Suggestions for books about dungeons and dragons and awesome heroines.
February 16, 2011 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Bookfilter: I need new stuff to read! Really enjoy fantasy where the hero is female.. bonus points if she's conflicted in some way.

I've been looking for new books to read.. and I've polled my family and friends, but not too many people enjoy my style.

I don't mean fantasy romance. I mean dungeons, dragons, swords, armor, and all things magical. Nothing is wrong with the characters falling in love, but I want the world being saved from evil ambitious people too.

I seem to enjoy books where the focus/hero is female.. especially if she's had to overcome adversity. But if the hero is male and has overcome adversity or is an anti-hero.. that's awesome too.

Here's a list of some of the stuff I've read that I enjoy:
  • The Black Jewels Trilogy (by Anne Bishop)
  • Kushiel Series (by Jacqueline Carey)
  • Dragonlance Chronicles Trilogy
  • Dragonlance Legends Trilogy
  • Harry Potter
  • Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood (by Patricia Briggs)
  • Leandros Brothers series (by Rob Thurman)*
I've tried other parts of the dragonlance series and just couldn't get into them.

*I think I read these books solely because of Robin Goodfellow. It does not fit the mold of the books I traditionally like to read.

Bonus points if it's on the kindle, but I'm more then happy to buy physical copies of books that aren't.
posted by royalsong to Media & Arts (67 answers total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
The brilliant His Dark Materials series, by Philip Pullman. The first book is Northern Lights or The Golden Compass, depending upon whether you're in the U.S. or the U.K.
posted by Spinneret at 10:31 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin.

Also, Beth Bernobich.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:33 AM on February 16, 2011

Oh, also Katya Reimann.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:35 AM on February 16, 2011

You might like books by Tamora Pierce. She excels at female heroines even though the audience is YA. I found her Protector of the Small series was quite a let down though...I liked her Immortals and Song of the Lioness series.
posted by Calzephyr at 10:36 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

"The Blue Sword" and "The Hero and the Crown" by Robin McKinley. Wonderful, mature YA-fantasy with kick-ass female heroines.

I especially love The Blue Sword. I just re-read it this year.
posted by warble at 10:37 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well...I don't know if it's your style but I enjoyed the Rhapsody Trilogy by Elizabeth has the heroine, dragons, swords, monster civilizations, magic, and the usual fantasy sexytimes. I would stick with the first three books (the original trilogy), though. They're definitely the better ones. I tried reading further but didn't get far.

Also, The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson has an interesting female lead and one of the most innovative forms of magic (at least that I've read in a long while).
posted by sprezzy at 10:38 AM on February 16, 2011

Are you open to science fiction? Lois McMaster Bujold has an excellent female protagonist, Cordelia, in Shards of Honor and Barrayar. Her fantasy series, beginning with Beguilement, also has a good reputation, although it wasn't my cup of tea.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:40 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Poison Study triology by Maria V. Snyder.
posted by anderjen at 10:40 AM on February 16, 2011


The Axis Trilogy, maybe (books are Battleaxe, Enchanter, Starman) by Sara Douglass. Main characters are a man and a woman, but there is a lot of focus on the woman. I think the names of the books are changed in the USA.
posted by gaspode at 10:40 AM on February 16, 2011

The Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett should fit the bill.

Also along those lines, any of the books he wrote featuring the witches of Discworld as well as the books featuring Susan, the granddaughter of Death.

And you'd probably like Eskarina as well.
posted by zizzle at 10:41 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Pattern Recognition, Gibson.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:42 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you read "The Mists of Avalon"? It's classic female driven fantasy. You might also like George R.R. Martin's books in the Song of Ice and Fire series. They don't have a single protagonist, rather they tell the story from several alternating points of view. Some of the primary viewpoints are female, and his female characters are often strong and conflicted.
posted by MorningPerson at 10:42 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Science-fiction is fine too, although I tend to get bored if it's super technology heavy.

Good: We are on a spaceship deep in space and we deal with all alien races and there is this evil horrible monster-race that wants to kill us all.. and only AWESOMEGIRL can save us with her special skill of whatever-it-is.

Not-so-good: We are a galactic war ship fighting for the rulership of the universe using awesome high techy guns and lasers.. and the key to our winning is this gigantic weapon that she is designing.
posted by royalsong at 10:44 AM on February 16, 2011

The Belgariad series also has some really strong female characters. A male is the focus of the story, but the female characters in it are kick butt.
posted by zizzle at 10:44 AM on February 16, 2011

Oh, one more!

