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Today’s guest post is by Grace from the wonderful blog Books Without Any Pictures! She reads and reviews a wide variety of books, including a lot of speculative fiction, and she also has giveaways, guest posts, interviews, and discussions on her site. I really enjoy reading her reviews and think she has excellent taste in books so I’m glad she is here today recommending some favorite recent science fiction and fantasy books by women!

Books Without Any Pictures

5 Awesome SF/F Books by Contemporary Women

When I sat down to write this post, I jotted down a list of some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy books written by women. Then I looked at my work and realized that all of the authors on my list were the classics—Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, etc. While these authors are tremendously influential and are some of my all-time favorites, they represent older and more established voices within the genre. Instead, I decided to focus on speculative fiction written by women that has been published within the past five years. Here are a few of my favorites (in no particular order):

Deathless

1. Deathless by Catherynne Valente
Deathless is a retelling of the Russian legend of Koshei Bessmertny, a wizard who keeps his soul outside of his body (inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a rabbit, which is in an iron chest, which is buried under a tree) to preserve his immortality. The story of Koshei and the woman who destroys him is juxtaposed with Soviet history, adding another dimension to an already captivating story. Deathless is hands down my favorite book of all time.

vN by Madeline Ashby

2. vN by Madeline Ashby
Madeline Ashby’s debut novel is set in a world where humans live side-by-side with von Neumann machines, or self-replicating robots. There is a tenuous peace between the humans and the vN (even though the vN are second class citizens) because the robots are built with a failsafe that prevents them from harming them. But when a little robot girl named Amy accidentally eats her grandma during a school play, the world changes as humans begin to fear and persecute their creations. Seeing the plight of the vN can’t help but remind readers of the types of discrimination that exists within our own society.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

3. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Yeine Darr was raised in a matriarchal warrior society. After her mother’s death, Yeine is summoned to her grandfather’s palace, where she learns that she is a contender for the Arameri throne. The Arameri have enslaved gods known as the Enefadeh, and they use the gods’ power to help them subjugate most of the world. The Arameri are ruthless and will stop at nothing in pursuit of power, and it will take all of Yeine’s strength to survive in their world. N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy completely upends many of the stereotypes that plague epic fantasy. The protagonist is a black woman, and the world she lives in is nothing like medieval Europe. Instead of all-powerful, the gods are dysfunctional. It’s brilliant.

The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

4. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke
This is the story of Cat, a girl who falls in love with a robot. She doesn’t know whether Finn is capable of returning her love, and so she makes a lot of mistakes with her life out of guilt and the pressure to have more “normal” relationships. One of the things that impressed me the most about The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is that Cat is so fallible. We see her make poor but understandable life choices that hurt people she cares about and then pick up the pieces and learn to move on and live with the consequences of her actions, which is a profound commentary on what it means to be human.

Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen

5. Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen
Danielle Jensen’s debut novel Stolen Songbird is the story of a teenager whose life plans get disrupted by trolls. Cecile is planning to move away from the village where she was raised and become a singer, but she is kidnapped and sold to trolls. The trolls have been imprisoned under a mountain by a witch, and there’s a prophecy that a union between a red-headed human and a troll could break the spell. Cecile is forced to marry Tristan, the troll crown prince, but unlike a typical fairy tale, their union fails to break the curse. The troll marriage ceremony uses magic and links the emotions of the two partners, so Cecile and Tristan are stuck with each other. This is one of the best new releases of 2014, and I can’t praise it enough.

These are just a few of the fantastic examples of speculative fiction novels written by women, but, in the illustrious words of LeVar Burton, you don’t have to take my word for it.

What are some of your favorites?

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Today’s guest is one of my favorite new authors, M. L. Brennan! Generation V is one of the best openings to an urban fantasy series I have read, and Iron Night was even better and even more difficult to put down. On the strength of these first two books alone, her series has become a must-read for me, and I can’t wait to read Tainted Blood in November. Her books are unique and have a sense of humor, and I especially love the characters and her protagonist’s narrative voice.

She is here today discussing the aspect of her writing that seems to surprise people the most—and, no, it’s not writing about vampires, kitsune, and elves!

Generation V by M. L. Brennan Iron Night by M.L. Brennan

I’m a female author writing a series with a male protagonist.

I’m also a human author writing a series with a non-human protagonist.

Guess which one seems to baffle people more.

