I’ve had a couple of friends complain to me about how they can’t find any good fantasy novels written by women. They talk about how all the big names in fantasy (GRRM, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch…) are white men, and how they would really like to find books by women that were just as nuanced, epic, and well-written.
I find this infuriating.
I know marketing plays a huge deal in who is seen as a big name, and there has been a lot of discussion lately about how women’s fantasy books are often mis-classified as YA (the implication being that women are not taken as seriously, not that YA should be looked down upon). So here are some books by women (and women of color) that I thoroughly enjoyed. Today I’ll start with Epic Fantasy, and I’ll probably do a series of these posts on other fantasy sub-genres as I continue to read more books and remember old favorites I forgot to include.
Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb: This is definitely a slower paced fantasy series than most others, but the depth Hobb endows all her characters is seriously incredible. All her characters are fully realized humans, and I’ve never felt such a wide range of emotions about fictional characters as I do for these. Plus if you keep going in the series, you get to experience the lives of the two main characters over a span of decades. The emotional pay-off? Unmatched.
Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon: Full disclosure, I really didn’t like The Bone Season by this author, so I was skeptical about all the rave reviews of Priory. At some point this book was under $5 on kindle, so I decided to give it a shot. I’m so glad I did, it was gorgeously written, features an almost entirely female cast of characters, and prominently features queer relationships and people of color (loosely inspired by real-world cultures). The only thing I didn’t like about this book is how a lot of interesting scenes were either skipped entirely or resolved very quickly (fight scenes, travel sagas, etc), but the benefit of the condensed storytelling is that you get a complete epic fantasy saga in one book, so I can’t complain too much.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: This book is unlike any other I’ve read, blending science and magic seamlessly for an incredible, epic story centering women and people of color. Narrated from the perspective of 3 women at different points in their lives, this book can be a bit confusing to make sense of at first, but once all the puzzle pieces click into place, it is so satisfying. This world is a character of its own, one full of earthquakes and volcanoes, magic that is correlated with seismic events, and terrifying creatures that are formed of stone.
The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley: Another book that is wholly unique and a blend of science fiction and fantasy. This book plays with the social constructs of gender and heteronormativity, and despite the large spectrum of skin colors, I don’t think there’s a single “white” person in this book. This book is dark, it starts off with a brutal prologue and the intensity never lets up. I don’t usually love books that are so bloody and intense, but the unique world, the mirror universe idea, the lush setting, and the complex characters kept me hooked.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: I really enjoyed this book, but I will admit that it’s the weakest of the series. Still, it’s a lot of fun to explore four enigmatic Londons connected by a traveler with a peculiar coat. As much as I love Lila Bard, the villains and the world are the true showstoppers of this series.
The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K LeGuin: This is a true classic, and LeGuin is one of the pioneers of science fiction and fantasy. I haven’t actually read The Wizard of Earthsea, but I did read a few other books in the series as a child (these are definitely adult fantasy, I think they were just mis-shelved?? There’s nothing risque about these books but I certainly did not appreciate their depth and subtlety as a child). My favorite books were The Other Wind and Tehanu.
Do you have any favorites that I missed? I’ll be doing a few more posts on Diverse YA fantasy, Fantasy inspired by myths and history, and other fantasy subgenres!