Wednesday, January 25, 2012

SF/F Stories with Native American Leads

In an attempt to celebrate great examples of sci-fi and fantasy books with Native American protagonists, I'm writing down a list of my favorites.  It's part of a series of posts covering SFF stories with non-white protagonists. See also SFF stories with Asian Leads, SFF Stories with Black Leads, and SFF Stories with Middle Eastern Leads.


The Aggregate Stats

  • Total number of works/series/authors on the list: 17/5/6
  • Author with most works on the list: Patricia Briggs by a landslide - 8 books and 1 short story.
  • Most common trope: Coyote. A close second is the female half Native American/half white tomboy protagonist with grease under her fingernails from all her work as a mechanic or mechanical tinkerer. She can handle her own in an adventure and is prepared to defend herself if she has to, but would rather be left alone, especially since she has secrets to hide. Unfortunately, her secrets draw her into the preternatural world she's trying to avoid. Seriously, this describes half the protagonists!
  • Biggest overall surprise: There's only one full-blood Native American, and there are no (non-urban) fantasies on the list. There are also no stories set within a Native American culture (or magical version thereof), the stories always have the protagonist living in a white world. 
and now for...

My Favorites

Mercy Thompson (Series)

This series by Patricia Briggs includes Moon Called, Blood Bound, Iron Kissed, Bone Crossed, Silver Borne , and River Marked .
  • Sub-genre: Urban Fantasy set in small-town in the Southwest. She's a coyote shifter (walker), and the world has all the standard races: werewolves, vampires, fae, with a few random things taken from other traditions showing up in later books.
  • Why I love it: It's not so much that Briggs does anything breathtakingly new here, as it is that she just does it so well. The world is believable, the secondary characters are well-developed, the plotting is good, the dialog makes me snicker, and the characters and relationships continue to deepen over time.
  • Native American-ness: She's half-Blackfeet, and the only walker she knows about. In this universe, the European supernatural creatures (the vampires, werewolves, and fae) overran the indigenous ones in a parallel way to how the humans did. Mercy starts pretty ignorant about her heritage, but as the series progresses, she (and you) learn more about what happened.

Alpha and Omega (Series)

This spinoff series by Patricia Briggs includes Alpha and Omega (a short story), Cry Wolf, and Hunting Ground
  • Sub-genre: Urban Fantasy set mostly in the Pacific Northwest. Same world as Mercy Thompson, but it focuses much more narrowly on werewolf life. The romantic story line is strong enough that I'd almost call it paranormal romance, except it's about the relationship that happens after they get together, not how they get together in the first place.
  • Why I love it: They two lead characters get together in the introductory short story, but rather than jerking us around with artificial relationship woes, Briggs tells the story of their relationship growing while they have these adventures. She makes it work for me that this very wise 200 year old creature could have an even partnership with this very young woman recovering from abuse. It's surprisingly romantic, and I think I actually like it better than the Mercy Thompson series, although it's a hard call. Delicious.
  • Native American-ness: Charles is a 200 year old half-Flathead Indian/half-Welsh werewolf whose grandfather was a shaman. He has native magic as well as the memories of growing up as part of a 19th century Native American tribe.

The Flash Gold Chronicles (series)

This series of novellas by Lindsay Buroker includes Flash Gold and Hunted .
  • Sub-genre: 19th-century western-style steam punk adventure set in the Yukon. With home-made animatronics, airship pirates, and sword-wielding, bounty hunting love interest. Yee haw.
  • Why I love it: It's sort of a pulpy action adventure story in a really fun world with this quirky mechanical-genius tinkerer protagonist, but she acts like a real engineers do act. She does smart things and depends on her knowledge of science and engineering to solve problems for her.
  • Native American-ness: Kali is a half-Hän/half-white. The first book really only dealt with her ethnic heritage as a source of prejudice against her, but she could have just as easily been any brown. In the second we get a couple tidbits of her Hän mother and her early life with the tribe, and the hint that it may be tied into Flash Gold, which is the alchemical substance whose existence is fueling much of the main plot line. I'm hoping it that since we've seen a bit of town and life in the mining camp, we'll get to see learn about the Hän magic in future books.

Svaha (Novel)

I've only read a few Charles de Lint books besides Svaha, but from what I understand, de Lint has written lots that incorporate Native American mythology. He may have also written others with a Native American protagonist, but I'm not aware of them. This one is a stand-alone novel.
  • Sub-genre: Cyberpunk with a solid infusion of dream-like urban fantasy. Much of the earth has been destroyed, so you have basically three types of areas. Road warrior-type areas, clustered corporation-cities with a strong divide between the haves (mostly Chinese and Japanese corporations) and the have-nots (everyone else), and the cloistered edens for the technologically superior indigenous peoples.
  • Why I love it: I really liked the protagonist, Gahzee, and the story has interesting and engaging bits, but mostly I like that it let's me indulge my fondness for post-apocalyptic and cyberpunk milieux while still getting a happy, feel good ending.
  • Native American-ness: I haven't read it in a while, so I can't remember which tribe Gahzee is from, but the premise is that indigenous people throughout the globe banded together and have formed a sort of melded cultural, political, and technological base with regional variants in each enclave. Gahzee is from this future indigenous world, but as he leaves it, he brings his knowledge, values, and his ability to enter the dreamtime with him.

