Julia’s Favourite Women in SFF Update #4
This update isn’t as giant a list as my last one, but it’s been a few months, and I discovered new gems I need to share with you all!
So here’s another 21 books written by women that I highly recommend.
I tried to group them loosely by topic or theme, starting with:
Dark, followed by Epic, then Cosy, POC authors, Urban and a few amazing sequels to round it all off.
Dark / Gritty Fantasy
The Jaguar Path by Anna Stephens
This is the long awaited sequel to The Stone Knife, and might be even better than the already great first book! Anna Stephens does not coddle her characters, no she lets them go through hell and more. However she doesn’t do it gratuitously, but rather to show how much people can adapt before they break, and ask the question – once you’re broken, can you come back? The trauma is very well handled, and changes the characters in all sorts of ways, some really unexpected. This Aztec inspired world is as fascinating as the characters, and it is an addictive read, albeit I recommend having comfort food at hand while reading.
The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles
I was rather surprised at just how much I loved this book. A rather steamy m/m romance? Since when is that something I like? Since I read KJ Charles apparently…
I enjoyed seeing those very different personalities clashing and yet drawn to each other. The interactions and growing fondness, as well as the attraction felt smooth and believable. The plot also was addictive, with more than one mystery running through the story. I was collecting clues and wondering how various threads came together all the way through.
A murder mystery, a lot of magic, well written characters, a promise of more world to explore, action and many secrets to uncover made this an addictive read!
The Darkness Calling by Kaleigh McCann
The “Darkness” in the title definitely is well deserved. This book gets rather brutal and graphic in a lot of places. Plenty of swearing as well. I would not put it in the grimdark variety, but definitely in the dark fantasy section.
I loved seeing three siblings as central characters, as I always enjoy relationships that are not based in romance. The constant banter between them, complemented by absolute loyalty was a nice change of pace, and made up for some other characters that at times fell a bit flat for me.
While it’s not a perfect read, I was still hooked by the two POVs being bitter enemies, and seeing how it just kept piling on between them. With just two ratings, this book definitely is a very hidden gem that deserves a few more eyes on it, despite some flaws!
A Storm of Silver and Blood by Marion Blackwood
My personal biggest pro? Like absolutely need more of? It’s a young female lead, with a male best friend, and there is ZERO romance. I’d like to give 5 stars even just for that, as there’s just way too few female lead books that don’t have the whining and pining.
It’s quite dark and bloody at times, so definitely aimed at an adult audience, but the characters often behave quite like teens. The sheer stupidity was at times annoying, although there’s a good deal of humour in it, and the chuckling made up for most of it. However, old and supposedly wise elves who behaved like teens – just like the young female lead – did feel a bit anachronistic.
There are some big twists – but I might just have read too much fantasy as none of them managed to surprise me in the least. However, the story was fast paced with enough action to keep me hooked anyway.
If you’re looking for an easy high fantasy romp, this might be ideal!
Tethered Spirits by TA Hernandez
“Breathe, Kes. Just breathe.”
But she couldn’t. Her racing heart threatened to explode, and her lungs were so tight she was sure she would suffocate. Ash filled her nose, her mouth, her throat. It burned her from the inside out, dry and coarse. It blew around her in the breeze, lit by tiny embers that threatened to catch her clothes and hair on fire.
The beginning is a bit weird, starting right after a battle and just throwing you into a scene that lacks a real hook. But don’t give up too early! While the characters started out a bit bland, they did grow over the course of the story. I especially enjoyed budding friendships that had a realistic feel to it. There’s some traumatic events, and I felt the repercussions were handled quite well, so that is definitely a plus for me. There’s a nice mix of dark themes, but also some humour to make it feel rounded.
The plot was intriguing, and I like a good mystery! Some bits went as expected, other things had twists I did not see coming.
Blood of Vengeance by Angel Haze
This was a grim and bloody take of a man caught in slavery, and forced to fight as a gladiator as well as in “the pits”.
