Today I am giving away two copies of The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey! This debut novel, a young adult fantasy, is also the first book in a trilogy with the second and third books planned for 2016 and 2017. To learn more about the book and author, visit Melissa Grey’s website or follow her on Twitter. Giveaway details are below (giveaway is US/Canada only).

The Girl At Midnight by Melissa Grey

ABOUT THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT (read an excerpt):

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, though if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

Courtesy of Penguin Random House, I have two copies of The Girl at Midnight to give away! This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada only.

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 “Midnight Giveaway.” One entry per household and two winners will be randomly selected. Those from the US or Canada are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Friday, May 22. 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.

Today I’m delighted to welcome Stephanie Saulter back to the site! Gemsigns, her first novel and the first book in the ®Evolution series, is currently available in both the UK and the US. (I haven’t read it yet—it was recently added to the to-read pile—but I’ve heard it is excellent.) The second novel in this science fiction trilogy, Binary, was released in the UK last year and is available in the US today!

Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter Binary by Stephanie Saulter

Violent Impulses, or How We Think About Conflict

It’s great to be back at the Fantasy Café, at the end of another month celebrating women in science fiction and fantasy. Last time I was here I argued that gender is part of a narrative of power, privilege and dominance, and that it’s within our power to rewrite that narrative. It got me thinking about some of the other presumptions that are so ingrained we end up reiterating them over and over again: both in the books we write, and in the stories we tell ourselves about how the world works.

This is important, because there’s a connection between the stories we know are fiction and the ones we believe are true. Sociologists and anthropologists will tell you that cultural artifacts such as literature tend to guide and reinforce our understanding of real-life events. Stories help to pattern our thinking; they build up our attitudes towards people and places, institutions and customs, actions and reactions. As someone who writes fiction which draws on the social sciences as well as on genetics and information technology, I’m keenly aware of those patterns of belief and presumption – and given that fiction almost invariably relies on some kind of conflict to provide a sense of significance and urgency, it strikes me that how we resolve fictional conflicts is relevant to how we think about real ones.

We mostly – at least in genre fiction – achieve that resolution via some form of violence.

Think about that, particularly within the context of science fiction. Science is a rational process, scientists are rational, process-driven people – yet in these stories as in so many others, the resolution of the central conflict is often irrational, arrived at by force rather than persuasion or the simple calculations of enlightened self-interest. It doesn’t actually reflect the fundamental truth of what that fiction is supposed to be based on. Nor does it reflect the reality of the way that sensible, decent people tend to deal with danger or threat.

In that earlier essay I grumbled about the phrase ‘strong female character’ for its implicit reinforcement of the idea that it is the default state of females to be weak. Today’s grumble is about another phrase that’s become ubiquitous in popular culture: ‘kick-ass.’ This supposedly positive signifier confers an aura of power and righteousness, not merely on the generic ‘female character’ but on any protagonist with whom the reader is meant to identify and sympathise. I wouldn’t have a problem with that, were it not for what is implicit in the term: the presumption that heroism, the effective exercise of moral authority, requires both the ability and the willingness to beat the other guy up.

If that keeps turning up in our stories, then I am very much afraid it’s an indicator of what we really think. For all that we may decry violence and declare that we know might does not make right, if the capacity for violence is an essential requirement not only of our villains but of our heroes, I’d suggest we’re not all that convinced. And if we really want to be convinced, if we really want to break out of that pattern of belief and presumption that equates strength with force, then we need to be more conscious about the stories we tell.

I do not let myself off the hook here; this is not some smug attempt to hold up my own books as models of non-violent conflict (and let’s face it, you probably wouldn’t be inclined to read them if it were). There is both the threat and the reality of physical harm in Gemsigns, and in Binary, and in the final book of the ®Evolution, Regeneration. I’ve absorbed the standard narrative just as much as you have. But I’ll give myself this much credit: violence in these books is always instigated either by the aggressors – those who seek to repress and to dominate – or by those who have been so badly damaged they are unable to master their own impulses. It is never the first recourse of the protagonists, and they never wish to take it any further than necessary to repel an immediate physical threat. There is a scene in Binary in which one of our heroes, in defense of his own life and the lives of others and for reasons entirely outside of his control, does more harm than he intended. The knowledge horrifies him.

