Around the world in 18 science fiction and fantasy novels

© Flamingo/ © Gollancz / © Putnam Juvenile / © Grand Central Publishing

By Fleur Clarke

Posted on May 12, 2016 in Books with tags

Whenever I go on holiday, I like to take along complementary reading material. Usually (because I’m a terrible packer) 800 page long complementary reading material. While I enjoy reading about foreign countries, I particularly enjoy it if said countries feature dragons, talking animals and/or some form of apocalypse. So (with your help on Twitter) I’ve compiled a list of science fiction and fantasy novels set in different countries around the world.

Whether you’re travelling to Japan this Summer (jealous) or just going as far your bookshelf, here’s a selection of science fiction and fantasy travelling companions perfect for your summer holidays (or lack thereof). Some of these novels are set in real locations and some in secondary worlds inspired by real locations because, hey, this is genre fiction after all.

Figures vary, but there are roughly 196 countries in the world today – clearly I’ve missed off a few. Help me fill the gaps in the comments!


Australia: Vigil by Angela Slatter

© Jo Fletcher Books

© Jo Fletcher Books

An unknown and terrifyingly destructive force has been unleashed on the streets of Brisbane and it’s Verity Fassbender’s job to investigate. The daughter of one human and one Weyrd parent, Verity has very little power herself but she is able to walk between both worlds. It’s her job to keep the peace between both races and ensure the Weyrd remain hidden – no mean feat when ancient forces are threatening to carve our world apart.

See also: The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett, Lexicon by Max Barry, The Dire Earth Cycle by Jason M. Hough,  Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden 


Brazil: City of Beasts by Isabel Allende

© Flamingo

© Flamingo

Fifteen-year-old Alexander Cold has the chance to take the trip of a lifetime – an expedition to the Amazon rainforest with his grandmother. They set of in search of a fabled headhunting tribe and a legendary, marauding creature known to locals as the ‘Beast’, only to find out much, much more about the mysteries of the jungle and its inhabitants.


The Caribbean: The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopkinson

© Grand Central Publishing

© Grand Central Publishing

First it’s her mother’s missing gold brooch. Then, a blue and white dish she hasn’t seen in years. Followed by an entire grove of cashew trees. When objects begin appearing out of nowhere, Calamity knows that the special gift she has not felt since childhood has returned – her ability to find lost things.

See also: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman


China: The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

© Head of Zeus

© Head of Zeus

In 1967 Ye Wenjie witnesses Red Guards beat her father to death during China’s Cultural Revolution. This event shapes not only the rest of her life, but also the future of mankind.

See also: Soundless by Richelle Mead, Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik


The Czech Republic: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor


On the one hand, Karou is a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’, she is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole. Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.


Egypt: The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin

The Killing Moon

© Orbit

Jemisin’s Dreamblood series is set in a fantasy world based on Ancient Egypt. The first book follows Ehiru, a Gatherer who has sworn to help keep the peace in the city of Gujaareh. He gathers magic while people sleep, but when dreamers begin dying Ehiru must find out who is doing this and why before the city is destroyed.

See also: The Good Shabti by Robert Sharp, Timeless and Imprudence by Gail Carriger


Finland: The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo

© Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press

© Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press

The Eusistocratic Republic of Finland has bred a new human sub-species of receptive, submissive women, called ‘eloi’ for sex and procreation, while intelligent, independent women are relegated to menial labor and sterilised. Vanna, raised as an eloi but secretly intelligent, needs money to help her doll-like sister, who has disappeared. Vanna forms a friendship with a man named Jare, and they become involved in buying and selling a stimulant known to the Health Authority to be extremely dangerous: chilli peppers.

See also: Datura by Leena Krohn, The Rabbit Back Literature Society by  Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen, Troll: A Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo


France: The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

© Gollancz

© Gollancz

Paris in the aftermath of the Great Magicians War. The Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell. The Seine runs black and thick with ashes. Yet the citizens retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital…

See also: The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice, A Love Like Blood by Marcus Sedgwick


Italy: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

© Gollancz

© Gollancz

This actually takes  place in a fictional city called Camorr, but if you’ve ever been to Venice it will seem rather familiar. Amongst the canals, baroque palaces, Dons and Capas, dwells the Thorn of Camorr – a thief with one hell of a reputation. They say that he can beat anyone in a fight. They say he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. They say he’s part man, part myth, and mostly street-corner rumour. And they are wrong on every count.

Israel: Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

© Tachyon

© Tachyon

A worldwide diaspora has left a quarter of a million people at the foot of a space station. Central Station is an the interplanetary hub between all things: the constantly shifting Tel Aviv; a powerful virtual arena, and the space colonies where humanity has gone to escape the ravages of poverty and war.


