We like to think that fantasy is a limitless exploration of our imaginations, but in reality, fantasy fiction is limited by the cultural experiences of the author. As a result, what most of us are exposed to are a very narrow set of ideas about fantasy and magic – those from a Judeo-Christian tradition. 

When we are exposed to other magic styles, the keyword is ‘other’. Whenever non-Western traditions are represented in mainstream fiction, they tend to be defined by an ‘othering’ or ‘exoticising’ of religions and cultural traditions. But what does this really mean? And how does this end up misrepresenting a major population within fantasy fiction?

We spoke to Zen Cho, author of Sorcerer to the Crown and The True Queen (out now from Pan Macmillan), about issues of exoticising non-Western ideas of magic.

Mentioned in this episode:

Zen Cho is the author of a short story collection (Spirits Abroad, Fixi, 2014) and two historical fantasy novels (Sorcerer to the Crown, 2015 and The True Queen, 2019, both published by Ace and Macmillan).

She is a winner of the Crawford Fantasy Award and the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer, and a finalist for the Locus Award for Best First Novel and the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She was born and raised in Malaysia, resides in the UK, and lives in a notional space between the two.