fantasy novels with strong women characters
December 1, 2009 10:35 AM   Subscribe

recommend me fantastic fantasy novels or epics with strong female protagonists or characters!

help me metafilter. i'm having something of a fantasy reading renaissance, but as an independent, strong-minded woman, so far i've been frustrated by one-dimensional female depictions in a lot of fantasy classics. i'm having trouble connecting to what feels like some kind of "boys club" at times. i don't want to read about the sidelined princess that's an object of longing, the beautiful slave who needs to be rescued, the noblewoman fretting around the castle, the "strong and equal" female magician who doesn't seem to do anything but have the chosen one's babies. i want to read about women who kick ass and/or take names, not just garnish the background with prettiness or grace or whatever. i'm not looking for feminist propaganda with obnoxiously strong or overbearing women and obviously weak men- just works where women are as complex and pivotal to the plot as, say, mists of avalon. when i say strong i mean strong and interesting of character- examples in things i've read which come to mind are lyra in the his dark materials trilogy, sophie in howl's moving castle, angua or susan of the discworld series.

i've already been recommended elizabeth moons' deed of paksenarrion series and garth nix's old kingdom series, but i'm looking for more reads. :)
posted by raw sugar to Media & Arts (71 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
Jirel of Joiry - (Stupid Mac iBook won't let me make a hyperlink! WTF?)

I thought about suggesting Red Sonja, but that's mostly a comic book, even though she was created by COnan's creator Robert E. Howard and made her first appearance in a Conan story.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:41 AM on December 1, 2009

Dragonriders of Pern comes to mind. Lessa is pretty badass.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:41 AM on December 1, 2009

The A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin is a good read and has strong female characters who are as deep as their male counterparts (though they might not get as many pages, I can't quite remember).
posted by ODiV at 10:43 AM on December 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

Elizabeth Haydon's Rhapsody series (A trilogy plus a duo plus a new one now, I think) has a female protagonist who struggles to be the strong, independent woman over time, surrounded by your usual (and unusual) cast of Medieval-minded men.

Also, George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series is brilliant and features a great many very strong women. Four long, brilliant books so far. But, as a caveat, he may or may not finish the next book before the apocalypse. Hurry up, George!
posted by Rallon at 10:44 AM on December 1, 2009

Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind.

I have never read the books, but have watched Season 1 of Legend of the Seeker - based off the books. I love the female protagonist - Kahlen. She doesn't sit idly by, she's integral to the story and an equal partner to the other characters.
posted by Sassyfras at 10:46 AM on December 1, 2009

You may want to check out this thread, it's more geared towards sci-fi but you still might find some good suggestions.

Also, the Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin has some strong female characters, especially in the later books.
posted by castlebravo at 10:47 AM on December 1, 2009

One more - Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books are all very good and feature some brilliantly done female characters. One of the main characters is a courtesan, however, and Carey isn't shy about sex, so there's no dearth of "explicit" scenes - just something to bear in mind if it's an issue in any way.
posted by Rallon at 10:48 AM on December 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

The women in Cat Valente's The Orphan's Tales are strong and real and believable, and she directly confronts fantasy/fairytale tropes like the crone/witch, maiden in a tower, etc. Plus they're just wonderful books :)
posted by rivenwanderer at 10:49 AM on December 1, 2009

Everything by Sharon Shinn features strong female protagonists, even her YA stuff. Sherri S. Tepper's Mavin and Jinian Star-Eye books have strong female characters. Even her other fiction, although she tends more Sci-Fi. Technically the True Game Series is more fantastic future stuff (psychics) but that doesn't come out until later in the Jinian series.
posted by fiercekitten at 10:50 AM on December 1, 2009

Ash, by Mary Gentle, is one of my favorite books ever. It came out in four books in the US, and I think they're all out of print now, but if you can find the UK/Canada omnibus, it's just a phenomenal book about a woman who's a French mercenary captain, and who hears voices in her head.

