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Putting It Right, At Last: Must Read Women Authors in Fantasy

My first article, sent ‘on spec’ to Fantasy-Faction, and written when I was feeling my mortality quite keenly, was a simple affair. I’d written The Stone Road and put it out for the hundreds of thousands of people to read (more the hundreds than the thousands really), and I was starting to reconnect with the fantasy community and beginning to connect with other authors. The article didn’t go down well everywhere (see below). Rule #1 of Fantasy-Faction is, you don’t talk about that article.

Comment (screenshot)

Well, 50 articles later, 6 novels written, 7th halfway through draft one, 2 SPFBOs and a few fantasy conventions later, I am going to break that rule, maverick that I am.

I feel the need! The need to…revisit…hrm… That doesn’t work as well…

Anyway, I am going to climb back into my loft, a middle-aged mountaineer ascending Jacob’s Ladder to fantasy heaven, the place where all the best books go to be stored and re-read at a later date and put it ‘right’. That first article garnered a new title as it went live, this one shouldn’t. I hope.

The Initiate (cover)Louise Cooper wrote the Time Master Trilogy which came out in 1986. This series cemented my love of fantasy. Here is a character who is our ‘hero’ but might also be the greatest villain the world has ever seen. It is a story about choices and being true to yourself. You read the trilogy and get a real sense of the world growing around the character; he is that magnetic and quixotic.

Elizabeth H Boyer’s the World of Alfar series is fantastic. Deeply buried in Norse mythology, it treats the elves, the Alfar, as real beings with goals and desires. More than anything though her writing brings such a solid sense of the world she creates. You could live there, exist there. See it, sense it, touch it – even now, decades later there is still, in the corner of my mind, a remnant of that world floating around in the void.

Janny Wurts’ Empire Trilogy is where I first encountered this fantastic author. I’d read Magician and its sequels and I spotted this book, set in Kelewan on the other side of the conflict and I couldn’t resist. Who could? This series stands on its own, with a coherent story, compelling characters and the rise of female protagonist in her conflict with the status quo (not the band, in case you wondered) is compelling. Add to that, the chance to experience Pug’s rage at the end of Magician from the perspective of someone in the crowd. Superb!

Daggerspell (cover)Katharine Kerr wrote fifteen books in the Deverry series and I’ll admit I haven’t read them all. I got all the way through the first two series and I’ll need to go back and re-read at some point in order to finish the entire saga. One of the most interesting aspects of the series is the nonlinear order of events and the reincarnation of characters. Set in the Celtic world of Annwn (No Where) the series follows these characters through their lives, all of them, and the past catches up to the future in surprising ways.

Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series is long running. The first book came out in 1970 and the latest one in 2014. Like Kerr’s books, it is set in a Celtic/Saxon Britain/Wales but twisted into a fantasy setting. The interesting thing here, apart from the story and characters, is the magic versus religion aspects. Now, remember, this was published in 1970, and there is such a tone of the Church persecuting magic and anyone that was different. Forty-seven years later and this theme recurs in books, media and the real world again and again. This no fluffy religious war – this is cold, hard persecution and murder.

J. V. Jones is an author you see named again and again on the FF Facebook page. I’ve read the Book of Words books and loved them all. I’ve also started her Sword of Shadows series and was happy to see it will be finished now that she has started writing again. People talk with passion about this series and now that its hiatus is over expect to see her name come up more and more.

Starborn (cover small)Lucy Hounsom’s first book, Starborn reminds me of all the great authors that surround her here. Like all best fantasy books, there is a protagonist you get behind and who gets put through all sorts of physical and emotional trauma. My favourite aspect of the book, if she will forgive me, is the world in which the story takes place and how it is revealed throughout, and then revealed even further at the end. This is a series you should be reading and following.