A lot of people have asked me about writing a first-person male character – sometimes the question is phrased better than others, but it comes out often enough that I think I can say that it’s representative of something that seems to honestly baffle a lot of readers. How on earth can I be writing from a male perspective – and even more than that, how on earth can I be doing that in an effective way?

A lot of attention was given to George R. R. Martin’s famous answer to being asked how he was able to write female characters (in his utterly delightful way, he paused and said, “You know, I’ve always considered women to be people.” – and if you’re one of those people who has managed to avoid seeing the viral meme, I’ll include the link right here — http://www.upworthy.com/why-it-shouldnt-be-difficult-to-write-believable-female-characters). It was an answer that I really liked and appreciated. When I was young, I did what a lot of budding writers seem to do when I essentially read my way through my local library’s entire collection of science fiction and fantasy. Like a lot of libraries in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the bulk of its sf/f collection was from the ‘60s and ‘70s, so I encountered quite my fair share of authors who seemed to regard female characters as even more alien than the characters who had tentacles. Also, in fairness, I read plenty of writers who were excellent in their presentation of both genders, whether tentacled or not.

In writing my main character, I focused on who he was as a person. What drove him, what formative experiences influenced him, what did he want and how was he going to get it? That he had a penis was certainly part of who he was, but it wasn’t his defining characteristic. Similarly, it wasn’t as if I got to female characters and suddenly said, “Ah, vaginas! Completely easy to write well!” It isn’t harder to write men and easier to write women just because I happen to share genitalia with the latter. After all, it isn’t as if the books are an unending series of descriptions about how the protagonist goes to the bathroom.

Besides, even if they were, I’m a writer and I can observe subjects to get the information that I need. Plus, let us never discount the Internet as a research tool.

One of the most hackneyed pieces of writing advice is “write what you know,” and there is a good amount of usefulness to it. But at the same time, people take it too far and allow it to become a literal dictate for everything that can be put onto the page. My own experiences as a person certainly inform how I write, but they shouldn’t be a series of fences that I can’t progress beyond. After all, then my books would be about white women in their thirties who avoid physical activity at all costs.

And they definitely wouldn’t be about vampires. Drinking blood? If we’re basing only on personal experience, these protagonists wouldn’t even be able to have lactose intolerance!

People who talk to me at cons or for interviews seem genuinely curious about how I wrote a supernatural protagonist. But a first-person narrator who is a different gender than the author? Inconceivable!

Is gender a throwaway? I’ll grant that as much as I do enjoy second-wave feminist theory, it is not. But gender is no great equalizer – it’s emotions, losses, desires, and stresses that truly form a character. And those are what I can dig inside myself and find as a counterpoint. Whether it’s women writing men or men writing women, we should all remember that what it’s really about is authors writing about people (even if those people sometimes have fangs).

M.L. Brennan is the author of the critically acclaimed GENERATION V and its sequel, IRON NIGHT. The third book in the series, TAINTED BLOOD, is forthcoming in November 2014. Brennan holds an MFA in writing and is employed as an adjunct professor at several New England colleges.

Brennan cut her baby bibliophile teeth on her older brother’s collection of Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert, but it was a chance encounter with Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks as a teenager that led to genre true love. Today she’ll read everything from Mary Roach’s non-fiction to Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasies, but will still drop everything for vampires and werewolves in the big city.

For Brennan’s thoughts on writing, publishing, and the world in general, please check out her official webpage at http://www.mlbrennan.com

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Last week’s guests got the month off to a great start! This week’s posts begin tomorrow, and you can see this week’s schedule below. I am also excited to be giving 2 copies of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison today!

But before this week’s guest lineup, here’s a brief overview of last week’s discussions.

Week In Review

In case you missed any of last week’s guest posts, here’s what happened:

Upcoming Guests: Week Two

It was a great first week, and I’m also excited about next week’s guests:

Women in SF&F 2014 Week 2

April 7: M. L. Brennan (Generation V, Iron Night)
April 8: Grace from Books Without Any Pictures
April 9: Deborah J. Ross (The Seven-Petaled Shield, Jaydium, Northlight)
April 10: Alex Hughes (Clean, Sharp, Marked)
April 11: Anya from On Starships & Dragonwings
April 12: Rachel Bach (Paradox, The Legend of Eli Monpress)

Giveaway

Courtesy of Tor Books, I have two copies of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison to give away! This giveaway is open to North American residents, and two winners will each receive one copy of this book.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

About The Goblin Emperor:

A vividly imagined fantasy of court intrigue and dark magics in a steampunk-inflected world, by a brilliant young talent.