The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein.

For YA, Kristin Cashore's books Graceling and Fire are more sharp and sensitive than anything I've read by Tamora Pierce; they're both about young women dealing with powers that frighten them and the people around them, struggling with being feared, desired, manipulated, and trying to rise beyond that.
posted by Jeanne at 10:54 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Pern series is only good if you're a teenage girl (or teenage fag, which amounts to the same thing).

The Terry Goodkind books start out well, but wander off into boring drivel after the third book or so.

Seconding George R.R. Martin.

And I'd recommend basically anything by Guy Gavriel Kay, particularly A Song for Arbonne and The Sarantine Mosaic.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:55 AM on December 1, 2009

I recently read and enjoyed Seanan McGuire's Rosemary and Rue, the first in a series about the fairy kingdoms of San Francisco.
posted by Sara Anne at 10:59 AM on December 1, 2009

The Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb. I really loved it when I first read it a few years ago, and I think one of the main characters, Althea Vestrit, is someone you might like (at least in the beginning) - she's strong, independent and willing to go a long way to follow her dreams.
posted by Jelly at 11:02 AM on December 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

Reading your post, the first author that came to my mind was Sherri Tepper. Her Gibbons Decline and Fall was particularly potent; as impactful and eye-opening as The Women's Room was when I read it in college.
posted by DrGail at 11:03 AM on December 1, 2009

I really love Robin McKinley's work. Specifically The Hero and the Crown, The Blue Sword, and Beauty. After those reading those three and being completely entranced by them, I found Deerskin and Spindle's End to be just okay.
posted by spec80 at 11:04 AM on December 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

You might also enjoy the short stories of Kelly Link, and although not all his protagonists are women, Neil Gaiman never writes women as cartoonish fools.
posted by Sara Anne at 11:05 AM on December 1, 2009

The Chalion books by Lois McMaster Bujold (Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt) might meet your criteria. There are noblewomen in them, and male protagonists sometimes, but the women are smart, tough, and active participants in their own destinies.
posted by creepygirl at 11:09 AM on December 1, 2009

Sabriel! - I liked the character more than the story she starred in, if that makes sense.
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:09 AM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Women On Fire. Contains strong women who go through hell and come out the other side.
posted by Solomon at 11:11 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Ash: A Secret History" by Mary Gentle is a great book with a strong female protagonist.

"Best Served Cold" by Joe Abercrombie has a strong but not exactly pleasant female central: great book but pretty dark and bloody.

"Monstrous Regiment" by Terry Pratchett isn't his best book but definitely has strong female characters. His other Discworld books in the Witches sequence starting "Equal Rites", "Wyrd Sisters" and "Witches Abroad" might be better, but they're comic fantasy.

Steph Swainston's Castle series, starting "The Year of Our War", and K.J. Parker's Engineer trilogy, starting "Devices and Desires" don't have female protagonists, but they do have well-realised female characters.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:12 AM on December 1, 2009

Yeah, lots of LeGuin. The first two I thought of were the excellent Always Coming Home and the recent Lavinia.... which I haven't read yet, but she's always great so I'm sure it's good.
posted by rokusan at 11:12 AM on December 1, 2009

Stephenson's Baroque Cycle has at least one great female character.

Not really fantasy, but it has swordplay, magic, gold and pirates. You can't go wrong with pirates.
posted by rokusan at 11:15 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, geez, I can't believe I forgot about Eliza and the Baroque Cycle. I second rokusan a million times. I guess that means I second-million him. Whatever. Eliza's amazing. Get those books.