The Darkangel Trilogy by Meredith Ann Pierce. It was kind of a guilty pleasure for me, but I ate it up. If you read the Amazon description it sounds pretty corny, but I thought it was good.
posted by sprezzy at 10:45 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

If young adult is OK, I have a soft spot for Caroline Stevermer's A College of Magics, which is set at a women's college in an alternate early 20thC universe. The first sequel, A Scholar of Magics, features the sidekick character on a romp through Buffalo Bill's America; the third book in the series, When the King Comes Home, isn't technically a sequel, but it's set in the same universe although generations apart from the first two.
posted by catlet at 10:49 AM on February 16, 2011

The Blue Sword is the book you want.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:52 AM on February 16, 2011

Sounds to me like you might want Maggie Furey's Aurian series.
posted by dorque at 10:52 AM on February 16, 2011

Perhaps The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix
posted by astapasta24 at 10:53 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Came in to say Tamora Pierce (although Protector of the Small is actually my fave series of hers) and Stevermer's College of Magics.

Also I'm currently reading Jim Hines's Princess novels, starting with the Stepsister Scheme. I'm not quite done with the series but I think you'd enjoy it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:54 AM on February 16, 2011

I LOVED Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta. It's YA but reads like adult; the protagonist is male, but the real hero is female :)
posted by changeling at 10:56 AM on February 16, 2011

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie. It's a pretty dark fantasy, and all the characters certainly have flaws that ensures that there isnt really a good guy or bad guy. But it was a good book with a female lead. And if you like it, the author makes more like it in the same universe.
posted by ShootTheMoon at 10:59 AM on February 16, 2011

Seconding Tamora Pierce's Alanna and The Immortals. In the same YA vein, I highly recommend Patricia Wrede's Dealing with Dragons series. In fact, a lot of Wrede's work fits your parameters - her Lyra books are probably at least half female-character-centric, and a bit more grown up than the Dealing with Dragons ones.
posted by kitarra at 10:59 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dragonriders of Pern might be good. The first few in the series feature female protagonists who ride dragons! I think only the first book as a female protagonist, but there are subplots in the series that involve strong female characters.
posted by astapasta24 at 11:00 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I see Heralds of Valdemar has been mentioned, I was going to recommend Kerowyn's Tale as a good starting point as it is a stand alone. The Gryphon trilogy is also outstanding- I've read all the Valdemar books and would recommend any of the pre ~2003 books without reservation (if you're a fan the new stuff is okay, but it's not really up to standard).

I would also recommend Lackey's 500 Kingdoms series, it's set in a land ruled by "the tradition" basically the premise is that all the fairytales happen over and over again, only sometimes a Cinderella (or Rapunzel or what have you) is born into the wrong circumstances. In the first book "The Fairy Godmother" the main character Elena is born into Cinderella circumstances, but the prince is too young, the tradition keeps trying to push her into the mold of the traditional story. It's a very fun concept and the characters are well developed.

Tamora Pierce's "Song of the Lioness" series is also excellent, as are the first 3 DragonRider books by McCaffary (DragonRider, DragonFlight, DragonQuest) and her Rowen series and Crystal Singer series.

You might enjoy Charles DeLint. He's urban fantasy rather than the more typical 'vaguely medieval', I would recommend starting with "The Onion Girl" to get a good feel for his world.
posted by dadici at 11:02 AM on February 16, 2011

Deed of Paksennarion, by Elizabeth Moon. First book is pretty straight military fantasy, but it gets more magicy as it goes on. Much of the second book is about her loosing everything that she values about herself and getting it back.

Maybe Chronicles of Tornor, by Elizabeth Lynn. Not all three books focus on women, but there are always strong female characters and she deals with some difficult situations from unusual angles.