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

Read an Excerpt from The Goblin Emperor

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “The Goblin Emperor Giveaway.” One entry per person and two winners will be randomly selected. Those from North America are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Sunday, April 13. Each winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winners. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

Update: Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.

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Today’s guest is fantasy author Anne Lyle! Her work includes Night’s Masque, a historical fantasy trilogy set during the Elizabethan era (The Alchemist of Souls, The Merchant of Dreams, and The Prince of Lies). She’s also a scientist and her discussion is about how science does not have to be limited to science fiction—fantasy can be built upon scientific concepts, too!

The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle The Merchant of Dreams by Anne Lyle The Prince of Lies by Anne Lyle

Back when I was a teenager, I was all about the science. Science fiction, science fact – I devoured it all. My favourite subject at school was biology, so of course I loved stories about aliens, such as the “Hospital Station” series by James White, and anything by Ursula Le Guin or Andre Norton. By contrast, history was a more ambivalent subject. I loved pseudo-historical swashbucklers like “Scaramouche” and “The Scarlet Pimpernel”, but our history lessons in school were deadly dull.

In those days (the 1970s) and at an aspirational girls’ grammar school like the one I attended, a broad curriculum was not admired – we were destined for university and academic careers, so we specialised early. At 14 I ditched arts and humanities to focus on science and languages, went on to take a degree in zoology, and eventually found my way into web development and bioinformatics. And yet despite this high-tech focus, I ended up writing fantasy instead of science fiction. So what happened?

I think it started in my late teens, when I discovered the three-volume paperback edition of “The Lord of the Rings” in a local bookshop. I’d read fantasy before, of course, but here was a world as vast and awesome as anything I’d encountered in SF – plus it heavily featured the natural world that I loved. For the next couple of decades I read a mixture of fantasy and SF – and in some cases, like Julian May’s “The Saga of the Exiles”, a heady blend of the two.

Then in the latter half of the 1980s, two opposing fiction genres vied for my attention. On the one hand there was one of the hottest new paperback series, the Brother Cadfael historical crime novels by Ellis Peters. I’d always loved detective stories, and the combination of a classical whodunnit with a medieval setting rekindled my interest in English history.

At the same time it was the heyday of cyberpunk: the novels of William Gibson, Walter Jon Williams, George Alec Effinger and their peers – and of course the movies. Blade Runner and Robocop epitomised this sub-genre and painted a picture of a cynical but still fascinating future where biology and technology collide. For a while it seemed like the perfect mix…

But by the mid-90s, reality had started to catch up with fiction. Cyberspace was here, but instead of glowing pyramids and jacking in, we had HTML and the dot-com bubble. The future was now and it was both exciting and really rather mundane – which left science fiction feeling a bit…unnecessary? It didn’t help that, during the 80s, I’d discovered environmentalism and started to feel pessimistic about the future of our planet. SF was no longer the shiny beacon of hope, but a harbinger of doom. Faced with a rapidly changing world, perhaps it’s not surprising that many SFF fans took refuge in an idealised past of sword-wielding heroes trekking across an untamed wilderness. And so I, like so many of the reading public, turned to fantasy for my sensawunda thrills.

For the writer, fantasy offers some distinct advantages over science fiction. For one thing, writing good SF requires a solid understanding of science and technology, which might seem daunting to a non-scientist. (Which is not to belittle the specialist knowledge required to write convincing fantasy.) My earliest attempts at writing fiction, way back in my teens, were of course SF – thankfully they are lost in the mists of time, as I fear the science was very bad. In my defence, I was only fourteen!

That said, a background in science can still come in useful when writing fantasy. Just because you’re writing about magic and primitive technologies, it doesn’t mean you have to throw your scientific knowledge out of the window. Sure, there are many fine authors who have drawn solely on myth and legend for their fantasy, but SFF has always been a continuum between hard science and the completely fantastical.

An example of how I blend the two in my own work is the skraylings in my historical fantasy series Night’s Masque, which is set in late 16th/early 17th century Europe. I wanted to create a fantasy race that wasn’t based on folklore like elves and dwarves but on the principles of biology I had learned during my education. Admittedly I found ways to fit them into existing folklore, because that’s how the people of that era would have understood them, but in my mind they were normal flesh-and-blood creatures like ourselves.

