The Best Books for ‘Percy Jackson’ Fans (That Aren’t YA)
Despite some people’s insistence that reading children’s books as an adult makes you immature or weird, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. You can and should read whatever you want, whenever you want. So if you’re just getting into Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series or its numerous spinoffs now that the Disney+ series adaptation is in the works, that’s great! Riordan has crafted an expansive and amazing universe to explore.
But if you find yourself wanting to read books that explore more mature themes and concepts, we get that, too. That’s why we’ve compiled the following list of adult fiction books that are like Percy Jackson, but written for grown-ups.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman’s American Gods follows ex-convict Shadow, whose world collapsed in on itself while he was in prison. His wife has been murdered and there’s a war brewing between the gods which is affecting mortals’ everyday life in wild and unexpected ways. When a stranger offers him a job, Shadow accepts because he has nothing to lose. Or does he?
American Gods is one of Gaiman’s most celebrated titles. It was adapted into a Starz series, which was unfortunately canceled after three turbulent seasons, and it’s also been adapted for comics by Dark Horse Books. It’s an adventurous tale steeped in mythology, which makes it perfect for Percy Jackson fans.
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
If you’re looking for a specifically Greek mythology-focused adult fiction book, Jennifer Saint has you covered. Ariadne explores the life of the Princess of Crete and her brother, the Minotaur. When she helps Theseus, Prince of Athens, kill her monstrous sibling, it doesn’t free her in quite the way she hoped.
There are many adaptations of the Minotaur’s story, including one of the Percy Jackson books and the 1986 Jim Henson movie, Labyrinth. Ariadne’s name may ring bells even for non-mythology fans, but Saint’s novel truly puts her and her younger sister Phaedra at the heart of the story in a new and refreshing way.
Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R.F. Kuang
In R.F. Kuang’s Babel, Professor Lovell brings the orphan Robin Swift from Canton to London in 1828 to study Latin, Chinese, and Ancient Greek to prepare for enrolling at Oxford University’s Royal Institute of Translation. Also known as Babel, this prestigious institute is not just the global center for translation, but also for magic. Through the art of manifesting meaning with enchanted silver bars, Britain has amassed unparalleled power through colonization. Meanwhile, the Hermes Society is trying to stop imperial expansion in its tracks.
When Britain goes to war with China over silver and opium, Robin will have to choose between serving his home country or betraying it for the imperial power in which he’s been raised. There are no gods here, only humans—but they manage to do plenty of damage even without celestial power.
Between Earth and Sky Trilogy by Rebecca Roanhorse
Black Sun, the first book in Rebecca Roanhorse’s Between Earth and Sky Trilogy, begins with a prophecy: “A god will return / When the earth and sky converge / Under the black sun.” Winter solstice in the holy city of Tova is usually a celebration—but this year, it will overlap with a solar eclipse, which the Sun Priest says will knock the world off-balance. Adding even more pressure, a ship from a distant city is set to arrive the same day bearing its captain, the disgraced Teek Xiala, whose song can calm water or warp a man’s mind, and a passenger named Serapio who is supposedly harmless.
Pulling from various Native American mythos, as well as stories from pre-Columbian civilizations including the Aztecs and Mayans, Black Sun begins an epic about power, individual struggle, and what it means to exist in ways society doesn’t like. We think it’s one of the best fantasy books by a BIPOC author.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Circe is a witch who possesses the power to turn her enemies into monsters and even menace the gods. Zeus is threatened by Circe and exiles her to a deserted island where she can hone her craft and tame beasts, only growing more powerful. Although she’s supposed to be alone forever, she eventually meets the Minotaur, Daedalus and his son Icarus, Medea, and Odysseus.
However, her fate dictates that she ultimately must protect herself, and when she’s pitted against one of the most vengeful Olympians, she must choose between joining the gods—to whom she belongs, as daughter of the Titan Helios—and the mortals she’s come to love. She may be a witch, but Circe is as complex as anyone else, which Madeline Miller explores in this stunning, standalone novel.
The Dark Star Trilogy by Marlon James
Marlon James’s The Dark Star Trilogy is a sprawling fantasy epic based in African mythology, and it begins with Black Leopard, Red Wolf. Here, we meet the hunter named Tracker, who’s hired to track down a boy who disappeared three years ago. He always works alone, but in this case, he somehow becomes part of an entire search party full of bizarre characters, including a shapeshifter known as the Leopard.
The farther they travel, the more they encounter creatures who want to rip them apart. This missing boy is apparently special, but Tracker doesn’t know why or how, and he must figure it out if he wants to survive. Gods and monsters are afoot, and as Tracker has learned time and time again, survival means every man for himself.
