The nine circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. Orpheus looking back at Eurydice. The 10 Courts of Hell with its 10 Kings.

Hell — or the underworld in general — is found in literature spanning across time and culture. One popular work that explores the depths of judgment in life after death is Homer’s The Odyssey. Yet, the concept of an “underworld” is not restricted to only myths and stories from the Western world. In China, Vietnam, and Singapore, for example, there is Diyu (地獄). The underworld is more bureaucratic, with 10 Courts of Hell dedicated to specific sins. These Courts, in turn, are governed by different Kings.

But, what the hell — who says the underworld can’t be fun, too? EnVi rounded up four upcoming and recently released books set in Hell to add to your reading lists.  

Katabasis by R.F. Kuang 

@literamie @Rebecca F. Kuang on her upcoming novel: Katabasis (ive linked her other books if you haven’t read them yet!!) #katabasisrfkuang#rfkuang#enterbabel#thepoppywar#yellowfacerfkuang#authorevents#authortalks#rfkuangpaymytherapybillsplease#romancebooks#greekmythologybooks#underworldbooks#literamie ♬ original sound – amie

Currently slated for publication in August 2025, Katabasis is the latest novel from New York Times-bestselling author R.F. Kuang. It will come about two years after Yellowface, a satire about the publishing industry and race. Katabasis, meanwhile, follows two Cambridge academic rivals who descend into Hell to rescue the soul of their advisor (Can I get a “hell yeah?”). This will not be the first time Kuang has explored the depths of academia in her work. Published in August 2022, Babel — or its full title, Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translator’s Revolution — is an alternative historical fiction fantasy, where language can be shaped into actual power through silver and translation. The thick, 500 plus-paged tome debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times bestsellers list.

Kuang tends to have a personal relationship with the academic settings of her books. Currently, she is studying at Yale and pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures. However, Kuang also obtained a Master of Science in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford as well as a Master of Philosophy in Chinese Studies from Cambridge.

She has spoken in bits and pieces about Katabasis on her Instagram in the months leading up to an official announcement. Kuang noted in February that Katabasis revisions were underway and that she is “prouder and prouder of [Katabasis] every day.” Two months before on December 31, 2023, she had officially sent the novel to her agent. In her Instagram caption, Kuang wrote, “on the last day of 2023 i wrote the last sentences of my sixth novel…” She added at the end, “…this novel has been my most difficult journey to the finish line. i am so proud of it; i think it has some of my best writing yet.”  

At the beginning of April, Kuang announced that signed editions of her upcoming novel were available to pre-order from the UK-bookstore chain, Waterstones. In the caption, the author cheekily wrote, “not an april fools…” This highly-anticipated news follows the leap day announcement that Babel has been optioned by Wiip for a screen adaptation. Temple Hill — which is known for the Twilight Saga movies, The Maze Runner series, The Fault In Our Stars, and The Hate U Give, among others — will produce. 

R.F. Kuang Socials: IG | X | TikTok | Website 

Darker By Four by June CL Tan 

On April 2, 2024 — a palindrome — Singaporean author June CL Tan launched her sophomore novel into the world. Titled Darker By Four, this young adult urban fantasy draws inspiration from the 10 Courts of Hell, often found in East and Southeast Asian myths, where each court is overseen by a different King. The novel revolves around the mysterious disappearance of the Fourth King of Hell after an unborn child, who should have died in a tragic car accident, survives. It is also about a powerful girl who loses her magic; a boy who feels powerless under his family’s legacy; and the collision of unexpected worlds. Darker By Four is for readers who love anime like Jujutsu Kaisen, clever banter and romantic tension expressed as a knife to the throat, and Chinese underworld mythology.

In a release-day Instagram post, Tan added, “[Darker By Four is] about different worlds—metaphoric and literal—and characters who are ‘not quite’, who don’t necessarily like the reflection they see in the mirror, or who see distorted reflections of themselves.” She continued, writing, “They’re haunted by their pasts, living in regret, struggling to embrace the reflection in their mirrors, searching for belonging, for magic.” 

Readers who are familiar with Mandarin Chinese may catch the character for four (四) on the cover as a replacement for the “o” in “Four.” In Mandarin, the character for “four” (sì – 四) sounds similar to the character for “death” (sǐ – 死). Of course, this was all on purpose. Tan drew plenty of inspiration for the Courts of Hell from Singapore’s Haw Par Villa. She told EnVi about her research trip to the cultural park in a recent interview, noting, “It’s the strangest, weirdest thing. And I encourage everybody to go there.” Tan added, “Hell doesn’t always have to be scary.” This is clear in the first book of her new duology, where Hell is a place of punishment and torture but also a place of boring bureaucracy, Kings who enjoy bubble tea, and lots and lots of chaotic adventures.  

June CL Tan Socials: IG | X | TikTok | Website 

If Found, Return to Hell by Em X. Liu

Em X. Liu delivers one hell of a story in their novella If Found, Return to Hell. A month leading up to the release, they wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that the story is for “burnt out student interns, […] dumpling making champs, [and] aspiring afterlife architects.” They further teased in a cover reveal post that the novella includes “commiseration of corporate woes but with magic.”

If Found, Return to Hell follows Wen Mingyan who interns at the call center for One Wizard, an enigmatic insurance company. For the most part, they deal with angry clients and angrier senior mages. However, when they receive a call from an alarmed college student who woke up with a strange talisman on his wall, Wen jumps at the chance to investigate and leave their desk behind. They soon discover that the young man has been possessed by a demon prince from Hell who doesn’t intend on leaving. Told in second person point-of-view, Liu spins a tale of found family and an exploration into capitalism. 

Em X. Liu is also the author of The Death I Gave Him, a sci-fi Hamlet retelling set in a locked-down science lab. Publisher’s Weekly gave the debut a starred review, calling it a “nail-biter.” Earlier this year, Liu was selected as one of the finalists for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer.

Em X. Liu Socials: IG | X | TikTok | Website 

Immortal Consequences by I.V. Marie

Described as a magical academy set in purgatory, Immortal Consequences is I.V. Marie’s debut novel, and it is set to publish in the summer of 2025. The novel will feature six point-of-views told from the students in the elusive Blackwood Academy. Here, they are to compete for a chance to “cross over to the other side, or Ascend and remain at Blackwood forever,” per the Goodreads description. 

While the full blurb has not been revealed, Marie has been teasing pieces of Immortal Consequences on her social media, with a video of her revealing a snippet of a chapter amassing over 80,000 views. The novel has been gaining traction online with it reaching 3,000 adds on Goodreads in March, which was less than six months since her publication announcement. 

In her Substack newsletter, Marie dove into her writing journey and said, “[Immortal Consequences] is so many things. It’s a book about magic and friendship. About deadly secrets and fated hearts. But at its core, it’s a love-letter to those of us who have endured the unrelenting wave of grief and learned not to drown.” She further expressed that during the time she began writing again, she was “dealing with the loss of [her] dad.” 

“Grief is a stubborn thing,” Marie wrote. “[A]nd whether or not I realized it at the time, it was very much guiding the choices I made, especially when it came to my writing.”

I.V. Marie Socials: IG | X | TikTok | Website 

Want more book recommendations? Check out five must-read books recommended by Black BookTok here!