As long-time readers will know, my love is of Filipino descent, and as we’re all fantasy lovers, we’re always on the lookout for Filipino and Filipino-inspired fantasy. I first heard about this Filipina author, who debuted with two books last year, from Your Tita Kate but couldn’t initially find Dauntless at the library. Fortunately, by the time Fantasy Book Cafe had a post by her, I was able to find both her books. Though I picked them up because of the cultural angle, they are both stories that stand up very well on their own.
Dauntless by Elisa A. Bonnin, Swoon Reads, 2022. ISBN 9781250795618. Read from a library copy. Ebook and audiobook available through Libby.
In this Filipino-inspired fantasy, Seri is a young woman barely into adulthood who’s reluctantly pushed towards joining the Valor, the guards who keep their expanding society safe from the Beasts who roam and kill humans. She doesn’t relish the killing part, and especially not wearing armor made from the skins of Beasts she’s killed herself, but as she’s put into the service of a very young commander, Eshai Unbroken, she keeps finding herself in situations where her skills are needed. She doesn’t even question it – until during her first visit to the capital city, she meets another young woman, Tsana. As Seri and Tsana grow closer, she discovers that Tsana is from another culture – when Seri and her people had only ever known about the existence of one culture – and Tsana’s views call into question everything that Seri has ever believed about her culture and herself.
Besides the fascinating characters, the epic plot, and the sapphic romance here, I really loved the worldbuilding. Seri’s people build their cities in giant trees near lakes, with bridges and ladders between the branches. I also loved their tradition of tattooing, reflective of pre-Hispanic Filipino culture. Though the levels of government and bureaucracy were high level, the People don’t have metalworking – unlike Tsana’s people. Magic is evident from the beginning, as the Beast-skin armor grants superhuman abilities, but grows in scope as the two cultures meet. Though I read it in print, we’ve since purchased the audiobook, so that the rest of the family can enjoy it.
Stolen City by Elisa A. Bonnin, Swoon Reads, 2022. ISBN 9781250795632. Read from a library copy. Ebook and audiobook available through Libby.
In this more modern-feeling fantasy, the crowded island city of Leithon was captured by the Empire four years before our story begins. Teen twins Arian and Liam have survived since their mother, the head of the Arcanum was brutally murdered by thieving. They’ve never been caught – thanks to Liam’s forbidden magic – until the representative of the Weavers, Cavar, tracks them down to recruit them for a job. The Weavers weave the fates of kingdoms, not cloth, and what Cavar wants them to steal is a magical artifact that belonged to the twins’ own mother. It’s of course hidden in the treasury of the Bastion – the impenetrable fortress once held by the Leithon royal family, now held by the Empire. Not only is getting in impossible, but once there, they’ll have to avoid Liam’s traitorous ex-girlfriend Zephyr, who now runs the Leithonian unit of the Empire’s army – and the powerful mage hunter who killed their mother. And if they can pull off a heist of this level, what’s to keep them from stealing their whole city back from the Empire?
There is a lot of fun romp here, with a separate romance and quest for personal fulfillment and destiny for each of the twins. At the same time, the thoughts on imperialism and personal responsibility in the face of dangerous injustice, unlike a typical ethics-free heist narrative. I did wonder a little at the technology level – it sounded like they had modern clothing and skyscraper-tall buildings, but no telephones, telegraphs, or motor vehicles – but it worked well in the book itself and was only a minor distraction for me. Bonnin mentioned in the notes that she and a high school friend had been making up stories about these four characters for years, and they did feel like fun characters that she’d spent a lot of time getting comfortable with, while the world and its culture clearly extends far beyond what we see in the story. This was also highly entertaining, and I look forward to reading more from Elisa A. Bonnin in the future.
These both sound really great! I have a lot of Filipina friends, and I would love to recommend some books with representation for their kids. But also these just sound like very original fantasies, and I’m always looking for original.
Yay!! I’m glad to help you find them, then!
These sound like books I’d like, especially Stolen City. Glad you enjoyed them both.
Thanks, Natalie! I hope you do enjoy Stolen City!