I’ll answer your question, but first let me just say that I am sick and fucking tired of European Fantasy World #34. Outside of work I’m a voracious reader of (almost) all genres, but I have simply given up reading popular fantasy novels within the last couple years. They’re all the same: a patriarchal society and feudal government set in a land that looks exactly like Northern Europe circa 1400 AD minus anyone who ain’t lily fucking white. They ride horses, fight with swords, wear cloaks, and gather in taverns. Named women characters are outnumbered 30 to 1 (who is of course the super-special Strong Female Character) and anyone who isn’t the default pasty white comes from some Exotic Foreign Land and speaks in an offensive pidgin. Side characters include the Thief With a Heart of Gold, The Paternal Tavern Owner, The Girl, and The Comically Evil Rich Dude. Diversity is achieved with Dark Elves.
For all the pontificating fantasy authors do about the importance of creative world-building, as a group bestselling fantasy authors pretty much suck at it. The last few times I’ve mentioned this frustration to a fantasy reader, they’ve come back at me with “Oh I know what you mean! You should read The Name of the Wind / Mistborn! It’s really good!” Needless to say, both The Name of the Wind and Mistborn are perfect examples of exactly the kind of lazy, hackneyed fantasy writing I’m so, so, sooooo tired of. So you see why I’ve pretty much given up accepting recommendations from fans of the fantasy genre.
BUT HOPE REMAINS WHILE THE FELLOWSHIP IS TRUE! There are in fact decent, creative, original fantasy books being written. You just have to hunt for them because valuable marketing dollars and shelf space are being wasted on the Mistborns of the literary world. Most of them are genre hybrids (Lev Grossman’s deliciously subversive The Magicians, Helene Wecker’s lovely The Golem and the Jinni), but there are some straight-up swords-and-sorcery high fantasy books that manage to break free of the European Fantasy World #34 mold. N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was the book that made me feel like maybe, just maaaaybe I wasn’t done with traditional fantasy novels for all time.
So to circle back around to your question: bless your hopeful little heart for putting a fantasy book with a diverse cast and an atypical setting out into the world. That’s awesome. That said, there’s no guarantee a fantasy book designer and marketing team won’t simply go to their extensive library of Stock Fantasy Art for your cover. I recommend that you have an early conversation with your acquiring editor that goes something like this: “Part of what makes my book unique and interesting is that the characters and setting were inspired by Mughal India. It’s therefore very important to me that this originality be expressed in the cover design and marketing efforts.” You can then have a very frank discussion with them about the problem of whitewashing on book covers, and the dissatisfaction of fantasy readers with the repetition of European Fantasy Worlds. Keep it civil, open, and understanding. You will be heard.
You know where I’m going with this, minions:
What are some of your favorite genre-defying fantasy novels? When you’re sick of stock European Fantasy Worlds and stock Epic Fantasy Characters, where do you turn? When you get tired of an all-white cast living in thirteenth-century-Germany-but-with-magic-and-stuff, what do you read? Submit your recommendations as a reply or via my ask box and I’ll make a list to share with the whole class.