Fantasy novels with strong female characters
October 5, 2014 3:45 PM   Subscribe

I finally have enough time to read books again. My favorite books to read are fantasy with magic. I don't dislike sex in books, but I'm specifically not looking for erotica disguised as fantasy. My favorites have been The Witches of Eileanan and the Rhapsody series. I prefer to read female authors- can't stand GRRM, and am not super into Sci Fi. Can you help me find interesting and fun things to read?
posted by Nimmie Amee to Media & Arts (43 answers total) 88 users marked this as a favorite
posted by feral_goldfish at 3:57 PM on October 5, 2014

Are you looking for literary fiction or, you know, fluff? Because if you're in the market for fluff, the Cindy Eller series is delightful.

If you're looking for something alltogether more upmarket, you might enjoy the All Souls Trilogy.

I am drawing a distinction between Fantasy and SciFi here; if you are looking for SciFi and say so, I would add different suggestions.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:02 PM on October 5, 2014

Anne McCaffrey - Dragonriders of Pern series
Terry Pratchett - Discworld, Tiffany Aching and Witches series in particular, strong female characters appear in a number of the other books too.
Mercedes Lackey - everything?
Marion Zimmer Bradley - The Mists of Avalon. Note, however, that MZB has been accused of molestation by her daughter, making your support of her works kind of problematical.
posted by Runes at 4:02 PM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mama Thames, Lady Ty, Fleet, and the other river goddesses in Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series came immediately to mind. I'm not a regular fantasy reader, but I found them smart, well-written, and completely engrossing.
posted by ryanshepard at 4:03 PM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

They're YA novels, but I have enjoyed the His Fair Assassin books. They are about teenaged nun assassins in medieval France. There's not a ton of magic in the books - it is more in the background.

I found them to be engrossing and quick reads, and I generally liked the way the female leads are characterized and differentiated.
posted by jeoc at 4:03 PM on October 5, 2014

Response by poster: I'm looking for both fluff and good literary fiction, because I have different reading needs at different times.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 4:06 PM on October 5, 2014

You need to read Sunshine, by Robin McKinley. It's one of my favorites. I'm sure I'll come up with more as soon as I'm away from the computer.
posted by bibliogrrl at 4:08 PM on October 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

Off the top of my head you might like: NK Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy, Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, The Rook (written by a guy but not in a GRRM way), and the All Souls trilogy mentioned above.
posted by grapesaresour at 4:12 PM on October 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series. While he's not a female author, an early scene that make it clear he knew how to write his female protagonist has her feeling upset that she's still coming into her powers and can't do something, the male protagonist trying to make her feel better by telling her that she's pretty, and her rolling her eyes because, c'mon, that's not even a little bit helpful.
posted by teremala at 4:15 PM on October 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

I've also heard really good things about the Graceling series, but haven't read it yet.
posted by grapesaresour at 4:15 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman.
posted by bettafish at 4:21 PM on October 5, 2014

wait, scratch the Pern series, you did ask for magic and they're really not magic even if they do have dragons.
posted by Runes at 4:22 PM on October 5, 2014

Basically everything by N. K. Jemisin, Tanya Huff, Patricia McKillip.
Also Rae Carson, Caroline Stevermer/Caroline Stevermer & Patricia Wrede.
Also Amanda Downum's Necromancer Chronicles.
Also Rat Queens, if you don't mind obscenities and comic books.
Seanan McGuire is popular; I haven't read much yet. (It's contemporary fantasy.)

And always seconding The Rook, despite male author.
posted by wintersweet at 4:30 PM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Kathryn Kerr's Deverry Cycle has many strong female characters.
posted by monotreme at 4:51 PM on October 5, 2014

Tamora Pierce, how has this taken 15 comments MetaFilter? I am disappoint.

Do Song of the Lioness, then Immortals, then Protector of the Small.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:10 PM on October 5, 2014 [12 favorites]

Seanan McGuire's October Daye books. (I'm not into the Incryptid series.)
The Golden City by Kathleen Cheney.
The Queen of the Tearling is setting up something interesting, not sure what yet.
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker was great.
Karen Maitland's books all have magic and strong female characters, in their own odd ways. (I like her books very much.)
Mary Robinette Kowal's books are Austen-style magic books.
Rosamunde Hodge wrote a somewhat overstuffed fairy tale story, and a better novella.
Natalie Whipple's House of Ivy and Sorrow was good.
I've enjoyed everything Sarah Beth Durst has written.
Graceling and its sequels were all about women.

I can't remember which of Victoria Schwab's books have magic, but if any do they are good.

Sarah Rees Brennan wrote an interesting magical gothic trilogy (= one huge story split more or less arbitrarily into three).

Seconding Laini Taylor, Rachel Hartman.

This is sort of cheating, but Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl has magic and a lot of good female characters.

I agree with The Rook; I'd also add in Max Gladstone's books.
posted by jeather at 5:22 PM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Kameron Hurley's The Mirror Empire did my head in, in a good way. It is not a light read but (and?) it was hard to put down.