I quite liked the tone and voice of the main character and was eagerly following through all the horrendous things he went through, in the hope of maybe managing to get free some day.
His capturer, torturer and biggest enemy is the prince, so a man with considerable power. I found that one was just too much a walking trope, which stopped me taking him as seriously as the story demanded. I enjoyed the other side characters a lot more.
Most of this book is one bloody fight after another, and how to get through it all. There’s also some contemplating if it’s even worth it to fight so hard. And always that tiny glimmer of hope, that maybe, just maybe there might be an end to it.
All in all a quick, entertaining and fast paced read fill of action and bravery.
Gates of Hope by JE Hannaford
I fell in love with the worldbuilding straight away. Hannaford brings her science background to bear in creating a world that is inventive, uncanny, and yet totally convincing. The worlds, their flora, fauna, and overall imaginativeness are a major strength of the book. I adored learning about the plants, herbs, and animals while accompanying the protagonists on some good old fashioned fantasy travelling. It all was so smooth and deeply immersive that I felt I had really walked into the pages and completely left the real world.
The book balances moments of darkness with flashes of humour, as well as giving a good mix of action packed incidents and quieter, more reflective and insightful moments. That variation in pace and tone makes for a rich and textured reading experience
Burn Red Skies by Kerstin Espinosa Rosero
I found the characters really well developed. They each felt like fully fleshed individuals, and I never struggled to know who was on the page at any time. They are all rounded and have flaws as well as their own agenda! I liked how diverse the cast was in, both in personalities as well as in abilities. One of the main characters is mute for example, while another one is weak and soft. Others are ruthless powerful fighters or even a gang of loveable pirates. For me this mix worked really well and gave more depth to both the world and the story itself.
Another strength of this book was the prose. It didn’t stand out in a kind of “drawing attention to itself” kind of way, but it did feel really smooth which made it easy to fully leave the real world, and step into this new world. It managed a good balance between evocative but unobtrusive.
Hills of Heather and Bone by K.E. Andrews
I started this, expecting not to get on with it, as the cover looked like a romance to me, which is not my cup of tea. This was one of the exact books I love SPFBO for – trying books you’d never have picked up, but get totally surprised by! There’s also really pretty interior sketches of plants, which I loved.
The main character is a woman with arthritis, a lovely healer husband who’s smaller than her, a chicken with an attitude, oh and she’s also a boneweaver, so a necromancer in other words. Her chronic illness was well handled, and definitely added to the books strength!
The relationship between Morana and Percy is already established, and there is no back and forth, no wining and pining, instead there’s a strong bond that nothing can break. I really enjoyed how they interacted and complemented each other.
The story has a lot of action and adventure. They have to flee as boneweavers are hunted, and a group of Failinis find them in the small town they were hiding in, and burn down their home.
Hills of Heather and Bone features serious topics like loss and grief, but it also has a lot of hope, and quite some humour. For me the mix of tragedy and trauma with some rather cosy village scenes, the puns and jokes and the adventure worked perfectly well. It felt neither shallow, not depressing. Not fluffy, but still an easy and fast read, which I adored!
Breaker by Amy Campbell
This definitely is more of a YA story, or a book for those looking for something easier to follow, and with less complexity. Even though it’s on the easy to read side, I was quickly drawn into the story, and enjoyed it all the way through to the end.
Blaise and Jack feel very stereotypical at first, with a native young boy who had been bullied all his life, and the older gruff outlaw who makes his life even harder. Over the course of the story they do grow and show more of their hidden depths though! The characters are a major reason why I felt this is more on the YA / NA spectrum, as they all are pretty easy to categorise. Good or bad, loyal or treacherous, you’ll know pretty soon. However, that simplicity didn’t really make this less enjoyable for me, as they still all had their flaws.
Westerns usually aren’t my cup of tea, and I was sceptical about the Pegasus who bind to a human partner, but overall it all worked out fine.
