As far as I know, the Asian readathon is primarily a Youtube-focussed challenge started by Readwithcindy. To participate, you’re supposed to read four books by Asian authors. One book is a gimme, it should just have an Asian author. One book should have an Asian character/be written by an author you relate to. One book should have an Asian character/be written by an author that is different from you in some way. The fourth book should be recommended to you by an Asian person. The optional final book to read is Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.
I didn’t find out about the Asian readathon until May (the month the challenge is in theory based in) was underway, so I’m not entirely sure that I’ll be able to read four relevant books before the month is up. But I love the idea of celebrating diversity in fiction, and I was especially keen to find books that matched the criteria within my preferred genres of science fiction and fantasy.
Fantasy in particular is quite often guilty of featuring straight, white characters in a pseudo-European, vaguely medieval setting. Maybe dwarves and elves appear, but rarely is there any hint that any continent exists beyond Europe, or that any non-Euro centric races exist. Changing this setting and culture from the one any fans of the genre have become accustomed to is a great way for a book to stand out and truly make an impact.
Now that I’ve spent half this post talking about what the readathon is and why I think it’s a great idea, I’ll get onto the recommendations.
The Chronicles of Elantra by Michelle Sagara
I recently re-read and reviewed the first book in this series here, but I’ll still attempt to quickly summarise the main feel of the series here. The Chronicles of Elantra follows Kaylin, a young police detective in a vaguely European city/empire as she solves crimes, protects her city, and tries desperately to live with the scars of her past. It’s a very character-driven series, and the series functions as something of a coming of age/hero’s journey for Kaylin. There are several races living in the city, and cultural clashes are a big part of the tension and power dynamics of the novels. This is quite classic fantasy, but I’d say to avoid it if you have a problem with long-running, not easily resolved sources of emotional conflict. There’s a lot of angst in this series, though thankfully not based around romance or sex.
Michelle Sagara has written a few different series, though the Chronicles of Elantra is the only one that I have personally read.
The Poppy War trilogy by RF Kuang
Focussing pretty heavily on war and the abuses that come with it, this trilogy is an amazing debut series. Set in an alternate version of 20th century China, this is a fantasy series that follows Rin, who fights to go to a prestigious military academy to escape the future her parents and culture wouls otherwise have for her. That description makes it sound like Disney’s Mulan, but trust that this series presents a more nuanced presentation of the horrors of war, and the complicated moral situations that subjugation and military action present, along with some classic power vs control fantasy elements.
The story isn’t dark and heavy, but the darkness that occurs in wartime certainly isn’t shied away from in this series. If you want a heroine exploring more of a cultural than an individual tragic past (as in the Chronicles of Elantra), read The Poppy War. I’ve reviewed the first book of the trilogy here if you want a more in-depth review.
The Cas Russel or Russel’s Attic series by SL Huang
The Cas Russel series (previously published in a slightly altered form as the Russel’s Attic series) is an incredible modern-sci fi series. The first two books have been released, and you can read my review of the first—Zero Sum Game—here. I don’t usually read action-heavy novels, because for me a lot of reading is about character development, and the relationships built between characters. However, this series is like an action-movie written down, and it still manages to make incredibly vivid, unique characters with nuanced emotions and great interactions. If the overload of adjectives didn’t convince you, maybe the fact that the main character—the titular Cas Russel—has a shady past, math-based superpowers and an extremely religious sociopath for a friend will.
The Cas Russel series is unique, thought provoking, and extremely fun. If you want a faster-paced novel set in modern times, this should be your choice.
The Machineries of Empire series by Yoon Ha Lee
I cannot recommend this series highly enough. It’s a futuristic science fantasy series with a math-based magic and political system, and some great gender and sexual minority representation to boot. Yoon Ha Lee is a member of the LGBTAIQ+ community, so this series also definitely counts as an own voices novel. If you’d like more information about the series, I’ve reviewed books 3 and 4 of the series here and here. This series is complete (unlike the other series I have recommended), I know some people prefer to only read series that are fully published.
Ninefox Gambit, the first book in this incredible series, follows Cheris, a bisexual soldier who is deemed disposable after her conditioning is proven to be unreliable. She’s paired with an undead, infamous war-hero-turned-villain in an attempt to defeat a powerful enemy. This is definitely more science fiction than fantasy, and if you’re not a fan of space operas you might not enjoy the Machineries of Empire series; but if anything you just read intrigued you, give it a go.
I left this post pretty late, and I’m unsure if I’ll be doing the entire readathon challenge, but if you feel inspired to read even one of the books from the series I’m going to recommend below, I think it’d be a great way to read some great fiction you might not otherwise have picked up. If you were already taking part, or perhaps have decided to do so now, feel free to let me know in the comments. It’d also be great to know if you have other must-read series by Asian authors, I’m always interested to know about great books!