Meet Our New Bloggers

Crystal and I would like to thank everyone who has re-tweeted, linked, blogged, or tumblr’d about Rich in Color. We are thrilled with all the support you have shown us–and we are excited to announce that we are adding two new co-bloggers and one new contributor to our site. Please extend a warm welcome to them!

Co-bloggers
Jessica is a bookworm to the core (in the place of a heart, she has a book). Every year she tries to carve a novel out of Nanowrimo and fails. In consolation, she scours the bookshelves for YA lit for comfort reading. Her hobbies are summarizing modernist Japanese literature to her friends and practicing her Gollum voice.

When not asleep, she can be found on tumblr, youtube or goodreads.

K. Imani Tennyson calls herself a teacher/writer and writer/teacher because her two professional selves often overlap. An English/Language Arts teacher for 10 years, 8 of them in a middle school, K. Imani also holds an MFA in Creative Writing. She was reintroduced to YA literature as an adult by falling in love with a boy wizard named Harry, and continues to devour the all the wonderful goodness YA brings. Her writing is heavily influenced & inspired by her students as she realized that stories featuring Persons of Color were lacking. Her desire to find and spread the word about quality YA works featuring characters of color and/or written by authors of color is what drove her to join Rich in Color. Lastly, when she isn’t reading, writing or teaching, K. Imani loves to sleep and compete in the occasional triathlon.

You many find her at her website, on Twitter or Facebook.

Contributor
Jon has slummed it in the valley with the Wakefield twins; slumber partied with Huey, Dewey and Louie; joined Krakow in stalking Angela; and climbed every mountain with the Von Trapps. He has written a guide to blogging, and currently writes young adult and middle grade. He lives online at www.jonyang.org, tweets @jayang, and collects covers of MG/YA books featuring Asian males on his Pinterest. Call it a hobby.

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Four Tips for Diversity in Fantasy

Say hello to Shana Mlawski! Shana is the author of HAMMER OF WITCHES (which is out today!), and she has graciously agreed to stop by Rich in Color and give us some advice.

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Ever hear this before? “Diversity in fiction is nice and all, but you can’t expect there to be diversity in [insert popular work of fantasy fiction here]! That book is set in a world inspired by medieval Europe! Of course everyone is a white Anglo-Saxon Christian!”

If you’ve somehow avoided hearing this opinion before, start talking diversity with Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings fans on the Internet. Odds are, it’ll come up.

I’m here to assure you that fantasy stories can be diverse, even if they’re set in medieval Europe or some fantastical facsimile thereof. Here are four simple ways you can do it:

1. Set it in Southern or Eastern Europe.

It seems that, in many people’s minds, “medieval Europe” means “medieval England,” or maybe—maybe—Viking-era Scandinavia. (Thanks, History Channel!) But there are other countries in Europe, if I recall correctly. I happen to know a lot about medieval Spain, so I’ll start there. For more than a half-century, much of the area that is now known as Spain was ruled by various Moorish caliphs and emirs. It was probably the most technologically-advanced and best-educated region in Europe at the time. That’s why it’s now considered a major part of the so-called Islamic Golden Age. Why not build a fantasy world based on that culture instead of the done-to-death Monty Python and the Holy Grail medieval English mudhole? I’d read it.

You can also consider basing your setting on Eastern Europe. Let’s see more Romani fantasies. Byzantine fantasies. Polish fantasies. (Our friend Copernicus was from Poland, you know.) Take a page out of Bryce Moore’s book and go Slovak. What I’m saying is, there are plenty of non-English countries out there waiting to be populated with wizards and monsters.

2. Or, sure, set it in England (or France or Italy)!

Even though these countries were not incredibly diverse in the Middle Ages, not everyone there was a white Anglo-Saxon Christian. There were Jews. There were Africans. (Where do you think Shakespeare got the idea for Othello from?) There were pagans. In Basque Country, there were Basques. If you’re going to write a medieval European fantasy, do a little research into all of the racial and ethnic groups in medieval Europe at the time. It’ll make your world much richer.

3. Remember that racial and ethnic diversity aren’t the only kinds of diversity there are.

Readers now remember, thanks to Game of Thrones and Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, that some people in the Middle Ages were born with dwarfism. There were many people with physical and mental disabilities in the Middle Ages, especially due to disease (and in the case of royalty, sometimes inbreeding). There were gay people in medieval Europe—some historians even say there was a form of gay marriage in some parts. There were genderqueer people in Europe in the Classical Era, and we can assume they didn’t all disappear when the Middle Ages came around. There were some really, really poor people in medieval Europe, even if many works of fiction ignore them. There were slaves, too. According to the Domesday Book about 10% of the English population in the late 1000s were slaves. I’m sure you get my point. There was more diversity in medieval Europe than you might think.