Elektra by Jennifer Saint
Elektra is the youngest daughter of Queen Clytemnestra and King Agamemnon, and when her father betrays her mother on the eve of the Trojan War, Clytemnestra must deal with the family curse she’s long chosen to ignore. Elektra wants to bring her father home from the war, which is only getting bloodier as the Trojan Princess Cassandra foresees a terrible, unstoppable tragedy that will occur when Agamemnon arrives in Troy with his army.
Elektra is one of the most infamous heroines of Greek mythology, and in Jennifer Saint’s novel, we get a new and more fleshed-out take on her story. The book also focuses on Elektra’s mother, Clytemnestra, and the prophetic Princess Cassandra. These three women are linked by one terrible curse, and they each must handle it in their own way, as Saint explores in these pages.
Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips
In Marie Phillips’s fluffy comedy Gods Behaving Badly, the 12 gods of Olympus have moved into a London townhouse, where they’ve basically been living in their own squalor for way too long. They have day jobs that are semi-approximations of their godly domains, and their powers are waning to the point that even small pranks sap their strength. When Aphrodite and Apollo get into a fight, it quickly becomes a war, and two humans named Alice and Neil get caught up in the drama and have to save not only themselves, but all of humankind.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican folklore-inspired fairytale, Gods of Jade and Shadow, follows Casiopea Tun, whose time is spent cleaning her wealthy grandfather’s home and daydreaming of a life away from her small town. When she opens a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room, she accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who presents a quest: He wants Casiopea to help him reclaim his throne from his backstabbing brother. If she fails, she dies. If she succeeds, she can live the life she fantasizes about.
To complete her mission, Casiopea must travel across the country and into the Mayan underworld. Along the way, she learns the limits of her own strength and the possibilities afforded by her wit, even as her godly companion complicates things beyond her wildest imagination.
The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
N.K. Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy follows the outcast Yeine Darr, who discovers after her mother’s death that she’s an heiress to the king. When Yeine is summoned to the floating city, simply called Sky, she learns the truth about her paternity and has to fight for the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, a highly sought-after seat of power.
As an outcast of the barbarian north, Yeine knows what it is to struggle—but nothing could have prepared her for the fight of her life.
A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
In A Master of Djinn, P. Djèlí Clark’s debut novel set in a fantasy alternate Cairo, Egypt in 1912, Fatma el-Sha’arawi has saved the universe and is now the youngest women working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. When someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to al-Jahiz, who vanished after opening the veil between the magical and non-magical worlds 40 years ago, Fatma is called to help solve the case.
The murderer claims to be al-Jahiz himself, back to condemn the social oppressions of the modern age, though Fatma knows he’s an imposter. Still, he’s magical and dangerous, and his arrival just so happens to coincide with massive unrest in Cairo’s streets, which may become a global incident any day. To restore peace and stop the murderer, Fatma must figure out who he really is and prevent him from wreaking further havoc.
Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher
T. Kingfisher’s Nettle & Bone is a fairytale … of sorts. But Marra isn’t a princess, and she’d rather kill the prince than marry him. After years of watching her older sister suffer in silence at the hands of her abusive, princely husband, Marra decides to free her sister from her marriage. To do so, she’ll have to build a dog of bones, sew a cloak of nettles, and capture moonlight in a jar in order to get the tools she needs.
Eventually joined by a gravewitch and her familiar, a disgraced ex-knight, and a fairy godmother, Marra attempts to complete these impossible tasks, rescue her sister, and destroy the throne. Whether or not she succeeds will determine not only her fate and her sister’s, but the entire kingdom’s.
Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy by Liu Cixin
Chinese sci-fi author Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy, beginning with The Three-Body Problem, has been translated for English readers by fellow speculative fiction writer Ken Liu. Although this series leans harder into sci-fi than fantasy, it’s as gripping and immersive as anything.
Set during China’s Cultural Revolution, the story explores what happens after a top-secret military project finally establishes contact with aliens. Unfortunately, the alien civilization in question is about to collapse. After capturing Earth’s signal, it plans to launch a full-scale invasion. On Earth, people have begun to form different camps to fight either for or against the invasion, which launches one of the greatest sci-fi epics in recent memory.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
BookTok loves Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, and for good reason. This novel reimagines Homer’s The Iliad and the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War. Miller focuses on the moments before, during, and after the war to follow Achilles’s relationship with his companion and lover, Patroclus. Even in death, Patroclus awaits Achilles, as these two are soulmates who can never be parted for long.
If you’re looking for a romance based on Greek mythology, you can’t pass this up. Just make sure you have tissues nearby.
(featured image: Flatiron Books; William Morrow; Saga Press; Little, Brown and Company; Tor Books; Riverhead Books / The Mary Sue)
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