Cosy Comfort Reads
Miss Percy series by Quenby Olson
I loved the older spinster main character, who always disappeared in the shadow of her sister, and just leads a quiet life. She doesn’t suddenly turn into a fearless heroine, but really just organically grows throughout the story, and finds new friends and new ways. Please give me more aging woman as main characters!
I also really enjoyed the Austen-like setting paired with the adventure of suddenly finding yourself in the possession of a feisty baby dragon!
There’s all you want from a plucky regency story. A squabbling family, scandalous rumours, banter, tasty baked goods, nice dresses, innocent attraction, and a villain to give the whole story some immediacy. Definitely on the slower and feel good side of books, Miss Percy hones in on the main character and her life, with only little glimpses beyond – and I loved every moment I got to spend with Mildred!
Book two took quite a bit to catch me as much as the first did, but the second half had me racing through the pages. I can’t wait for a book 3!
Half a Soul by Olivia Atwater
What an utterly delightful read!
It’s not purely cosy fantasy, as there’s quite a bit about how the poor people suffer in workhouses, and the Fae really aren’t friendly.
However it’s still a comforting read, as the main characters care dearly for others, and I just adored the strong friendships and loyalties between them all. The romance is the cute but straight forward one, so no annoying whining and pining. Oh how I enjoyed characters who just simply say what they mean, without all the drama from misunderstanding stuff, or simply not talking about it at all.
Olivia Atwater’s books are absolutely fantastic, charming and captivating.
POC authors / Diverse Casts
Wild Seed by Otavia E. Butler
I really went in blind, which probably was a good thing. I don’t think I would have chosen a book about breeding people like livestock.
I did get intrigued right away, and even though the male main character was really repelling, I was breezing through the story in no time. The writing was really easy to fall into and just keep reading until you accidentally look at the watch and realise you should have gone to bed ages ago.
Which is interesting, as there isn’t really much happening throughout the book. It’s a really close look at the characters. Some sort of godlike man who can’t die, but instead takes over other bodies. A woman who can control her own body totally, down to the molecular structures, so from healing herself to even changing gender, colour or even species, she can do it. All he wants to do is breed strong humans, which in turn can power him, while all she wants to do is keep her descendants safe. Obviously those conflicting imperatives don’t go well together.
I would never have thought I’d enjoy either the type of story, or the plot all about interbreeding, including incest, and a main character who I definitely despise. So absolute kudos to an author who can still keep me hooked all the way through.
You can read this on varying levels of depth, from mostly slice of life, down to deeply philosophical. I would say I feel somewhere in the middle of these.
Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
Kingdom of Souls is situated somewhere between YA and adult. It’s quite bloody and grim for YA, but the prose, pace as well as the characters actions definitely had a younger flavour.
For me this mix worked well, as the grit gave the story a bit of much needed depth, while the writing made it easy to just breeze through the story.
The biggest plus for me was the world we get to visit! It’s African inspired which felt a nice change to so many euro-centric books. I found the tribes and the contrast between city life and more rural places fascinating. There’s plenty of magic, and more than one kind as well! I love seeing fantasy books who really drip magic and wonder all through the story.
Another plus for me were the connections between family and friends. The main character’s relationship with her mother is really strained, and felt real down to the bones. There’s a group of friends who are all different, but still very close and loyal. I love seeing some non romance bonds that are strong and free of most drama. The actual romance is a neutral for me, it didn’t add much, but it also didn’t annoy me.
All in all it was a fast and entertaining read, and definitely shows promise for future books!
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
* Fantasy heists
* Diverse cast
* Group of friends
* Great banter
* Plentiful action
* Intriguing magic
* Secret society
But some things just didn’t really work as well for me. The diverse cast for example was a plus, but the story setting in of an alternative historical France with magic didn’t always work smoothly. I have loved a lot of historical fantasies with just a dash of magic, but here it just didn’t fit together sufficiently seamlessly, and that pulled me out of the story. The world and setting was so different that going to the Eiffel tower actually felt anachronistic.