Nthing the Graceling books.
posted by rtha at 5:36 PM on October 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

All of Barbara Hambly's fantasy works have strong female characters - non-stereotypical women who are point-of-view characters and who normally end up taking different paths than society lays out for them.
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:55 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lois McMaster Bujold's Sharing Knife series. She also has a couple of one-off fantasies, although I can't remember which have female protagonists. But her female characters are always great, regardless.
posted by Kriesa at 6:04 PM on October 5, 2014

My bookshelves are at home but I've done a mental scan and this is what I've come up with:
- Emma Bull's War for the Oaks.
- PC Hodgell's Kencyrath series. Please ignore the trashy, cleavagey covers. They are actually quite good books and not as sexy as you'd think from those awful covers.
- Diana Wynne Jones. Pretty much anything. But perhaps some good places to start would be The Spellcoats or The Pinhoe Egg or The Magicians of Caprona. But really anything.
- Robin McKinley's been mentioned, but not her classics The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword, but also things like Deerskin, Spindle's End and, my favourite comfort read, Beauty. I have to say, her later works aren't as good (IMHO). They're too long-winded, rambly and badly in need of an edit.
- And finally, Sheri S Tepper writes both sci fi and fantasy - the True Game books are fantasy, and the Marianne Trilogy is just enormous fun. Beauty is often recommended and is a good book, but a bit brutal if you're not in the mood for it.

I also made the mistake of asking a colleague who reads a lot of this kind of thing for her suggestions, and now my reading list has grown too. Mind you, so has hers. Here's some of her recs:
- Patricia Briggs, especially the Mercy Thompson series though the Raven duology seems promising as well.
- Another vote for Mary Robinette Kowal and Seanan McGuire.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:30 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Katherine Kurtz' Deryni books may interest you. They are fantasy, but the "magic" is human telepathy and telekinesis in a medieval setting, so it comes off as "magic." The Legends of Camber of Culdi and The Heirs of Saint Camber trilogies both have a strong female character who is in a leading or major supporting role.
posted by Fukiyama at 6:34 PM on October 5, 2014

Phillipa Ballantine's Books of the Order (Geist, Spectyr,etc) have a strong female lead.
Also, I've always loved David and Leigh Edding's Elenium series. It may not fit exactly what you are looking for, but it has good strong female characters.
posted by Polgara at 6:43 PM on October 5, 2014

I'm not a big fan of Bujold's Sharing Knife series mentioned above, but the Curse of Chalion series is very good and the second book Paladin of Souls has a strong female lead.
posted by madmethods at 7:12 PM on October 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Laurie J. Marks' Elemental Logic series
posted by ursus_comiter at 7:47 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, anything by Nnedi Okorafor.
posted by ursus_comiter at 7:48 PM on October 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure how you feel about supernatural, but Sunshine by Robin McKinley falls under that. The Hero & The Crown or The Blue Sword are both equally good starting points for her (magic rather than supernatural). If you want more supernatural, I'd add City of Bones (and the rest of the trilogy) by Cassandra Clare, Dark Currents (and sequels) by Jacqueline Carey, and A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. (Actually, that last one you should probably read either way, there's magic and accurate history and it's really well written.)

I second NK Jemisin -- start at The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. For Tanya Huff, I like The Enchantment Emporium. Patricia McKillip, perhaps Tower at Stony Wood or The Bards of Bone Plain. Caroline Stevermer, Sorcery and Cecelia, co written with Patricia Wrede, for whom Thirteenth Child is my new favorite, though I love most of her books. For Seanan McGuire my favorite is the urban fantasy Discount Armageddon. Mary Robinette Kowal, Shades of Milk and Honey.

I also like Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith, Savvy by Ingrid Law (a children's novel), and A School for Sorcery by E. Rose Sabin.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones is probably her book that I re-read the most, but I love all of her books, and they are mostly very different from the rest.

I think Mercedes Lackey is more in the beach read/guilty pleasure grouping, but if you want to try, I think By the Sword is a reasonable stand-alone that introduces you to a lot of her world.

All of these authors are women who write strong female characters. A number of them fall into the YA genre, because that's where a lot of women are being published right now, but I wouldn't worry too much about the designation.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:15 PM on October 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nthing Sunshine by Robin McKinley.

I love Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan but, really, stay far away from The Sharing Knife series.

