9 Must Read New Books by AANHPI Women to Add to Your Summer Reading List

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9 Must Read New Books by AANHPI Women to Add to Your Summer Reading List

May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! That makes it a great time to take a look at your TBR pile and see what kind of novels you’ve already selected by AANHPI authors. Exploring second-world fantasies that draw on myths and legends from Asian and Oceanic cultures is a fantastic way to break out of a feudal fantasy reading slump. A more contemporary title that includes struggles of being an immigrant (or being assumed to be an immigrant, despite having been born in the United States) can create a tension that gives the temptations of magic an even sharper edge. If you’re just looking for a fresh, post-apocalyptic fantasy with wastelands, dinosaurs, and magic motorcycles–this list has one of those, too! 

We compiled a list of brand new 2024 fantasy titles by AANHPI women authors you should add to your reading stack. Some of these are already out and a few are still forthcoming in the months ahead, but they all should be added to your must-read list for this coming summer.

The Monstrous Misses Mai by Van Hoang

Four young women—strangers to each other, except for the commonality of a shared middle name—become roommates in a small apartment in Los Angeles in the 1950s in The Monstrous Misses Mai. All of them want something. Cordi just wants a job and the ability to live on her own after her parents disowned her. She’s a hard worker and a talented seamstress and fashion designer, but no one would ever give a Vietnamese American girl the chance to become a professional designer. Her roommates’ stories are similar: Tessa wants to be chosen as a model for the department store where she works as a clerk; Audrey wants to succeed at her art; Silly wants to secure an internship that she knows will pave her future path. But for all of them, success seems just out of reach, until Callum—a gregarious, mysterious man who helped all of them find the apartment to rent it together—makes them an offer. What if they could just do a little magic, and get everything they wanted? 

At first, the Mais think it’s a party trick, and nothing to worry about. But when the magic works, it’s hard to not want to use it to keep making things come easily. Except…there are consequences, like Cordi’s nails turning black and her fingertips bleeding, or Tessa’s hair falling out, or Silly’s eyesight getting worse. Only Audrey, who refuses to participate, seems to escape. As the stakes rise, Cordi has to figure out what she’s willing to sacrifice for her chance—and whether, if magic got her there, that chance is really hers on her merits. Can she trust a future she didn’t earn? 

This novel is steeped in its era, and the slang and clothing (the clothing!) really immerse readers in the 1950s. Hoang does a fantastic job giving us unique young women, all striving for something better, but each of them with a different approach. Cordi is imminently easy to empathize with—she’s talented, and she has tried for years to be a good daughter and sister, only to be told that when she has ideas of her own, she’s not good enough. On her own, she’s also smart enough to realize that things earned by magic aren’t truly earned—but the realization comes too late to stop the cascade of bad luck that follows selfishly-used powers. The magic and its costs are both well-drawn and horrific, and late reveals about the magical societies that work beneath the surface of glamorous Los Angeles bring everything snapping into place. This is Hoang’s first adult novel (she’s also the author of the excellent “Girl Giant” middle-grade series), and readers will absolutely hope she has more on the way. Pick this one up if you like your magic with a side of drama—and if you like your skirts to have pockets.

The Last Bloodcarver Must Read 2024 Fiction by AANHPI women

The Last Bloodcarver by Vanessa Le

The cost to magic is entirely different in Le’s YA second-world fantasy The Last Bloodcarver. Nhika is a heartsooth—which the colonizers who conquered her people call bloodcarvers. She can heal with a touch. When she lays hands on a person, she can see how their body works, find what’s wrong, and convince the body to fix itself. It takes a great deal of energy—and it’s quite illegal. Many people wear gloves to prevent hidden bloodcarvers, who are supposed to be extinct, from invading their bodies. The colonizers are afraid, and Nhika is so, so tired. Disguised as an herbalist, she cons her clients into taking snake oils and fake remedies, just to make her wages. And yet, in her heart, she needs to heal. It’s her calling.