One of the key aspects that defines any culture is their family structure, and so for my skraylings I adopted some behaviours that are more usually seen in birds than in mammals. Male and female skraylings live apart for most of the year and only come together for the mating season, when the males “display” and the females choose mates. Being an intelligent, civilised species, these mating rituals have turned into festivals of artistic and sporting excellence, similar to the original Olympic Games, so they are not so dissimilar from human customs – and yet the segregation of the sexes permeates skrayling culture and colours their attitudes in ways that seep into characters and plot and hopefully make the whole fictional structure believable.

Right now I’m working on the worldbuilding for a new fantasy series, this time set in a wholly invented world – and once again I’m drawing on both science and history (and the history of science) to give it realism and weight. I guess you could say that I’m still as much in love with science as I ever was, but I’ve found new ways to use it without having to confine my stories to future settings. For a scientist who loves fantasy, it really is the best of all possible worlds!

Anne Lyle

Anne Lyle was born in what is popularly known as “Robin Hood Country”, and grew up fascinated by English history, folklore, and swashbuckling heroes. Unfortunately there was little demand in 1970s Nottinghamshire for diminutive swordswomen, so she studied sensible subjects like science and languages instead.

It appears, however, that although you can take the girl out of Sherwood Forest, you can’t take Sherwood Forest out of the girl. She now spends practically every spare hour writing – or at least planning – fantasy fiction about dashing swordsmen and scheming spies, set in alternate pasts or imaginary worlds.

Her published works include the Night’s Masque trilogy – The Alchemist of Souls, The Merchant of Dreams and The Prince of Lies – which came out in 2012-13, and a short story in the 2013 BFS fantasy anthology Unexpected Journeys.

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Alternate history, fantasy, and science fiction author Beth Bernobich is here today to discuss the issue of women’s invisibility in speculative fiction! She is the author of the River of Souls series (the RT Reviewer’s Choice Award-winning novel Passion Play, Queen’s Hunt, and Allegiance), Fox and Phoenix, and much more. Some of her short fiction can be found on Tor.com, and I highly recommend checking out her excellent story “River of Souls.” Her next book, The Time Roads, will be released this fall.

Passion Play Fox & Phoenix by Beth Bernobich The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN
by Beth Bernobich

If I had a dollar for every time someone said, “Women don’t write science fiction or fantasy,” I could buy enough books to fill my house a second time over.

If I had 10 dollars for every time someone else said, “Oh, I read SF/F books by women,” and the names they recited were the same two or three you always hear, I could fund a library. Extra points if any of the authors are dead.

If I had $100 each time a critically acclaimed SF/F book put women characters front and center, I’d have to find another source of income.

Over and over, I hear that women don’t write the genre, they don’t read the genre, and they certainly can’t be the main character, unless it’s urban fantasy, and that’s really romance, so naturally that doesn’t count. And inevitably the conversation drifts back to the men who write genre, and the guys they write about.

Joanna Russ described the situation in her book, How to Suppress Women’s Writing. “She didn’t write it.” (Mary Shelley) “She wrote it, but she’s an anomaly.” (Butler, Le Guin, Tiptree) “She wrote it but look what she wrote about.” (Urban fantasy written by women.)

Women write in every single subgenre of SF–whether it’s hard SF, epic fantasy, steampunk, military SF, new or old weird–but either their names get left off the genre lists, or the list includes only a few standard names, or the genre they write is reclassified from SF/F to something else. And the way women are depicted in the genre–as prizes or plot points–only exacerbates the situation. That, too, is something that Russ covers, when she talks about popularizing works that relegate women to demeaning roles.

It’s a two-fold problem. How can we explode the myth that women don’t write SF/F? And how can we undo the ingrained assumption we can’t have women as main characters, with agendas of their own? (Or if we do have a woman front and center, why is she the only one in the book?)

Luckily, we have Fantasy Café’s Women in SF&F Month, now in its third year. And luckily other bloggers are covering this same topic, among them Liz Bourke, Tansy Roberts, Kameron Hurley, Foz Meadows, and Natalie Luhrs.

But there’s more we can do, both as readers and writers.

Read More.