Stephenson's pretty reliable all around in terms of strong women. Snow Crash, Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon all have amazing female characters. These all skew more "sci-fi" than "fantasy" but they are absolutely epics.
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:20 AM on December 1, 2009

I really enjoyed Naomi Novik's Temeraire series. While the main protagonists are male (the dragon and his rider), there are strong female characters as well. And, the premise is just so interesting -- alternative history set in the Napoleonic period with intelligent dragons that fight with the armies.
posted by elmay at 11:21 AM on December 1, 2009

The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson features a very good female lead character. I linked to book one, but all three books are in print.
posted by CMcKinnon at 11:43 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Trudi Canavan's Black Magician and Age of the Five series both feature female protagonists and are a lot of fun (with nice twisty endings, I'd recommend them for anyone who enjoyed that about Ash: A Secret History.)

Lois McMaster Bujold's book Paladin of Souls is part of a series, but works fine as a stand-alone. The bonus in this one is that the heroine is an actual grown-up. I like coming-of-age stories, but it's refreshing to read epic fantasy that doesn't feature one.
posted by asperity at 11:58 AM on December 1, 2009

I've always loved Raederle, from Patricia McKillip's Riddle-Master series, and although I wouldn't necessarily consider them complex, I love most of the female characters in David (and Leigh) Eddings' books. Polgara is pretty damned kick-ass. For more recent stuff -- more in the urban fantasy realm -- I like the Kate Daniels books by Ilona Andrews and Lisa Shearin's Raine Benares series.
posted by worldswalker at 12:05 PM on December 1, 2009

I will throw in my friend Alma Alexander's fantasy duology, published in the U.S. as "The Hidden Queen" and "Changer of Days," and also her alternate-China duology (which has some fantasy elements) "The Secrets of Jin-Shei" and "The Embers of Heaven."

Jin-Shei in particular has no fewer than eight female protagonists, all of them very strong. I think you would like it very much.
posted by kindall at 12:12 PM on December 1, 2009

More sci fi, but have you read any Octavia Butler or Marge Piercy? In particular, Butler's distopian novels Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents are excellent.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:27 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I second Patricia McKillip, Robin Hobb, Robin McKinley (pick up Sunshine, if you haven't had it up to here with vampires), and George R.R. Martin. If you like the smarter stuff in the young adult section (like I do), keep going with Diana Wynne Jones. Jane Yolen is another author who writes great female characters and is usually shelved in the young adult section, but writes books that have enough depth to keep adults interested.
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:38 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to second Guy Gavriel Kay (The Lions of al-Rassan in particular for what you want), the Kushiel series, and Brandon Sanderson's work, including the aforementioned Mistborn series.

I started reading Sanderson's books with one of his more recent ones, Warbreaker, which is available online for free; although the two main female characters are princesses, they really don't sit around waiting for anyone to rescue them. Mistborn might be more what you're looking for, however.

I may regret admitting this, but another possible source is Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar novels, in particular By the Sword, the Vows and Honor duology, and the Mage Winds trilogy. Start with Vows of Honor, then By the Sword, then Mage Winds. Some of her other books may contain what you're looking for too; in particular, The Fire Rose is an excellent retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a strong female lead. Lackey is a guilty pleasure of mine, because a lot of what she writes is pretty much crap, but I can't seem to stop reading it.

On preview, emphatically seconding Sunshine, and how the heck did I forget that book? Most of McKinley's stuff is fantastic, actually, but Sunshine is such a different take on the modern vampire that it's probably one of my favorites of her novels. Plus, the female protagonist is a baker and she kicks ass (if in a more metaphorical sense); how cool is that?
posted by ashirys at 12:52 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I thought that the female characters in Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series were very well-drawn - strong, but also fallible, and certainly complex.

A big ++ to Ash, A Secret History and the witches books by Terry Pratchett (beginning with Equal Rites but really kicking off in Wyrd Sisters.
posted by Paragon at 12:55 PM on December 1, 2009

No one's mentioned C. L. Moore? She pretty much invented the strong fantasy heroine (in the 1930s).
posted by dfan at 12:58 PM on December 1, 2009

No one's mentioned C. L. Moore?

Ha ha, the very first response did, I was searching for the author, rather than the main character. Oops!
posted by dfan at 12:58 PM on December 1, 2009

Nthing George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. Seriously, when is that next book finally going to come out?