If you like short stories, Chicks in Chainmail and its successor anthologies are frequently great fun.
posted by QIbHom at 11:04 AM on February 16, 2011

Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders Trilogy has a few female protags and [spoiler alert for her other series] one genderqueer protag.
posted by elizardbits at 11:04 AM on February 16, 2011

Charles DeLint has lots of strong, interesting women characters. Some of his more recent stuff is a little preachy/new agey, but they're all pretty good. Katherine Kerr's long, long, long Deverry series are great straight up Celtic fantasy with mainly women protagonists and there are like 12 of those books, so they keep you busy for ages. Patricia McKillip is a huge favorite of mine, you might like her as well. And Robin Hobb's 9 book series - the Tawny Man trilogy, Farseer Trilogy and Liveship Traders trilogy, all of which are interconnected and I would read them in order - are great although I couldn't get into her Soldier/Son books. She also writes or wrote as Megan Lindholm and although most of those are out of print, they're well worth reading if you can find them.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:06 AM on February 16, 2011

Discworld! Granny Weatherwax is a marvelous character.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:08 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I assume that by 'hero" you mean heroine, or are you looking for transgendered characters?

All kidding aside, check out the Nantucket series by SM Stirling
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:09 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Robin McKinley, Bujold's fantasy series (I like it much better than her sci fi), and Robin Hobbs-her liveship traders has a female protagonist, though I like her Assassin's Apprentice series the very best. Also, David Durham's Acacia series is good-four siblings, two girls-powerful women.
posted by purenitrous at 11:11 AM on February 16, 2011

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is really good, although not specifically magicky, it definitely has some mystical influences, some freaky technology and a strong female lead. In terms of addictiveness my sister described it as "Twilight, but not for pussies." Don't worry, that's where the similarities end.
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 11:17 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yes! To "The Hunger Games" Also Scott Westfields "Uglies" series is good, if a little more Y on the Y.A. scale.
posted by dadici at 11:19 AM on February 16, 2011

Ursula K. LeGuin is wonderful. The Other Wind may be a good fit.
posted by Ventre Mou at 11:29 AM on February 16, 2011

I'm a guy who doesn't really like fantasy all that much or YA fiction but I read Tamora Pierce's first two books in the Beka Cooper series and enjoyed them a lot. Good, likable, funny, relatively complex characters. So, coming on here to nth her. Also, Ursula K. LeGuin, of course, she is a master.
posted by dubitable at 11:35 AM on February 16, 2011

The Iron Dragon's Daughter, by Michael Swanwick
posted by edgeways at 11:38 AM on February 16, 2011

Kristin Cashore has written two books that are in the same universe (not sequel) called Graceling and Fire, with a third on the way called Bitterblue. Both of the published ones have incredibly strong female leads, struggling to understand their differences in the world, and accepting their part (or lead) in conquering evil. (Bitterblue is the name of a female character as well, so I can only assume the third will follow suit.)

This is an alternate world where monsters exist and people have different powers and gifts, but no particular dragons per se. However, it's one of the most compelling universes I've come across in recent years. (And boy howdy, is the bad guy in Graceling BAD. *shiver*) They're both considered YA, but that distinction is becoming more an more arbitrary, imo.
posted by librarianamy at 11:40 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nobody mentioned the Wheel of Time series yet? Both male and female heroes. And everyone, including probably the villains, are just conflicted as all get out. The level of angst in that series is pretty much off the charts.
posted by krisak at 11:48 AM on February 16, 2011

Seanan McGuire and her alterego, Mira Grant, writes fun fantasy or horror about a half-fairy PI (no romance!) or teenagers after a disease turns lots of people into zombies and -- well, it's hard to explain, but they are both good. Seanan McGuire might be one of my favourite authors now.

The Jim Hines princess series -- Cinderella can talk to animals, Snow White can do magic, etc, they have to save people -- is fun, though I often roll my eyes at it.

Nicole Peeler's Jane True books are readable and also fun, though occasionally too close to the worst chick lit stereotypes. (Nerdy bookstore clerk finds out she's half magical creature, has to learn magic and fight and stuff.)

I found myself surprised by how much I like the Horngate Witches books by Diana Francis, which is mostly about someone who was magically turned into this super fighter and has to save (part of) the world from apocalypse.