4. Just add some diversity, will ya?

If you’re writing a fantasy book set in a fantasy world, why not put just add some diversity to make things more interesting? You’re building a setting where there’s magic or elves or some other unbelievable thing. You expect readers to accept that, but you don’t think they’ll accept a person of a different race or sexuality? I think I’m going to start calling this the “Black Vulcan* Problem,” after that silly situation back in the day when some Star Trek fans bristled at Tuvok’s skin color. To those fans, pointy-eared aliens were perfectly believable, but dark skin was (if you will) beyond the pale. Yeesh, people. Yeesh.

Of course, all of the above advice must go with the obvious caveat: don’t just add diversity without doing the research. But if you do, I guarantee your fantasy world will be much more interesting than it would be otherwise, and it might actually be more historically-realistic, too.

*The Federation kind, not the Superfriends kind
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Don’t forget to follow Shana on Twitter! You can also read Crystal’s review of HAMMER OF WITCHES or put in a last-minute entry for our ORLEANS giveaway. The giveaway ends tonight at midnight EST, so be fast!

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New Releases This Week

We’ve got three new releases this week, all of them on April 9th. It’s a great mix, too–historical fantasy, dystpoian science fiction, and a contemporary fantasy thriller. Which ones are you going to check out?

witches
Hammer of Witches by Shana Mlawski
Tu Books
Review by Crystal

Baltasar Infante can weasel out of any problem with a good story.

But when he encounters a monster straight out of stories one night, Baltasar faces trouble even he can’t talk his way out of. Captured by the Malleus Maleficarum, a mysterious witch-hunting arm of the Spanish Inquisition, Baltasar is put to the question. The Inquisitor demands he reveal the whereabouts of Amir al-Katib, a legendary Moorish sorcerer who can bring myths and the creatures within them to life.

Now Baltasar must escape, find al-Katib, and defeat a dreadful power that may destroy the world.

As Baltasar’s journey takes him into uncharted lands on Columbus’s voyage westward, he learns that stories are more powerful than he once believed them to be–and much more dangerous. –Picture and summary via Amazon.com

awakening
Awakening by Karen Sandler
Tu Books

Once a Chadi sector GEN girl terrified of her first Assignment, Kayla is now a member of the Kinship, a secret organization of GENs, lowborns, and trueborns. Kayla travels on Kinship business, collecting information to further the cause of GEN freedom.

Despite Kayla’s relative freedom, she is still a slave to the trueborn ruling class. She rarely sees trueborn Devak, and any relationship between them is still strictly forbidden.

Kayla longs to be truly free, but other priorities have gotten in the way. A paradoxically deadly new virus has swept through GEN sectors a disease only GENs catch. And GEN warrens and warehouses are being bombed, with only a scrawled clue: F.H.E. Freedom, Humanity, Equality.

With the virus and the bombings decimating the GEN community, freedom and love are put on the back burner as Kayla and her friends find a way to stop the killing . . . before it’s too late. –Picture and summary via Amazon.com

Strangelets
Strangelets by Michelle Gagnon
Soho Teen

17-year-old Sophie lies on her deathbed in California, awaiting the inevitable loss of her battle with cancer…
17-year-old Declan stares down two armed thugs in a back alley in Galway, Ireland…
17-year-old Anat attempts to traverse a booby-trapped tunnel between Israel and Egypt…

All three strangers should have died at the exact same moment, thousands of miles apart. Instead, they awaken together in an abandoned hospital—only to discover that they’re not alone. Three other teens from different places on the globe are trapped with them. Somebody or something seems to be pulling the strings. With their individual clocks ticking, they must band together if they’re to have any hope of surviving.

Soon they discover that they’ve been trapped in a future that isn’t of their making: a deadly, desolate world at once entirely familiar and utterly strange. Each teen harbors a secret, but only one holds the key that could get them home. As the truth comes to light through the eyes of Sophie, Declan, and Anat, the reader is taken on a dark and unforgettable journey into the hearts of teens who must decide what to do with a second chance at life. –Picture and summary via Amazon.com

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Langdon Prep Series

Looking for a contemporary mystery series with a multicultural cast? Look no further than the Langdon Prep series by Kimberly Reid! It all starts with My Own Worst Frenemy:

Frenemy

In the tradition of Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars, Reid’s new series for young adults features edgy characters with a multicultural twist, as 16-year-old Chanti Evans tries to balance prep school, boys, and solving mysteries.

