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  1. #1

    Dark-Skinned Main Characters

    I'm looking for fantasy books that have a black protagonist. It doesn't have to be someone who neatly fits that definition as we conceptualize it in Western societies, i.e. a person of African ancestry (especially as there is no Africa in many of these fictional worlds), but rather someone who fits that phenotype and might face racial prejudice as a result of their skin color. Drizzt Do'Urden is a great example. He's not even human, but he faces prejudice due to certain preconceived notions about the nature of drow, and his dark skin is usually a trigger mechanism for such reactions from surface dwellers. Another dark-skinned protagonist that comes to mind is Ged from Earthsea, but he never really identifies by it. In fact, LeGuin's description of his skin color is sort of "blink and you'll miss it." Other than those two, I'm drawing a blank.

    I'm hoping KatG will read this thread and list twenty books I've never heard of with extensive commentary about each, like she usually does.

  2. #2
    It never entered my mind algernoninc's Avatar
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    some posibilities:

    N K Jemisin - the Inheritance trilogy, starts with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or the Dreamblood duology, starts with The Killing Moon.

    Samuel Delany - Dhalgren (contemporary mix of SF and fantasy and drug induced dreams)

    Daniel Abraham - The Long Price Quartet and Hunter's Run (SF)

    Richard Morgan - Black Man (SF)

    Helen Wecker - The Golem and the Jinni : the Jinni from the title can be considered as a dark skinned protagonist dealing with prejudice.

    Nnedi Okorafor - Who Fear Death, Akata Witch

    Richard Adams - Shardik and Maia : set in an African themed imaginary Beklan empire.

  3. #3
    Registered User Carlyle Clark's Avatar
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    Milton Davis - Meji Book One, Changa's Safari, Woman of the Woods

    Most anything by Octavia E. Butler

  4. #4
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    Davis Ashura's A Warrior's Path has a full range of dark-skinned people (my review here).

    If you are into young adult (think Nancy Drew), then Deby Fredericks' The Magister's Mask features dark-skinned characters, however, they're all dark, so there's no real race issue (class instead). My review is here.

  5. #5
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    Oh, and I second N. K. Jemisin. I really liked Killing Moon and the follow up novel. Is there another one coming out?

  6. #6
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    Oh! Can't believe I forgot the best urban fantasy series out there (imho): the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovich. Very funny with a magic wielding constable. Main character is...oh, don't quote me on this...Nigerian? Either way, he's dark-skinned and the stories are great.

  7. #7
    Book of the Black Earth
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    For what it's worth, one of the main characters in my new series is dark-skinned (i.e., psuedo-African descent) and another is copper-skinned.

  8. #8
    sapper-in-chief Whiskeyjack's Avatar
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    Nogusta in Gemmell's "Winter Warriors" and Mykkaele in Wurts' "To Ride Hell's Chasm" are both described as black or dark-skinned men. Each character is the protagonist in his respective book. And each book is about this heroic warrior-protagonist trying to protect someone helpless from the powerful forces tracking them down across a hostile landscape.
    Last edited by Whiskeyjack; June 6th, 2014 at 09:50 PM.

  9. #9
    Wow, thank you all for the excellent recommendations!

    Jon Sprunk, always nice to meet a new author (well, new to me anyway! I notice you have a few books out already). I love being able to converse with authors on message boards such as these. Such is the beauty of the Internet!

    What's the name of your new series and the first book in it? Is the skin color a defining characteristic of your character, something that informs his own self-identity or the way in which others perceive him, or is it something ancillary to the storyline?

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    The Sun Sword series by Michelle West may fit. There are two main cultures, and one of them is very Asian/Middle Eastern influenced. For the men of that culture it is of no importance how much Sun exposure they have, but it is a great deal indeed for the women and parts of the series make a great contrast between the paler skin of the rich and nobles versus the darker coloration of those who through lack of choice or inclination are more regularly exposed to it. This is late 90's to early 00's, so the conversation is perhaps not quite the same as we might have today, but I never felt that it was done in a heavy-handed way and I quite enjoy the series overall.

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    Kate Elliot's Spirit Walker Trilogy is a alternate history steampunk based series which has several African main characters. Another series that is a bit more YA is the Moorehawke Trilogy by Celine Kiernan. This is more of a classic adventure fantasy with a dark skinned, dreadlocked main character. Also more YA but Tamora Pierce tends to include some major characters of different races. Her Circle series in particular has a dark skinned major character. I haven't read it but I believe Zoo City by Lauren Beukes might also be a good choice - I have heard good things about it and it is in my TBR pile.