When Nhika, out of pity, heals a woman, her identity is discovered, and she has to run from the Butchers; when they catch her, she’s doomed to be sold to the highest bidder. Superstitious and wealthy potential buyers come to look at her, some of them wanting to eat her to gain her powers for themselves, others simply desperate. When a young woman purchases Nhika, the heartsooth’s only thought is to escape, but then Mimi reveals why she needs Nhika’s help. A family friend, who may hold the secret to why her father died, is locked in a coma. With Nhika’s help, they’ll be able to bring him back—and perhaps learn the truth. Nhika has no reason to get involved, except that her treacherous heart, and the possibility of finding a place to truly belong, are too difficult to ignore. Soon, she’s thrust into a dangerous game of intrigue, and a greater discovery—what if she’s not the last bloodcarver after all?

This gorgeous opener to a duology floods the senses with Nhika’s world, a fantastical mix of magic and science that feels at once modern and archaic. (For fans of The Legend of Korra’s combination of growing industry and bending, this hits a lot of those same notes.) Nhika is a prickly protagonist, for good reason, but that big heart of hers just won’t let her make the safe choices that could give her an easier path to the future. It’s a delight to follow her through the novel—and the ending is chilling with its cliffhanger will have readers anxious to put the sequel, His Mortal Demise, on their 2025 watch lists!

Darker by Four by June CL Tan

Darker by Four features an even more modern feeling secondary world, where agents of death send emails to their supervisors, and modern students at an elite exorcist academy keep people safe from undead called Revenants. Rui is a student determined to excel so that she can get revenge on the hybrid Revenant who killed her mother. The problem is, no one admits that hybrids exist. She turns to her friends in the magical community that isn’t supposed to exist, particularly Zizi, who not only provides her with leads on her quest, but also gives her side jobs, testing spells. 

When one of Zizi’s spells goes awry in the middle of a Revenant attack, Rui’s spiritual energy ends up getting transferred into Yiran, the un-magical child of a prominent family. Yiran views this as his one chance to change his future, embracing Rui’s magic as his own. Rui has to keep Yiran alive in order to have the hope of getting her magic back. And meanwhile, Nikai, a Reaper, searches the mortal world for the missing Fourth King of Hell, in whose absence, Revenants have become an even greater danger to the human world.

Although some of the marketing for this has pegged it as a dark academia (and it does have some of those vibes), this is definitely more of a magic school novel in the style of books where the schools themselves are dangerous, and only the best survive their chosen careers. The world is at war, and these teenage characters are on the front lines. But they can’t see the real problem—the missing King of Hell—because mortals can’t see Reapers. The result is an action-packed set up leading the characters deeper and deeper into events they can’t control, where fate will determine who survives. Readers who loved Neal Shusterman’s Scythe or Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth will find that Tan’s new series opener makes excellent company.

Kindling Must Read 2024 Fiction by AANHPI women

Kindling by Traci Chee

Children waging war are also at the center of Chee’s Kindling, a story that borrows from the mythos of Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. Here, the war is over, and the children who were trained to fight in it, to wield their magical, fiery blades against their enemies, have been told to disband. There is no place for them in a world on the edge of peace. Their magic is too dangerous to be remembered. That’s where the story opens, as Leum, one of these warriors—the kindling—is traveling to the edges of his nation, hoping for something better outside its borders. 

But when he rescues a young girl from being attacked, he becomes embroiled in a greater rescue mission. Now, seven kindling will have one last chance to fight for something worth saving—or give what’s left of their lives to a cause worth dying for.

The novel very much has the same historical feel as The Seven Samurai, but with magic and different politics playing out. But Chee chooses to introduce readers to that world in an innovative, second-person voice. The story is being told to Leum from the voice of his fellow kindling who died in battle, the ghosts who follow him to narrate his story. It’s not clear if he can hear them—nor if any of the kindling whose story they tell are aware they even exist. But by telling the story through the united voices of ghosts, Chee steeps the story in the death that came before, and the cost of war, especially for the young. It gives the tale—a heroic story—a richness and depth that fans of Kurosawa (or of other films that take inspiration from it, like The Magnificent Seven) will absolutely appreciate.