Is he a ‘kick-ass’ character? Possibly. But he’d hate to be described that way. He’d hate the idea that his ability to hurt is what readers would celebrate. He’d hope, as I hope, that if you think well of him it’ll be on account of his intelligence, his determination, his preference for thinking through a problem and his willingness to ask for help. He’d want you to value him for his compassion and his capacity to love, rather than his strength and the damage he can do with it.

He’d like you to remember that doing damage is not a thing to be proud of.

I’d like us all to remember that every time we turn to violence in order to resolve fictional conflicts, we are subtly and subconsciously reinforcing it as a stratagem for real ones. That’s another part of our inherited narrative, and it needs rewriting too.

Stephanie Saulter
Photo credit: © Frederique Rapier

Stephanie Saulter writes what she likes to think is literary science fiction. Born in Jamaica, she studied at MIT and spent many years in the United States before moving to the United Kingdom in 2003. She is the author of the ®Evolution trilogy, which is set in a near-future London and uses the lens of an altered humanity to take a new look at the old issues of race, class, religious extremism and social conflict. Her first novel, Gemsigns, has been called ‘a powerful commentary on contemporary society and politics’ and was named among the best science fiction of 2013 by the Guardian. It was released in the US in 2014 to considerable acclaim.

Binary, the second book in the series, follows in May 2015. SF Signal commented that, ‘Some books are good, some books are even great. This one is important.’ The final book, Regeneration, will be released in the UK in August 2015 and in the US in 2016.

Stephanie lives in London, blogs unpredictably at and tweets only slightly more reliably as @scriptopus.

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April has come to an end, and so has the fourth annual Women in SF&F Month. Thank you so much to each of this year’s participants for their guest posts—they made this month’s series of guest posts possible, and it was wonderful to read their articles! There were lots of great discussions on a range of topics—writing a gender system, romance, writing with depression, Octavia Butler, refusal to read books by women, older science fiction written by women, working for ongoing representation—and more. Of course, my reading list also expanded since there were also lots of fantastic recommendations for a variety of books by women from science fiction to SF&F comics to not-necessarily-SF&F comics to recent/upcoming debuts, as well as books featuring epic female protagonists and mature women. If you missed any guest posts during the event, you can find all of this year’s posts here.

Also, thank you to to Renay for her continued work on the list of recommended science fiction and fantasy books by women. She began this project, in which we collected reader recommendations of favorite SF&F books by women, during Women in SF&F Month 2012. Last year’s submissions brought the list to over 1,000 individual titles, which can be sorted by the number of times they were entered. This year, we’ve been collecting more reader-recommended favorites. We have about 1,000 submissions so far this year, but we’d love even more so we are leaving this open for a couple more weeks before collecting the data. If you haven’t already submitted some books this year, you can add up to 10 of your favorite science fiction and/or fantasy books by women here. If you have filled it out, thanks so much—the more contributions, the better, and it’s been exciting to see the growth of the list!

It’s been a very busy month (I also just moved and have mountains of boxes to unpack!). I probably won’t be blogging this weekend due to having a lot to catch up with, but check back on Tuesday for a guest post on violence in genre fiction written by Gemsigns author Stephanie Saulter!

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is Cecily from Manic Pixie Dream Worlds! I discovered her blog when I read her fantastic essay “I Want to be the Time-Traveler, Not His Wife” during Sci-Fi November—and have enjoyed reading her site ever since. She often writes about women in speculative fiction, and she also reviews short fiction at The Skiffy and Fanty Show blog. You can also find her micro-reviews of diverse short fiction on Twitter at @SFFMicroReviews.