Greg van Eekhout's first book, Norse Code, is about how a modern Valkyrie and one of the Norse gods deal with Ragnarok.
posted by jeather at 11:52 AM on February 16, 2011

What about the Dragon Prince series by Melanie Rawn? It's been years since I've read them, but I believe the three books in that series deal mostly with a female lead. There's also a strong male lead, and friends, but very heavy on the women. The second part of the series (Dragon Star) has a male lead, but still lots of awesome women.
posted by bibbit at 11:53 AM on February 16, 2011

Mary Gentle's Rats and Gargoyles and The Architecture of Desire. It's weird fantasy, though, not typical dragons and elves stuff. It's set in a sort of alternate 17th century where Renaissance-style hermetic magic works and humans are second-class citizens ruled by anthropomorphic rats. It's great, though.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:54 AM on February 16, 2011

Seconding Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. I'm on the third book right now, and they're very engrossing. Plus HBO is turning them into an epic-looking TV series! They're interesting in that there are multiple protagonists (changes each chapter), including some of the "bad guys." It's a little lighter on magic than some other fantasy novels, but pretty epic nonetheless.
posted by Safiya at 11:58 AM on February 16, 2011

The Mordant's Need books by Stephen Donaldson fit your description pretty much exactly, swords, armour, horse riding, very troubled female lead, saving the world from evil doers. It's two books (Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through).

The Gap series by the same author is a science fiction series which also have a very troubled (and in trouble) female lead but it's very dark and kind of ... horrible. It also has several lead characters, most of which are male.
posted by shelleycat at 11:59 AM on February 16, 2011

The Mortal Instruments series. Love love love these!
posted by Sassyfras at 12:08 PM on February 16, 2011

Fantasy, though not dungeons and dragons: Paul Park's series starting with _A Princess of Roumania_
posted by aught at 12:38 PM on February 16, 2011

Seconding Garth Nix's Abhorsen series and Elizabeth Moon's Paksennarion.
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 12:47 PM on February 16, 2011

They are old and damn hard to find, but Shirley Meier, SM Stirling, and Karen Wehrstein wrote a series of books set a few thousand years in the future after a massive apocalypse. It's magical, features mostly female characters (there IS some romance in there of the girl-girl variety, but it's not a primary aspect), and most of them have gone through hell and back, some of them two or three times.

My introduction to the series was The Cage. Such a good book.

There's also Sabre and Shadow, Shadow's Son, Shadow's Daughter, Snowbrother, which I feel very lucky to have all of, and Lion's Heart and Lion's Soul which I do not and I think I would commit violent acts to get my hands on. (There is also apparently an even MORE hard to find book titled The Sharpest Edge, which just makes me more irritated that I don't have it.) If you can find ANY of these books, they are amazing.

Wehrstein has also continued her 'part' in the Fifth Millenium (which features a primarily male character, but still, omg) here.

Seconding the Deed of Paksennarion as well -- get the omnibus, it's full of win. The further you go through the series, the more fantasy-ish it gets, and at the end you're just thinking 'So thaaaaat's why...'
posted by Heretical at 12:49 PM on February 16, 2011

Lots of great suggestions here. I will nth:
-Some of Mercedes Lackey's stuff. Standouts for me are By the Sword (from the aforementioned Valdemar series, Gwenhwyvar, and The Fire Rose (which is set in the early 1900s San Francisco, but with magic). Her Fairy Godmother books are a little hit or miss, but the first one is excellent.

-Pretty much anything by Robin McKinley. My favorite book of hers, though, is Sunshine, which is really more of a vampire novel (though as far from Twilight as it's possible to get) than fantasy.

-The October Daye series (by Seanan McGuire), starting with Rosemary and Rue. Toby, the main character, is flawed but extremely strong. It's set in something like modern times where the Fae exist in all their strange, ruthless glory, so you will probably not qualify them as fantasy. The books are so great that I really suggest you give them a try, though. As kickass female characters go, Toby is one of my favorites.

-The Aurian novels.

-Have you ready any of Anne Bishop's other books? She has another trilogy that starts with Pillars of the World that has mostly female main characters. I actually enjoy her Ephemera series the best, though the first book, Sebastian, is mostly about a male character. The second book, Belladonna, definitely fits your criteria though.

-The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, starts with Mistborn. Also by Sanderson is Elantris. I think he does some perspective switching, so there may be some male characters in there too, but I primarily remember the women. Mistborn in particular has a pretty unique and very uh.. detailed magic system.
posted by ashirys at 12:53 PM on February 16, 2011

Oh yes, and if you have a thing for cats: Sarah Isidore wrote a trilogy called The Daughters of Bast, containing Shrine of Light, The Hidden Land, and The World Tree. It's been a long time since I read them, but it might be worth a read.
posted by Heretical at 12:53 PM on February 16, 2011

Dittoing ashirys, most of Brandon Sanderson's work features strong female leads. Elantris, Warbreaker, the Mistborn series, and the Way of Kings all have well written heroines. (The character perspective does switch back and forth between different characters, male and female.)
posted by tdismukes at 1:10 PM on February 16, 2011

Hrm, most of the stuff I'm thinking of with female protags is urban supernatural, which isn't exactly the sword-and-sorcery type of fantasy you seem to be looking for, but if you do want to try them, I'm also a fan of the series starting with Rosemary and Rue mentioned above, or the Mercy Thompson stuff by Patricia Briggs, who you already read.