Also Nthing dislike for Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series. I picked up one at an airport to read, not realizing it was in the middle of the series. It stood alone well enough but the writing was very juvenile. I don't think it's appropriate to give anything away, but trust me, the author was so spineless when it came to his characters that it was laughable.
posted by cali59 at 1:00 PM on December 1, 2009

Cirocco Jones! Seriously, the best female in Sci-fi ever. John Varley, The Titan Trilogy. I think one or more of the 3 are out of print, but they can be found pretty easily.
posted by Pennyblack at 1:01 PM on December 1, 2009

Bujold's Sharing Knife books also feature a strong woman.
posted by jefftang at 1:15 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have read the first book in the Rhapsody series and I would recommend it. The Wheel of Time features some very strong female characters but it is more of an ensemble cast.
posted by Silvertree at 1:16 PM on December 1, 2009

I'm chiming in with a guilty pleasure recommendation for Mercedes Lackey, too. The women are beautiful and tough and the men are beautiful and fey and there's a lot lot lot of queerness. So, yeah, a pretty nice place to hang out.

(Even if there is much silliness.)
posted by desuetude at 1:43 PM on December 1, 2009

The problem is that Lackey's gay characters are so zero-dimensional. They're not even portrayed as human; they're much closer to Anne Rice's vampires (beautiful, tragic, perfect) than anything else. It's kind of insulting.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:50 PM on December 1, 2009

Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. I have never read the books, but have watched Season 1 of Legend of the Seeker - based off the books. I love the female protagonist - Kahlen. She doesn't sit idly by, she's integral to the story and an equal partner to the other characters.

JC on a pogo stick; you should probably read books before recommending them. Goodkind is full of all sorts of weird psycho-sexual stuff with strong BDSM undertones. (Also they suck).

The canonical example of what the OP is looking for is The Mists of Avalon. More recently Robin Hobb (Meghan Lindholm) wrote a trilogy called The Liveship Traders with a strong female protagonist, although this trilogy is part of a larger narrative where the protagonists are often male. Mary Gentle's Ash: A Secret History has about as strong a female protagonist as you'll find although it has some pretty awful stuff happen to her. Cherryh writes a lot of strong female characters... and weak male ones. It's almost a cliche.

Are you looking for epic doorstop fantasy exclusively or is any sort of fantasy okay?
posted by Justinian at 1:54 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

thanks so much for all the recommendations, everyone! looks like i have a lot of reading to do :) if anyone else has any suggestions, keep 'em coming!

justinian- i'm open to any sort of fantasy fiction, from epic doorstop to funny and fluffy
posted by raw sugar at 2:23 PM on December 1, 2009

The Iron Dragon's Daughter
posted by various at 2:39 PM on December 1, 2009

Seconding Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy, (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen).
posted by fings at 2:46 PM on December 1, 2009

I just finished Jim Butcher's fantasy series (the Codex Alera). Main character is male, but there are lots of excellent female characters.
I enthusiastically echo support for Robin McKinley, George R R Martin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Sharon Shinn (and have happily noted the authors I hadn't read yet).
posted by maryrussell at 3:15 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a fan of Tamora Pierce, though she's written for a pretty young audience. (I may be biased because I read her when I was 12 and it's sort of impossible for me to look at her from an adult perspective.) The Alanna series is pretty good, as is the Circle of Magic one. If you can stand stuff written in the first person as a diary, pick up the Beka Cooper series and see if you like it.

She totally has lesbians, too. (You don't really find this out until you get to The Will of the Empress, which is the same characters as Circle of Magic/The Circle Opens.)
posted by NoraReed at 3:18 PM on December 1, 2009

As a kid I loved Tamora Pierce's books (especially the Trickster and Wild Magic series) as well as Dealing With Dragons.

