With a brief explanation of each.
25. The Emperor’s Soul (Brandon Sanderson). Shai, artist and forger and eventual hero, is my favorite of all Sanderson’s female characters.
24. The Second Mistborn Trilogy (Brandon Sanderson). This series of books solves its predecessor’s Smurfette problem.
23. The Books of Pellinor (Allison Croggon). YA fantasy on an epic scale, with a female musician as its protagonist. Music + Magic = Delight.
22. The Books of the Raksura (Martha Wells). For this immersive epic series, Wells creates a cast of nonhuman characters that readers can relate to.
21. Dhulyn and Parno (Violette Malan). Inseparable friends and occasional lovers, this female/male mercenary duo always have each other’s backs.
20. Scriber (Ben S. Dobson). One of the few fantasy novels to focus on the growth of a 100% friendship between a man and a woman — in this case, a reclusive scholar and a battle-leader.
19. Elantris (Brandon Sanderson). Bookish diplomat-princess Sarene is my kind of heroine, one who won’t stop even when she’s at a disadvantage.
18. Cygnet (Patricia McKillip). McKillip writes some of the most breathtaking prose in the genre, and her two female leads in this duology, one a sorceress and the other a fighter, are nothing less than awesome.
17. The Shadowed Sun (N.K. Jemisin). This involving, often disturbing tale focuses on a shy cleric who grows from self-doubter to full-on badass.
16. The Fifth Season (N.K. Jemisin). I’ve only read this first book of the Broken Earth series, but I’m already highly invested in its powerful lead character.
15. City of Stairs (Robert Jackson Bennett). Another series I’m just starting, this one touches on the nature of faith and divinity and an intriguing clash of cultures.
14. Bitter Greens (Kate Forsyth). A skillful blend of fantasy (a retelling of “Rapunzel”) and historical fiction (the story of French author Charlotte-Rose de la Force).
13. The Curse of Chalion (Lois McMaster Bujold). This story of a queen’s rise to power features one of my favorite male protagonists in SFF.
12. Paladin of Souls (Lois McMaster Bujold). The sequel to #13, this one features one of the most unique female protagonists in SFF, and also one of my favorite endings.
11. Among Others (Jo Walton). A coming-of-age tale centering on an imaginative nerd girl — how could I not love that?
10. Uprooted (Naomi Novik). I’m very fond of this novel’s underdog hero and its vividly detailed descriptions of magic.
9. The Spiritwalker Trilogy (Kate Elliott). An epic fantasy with a steampunk touch, this one features some gorgeous world-building and an endearing female buddy pair.
8. Black Wolves (Kate Elliott). Exciting, disturbing, satisfying — where is this book’s sequel, already? My hands ache to hold it.
7. The Golem and the Jinni (Helene Wecker). Wecker’s masterful prose in this historical novel with fantasy elements makes me both ambitious (I want to be a better writer!) and frustrated (can I ever measure up?).
6. The Twelve Houses (Sharon Shinn). This criminally underrated series tells an epic story with an intimate feel.
5. The Shadow Campaigns (Django Wexler). I’ve praised this series multiple times already.
4. The Eternal Sky Trilogy (Elizabeth Bear). Exquisite prose brings a magnificent Arabian Nights landscape to life.
3. Who Fears Death (Nnedi Okorafor). Warning: this one is very dark, almost painful to read at times. But its immense power can’t be denied.
2. The First Sevenwaters Trilogy (Juliet Marillier). This series features lovely, dreamlike prose and three generations of resilient women.
And finally… The Stormlight Archive (Brandon Sanderson). This series may not feature the most gorgeous prose or the most edgy characterizations, but it practically defines Epic Fantasy. Also, Dalinar and Jasnah Kholin, Kaladin, Syl, and Lift are in it.