Manic Pixie Dream Worlds

Epic Female Protagonists Written by Women

Do you ever get tired of gush-a-thons about female characters written by dude authors? Have you come to the point of wincing when a male author’s women characters are described as “amazing” or similar (dubious) adjectives? Because the state of this genre is such that male authors who portray women as, yanno, half the population are given enormous kudos for merely acknowledging our existence, while women writing female protagonists is taken for granted at best, and a strike in the minus column — because that’s just too many girl cooties, y’all — at worst.

We need a shift in discourse.

It’s not that men cannot competently write female characters. It’s that if one is looking for great female characters, that the first source should be women authors should be tautologically obvious. And almost all of the truly great female protagonists I’ve read, the ones who leapt off the page, whose names — whose voices — will stick with me forever, have been written by women.

Here are a dozen of those protagonists and the stories in which they reside.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler The Awakened Kingdom by N. K. Jemisin

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (2011) by Catherynne Valente

September of the Fairyland series knows very well what becomes of Princesses, as Princesses often get books written about them, and she finds the idea of being sidelined until the conclusion of some Prince’s story quite unappealing. Alternately delighting in adventure and side-eyeing the heck out of both our world and the mysterious one she stumbles into, September is simultaneously a self-insert for readers of all ages and a fleshed-out character in her own right.

Parable of the Sower (1993) by Octavia Butler

Lauren Olamina lives in a near-future United States in which the economy, infrastructure, and government are collapsing. Resourceful, wary, and perhaps divinely inspired, Lauren envisions humanity’s future in the stars, and the two Parable novels are the story of her struggles to get us there. As forces both violent and benevolent try to wrest Earthseed from her over and over again, she stands out in her pure iron will.

The Awakened Kingdom (2014) by N.K. Jemisin

Shill is a godling whose raucous enthusiasm sometimes, um, breaks planets and stuff. This novella is a coming-of-age on a celestial scale of what it means to understand the world and one’s purpose within it. Along the way, Shill learns how to believe in herself, what it means to have A GRIEF, and reasons to stay out of black holes: they are not cute! They are actually very bitey and kind of mean. Shill, however, is basically the polar opposite of a gravitational abyss and perhaps the most adorable character ever.

The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

The Drowning Girl (2012) by Caitlin Kiernan

India Morgan Phelps– or as her friends call her, Imp — is an artist and a writer; she also has schizophrenia. She struggles to order her mind as she grows increasingly obsessed with understanding her multiple encounters with the same woman, who may or may not be a supernatural creature. Imp doesn’t hold many attachments, but the ones she does, to her work as well as her girlfriend Abelyn, are her anchors to reality. This is a story about a mermaid or a wolf, or both — but what it is most profoundly is the struggle of a lonely girl not to drown.

Who Fears Death (2010) by Nnedi Okorafor

Alternately powerful and vulnerable, ambivalent and certain, Onyesonwu learns to wield her magic in a sexist society that makes doing so a huge pain in the ass — which she doesn’t shy from complaining about. Accompanied by her “fellowship” composed of a core group of childhood girlfriends, her story shares the familiar tropes of epic fantasy from the prophecy to the quest in a manner utterly original and shaped to who she is. Onyesonwu is, overall, stunning in her complexity.

Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories In the Greenwood by Mari Ness Among the Thorns by Veronica Schanoes

Sometimes a goddess, a ghost, a granddaughter, or a grandmother leaves a pretty deep impression in far fewer words than a novel. We get a greater sense of Yolanda from her high school essay in Sofia Samatar’s “Walkdog” than can be found for characters in some massive fantasy series. The main character of Rachael K. Jones’ “Makeisha in Time” leads thousands of lives in the past, as well as an empire; Mari Ness presents a stunning, subversive vision of Maid Marian in “In the Greenwood.” Isa of Alix Harrow’s “A Whisper in the Weld” is a loving ghost, a true-to-life Rosie the Riveter that can’t quite move on because she has one final responsibility. Ittele, a Jewish young woman in 17th century Europe, embarks on a spiritual journey to avenge her brutally murdered father in “Among the Thorns” by Veronica Schanoes; Tongtong of Xia Jia’s “Tongtong’s Summer” understands the finite nature of life for the first time in a childhood journey that’s surprisingly optimistic. And Grandma Harken of Ursula Vernon’s “Jackalope Wives” is a feisty fairy tale figure who, as women often must, hides her deeper self beyond view.