There's of course the Song of Ice and Fire stuff by George R.R. Martin which starts off with a male viewpoint, but bounces between a lot of different protagonists of all genders/ages/classes.

A Fire Upon the Deep has mostly female viewpoints, although they aren't perhaps as active in getting things done as you might like. It's far-future science fiction.

The various 'Hero' books by Moira J. Moore also revolve around a female protagonist.

If you like the Jane Austen type stuff at all, Sorcery and Cecelia/The Enchanted Chocolate Pot and its sequels are really a lot of fun - think Regency in a world with magic around.

I'm also a huge fan of Howl's Moving Castle and its quasi-sequels, by Diana Wynne Jones, but those are probably more tongue-in-cheek and lighthearted than your typical straightforward fantasy.
posted by Stormfeather at 1:36 PM on February 16, 2011

The Merchant Princes series by MetaFilter's own cstross is wonderful.

And I also recommend The Mists of Avalon.
posted by deborah at 1:59 PM on February 16, 2011

My fantasy heart beats only for Isobelle Carmody's Obernewtyn books - they're a sort of post-apocalyptic mind-powers fantasy. They're primarily 'young adult' but I'm 26 and I'm still on the edge of my seat for the final installment.

The protagonist is a) female and b) hella conflicted. She's not whiny like Bella or too perfect like Katniss - she's good at what she does but she's still human. It's not dungeons and dragons (more agrarian revolution) but it is complex and wide about forces of good vs forces of evil and religion and what happens when the wrong people have power.

The only downside is that the series didn't get any serious release anywhere apart from Australia, but the internet solves all and I would strongly strongly reccommend ebaying them if you can't get them from Amazon.
posted by citands at 2:02 PM on February 16, 2011

China Mieville's novel The Scar--one of the two narrators is a woman who--well, there isn't too much actual ass-kicking, but she does do a lot of adventurous stuff.

For schlock, I am totally in love with Tanith Lee's Delirium's Mistress, even though it starts out a bit slow. There is quite a lot of ass-kicking and quite a lot of conflictedness and some very skillful use of stories-within-stories. Honestly, I think that the heroine is probably my favorite fantasy heroine ever.

If you're up for science fiction, Nicola Griffeth's novel Ammonite is really good. (She is also a really nice person, at least by email.) And also, lots of ass-kicking, riding horses across the plains, legends, danger, near-death-in-the-snow, evil corporate machinations...It's a terrific, well-plotted classic-SF-adventure-tale...with women!

Oh, and you should totally read Jane Candace Dorsey's
Black Wine. It's very intense and violent and creepy and upsetting and partly about sexual abuse (but not in that gross, creepy, fetishizing "look at this poor, lovely young woman who was so tragically abused and now let us tell you all about it" way). But it's an amazing achievement as a book.
posted by Frowner at 2:21 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

In urban fantasy, I'm rather fond of Lonley Werwolf Girl by Martin Millar.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:44 PM on February 16, 2011

This is a taste that I share (I love the Kushiel books!), and I read a lot of them. I’ll be mining this thread for future reading material myself.

Before I suggest some that haven’t been mentioned yet, let me wholeheartedly second the suggestions that have been made so far regarding books by (deep breath): Joe Abercrombie, Marian Zimmer Bradley, Patricia Briggs, Lois McMaster Bujold (I like her sf more than the fantasy), Kristin Cashore, Cassandra Clare, Suzanne Collins, Jane Candace Dorsey, Nicola Griffith, Jim Hines, Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula K. LeGuin, Anne McCaffrey (although you can outgrow her), Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip, Martin Millar, Garth Nix, Brandon Sanderson, Scott Westerfeld, and Patricia Wrede. All of these people write good, and in some cases great stuff.

