Hey, sci-fi and fantasy listeners and Blerds!
Yes, you are reading that right: Blerds. It means â€śBlack nerds,â€ť and is a popular new term to describe a community of BIPOC individuals passionate about all things that fall into the category of being geeky and nerdy (that includes science fiction and fantasy readers too!). I stand along with my fellow Blerds in saying that sci-fi and fantasy are genres unlike any others. But thatâ€™s not all thatâ€™s being said.
The reading (and listening!) community has recognized the need for more diverse books and audiobooks in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, which is great news for fans. Epic fantasy, Afrofuturism, tales of magic, other-worldly adventures, and more—written by BIPOC authors and read by BIPOC narrators—are trending in a big way, both in the BIPOC reading community and beyond.
As a fantasy fan myself, I understand the allure and attraction of losing yourself in a magical, fantastical world and escaping from the realities of this one. Sarah J. Maas, Claire Legrand, N.K Jemisin, Maggie Stiefvater, Brigid Kemmerer, and other authors have helped my passion to blossom. However, I wanted to expand my fantasy wheelhouse to include audiobooks with BIPOC protagonists. Inspired by the trending of BIPOC authors, I decided to listen to Namina Fornaâ€™s YA fantasy The Gilded Ones, which is narrated by Shayna Small.
The story follows sixteen-year-old Deka, whose gold blood marks her as an outcast in her village. But she doesnâ€™t have to stay that way: a mysterious woman comes to the village and gives Deka a choice: stay and suffer, or go to the capital and train to become a warrior. So Deka goes to the capital to join other alakis, warriors with rare gifts training to fight a battle against creatures threatening to destroy the empire. Itâ€™s a Blerdâ€™s dream come true! And hereâ€™s why The Gilded Ones really takes the cake as an excellent fantasy listen featuring BIPOC characters:
Strong Female Protagonist
There is an evolution of Dekaâ€™s character from beginning to end. Deka wants to be accepted in her village where she is an outcast first because of her dark skin—then because of her impure blood. Dekaâ€™s journey isnâ€™t purely physical, but also spiritual and mental. She doesnâ€™t try to fit the mold of what the characters and world in the story expect of her—she pushes the boundaries and forges her own path to acceptance—not for others, but herself. She embraces that she is Black, powerful, independent, and a warrior in her own right. Deka defines her identity as a woman of color and so do the other female characters in the novel.
The dynamics and politics of the world are inspired by West African civilization but hold their own 100%. Deka lives in Otera; it is a misogynistic society where women are subservient to men. Once the women reach a certain age, they have to wear masks covering half of their faces. Add in the fact that there are terrifying monsters called Death Shrieks threatening the Otera and youâ€™ve got yourself a dark twisty tale.
Narration: Shayna Small
Shayna truly gives each character a unique, distinctive voice that drew me in. She captures the essence of intense emotions and makes them into tangible, sentient feelings. Her work made the story fly by and left me wanting more.
Hear narrator Shayna Small read a clip from The Gilded OnesÂ audiobook:
And if youâ€™re looking for more sci-fi and fantasy audiobooks by BIPOC authors, I also highly recommend these other fabulous listens:
In Rebel Sisters, the action-packed sequel to War Girls, the battles are over, but the fight for justice has just begun. Ify is now nineteen and living where sheâ€™s always dreamed: the Space Colonies. But when a mysterious virus breaks out among the children in the Space Colonies, Ify makes it her mission to figure out whatâ€™s causing the deadly disease. And doing so means going back to the homeland she thought sheâ€™d left behind forever.
In A Queen of Gilded Horns (sequel to A River of Royal Blood), Eva and Isa must find a way to work together if they want to save their queendom. With the two princesses on the run, the Queendom of Myre is on the brink of a revolution. And without Baccha to guide and train her magick, Eva must find a way not only to survive her own metamorphosis, but to unite all the people of Myre, including her sister, by finally taking the Ivory Throne.
In The Year of the Witching, a young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself. In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her motherâ€™s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace. Fascinated by the secrets in her mother’s diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches.