The website Fantasy Cafe gives me something to look forward to when April rolls around: the “Women in SF & F” series, in which female authors and bloggers discuss the work they’re doing in the science fiction and fantasy genres, along with the problems that women still face as both creators and fans of the genres This month, as part of a year-in-review assessment, the website re-posted a blog from 2014’s “Women in SF & F” by Trudi Canavan, author of The Black Magician Trilogy, the Age of the Five series, and Thief’s Magic.
I’ve read and liked some of Canavan’s work, so naturally her blog would catch my eye. But it held my attention first because she echoes frustration that I have felt when I’ve browsed lists on Goodreads with headings like “Best ‘Strong Female’ Fantasy Novels,” “Kick-Butt Heroines,” and “Best Fantasy Books With Strong Women Characters,” only to find these lists overwhelmingly dominated by works of urban and contemporary fantasy. Nothing is wrong with urban fantasy in or of itself. What rouses my objection is the perception on the part of some writers, fans, and publishers that urban fantasy is (or should be) a playground for women authors, characters, and readers, while epic or alternate-world fantasy is (or should be) men’s territory, full of male authors telling men’s stories. When I read for pleasure. I seek out books that feature women doing awesome things. But while I may read and end up loving the occasional UF book (e.g. Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook, a book so much fun it deserves a blog of its own), the urban fantasy genre as a whole just doesn’t interest me. Like Canavan, I much prefer to read (and write) alternate-world fantasy, and finding well-written and engaging alternate-world fantasy in which female characters take leading roles can be a bit challenging.
Challenging, but not impossible. Canavan’s blog is not an exercise in banging the head against a stone wall of dissatisfaction. She offers guidance for readers who share our tastes. Some of the best female fantasy novelists come, like her, from Australia, where they haven’t absorbed the notion that alternate-world fantasy should be for and about men while women should content themselves with urban fantasy. I was pleased to spot on her list some authors whose works I’ve greatly enjoyed and can recommend.
1) Alison Croggon — Her Books of Pellinor series, beginning with The Naming, places a gifted girl, Maerad, in a role normally reserved for boys: the questing hero of great potential, around whom the winds of prophecy swirl. Adding to my delight in her story was her musical talent, since, as those who read Atterwald will discover, I have a soft spot for stories about female musicians. A girl/woman in the role of Bard! More, please.
2) Jennifer Fallon — I’ve read The Gods of Amyrantha, The Immortal Prince, and The Palace of Impossible Dreams. (I still need to read the concluding volume, The Chaos Crystal.) Normally I don’t care for “magical guy/ mundane girl” romantic plots and subplots, but in this case the “mundane” heroine is a scholar, a nerd. When I’m reading for pleasure, if I like the heroine, I’ll like the book, and I like Arkady Desean. I look forward to exploring Fallon’s work further, in Wolfblade and The Harshini Trilogy.
3) Kate Forsyth — I discovered her about a year and a half ago, with the Rhiannon’s Ride series, an adventure with several intriguing heroines in its cast of characters. But while those books offered abundant fun, I discovered this year that they offered a mere hint of Forsyth’s capabilities. She is responsible for two of the most moving and thought-provoking reads I enjoyed this past year: Bitter Greens, a retelling of Rapunzel that also tells the story of the remarkable French fairytale author Charlotte-Rose de la Force; and The Wild Girl, the story of Dortchen Wild, neighbor and eventual wife of Wilhelm Grimm, who contributed some of the best tales to his and his brother’s famous collection. Anyone with an interest in fairy tales should read these splendid books.
4) Glenda Larke — So far I have only read one of her works, but that one, The Aware, is a rollicking piece of world-building with a funny, unpredictable, charismatic heroine. Blaze Halfbreed is big, brave, and capable, a formidable force. What would I love to see more of in alternate-world fantasy? More ladies like Blaze Halfbreed.
5) Juliet Marillier — I fell wholeheartedly in love with my first Marillier book, Wolfskin, and that love remained strong through the original Sevenwaters Trilogy (Daughter of the Forest, Son of the Shadows, Child of the Prophecy). I wasn’t quite as taken with The Bridei Chronicles or with the more recent Sevenwaters books (Heir to Sevenwaters, Seer of Sevenwaters), but still, the detailed world-building, the mystical lyricism of style, and the creative, tenacious heroines that populate her books ensure Marillier a continued place among my favorite authors. A new Marillier book is always cause for rejoicing. I can’t wait to read Dreamer’s Pool.
Thank you, ladies of Australia, for not drinking that poisonous Kool-Aid that would convince you that alternate-world fantasy is for men and urban fantasy is for women. You have provided me with a great deal of pleasure.