I give a more qualified recommendation to the suggestions that have been made so far regarding books by: Mary Gentle (also liked her “Lost Burgundy” series in addition to what has been mentioned, but didn’t love love love her books), Katherine Kerr (I liked her books, but got tired of them after a while), Charles de Lint (his short fiction is *wonderful*, but his novels tend to drag a bit for me), Seanan McGuire (some people love these, I had a harder time getting into them), Tamora Pierce (they’re all right, but sometimes aimed a bit young), Terry Pratchett (he’s got some great ones, but I actually think he does better with male protagonists, it’s-only-my-opinion-please-don’t-kill-me-fans), Phillip Pullman (great ideas, sometimes poor execution), and Maria V. Snyder (they get a little Mary-Sueish for my tastes). All worth reading, but I thought they had some flaws.

I’ve also read the books mentioned in this thread that are by Stephen R. Donaldson and George R. R. Martin; while I think both of them have written absolutely brilliant books, the ones discussed here I did not find to be up to par with their best stuff.

On to stuff that hasn’t been mentioned yet:

P. C. Hodgell: Probably my favorite fantasy author (criminally underappreciated, as far as I’m concerned), she’s been writing a single epic series for years, starring the wonderful heroine Jame. It starts with God Stalk, now usually sold as a two book omnibus with the first sequel (Dark of the Moon) in a single volume called “The God Stalker Chronicles”. I believe there are five books in the series so far, with more on the way.

Barbara Hambly: Many excellent books and series; I particularly recommend the Windrose Chronicles (the first is The Silent Tower, sometimes sold as an omnibus with the second book, The Silicon Mage, as a single volume called “Darkmage”.) Computer programmer Joanna is transported to a fantasy world faced with a dire threat.

L-J Baker: Lady Knight is good sword and sorcery fantasy, Broken Wings is urban fantasy about a fairy and her society. I like them both quite a lot.

Richelle Mead: Tends to write modern urban fantasy, and her books are a lot of fun. Her series include the Succubus books (demons), the Thorn Queen books (fairies), and the Vampire Academy books (vampires, more YA than the other two.)

Holly Black: Modern, urban fantasy; the trilogy about fairies that starts with “Tithe” is the one that falls into what you’re asking for. She’s brilliant.

Jane Fletcher: The Lyremouth chronicles (The Exile and the Sorcerer, The Traitor and the Chalice, etc.) are fantasy novels about a sorceress and a warrior who fall in love. They start out slowly in the first book and then takes off in the second and the rest. Her Celaeno series (The Temple at Landfall, etc.) is technically sf, but it’s about an all-woman planet which has fallen back to about Roman-level technology, so it has a fantasy feel to it.

Sherwood Smith: The two book “Crown Duel” set is good YA fantasy about a revolution in an oppressive kingdom.

Claudia Gray: The “Evernight” series is more modern YA vampire fantasy, but it’s very well written and has grown on me.

Shea Godfrey: I think Nightshade is her first and only novel so far. I liked it, and look forward to possible sequels.

Galen Beckett: Two novels so far in a series that began with “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent”. It started as a magical riff on novels from the era of Jane Austen and the Brontes, but has moved on to more sword-and-sorcery type events, albeit with a corsetry-era-England feel.

Laurie J. Marks: Her “Logic” series (Fire Logic, Earth Logic, Water Logic) are excellent novels of war, culture clash, politics, and reconciliation in a fantasy setting. The fourth and final book in this series is taking a long time to get written, but the author assures her fans she is working on it.

Diane Peterfreund: Modern fantasy about virgins who hunt carnivorous unicorns, starting with “Rampant”. Oddly, this is the second series on this list that has carnivorous unicorns; they appear in P. C. Hodgell’s work, too.

Libba Bray: The trilogy starting with “A Great and Terrible Beauty” is more corsetry-era magical England. These are YA, but brilliantly written.

I know I could think of more if I thought about it longer, but perhaps I’ve made too long a post already.
posted by kyrademon at 4:34 PM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nthing Ursula Le Guin. She's excellent. I would recommend The Telling for a female protagonist.

I'm current reading the Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb and it's great. Several of the protagonists are strong female characters, and her characterisation is excellent. I think it's right up your alley, and far more original than the usual sword and sorcery stuff.

Tamora Pierce's stuff is good - a bit young adult, but almost all of them have strong female protagonists.