Read more books by women, that is. These days, I am deliberately seeking out more women authors for my TBR list. I look for recommendations about new authors, or established authors that are new to me. Ones who write in familiar subgenres, and ones who take me outside my comfort zone. I might not love every single book, but who knows until I try them?

This isn’t about quotas, by the way. This is about making conscious choices, expanding the kinds of books I read, and discovering new-to-me authors.

Talk more.

When I do find a new favorite author, I make a point of telling other people about them. If someone asks me for names of authors who deserve more attention, I’ll mention Cat Hellisen and Jacqueline Koyanagi. If someone says they love alternate history, I’ll tell them about Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy and Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Universe. For hard SF, I’ll name M. J. Locke and Tricia Sullivan. For epic fantasy, Tansy Roberts, Judith Tarr, and Juliet McKenna. For worldbuilding, I’ll recommend Martha Wells, or Nnedi Okorafor, or Aliette de Bodard, or…

You get the idea.

Women write SF/F, but if no one talks about us, it only perpetuates the myth we don’t write in the genre. So. Tell your friends about that amazing author you discovered. Write that review on Amazon. Add that author and their books to the next Goodreads list you make. And maybe, with all the talk, the next conversation about books in the genre will include their names.

Write More.

It’s no coincidence that the authors I mentioned write about strong women. It’s also not a coincidence that these authors go beyond including the one token woman. Their characters have friends and sisters and cousins and mothers, all with strengths and agendas of their own.

But, but, I hear you say. I don’t like quotas. I just want to write good stories.

So do we all. That includes good stories by and about women.

Look, I know how easy it is to fall into the default mode of focusing on the men. That’s the narrative we’ve always heard, in books and movies, in the historical records, in our daily lives. Men are more interesting. Men do the important stuff. We can add a woman here and there, but not too many, and after all, we need a good reason to include any woman, never mind lots of them.

Which makes no sense. Women make up half the population. Women have always played important roles throughout history. So what gives? Other than assumptions and preconceptions, that is.

Oh, but assumptions and preconceptions are strong. Here’s my story.

Two years ago, I decided to make an experiment. I was writing a YA fantasy story. When I started, I knew a couple things. That it would focus on three friends working on a school project together. One had a crush on the other. All three were young women. But what about the rest? There had to be a teacher, of course. Did he have a backstory? How much story space would he need?

That’s when it hit me. Why did the teacher have to be a guy?

I decided at that point I would only include male characters if I had a good reason to. And to my surprise, there were no good reasons. The teacher became a woman. The main character’s family consisted of sisters and a mother. The kingdom became a queendom, and the heir a daughter. The shape-shifting ghost dragon turned into a woman in human form. One by one, the men and boys faded into the background or disappeared altogether.

None of my readers, men or women, complained. And the editor who requested the story bought it.

Fast forward to last year. I’m writing the fourth novella for my alt-history novel THE TIME ROADS, which takes place in the late 19th/early 20th century. This novel consists of three previously published stories, plus a new one. As I wrote the fourth one, I struggled with myself. The existing stories utterly failed the Bechdel Test, even with its remarkably low standards. How could I counteract that? There was the strong queen, of course. But what about historical accuracy? And wouldn’t the genius scientist mathematician guy be the logical hero in this tale? Or the queen’s spymaster? Why try to shove yet another woman into the story?

Except I had forgotten an existing character–another woman, also a genius scientist mathematician. Whose backstory fit perfectly with the front story.

You see how insidiously easy it is to fall into that mode of men first and foremost?

In the end, I wrote the final story with the queen and the woman scientist saving the world. They aren’t friends or lovers. They are uneasy allies, both strong, both flawed, but who both want the best for their world. And in the end, it’s both historically accurate and true to the overall plot arc.

End Point.

It’s a long road, undoing this myth about women and genre. But it’s a road filled with some damned good books. So let’s go forth and read more books, then talk about them with our friends. In fact, I have this wonderful novel from Martha Wells called The Wizard Hunters that I just bought…

—————-

Here are a few links and blogs that inspired me to write this post:

Reading, Writing, Radicalisation

And the follow-up to that post

We Have Always Fought: Challenging The Women, Cattle, and Slaves Narrative

Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy. Let’s Unpack That.

