The tradition of storytelling is an ancient one, and one that spans the entire earth. I grew up reading, watching, and listening to epic tales that were grounded in the lush stories of my Indian heritage–everything from ancient Indian epics, like the Mahabharata, to classic children’s folktales, like the Panchatantra. In due time, as I switched to public libraries as my source of storytelling and inspiration, I fell in love with fantasy as a genre. It captured that same magic and wonder of the tales I had grown up with and offered to take me away on new adventures.
But it was years and years before I read a fantasy world that wasn’t just a standard medieval European mold. And I certainly didn’t see any characters who looked like me in the books I read as I grew up. It was a missing hole, and one that made me want to be a writer. But the good news? Things have changed.
Here are five recently published books with fantasy worlds inspired by India and Indian history that will transport you away—and make you never want to come back to the real world.
Tasha Suri’s debut novel is a dream, weaving together rich characterization and lush magic to create a beautifully imagined fantasy world inspired by Mughal India. Mehr, the main character, lives on the outer edge of her society as the illegitimate daughter of the governor and an Amrithi mother, a tribe of magic-wielders who are shunned. When her magic is discovered and she is sent to the stronghold of the empire’s mystics, Mehr must find her courage to survive and resist. Suri deftly combines history and fantasy to create a world that is fully realized and compelling.
This book had so many things I loved and didn’t know I needed. First of all, Gauri and Vikram, two of my all time favorite characters. They’re forced to work together to win back her kingdom at the Tournament of Wishes, despite being entire opposites. The tournament itself is a delightful combination of Indian folklore and Hindu mythology and every inch of this story drips with delicate and delicious worldbuilding and magic.
Khorana’s first venture into epic fantasy explores the story of Princess Amrita, who has offered her hand in marriage in order to prevent ruin from falling upon her kingdom. When ruin still arrives, Amrita embarks on a search for the Library of All Things, the one place that could turn back time–and help her save her people. The world of this book is heavily influenced by ancient India, with clever twists on history and historical characters like Alexander the Great (who had dealings with India in the ancient past).
Inspired by medieval India, the world in Hunted by the Sky is filled with magic and danger. Gul was born with a star-shaped birthmark, one that marks her as a target of the ruthless King. Girls with birthmarks like hers have been disappearing for years and when Gul narrowly escapes an attempt on her life which ends in her parents death, she sees revenge as her only path forward. Bhathena provides a fresh, new take on medieval India with prophecies and ancient magic.
Thakrar takes inspiration from Hindu mythology to create a stunning contemporary fantasy debut with celestials and star magic. When Sheetal’s magic flare up lands her father in the hospital, she must travel to a celestial court, take on the role of her family’s champion in a dangerous competition, and save her father. Hindu mythology takes the spotlight in Thakrar’s beautifully written, luminous world, giving us a glimpse into a world inspired by the skies.
Swati Teerdhala is the author of The Tiger at Midnight series, which has appeared on both Barnes and Noble and Book Riot’s Most Anticipated Novels lists. After graduating from the University of Virginia with a BS in finance and BA in history, she tumbled into the marketing side of the technology industry. She’s passionate about many things, including how to make a proper cup of tea, the right ratio of curd-to-crust in a lemon tart, and diverse representation in the stories we tell. She currently lives in New York City.