On the Sci Fi front, I would look to Octavia Butler in all her forms, but particularly the Xenogenesis trilogy - Dawn, Imago, Adulthood Rites.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:44 PM on February 16, 2011

Oh crap I'm back already because I realized that I somehow left off Joel Shepherd *astonishing* four-book "Trial of Blood and Steel" series that starts with "Sasha". Epic, sweeping, awesome novels of a skilled swordswoman who gets caught up in the politics of clashing religions that eventually leads to a crusade against the (sort of) elves.
posted by kyrademon at 4:53 PM on February 16, 2011

I was coming in to second Graceling, but I'd also like to recommend Expendable and the other books in the series by James Alan Gardner. Science fiction, not fantasy, with a kickass female heroine who's overcome a lot of adversity.
posted by cider at 6:31 PM on February 16, 2011

My favorite book ever. Maia by Richard Adams. Isn't exactly sword and magic but some of the best heroines and evil female antagonists I have ever read, all placed in a fictional/fantastical realm.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:45 PM on February 16, 2011

Bujold has two fantasy series, and an early standalone fantasy novel, in addition to her rather tech-light SF (more tech than Pern, less than Crystal Singer, to use the universal McCaffrey tech-measure).

Bujold's breakout fantasy was The Curse of Chalion and has an excellent and very conflicted protagonist - but male; there are good female secondary characters, but most of the action stays very close to the main character. The semi-sequel, Palladin of Souls, has a very interesting female protagonist -- a woman just recovering from years of curse-induced madness. The third in the series, like the first, has a male protagonist (same universe, different time & place). All three are excellent epic fantasy, with moments of gods and humans interacting -- very divine gods, very human humans. All three books definitely have heroes overcoming difficulties, as well as working to save the world (or their bit of it) -- recovering from slavery, madness or having spent their life haunted by a spirit.

Her recent Sharing knife (the one starting with Beguiling)series is very different. It is really about a couple -- and I would say a bit more about the male character than the female. I think Bujold feels very comfortable writing from the male perspective, though she is herself female. It's a much lighter/simpler series than her Chalion books, in style and tone -- more adventure fantasy than epic. No gods - they are absent - just humans trying to figure out what to do to get along, and deal with some serious threats, mortal and immortal. The characters are also less epically conflicted -- instead of slavery and madness (and the actions of the gods), they suffer from dysfunctional families and cultural conflicts. But I am happily re-reading them for the third time this year -- and they are really believable people, not hero-types.


To comment on some of the recommendations above --

Tamora Pierce had good female heroines in all of her books - as pointed out above. They are really kids/young adult -- I started them
when I was 9 or 10. But much swords and horses and magic, and high enough quality to be read by adults as well.

I didn't notice whether anyone had mentioned Tanya Huff - she writes traditional fantasy, urban fantasy and horror/vampire detective novels; I think she also does a space-military series? All are great, with many kick-ass female protagonists. Levels of conflictedness depend on the book.

For short stories, the Sword and Sorceress books edited by MZ Bradley, where many authors like Mercedes Lackey got their start --

Marion Zimmer Bradley - mentioned for her fantasy above, also has some excellent female heroines in her (really SF but flavoured like fantasy bc it's a medieval-esque world with psionic powers) Darkover series -- I like Hawkmistress and the Renunciates series (Shattered Chain, Thendara House) best. Gender is a major theme for MZB in both her fantasy and SF -- I would even call her a feminist writer in the best sense.
posted by jb at 10:46 PM on February 16, 2011

Oh, and MZB has a series of short stories about a Mage named Lythande, who is definitely conflicted. They have been published as a book together.
posted by jb at 10:48 PM on February 16, 2011

Oh my goodness! You guys have given me enough to read for years! You all rock and I'm not going to mark any best answers, since you all are best answers.

Here's the epic list of almost all of the suggestions you wonderful people made.

