Julia’s Favourite Women in SFF Update #2
Oh dear, I just noticed I did my last Update for my Women in SFF list in July. I’ve read quite a few more amazing books since then.
So it seems it is high time to hopefully once again add even more books to your TBR!
I’ve broken them into similar topics and themes. Obviously a lot of these fit more than one of these categories, I sorted them with the group they fitted in best.
Exploring different cultures
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
An epic fantasy inspired by America before Columbus ever set foot on it.
There’s three main point of view characters:
* A young man destined to – something. I loved exploring his fate right along with him, and seeing where his story goes.
* A female ship captain with a sort of water magic that makes her both valuable and someone to be feared due to her being different…
* A female priest who is caught up in intrigue and politics, and not at all sure whose loyalties she can trust.
I loved the different setting that felt like a nice breath of fresh air! Not only the different societies and cultures, but also the diverse and varied cast let me dive in and more or less devour the book.
I already enjoyed Trail of Lightning, but Black Sun definitely is another step up, especially in character depth and development. I can’t wait to read more of Roanhorse!
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
I loved the India inspired world, and most of all the magic and religions that are firmly threaded through the world building. I found the customs, powers, beliefs, sickness, and all that comes with it so very fascinating, I would have happily read a whole non-fiction book just about the history of it all!
The characters were well developed, and I liked the diverse cast from all layers of society. From poor street urchin to high society, and everything in between. I especially enjoyed the feminist tilt of the story, as women are treated poorly in the current society. But strong female main characters definitely make you doubt being a good wife and an obedient servant is all they are good for. I loved the character development we got to see, and especially some twists that did not go where you expected them to go.
I’ve had a bit of a harder time trying to really get a grip on some of the bad people. They felt a bit too distant and vague for me to really feel one way or the other about them. Compared to how well developed most of the main characters were, they just felt a bit on the shallow side, and I hope I will grow to care more about them.
Sairō’s Claw by Virginia McClain
This can be read as part three of the Gensokai books, or as a stand alone. It takes place quite a bit after the first two books, and had its own story arc, though there’s some recurring characters.
I loved the strong female leads in this book, with women who know how to handle a katana as well as those who know how to handle a ship, a scroll or kiso (magic).
I enjoyed how inclusive it was in its society, where people might murder you, but are good with using your proper pronouns of choice! People get judged by their actions and talents, and not by who they love our what’s between their legs, and I must say I really liked this bit of cultural setting! After all not everyone is as judgy about those things as the West is.
The mystery and action had me glued to the pages from start to end, and I was quite annoyed when I had to put it down in order to go to work.
Blackdog by K.V. Johansen
This is a really epic read, that needs you to fully focus on it all the time, or you’ll spend a lot of time re-reading bits. *Coughs*
It has a wonderfully detailed and rich world, full of small gods, demons, magic, different cultures and religions.
I loved the mix of slow burn world building and a lot of action and very well written fight scenes.
It features complex relationships between characters, gods and factions. It describes the life in a mercenary troupe traveling the desert as well as living in what feels a bit like mountain enclave, with a mad god at its head. I enjoyed the small scale bits just as much as the overarching “fate of the world” plot that the whole book runs toward.
There’s quite some different POVs, some time jumps and different locations to keep track of, so again – it’s a rather epic and definitely demanding read.
But you get rewarded with a unique world with a silk road feel to it. Inspired by a Himalayan village, central Asian caravan guards, some possibly Mongolian influences and more made for a real feast of different views and ideas.
There’s also an amazing cast of characters who grew and changed organically over the course of the story. I especially liked the well written female characters.
All the different POVs run together nicely in the end. While you keep wondering what everything has to do with anything else, the different storylines slowly start to meet, mingle and weave themselves into one big braid. And it all makes for a fantastic finale, that will have you on the edge of your seat.
And another gigantic plus: while this is the start of a series, and has enough intrigue left to want to read on, it can also be read as a stand alone. All the major plot arcs are resolved and it is a very satisfying end all on its own, even if you don’t move on to the sequels.
Legacy of Ghosts by Alicia Wanstall-Burke
The first one was already a really good read, but Legacy of Ghosts is another step up!
The characters and world gained a lot more depth, and the whole story felt more immediate and real to me.