  12. #12
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Revolvery View Post
    I'm looking for fantasy books that have a black protagonist. It doesn't have to be someone who neatly fits that definition as we conceptualize it in Western societies, i.e. a person of African ancestry (especially as there is no Africa in many of these fictional worlds), but rather someone who fits that phenotype and might face racial prejudice as a result of their skin color. Drizzt Do'Urden is a great example. He's not even human, but he faces prejudice due to certain preconceived notions about the nature of drow, and his dark skin is usually a trigger mechanism for such reactions from surface dwellers. Another dark-skinned protagonist that comes to mind is Ged from Earthsea, but he never really identifies by it. In fact, LeGuin's description of his skin color is sort of "blink and you'll miss it." Other than those two, I'm drawing a blank.

    I'm hoping KatG will read this thread and list twenty books I've never heard of with extensive commentary about each, like she usually does.
    Actually, you need Owlcroft who hasn't been around much lately but who magically produces booklists by subject from some sort of giant database. I'll try to put some together, but it's a bit busy in RL right now. Also, you should clarify a bit more whether you do in fact mean black main characters only (and secondary world only,) or just non-white main characters. I'm going with the latter for the moment unless you tell me different.

    I can say that Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death, which I've just read, is excellent. It's a far future, post-apocalypse Earth, magic realist African folklorist tale of battling sorcerers and it is probably exactly what you want.

    N.K. Jemisen's work is also quite excellent and she writes secondary world series. The protagonist of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not black, but more in the Indian sort of area. There are black characters, however, and gods whose skin changes color. Lauren Beukes' Zoo City has a black African protagonist and a number of main characters. It's become a favorite of mine and has one of the really ingenious takes I've come across on the concept of animal companion. It's a near future mystery thriller. (Beukes' latest, The Shining Girls, is a time travel historical thriller set in the U.S.; it has some non-white characters but the main characters are mainly white. But it is also a very good book, though I like Zoo City better.)

    Octavia Butler is obviously someone to look at. We were just talking about her work. You might not like some of Chip Delaney's stuff because of content, remembering your past comments. Nalo Hopkinson is another major respected author who does both SF and fantasy stories that frequently feature non-white main characters. Her latest novel which has been getting attention is Sister Mine.

    Richard Morgan writes fairly dark stuff and very provocative and very respected, both SF and fantasy. Black Man looks heavily at racism. I'm not sure about the racial factors of other main characters of his other works. I'm very behind to read Abraham and Wecker -- both are supposed to be good.

    Myke Cole, whom we had to Author Roundtable last year, writes the Shadow Ops series, which is an alternate Earth near future parallel worlds military fantasy series. The first one, Control Point, has a black protagonist and other non-white main characters. The black character remains prominent in the series. Issues of race are eluded to (the character grew up in very white Vermont,) but not particularly a main part of the story. Ben Aaronovich's series is much liked.

    More stuff later. Do clarify if the parameters are narrower.

    Also, Jon Sprunk's newest book is called Blood and Iron. I would usually consider that not a brilliant title, but in this case it fits the plot of the story perfectly, so it works.

  13. #13
    Book of the Black Earth
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    Quote Originally Posted by Revolvery View Post
    Jon Sprunk, ...
    What's the name of your new series and the first book in it? Is the skin color a defining characteristic of your character, something that informs his own self-identity or the way in which others perceive him, or is it something ancillary to the storyline?
    I don't want to clutter this thread with self-promotion, so I'll keep this brief. As KatG mentioned, my latest book (first in new series) is Blood and Iron.

    The story involves conflicts between empires, cultures, religions, and, yes, race. For better or worse, I don't aim to use skin color/ethnicity as a defining characteristic, but of course it plays into self-identification and perceptions. Some of my characters consider "race" an important issue, and others don't. As with most issues, it depends what the reader brings to the table to some degree.

  14. #14
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Okay, this is not an exhaustive list and very scattered actually. I'm probably missing key people, but it will give you some titles:

    Classic Works:

    Charles Chestnutt -- The Conjure Woman
    Charles R. Saunders – Imaro, Dossouye
    Joe Haldeman – Forever Peace
    Diana Wynne Jones – Howl’s Moving Castle series
    Barry Hughart – The Chronicles of MasterLi and Number Ten Ox
    Guy Gavriel Kay – River of Stars
    Esther Friesner – Nefertiti duology – Sphinx’s Princess, Sphinx’s Queen

    Works with black protagonist or major characters:

