Last week, I wrote about presenting on a panel called “Awesome Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy” with fellow librarians at Geek Girl Con in Seattle. And on Tuesday, I wrote in detail about three of the titles I discussed. And now here are three more that I hope you’ll find worthwhile, whether for pleasure reading or book-group selections.
The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley
Like Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, an sf novel that explores gender and sexuality beyond the binary, Hurley’s fantasy novel features queer characters, polyamorous relationships, and complex characters of every gender. While the plotting is complex, the writing is intricate and lush even as it describes scenes of battle. In this world, a parallel universe threatens to break through and doppelgangers for each character that exist on the other side can only come through if they die. As in Catherine Asaro’s Undercity, this portrays a matriarchal society where the women can be nasty and unlikable, but are compelling all the same. Characters include an orphaned girl who was ripped from one world to another before she knew what was happening, a warrior tasked to murder slaves for the coming war, and a newly crowned king who is anything but prepared for the onslaught to come. This is almost a mix between Richard K. Morgan’s The Steel Remains (2009), which features a gay warrior, and George R. R. Martin’s brand of political intrigue—it’s a dense, meaty fantasy and only the first in the Worldbreaker saga.
Unprooted, by Naomi Novik
Novik breaks away from her Napoleonic dragon series, Temeraire, to deliver a fantasy that feels like a classic fairytale. Every 10 years, the wizard known as the Dragon claims a 16-year-old girl and keeps her in his castle, releasing her after her 10 years have passed. It is both an honor and a curse to be chosen, and no one knows exactly what the Dragon wants these girls for. Agnieszka felt sure that the Dragon would choose her beautiful friend Kasia—everyone in the village thought he would take her—but it is Agnieszka who is forced to leave her family behind and follow the Dragon to his keep. But Agnieszka was chosen because she is not normal—she is gifted with magic and she will be tested in ways she never dreamed. If you like “Once upon a time,” try Uprooted.
Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
The beautifully illustrated Saga comics offer a wild ride and are not being written fast enough. This is set in an sf universe where a long-running intergalactic war has pit the Wreathers (who have horns) and the Landfallians (who have wings) against each other. Enter Alana and Marko, who meet as soldiers on opposite sides of the war and fall in love. But when they conceive a child together, the powers-that-be freak out about the prospect of a mixed-species child and send assassins to hunt them down. Narrated by the child in question, Hazel, we see Alana in her full array—her strengths and her weaknesses, her dreams and her sometimes dubious choices. This is a graphic novel series with plenty of action and plot twists, lots of explicit content, and a cast of memorable characters. You will come to care for Hazel, Marko, and Alana and want to know where space and time take them next. The fifth volume just came out last month.
Here is a link to all the books in our full presentation, as well as an interesting recent article on the topic of strong female characters and the double standard applied to them in genre fiction.