Fantasy seems to have developed this reputation of being a very male-dominated genre, and true, a lot of the very famous early fantasies were written by men, but nowadays there are so many great ones written by women, too! I’ve been asked by a couple of people now to make a list of my favourites, and having done so, it seemed only logical to blog some of the highlights. 😊
1) Tamora Pierce’s Emelan universe, which consists of The Circle of Magic Quartet, The Circle Opens Quartet, and The Circle Reforged – and should be read in that order (I have strong feelings on this 😅). The books follow a group of four children with unusual magical powers that are tied to crafts and nature, as they grow up and learn to harness their magic, and become a family to one another. I’m re-reading the Circle of Magic books right now, and I keep finding more and more to appreciate with every re-visit – and that’s really saying something for a series that already contains two of my all-time favourite books (Street Magic and The Will of the Empress), and many other close contenders.
2) The Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb, which consists of The Farseer Trilogy, The Liveship Traders, The Tawny Man, The Rain Wild Chronicles, and The Fitz and the Fool. This is admittedly quite an intimidating list of books (chunky ones, too), and I myself have only managed to get through the first trilogy so far – but I’m so excited to read more from this world. Hobb’s writing is very slow-paced, which some people may find off-putting, but her plots and characters are all excellent, and I found myself completely hooked on Fitz’s journey (which is the subject of the Farseer trilogy), even when I wished it was going in a different direction and thought he was being an idiot… and I was absolutely blown away by the ending.
3) For those who like their fantasy with a heavy dose of history, I highly recommend trying the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, which is set during the Napoleonic Wars, with a focus on the fictional Aerial Corps – which is made up of dragon riders. In the first book, naval Captain William Laurence gets drawn into this new branch of the military when his ship captures a dragon egg, only to have the infant dragon form a strong bond with him before he’s able to hand it over to the Aerial Corps. Novik has become better-known recently for her fairytale retellings, Uprooted and Spinning Silver, but although the Temeraire books are just as excellently written, their tone is quite different, and they will probably appeal more to fans of adventure stories (and especially adventure on the high seas!).
4) The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie is a more recent favourite of mine, and tells a very weird and hard to explain story about the birth of civilisation, and the struggles between gods as their power grows and wanes, and of a usurper in the kingdom of Iraden, whose theft may have caused his people’s downfall. Beautiful, clever and surprising, the sticking point with this book will, for a lot of people, be that it’s written in second person – but I entreat you to try it anyway! The narrative style really works for this kind of story. 💕 (And I absolutely think that The Raven Tower was robbed in last year’s Goodreads Choice awards.)
5) Next up is The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta, an epic that follows a race of people whose homeland has been cursed so that nobody can enter or leave. In the first book, Finnikin, one of the Lumatere people who is trapped in exile, meets a young woman who claims that she can lead him to the presumed-dead Prince Balthazar, but seems instead to be leading him home. Such incredible worldbuilding! Such a heartwrenching plot! So many compelling characters! And despite its excellence, I’d say that the first book, Finnikin of the Rock is actually the weakest in the series, which as it goes on, constantly expands, and grows deeper and deeper… 🌏
6) And finally, I give you The Seer and the Sword by Victoria Hanley, a novel about a young princess who, when her father returns from war with a neighbouring kingdom, is gifted a crystal ball – and the conquered prince as her slave. She promptly frees him, and as they grow older, Torina and Landen’s relationship deepens as they separate and then come together again, and work in their different ways towards freedom for both their kingdoms. This is probably the most romance-driven of the books on this list (and it’s a very sweet romance), but the story – though simple – is very well executed, too, and I remember it vividly despite having not re-read this book since I was a teenager. I wish so much that more people would read it! There are also two companion novels, which I should probably get around to reading at some point, but The Seer and the Sword stands perfectly well on its own.
Anyone interested in my full list of recommendations can find it on Goodreads, but there’s a couple of things I should mention about it: 1) where applicable, I’ve only added the first book in each series, and 2) it’s only made up of things that I’ve read myself, so there are some conspicuous absences – the most notable of which is N.K. Jemisin, whose books are on my want-to-read-desperately list, but I don’t feel comfortable recommending to people until I’ve actually done so. Also missing is Lois McMaster Bujold, as although I loved her sci-fi series, and fully expect to feel the same about her fantasy writing, I just haven’t got round to it yet… 😓 (On that note, if anyone would like to see a sci-fi by women post, just let me know!)