, and suddenly she becomes, quite literally, transported to that time and place. Each volume in the series has Echo slipping back and forth in time, learning about her history and how that history connects to her present. Vermette is of Métis descent.●

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