I was delighted to stumble upon the Asian Readathon on Twitter a couple days ago, which encourages people to read as many books written by Asian authors in the month of May. I wanted to contribute so I’ve put together a list of my favorite books written by Asian authors! I’ve decided to limit this list to one book/author, but by no means does that mean you shouldn’t check out their other books. Definitely check out their other books!
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon ha Lee
To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.
Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris’s career isn’t the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.
Cheris’s best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.
The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao–because she might be his next victim.
I adore Yoon Ha Lee’s writing and Ninefox Gambit is probably my favorite. Math-y space lingo, brilliant scheming characters, and some of the craziest worldbuilding (calendar based!) I’ve ever read!
The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard
Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appareance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.
A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow’s Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow’s Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow’s Child with her.
As they dig deep into the victim’s past, The Shadow’s Child realises that the investigation points to Long Chau’s own murky past–and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars…
A Sherlock Holmes-inspired novella where Watson is a ship AI and Sherlock, well, Long Chau’s definitely still Sherlock. Featuring extremely trippy deep-space descriptions, beautiful worldbuilding, and tea. So much tea.
Heaven Official’s Blessing (天官赐福) by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu (墨香铜臭)
Eight hundred years ago, Xie Lian was the Crown Prince of the Xian Le kingdom; one who was beloved by his citizens and the darling of the world. Unsurprisingly, he ascended to the Heavens at a very young age. Now, eight hundred years later, Xie Lian ascends to the Heavens for the third time as the laughing stock of all three realms. On his first task as a god, he meets a mysterious demon who rules the ghosts and terrifies the Heavens……yet unbeknownst to Xie Lian, this demon king has been paying attention to him for a very, very long time.
For fans of Mo Dao Zu Shi/The Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation/The Untamed, this is the author’s most recent webnovel and it is just phenomenal. Every time our main couple (Xie Lian and Hua Cheng) interact, I have to pick between laughing, crying, and screaming because they’re SO CUTE AND WHOLESOME. And also there’s suffering. 800 years of suffering.
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.
For fans of harder, ‘science-y-er’ Sci-Fi, The Three-Body Problem is for you. Liu goes hard in really explaining the science behind every bit of tech the book features. This book really delves deep into the question, ‘what if aliens made first contact with China instead?’.
The Story of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
Stories of Your Life and Others delivers dual delights of the very, very strange and the heartbreakingly familiar, often presenting characters who must confront sudden change—the inevitable rise of automatons or the appearance of aliens—with some sense of normalcy.
With sharp intelligence and humor, Chiang examines what it means to be alive in a world marked by uncertainty, but also by beauty and wonder. An award-winning collection from one of today’s most lauded writers, Stories of Your Life and Others is a contemporary classic.
For anyone who’s watched Arrival, this collection contains the short story that movie is based on. Chiang writes these beautifully philosophical short stories that really leave the reader truly contemplating his proposals.
Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women.
A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy.
A short and beautiful novella that’s one part wholesome and one part extremely depressing. Fans of quiet, intimate writings that belie a bigger picture will definitely like this one.
Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa
One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos.
Now, for whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers, a new wish will be granted. A new age is about to dawn.
Raised by monks in the isolated Silent Winds temple, Yumeko has trained all her life to hide her yokai nature. Half kitsune, half human, her skill with illusion is matched only by her penchant for mischief. Until the day her home is burned to the ground, her adoptive family is brutally slain and she is forced to flee for her life with the temple’s greatest treasure—one part of the ancient scroll.
There are many who would claim the dragon’s wish for their own. Kage Tatsumi, a mysterious samurai of the Shadow Clan, is one such hunter, under orders to retrieve the scroll…at any cost. Fate brings Kage and Yumeko together. With a promise to lead him to the scroll, an uneasy alliance is formed, offering Yumeko her best hope for survival. But he seeks what she has hidden away, and her deception could ultimately tear them both apart.
With an army of demons at her heels and the unlikeliest of allies at her side, Yumeko’s secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself.
The one thing I was consistently thinking while reading this was, ‘this should be an anime’. I could practically map this book out into 1-cour season as I read. The characters are great, the villains are great, and we get an edgy white-haired swordsman. What more does one need?
Rebirth of a Supermodel (重生超模) by Mo Chen Huan (莫晨歡)
In his past life, Ming Yu struggled in the European and United States fashion circles, eventually becoming the well deserved king of the catwalk.
After dying from a serious illness and being reborn, Ming Yu was surprised to find:
Huaxia stars shone brightly, there were successful names everywhere!
In this better world, on a more vigorous and brilliant stage, the first supermodel tries to reproduce the glory of another world!
Interviewer: May I ask Mr Xi, this year Ming Yu said he would surpass you. As the number one global supermodel, what is your opinion on this?
Xi Ze: This is a bad question. My family has very strict rules.
Home Owner Ming Yu: …….
The pair of black-hearted husbands will sweep the fashion industry, conquering the world.
Chinese webnovel #2 on this list. Rebirth of a Supermodel asks, what if a supermodel dies and accidentally re-incarnates in the body of a beginner model, then proceeds to speedrun the industry. And also picks up an even more powerful husband along the way. (It’s a lot better than it sounds okay). I won’t lie, there’s not a whole lot of stakes in this novel, but it’s super fun to see just how absurd those two can get. The social media and emojis throw in are particularly fun.
The Poppy War by RF Kuang
When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.
I found this book absolutely brutal yet extremely captivating. The sheer amount of shit that Rin goes through in this book alone is insane and I loved how much Kuang develops her character arc throughout the book. Similarly, the Opium War backdrop Kuang utilizes is both horrific to read through yet so captivating. Major trigger warnings for pretty much everything for one particular chapter of the book.
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by KS Villoso
“I murdered a man and made my husband leave the night before they crowned me.”
Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.
But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair.
Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.
I found Talyien somewhat unlikable. She’s brash, arrogant, and prefers to think with her sword instead of her brain. I also found her utterly captivating, and I was cheering her on regardless. Oren-Yaro was surprisingly introspective, and slow-paced at times, but still an excellent read. Make sure you’ve eaten beforehand, or some of those food descriptions will make you cry.
The Vela by Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, Rivers Solomon, and SL Huang
In the fading light of a dying star, a soldier for hire searches for a missing refugee ship and uncovers a universe-shattering secret.
Asala Sikou is used to looking after number one while crisis reigns in her dying planetary system. But when she’s hired to find a missing refugee ship, she discovers that this is no ordinary rescue mission, and she must play a role in deciding the fate of the whole universe.
My first audio drama, The Vela is written like the book equivalent of TV shows. I really loved the characters in this, Asala and Niko, as they searched for this refugee ship, and the mysteries and hidden plots made this a delight to listen to while driving to work every day. One thing I think The Vela handles really well is the idea of differing extremities amongst people who claim to be on the same side.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:
Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!
Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.
Cute as hell! I read this in one sitting in my public library and I had to keep my hand over my mouth pretty much the entire time to keep myself from giggling out loud because of how cute this book is.