The characters all have defining histories & traits. Like being Jewish, LGBT, neuro-divergent, not the right skin colour for the society they life in … which was a definite draw for me! Especially as they are so different but a really close knit and loyal group anyway. The repercussions and traumas that come with their diversities were well handled. However I felt we were missing some character growth over the course of the story. They start off strong, but somehow seem to end pretty much the same way they started.
Urban Fantasy / Dystopia
Clean Sweeo by Ilona Andrews
I definitely could have done without being told just how incredibly “hot” the werewolf and the vampire are again and again. It kept me fearing that the story was imminently going to turn into a romance. Luckily (spoiler?!) it never actually did! Aside from that anxiety, I found this was a thoroughly entertaining and amusing read! Fantasy blended with SciFi to explain how a lot of the magic came to pass, while other aspects remained just ineffably mysterious and magical worked well for me.
I really like the main character, and just how confident and strong she is. She doesn’t take crap from anyone, and is more than willing to stand her ground. She’s not overpowered, but also not weak, and I loved her retorts, both in dialogue and in inner thoughts. Definitely a woman I’d like to be friends with!
The inn is just fabulous. I so want a magic inn that is almost sentient! It’s not only adorable and pretty cool, but it’s also something I have never read before, which is always a big plus!
The mix of bloody murder and gore with humour and banter hit the exact right balance to keep me hooked from start to finish, so I devoured this one in just two days!
A perfect light and easy read to break up the big epic tomes, and also ideal after one hell of a work week!
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna
5* for the cosy urban fantasy, but for my taste there was too much romance (and one sex scene). If you like a good romance, this might make it an even better book for you!
Apart from that, I really loved most of the book! The found family, the older characters, the young witches who felt like actual kids. I appreciated the no-drama marriage of two elderly men just as much as the way everyone was accepted into their home for who and what they are.
I had some good laughs when murder is suggested as a solution to problems, or when kids float around the room accidentally! The relationships between the different people felt real and three dimensional. I really enjoyed spending time with everyone and will miss them!
Small Miracles by Olivia Atwater
20 stars and all my love. Small Miracles is funny, cosy, humorous, warm, inclusive and very entertaining. In short it is the utterly perfect book for me.
It starts out very gently, and I wasn’t sure if it would fully click with me. Ha. But how it did! Those weird people grew on me imperceptibly, and before I knew it I loved them.
The way they interacted, the found family vibes, the budding friendships and growing love just was amazing to read. The hilarious tone balanced it out, so it didn’t feel soppy, but fun.
Gadriel, the fallen angel with the super sweet tooth, is just such a matter of fact character. She, or he spouts amazing things in the most factual tone, reminiscent of characters like Discworld’s Death. It’s easy and fun, but also hits on quite some deeper things. Be it loss, grief, or just being overwhelmed by everything. However it keeps the balance in between those, that makes it so much more than just fluff or a sob story.
I also adore how the book plays with things like gender. Angels don’t just adhere to human genders on their own, but when on earth they pretend to be humans, but switch genders all the time on a whim. This again kept the story humorous and fun on one hand, on the other hand people just taking that in stride really made me well warm and fuzzy.
I couldn’t get enough of this hot chocolate in book form.
Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith
This was one hell (sorry for the pun) of a lot of fun!
A library in hell, full of unwritten stories.
A human librarian, a muse, a naive demon and a hero escaped from his own book, on a quest for a missing book. What could possibly go wrong? Right – everything!
I liked the mix of book nerdiness, adventures, traveling the realms, mystery humour, philosophical questions and banter.
While at times the pacing felt a bit rough around the edges, overall this was a fantastic read that had me well entertained all the way through. I really got on with the characters well. This story was weird and unexpected while still making me feel right at home. I’ll definitely want more!
