Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series has led to an explosion of YA speculative fiction that explores mythology and folktales through the adventures of modern-day characters. What’s made this subgenre so popular? And who are some authors to pick up after Percy Jackson? And how has the genre expanded to feature non-Western mythologies?
Exploring this topic at WorldCon 80, otherwise known as ChiCon 8 were panelists Beth Mitcham, Kathryn Sullivan, Samantha Lane, Marines Alvarez, and Donna JW Munro.
Young Adult (YA) vs Middle Grade
- a marketing term
- aimed at the 13-18 year-old range — but a lot of adults are reading it
- middle grade is about 12 years old
- a voice and grade level of word-choice
- grants a sense of empowerment for the YA main character, with adults mostly out of the way
- traditionally YA is 1st person and MG is 3rd person (although, middle-grade it becoming more 1st person)
What/Who is Riordan?
Rick Riordan is an author writing about the offspring of Greek, Egyptian, and Norse gods. His editor worked with him to launch an imprint called “Riordan Presents” where diverse voices get to showcase gods and mythologies from their own cultures in similar adventures that fit into a shared world setting.
Rick Riordan’s popularized the subgenre of demigod children playing with myths and legends — and religions. But myths and legends have been retold for as long as we’ve had myths and legends. There are tons of stuff out there that aren’t under the Riordan umbrella.
What is so popular about this subgenre?
- they’re tales of diaspora — a more common experience than those who haven’t experienced it think
- demonstrates kids learning and connecting with their culture
- stories of self-discovery
- tales of found family
But, they also follow a specific format:
- Usually our world, with one point of view with spin-offs in a different setting with a new point-of-view character
Factors to consider before playing in the myths of another culture
- Why do you want to tell this story? – If it’s just marketing or to keep from being canceled… maybe reconsider.
- Is this your story to tell? – Does it follow themes that echo your own lived experience?
- Are you open to feedback from sensitivity readers from the cultures and experiences you’re trying to represent?
- Rick Riordan realized his name was taking room away from authors with closer connections to the cultures he wanted to explore and stepped back to make space for them.
- Are these cultural touchstones part of a practicing religion? — Calling them ‘myths’ is very dismissive!
- Are you perpetuating the ‘white savior’ or ‘brown savage/sage’ stereotypes?
- Are the monsters described in one culture actually stereotypes and demonization of another actual group or culture?
Ways to Support OwnVoices
- Follow their social media — BookTok, BookTube, etc
- Buy their books — put your money where your mouth is
- Be intentional with whose stories you’re reading and promoting — it’s easy to fall into a set of favorite authors and stop expanding your bubble
- Request OwnVoices stories for your local library
- Check out YallFest for their reading lists
And what would a discussion of ‘Reaching Past Riordan’ be without book recommendations? (Affiliate links)
- Kendare Blake’s Antigoddess (mid/upper YA) – the Greek gods start to fade…
- Aminah Mae Safi’s Travelers Along the Way – a Robin Hood remix
- Eden Robinson’s The Trickster’s Trilogy – the son of a trickster
- Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children – the returned changelings that the fae stole away
- D.J. MacHale’s Pendragon Series – King Arthur with a modern-day kid and his friends in a portal fantasy
- Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events – children with an Uncle who will stop at nothing
- Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s House For Peculiar Children – children with powers at a house out-of-time
- Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – a trip to fairyland, or at least, around it
- Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen – Indian folklore and myth (Riordan Presents author)
- Daniel José Older’s Ballad and Dagger – Caribbean refugees in Brooklyn (Riordan Presents author)
- Claribel A. Ortega’s
- Ghost Squad – Coco meets Stranger Things with a hint of Ghostbusters
- Witchlings – Disney’s The Owl House meets Nevermoor
- Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch – Affectionately dubbed “the Nigerian Harry Potter,” a heart-pounding tale of magic, mystery, and finding one’s place in the world
- Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow – a blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers
- Zoraida Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas – hispanic witches in Brooklyn
- Jenna Yoon’s Lia Park and the Missing Jewel – a young girl must venture to the undersea kingdom of the Dragon King in Korea to save her parents from an evil diviner spirit.
- Yoon Ha Lee’s Thousand Worlds duology – starts with 13-year-old Min, who comes from a long line of fox spirits.
- Suzanne Collins’s Gregor the Overlander
- Kalynn Bayron – This Poison Heart – (duology) Briseis has a gift: with a single touch, she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms.
- Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief – The brilliant thief Eugenides has visited the Queen of Attolia’s palace one too many times, leaving small tokens and then departing unseen.
And authors of adult fiction in this subgenre
What books and authors would you recommend? Any tips for writing this subgenre that the panelists missed?