Welcome one and all to this week’s Top 5 Wednesday post! For those of you who don’t know Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme/challenge which was created by the wonderful Lainey from gingereadslainey and is now overseen by the equally lovely Sam from Thoughts of Tomes. Every Wednesday, participants devise their Top 5 based on a given topic.
This Wednesday’s topic is Books That Aren’t Set In/Inspired By The Western World. Talk about books that are set outside of the Western World (so outside of North America and Western Europe) or if they are SFF, books that aren’t inspired by those places (so no medieval setting fantasy!)
Full disclosure: I am a terrible person as the majority of my reading is set in the Western world, because that’s what I know, and I am so so sheltered. That may or may not be an exaggeration and a tad dramatic but what is for sure is that I tend to read (YA) fantasy and a lot of that is inspired by medieval fantasy, specifically European-inspired medieval fantasy. I’m not excusing my utter lack of diverse reading at all, but I do think that this might perhaps be a big factor of my utter lack of reading outside of the West. However, I want to solve that, obviously, so today I will be focusing specifically on Books On My TBR That Aren’t Set In/Inspired By The Western World. And, because I’m extra, I decided to do two lists – one of Fantasy Books Inspired By Non-Western settings and the other Books Set in Non-Western Places.
TOP 5 TBR BOOKS SET IN NON-WESTERN PLACES
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (x)
[set in Colombia?, def South America]
I think it’s more than a little embarrassing that I studied Spanish for eight years at school and yet I’ve only read some of Federico Garcia Lorca’s plays and a tiny bit of Isabel Allende. That’s shameful, in fact, and I’d like to correct that before I entirely lose my grasp of the Spanish language and culture. Don’t get me wrong, I will not be attempting to read this in its original text (I’m not that ambitious) but I do want to try this rather intimidating book.
4. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (x)
[set in Ancient Jerusalem and 1940s Russia]
This sounds weird af, and I’m kind of down with that. I hear it’s satirical of Soviet life and it will probably go completely over my head, and I’m kind of down with that. It promises vampires and a vodka-drinking black cat and Satan and it just sounds absolutely bonkers. I need to read it.
3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (x)
[set in the Dominican Republic]
Just when I think this book has slipped off my radar someone else reviews it on Booktube or in the blogosphere. I hear it’s about a boy from Santo Domingo who wishes he could be the next JRR Tolkien, and find love along the way. I hear it’s about contemporary American experience but also about Oscar’s family and the Dominican Republic itself. I hope that’s true, in any case, because that’s somewhere I have no concept of, and I would love to learn something. Plus I hear this is a pretty amazing book… and the audiobook is narrated by Lin Manuel Miranda so it seems like an obvious choice.
2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (x)
[set in Russia]
I’m currently making my way through the behemoth that is Tolstoy’s War and Peace and, well, you know what they say – why only commit to reading one Tolstoy novel when you could read two? I’ve tried Anna Karenina previously and I failed… but I was really enjoying the story so this is definitely one I want to come back to when I have more time to dedicate to properly reading it. I care less about its titular heroine and her doomed little love affair and more about her family tbh.
1. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (x)
[set in an unspecified country, refugee story]
The title may seem counter-intuitive, and absolutely perfect for this challenge, depending on how you look at it. I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about this one and, from what I’ve gathered, it’s about refugees trying to escape from their country as it teeters on the brink of civil war when suddenly doors start appearing through which they “exit”and steadily move more into the “west” (do you see the title?). So that seems downright made for answering this Top 5 Wednesday prompt.
TOP 5 TBR FANTASY BOOKS INSPIRED BY/SET IN NON-WESTERN PLACES
5. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (x)
I believe that this is based on Russian fairytales and folk stories and it sounds so dark and fantastic that I actually bought it as soon as it was released but I’m yet to do anything to actually, you know, read it. That ought to change. As it says in the book’s synopsis: “Above all, [Vasilisa] loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.” Um yes please?
4. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (x)
The dystopian steampunk world that Marissa Meyer creates is undeniably influenced by China and Chinese culture, let alone the fact it’s set in New Beijing. A Cinderella retelling with a cyborg twist, I remember loving the concept of the first book, Cinder, before accidentally DNFing the second book, Scarlet, as I set it aside to do my required reading for university instead. That was clearly a mistake and I clearly need to correct that since these books were wonderfully fresh and inventive retellings and I’ve heard brilliant things about the subsequent books.
3. The Divine Cities Trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett (x)
[Czarist Russia and Mughal India]
I didn’t realise the first book, City of Stairs, was part of a trilogy until I just looked up the book on Goodreads – yay, more books! I haven’t heard too much (read: anything) about this on book blogs or on Booktube which makes me wonder how on earth I even found it in the first place. Anywho… this book is set in nations inspired by Czarist Russia and Mughal India which sounds intriguing enough already. And then it just throws this synopsis into the ring: “Unofficially, Shara is one of her country’s most accomplished spymasters — dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian. As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem — and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well. ” I mean, come on.
2. The Crown’s Game Series by Evelyn Skye (x)
This is YA fantasy set in a Czarist Russia… of course I want to read this because I’m easily led. As far as I know there are a couple of characters who are the country’s only enchanters and the Tsar wants them on-side because of the threat of the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs. So, obviously, the best way to decide on who to keep by his side is to have a magic contest (duh), and whoever wins becomes his Enchanter I suppose (I assume with a capital E, to make sure everyone knows they’re Important). There’s probably a doomed love triangle in this somewhere along the line too because this is YA fantasy, but even so, I’m really intrigued by this one!
1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor (x)
[Czech Republic and Morocco]
Ok I cheated a little bit with this final pick because I have actually read the first book – however, I don’t remember much of the actual plot (Angels? Demons? There’s something about teeth too.) so I need to re-read it before continuing on with the trilogy anyway. So I don’t strictly know if the second and third books are still set in the non-Western world but what I can remember about the first one is that the writing was so beautiful and its descriptions of Prague and Marrakech were so vivid and evocative that it suddenly made me want to visit. If that isn’t reason enough to want to read this trilogy then I don’t know what is.
And there we have it folks – those are some of my top TBR books that aren’t set in/inspired by the Western world that I really want to read asap. Do you have any recommendations for fantasy books set in/inspired by places not in the West?
And if you have a Top 5 Wednesday list, do link it below – I’d love to take a look!