    Neil Gaiman – Anasai Boys
    Ursula LeGuin – Powers series
    Karen Lord – Redemption in Indigo
    Max Gladstone – Three Parts Dead
    Seressia Glass – Shadowchasers series UF
    Maurice Broaddaus – The Knights of Breton Court series
    L.A. Banks – Crimson Moon series UF
    Steven Barnes – Great Sky Woman & other fantasy
    Milton J. Davis – Sword and Soul series
    Valjeanne Jeffers – Immortals series
    C.J. Omololu – Transcendence
    Kameron Hurley – Bel Dame Apocrypha series
    Tananarive Due – African Immortals series
    C.E. Murphy – Walker Papers series, Negotiator series
    Jaclyn Dolamore – Magic Under Glass series
    Dia Reeves -- Bleeding Violet
    David Anthony Durham – Acacia series
    Ryan Ambia – Big Red Flowers
    Jewel Gomez – The Gilda Stories series
    Tanya Huff – Smoke series
    Alicia McCalla – African Elementals series
    Wendy Raven McNair – Asleep series
    Virginia Hamilton
    Alan Dean Foster – Journeys of the Catechist series
    Cherie Priest – Four and Twenty Blackbirds series
    Garth Nix – A Confusion of Princes
    Ilona Andrews – Magic Dreams
    Joe Abercrombie – First Law trilogy
    Brandon Sanderson – The Stormlight Archive series

    Works that may have black characters and have non-white main characters:

    Mazarkis Williams – Tower & Knife series
    Elizabeth Bear – Eternal Sky series
    Saladin Ahmed – Throne of the Crescent Moon
    Jay Kristoff – Lotus War: Stormdancer
    Kevin Radthorne – Tales of Tonogato series
    Jay Lake – Green series
    K.V. Johansen – Blackdog
    Richard Parks – Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter
    Ken Scholes – Lamentation series
    Alexander C. Irvine – A Scattering of Jades
    R.A. MacEvoy – Death and Resurrection
    Joseph Bruchac – Killer of Enemies
    Kij Johnson – The Fox Woman
    Patricia Briggs – Mercy Thompson series
    Alison Goodman – Eon series
    Meljean Brook – Iron Seas series
    Lian Hearn – Tales of the Otori series
    Cindy Pon – Kingdom of Xia series
    Melinda Lo -- Huntress
    Liz Williams – Inspector Chen series
    Julie Kagawa – Blood of Eden
    Alaya Dawn Johnson – Racing the Dark

  15. #15
    Steamfunk Airship Captain
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    Here is a Comprehensive List

    NOTE: The books in italics are books I have read and HIGHLY recommend.

    Science Fiction and Fantasy for Teens, Young Adults and Adults of Color

    Ben Aaronovitch
    Midnight Riot (US) / Rivers of London (UK) (Ages 15+)
    Mystery/Urban Fantasy
    Some sexual innuendos and language (an F-bomb is on the first page in a quote from the protagonist's father) may be disturbing to young teens and parents, however, I think that any older teen or young adult will thoroughly enjoy this murder mystery/fantasy romp through London.
    Moon Over Soho (Ages 15+)
    Whispers Underground (Ages 15+)

    Elizabeth Amisu
    Sacerdos (The Sacerdos Mysteries) (Ages 13+)
    Violence, death, and description of the father's alcoholism may be disturbing to young teens.

    Julianna Baggott
    The Prince of Fenway Park (Grades 5+ / Ages 11+)
    Note that racial issues are addressed and the N-word is used in the historical context of the Red Sox and baseball.

    Balogun Ojetade
    Once Upon A Time In Afrika (Ages 13+)
    Sword and Soul
    Redeemer (Ages 16+)
    Urban Fantasy
    Contains adult language and graphic violence that may not be suitable for younger teens.
    The Scythe (Ages 13+)
    Dieselfunk
    Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2) (Ages 13+)
    Steamfunk
    Contains one sexual reference that may not be suitable for younger teens.
    Fist of Africa (Ages 13+)
    Fight Fiction
    A Single Link (Ages 16+)
    Fight Fiction
    Contains reference to sexual assault that may not be suitable for younger teens.

    Black Science Fiction Society
    Genesis: An Anthology of Black Science Fiction (Ages 15+)
    (Edited by Milton J. Davis and Jervis Sheffield)
    Featured authors include: Linda Addison, Charles Saunders, Edward Uzzle, Milton Davis, B. Sharise Moore, Carole McDonnell, Valjeanne Jeffers and many more."

    Marilyn Bradford
    Beauteous Black and the Mystic Forest (Ages 8+)

    Octavia Butler
    Kindred (Ages 15+)
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    The Parable of the Sower (Age 15+)
    The Parable of the Talents (Age 15+)
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    Xenogenesis series - Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago (Ages 15+)
    Contains mature themes not suitable for young teens.