Walker Papers (Series)

This urban fantasy series by C.E. Murphy includes Urban Shaman, Thunderbird Falls, Coyote Dreams . The series itself continues with Walking Dead , Demon Hunts , and Spirit Dances, but I haven't read them yet.
  • Sub-genre: Urban Fantasy, but with a focus on shamanistic (and druidic) magic.
  • Why I love it: It's urban fantasy, but Murphy takes a more methodical approach to building a magic system, closer to what you usually see in more traditional fantasies, rather than being a book with vampire and werewolves and fae.  Plus, there's a slow-burn approach to her romance that feels deliciously torturous, with realistic problems.
  • Native American-ness: Joanne is Cherokee/Irish and her magic is strongly based on Cherokee culture.  

Inhuman (short story)

This short story by Eileen Wilks was published in On the Prowl (anthology), and is part of her World of the Lupi series.
  • Sub-genre: Urban Fantasy, with psychic gifts and inter-planar travel by god-like beings.
  • Why I love it: The relationship between Kali, the main character, and Nathan, the love interest, is really sweet and engaging.  Although it's a short story built off of a well-established series, it works as a stand alone story since it's off the main plot line and introduces new characters.  This was actually the first book I read in Wilks' World of the Lupi, and got me started on the rest of them.
  • Native American-ness: If I remember right, she's hald-Dine/half Polish.  Her ethnicity is just general character flavor except at the end.

Honorable Mention

Here are some stories that I've never read (but lots of other people have), but who appear to have Native American leads:
  • The Wizard of Earthsea (At the very least, I understand the main character has red-brown skin, which I'm considering to be Native American as a guess.)
  • The Jane Yellowrock Series by Faith Hunter
  • The Stormwalker Series by Allyson James
Okay, if anyone can recommend stuff that's not on this list, let me know, and I'll update it, as well as probably read and review it.


  1. You've missed out a major one - Ursula Le Guin's _Earthsea_ series. the characters are primarily Native American in colouring/appearance. i haven't read any of them in many years, so i must confess i can't tell you how they square up on the culture front, but they're definitely worth a look.

  2. Im enjoying these posts on "non-white" characters/storylines/settings etc. Esp now that I have teenagers who are avid readers, Im always looking for more books that encompass a wider range of ethnicities /races and cultures. Books they can 'see themselves in' too. I'll defn be checking out some of these on the Native American list.

  3. @lucifermourning: I'm looking forward to reading it as soon as my kids get around to it. They're still a little young, but I'm reading or re-rereading a lot of classics as part of our little in-house reading club.

    @Lani Wendt Young: Thanks! I feel the same way for my kids.

    So, I'm making these lists to cover different areas of the world and am debating what to do with Oceania. On the one hand, I don't really know enough stories with protagonists from there to form a list. On the other hand, I can't figure out which list they'd be closer to if I folded it into another list like Native Americans or Asians. On my third hand, I'd feel bad to leave out a whole area of the world. My son is already giving me daily crap at bath time because I got a world-map shower curtain and it turns out they misspelled Papua New Guinea and entirely left out Kiribati and Nauru.

    What's your take on it? Or can you recommend some good SFF stories with Pacific Islander leads for me to read so I make it its own list?

    1. Hmm thats a tough one. If you include NZ in Oceania then you will get a good selection of SF/F books - should be some with Maori protagonists etc. I dont know ANY SF/F books from any other Pacific Island setting/author etc ( which is one reason I was so desperate to write TELESA, LOL) We should try asking on Goodreads. I wonder what else is out there in the world of Oceania books...

  4. These are great ideas for blog posts, Cathy! I always loved Native American stories when I was a kid (though I didn't know about fantasy back then--just read the historical stuff). Giving this one a tweet. :)

  5. I just released a horror adventure with a Native American constable who is one of the co-leads in the story. A misplaced Lakota Sioux. I saw your tweet and had to come see what you had come up with. I'm surprised at the stats you collected. Seems like there would be more. Have you read any of Tony Hillerman's works... of course, he doesn't write SF/F, but I like his stuff. (PS: I was interested because my grandpa was an Apache.) Good blog.

  6. Thanks!

    This post isn't a comprehensive list, if you're looking for that, I recommend and adding to it if you know of other good books with Native Americans.

    But this list is specifically for sci-fi and fantasy that I can personally recommend as being great reads, mostly because I noticed that this genre seemed even more lacking in non-white leads than some others I read.

    I think there should be more on this list, too. Do you have you can recommend?

    Note, I'll look up your book, although if it's good horror, I'll need to wait to read it until it's not night time, of course, because I'm a wimp. :)