South Asians are one of the most underrepresented communities in literature–especially in YA– so this is the third and final part in my series of guides for you to learn about the YA books by and about South Asians coming out in 2021.
The main goal of this series is to not only highlight these books, but also to highlight their authors, because they deserve the recognition and love for doing what they’re doing and making so many of us feel seen and heard.
I’m also going to be providing resources for you to pre-order these books from indie bookstores. I understand that not everyone has the resources to purchase books from indie stores as opposed to Amazon, but if you do, I want to encourage you to consider that option by making it as easy as possible, because as easy as Amazon is, I don’t want to be promoting and supporting their unethical treatment of workers if I don’t have to, and would love to support physical bookstores who are struggling as a result of the pandemic. I’ve selected a different online source for each book, but if you want to order from an indie store close to you, you can find a list of them here!
Without further ado, here are some of the South Asian science fiction and fantasy novels you can look forward to reading in 2021!
1. Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha
Release Date: January 19, 2021
A rare, searing portrayal of the future of climate change in South Asia. A streetrat turned revolutionary and the disillusioned hacker son of a politician try to take down a ruthlessly technocratic government that sacrifices its poorest citizens to build its utopia.
The South Asian Province is split in two. Uplanders lead luxurious lives inside a climate-controlled biodome, dependent on technology and gene therapy to keep them healthy and youthful forever. Outside, the poor and forgotten scrape by with discarded black-market robotics, a society of poverty-stricken cyborgs struggling to survive in slums threatened by rising sea levels, unbreathable air, and deadly superbugs.
Ashiva works for the Red Hand, an underground network of revolutionaries fighting the government, which is run by a merciless computer algorithm that dictates every citizen’s fate. She’s a smuggler with the best robotic arm and cybernetic enhancements the slums can offer, and her cargo includes the most vulnerable of the city’s abandoned children.
When Ashiva crosses paths with the brilliant hacker Riz-Ali, a privileged Uplander who finds himself embroiled in the Red Hand’s dangerous activities, they uncover a horrifying conspiracy that the government will do anything to bury. From armed guardians kidnapping children to massive robots flattening the slums, to a pandemic that threatens to sweep through the city like wildfire, Ashiva and Riz-Ali will have to put aside their differences in order to fight the system and save the communities they love from destruction.
2. Sisters of the Snake by Sasha and Sarena Nanua
Release Date: June 15, 2021
A lost princess. A dark puppet master. And a race against time—before all is lost.
Princess Rani longs for a chance to escape her gilded cage and prove herself. Ria is a street urchin, stealing just to keep herself alive.
When these two lives collide, everything turns on its head: because Ria and Rani, orphan and royal, are unmistakably identical.
A deal is struck to switch places—but danger lurks in both worlds, and to save their home, thief and princess must work together. Or watch it all fall into ruin.
Deadly magic, hidden temples, and dark prophecies: Sisters of the Snake is an action-packed, immersive fantasy that will thrill fans of The Crown’s Game and The Tiger at Midnight.
3. The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
Release Date: June 10, 2021
Author of Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne, beginning a new trilogy set in a world inspired by the history and epics of India, in which a captive princess and a maidservant in possession of forbidden magic become unlikely allies on a dark journey to save their empire from the princess’s traitor brother.
Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.
But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire.
4. The Chariot at Dusk by Swati Teerdhala
Release Date: June 29, 2021
A queen at last. An empty palace. A kingdom to save.
Esha is reeling from Kunal’s betrayal, but she has a kingdom to rule from behind a thin smokescreen—pretending to be Princess Reha while she sends her most trusted soldiers to collect Reha and Kunal by any means necessary. Traitors, after all, must be punished.
But the Yavar are attacking from every front—tracking down Kunal and Reha in the remote mountains, kidnapping Harun—in search of legendary artifacts that will give them the power to break the precarious janma bond and release the destructive magic back into the lands.
Now that the race is on to find the missing artifacts, Esha must put aside her rage and work with Kunal again—but can she find the strength to forgive him, or will the Viper have her revenge at any cost?
In the final book of Swati Teerdhala’s epic fantasy trilogy, the lands’ fate, their people’s livelihoods, and the bond that sustains their world all depend on what Kunal and Esha can offer—to the gods and to each other.
5. The Descent of the Drowned by Ana Lal Din
Release Date: March 15, 2021
She is bound to serve. He is meant to kill. Survival is their prison. Choice is their weapon.
As the sacred slave of a goddess, Roma is of a lower caste that serves patrons to sustain the balance between gods and men. What she wants is her freedom, but deserters are hunted and hanged, and Roma only knows how to survive in her village where women are vessels without a voice. When her younger brother is condemned to the same wretched fate as hers, Roma must choose between silence and rebellion.
Leviathan is the bastard son of an immortal tyrant. Raised in a military city where everyone knows of his blood relation to the persecuted clans, Leviathan is considered casteless. Lowest of the low. Graduating as one of the deadliest soldiers, he executes in his father’s name, displaying his worth. When he faces judgement from his mother’s people—the clans—Leviathan must confront his demons and forge his own path, if he ever hopes to reclaim his soul.
But in the struggle to protect the people they love and rebuild their identities, Roma’s and Leviathan’s destinies interlock as the tyrant hunts an ancient treasure that will doom humankind should it come into his possession—a living treasure to which Roma and Leviathan are the ultimate key.
Set in a colonised Indo-Persian world and inspired by pre-Islamic Arabian mythology, The Descent of the Drowned is a tale about power, identity, and redemption, and what it takes to hold on to one’s humanity in the face of devastation.
Let me know down below if you’re planning to read any of these books or have any other upcoming YA science fiction/fantasies by and about South Asian authors you’d like to recommend; I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day ❤