So, why do we talk so much about male authors’ female characters, and so little about women’s? Questions like this one may be a necessary step to derive the ultimate answer: that we may live in a world that conceives of dude as default, but SF/F creates worlds, and the worlds we envision need not replicate the inanity of this one.

Cecily Kane read a lot of SF/F as a kid; after a period of being alienated by the overwhelming visibility of books about dudes with swords, she returned to it as an adult. She can be found ranting on Twitter, running a short fiction column at Skiffy and Fanty, and reviewing books and stuff like that on her own blog, Manic Pixie Dream Worlds.

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Today’s guest is young adult fantasy author Danielle L. Jensen! Her debut novel and the first book in The Malediction Trilogy, Stolen Songbird, was released last year, and it was a delight to read, making it one of my favorite books of 2014. I cannot wait to find out what happens to Cécile next, and fortunately, I don’t have to wait much longer for the second book—Hidden Huntress will be available on June 2!

Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen Hidden Huntress by Danielle L. Jensen

When I received the email asking me to write a guest post about women in SFF, the background information on the impetus behind Fantasy Café’s monthly feature gave me pause. Namely, that women were noticeably underrepresented in reviews, sales, and awards in the adult epic fantasy genre. How interesting, I thought, that this bias doesn’t exist in the young adult epic fantasy genre. Given that there are equally talented men and women in both spaces, why is there such a disconnect in recognition? My personal (and not vigorously researched opinion) is the difference is the readership base. It is generally accepted that the fan base for YA is female dominated, whereas the base for adult epic fantasy is a more even split. But why does this matter? Why are men seemingly less willing to read and enjoy works by women than women are to read and enjoy works by men?

My not-very-scientific research, which involved reading the comments sections of other blog posts on this topic and asking around a bit, yielded one overriding comment: women don’t write the sort of epic fantasy that most men want to read. For one, I don’t believe that; and two, it doesn’t answer the other half of the question, which is why women are willing to read works written by men, for, by that argument, other men? Better minds than mine have discussed this question, but this is my opinion, such as it is.

In the world of children’s literature, we talk a lot about the importance of readers finding protagonists they can relate to. Who are like them, or who they can imagine themselves to be. There is a big – and extremely important – push to make space for books that represent our diverse world. For there to be both authors and protagonists who are people of color, or who are gay, or who have a disability, so those who are not white heterosexual men have the opportunity to leave their mark on literary culture. Many fantastic diverse novels have been released in recent years, but that is only half the battle. The other half resides in the willingness of readers to pick up, review, and champion novels where protagonists “just like them” are nowhere in sight.

I’m going to go out on a limb – a very thick and sturdy limb – and say that with the exception of straight white men, all other readers of adult epic fantasy regularly enjoy novels about characters who are nothing like them. Women read books about men by men. People of color read about white people. Individuals in wheelchairs read about people who aren’t. They have to, because if they didn’t, the novels on the shelves appealing to them would potentially be quite few and far between. It is the unique, and, I’d argue, damaging privilege of straight white men to be able to go through life never reading a novel by or about anyone who isn’t a straight white man, unless they feel inclined to do otherwise. The consequence is that while the audience for fantasy novels for straight white men is the whole of fandom, the audience for authors who are not is, at best, half that.  And the consequence of this smaller fan base is novels being underrated, undersold, and, potentially, unread by those who might appreciate them.

Danielle L. JensenDanielle was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. At the insistence of the left side of her brain, she graduated in 2003 from the University of Calgary with a bachelor’s degree in finance. But the right side of her brain has ever been mutinous; and in 2010, it sent her back to school to complete an entirely impractical English literature degree at Mount Royal University and to pursue publication. Much to her satisfaction, the right side shows no sign of relinquishing its domination.

