Core Best Fantasy Lists
Best Yearly Lists
Best Decade Lists
Best Thematic Lists
Best Subgenre Lists
Fantasy Award Winners
Fantasy Guides
Movies & Games Lists
Fantasy Subgenres


img img img img img img img img

Silk Road Fantasy

What is Silk Road Fantasy?

There are fantastic worlds outside Europe. Wonderful, beautiful, mythic lands. Lands with djinns, dragons, caliphates, palaces, deserts, plains, steppes, and oh so much more! Silk Road Fantasy takes fantasy out of the European setting and instead draws upon the geography, history, myth, and lore of Asia. There is something fantastic and nostalgic about this place, and what a great place to go off on a fantasy adventure.

Quite often, Silk Road Fantasy is that fantasy that does not strictly fall into the traditional oriental landscape (see our Best Fantasy Books Set in the Far East list). It's can be set in the Far East (i.e. an ancient China, Japan, or some mythical landscape that draws from these incluences) but more often than not 'Silk Road Fantasy' is set in areas outside the Far East, in those areas that border it. This can mean Central Asia or those areas that blend together the oriental culture with the middle eastern.

The most general definition of Silk Road Fantasy is fantasy set outside the Great Wall of Europe. But, the name Silk Road evokes a deeper definition, one that calls upon the historical significance of the Silk Road. These are grand and beautiful stories often about the interactions between cultures and politics. The Silk Road Fantasy tales are therefore stories that can incorporate Asian and middle eastern influences to draw a unique and intoxicating tale.

The Silk Road is a real, historical place, or rather series of connected places. It is an ancient network of trade routes that were central to commerce and cultural interaction throughout the various regions of the Asian continent. The name comes from the lucrative silk trade that was carried throughout its network. The Silk Road’s historical significance is due to its influence on the development of civilizations—the long-distance relations (economic, political, cultural) that developed between the civilizations of China, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, Europe, the Horn of Africa, and Arabia. With all the connections and exchanges, this is a place ripe for storytelling.




Other Features of Silk Road Fantasy

  • Level of Magic

    Variable. The magic of Silk Road Fantasy is different from the typical European-centric Fantasy. Magic is so often tied into the myths and religions of the region the setting is based on. Thus, Silk Road Fantasy has magic that is steeped in the history and lore of Asia.

  • Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications

    High. The sub-genre itself has implications in the literary, and social worlds. It breaks that euro-centric tendency of genre fiction, it draws attention to the stories and cultures of other places and shares them in a new and wondrous tale. Indeed, the silk road itself (the real, historical silk road, that is) is political and social. It is a conduit for trade, cultural exchange, technological advancement—it is a road of connections. The silk road has a rich history to draw from, it is a rich place to start a fantasy story. A road where the next oasis brings us something new and different, not just commodities in a bazaar, but spiritual insight. Readers will encounter grand ideas about philosophy, religion, economics, and politics.

  • Level of Characterization

    Variable. Silk Road Fantasy is defined by its setting, and not so much by its characters. So, there will be amazing characterization and there will be okay characterization. Silk Road Fantasy does introduce readers to character who are different from those in the more euro-centric fantasies. Characters with different cultures and histories—a great place for characterization to begin building.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Moderate-High. Silk Road Fantasy, as the name suggest, often tells stories of journeys. While, not all Silk Road Fantasy takes the sub-genre’s name literally and sets the story on the silk road, the journey is still an important trope of Silk Road Fantasy. The journey and all the potential conflicts along the way make for complex, and surprising plots. These are stories that will take readers from the golden sands of deserts to the windswept steppes and higher still.

  • Level of Violence

    Variable. There is no defining violence-related trope for Silk Road Fantasy. But, because Silk Road Fantasy tends to have connections between different cultures, conflict is often a part of the journey. And conflict can be violent.

Related Fantasy Subgenres

  • Arabian Fantasy. A simple parallel since both sub-genres draw on histories from the same regions, Arabian Fantasy is just a bit more specific.

  • Epic Fantasy. Because Silk Road Fantasy can be just as epic as any other fantasy.

  • Sword and Sorcery Fantasy. Sure the sword may be curved and the sorcerer may be the Caliph’s advisor, but all the elements are there. 

  • Historical Fantasy. Silk Road Fantasy may draw on the actual histories of the regions used for world-building.

  • Mythic Fantasy. The myths of the East.

Silk Road Fantasy isn't for you if...

If you want a true escapist book. Silk Road Fantasy still has that magical sense that more traditional fantasy has, but because Silk Road Fantasy is set in current times and has a more recognizable setting it doesn't have that same immersive escapism -- this is not to say that the story can't draw readers in.

Popular Silk Road Fantasy Books

  • Howard Andrew Jones, The Desert of Souls. The first book in The Chronicles of Sword and Sand series, brings a bit of Sword and Sorcery to ancient Arabia. A fast-paced story where the mysterious and mythic are encountered.
  • Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon. This award winning debut novel starts the Crescent Moon Kingdoms series with supernatural murders. A magical and adventurous story, both dark and beautiful. This is one of our favorite Silk Road Fantasy books and channels the essense and magic of some of the classics like A Thousand and One Nights, made into a modern fantasy tale
  • Amanda Downum, The Drowning City. The drowning city is Symir, it is a place populated by exiles, expatriates, pirates, smugglers, and revolutionaries. The protagonist is a necromancer-spy-rebel in a city full of political intrigue.
  • Elizabeth Bear, Eternal Sky. A trilogy whose world is filled with depth, detail, and richness—as all Epics are. The world is inspired by Central Asia and the Silk Road and by the kingdoms of China, Tibet, the Mongolian steppe, Turkey, and Iran.
  • Mazarkis Williams, Tower and Knife. This trilogy begins with a plague, one wrought by an invisible, and evil intelligence. In the Cerani Empire lurks conspiracy, paranoia, assassination, and romance.
  • Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Stairs. The story begins with a murder mystery and evolves into a fantasy story of grand magic. The resurrection of gods combined with a shifting political scene are the basis for a complex story.
  • Richard Parks, Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter. Yamada no Goji is a demon hunter for hire. This anthology of short stories is set in ancient Japan; it’s an example of the broader definition of Silk Road Fantasy, set outside of Europe, in Asia.
  • N.K. Jemisin, Dreamblood. This series of novels are set in a world inspired by ancient Egypt and Nubia. Dream magic, scheming deities, and complicated politics make up the peaceful city of Gujaareh.
  • Bradley P. Beaulieu, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. A magnificent silk road fantasy released in 2015 and the book that topped our Best Fantasy Books of 2015 list! Absolutely read this one if you want one of the best examples of Silk Fantasy today! Sharakhai is a great desert city, a center of commerce and culture. It is ruled by 12 immortal and ruthless kings—but there are secrets to their rule.
  • Susan Schwartz, Silk Roads and Shadows. The beloved sister to the dying Emperor of Byzantium must journey to the mysterious Empire of Chi’in in order to smuggle silk worms. A Historical Fantasy novel as much as a Silk Road Fantasy novel.