More recently: if you're willing to go outside the bounds of fantasy and read some sci-fi that's set in the middle ages, Doomsday Book by Connie Willis has a fantastic female lead.
posted by you're a kitty! at 3:18 PM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

All of Connie Willis' books have good female characters, but she's definitely Sci-Fi. Passage might be the closest thing I've read of hers that's fantasy.
posted by fiercekitten at 3:24 PM on December 1, 2009

I mentioned this in the other thread, but definitely The Scar by China Mieville. The main character is the female, and the entire book is written from mostly her (albeit third person) perspective. It's more steampunk than straight-out high fantasy, but it's quite amazing.
posted by moiraine at 3:29 PM on December 1, 2009

The problem is that Lackey's gay characters are so zero-dimensional. They're not even portrayed as human; they're much closer to Anne Rice's vampires (beautiful, tragic, perfect) than anything else. It's kind of insulting.

I don't disagree. But Lackey's..what do we call it, hetero-guilt homonormality?...made a strong impression on me as a teenager, so I remain forgiving that she wants to populate the world with sensitive beautiful gay demigods.
posted by desuetude at 3:52 PM on December 1, 2009

I think Katherine Kerr's Deverry cycle is epic fantasy with great female characters. It's a long series, but very readable and enjoyable. Feminist without being preachy. I second the recommendations for Monstrous Regiment and The Mists of Avalon. Goodkind's Sword of Truth is about as far as you can come from having multi-dimensional female characters.
posted by Signy at 4:16 PM on December 1, 2009

Oh, how could I forget: Tanith Lee's Flat Earth books have two of the most kickass female characters anywhere. The kind that will burn the Earth to cinders if you look at them funny.

(Also, lots of flying fish, clockwork birds, and no shortage of cryptic man-woman-demon-hermaphrodite action.)
posted by rokusan at 4:17 PM on December 1, 2009

Seconding the Rhapsody series. I'm not a huge fantasy fan, but these books kept me reading.
posted by tryniti at 4:40 PM on December 1, 2009

I'm a big fan of many of the authors mentioned here (esp. Jacqueline Carey, Patricia C. Wrede and Tamora Pierce). A couple other authors you might enjoy:

-Kelley Armstrong writes urban fantasy full of fascinating, three-dimensional women. Her fantasy series is narrated by several different female protagonists (one per novel), so if you find one character not to your liking, another one might match you better.

-I really enjoy Anne Bishop. Her characters stray too close to Mary Sues for some, and I see their point, but it might be worth a shot to see if you enjoy. Her female characters are the antithesis of "just here for decoration". Happy reading!
posted by epj at 6:07 PM on December 1, 2009

Melina Marchetta, who wrote the Printz-winner Jellicoe Road, has a fantastic fantasy coming out in a few months called Finnikin of the Rock. One of its protagonists, Evanjalin, is one of my favorite female characters ever.
posted by changeling at 6:58 PM on December 1, 2009

I love Tamora Pierce, especially her Circle of Magic series. I read them as a preteen, but I reread them now (I'm 16) and I still love them. I'm pretty sure they'd still be enjoyable for an adult reader. They have pretty adult themes (including sex) as well as dark moments.

I think you'd enjoy The Will of the Empress more than the others, as the characters are adults at the time and the plot is more mature, but it might not be as good if you don't read the series from the beginning.
posted by kylej at 7:52 PM on December 1, 2009

Nth the recommendations for the Ash: A Secret History (that series is great) anything by Octavia Butler - my favorites are Fledgling and Wild Seed, and John Varley's Titan Series.

However I will recommend that you just say "No" to the Rhapsody series, because she became a huge Mary Sue in the first book. Huge.

First off, I've got two anthology series for you:
Sword and Sorceress - "The Sword and Sorceress series is a series of fantasy anthologies edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley. As she explained in the foreword to the first volume, she created the anthology to redress the lack of strong female protagonists in the sub-genre of sword and sorcery." It started in 1984 and the last one was published in 2008. It's had 23 volumes so far. Zimmer Bradley edited 1-18.