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is science fiction and fantasy author Aliette de Bodard! Her work includes the novels in the Obsidian and Blood series (beginning with Servant of the Underworld); the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus-nominated novella On a Red Station, Drifting; the Nebula Award-winning novelette “The Waiting Stars”; and the Nebula Award-winning short story “Immersion.” In addition to the two Nebula Awards, she has received a Locus Award, a British Science Fiction Award, and several award nominations, plus her stories have been selected for Year’s Best anthologies. I very much enjoyed both On a Red Station, Drifting and “Immersion,” and I’m very excited about her upcoming novel being released in August, The House of Shattered Wings.

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard

When I was a teenager, I read Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series (with difficulty, because they’re rich books intent on texture, with vocabulary and sentence structure that’s not always obvious to a non-native speaker). A lot of things struck me about them; but the one that I want to talk about is the first one, The Game of Kings.

The Game of Kings is set in a male-dominated society: though Scotland is ruled by a child queen, men are the ones holding the titles, going to war, and occupying much of the stage, as the main character, Francis Crawford of Lymond, attempts to clear his name and reconcile with his family.

It would be very easy to assume from this that the narrative is going to be all about the men.

In fact, what I remember most about The Game of Kings is its female characters–from no-nonsense, deceptively mild Sybilla, Lymond’s mother; to Mariotta, trapped in a marriage where her husband ignores her; to young Philippa, growing up on a minor holding and having to deal with the invasion of men-at-arms in her well-ordered world.

It’s hard to express, but I think that this was the first time I realised that books and popular media had it wrong.

I was taught, over and over, that stories are about people in positions of power, people who fight; people who go to war. I was taught that women are oppressed in the quasi medieval societies of fantasy, and therefore that the only women worth talking about are those who rebel against this oppression–the ones who have, or who seek to have the same rights and privileges as men, the ones who sneak out of their houses disguised as boys in order to seek their fortune. I was taught that the silent women seemingly only interested in their own households are always inactive, always silent, forever doomed to be background noise. It’s not a conscious thing–rather, it happened by the accretion of dozens, of hundreds of similar narratives until I had internalised them so thoroughly that anything else seems odd and implausible [1].

This idea about powerless and uninteresting women is, of course, wrong on several levels. The first and most obvious is that there were women in positions of power in medieval societies; and that there were women who were having adventures (women merchants, for instance). That they were broadly considered inferior to men does not mean they were all oppressed chattel.

The second, and I think most pernicious cliché is to assume that the oppressed have no narrative but that of rebellion–that lack of power or lack of agency means lack of story. One of the things the Lymond series does tremendously well is showing us the network of women’s friendships, and how these women share information. Women run households, fret over who they will marry and how they will find their places in the network of alliances; and try to navigate their place in a complex tracery of power where they might not have the upper hand, but where they are far from powerless or without opinions.

I wish I could say this was immediately reflected in my fiction; but in fact it took me a tremendous amount of time to go against the received narrative that these types of stories weren’t worth telling–many years and many additional books, until I finally started to write stories where domesticity wasn’t devalued, and where childbirth could be as dramatic as any pulse-pounding battle against an invading army. And, in many ways, I’m still learning–still trying to make space, not only for women, but for marginalised voices in my stories (again, it’s not because one is not in a position of power or actively seeking one that one has no life and no stories worth telling. The slaves, the dispossessed, the oppressed also have their own lives and their own aspirations). But it was The Game of Kings that showed me the way, and I darn well intend to stick to it.


[1] Which is why I try to be conscious, as a writer, of the kind of narratives that I’m putting forward. I don’t believe that my stories can change the world, but I can certainly contribute, even completely unconsciously, to harmful and silencing narratives. But this is not the subject of this essay!

Aliette de BodardAliette de Bodard lives in Paris, where she has a day job as a System Engineer. In between programming and mothering, she writes speculative fiction–her stories have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and a British Science Fiction Award. Her newest novel, House of Shattered Wings, is set in a devastated Paris where rival Houses fight for influence–and features fallen angels, Vietnamese dragons and entirely too many dead bodies. It is forthcoming in August from Gollancz in the UK/Commonwealth and Roc in the US. Visit