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8 novels inspired by Asian mythology


My mother tells me the story of a woman on the moon. When she first heard the story, she was a little girl in China, sleeping at her aunt’s house by the river, among the banana trees struggling in the night storms. When I first heard the story, I was in my parents’ bedroom in the American Midwest, the quiet night punctuated by the howls of the neighbor’s dog. Separated by time, culture, distance, language, my mother’s stories are delivered to me fragmented and I have the task of piecing them together.

As the daughter of second-generation immigrants, I am often saddened by the stories that will be forever lost between my mother and me. Yet as I grow as a reader and writer, I see the potential between the cracks: a chance to insert myself into the story of my culture. It is inevitable that the myth mutates over time. The right author will get the most out of it.

Below are eight novels based on Asian folklore.

Sister Snake by Amanda Lee Koe

A sister plays the role of housewife to a conservative Singaporean politician. The other survives in New York as a sugar baby. Little unites the Su sisters and Emerald, other than the fact that thousands of years earlier they were a pair of serpents during the Tang dynasty in China. Now their secret is threatened when free-spirited Emerald joins Su in Singapore, a rigid city of conformity. A reimagining of the Chinese folk tale “The Legend of the White Snake,” by Amanda Lee Koe. Sister Snake tackles family, brotherhood, and weirdness with dark joy.

Nine tails by Sally Wen Mao

Silicone sex dolls come to life. A shapeshifter finds herself hunted. A fox spirit seeks revenge through seduction. Although the nine-tailed shapeshifting fox of Chinese fables has often been referred to as a trickster, Sally Wen Mao’s collection of short stories, Nine tails (which, yes, has nine tales) recontextualizes the fox through the eyes of women and immigrants. Finally, the fox spirit is perhaps written as what it was always meant to be: a protector of the lost and unwanted.

Spirits abroad by Zen Cho

Malaysian fairy tales and speculative fiction collide to form Zen Cho’s short story collection Spirits abroad. Aptly divided into three sections: Here, There and Elsewhere, Cho’s stories explore everything from the unseen denizens of the forests of rural Borneo to the fairies of the United Kingdom. In “The Fish Bowl,” a young girl preparing for her entrance exam negotiates with a koi that grants her wishes. with a voracious appetite. “If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again” explores the love lives of sapphic dragons. “The Four Generations of Chang E” rewrites the famous moon goddess Chang E as an alien. There’s everything you need and everything you never knew you needed.

The fox woman by Yangsze Choo

It’s Manchuria, 1908, and a woman is found dead and frozen in the snow. An aging detective named Bao is tasked with identifying the woman, and as the case progresses, he finds himself returning to the fox gods who intrigued him throughout his childhood. Elsewhere, a woman named Snow searches for the man she believes is responsible for her daughter’s death. When their respective searches focus on a single photographer, Bao and Snow’s paths inevitably collide and the mystery of the fox’s spirit comes to light. Calm and enigmatic, The fox woman explores heartbreak and revenge amid magic and myth.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

The news of Nghi Vo The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a classic story within a story, opening with an elderly woman named Rabbit recalling her time serving the exiled Empress In-Yo. According to Rabbit, In-Yo was originally condemned to the South for a political marriage after losing her family and kingdom. Alone among strangers, In-Yo befriends Rabbit, soon confiding in him her dark desires for revenge. Rich in history and myths, The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a short story examining the patriarchy, as well as the angry women left in its wake.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan, illustrated by Kuri Huang

Inspired by the Chinese fable of Chang’e, that of Sue Lynn Tan Daughter of the Moon Goddess follows Xingyin, Chang’e’s secret daughter, who must flee her home on the moon when her existence is discovered. Alone in the Heavenly Realm, hidden among the very people who imprisoned her mother, Xingyin plots to save her mother, while falling in love with the Emperor’s son, Prince Liwei. A revitalized myth full of action and sweeping romance.

Ponti by Sharlene Teo

16-year-old Szu’s mother was once a beautiful actress, famous for starring in the cult horror trilogy Ponti. Today, she’s a psychic and a hacker, persuading people to spend their entire savings on a meditation session. With little comfort from her mother and no father figure in her life, Szu finds herself alone in 2003 Singapore until she befriends transfer student Circe. Flash forward 17 years later, Circe, about to divorce, remembers her past with Szu and Szu’s mother when a remake of Ponti arrives at work. Inspired by the Nusantara tradition of the pontianak, a vampiric female ghost, Ponti is an exploration of friendship and memory.

The God and the Gumiho by Sophie Kim

The God and the Gumiho follows Seokga, an exiled trickster god who is offered redemption, provided he can capture a recently escaped demon and the infamous Scarlet Fox. While capturing the demon is possible, even more so with the help of his local barista, Hani, capturing the Scarlet Fox can be a bit more difficult, especially considering Hani. East the scarlet fox. As Seokga and Hani continue their journey, their relationship only becomes more complicated as friendly bickering turns into something more.