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Today’s guest is Keri, who runs Feminist Fantasy! Keri began Feminist Fantasy as a resource for finding feminist-friendly fantasy books, and the website accepts user-submitted recommendations with a description on the book and why it’s feminist friendly. It’s a great place to find new books to read, and I’m thrilled Keri is here today to share some of her favorite feminist-friendly fantasy books by female authors!

Feminist Fantasy

Feminist-friendly Fantasy Fiction by Women

The first fantasy book I ever read was feminist-friendly, though I didn’t realize it or even know what that meant at the time.

I fell in love with fantasy novels when I read The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall, which I found on my 5th-grade teacher’s bookshelf. The book is about a group of outcasts led by Muggles, a candy-making woman who learns the value of individuality. “Some say Muggles was the first feminist,” Carol Kendall said, “but I just write the way it is.”

I’ve devoured hundreds of fantasy books since reading The Gammage Cup in 5th grade. In all those books I read, I noticed a trend: many of them seemed to be missing well-written female characters—women with agency.

I don’t necessarily need a female protagonist, or women who literally kick ass. At a minimum, I want female characters (yes, preferably more than one) to serve as more than plot devices. Many fantasy novels, if they have female characters, only have one or two who get kidnapped or killed just to serve as motivation for the male characters. Some fantasy novels leave me wondering if the author created a world populated by just men.

I know it’s not too much to ask for the author to give as much attention to writing and developing female characters as they do to male characters; I’ve read plenty of books since The Gammage Cup where they do. I thought it would be nice to have a list or database where people could list those books, so I started FeministFantasy.com.

Kristen kindly asked me to write about some of my favorite feminist-friendly fantasy books written by women for April Women in SF&F Month, so here are a few of my favorite fantasy books by women that I consider feminist-friendly. Though I’d like to note there are definitely great feminist-friendly male authors out here (including Morgan Howell, Ben S. Dobson, and Tobias S. Buckell), this series is for celebrating the women authors! So let’s get to it.

I’ve divided them into old-school, newer publications, and indie fantasy. I know it can be difficult to wade through all the self-published titles out there, but there are truly some gems you don’t want to miss out on. And as an (albeit nonfiction) indie author myself, I have a soft spot for self-pubbed writers 🙂

Old School Fantasy

Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner The Bone Doll's Twin by Lynn Flewelling

Arrows of the Queen (The Heralds of Valdemar #1) by Mercedes Lackey

Really, I could name any book by Mercedes Lackey; she writes great diverse characters regardless of gender. Arrows of the Queen introduces the character Talia, who grew up in a farming society that believes that women should be submissive, but runs away when she’s Chosen to be a Herald of Valdemar.

The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner

Katherine, the main character in The Privilege of the Sword, was brought up in the country knowing the rules of civilized society, but she’s encouraged to break them all by her uncle who summons her to the city in Riverside. She starts learning swordplay instead of following the usual path of finding a well-to-do husband to take care of her. This book explores issues like breaking traditional gender roles, gay relationships in a homophobic society, and different aspects of female friendships.

The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling

Lynn Flewelling is another author with tons of feminist-friendly books. The Bone Doll’s Twin is a unique gender-bending story where a girl is hidden by being disguised as a boy using forbidden dark magic, and has to come to terms with learning about her true gender.

New Trad-Pub Fantasy

Gilded by Christina Farley The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Gilded by Christina Farley

Gilded is Christina Farley’s debut novel, just released in March 2014. It’s the story of a Korean-American girl, Jae Hwa, who returns with her father to Seoul, South Korea, after her mother’s death. There she learns that her family has been targeted by a Korean demi-god for generations, and her own life is now in danger. I loved learning about Korean mythology, and loved the character of Jae Hwa, an expert in Tae Kwon Do and traditional Korean archery. Jae Hwa is a strong-willed character who risks everything to save her family and friends.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

I love this book for the excellent character development and the interesting worldbuilding, which is based on Spanish culture. Elisa is a princess supposedly chosen for greatness, but she feels like a failure compared to her perfect older sister. She overeats and has a weight problem, and feels ugly. On her sixteenth birthday she has to secretly marry a king of a neighboring kingdom, but once she travels there she realizes the country is in turmoil. Elisa becomes a target of revolutionaries. Through all her struggles she grows and evolves as a person and eventually becomes a great leader.

Indie Fantasy

Death's Hand by S.M. Reine The Emperor's Edge by Lindsay Buroker

SM Reine’s Descent series

SM Reine is a prolific author, and all of her books have well-written female characters. The Descent series tells the story of Elise, a “kopis” born to fight paranormal forces. Kopides are all male, except for the rare female kopis like Elise. Elise, a strong warrior who really lacks in emotional maturity, defies pretty much every stereotype about women. I love SM Reine’s books for having a variety of well-written diverse characters. There are all kinds of characters from all over the world, but none of them feels like a token representation.

Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge Series

From the beginning, Emperor’s Edge deals with the issue of the role of women in a changing society. Amaranthe is one of the first female law enforcers in the Empire, and she doesn’t get much respect from her partner or fellow enforcers. When she stumbles upon a plot against the Emperor, she assembles an eclectic team of outcasts to help her save the day.

KeriLynn Engel is a Connecticut freelance writer and women’s history blogger, and the author of Amazing Women In History.