Water, Earth, Fire, Air…long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished.
About 21 or so years passed, and Orianna and Lauren are here to fill in for the Avatar and help the world regain balance by compiling a list of magical, diverse book recs that we feel represent the four elements as seen in ATLA.
Title: The Gilded Wolves
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Publication date: January 15th, 2019
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre(s): Fantasy, historical fiction
Age Range: Upper YA/YA
Summary: To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood. Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.
Content warnings: Torture, abuse, cultural erasure/colonialism, violence
No matter the obstacles in its way, water has the ability to adapt in order to run its course. The Gilded Wolves is a wonderfully immersive story set in 1800s Paris that unabashedly challenges racism, colonialism, and colorism, and spins a magical twist on real historical events. It has one of my favorite depictions of the found family trope ever, and the protagonists are constantly having to improvise and come up with clever ways to stay ahead of the game. The Gilded Wolves is refreshing and alive in its own right, and as someone who was lucky enough to get an ARC of The Silvered Serpents (coming September 2020), I have to say Roshani Chokshi develops the characters and storyline in a way that I would have never expected, but LOVED all the same.
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Title: Descendant of the Crane
Author: Joan He
Publication date: April 9th, 2019
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Age Range: YA
Summary: Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she engages the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.
Content warnings: Death, violence
Water can be still and quiet, allowing its observers to be unsuspecting before it strikes and wreaks havoc. In Descendant of the Crane, Hesina has to adapt and find unconventional solutions to her problems. Despite not having magic herself, Hesina has to learn how to wear her own skin like a disguise and use her words to manipulate situations to her advantage. The plot itself in Descendant of the Crane demonstrates the fluidity of water, with twists and turns that almost gave me whiplash, only for me to look back and see the careful, hidden brushstrokes Joan He places throughout the novel that make up the bigger picture.
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Title: The Never Tilting World
Author: Rin Chupeco
Publication date: October 15th, 2019
Publisher: Harper Teen
Genre(s): Fantasy, romance, LGBTQ
Age Range: Upper YA/YA
Summary: Generations of twin goddesses have long ruled Aeon. But seventeen years ago, one sister’s betrayal defied an ancient prophecy and split their world in two. The planet ceased to spin, and a Great Abyss now divides two realms: one cloaked in perpetual night, the other scorched by an unrelenting sun. Each goddess has raised a daughter, and each keeps her own secrets about her sister’s betrayal.
Content warnings: PTSD, mentions of sexual assault and abuse
One of the central themes in The Never Tilting World is our connection with the earth and how we are responsible for repairing the damage we’ve caused to it. The magic within the universe relies on being in tune with yourself and the elements around you, and adapting to different abilities based on different environments. The Never Tilting World is also about what grounds us, and what can happen when the ground disappears from underneath us and everything we think we know turns out to be wrong. The Never Tilting World represents earth as an element in the most literal sense, but it also represents the side of earth that has to do with our senses and our ability to not falter in the face of adversity.
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Title: A River of Royal Blood
Author: Amanda Joy
Publication date: October 29th, 2019
Age Range: YA
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Eva is a princess, born with the magick of marrow and blood–a dark and terrible magick that hasn’t been seen for generations in the vibrant but fractured country of Myre. Its last known practitioner was Queen Raina, who toppled the native khimaer royalty and massacred thousands, including her own sister, thus beginning the Rival Heir tradition. Living in Raina’s long and dark shadow, Eva must now face her older sister, Isa, in a battle to the death-because in the Queendom of Myre only the strongest, most ruthless rulers survive.
Content warnings: Murder, racism, graphic death/gore
A River of Royal Blood explores how when our foundation is crumbling around us, sometimes we have to find the stability we’re looking for within ourselves. Despite circumstances looking bleak, we have the ability to nurture and cultivate what’s already inside of us in order to ground ourselves. A River of Royal Blood is about what we choose to become when we find ourselves uprooted, and whether or not we can grow into what we need to be to stay true to ourselves, all while challenging the legacy that is left to us.
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Title: Girls of Paper and Fire
Author: Natasha Ngan
Publication date: November 6th, 2018
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books
Genre(s): Fantasy, LGBTQ
Age Range: Upper YA
Summary: Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.
Content warnings: Sexual assault, violence, animal death
Aside from obvious reasons, Girls of Paper and Fire represent the life-giving side of fire that Zuko and Aang learn about from the Sun Warriors and the dragons. Fire has the potential to ignite a spark in us, whether it be related to love, to justice, or to fighting for a better future. As soon as I finished reading it, Girls of Paper and Fire was added to my automatic recommendation list. Girls of Paper and Fire weaves a beautifully diverse universe through a powerful, emotional narrative that will leave you breathless.
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Title: The Poppy War
Author: R.F. Kuang
Publication date: May 1st, 2018
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Genre(s): Fantasy, historical fiction
Age Range: Adult
Summary: Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.
Content warnings: Sexual assault, violence, genocide, drug use + more
If Girls of Paper and Fire is an example of the power of life fire can bring, The Poppy War represents the all-consuming flame that has the potential to get out of control and become an inferno. Based on the Second Sino-Japanese War, The Poppy War is a brilliant exploration of morality in times of war, and what it might cost us to “win.” While I personally love The Poppy War, it is very trigger heavy and graphic in its depictions of nearly every kind of violence possible, so I would definitely approach it with caution and advise anyone who reads it to take as many breaks as necessary throughout the book.
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Title: Spin the Dawn
Author: Elizabeth Lim
Publication date: July 9th, 2019
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books
Genre(s): Fantasy, romance
Age Range: YA
Summary: Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin.
Content warnings: Death, mild violence
Spin the Dawn is a fantasy adventure for the ages. It’s free spirited and whimsical and completely captivating. I absolutely adore Maia, who is one of my favorite protagonists to date. Maia goes from the “obedient” one in her family to taking risks to give her family – and herself – a better future, surpassing the limitations that society places on girls like her. While it’s marketed as Mulan meets Project Runway, Spin the Dawn is still a creative and unique story that effortlessly weaves in Chinese culture and mythology.
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Title: Jade City
Author: Fonda Lee
Publication date: June 26th, 2018
Age Range: Adult
Summary: The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It’s the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities. When the simmering tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals erupts into open violence in the streets, the outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones and the future of Kekon itself.
Content warnings: Death, drug use, violence, sexual assault, self-harm
Air surrounds us and is the unseen force controlling things we can’t always understand. While I haven’t personally read Jade City yet, it comes highly recommended from people I trust (aka Orianna). Jade City explores destiny, family, and honor, and incorporates an integral element of Chinese culture in a new and magical way. And what happens when air expands within too-tight limits of confinement? It bursts.
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Have you read any of the books on this list? Which ones will you be picking up? Let us know what you think!