Julia’s Favourite Women in SFF Update #1
So here we are again, one year after my last Women in SFF list went up. Looking at how many amazing new books I read since then, I think I should have updated earlier!
I have sorted them roughly by genre or style. Some of them would fit more than just that one tag, especially Dark and Non Western Setting which have a lot of overlap. I decided to put the grim ones into the Dark section as those definitely have their own target audience.
Some of these authors were already on my list with other books, but I’ll add new (to me) titles that I read since then to any of my updates!
I’m an audioholic, so I put a little ⊕ symbol next to the ones available as audiobook.
So without further ado, feast your eyes on all the shiny stories!
J.A. Andrews ⊕
When I last posted, these were on my TBR – now they are in my favourites!
Both of these series take place in the same world, but you can start either with the completed Keeper Chronicles (which is an omnibus of 3 books!) or with Dragon’s Reach, which is the first in the Keeper Origins series.
Both have that good traditional fantasy feel to them. They are definitely meant for an adult audience, and don’t shy away from harder topics, but they don’t have overly graphic violence, or sex scenes. Instead of the guts and gore, these focus on the consequences and repercussions of war and death. How it affects the characters and the world.
I enjoyed them all! Andrews gets better by the book. So while the very first – A threat of Shadows – was a good and entertaining read, it felt a bit predictable and easy at times. Still a 4* read for me, but not yet perfect. By the time I got to Dragon’s Reach she had progressed to an absolute favourite, and I can’t wait for the audiobook of Raven’s Ruin to be released! I am currently impatiently waiting for my hardcover copy to go live in the shops!
Oh, and by the way – have I told you yet just how utterly gorgeous the hardcover for Dragon’s Reach is? Because it is to die for.
ML Spencer ⊕
A bit like with Andrews up above, ML Spencer gets better by the book. I’ve read three of her books so far, and I enjoyed each one more than the last!
These also have the classic fantasy feel to them, but are a bit grimmer than Andrews’ books. Chain of Bloods had a great mix of new characters interwoven with the stories from her first series. You could read this without knowing the the Rhenwar books, but if you read them, you get a lot of flashbacks, in the good way! A nice twisty plot kept me hooked all the way.
But then I read Dragon Mage – and I have to say I am utterly in love with that one! It isn’t just a good story – with Dragons – it also has something you rarely see in fantasy: A main character who is on the autism spectrum! And it was handled absolutely wonderfully.
It also has a damn beautiful hardcover edition, that you just have to look at again and again, and go “My preciousssss” over. I mean, just look at it!
On the slightly grimmer side of classic fantasy, Joanne Hall has written a great duology that evolves well over the course of the story. The first one has one of my favourite tropes – young man getting a military education – but also has enough twists and turns to not feel like just one more “boring old” story.
In the second one we get to travel and spend quite some time with a different culture and way of life, and I loved that!
Another plus for me was this series having a male bi main character, but not focussing on the romance part. It is just a natural part of the character.
Rachel Emma Shaw
Last Memoria was one of the SPFBO finalists this year! And for us at the Hive it placed 2nd – which shows you just how good it is! Find our (long) review here.
In short: A twisty character driven fantasy, with an intriguing world and setting. The theme of memories, and how much of our character depends on them was fascinating and thought provoking.
A.M. Justice ⊕
A Wizard’s Forge was special, because the main character is a former sex slave. Her character development and the way she dealt with her past gave this an extra layer of depth. It feels like a traditional fantasy, but you get glimpses that hint at this series going more into the science fantasy direction later on…
Kristen Britain ⊕
This one doesn’t just have a classic feel to it, but being released in 1998 it almost is a classic!
I openly admit that I have a hard time with a lot of older fantasy, aside from a few favourites – but Green Rider worked well for me. The audio narration was amazing, and I think it made the book even better. What I enjoyed was a strong female main character, who wasn’t just a born fighter. She just has to deal with what fate is throwing at her, and so she does.
Non Western Setting
Roseanne A. Brown ⊕
I didn’t just love the whole new, African inspired, setting. I also enjoyed the good character development and political manouvering! And my absolute favourite bit about the book is one of the main characters having anxiety. This is the first time I came across a main character like that in fantasy, and I seriously loved the representation!
Namina Forna ⊕
The Gilded Ones straddles between upper YA or easier adult read. The topics and gore level definitely work for both, the character development could have been a bit deeper at times.
Feminism, racism, xenophobia, misogyny and quite some other problematic themes are included here – and I thought they were well handled. I liked the “moral” of the story being something that just comes along with the plot, and didn’t just feel like being pointed at what you should think.
