Ausma Zehanat Khan's latest, The Bloodprint (Harper Voyager), pits an order of women devoted to the written word against a patriarchal religion dominating the world. Arian is one of the Companions of Hira, formed to combat the one-eyed preacher and his empire, the Talisman. The Taliban, I mean the Talisman, has twisted local legends and religion to persuade society to turn on its women — banning them from riding horses, reading and writing, or showing their heads. If a woman disobeys or is unsupervised by a man in public, she is enslaved. The Talisman has also destroyed books and banned reading and writing, but our heroine Arian is an "oralist" who recites what is remembered from religious texts — to magical ends. She is sent by the secretive and manipulative leader of the Companions to recover one such sacred text, the Bloodprint, to liberate her people. That's a lot to follow, for sure, but the book is nuanced in showing the value of history and religion and the damage willful ignorance can inflict. And if it's plot twists you're after, "The Bloodprint" has plenty of them — and an exciting cliffhanger, too.
Though its title has a familiar ring, The Tiger's Daughter (Tor) by K. Arsenault Rivera turns many of the standard conventions of fantasy on their heads. At the center of the novel is O-Shizuka, the princess of the wealthy Hokkaran Empire, and Barsalayaa Shefali, a warrior-princess of the nomadic Qorin Tribe. Their births come at the beginning of a creeping darkness plaguing villages and turning people into roaming demons. The story chronicles the girls' lives as they grow into teenagers and learn the history of their peoples' alliance and how to control their budding powers. The narrative, however, isn't driven by a quest or a big evil to defeat. It's a love letter, written to O-Shizuka, lavishly chronicling how two women fall in love. It takes some suspension of belief — the letter is written in the second person, as if O-Shizuka wasn't present at any of the events — but the love story is important, thoughtfully rendered and palpably felt.
Akata Warrior (Viking) is Nnedi Okorafor's sequel to her award-winning novel "Akata Witch," and it is longer and better than its predecessor. Here, budding soccer star and sorceress-in-training Sunny Nwazue is two years into her juju training at Leopard Knocks, a city in Nigeria for the magic wielders. Sunny, American-born but growing up in Nigeria, is still learning about her heritage as a leopard person, as well as her ongoing battle against the evil spirit Ekwensu. In the meantime, Sunny starts to grapple with her own inner darkness and is forced to reflect on what being a Leopard person does to her family. As always, Okorafor effortlessly blends in critiques and observations of modern culture, reflecting on police brutality; the casual, familial misogyny in even the most modern households; and the cultural misunderstanding that can put Africans and African Americans at odds. This book, although written for young adults, is sophisticated in parsing out these adult issues, and it is a salve for grown-ups who may see themselves reflected in these very real, funny kids.
Everdeen Mason reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post. Read more about books: This book is our era's 'Handmaid's Tale' September's best science fiction and fantasy new releases Stop dissing romance novels already