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!

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

Review: Hammer of Witches

hammer

Title: Hammer of Witches
Author: Shana Mlawski
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Pages: 400
Publisher: Lee and Low Books/Tu Books
Review Copy: NetGalley Digital Arc
Availability: April 9, 2013 (but may already be on shelves since the hardcover arrived early)

Summary: Baltasar Infante, a bookmaker’s apprentice living in 1492 Spain, can weasel out of any problem with a good story. But when he awakes one night to find a monster straight out of the stories peering at him through his window, he’s in trouble that even he can’t talk his way out of. Soon Baltasar is captured by a mysterious arm of the Spanish Inquisition, the Malleus Malificarum, that demands he reveal the whereabouts of Amir al-Katib, a legendary Moorish sorcerer who can bring myths and the creatures within them to life. Baltasar, of course, doesn’t know where the man is—or that Bal himself has the power to summon genies and golems.

Now Baltasar must escape the Malleus Malificarum so he can find al-Katib and help him defeat a dreadful power that may destroy the world as they know it. As Bal’s journey leads him into uncharted lands on Columbus’s voyage westward, Baltasar learns that stories are much more powerful than he once believed them to be—and much more dangerous. (Image and Summary via IndieBound)

Review:  “My uncle Diego always said there was magic in a story. Of course, I never really believed him when he said it.” So begins this tale filled to the brim with stories. They are most often magical and overflowing with mystical creatures, adventure, and hidden, but simple truths.

Baltasar has grown up with amazing stories swirling around him. Fortunately, the stories continue throughout his adventures. They are the jewels that bring sparkle and life to this book. The plot line runs in a relatively straight line, but is peppered with all kinds of tales. The stories feature murder, revenge, demons, golems, a unicorn, and quite a few ferocious creatures that are the stuff of nightmares. Stories are powerful here regardless of their truthfulness. As Baltasar learns to his surprise– perception is often more important than fact.

Characters were also a bright spot in this tale. Baltasar, our storyteller extraordinaire, meets many friends along his journey. A few of them are female  characters who definitely add depth to the story. One in particular refuses to be locked into the roles other people choose for her and she schools Baltasar quite thoroughly.

From the title and cover, I was expecting a fantasy and possibly some history, but had no idea how MUCH history. I appreciated learning about this time period and came to the realization that I have not read much about the Spanish Inquisition in the past.

The title had me puzzled initially, but that is because I had never heard of the document before. The Malleus Malificarum, or Hammer of Witches, was written in the 1400s and led to the persecution of witches or people thought to be witches. Without that base of historical knowledge, I had to read and re-read some things, but most readers will likely be able to follow the events regardless. In addition, Shana provides a great author’s note at the conclusion which points out the relative historical accuracy of the book and where she took artistic license. She also offers many links to primary and secondary sources on her website. I find that I am always craving a bit of non-fiction with historical fiction, so this fit the bill perfectly.

Recommendation: Get it soon particularly if historical fiction is one of your favorites. This is a unique book blending fantasy and history with a diverse cast of characters.

Extras:

Sneak Peek of Hammer of Witches

National Geographic Channel video about the original Malleus Malificarum

 

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.)

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.

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