Sound the Gong Must Read 2024 Fiction by AANHPI women

Sound the Gong by Joan He

The inspiration for Sound the Gong is from an even earlier era: the famously epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Here, He continues the story she began in Strike the Zither, in which strategist Rising Zephyr plots a course for her lordess, Ren, to become the Empress and unite the warring kingdoms. As smart as she is, though, Zephyr didn’t see how her own fate would transpire. Nor did she realize her true identity. After her own untimely death, she wakes in the body of Ren’s swornsister, Lotus—but only after Zephyr has remembered her true divine nature. In the sequel, Zephyr balances precariously, playing the roles of both strategist and warrior, and then more as she realizes just what her divine abilities will allow her to do. 

There’s one person Zephyr knows stands in Ren’s way, and it’s not the other warriors vying for the imperial position. It’s Crow, the double-agent strategist working for one lordess while truly advancing the cause of another—and both of his lordesses need Ren to fail. The problem is that Zephyr might well be in love with Crow; that won’t stop her, however, from doing whatever it takes to place Ren on the throne. Even if it means losing everything that makes her who she is. The novel is at turns glorious and heartbreaking, a powerful and beautiful homage to Romance of the Three Kingdoms and yet something entirely itself. The way He raises the stakes here makes the finale well earned. Choose this duology if you like the idea of gods defying fate, and becoming more like mortals in the process.

The Lost Souls of Benzaiten Must Read 2024 Fiction by AANHPI women

The Lost Souls of Benzaiten by Kelly Murashige

Another god chooses to directly intervene in mortal matters in Murashige’s young adult novel about trauma, mental health, and understanding how many ways a person who doesn’t speak can still communicate. Set in the contemporary United States, The Lost Souls of Benzaiten is narrated by Machi, a high school senior who doesn’t speak. It’s been about a year since something so traumatic happened, she stopped using her voice—but it takes time for her to reveal what happened, not just to her therapists, but also to the readers. She’s desperate for something to change, so as a last resort, she goes to a small, mostly abandoned shrine and asks to be transformed into a robot vacuum cleaner. The prayer is so intriguing that it captures the attention of the shrine’s goddess, Benzaiten, who makes Machi a deal: in five weeks, the goddess will be able to convince Machi that there is joy in the human world.

While the story frequently feels so grounded in reality, and in the struggles of coping—and of wanting to cope—that come with losing friends and loved ones, that makes the divine elements feel even more whimsical and dazzling. Benzaiten is so charismatic that it’s easy to fall under her spell, and even Machi finds herself a bit susceptible to it. But there’s also grief under Benzaiten’s outer shell, and the novel explores that in the moving relationship between goddess and teenager. This one doesn’t hit bookstores until July, so keep an eye on the shelves and make this one a top choice for your summer reading.

Road to Ruin Must Read 2024 Fiction by AANHPI women

Road to Ruin by Hana Lee

Thinking of lost souls, the point of view character in Lee’s post-apocalyptic fantasy Road to Ruin carries some of that burden herself. In a world where people born with Talents for certain types of magic are all that stand between humanity and the encroaching wasteland, Jin-Lu could have had a life of riches. All she had to do was join the Knights—and swear to leave all non-Talented people behind. Unwilling to be taken from each other, her family fled to another kerina (the name for shielded cities in Jin’s world). Now, Jin’s a courier, one of the Talented people able to ride magebikes between the cities, getting goods—and love letters—from one place to another.

As the novel begins, Jin’s having a bad day: she’s attacked by a flying reptile—a pteropter—that makes her crash her bike. She gets it going again (and rescues the offending animal for good measure, because she can’t just leave an injured creature for the storm), but it’ll need repairs. Good thing she’s got a love letter to deliver. Bad thing? The princess to whom she’s delivering it isn’t technically allowed to receive all the letters Jin has been bringing her for months, and now she’s betrothed. The princess’s solution? Jin should get her out of her kerina and help her seek refuge with her prince. The complication? Jin’s hopelessly in love with both the prince and the princess—and kidnapping a princess is exactly the kind of work she doesn’t do.

But, of course, she can’t leave the princess in a lurch. Of course, she’ll say yes. The action only increases there, and Lee does a fantastic job of sinking readers right into the landscape in this series starter, with bike helmets made from the skulls of dinosaur-like creatures, and shield mages responsible for keeping deadly storms at bay. Lee also immediately establishes Jin as a person with a big old soft heart, despite the dangers of the world around her, which makes her easy to root for—even when her decisions are certain to lead her deeper into trouble. (Maybe even because her decisions lead her toward trouble!) Road to Ruin hits the stands on May 14, so this is a perfect read to celebrate the month, or just to enjoy a fantasy adventure with the aesthetic of Mad Max: Fury Road and Pacific Rim.