    Elizabeth Camali
    Trash (Ages 15+)
    Contains fighting, underage cigarette smoking and some strong language. (RDJ)

    Troy CLE
    The Marvelous Effect (Grades 5+ / Ages 11+)
    Olivion's Favorites (Grades 5+ / Ages 11+)

    Eric Cooper
    Knight Seeker (Grades 8+ / Ages 13+)
    Knight Seeker II: Crimes of Passion (Grades 8+ / Ages 13+)
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    Knight Seeker #1 Smoke and Mirrors - Comic Book

    Jane Louise Curry
    The Black Canary (Grades 4+ / Ages 10+)

    Bruce Davis
    Glowgems for Profit (Ages 13+)
    Rated "PG-13" by the publisher, AKW Books. Some action-packed violence and non-graphic sex.
    Thieves Profit (Ages 13+)

    L.M. Davis
    Interlopers: A Shifters Novel (Grades 4+ / Ages 10+)
    Posers: A Shifters Novel (Grades 4+ / Ages 10+)

    Milton J. Davis
    Amber and the Hidden City (Ages 11+)
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    Changa's Safari and Changa's Safari Volume 2 (Ages 13+)
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    Meji Book One and Meji Book Two (Ages 13+)
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    Griots Anthology (Edited by Milton J. Davis and Charles R. Saunders)
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    The Possession (The Sivad Chronicles) (Ages 15+)
    Author Milton Davis rates the Sivad Chronicles as PG-13 due to some suggestive but non-graphicsexual content.
    A Debt to Pay: A Sivad Chronicle (Ages 15+).
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    Woman of the Woods (Ages 13+)

    Zetta Elliott
    A Wish After Midnight (Age 13+)
    ----------
    Ship of Souls (Ages 11+)
    The Deep (Ages 11+)

    Elizabeth Evans
    So Bite Me (Ages 16+)
    Urban Fantasy
    Use of “retard” (one time) and “gaydar” (numerous times), which might make some readers uncomfortable.
    Til Death Do Us Part (Ages 16+)

    Deva Fagan
    The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle (Grades 5+ / Ages 10+)

    Derrick Ferguson
    Young Dillon in the Halls of Shamballah (Ages 14+)

    Margaret Fieland
    Relocated (Ages 10+)

    Constance Gillam
    The 5th Realm (New Orleans Voodoo Chronicles) (Ages 15+)
    Incorporates Voodoo in the story

    Max Gladstone
    Three Parts Dead (Ages 16+)

    Virginia Hamilton
    Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales (Grades 4+ / Ages 10+)
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    Justice Trilogy - Justice and Her Brothers, Dustland, and The Gathering (Ages 15+)
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    The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl (Grades 4+ / Ages 10+)
    Sadly, this is available as a used book only.
    ----------
    The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales (Grades 4+ / Ages 10+) The People Could Fly - Picture Book and CD edition

    A.J. Harper
    The Night Biters Trilogy: Night Biters, Smoke & Demons, and Were Wolves - The Mix Tape (Ages 15+)

    William Hayashi
    Discovery - Volume 1 of the Darkside Trilogy (Ages 15+)
    Conception - Volume 2 of the Darkside Trilogy (Ages 15+)

    Robert A. Heinlein
    Tunnel in the Sky (Ages 14+)
    Nowhere in this book does it actually state that the main character, Rod, is Black. However, it's obvious if you read the story carefully and consider it in the context of the 1950s. (RDJ)

    Valjeanne Jeffers
    The Visitor (Ages 10+)

    Justine Larbalestier
    Magic or Madness (Grades 7+ / Ages 12+)Magic Lessons (Grades 7+ / Ages 12+)
    Note that this book includes teen sex ending in a pregnancy.
    Magic's Child (Grades 7+ / Ages 12+)
    Note that the story contains some mature themes, including Reason's pregnancy and rejection by the baby's father.

    James “Mase” Mason
    Fight Fiction; Comic Book Series
    Urban Shogun, Volume 1: The Dragon Clan Collection (Ages 13+)
    Urban Shogun, Volume 2: The Venom Clan Collection (Ages 13+)
    Urban Shogun, Volume 3: Things Fall Apart (Ages 13+)

    Alicia McCalla
    Breaking Free (Ages 16+)

    Patricia McKillip
    Moon-Flash (Grades 4+ / Ages 10+)
    This omnibus edition combines two science-fiction novels, Moon-Flash and The Moon and the Face.

