There have been some books discussed this year that sound amazing, and my wishlist has grown by leaps and bounds because of it! Like last year, I wanted to discuss some books by women that I’ve enjoyed. Last year’s book recommendation post was great books I hadn’t seen talked about during last year’s series. After some consideration about how to narrow down the books to talk about this year, I was inspired to write about some of the earlier science fiction and fantasy books I read that played a role in making me into a fan after reading what Janice and Angie wrote this year. My experience with discovering SFF was a lot different from theirs since I didn’t really become a science fiction and fantasy reader until college (even though I loved fairy tales, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wind in the Door, and A Wrinkle in Time as a child).
At first, I wasn’t sure how many books I’d have to write about since I did realize very few of the books I heard about and read because of recommendations were written by women a few years ago. Looking back, I think I actually read more books by women during my college years (though not as many as books written by men) and fewer once I got most of my recommendations online. I realized there were a few books I read by women when first discovering fantasy and science fiction that contributed to making me want to keep reading SFF, and those are the books I’d like to discuss today.
The Sleepless Trilogy by Nancy Kress
My husband is the person who started giving me science fiction and fantasy books to read, and these books are among his favorites. He’s read them and reread them, and one day he gave me Beggars In Spain to read, telling me it contained fascinating social and economic ideas. At this time, I was still rather skeptical about reading science fiction, but I found this book really easy to be interested in since it hooked me with “What if?” At this point, I was mostly reading classics and had not read many books that explored “What if?” scenarios at all so I found it interesting to consider what might happen if genetics ever advanced to the point where humans could be created without the need to sleep. Already intelligent, these genetically advanced people could become even more knowledgeable since they could use those hours other people spend sleeping. It explored the consequences of the development of the Sleepless both for society and for the Sleepless main character and her sister, who was not one of the Sleepless. I found the first book the most compelling of the trilogy, but I did read the rest and enjoyed the third book nearly as much.
Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones
Diana Wynne Jones is one of my husband’s favorite authors, and he would often point them out to me in the bookstore and say I should read them. Of course, when he pointed them out to me, I noticed their placement in the children’s section and thought he was insane for suggesting I, an adult, should read them. I had quit reading those children’s books long ago! He kept telling me that some of the best stories were young adult, and eventually he gave me his copy of Dogsbody and convinced me to read it. And I’m glad he did since I enjoyed this charming story about Sirius, the dog star, condemned for a crime to live life on Earth in a dog’s body until he can complete a mission. This is probably the first book I read that qualifies as contemporary fantasy and I enjoyed the mixture of myth and the world I know. The relationship between Sirius and the young girl who takes him in is also quite heartwarming, and it’s just an overall good story.
The Farseer/Liveship Traders/Tawny Man Trilogies by Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb is the only female author whose books I picked up because I did see them recommended all over the place, and her books were some of the most influential in making me a fan of epic fantasy. I picked up Assassin’s Apprentice one day and was immediately sucked in by the story of Fitz, a royal bastard with some special abilities who becomes an assassin-in-training. I was quite invested in the main character and his animal companion. I was a little hesitant about reading the middle trilogy, Liveship Traders, since it had different main characters but once I got past the slow start, I loved those as well. The Tawny Man trilogy returns to Fitz’s story and I remember being so impatient for the final volume that I paid more for the UK version since it came out before the US version.
Beauty, The Hero and the Crown, Spindle’s End, and Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley
Robin McKinley is the only fantasy author I can remember reading during my tween years. I picked up a copy of Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast at the library and loved it. It became the book I measured all Beauty and the Beast tales by, including the Disney movie. I never forgot this book, but since it was a book I picked up randomly from the library, I never remembered the title or author. Once I started reading more fantasy, I started thinking about this fairy tale retelling some more and asked around until I figured out what it was. I read it again and was just as enchanted by the tale of a Beauty who was not in fact supposed to be beautiful, but got her nickname because her father tried to describe the meaning of her name, Honour, to her when she was young—her response to this was that she’d rather be called Beauty. Even reading it years later, I loved the enchanted castle and the way her relationship with the Beast slowly evolved. After rediscovering this book, I went on to devour The Hero and the Crown, Spindle’s End, and Rose Daughter by McKinley. Beauty remains my favorite, but The Hero and the Crown is also quite good!
The Rai-kirah Trilogy by Carol Berg
Transformation, the first book in this trilogy, is one of a very few books I picked up only because it was an Amazon recommendation based on other books I’d enjoyed. No one recommended it to me other than a computer algorithm, but I’m very glad I picked it up since Transformation is a favorite. From page one, I was absorbed by the plight of the slave Seyonne, a Warden who fought demons, and I just loved reading the development of his friendship with the arrogant Prince Aleksander. The next two books were really good thematically and delved more deeply into the world, but I loved the story in the first one the most. I’ve read a few more of Berg’s novels since then, and I have enjoyed them all.