Seeking Mythological Diversity

After seeing the cover, and reading the blurb, for Richelle Mead’s Soundless, it got me thinking – the far eastern influence is definitely a deviation from what we typically see in Urban Fantasy.

RMead-SoundlessFrom Richelle Mead, the #1 internationally bestselling author of Vampire Academy and Bloodlines, comes a breathtaking new fantasy steeped in Chinese folklore.

For as long as Fei can remember, there has been no sound in her village, where rocky terrain and frequent avalanches prevent residents from self-sustaining. Fei and her people are at the mercy of a zipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom.

When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the zipline shrink and many go hungry. Fei’s home, the people she loves, and her entire existence is plunged into crisis, under threat of darkness and starvation.

But soon Fei is awoken in the night by a searing noise, and sound becomes her weapon.

Richelle Mead takes readers on a triumphant journey from the peak of Fei’s jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiguo, where a startling truth and an unlikely romance will change her life forever….

The only other title I can think of that strays from what we’re used to is Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish. Although I’ll be honest, my impression is of an Asian-influenced story, but I haven’t read it yet (it’s waiting for me on my kindle), so I could be wrong as to how much is actually involved. But that’s the point I’m trying to make. Most of my urban fantasy reading history involves stories influenced by western mythologies and folk tales, but the far eastern culture has just as many fabulous ones as well.

KCharish-Owl and the Japanese CircusEx-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem – and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.

Owl retraces the steps of Mr. Kurosawa’s ancient thief from Japan to Bali with the help of her best friend, Nadya, and an attractive mercenary. As it turns out though, finding the scroll is the least of her worries. When she figures out one of Mr. Kurosawa’s trusted advisors is orchestrating a plan to use a weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city, things go to hell in a hand basket fast…and Owl has to pick sides.

Why don’t we see more stories involving the Buddhist or Hindi gods instead of the revolving door the Greek and Roman gods seem to be using? Why the typical Tolkien dragon instead of the slimmer Chinese dragon? Even the Norse gods are scarce. Why?

Going even broader, it’s not just the far eastern culture that seems to get overlooked, but the middle eastern and southern hemisphere as well. Am I the only one who wouldn’t dive instantly into a story set in the Babylonian or Persian Empires. Where are all the stories set among the Incan or Mayan ruins? Among the people of the Amazonian tribes?

There are a few stories out there, but they all involve minor aspects of these fabulous cultures. Sherrilyn Kenyon dips her toes in the Sumerian Pantheon with her Dark-Hunter Sin and his fight against the Gallu; but after his story in Devil May Cry, he’s sent back to the chorus line.  Ilona Andrews (Rakshasas) and Lauren K. Hamilton (Nagas) have also gone to the Asian continent for a couple of their villains; but as most villains do, they don’t stick around. Is it wrong that I want to see the heroes and their worlds influence my stories as well? To walk in a city very much unlike my own?

Diversity has been such a hot topic in the young adult and romance communities lately, but it shouldn’t be relegated to just contemporary fiction. There’s no reason we can’t have that same diversity in fantasy – and not just what the characters look like, but the culture they live in too. The world has such a huge amount of culture and beliefs, why shouldn’t we expect to see stories inspired from more than just western culture?

Naga.ShivaInstead of another Mayan calendar doomsday story, why not a tale involving the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque? You can’t tell me someone hasn’t thought of a plot involving the Mesoamerican cosmology.

Mesoamerican cosmology sees the world as separated into a day world watched by the sun and a night world watched by the moon. More importantly, the three superposed levels of the world are united by a Ceiba tree. – Source

I can totally see a fantastical society built around the Vidyadharas and Nagas of Hindu mythology. Instead of the Four Horseman, what about the Four Fiends from Chinese mythology – Hundun (chaos), Taotie (gluttony), Táowù (ignorance; provided confusion and apathy, and made mortals free of the curiosity and reason needed to reach enlightenment), and Qióngqí (deviousness) – or a hunter inspired by a Zhày (a creature of pure yin said to devour evil humans).

I would love to see more urban fantasy stories heavily influenced from mythologies – traditions, folk tales, etc. – not commonly used. I seriously cannot wait until Soundless releases in November; but until then, what other stories are out there? What authors have you discovered who have spun tales inspired by non-western cultures? Of those stories you’ve read, did you enjoy the change or was it harder to accept since it was different?

Dammit…I want stories inspired by cultures, mythologies, and creatures not typically seen in Urban Fantasy! I’m not the only one, right?

About Jackie 3282 Articles
I am a 30-something SAHM with two adorable boys and a supportive husband who is very tolerant of my reading addiction. I love to read and easily go through about a dozen books a month – well I did before I had kids. Now, not so much. After my first son was born, I began to take my hobby of reviewing a little more serious and started Literary Escapism to help with my sanity. I love to discuss the fabulous novels I’ve read and meeting all the wonderful people in the book blogging community has been amazing.