I’m very, very happy to have posting privileges here, and to finally be able to comment without grey. Thanks to SlayBelle and the other mods who found my contributions worthy. I will try my best to use this forum wisely and informatively.
I thought I would make my inaugural post an extension of a discussion I had yesterday with someone on the post about The Mortal Instruments. Do you like female-written fantasy featuring strong female protagonists that ISN’T tainted by a plagiarism scandal? Well do I have a list for you! (Disclaimer: I did not actually Google all of these authors to see if they had ever been accused of plagiarism. If they have, I have not heard about it.)
Note 1: I’m not going to include The Hunger Games or Divergent in here, because everyone knows about them already.
Note 2: My list is going to automatically start out without two big ones: Tamora Pierce and Marion Zimmer Bradley. I have not read either of these (I seriously don’t know how I managed to miss Tamora Pierce growing up), so I can’t talk to them, but everyone tells me they’re great. I will read them at some point, I promise.
Note 3: I understand the list is a little homogenous, with only one WOC in the Honorable Mention section. The only big name WOC in the genre that I know of is Octavia Butler, but her books always came across as more sci-fi to me, and I don’t read much sci-fi (I read Dune and Ender’s Game when I was younger, and that’s about the extent of my sci-fi catalog). I am always happy to take recommendations though, if anyone knows of any good ones!
1) Jacqueline Carey – Particularly the first Phèdre trilogy (“Kushiel’s Dart”, “Kushiel’s Chosen” and “Kushiel’s Avatar”) and the Saints duology (“Santa Olivia” and “Saints Astray”).
Phèdre is one of my favorite female protagonists of all time, because she’s quite different than what you’d normally see depicted as a “strong” female character. She doesn’t fight, and her only special ability is that she was touched by a god in the womb, and is the ultimate masochist (bear with me here). But she’s extremely smart, capable, and compassionate, and kicks ass all over the place while barely lifting a finger (she has a guard who does the physical fighting). As a bonus, this trilogy also features a woman as the major overarching villain. These are densely plotted and the worldbuilding is exquisite. It’s light on the magic (the gods intervene here and there, but with a subtle touch), but there are some graphic sex scenes. I think they’re well written, however, and they’re completely in line with the plot, rather than being gratuitous and unnecessary. The sheer scope of the story and the amount of characters can be a little GRRM-esque at times, but it’s worth it when it all comes together.
To prove that she can write a woman who can physically kick ass as well, Carey’s Saints duology features Loup, the child of a genetically modified soldier who lives in a border town between Mexico and what is left of the U.S. This book is more dystopian than fantasy, and Loup ends up becoming a boxer in order to try and win a ticket out of her Outpost into the real world so she can find her father. The main pairing in this book is same sex, and it’s very well written (I believe the author herself is also a lesbian). The second book is a bit more fun, but I really enjoyed both.
2) Kristin Cashore – Graceling books (“Graceling”, “Fire”, and “Bitterblue”)
Kristin Cashore currently has three books out, all featuring strong female protagonists, all of whom are strong in a different way. In her world, some people are born “Graced”, which means they can do that particular thing really, really well. The Grace can be anything from fighting to tying knots to cooking to poetry. The first book focuses on Katsa, who is Graced with killing, so she’s the woman warrior type. The next features Fire, who is a “monster”. Basically she’s preternaturally beautiful and men lose their minds at the sight of her and she has to constantly keep her hair covered, and she can read/control minds. She’s kind and compassionate, though, and she makes for a good alternative to the gruff, physical Katsa. The last is Bitterblue, a young woman who has to become queen of a realm her father destroyed. While the first two are slightly lighter in tone, Bitterblue veers very dark, and it’s really a great journey watching Bitterblue come into her own.
3) Laini Taylor – “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” and “Days of Blood and Starlight”
Just go read these books. Do it right now. They’re some of my favorite things I’ve read in the past five years. Taylor uses the idea of parallel worlds to great effect. The main character, Karou, lives on Earth in the Czech Republic, but she was raised by a creature from another world who has lion’s legs and ram’s horns, who makes living beings out of various kinds of teeth. It sounds bizarre, but the story is genius and also features a strong female friendship between Karou and her friend Zuzana. I can’t say much more about the plot without spoiling them, other than that it throws a real wrench at you in the middle of the first book. I am absolutely dying to get my hands on the last book of this trilogy, but it doesn’t come out until March 2014. Waaaaaah.
4) Juliet Marillier – Sevenwaters books (there are a lot of them)
Juliet Marillier bases her books in a time period similar to Mists of Avalon, where some Christianity has come to the UK, but a lot of people still follow the “old ways” of the Celtic gods and the Fair Folk, etc. If you’re into this kind of thing, these books are gorgeous, all of them containing a female heroine very different from the others (though they’re all related). They usually involve some kind of trickery from the Tuatha de Danann that the girls must somehow fix. I love reading about this time period, and Marillier’s writing is beautiful and evocative. I particularly enjoyed the last installment, “Flame of Sevenwaters”, which features Maeve, whose face was badly scarred in a fire while she saved a family member.
5) Melissa Marr – Wicked Lovely series ( “Wicked Lovely”, “Ink Exchange”, “Fragile Eternity”, “Radiant Shadows” and “Darkest Mercy”
This entry is more frivolous and “beach read-y” than the others, and probably the most comparable to The Mortal Instruments. These are about the world of Faery, which is one of my favorite places to spend escapist reading time. What I really, really enjoyed about this series is that the heroine refuses to fall in love with the obvious guy. It’s a love triangle, but not because anyone really wants it to be, and the whole thing ends up being kind of a mockery of the love triangle. The heroine, Aislinn, starts out kind of pale, but ends up getting stronger throughout the books. I didn’t love the whole vibe of the second one, but all in all, it’s a pretty good series for when you want to read something you don’t have to concentrate very much on.
Trudi Canavan – I'd start with The Black Magician trilogy. I always forget I like her so much until I start reading another book of hers, then I remember how much I love her. She would have been one of top 5, but aside from her main character who is female, her books don’t contain a lot of other female characters of significance.
Julie Kagawa – The Iron Fey trilogy. This is interesting worldbuilding, and also set in the Faerie world. It has a love triangle with one very boring side, but the other side is Puck of Shakespearean lore, so that helps. It’s a bit steampunk too, I think.
Kate Elliot – Most of the things she writes have female protagonists, but her Crown of Stars series is 7 long books and a real slog. The Crossroads books are good, but aren’t solely female led. Lately I’ve read Cold Fire and Cold Magic, which contains two strong female leads and an interesting story that involves a sort of science vs. magic idea.
Leigh Bardugo – The first two books of her Grisha trilogy (starting with Shadow and Bone) has some interesting twists on romance, her worldbuilding is really good. Alina is a fish-out-of-water heroine, but she’s no one’s doormat and grows throughout the two books I’ve read so far. It’s about magic and wizards, but her caste system is interesting, and I like the villain too.
Libba Bray – Her Gemma Doyle trilogy is sort of historical fiction mixed with fantasy. The four main characters are all high school girls, and as such they grated on me a bit. But ultimately I thought the narrative arc was good, and I liked “The Realms” which is like a kind of dreamland that the main character can take her friends to. Bray also started a new trilogy with “The Diviners”…I loved the idea and the story, but her main character (this is set in the 20s) says “Posi-tutely!” 500 times per chapter, and after a while it was kind of rage-inducing.
Also Holly Black, Cinda Williams Chima, Catherynne Valente, Deborah Harkness, Rae Carson…you guys, I could go on all day, but this is already TL;DR.
If anyone is still reading, let me know if I missed any of your favorites!