Are you a fan of magical competitions? Fantasy contests? Here is my list of diverse books with magical competitions! The amount to which the competition is center to plot varies among all of them. You will find some of these books where the competition is the center of the entire book and a few where there is a competition on the side.
If you have any additional recommendations for this list, I’m happy to add them (at some point) to this list. I love magical competitions, so my to-read list grew so much while making this. Please enjoy!
Diverse Books with Magical Competitions
The Scarlet Alchemist by Kylie Lee Baker
Zilan dreams of being a royal alchemist, but instead she's stuck in her small town practicing illegal magic: raising the dead. When she finally gets a chance to complete her imperial exams, she realizes that being a royal alchemist is very different than what she dreamed of.
📖 Couldn't Put It Down 👾 Monsters 👑 Non-European Royalty 🪄 Unique Magic
Why pick up this book? Kylie Lee Baker writes historical fantasy stories with biracial protagonists. They’re always feminist and have a delightful eat the rich energy. She has a BA in creative writing and Spanish from Emory University and is pursuing a master of library and information science degree at Simmons University.
A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy
As Rival Heirs of Myre, Eva and Isadore must face one another to the death for the Ivory Throne on Eva’s seventeenth nameday, but when an assassin is sent to take her life, Eva realizes how much more is at stake in the Queendom than the fate of Rival Heirs.
📚 First in Series 🔮 Magic 🏆 Strong Female Leads 👑 Non-European Royalty
Why pick up this book? A River of Royal Blood is an enthralling debut set in a lush North African inspired fantasy world that subtly but powerfully challenges our notions of power, history, and identity. Amanda Joy studied English and psychology at the University of Missouri and earned her MFA in Writing for Children at the New School. A River of Royal Blood has received a starred review by Booklist, and shining reviews by Natasha Ngan (NYT bestselling author), Dhonielle Clayton (NYT bestselling author), Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly.
Spark to Shadow by Atima Kim
Fang’s responsibility is to be the first to unite the coven clans to usher in a new era of witches. This dragon riding warrior must choose a suiter in a bachelorette style competition, but the coven she is meant to unite with has secrets she wasn’t meant to find out.
👑 Non-European Royalty 💞 Young Love 🏆 Strong Female Lead 🌏 East Asian Rep
Why pick up this book?
Spark to Shadow is a beautifully and unapologetically Thailand inspired fantasy world. It has dragons, magic, matriarchy and sex-positivity. Atima Kim writes Thailand inspired books in hopes that her son will grow in a world where more people in fiction will look like him. Something she didn’t have growing up, and something so many of us can relate to.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Under the Emperor’s rule, defiance is met with death. Laia and Elias, both enslaved in different ways by the empire, only want to be free. They soon learn that their destinies are intertwined and their choices will determine the future of the empire.
💥 Dramatic Ending 💘 Forbidden Love 📚 First in Series 👁️ Multiple POV
Why pick up this book? You’ve probably heard of this one. This book was one of Times Magazine’s 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time, it was an instant NYT bestseller, Amazon’s Best Young Adult Book of 2015, People’s Choice Award winner for Favorite Fantasy, it’s received shining reviews by The Washington post, Public Radio International, the Huffington Post, and the New York Times Book Review. Sabaa Tahir is a Pakistani American whose books have sold more than a million copies worldwide.
Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim
Pitched as Project Runway meets Mulan, this book follows Maia, a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of the imperial tailor and must complete an impossible task to sew three magic dresses from the sun, moon, and the stars.
💞 Young Love ✨ Asian Fairytale 🏆 Strong Female Lead 🍃 Easy Reading
Why pick up this book? Spin the Dawn has received critical acclaim from NPR, The Washington Post, and Tamora Pierce (#1 NYT bestselling author). Elizabeth Lim is also a New York Times bestseller, and a USA Today bestseller. She grew up in Northern California and Tokyo. She is also a film and video game composer, and has a doctorate in music composition. She has an AB in music from Harvard and a secondary in East Asian Studies. Her novels have been translated into over a dozen languages.
Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles
A group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.
✒️ Debut Author 💫 Atmospheric 💀 Dark Content 🔮 Magic
Why pick up this book? Where Dreams Descend has received a starred review from Kirkus, and wonderful reviews from Claire Legrand, New York Times bestselling author of Furyborn, and Sara Raasch, New York Times bestselling author of the Snow Like Ash trilogy. It has also been featured on Book Riot, Popsugar, Bustle, Business Insider, Buzzfeed, and many more!
Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar
Sheetal has always felt a pull to the stars, but when the pull becomes too strong, she accidentally burns her father. The only way to heal him is ascending to the sky, but it turns out that her star family has summoned her for a reason.
✒️ Debut Author 🔮 Magic ✂ Retelling 🛕 Hindu Mythology
Why pick up this book? This beautiful debut novel is full of celestial intrigue. It blends Neil Gaiman’s Stardust beautifullly with Hindu mythology in a wonderful contemporary YA fantasy. Star Daughter was a Nebula Award finalist and has received shining reviews by authors such as Holly Black, New York Times bestselling author of the Folk of Air series.
A Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
At only seventeen, Maya unexpectedly is thrown into marriage and becomes queen of Akaran. The only problem is that she is cursed with a promise of death and destruction. Who can she trust when she suspects her life is in danger?
🔮 Magic 👑 Non-European Royalty 💞 Young Love ✂ Retelling
Why pick up this book? A Star-Touched Queen was an instant New York Times bestseller. It is rich and vibrant, and full of Indian folklore and mythology. Roshani Chokshi’s works have been nominated for the locus and nebula award, and have frequently appeared on the Best of the Year lists from Barnes and Noble, Forbnes, Buzzfeed and more. Her works have also recently been optioned for film by Paramount Pictures.
A Song of Wraith and Ruin by Roseanna A. Brown
Malik makes a fatal deal to kill Karina in return for his abducted sister. In order to get close to her, Malik rigs his way into the Solstasia competition, but Karina has deadly aspirations of her own for whoever wins the competition.
💘 Enemies to Lovers ✒️ Debut Author 🌍 African Mythology 🎤 Own Voices
Why pick up this book? This is the first in a new fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore. It was an instant New York Times bestseller. Roseanna A. Brown was born in Kumasi, Ghana, and now lives in Maryland. She graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor’s in Journalism. Her Journalism has been featured by Voice of America. She has worked as an editorial intern at Entangled Publishing and was a Pitch Wars mentee and mentor.
The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala
Esha is on a mission to take down General Hotha. Kunal, the general’s son, longs to join the outside world. When Esha and Kunal’s paths cross, they both think they’re calling the shots, but they soon find out they aren’t the only players in this game.
💘 Enemies to Lovers 📚 First in Series 🎲 Plot Twists 🛕 Hindu Mythology
Why pick up this book? The Tiger at Midnight is inspired by the stories told my Swati’s grandparents every time she went to India to visit them. They told stories from their Hindu mythology, full of honorable warriors, strong queens, star crossed romances, and epic battles. This book is a homage to those tales full of magic and Indian history. This book was on Book Riot and Barnes & Nobles most anticipated lists.
Atlas Six by Olivie Blake
The Alexandrian Society are the foremost secret society of magical academicians in the world. Every decade six uniquely talented magicians are considered for initiation, but only five will be initiated. Meet the latest six.
🏫 Dark Academia 🏳️🌈 Queer Cast 🤔 Thought Provoking 💫 Atmospheric
Why pick up this book? Alexene Farol Follmuth (Olivie Blake) loves writing books that revolve around the collective experience, what it means to be human, and the deep complexities of life and love. She has been published as the featured fiction contributor for Witch Way Magazine, and the writer for the self-published graphic series Alpha.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
After her mother dies, Bree wants nothing to do with her family memories, so she accepts a high school in college program at UNC Chapel hill. Which seems perfect until she sees a magical attack her first night on campus.
🩺 Well Researched 🤔 Thought Provoking 🏆 Strong Female Lead 🎤 Own Voices
Why pick up this book? This book is incredible, you can read my full review here. Legendborn was an instant New York Times bestseller, it is the winner of the Coretta Scott King – John Steptoe for New Talent Author Award. It’s a finalist for the Hugo, Locus and IGNYTE awards, LA Times Book Prize 2020, Goodreads Choice award 2020 and more.
A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin
After Ning accidentally kills her mother by unknowingly brewing poison tea, the same tea threatens to take her sister as well. Her only chance is a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi, masters of the magical art of tea making.
🗳️ Court Politics 👑 Non-European Royalty 🍃 Easy Reading 🌏 Asian Rep
Why pick up this book? A number one New York Times bestseller, A Magic Steeped in Poison is full of Chinese legends, Song Dynasty vibes, and Taiwanese tea. Judy I. Lin is a Taiwanese Canadian author and this book is a tribute for her love of HK Wuxia movies. This is her debut novel.