I was instantly transported into the world and hardly noticed the real world! How annoying when you have to stop reading and actually do things like working or sleeping…
It’s a bit darker and has more magic than book one, and I enjoyed the change.
There’s quite some twists and turns that I did not expect, but which kept me on my toes! Some I celebrated, some had me flinch, all had me glued to the story.
It leaves on quite a cliff-hanger, so I’m glad the finale just came out! recently!
Blood Witch by Timandra Whitecastle
I especially liked the deeper meanings in this novella. It makes you think and ponder, and re-evaluate the morals of this societal structure. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it bad for the sake of a good outcome? Or something else?
It’s a story about a girl with water magic, who goes where fate throws her, more than once starting from scratch. It’s adventure and growing up, and finding your own way. Adapting versus rebelling, and security versus freedom.
I’m quite looking forward to reading Touch of Iron at a later date – when we get to see more of this main character. In her grown up state!
The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams
This went straight onto my all-time favourite lists!
Not only do we have an absolutely fascinating new world to explore, with new races, a mysterious sickness, magic, different cultures and just a really deep and multi-faceted world building. It feels so three dimensional it’s almost eerie!
So often worlds feel a bit like a theatre screen in front of which the story takes part – not so in The Ninth Rain. I felt like I could lift every stone and peek behind every tree, dive into any water or run in any direction, and I would find new things. It was a world full of wonder and some horror, and I was absolutely 100 percent immersed in the story. I never saw the edges of the world, or even realized where I was in the real world while reading. I could swear I visited Sarn in body as well as in soul. Just wow.
That is all brilliant and well and all, but my cherry on top of that was the characters! Not just a non-human (though human like) one, not only an “evil” fell witch, who has control over magical green fire, no we also have Lady Vincenza “Vintage” de Grazon. While I loved the other two as well, as they are wonderfully fleshed out, individual, flawed and organic, Vintage just blew me away.
She’s an explorer. A fighter. An archaeologist. A fine lady. An eccentric. She’s lovely and charming and warm. She can also shot a crossbow better than most other people. I simply adore how she can be so very much herself, and not fall into any of the typical tropes. She’s not just a motherly figure or a cold blooded assassin. She’s a melting pot of all sorts, and I enjoyed her tone and voice and her curiosity so very much!
Now add a twisty plot, a good mystery (or 5) at the heart of the story, and really smooth but gripping prose, and you got yourself one of my favourite books!
The Skin by J.E. Hannaford
And another straight up favourite! The Science is more in the well done research of the author than the characters, but it fits perfectly with The Ninth Rain.
I clicked with the main character right from the start. She is a Selkie who lost her skin, and therefore can’t return to her home in the sea. Her tone and voice felt unique and let her come to life in my mind quickly.
I haven’t read much about Selkies before, and I was looking forward to a fresh world for me to explore – and I was not disappointed in the least!
The author clearly knows a lot about nature and life in the sea. I loved the science and complex world building, and nature is almost it’s on character in The Skin.
Biology, magic, mythology, politics, action, creatures, twists and prose that was easy to follow and pulled me along, made for a gripping story.
Friendships and new found family at the heart of it all bound the different POVs and plot lines together. What felt like single strands ended up in a strong weave that easily kept me enthralled until I – horrendously! – ran out of pages…
I felt I made many new friends and was sad to leave them all at the end of the book. I’m very glad the sequel will be out soon enough, as I would like to have it yesterday…
Shadows of Ivory by T.L. Greylock (and Bryce O’Connor)
It took me a while to fully form the characters in my head, and keep them apart from each other.
Once we learned more about them and their backstory I got fully sucked into the world and got a firm footing in the world. And the world is a rather big one! I loved all the history and cultures to be found. It never felt like just a backdrop for the story, but rather like you could lift every stone, and actually find more underneath it, or behind every horizon.
So despite taking a bit to get in, I really loved both our destitute and well off archaeologists, and I especially liked the friendship between Eska and Albus. I wish more books had a strong friendship as a bond, instead of always going for the romance! More friends please! Once we saw more of each of them they quickly became well rounded and three dimensional characters, who I was more than happy to follow on their adventures!