Charlotte Nicole Davis ⊕
A bundle of escaped whores on a quest to get rid of their magical mark, that brands them as property of the brothel.
This is a sort of story I never read before! I especially enjoyed how the girls, after some initial conflicts, work together. So often if there’s a bunch of girls, they are always fighting and trying to control each other. I definitely loved seeing them become sisters in spirit instead!
S.A. Chakraborty ⊕
Early on I feared The City of Brass might get too romantic for my personal taste – but luckily it never did. Instead it was an amazing and deep story about Djin and explored a different part of the world than what I am used to. It had plenty of mysteries, action and adventure, great characters with a good amount of grey areas, so you keep wondering who is right and who is wrong…
Rebecca Roanhorse ⊕
I loved the main character in Trail of Lightning. A female Navajo monster hunter, who isn’t really the most social of creatures… I love the mysteries about her past that I got to piece together little by little over the course of the story. It gave her more and more depth and never felt like an info dump to me.
Reni K. Amayo ⊕
I really enjoyed the different setting and POV in Daughters of Nri. I got attached to the main characters early on, and so was eager to see what would happen to them.
It was a fluent and rather quick read, despite being about political intrigue. The end didn’t fully live up the rest of the book, but the fresh tone and voice enough to overall still really like the book.
Anna Stephens ⊕
Any book so far by Anna Stephens has been brilliant. And The Stone Knife is no exception! This time we get a new, Aztec inspired, world and a set of very inclusive characters. In this story the enemies have a song that will make you susceptible to their control. So being deaf is a major strength for warriors. This also has the added benefit (for me as a canine lover) of having dogs who act as ears and support for those… And as with her other series there’s also amazing LGBTQIA+ characters to be found!
Aliette de Bodard ⊕
Servant of the Underworld is also Aztec inspired, but it’s a very different story to the one above. It has a epic fantasy sort of world, heavy with myths and gods, and a murder mystery at the heart of the story. And all of that with a tone and voice that reminds me a bit of Harry Dresden! Sounds weird? Yes, but it absolutely worked for me!
Fonda Lee ⊕
Jade City is not a book for anyone who is looking for good guys or straight heroes. Here we are in a society ran by different clans, and that involves quite some gang wars on the street. It is Urban Fantasy in a modern world, but it combines cars and guns with blades and magic, so it felt as much like a typical fantasy as it did like UF. What I especially liked was the new setting to explore, with a culture very different to anything I am used to!
The setting in We Men of Ash and Shadow feels mostly like a medievalish city. But every now and then there’s a little bit of modern things like guns or photographs. I kept forgetting those as most of the story was knives and guts and politics, but the reminders made it feel yet a little bit more unique.
The main character is… Different… He has a talent to go about unseen. He’s an ex-soldier, and he kills for a living. He does have a conscience though, and only kills scum. He definitely suffered from mental health problems, but somehow manages to just keep going. He sounds a bit slow at times. Not stupid, no, just in his own world. I absolutely enjoyed his company! I can say I can’t remember any similar lead character in any book, and I loved how unique and different he was! There’s more to him than that, but that would be spoilery…
SciFi, Dystopia & Horror
Becky Chambers ⊕
To Be Taught If Fortunate is a very lovely novella that I devoured in just a few hours. As usual with Becky Chambers I loved the characters right from the start.
This one is less “fantastic” than LWTASAP as there’s no alien crewmates or such. Just 4 humans (and some body adaptations for different planets) on a science mission to explore some planets, without leaving a trace.
It’s as much about what they do find, and the science behind it all – well researched I will add, and I am wiser than before! – as it is about the characters and the time they spent in an enclosed space together.
I was hooked from the first to the last page and already can’t wait for more stories by chambers!
Sammy H.K. Smith ⊕
This is a near future dystopian UK, and society has gone down the drain. Women are often fair game, and if you brand one you caught, she’s now yours. Congratulations.
From there on its a story of abuse and the slow spiral from finding a way out, into loosing your way and starting to doubt your worth. Do you even deserve to get away?
There’s violence, there physical and mental abuse, there’s rape (not in graphic detail, but in psychological one), there’s being controlled and there’s all the emotional turmoil that comes with it.
Anna is not a comfortable read. Anna is not an easy read.
Anna however is an addictive read that makes you think and re-evaluate things. It is challenging and hard to digest, yet it doesn’t leave you utterly hopeless. It’s an eye opener and I am sure I will think about it for weeks to come.