And the second is the Chicks in Chainmail anthology series edited by Esther Friesner. It's like Sword and Sorceress except it's all humor, all the time. I liked the first two or three, but then it started to get old.
Chicks in Chainmail
Did You Say Chicks?!
Chicks 'n Chained Males
The Chick is in the Mail
Turn the Other Chick

On to the books:
The Privilege of the Sword - Ellen Kushner - this is great. It's a touch slow at first but it turns out awesome. It's all about this girl who has to become a swordswoman, but she doesn't really want to, but then she does to defend her friends honor. Ok, I suck at summaries here is a better one: "The most recent Riverside story follows Swordspoint (2003) in chronology and features many of its characters. Alec, Duke Tremontaine, aka the Mad Duke of Riverside, has sent for his impoverished young niece, Katherine. She and her family hope he'll make a good marriage for her, but the Mad Duke has decided to train her as a sword fighter. She is furious, and besides a swordmaster to train her, her uncle also springs what becomes her fall into society, without warning or training, on her. She learns the sword perforce out of self-defense and also, bit by bit, the city, the nobility, politics, and her uncle. When Katherine is trained and entered into society with her weapon, she wades hip-deep into plots against her uncle and becomes the champion of a lady in distress, too." You don't need to have read the two books prior to this one to understand what's going on. I didn't and liked it fine.

Also, since you liked Mists of Avalon, I will also rec The Shattered Chain and Thendara House by Marion Zimmer Bradley. They are set in her Darkover universe, and explores the world of the Renunciates - the Free Amazons of Darkover. I also suggest Lythande, which is collection of short stories by Zimmer Bradley about the character Lythande that she created for the Thieves World universe.

Wen Spencer - Elfhome Series
Wolf Who Rules

And Spencer's stand alone: A Brother's Price - This main character is male, but it's set in a matriarchy and the majority of the other characters are female and awesome.

Naomi Kritzer - Dead River's Trilogy
Freedom's Gate
Freedom's Apprentice
Freedom's Sister

Kristen Britain - Green Rider Series
Green Rider
First Rider's Call
The High King's Tomb

Lynn Flewelling - Tamir Trilogy - fyi, main character is a girl but spends most of the first two books as a boy.
The Bone Doll's Twin
Hidden Warrior
The Oracle's Queen

L.E. Modesitt - The Spellsong Cycle - I loved the first three books. The last two were just okay. But altogether this series is full of good female characters.
The Soprano Sorceress
The Spellsong War
Darksong Rising
The Shadow Sorceress
posted by nooneyouknow at 10:08 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's a ton of my favorite authors here (I have a thing about reading books about women by women, so this is right up my alley). There's a lot to sink your teeth into.

I was reminded of PC Hodgell by the Meta thread linked above. (Normally I'd link that directly to the author's website rather than Wiki, but she has a rather bewildering website with autoplay music on every page). She is awesome plus her characters are complex, especially her women.
posted by librarylis at 11:09 PM on December 1, 2009

I want to enthusiastically second Kristin Cashore's Graceling series; they are all the rage among the YA librarians I'm in school with.

Also in the YA region, and also excellent, is the Flora Segunda series by Ysabeau Wilce. Flora is very fourteen occasionally, and ergo a smidge on the dense side, but she always pulls through. Wilce astounds at worldbuilding; her version of San Francisco is glorious in its color and intensity. Demonic butlers, questions of paternity, familial expectations, and some truly spectacular costumes make this a really great escapist fantasy.

Robin McKinley's female heroines are universally tough in their own ways. Sunshine is more horror than fantasy (it's all about some really evil vampires), but it is beyond excellent.

Charles deLint is a bit middling - I stopped reading him habitually several years ago for a variety of reasons, but Jack of Kinrowan is quite badass. Girl finds out she can see into faerie. This turns out to be a rather more terrifying thing than one usually hopes.