Japan: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

© Vintage Books

© Vintage Books

Unicorn skulls, voracious librarians, and Bob Dylan all combine in one of Murakami’s strangest novels. Part science fiction, part noir, Hard-Boiled Wonderland is narrated by a ‘Calcultec’, a human data processor who descends into the Tokyo underworld. Half of the novel is set in a mysterious town called ‘The End of the World’ where a librarian reads dreams from inside the skulls of unicorns.

See also: The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe, Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott


India: The Devourers by Indra Das

The Devourers

© Del Rey Books

On a cool evening in Kolkata, India, beneath a full moon, a college professor Alok encounters a mysterious stranger with an extraordinary story. Tantalized by the man’s unfinished tale, Alok will do anything to hear its completion. So Alok agrees to transcribe a collection of battered notebooks, weathered parchments, and once-living skins. From these documents spills the chronicle of a race of people at once more than human yet kin to beasts.

See also: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, Prudence by Gail Carriger


Iran: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

© Putnam Juvenile

© Putnam Juvenile

Set in Khorasan, a history region which lies mostly in parts of modern day Iran. In this world every dawn brings horror to a different family – Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge.


Nigeria: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist, Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa, Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria’s legendary mega-city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before.

See also: The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor, The Famished Road by Ben Okri


Russia: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

© Vintage Books

© Vintage Books

The devil makes a personal appearance in Moscow accompanied by various demons, including a naked girl and a huge black cat. When he leaves, the asylums are full and the forces of law and order in disarray. Only the Master, a man devoted to truth, and Margarita, the woman he loves, can resist the devil’s onslaught.

See also: Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky


South Africa: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

© Angry Robot

© Angry Robot


Zoo City is set in an alternate version of the South African city of Johannesburg, in which people who have committed a crime are magically attached to an animal familiar. Former journalist Zinzi December was attached to a sloth after getting her brother killed. To pay off her debts she’s started to charge for her special skill for locating people, but a search for a missing pop starlet leads her right into the path of a truth the local crime lord, dark magician and beast master, will do anything to keep hidden.

See also: Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human, Kill Baxter by Charlie Human, Poison City by Paul Crilley


Spain: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

© W&N

© W&N

Hidden in the heart of the old city of Barcelona is the ‘cemetery of lost books’, a library of obscure novels that have long gone out of print. A young boy visits the library and is allowed to select one book, he pulls out La Sombra del Viento by Julian Carax. As he grows up, several people seem inordinately interested in his find. Then, one night, Daniel is approached by a figure who reminds him of a character from La Sombra del Viento, a character who turns out to be the devil.


Sweden: Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Let the Right One In

© Quercus

Oskar is a 12-year-old boy living with his mother on a dreary housing estate on the outskirts of Stockholm. He dreams about his absentee father, gets bullied at school, and wets himself when he’s frightened. Eli is a 200-year-old vampire.


10 comments on “Around the world in 18 science fiction and fantasy novels”

  • Rosemary Standeven says:

    I love the idea of using fantasy books as tour guides. Many years ago I read Guy Gavriel Kay’s “Sailing to Sarantium” which introduced me to the glories of Ravenna (which I had previously not heard of) and Istanbul – both of which I have now visited – Ravenna soley on the book. Ravenna is spectacular and a place I will never forget. Thank you Guy Gavriel Kay!
    Of the books listed, I have only (so far) read Laini Taylors – and yes, it also beautifully evokes the glorious city of Prague.

  • Old_Man_Steve says:

    I think I’ve heard of 3 of these books and seen a movie adaptation of one!

  • Sylva Tatoolian says:

    Love this list! So many great books to pick up and read. I practically inhaled Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy last year, and it left me with a longing to visit Prague.

    Would also add Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch series (Russia) to the list, as well as Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian (Eastern Europe)- Books so beautifully descriptive that I almost felt as though I had already travelled to these countries!

  • Jared says:

    What a fun list! Have picked up both The Core of the Sun and The Wrath of the Dawn as a result – thanks!

    These aren’t novels, but I’m a huge fan of the Short Story Day Africa anthologies ( are absolutely awesome, and showcase a lot of brilliant writers from across the continent. There are three adult and two children’s collections, and they all get a big thumbs up.

    Also, there are two great anthologies from Something Wicked – a South African SF/F/H magazine ( Really, really brilliant collections, including some stories by Lauren Beukes and Sarah Lotz.

  • Cheryl Holsonbake (@cherylreads) says:

    The Others by Patricia Briggs?
    Alternate United States. Lots of creatures, too.

  • Cheryl Holsonbake (@cherylreads) says:

    I am so brain dead! I meant the The Others series written by Anne Bishop. First book is Written in Red.

  • André says:

    Isabel Allende isn’t Brazilian though… (great list otherwise!)

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