Dragonfruit Must Read 2024 Fiction by AANHPI women

Dragonfruit by Makiia Lucier

Hanalei, one of the protagonists of Lucier’s Dragonfruit, is also the type of main character who wants to save the animals. Only in her case, she’s determined to save sea dragons from dragoneers. When getting in the way of a ship intent on slaughtering the creatures gets her captured instead, she ends up on an unlikely quest: she has to help track down one of the sea dragons, which is close to laying eggs. The thing about sea dragon eggs—dragonfruit—is that they’re miraculous. It’s said that a dragonfruit could grant a miracle, but at a cost.

It’s a cost that Hanalei knows well. A dragonfruit healed her, but the cost was her father’s life, and exile from the only home she ever loved. Worse, because her father stole the dragonfruit, the crown princess of Tamarind remains in the same coma that almost killed Hanalei—and Hanalei’s childhood friend, Prince Samahtitamahenele (Sam), is determined to find a dragonfruit himself, so that he can heal his mother. 

But Hanalei and Sam aren’t the only ones searching for the dragonfruit, and the dragonfruit itself may be the greatest danger of all. Lucier drops straight into the action with the nerdy Hanalei who has had to become a survivor in order to make her way in the world—even if what she’d really like to do is simply observe creatures and take notes for a far off center of learning. The dragoners feel like pirates, with that sense of adventure along the horizon and just a touch (maybe more) of villainy. The world spread across islands feels bright and full of possibility, which is a striking contrast to Hanalei’s own worldview, which sees so many limits to her own future. Pick this up for the summer vibes and the seafaring adventure.

Lei and the Invisible Island Must Read 2024 Fiction by AANHPI women

Lei and the Invisible Island by Malia Maunakea

For more island adventures—this time geared at the middle grade audience—look to the sequel to Maunakea’s Lei and the Fire Goddess, which thrust twelve-year-old Lei right into Hawai’ian legends. After facing off against Pele the Fire Goddess in the first book, Lei is ready for a real vacation in sequel Lei and the Invisible Island. Instead, she discovers that her ancestral guardian Kaipo’s pendant is missing. Without it, he’ll disintegrate. Lei sets off on another adventure with Kaipo, Ilikea (a talking bat), and a new friend, searching for an invisible island. Unfortunately, the island doesn’t only hold the missing amulet. Evil spirits inhabit the island, and they aren’t going to invite Lei and her friends for milk and cookies—they’re out for blood.

For Zennials who grew up on the Percy Jackson novels, this spin on the theme of modern kids getting embroiled in folklore is always a win, and snagging a series that celebrates Hawai’ian legends is a great choice for this month. Lei’s growth over the first novel makes her a sympathetic protagonist, and the details Maunakea uses in the stories—like jumping over rainbows—gives readers a sense of both the real Hawai’ian landscape and the mythical one alongside it. Pick up the first book (now in paperback) for yourself or a kid in your life, and get ready to grab the second for summer reading!

And Coming Soon…

While you’re thinking about putting together your AANHPI must-read list for the year, make sure you mark your calendar for the upcoming novels by three Asian American women who are superstars in the world of fantasy fiction.

Katie Zhao’s dark academia fantasy Zodiac Rising is a YA heist novel featuring the Descendents of the Chinese Zodiac, due out in October. Andrea Stewart, author of the popular Drowning Empire trilogy, launches a brand new epic fantasy series with The Gods Below this September. And Vilest Things, the sequel to Chloe Gong’s adult debut that continues the story of body-hopping heroes based on Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, also arrives in September. Now’s a great time to add those forthcoming titles to your TBR!

Alana Joli Abbott is a reviewer and game writer, whose multiple-choice novels, including Choice of the Pirate and Blackstone Academy for Magical Beginners, are published by Choice of Games. She is the author of three novels, several short stories, and many role-playing game supplements. She also edits fantasy anthologies for Outland Entertainment, including Bridge to Elsewhere and Never Too Old to Save the World. You can find her online at VirgilandBeatrice.com.

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