Trudi Canavan wrote the Black Magician Trilogy, the series of books that Marc Aplin references as igniting his love of fantasy. I can see his point. Taking the typical role of a youngster learning magic, the author gives us twists and a battle as much based on wealth as magic. The slums in which Sonea lives are faithful to their real world counterparts and this anchors the story throughout. There is action a plenty and some finely drawn characters and scenes; I do think you should give them a go.

Diane Duane has written a lot of books, but the ones I know her best for are the Star Trek tie-ins. She also wrote one of the earliest episodes for The Next Generation and if that isn’t the coolest thing you can do in life then I really think you need reevaluate your priorities. Dark Mirror is the book I really love – Picard returns to the Mirror-Universe and finds it ready to invade his. Queue the dark side of all the characters you love – Grimdark Star-Trek! And if that wasn’t enough, she wrote some Spider-man novels too. Now you are really impressed!

Did I put it right? Who knows? What I can tell you is that I can recommend these authors and their books to you without hesitation. I’d bet you already know a lot of them, even all of them, and that’s great. Now you just need to tell other people.

Title image by Dina Belenko.



  1. Avatar ScarletBea says:

    Do you want us to add other reccs?
    I’ve got a bunch more, hehe

  2. Avatar Allan says:

    Great list. I would also include Robin Hobb. I feel she should be a must read on any list.

    • Avatar Ritika says:

      Yes, as per me Robin Hobb is one of the best female writer and her Assassin’s apprentice trilogy is one of the best series! It is a must read!!

  3. Avatar Vanessa says:

    I would definitely add Jacqueline Carey to the list 🙂

  4. Avatar Swiff says:

    Melissa McPhail is doing great work with her “Patterns of Shadows and Light” series.

  5. Avatar Sim says:

    Just to get into the spirit of the thing, WHAT NO MALE WRITERS!

    Julian May’s epic Sci-Fantasy the Many coloured land and (follow ups) spring to mind as immensely popular then and forgotten now.

  6. Avatar JC Crumpton says:

    I have read many on the above list: Louis Cooper, J. V. Jones, and Katherine Kurtz being my favorites within. Have you looked into Kay Kenyon? Her series The Entire and the Rose is more science-fiction but filled with elements of fantasy and magic. Then there is her alternate reality/history A Thousand Perfect Things. Great stuff.

  7. Avatar Paul says:

    No Kage Baker? The shame

  8. Avatar KDH says:

    Wayfarer Redemption by Sara Douglass.

  9. Avatar Bernie Anes says:

    Really highlights the tilt towards European styled worlds and characters. It’s little surprise agents these days are clamoring for anything but; and I admit I’d probably kill for a good Caribbean island tale that has nothing to do with pirates or something modern yet set in a steamy rainforest.

  10. Avatar Steven Poore says:

    I’ll happily second JV Jones – especially for the brilliant The Barbed Coil. Also, Juliet E McKenna, Joanne Hall, Jen Williams, Foz Meadows, and Zen Cho too 🙂

  11. Avatar Mri says:

    Elizabeth Haydon’s Symphony of Ages and The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme series.

  12. Avatar Narcisus says:

    Hmmm, why isn’t there a black women authors article?

  13. Any list will be incomplete, because nobody can read everything and not everyone will agree on who is the most important (nobody has even mentioned Le Guin yet!). There are tons more fantasy authors (of every category) that will reward any reader and be loved best by someone. This is a good list, reflecting what its writer has read and loved (as the original one was), but by no means exclusive or exhaustive – that’s why we have such lively continuing and evolving discussions on FF forums and Facebook. 🙂

    (But I would add Barbara Hambly, N K Jemisin, K V Johansen, Lois McMaster Bujold, Sherri S Tepper…and a whole host more.)

  14. Avatar D.D. Price says:

    Tanith Lee and Catherynne Valente are two of the most imaginative fantasy writers I’ve come across. The Flat Earth series and Orphans Tales are both wonderful.

    Robin Hobb and Ursula Le Guin are both great.

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