Two women of Indian origin have found themselves sharing space among the likes of J.R.R Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, and C.S. Lewis. Authors Tasha Suri and Roshani Chokshi’s novels have made it into TIME magazine’s ‘The 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time’ list!
The list includes “the most engaging, inventive and influential works of fantasy fiction” right from the 9th century to the present. The list has been curated by such prominent fantasy authors as Sabaa Tahir, Diana Gabaldon, Cassandra Clare, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Tomi Adeyemi.
“In a year defined by grim reality, we look to artists to help us understand—and escape,” TIME says when explaining how the list was created over the course of a year.
‘Empire of Sand’ by Tasha Suri
Suri was shocked and overwhelmed when she heard about her book being included in the list. She told Times of India, “I found out only when the list was released online, and I absolutely wasn’t expecting it!”
The chosen book – ‘Empire of Sand’ – is the first in the ‘Books of Ambha’ series. It was also Suri’s debut novel.
When most people think of “epic fantasies”, our westernised and post-colonial internalisations conjure up images of elves, dragons, knights in shining armour, wizards, and other such Western tropes. ‘Empire of Sand’ manages to be an “epic fantasy’ novel without leaning into any of these tropes.
Set in the fictional Ambhan Empire and centred around a complex female protagonist, the novel’s world draws inspiration from South Asian history – namely the Mughal Empire.
“The Mughal Empire was so vast and complex … It felt natural to turn to it when I began thinking about building a fantasy world,” Suri says.
‘Aru Shah and the End of Time’ by Roshani Chokshi
‘Aru Shah and the End of Time’, is the first of the ‘Pandava’ series. Her book was the first to be published in a publishing program by Rick Riordan, bestselling author of the Percy Jackson series.
“I was so shocked! The first thing I did was call my grandparents,” Chokshi told Times of India about when she heard the news of her book making it to the TIME’s list.
The inspiration for her book originated very close to home, in Hindu mythology.
“My Ba (grandmother) was my first and favourite storyteller. She filled my head with tales of Krishna and Pandavas,” she says.
Her novel follows the journey of a 12-year-old girl, Aru Shah, who discovers she is a reincarnation of one of the five Pandava brothers, and must save the world from a demonic entity by finding her “Pandava” sisters.
In an interview with Publishers Weekly, she explained that her decision to reimagine the Pandavas as girls in her novel was primarily because girls rarely get their share of adventures. Another reason was that she observed a lot of fluidity in her source material in Hindu mythology. “For example, one of the forms of the deity Vishnu is as Mohini, the Enchantress. Then there’s the famous Mahabharata character Shikhandi, who, in many stories, is male but born female,” she said.
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The Inclusion Of The Two Women Represents Progress Towards Greater Representation and Inclusivity
The fantasy genre has always either been made inaccessible or dismissed as “not serious” by many. But as N.K. Jemisin concludes her introduction to the TIME’s list, “Don’t think of fantasy as mere entertainment… but as a way to train for reality. It always has been, after all.”
The stores in fantasy novels almost always reflect our reality, sometimes even explored more freely and authentically in fantasy. Some reform problematic institutions in their fantasy world. Many depict the struggles of those marginalised in our society, through the downtrodden in their own fictional societies.
‘The newer storytellers on the list, many of whom hail from colonized cultures and thus have vastly different background stories from those of “classic” fantasy authors, also warn us of the realities of societal strife. The good guys don’t always win, the bad guys don’t always lose, and either way, the ones who suffer most will be the people who were already struggling to get by,” Jemisin writes.
Novels like those by Tasha Suri and Roshani Chokshi then represent an underrepresented culture, in an undervalued genre. And their inclusion in the list represents a greater opening of doors and attention paid to inclusivity and diversity everywhere.
Congratulations to the women who have broken barriers and made their mark in history, through their fantastically fantasised stories!
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