The Hunger Games and its sequel by Suzanne Collins are sci-fi verging on horror but are completely unputdownable. To save her sister, Katniss volunteers to compete in the Hunger Games, a battle in which 24 young girls and boys are thrown into an artifically created, artificially controlled battleground and must fight to the death. Katniss is a complete badass. Seriously.
posted by athenasbanquet at 12:32 AM on December 2, 2009

Seconding Anne Bishop, although really, just The Black Jewels Trilogy. Her other stuff isn't nearly as good -- I couldn't finish her Ephemera or Tir Alainn stuff.
posted by Nattie at 2:25 AM on December 2, 2009

The problem is that Lackey's gay characters are so zero-dimensional.

A semi-tangent, maybe, but in addition to kickass women/goddess characters, the Tanith Lee Flat Earth books I recommended above also handle gay (and transgendered) characters better than I've ever seen done in fantasy.

Of course, in my experience, all other Lee books are crap. But in that one series, she really hits her potential.
posted by rokusan at 3:38 AM on December 2, 2009

The Ancient Future trilogy written by Australian author Traci Harding has quite a strong female character that time-travels between the modern era and ancient England. She is a black belt in [insert martial art here], and when she encounters the Prince's court, she hands out a huge dose of modern feminism . She's quite a determined, forthright, intelligent character, and I remember that's why I enjoyed this series, even if I have gone off fantasy novels for some time.
posted by chronic sublime at 3:38 AM on December 2, 2009

Daughter of the Empire followed by the other two in the trilogy. Mara is a great, strong female character. Very clever and independent. I've only read it once but it's been in my wishlist for years.
posted by like_neon at 3:45 AM on December 2, 2009

Lots of good recommendations here. I can't remember if anyone mentioned Patricia Briggs, but she definitely writes strong female characters. Emma Bull's War for the Oaks is another good one.
posted by gudrun at 3:55 AM on December 2, 2009

I second recommendations for LeGuin, McKinley, and Kushner. All are excellent! (Privilege of the Sword was especially fun. I almost wanted to re-read it the minute I finished it!)

Right now I'm reading Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks, and it is fantastic! So far it has 1 kickass female protagonist and multiple interesting/strong/kickass female secondary characters, and some very fine prose.
posted by dryad at 7:21 AM on December 2, 2009

Also, I forgot to mention Holly Black's YA "Faerie" books, Tithe, Valiant and Ironside, as well as Shannon Hale's YA The Goose Girl and Book of a Thousand Days.

Also, I am enthusiastically thirding Kristin Cashore's Graceling and Fire. Though classed as YA they skew more adult than a lot of YA and are some of the best books I've read recently in any category.
posted by gudrun at 7:53 AM on December 2, 2009

I'd second the recommendation for Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series. Strong female lead character, and one of the more inventive, interesting fantasy environments I've run across in quite a while.
posted by onemoreryan at 11:11 AM on December 2, 2009

Discworld has already been mentioned (in fact, you mentioned it in your question), but some of my favorite Discworld book are the YA ones about the witch Tiffany Aching. They are pretty wonderful books; you should check them out if you haven't already.

Series page on Librarything
posted by audacity at 12:11 PM on December 2, 2009

I have got the perfect book for you: Nina Kimberly the Merciless. It's also available as a free audiobook read by the author. And as a free PDF via the author's website.

It's a fun story with memorable characters. And the title character is the leader of a barbarian horde--a strong female role if ever I heard one.
posted by JDHarper at 7:31 PM on December 2, 2009

Ooh, great suggestions here! Lots of good reading for me!
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:50 AM on December 4, 2009

Oh yeah: the Weather Warden series by Rachel Caine. Protagonist, Joanne, has supernatural powers to control the weather and is part of a secret organization intended to mitigate natural disasters. She kicks ass frequently and drives fast.
posted by kindall at 9:36 AM on December 4, 2009

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