The Women We Don’t See

Radish Reviews

Beth Bernobich writes fantasy, science fiction, and alternate history. Her short stories have appeared in venues such as Asimov’s, Interzone, Tor.com, and Strange Horizons. Her first novel, Passion Play, won the 2010 RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Epic Fantasy and was long-listed for the Tiptree Award. Her forthcoming book, The Time Roads, will be available October 2014 from Tor Books.

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Today’s guest is Khanh from The Book Nookery! She prolifically reads and discusses books from a wide variety of genres, including speculative fiction, and I enjoy reading her thoughts and insights so much that I frequently read what she writes about books in genres I never read. Her analysis is both thorough and entertaining, and she articulates her points clearly and with a sense of humor. Khanh is one of my favorite reviewers, and I’m thrilled she’s here this month discussing a subject that is near and dear to many of us fantasy fans and the two series that were her gateway to discovering her own love for it.

The Book Nookery

Some little girls dreamed of ponies and unicorns. My girlhood self dreamed of the creatures who ate those horses for a snack.

Dragons. I have always loved dragons. Benevolent or malevolent, grand, or just…grandfatherly. Dragons come in all sizes and shapes and temperaments, and I loved them all.

My love of these fantastic creatures began with the wonderful Patricia Wrede. I have gone on to read (and love) her other works, but there is no doubt that my adventure began as a 10-year old with the Dealing with Dragons series.

I grew up in Vietnam, and in Asian culture, there really was no room for amusing, dry-witted dragons. Our dragons are fierce, they are a force of nature, gods not to be reckoned with.

Not so with Patricia Wrede’s dragons.

The Enchanted Forest Trilogy

This middle grade series is called The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and it is by no means a misnomer; from the very first moment I cracked open this book, I was enchanted, enthralled. It is such a good series for younger girls. We have a princess who is not your usual frippery Disney type. She has a backbone, she likes learning, she is intelligent, rational, and never rhymes-with-itchy. She has a boring life. Princess Cimorene wants more. She knows there is a life beyond a forced marriage.

And the dragons! Those fierce, fiery, fire-breathing dragons!!!!

…not quite.

They sneeze.

The gray-green dragon mopped his streaming eyes and blew his nose. “That’s better, I think. Achoo! Oh, drat!”

The ball of fire that accompanied the dragon’s sneeze had reduced the handkerchief to a charred scrap.

They’re not particularly fond of eating princesses (princesses are so stringy!), and they’re not particularly impressive to cats.

“He doesn’t seem very impressed,” Cimorene commented in some amusement.
“Why should he be?” Kazul said.
“Well, you’re a dragon,” Cimorene answered, a little taken aback.
“What difference does that make to a cat?”

To be fair, it’s nigh on impossible to impress a cat.

This series started me on yet another…Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern series.

These dragons are more likely to think you taste good with ketchup than the previous dragons. These creatures don’t talk, they communicate telepathically, but they’re rather more grand and awe-inspiring for that. The strong and silent types are always more impressive.

Oh, I’m well aware that this is an adult series with very adult topics and some hmm-hmm going on between the dragons themselves, as well as their riders. But what readers may not know that right smack in the middle of this long adult series, there is a subseries that is quite appropriate for younger readers, the Harper Hall trilogy.

Oh, Tongue, give sound to joy and sing
Of hope and promise on dragonwing.

Harper Hall Trilogy

Once again, this series is just excellent for younger readers, younger girls specifically. There is nothing inappropriate here, the romance is light, and it is a beautiful journey of self-discovery, of coming to terms with the fact that your fate doesn’t have to be confined to what society dictates it to be. It is about taking risks, daring to dream. It is the story of Menolly, a girl from a fishing village with extraordinary musical talent. A talent that is forbidden to her because of her gender.

In her village, girls are meant to be wives, mothers, helpers to their mate. A career in music, in teaching and playing music, is simply out of the question.

It is the story of a girl who runs away and builds her own destiny, along the way, she gathers a clutch of fire lizards…tiny little dragons.

It is a part of the Dragonriders of Pern series, and we will encounter familiar faces here (and familiar dragons). The terminology and culture and setting of our beloved land of Pern is very much there, but this book is about the Harper Hall, it is about music, about song. And it is just delightful. Those who love music will appreciate the details that go into Menolly’s musical training. The instruments, the pitches, the lessons; above all else, they feel Menolly’s joy in that she is finally able to do something she loves.

This series is a sweet little interlude and a lovely introduction for readers not yet old enough for the main Dragonriders series.