Mira Grant ⊕
I loved the mix of science, horror and fantasy in The Drowning Deep.
The first half is rather slow, but in a good way. It is setting up characters and backstory and a scientific background, while the second half has a lot of blood, gore, action and tight spots. The bodies are piling up, and you actually do not know how it all will end till the very end.
The characters were well done and handled in a way that made me grumblingly care for even the worst ones, and I could root for monsters and humans alike. And who is the real monster after all?
I’ll detract one star for the very end, that could have been just a bit … more. But all in all I was breezing through this one, and will make sure to pick up more books by the author!
Light or Humorous
Gail Carriger ⊕
The plot in Defy and Defend definitely was as entertaining, a bit silly and much fun as I was expecting. I more or less flew through the whole book in one go. I enjoyed all the main characters, and especially love the diversity Carriger likes to encompass. Vampire wanting to be a female instead of a male? Sure, dress in beautiful dresses and get compliments about just how good it suits you! And I do love that in her world so much. As this is for an adult audience we also get to see a bit of the other side, of how being judged can affect people, and I loved the balance between some serious topics and the typical joviality of her books.
I loved the characters in Queens of the Wyrd! I enjoyed mums and just “regular” women being the main characters and still being awesome. I’m not maternal and no mum myself, and don’t intend to ever be one, but the theme still absolutely worked for me.
They mythology part definitely works best if you already have some basic info about it, as it’s often not described in great detail, so it gets a lot more depth if your brain just adds in more backdrop. This does make for an even quicker read, and doesn’t take away from the book if you have some knowledge of it already. Only if this s your first encounter with the topic it might lack a bit of depth.
Amanda DeWees ⊕
Nocturne for a Widow had me hooked right from the start. I’m always a sucker for a strong willed and slightly sarcastic female main character who goes her own way. And Sybil does just that! She knows her strengths, and she likes to play to them, but she also knows her limitations and makes the most of whatever life throws at her. Instead of fainting or becoming hysterical she’ll look for a way forward and just won’t give up! I also love how she’s definitely looking out for herself, but at the same time is really loyal and loveable, as well as open to all sorts of people and experiences.
The plot is as much mystery and ghost story as it is regency romance, and I enjoyed each of the aspects! The prose was fluent and quick and so very easy to devour.
Alix E. Harrow ⊕
I think this is the first book I’ve read that had gave me head to toe goosebumps so badly my husband asked if I was cold not once, not twice, but three times!
I loved the setting, which had suffragettes fighting for women’s rights along with witch burnings being a thing of the not so distant past. Sexual or gender orientation also still being mostly dictated by the church ads yet another layer to the book. Combined wit racism still quite rampant even though slavery was officially over, it made for a gripping and thought provoking read with no clear good or evil side, instead a lot of grey areas, and characters.
All of these topics could make for a very dry and almost sanctimonious read, but no – it was one enthralling tale full of twists and turns and mysteries that hat me spellbound all the way through.
I loved the time period and setting in A Wind From The Wilderness. I can’t say I’ve remember any fantasy book there before!
I loved the female main character, and had a harder time to care for the male POV. But not as in him being badly written, rather in his attitude not being someone I personally click with easily. And the combination of the two just made the whole story feel more real to me.
The writing was beautiful, the plot had me hooked all the way, even though it is slow going and has quite some politics, which I’m not especially a fan of. The dialogues however where really well done and so I didn’t mind the bickering between different faction but instead was glued to the pages.
Lit RPG &Young / New Adult
Demi Harper ⊕
I loved exploring more of the world and the surroundings in Exodus Of Gnomes, and was hooked all the way through again!
I do love them all, even Binky the spider, and I was in the edge of my seat more than once!
The game dynamics were handled well and felt smooth instead of too much. Often in LitRPG the stats can become a bit annoying if it’s too much pure levels and info. Not so in Demi Harper’s series!
Brilliant fun and engaging entertainment that had me giggling, snorting, holding my breath, sniff and gave me a hole bunch of emotions all around!
Naomi Novik ⊕
Definitely upper YA, as there’s plenty of death and gore, but so much fun!
Imagine a deadly sort of Hogwarts, that has it’s own consciousness, and it’s hobby is killing it’s students…
Then add in a grumpy, loner, female main character, who has to work extra hard at everything as she doesn’t have the advantages privileged kids from enclaves have. I just love her attitude and some moments of her being blunt just made me laugh out loud in joy. Absolutely no grovelling to the rich kids here!