Dawn of a Demon by Christine Schulz
I’m always on the lookput for Urban Fantasy, that is low on romance, and even more so for one written by a woman. Dawn of a Demon finally scratched that itch! There is a bit of attraction, but it’s no more sigh inducing than Harry Dresden and his reaction to women.
The main character is a half cat and half spider shifter, and theres quite some puns and banter in here. While I would have liked a little bit more depth every so often, I especially enjoyed the female friendship, which was devoid of any of the typical cattiness and drama hat so often drives these stories. The world was interesting, as there’s earth, and there’s also something like a praralel dimension. Intriguing ideas and concepts, but again, I’d have liked them a bit more front and center. At times it felt more like a steage set then a world to walk into.
This is not a perfect read, but for a first in the series it is really promising, and I’m definitely looking forward to more!
Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace
This was a nice blend between real life under horrible corporations, civil war and in game pieces. I really enjoyed how both were closely knit together and avatars online could also be found in the real world and vice versa. No, it’s not a new concept, and we’ve seen water shortages and war torn societies in similar books before, but this one felt smoother and more addictive than a lot of them.
The main character is a bit different, not good at socialising or touch, which I found a joy to read, being on the autistic spectrum myself. This and more or less no on the page romance at all probably is why it resonated much better with me than so many other dystopias featuring “the prettiest girl and her two boys”.
I liked how the power of public opinion and speaking out was shown here, but also the dangers of sticking your head out. The friendships and loyalties between characters were also an extra strong point for me. How you can use things like social media just as well as violence, against someone who has way more money and power than you, it’s probably the only way you have at all.
And some series finales / sequels that are worth mentioning!
Empire of Shadows by Alicia Wanstall-Burke
I really enjoyed following the characters from almost naive teens to adults who have to make horrible but necessary decisions. The world isn’t safe, and you better grow up fast. The character arcs felt quite realistic. I especially liked how traumatic events actually had long term effects and consequences – so often in books horrendous stuff happens and then is shrugged off as if it was nothing.
There’s an epilogue that I don’t know how I feel about, as I like the added mystery and twist, but it also feels a bit like an afterthought, than an “aha moment” seeded well through the story.
However, I did love the main characters, and I definitely want more books that have loyalties, families, betrayal and friendship at their heart, and romance just as a small part of all the bigger picture and structures. I started to care a lot about all of these characters, and will be very sorry to not have them around any longer, though the open-ended nature of the ending definitely would allow for return appearances…
Phoenix Rising by JA Andrews
All the stars! What a conclusion for a brilliant series. Andrews had long since written her way into my favourite author list and Phoenix Rising is one more clear reason why.
All these characters have grown so very much on me, I really cared for each and every one of them. They all feel so real and three dimensional, so you can even kind of understand the bad guys. This made the story all the more gripping and realistic.
The balance between war, fights, death and destruction on the one hand, but also hope, friendships, family and loyalties on the other hand worked out well for me. It didn’t feel too easy or shallow, but also managed to avoid going into the nihilistic grimdark direction.
All the major plot points get a satisfactory conclusion, while enough little bits and pieces are left to leave the world open and the characters room to grow.
This trilogy is a glowing example of a more modern written epic fantasy, and I need MORE!
The Bitter Twins by Jen Williams
I adored the start of this, especially a new character we get to meet. It makes for really hard reading, but it was so well written and I felt the gut wrenching all the way though to my soul. We get more time with familiar characters, as well as meeting new people. Some mysteries are solved, while ever more are unearthed as well.
The war is ever going on, but in this book we get to see more of the other side of the conflict as well. I found this deeper dive into the world building utterly fascinating and couldn’t get enough! Bits of the story went exactly where I thought they’d go, while others had wholly unexpected twists. Overall the balance of “I knew it!” and going “Wait, what?” worked perfectly for me.
My only gripe with this fantastic book is some lengths and a few scenes that just didn’t grip me the way they were supposed to. Most of the way I was hooked body and soul though, so it still makes it onto my favourites list!