The Conductors by Nicole Glover
I loved having a married couple as main characters, which I would love to see more often, instead of all the love drama relationship in fantasy often are.
The mix of magic, murder mystery, and a very interesting historical backdrop made for addictive reading for me, and I finished the whole book in just two days.
I can’t say I read fantasy mixed with the Underground Railroad before! There’s quite some little bits and pieces about the main characters role as conductors, but it’s only a small bit of the book – most of the time is after slavery was officially over. I would have loved to read a bit more about their time helping slaves to escape, but the nuances of what a law being passed, and things actually changing in people’s real life’s also was interesting to reflect on.
The magic system is mysterious, and I loved the way Glover described it – especially as there’s two main types of magic being used. The way the main characters crafts were such a big part of the story, and mixed with the magic had me fascinated, and was very well done.
The murder mystery ambled along a bit l, and didn’t read as smoothly as the character development and historical setting. It was definitely the weakest part of the book, but this didn’t bother me overly much, as I was thoroughly hooked by the other aspects of the book, and was sad when my time with Hetty and Benjy was over!
Scars of Cereba by Rachel Emma Shaw
Quite a bit darker than Last Memoria, Scars of Cerebra is quite a step up from the already good first book. There’s less banter and the romance takes a gigantic step back. For me that change in tone and style worked perfectly.
I especially loved exploring more of the history and world of the memori. The world also got a couple of new layers and depth and grew out of the foundations laid in Last Memoria!
The POVs and characters are very scattered. I actually loved the jumps between heads and varying viewpoints all the time. For me it made the characters and their lives feel a lot more three dimensional than they were in book one. It took me a bit to settle in and have a clear view of whose on page right now, but that only took me a few chapters. Once I was settled in the world, I had no problem whatsoever in knowing which POV I was in.
I think the mental repercussions and the effects of the way people are treated by society were really well and sensitively handled.
The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
Another slight cheat – this is shelved as fantasy / horror. I don’t really click with horror, so for me personally the book was just ok. However the writing was solid, and the topics and plot interesting, so I definitely wanted to include it on this list for people who do like to read horror!
We enter a society that is ruled by a horrendous religious sect. There’s a prophet who is holy and always right. Actually though, he’s a sexual predator. Sins are always blamed on the women, and the sanctions are harsh.
The main character accidentally stumbled across witches in the dark woods, and from there on it gets dark and bloody.
BLOOD BLIGHT DARKNESS SLAUGHTER
The real question is, are the occurring plagues the cure or the death of everyone?
Regency and similar feel
Good Neighbors by Stephanie Burgis
A Collection 4 stories – about a necromancer and a metal mage. And both are not the best at social interaction…
Quirky and Whimsical fantasy RomCom, which started very easy and fun. Throughout the book the characters turned from being a bit shallow into ones who will stay with me for the long run.
I enjoyed the tone of the stories. The hope and light, and people coming together to protect each other.
This is an ultimate feel-good book that will make the dreary world look a lot brighter when you ‘ve finished it!
Manners and Monsters by Tilly Wallace
Another fun series with less romance than I expected! It is there, but stays quite in the background. Instead it’s mostly murder mysteries with zombies, ghouls, gorgons, and plenty more. I’ve so far read the first 3 (which are available in a very pretty bundle!) and loved them for a quick and entertaining break between the grim stuff.
I love the background of some of England’s High society ladies having turned into zombies, and because they aren’t just measly commoners people simply deal with the new circumstances and tend to those special needs…
Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee
This one looks cute – but it is utterly weird and dark! This will only appeal to you if you have a dark sense of humour and enjoy a very bizarre mix of quirky fairy tale and gore and murder a plenty.
It is not so much one central story line, but rather a lot of little side stories and carnage. And I loved every little bit of it – including the interior formatting!
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
The first in a series that is mostly historical fiction, with a dash of fantasy added in, especially at the end.
Two male best friends (or more?) go on a grand tour of Europe. They annoyingly get stuck with the younger sister who just won’t be a boring, staying at home lady, and instead follows along.
I especially loved to see them grow and learn along the way. Growing up from being young and definitely naive to see how the world actually works. And how easy it is to hurt people. Opening their eyes to their own choices and decisions being more important than “fate”, or what is expected of them.