Seconding Deborah Harkness.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 8:17 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

My very first askme was literally the same question as yours (same header title) and the suggestions were pretty fantastic
fantasy novels with strong female characters
posted by raw sugar at 9:44 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing The Rook; not only does it have a strong female protagonist but it also passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours. (The first does not always guarantee the second, unfortunately.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:31 PM on October 5, 2014

The author Philip Pullman is male, and although the protagonist is a strong female lead she's still a girl, so it might not fit your criteria, but The Golden Compass trilogy is a great read (the film was really terrible, don't judge by that if you saw it).
posted by anadem at 10:37 PM on October 5, 2014

You MUST try Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series - it's exactly what you're looking for. Plus it's smart and funny. I've loaned the books out several times now and they've always earned high marks.
posted by aryma at 11:00 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd second or nth so many of the suggestions so far that I could take paragraphs just doing that, so I'll try not to repeat (although I'll say that I'm glad to see some favorites of mine that are less well known have been mentioned, like P. C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath series and Laurie J. Marks' Elemental Logic series). So here are some that I don't think have been mentioned yet:

Leigh Bardugo's trilogy that starts with Shadow and Bone is pretty good.
Holly Black's trilogy that starts with Tithe is fantastic.
Franny Billingsley's Chime is good.
Erin Bow's Plain Kate is great.
Libba Bray's trilogy that starts with A Great and Terrible Beauty is very good.
Claudia Gray's series that starts with Spellcaster is pretty good.
Kate Griffin is a lot of fun and her latest series, that starts with Stray Souls, has a strong female lead (although it would probably help to read her male-led series that starts with A Madness of Angels to understand all of what's going on.)
Frances Hardinge's Cuckoo Song is fantastic.
Meredith Ann Pierce's trilogy that starts with The Darkangel is a somewhat forgotten 80's classic.
Martha Wells' trilogy that starts with The Wizard Hunters is very good.
posted by kyrademon at 5:37 AM on October 6, 2014

Lynn Flewelling's Tamir Triad.
posted by trunk muffins at 7:50 AM on October 6, 2014

Male author, but always strong women: Guy Gavriel Kay. Especially A Song for Arbonne, which is more or less explicitly about fighting against the idea that women are evil/property.

Melanie Rawn's Exiles series is fluffy, but the entire social structure posits a fully matriarchal society. Also, magic heavily intertwined. Fair warning, it's a trilogy missing one leg. Her Dragon books also feature very strong women.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:56 AM on October 6, 2014

Oh, and apart from the issues with MZB, if those sorts of things matter to you when consuming art, McCaffrey is a frothing homophobe. And Lackey's books have a very unrealistic Manic Pixie Dream Friend view of queer men.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:59 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Jaqueline Carey's "Kushiel" series. The first series is from the perspective of Phedre, who is quite possibly my favorite female character of all time, or close to it at any rate.

Brandon Sanderson's "Mistborn" and sequels.

Marie Brennan's "Midnight Never Come." I have not read her "Witch," "Warrior," and other books in that vein, but I have also heard good things about them.
posted by Urban Winter at 11:10 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nth to Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series.

Young Adult - Starglass and Starbreak from MeFi's own Phoebe North are wonderful.
posted by jillithd at 11:44 AM on October 6, 2014

Reviewed my bookshelves and I have to add a few more that I can't believe I forgot!
- Diane Duane's Young Wizards series. They have a very scientific take on magic, but it is magic, and very adult themes going on in them. Can't recommend them highly enough.
- Margaret Mahy often writes books that have subtle magic, but magic all the same. Start with The Changeover; that one and The Tricksters are my two favourites (though it's hard to pick).
- Elizabeth Knox again writes a different kind of magic, but very strong female characters. Particularly Dreamhunter, Dreamquake and most especially Mortal Fire which is one of the most amazing books I've read recently.
- Margo Lanagan, who's definitely developed in the fantasy direction. Her short story collections are absolutely brilliant although sometimes so sad and painful that it's good they're not any longer. Tender Morsels is also worth a go. I didn't care for Sea Hearts as much but I have a thing about dialogue being written in dialect.
- And finally but not least, Steven Brust (yes male author) and the Vlad books as well as the Khaavren romances. Although Vlad is the main character, there are heaps of strong female characters who are not there as window dressing or to be rescued - several rescue Vlad! Awesome books. The Khaavren romances begin as a great send-up of The Three Musketeers but develop in their own right.

Some of the other suggestions made since, like Meredith Ann Pierce's Darkangel trilogy and Guy Gavriel Kay I also agree with heartily. Someone mentioned Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books above - I don't usually take issue with others' recommendations, but since you specified that you did not want erotica disguised as fantasy, I feel I should warn you that they have sex up the wazoo. Wherever the wazoo is. I leave it to the individual to decide which is more important in those books: the sex or the fantasy.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:51 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Old Kingdom / Abhorsen series by Garth Nix. Possibly more young adult oriented but I still enjoyed them.

Also seconding the Golden Compass series. Terrible movies, decent books.
posted by alhadro at 10:41 AM on October 7, 2014

I'm specifically not looking for erotica disguised as fantasy.

You specifically don't want Jaqueline Carey's Kushiel series, then.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:13 PM on October 7, 2014

Sorry, just saw Athanassiel had this covered.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:14 PM on October 7, 2014

Hey, second opinion is always good!
posted by Athanassiel at 10:30 PM on October 7, 2014

Kate Elliot - The Crossroads trilogy and the Spirit Walker Trilogy.
posted by lazy robot at 2:10 PM on October 8, 2014

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