Historical Fantasy Set in East Asia

While most people of previous generations (myself included) found their way into fantasy via stories based on Norse and Western European folklore, younger people have had a more culturally diverse mythos to draw from. For those of us oldsters looking for an entree into historical fantasy that has its roots in East Asia, I have some books to recommend. Of course, there is nothing to keep Millennials and Digital Natives from enjoying these novels, too.

Yangsze Choo writes of weretigers and the interwoven destinies of five people named after the Confucian virtues in The Night Tiger. What starts as a search involving a severed finger in colonial Malaysia quickly becomes a fantastical mystery that is also a literary novel about connections stronger than death.

Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan is a sadder book set in Indonesia. A young man, possessed by a tiger, has murdered a local Lothario, and the novel explores how that came to happen, as well as the interconnected lives of the villagers. Kurniawan takes a conversational tone that recalls oral storytelling in this story of troubled families.

Young Rin is out for gods, country, and vengeance in The Poppy War by R.F. King. A low-born standout at the military academy, Rin discovers her talent for shamanism as well as its cost as war looms with a neighboring island kingdom in this gritty novel based on China's chaotic 20th century.

Takeo has been raised in a pacifist community in Lian Hearn's Across the Nightingale Floor, but gives it up after the village is attacked and he discovers he has a talent for death. Takeo learns to use his powers as he matures and has to decide between his past and his future in this rollicking tale set in a world resembling feudal Japan.

Have more fantasy set in bygone Asia? Tell us in the comments.

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