A lot of adventures, plenty of running away, so much “what on earth are we supposed to do now?” and some romantic complications along the way, make for a gripping and fast paced read!
Dealing with topics like being ill, different, going against society’s expectations or caring for relationships gave it depth and made it so much more than just a fun romp.
Thornbound by Stephanie Burgis
I loved this sequel to Snowspelled even more than the first!
Cassandra is a wonderful main character, and I love how she is both willing to go head first through walls for things she feels are important. And on the other hand she also cares deeply about her friends and family, and tries to do right by everyone. Even by incredibly annoying and self important weather wizards…
This book dipped even more into the topic of “women’s rights” than the first, and that is always a plus for me. If it’s done with plenty of female characters who I can actually look up to? That’s obviously the best.
The romance was well done. It didn’t overshadow the book at all, but was a small and fitting part of the story. Because as much as Cassandra loves her new husband, there’s just so much other stuff to do and organise! So it felt quite realistic and cosy to me.
Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
This is a quirky and rather fun and easy read. There’s a lot of different creatures in it (vampires, vampyres, ghouls, mummies, demons, …) and Greta’s job is it to keep them all healthy.
I loved hearing about mummies needing new bones to stop the constant ache when shuffling along, or how while ghouls prefer meat gone bad, a baby ghoul will get a fresh “nice rat” as you can be pretty certain it hasn’t eaten rat poison… I had so many moments were I snorted or grinned at myself, and that is always a plus for me!
This isn’t an action paced novel like Harry Dresden for example – it is rather more focused on friendships, solving a deadly mystery and the physical health of all sorts of beings.
Greta isn’t special, doesn’t have magic, isn’t especially strong. She is just a doctor, trying to do the best for her patients. She knows her limits, and so won’t go head to head with the big bad evil, but rather ask for help – and I thought that was rather a nice change of view!
A little bit of a cheat here, as the next two aren’t actually favourites of mine personally, but I can absolutely see how they are amazing books, and perfect for other people.
So I still want to recommend them, even though they were a bit too heavy on the emotional / romance side for my taste.
Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
I was recommended this as great Urban Fantasy, when I explicitly said I want UF, not paranormal romance. This one sits very uncomfortably in the middle if you ask me. It’s not PR as there is no romance as the actual plot. It is definitely having to solve a murder case and getting revenge for a murder frenemy.
So why do I say it sits between UF and PR? Because October has a lot of difficult emotions about men in her life, and I found it *so* annoying. This really is what mostly ruined the book for me.
One other problem I had was October being rather weak in magic, and not especially good at fighting. And we’re being told she avoids those situations wherever she can.
Toby however runs straight into every danger there is, and she gets grievously hurt, and almost dies over, and over, and over. She also really cares for people, but on the other hand they die like flies, and it mostly doesn’t seem to affect her that much actually.
There is however a lot of great things in the book as well!
It’s fast paced and fun to read.
I did *love* the Fae world! The magic and the way the two worlds were interwoven and connected. The world building and details. It felt fresh and yet still fitting with other lore.
I liked Toby as a character, and really enjoyed some of the side characters as well.
The mystery was interesting and kept me hooked all the way.
Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
I’ve been recommended it over and over again, and so I ventured and read reviews. And all the bad reviews actually convinced me, to give it a go! The “It’s so boring, there’s no hot steamy bits” and “I hated this, it had no romance” made me pick up a copy.
It had the occasional bits where I wondered if it would go the romance way after all – but aside from one scene at the very end it didn’t. So overall it definitely wasn’t more or “worse” than Harry Dresden and his fascination with women in the first few books of his series.
I really enjoyed Mercy as a character, as she is both strong but not overpowered. An outsider, but not a loner. She cares about the people around her and will risk a lot to make them save.
Seeing a woman in a typically male dominated field was fun, and especially her not being a werewolf and so outside of pack hierarchy. Seeing her stand up to outdated views while also knowing when to back down for safety was fascinating.
As the end was hinting at a lot more romance to come, I won’t read on in the series, but I definitely enjoyed this first book!
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
I loved the alternate history this is set in, and liked how the timeframe was a backdrop, but didn’t take over the story. We mostly have the social structures of the 50s, and we get a few glimpses of the rest of the world, but we keep focused on the main characters and their immediate surroundings.