    Wendy Raven McNair
    Asleep Trilogy - Asleep and Awake (Ages 13+)

    Walter Dean Myers
    The Legend of Tarik
    Based on the history of medieval Spain, this fantasy tale of a young Black hero is difficult to find.

    Shana Norris
    Surfacing (Ages 13+)

    Andre Norton
    Android at Arms (Ages 13+)
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    Gods and Androids
    A hardcover bind-up of The Wraiths of Time (see below) and Android at Arms, available in used copies only.
    ----------
    Forerunner (Ages 13+)
    Forerunner: The Second Venture (Ages 13+)
    ----------
    Lavendar-Green Magic (Grades 4+ / Ages 10+)
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    Storm Over Warlock (Ages 13+)
    While it's never really stated that Shann is Black, on page 83 of my 1973 paperback (second printing, the book's copyright is 1960), he's described as warm brown with tight black curls. (RDJ)
    Ordeal in Otherwhere (Ages 13+)
    Norton slid the first interracial romance of modern sci-fi right past the editors and nobody seemed to notice!(RDJ)
    Forerunner Foray (Ages 13+)
    ----------
    Star Ka'at (Grades 4+ / Ages 10+)
    Star Ka'at World (Grades 4+ / Ages 10+)
    Star Ka'at and the Plant People Written with Dorothy Madlee (Grades 4+ / Ages 10+)
    ----------
    Warlock (Ages 13+)
    This is the hardcover bind-up of the three Warlock novels. It contains Storm Over Warlock, Ordeal in Otherwhere and Forerunner Foray in one volume.
    ----------
    The Wraiths of Time (Ages 13+)

    Kelan O'Connell
    Delta Legend (Ages 13+)

    Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
    Akata Witch (Ages 12+)
    ----------
    The Shadow Speaker (Ages 13+)
    ----------
    Zahrah The Windseeker (Ages 13+)

    Dia Reeves
    Bleeding Violet (Ages 16+)
    Not recommended for younger teens due to violence and teen sex.

    Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
    The Fall of Terok Nor (Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Millennium Book 1 of 3) The War of the Prophets (Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Millennium Book 2 of 3) Inferno (Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Millennium Book 3 of 3)
    ----------
    Millennium Omnibus
    All three volumes bound up into one book. Includes The Fall of Terok Nor, The War of the Prophets, and Inferno.

    Adam Rex
    The True Meaning of Smekday (Grades 3+ / Ages 8+)

    Jewell Parker Rhodes
    Ninth Ward (Grades 5+ / Ages 11+)
    Note that Lanesha sees ghosts and Mama Ya-Ya sees into the future.

    Rick Riordan
    The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1) (Grades 5+ / Ages 10+)The Throne of Fire (The Kane Chronicles, Book 2) (Grades 5+ / Ages 10+)
    The Serpent of Shadows (The Kane Chronicles, Book 3) (Grades 5+ / Ages 10+)

    DaVaun Sanders
    The Seedbearing Prince: Part I (Ages 13+)
    The Seedbearing Prince: Part II (Ages 13+)

    Charles R. Saunders
    The originator of the Sword and Soul genre
    Imaro (Ages 15+)
    Imaro 2: The Quest for Cush (Ages 15+)Imaro 3: The Trail of Bohu (Ages 15Imaro 4: The Naama War (Ages 15+)
    ----------
    Dossouye (Ages 15+)
    Dossouye: The Dancers of Mulukau (Ages 15+)

    Sheree Renιe Thomas
    Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (Ages 15+)
    Some themes may be disturbing to young teens and their parents.
    ----------
    Dark Matter: Reading the Bones (Ages 15+)
    Some themes may be disturbing to young teens and their parents.

    Edward C. Uzzle
    RETRO-KM: Lord of the Landlords

    Vernor Vinge
    The Peace War (Ages 15+)Marooned in Realtime (Ages 15+)
    ----------
    Across Realtime - The Peace War and Marooned in Realtime
    This is a book club edition that binds up the two volumes, The Peace War and Marooned in Realtime.

    Brian Williams - Raven Hammer Comics Black Superhero Comic Books (Ages 13+)
    Lucius Hammer
    ----------
    The Harlem Shadow - Birth of the Cool

    Thelonious Legend
    Sins of the Father (Ages 12+)

    Maiya Williams
    The Golden Hour trilogy (Grades 5 to 8)
    The Golden Hour
    The Hour of the Cobra
    The Hour of the Outlaw

    *Special thanks to Ruth De Juaregui of Alien Star Books for compiling most of this list.
    Find more outstanding books for Teens and Young Adults of Color at http://www.alienstarbooks.com/.

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