A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer
A Fire Upon The Deep
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) by George R.R. Martin
A Great and Terrible Beauty (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy) by Libba Bray
A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park
A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 1) by Ursula K. Le Guin
Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness) by Tamora Pierce
Ammonite by Nicola Griffith, Nicola Griffith
Arrows of the Queen ( The Heralds of Valdemar, Book 1) by Mercedes Lackey
Aurian (First Book) by Maggie Furey
Beguilement (The Sharing Knife, Book 1) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
Bitter Night: A Horngate Witches Book by Diana Pharaoh Francis
Broken Wings by L-J. Baker
By the Sword (Kerowyn's Tale) by Mercedes Lackey
Chicks in Chainmail by Esther M. Friesner
Cordelia's Honor (Vorkosigan Saga Omnibus: Shards of Honor / Barrayar) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Crown Duel (Crown Duel / Court Duel) by Sherwood Smith
Dealing With Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles) by Patricia C. Wrede
Dragon Prince (Book 1) by Melanie Rawn
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
Equal Rites: A Discworld Novel by Terry Pratchett
Expendable (League of Peoples, Bk. 1) by James Alan Gardner
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Island in the Sea of Time by S. M. Stirling
Lady Knight by L-J. Baker
Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar
Mistborn : Final Empire Series (Book #1) (Mistborn, Book 1) by Brandon Sanderson
Moon Called (Mercy Thompson, Book 1)
Nightshade by Shea Godfrey (Author)
Norse Code by Greg Van Eekhout
Obernewtyn: The Obernewtyn Chronicles 1 by Isobelle Carmody (Author)
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
Rampant by Diana Peterfreund
Rhapsody : Child of Blood by Elizabeth Haydon
Rosemary and Rue (October Daye, Book 1) by Seanan McGuire
Sabriel (Abhorsen) by Garth Nix
Sasha (A Trial of Blood and Steel, Book I) by Joel Shepherd
Sebastian (Ephemera) by Anne Bishop
Ship of Magic (The Liveship Traders, Book 1) by Robin Hobb
Storm Born (Dark Swan, Book 1) by Richelle Mead
Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead
Tempest Rising (Jane True) by Nicole Peeler
The Belgariad, Vol. 1 (Books 1-3): Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, Magician's Gambit by David Eddings
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
The Cage (Baen fantasy) by S. M. Stirling
The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Darkangel: The Darkangel Trilogy, Volume I by Meredith Ann Pierce
The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
The Exile And the Sorcerer (Lyremouth Chronicles) Book One. by Jane Fletcher
The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time, Book 1) by Robert Jordan
The Fairy Godmother (Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, Book 1) by Mercedes Lackey
The Family Trade (The Merchant Princes) by Charles Stross
The God Stalker Chronicles by P. C. Hodgell
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Book 1 (The Inheritance Trilogy) by N. K. Jemisin
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick
The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett
The Mirror of Her Dreams (Mordant's Need, Book 1) by Stephen R. Donaldson
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones; City of Ashes; City of Glass by Casandra Clare
The Onion Girl
The Pillars of the World (Tir Alainn Trilogy) by Anne Bishop
The Scar by China Mieville (Author)
The Stepsister Scheme (PRINCESS NOVELS) by Jim C. Hines
The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Temple at Landfall (Celaeno) by Jane Fletcher
Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale by Holly Black
Uglies (Uglies Trilogy, Book 1) by Scott Westerfeld
Watchtower (Chronicles of Tornor) by Elizabeth A. Lynn
Wild Magic (The Immortals) by Tamora Pierce
Wind from a Foreign Sky (The Tielmaran Chronicles, Book 1) by Katya Reimann

That's 76 books! And that's only counting the first book if a series was suggested.
posted by royalsong at 9:43 AM on February 17, 2011 [13 favorites]

I'm late, but I really really love Patricia's Brigg's Mercy Thompson series. It's more vampires & werewolves than dungeons & dragons, but has a kickass female heroine. SO GREAT.

I also love Kim Harrison's The Hollows series. The first 1-2 books aren't great, but I couldn't put the later books down. This is also a vampires/werewolves type series. Also has a kickass female protagonist & awesome sidekicks.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:50 AM on February 17, 2011

Another possibility that no one else has suggested yet, Tim Pratt's Marla Mason series. It's fun, fast-paced, urban fantasy with a female wizard/gang boss as the lead.
posted by tdismukes at 9:51 AM on February 17, 2011

I know, I know, you've got plenty already - but I particularly enjoyed C.S. Friedman's This Alien Shore, which is sci-fi but not too heavy on the sci. I've also just started into her latest offering, the Magister Trilogy. The first book is called Feast of Souls; the second has just come out in paperback, but the third isn't out yet (I'm breaking my rule of never reading a series that isn't finished yet, sigh!). If you pick one of them to read, though, go with This Alien Shore - the character development seems more complete and thought-out and less cliched to me, at least in the first book of the trilogy.
posted by po at 5:29 AM on February 19, 2011

The Empire Trilogy by Feist and Wurts. It's been a while since I've read them, so they may not be as good as I remember.
posted by stavrogin at 4:12 PM on April 20, 2011

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