With barely a foot in the door, fifteen-year-old Chanti gets on the bad side of school queen bee Lissa and snobbish Headmistress Smythe. They’ve made it their mission to take Chanti down and she needs to find out why, especially when stuff begins disappearing around campus, making her the most wanted girl in school, and not in a good way. But the last straw comes when she and her Langdon crush, the seriously hot Marco Ruiz, are set up to take the heat for a series of home burglaries–and worse. . .

(Image and summary via Goodreads.)

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Application Reminder

You have until this Friday to submit your application to become a co-blogger here at Rich in Color. Crystal and I are so thankful for all of your support here and on our tumblr and twitter accounts.

Even if you can’t commit to being a blogger, we still want whatever help you can give us, whether that’s letting us know about upcoming young adult books by and/or about PoC or submitting posts to our tumblr. Do you know about giveaways, author interviews, rereads, etc.? Send us a message! We want to promote any and all books that fall into Rich in Color’s mission, and the more information we have, the better.

(And yes, authors, agents, and publishers–we definitely want to hear from you.)

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Review: Vessel

VesselTitle: Vessel
Author: Sarah Beth Durst
Genres: Fantasy, Heroic
Pages: 424
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/McElderry Books
Review Copy: Received as a birthday gift
Availability: September 11, 2012 (on shelves now!)

Summary: Liyana has trained her entire life to be the vessel of a goddess. The goddess will inhabit Liyana’s body and use magic to bring rain to the desert. But Liyana’s goddess never comes. Abandoned by her angry tribe, Liyana expects to die in the desert. Until a boy walks out of the dust in search of her.

Korbyn is a god inside his vessel, and a trickster god at that. He tells Liyana that five other gods are missing, and they set off across the desert in search of the other vessels. For the desert tribes cannot survive without the magic of their gods. But the journey is dangerous, even with a god’s help. And not everyone is willing to believe the trickster god’s tale.

The closer she grows to Korbyn, the less Liyana wants to disappear to make way for her goddess. But she has no choice: She must die for her tribe to live. Unless a trickster god can help her to trick fate — or a human girl can muster some magic of her own. –(Summary and image via the author’s site)

Review: I thoroughly enjoyed Vessel, and that was largely due to the world building and Liyana. Durst did an excellent job of creating a desert-dwelling culture, and the book was sprinkled with fun details about the tents, clothing, animals, critters, and food. (I will admit that the food wasn’t always fun, but I suppose eating snakes is a better alternative to starving.) This attention to detail—from the embroidery on Liyana’s dress to the preparations our heroes take for incoming sandstorms—grounds the world and makes it feel lived in. This is especially helpful since there’s a bunch of mystical stuff going on. In addition to Korbyn, the tribes have magicians of their own, and this world is one filled with wolves made of sand, dragons made of not-actually-glass, monstrous silkworms, and the Dreaming (afterlife/world of gods). Some of these mystical elements and their impact on the plot are more fuzzy/arbitrary than I’d like, but I could accept them.

Liyana and Korbyn, and even the Emperor to some extent, make the world even richer through the sharing of fairytale-esque stories (which, since this is a fantasy book, are not entirely made up). Many of the stories are about the desert gods, but some are about the empire’s gods or even mortals. Some of them were pure indulgence; others revealed characters, world building, or history; and yet others were used by the characters to teach or debate within the book. I loved these stories.

Durst spends a lot of time on the nature of the vessels and their sacrifice, and these moments are particularly poignant. Some vessels are fanatically devoted to their god and their tribe; others are terrified and don’t want to die. Liyana falls along “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” line—she’s not thrilled to die, but she knows that her tribe needs her goddess, Beyla, in order to survive the Great Drought. It’s particularly wrenching when Liyana says goodbye to her family or whenever she thinks about the extra time she’s been given only because her goddess has disappeared.

I have one major complaint about the book, and that would be the last moment romantic rival—and it’s not even really a rivalry as Durst avoids any competition/jealousy between the boys. Much of the book is devoted to the kind-of-sort-of-not-vocalized romance between Liyana and Korbyn. (Things are complicated—Korbyn is Beyla’s lover, but a mutual attraction between him and Liyana grows over the course of the book.) I was taken by surprise when a certain character expressed interest in Liyana, though that plotline won me over by the end due to a combination of 1) already enjoying that character and 2) the sheer practicality of it all.

Recommendation: Get it soon. Liyana, Korbyn, and the other main characters are an enjoyable and complicated ensemble, and the world they inhabit is as magical as it is dangerous. I loved the world, and the story was a solid quest with fun characters, lots of peril, a not-too-angsty romance, and occasional armies.

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