I loved Elma, and I especially loved the anxiety representation. Having social anxiety myself, I was absolutely feeling her scenes of panic.
Her husband was just a tad *too* perfect to feel real. I did enjoy that there was no relationship drama, but a stable one for once though.
I liked the side characters, and especially how they keep pointing out problems, especially racism, and Elma actually listening and learning how she didn’t even notice it, when it’s not pointed out. And striving to be better.
There’s a lot about society’s faults, and trying to better them. Be it about racism, sexism, religious minorities, power structures, not believing in science, and others. I loved these characters fighting for more equality, and it’s also scary to see how much of it we still have to this day.
Even though I don’t understand anything of the math, the science part worked well for me, and I was eagerly following along while the rocket program progresses. Setbacks and celebrations both had me cheer or flinch, so I was definitely hooked!
The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers
If you’re looking for action or adventure, this is not the book for you.
This book is basically a handful of aliens who can’t leave their current stop over. An accident with the satellites makes it impossible to enter or leave orbit.
So our three very different travellers, and the two owners of the Five-Hop have a lot of time to get to know each other.
I loved learning about the different cultures and just how actually alien and different these species are! No “humans, but in green”, but really unique and diverse and just all round fascinating characters. From very soft and furry to a hard shell, these have nothing in common, and on the other hand aren’t so different after all…
Becky Chambers once more manages to create personalities that just had me spellbound from start to finish, even though there is (almost) no action or adventure at all to be found. Just learning their stories and seeing them interact and grow from the experience was as comforting as it was interesting!
Once again a book that touches on raw topics, but at the end leaves you with a smile, a sigh, and a warm heart.
Goldilocks by Laura Lam
While they are very different, somehow Goldilocks still reminded me of Becky Chambers.
While Chambers’ stories are very comforting, this one is more on the confronting side!
In the not so distant future women’s rights have reverted back to what we never wanted to see again. Women who have worked hard to get good places in scientific spaces find themselves fired or put on the back burner due to the political climate.
The world is also ravaged by climate change and humans having destroyed a lot of it. The only way forward seems to be moving to a new planet which we haven’t yet fucked up.
So our main characters, cut from the project, decide they just don’t give a damn, and outright steal the ship they helped to engineer and build!
Goldilocks is as much about living in a space ship for a long haul, as it is about our society and way of life. It has a mystery to it, and manages to make the relationships and interactions between the characters feel real. I loved spending time between the stars, and then slowly puzzling out the backstory, as we switch between the past and present.
Planetfall by Emma Newman
This is so many things in one, and I am here for all of them!
* Colonisation story
* A close knit society and the relations between the people
* (Murder?) mystery
* Anxiety, and other mental disorders / challenges
* Mysterious past
* Interesting new world and concepts to explore
* Engineering and Science
All of these were handled well, and I was hooked right from the first chapter. I breezed through in no time and all, and was rather sad to find myself at the end of the story already!
The prose was smooth, and I loved the tone and voice of the main character. I always love characters who don’t easily blend in with the masses.
Her place in the colony and her interactions with the others felt deep and real. I do hope I’ll see more of these characters in the sequels!
Murderbot by Martha Wells
Murderbot is absolutely, one hundred percent exactly my sort of person. I’ve always, always loved the non human characters, be it Mr Data or The Doctor (Voyager), Lovelace (Becky Chambers) or even R2D2…
Murderbot is a hybrid of human and artificial construct. It/they have feelings, and emotions, but they don’t exactly think or function like a human would. I don’t always think like most humans either, so I absolutely clicked with them, and their uncomfortableness when they need to interact with their human team. They are meant to be for security purposes, but they are also a weapon, and they prefer to not mingle with others, but just don’t their duty and otherwise watch shows.
I always love the question of what exactly makes someone human, and where the line is. And Martha Wells definitely let’s one think and wonder about that. We learn about Murderbot’s past, and how they do care about it. We also learn they hacked their own system, and have a lot more freedom than SecUnits usually have. And so they can grow and stretch and want to be able to decide for themselves.
The second book only goes more into depth about what it means to be human and Murderbot makes a new AI friend (Though a very annoying one, hence the Name ART Asshole Research Transport) and I can’t wait to read more!