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Thank you so much to all of last week’s guests for another wonderful week of Women in SF&F Month!

There will not be any new guest posts until the very end of April, but I am going to discuss five series I love this week. Before getting to a sneak peek of which books I’ll be featuring, here’s what happened last week in case you missed it.

All of the guest posts from April 2024 can be found here, and last week’s posts were:

Also, the giveaway for a copy of The Wings Upon Her Back by Samantha Mills just ended. I have not yet heard from the winner, so check your email if you entered!

This week, I’m going to focus on five series that I think deserve more readers and discussion in bookish/SFF communities. Here’s a preview of the books I’ll be discussing and which day of the week I’ll be posting about them.

Women in SF&F Month 2024 Schedule Graphic

April 22: The Books of Ambha Duology by Tasha Suri
April 23: The Chronicles of the Bitch Queen Trilogy by K. S. Villoso
April 24: The Mirage Duology by Somaiya Daud
April 25: The Swords and Fire Trilogy by Melissa Caruso
April 26: The Warchild Mosaic by Karin Lowachee

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Today I have two books to give away to two US residents, both from the InCryptid series by Seanan McGuire! Twice nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Series, InCryptid is described as “a witty urban fantasy series featuring an eccentric family of cryptozoologists who act as a buffer between the humans and the magical creatures living in secret around us.” Whether you’re new to this series or a longtime fan, there is a book here for you since you can enter to win the first book, Discount Armageddon, or the thirteenth and latest book in the series, Aftermarket Afterlife. (And on a personal note, I thought Discount Armageddon was entertaining, humorous, and well-paced and loved that being interesting seemed to be a common familial trait.)

Cover of Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire


First book in New York Times-bestselling Seanan McGuire’s witty urban fantasy InCryptid series about a family of cryptozoologists who act as a buffer between humans and the magical creatures living in secret around us.

“The only thing more fun than an October Daye book is an InCryptid book.” —Charlaine Harris, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of Sookie Stackhouse series

Cryptid, noun: Any creature whose existence has not yet been proven by science. See also “Monster.”

Crytozoologist, noun: Any person who thinks hunting for cryptids is a good idea. See also “idiot.”

Ghoulies. Ghosties. Long-legged beasties. Things that go bump in the night…

The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity—and humanity from them.

Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she’d rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance. Sounds pretty simple, right?

It would be, if it weren’t for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family’s old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed.

To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone’s spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city…

Cover of Aftermarket Afterlife by Seanan McGuire


Seanan McGuire’s New York Times-bestselling and Hugo Award-nominated urban fantasy InCryptid series continues with the thirteenth book following the Price family, cryptozoologists who study and protect the creatures living in secret all around us

Mary Dunlavy didn’t intend to become a professional babysitter.  Of course, she didn’t intend to die, either, or to become a crossroads ghost. As a babysitting ghost, she’s been caring for the Price family for four generations, and she’s planning to keep doing the job for the better part of forever.

With her first charge finally back from her decades-long cross-dimensional field trip, with a long-lost husband and adopted daughter in tow, it’s time for Mary to oversee the world’s most chaotic family reunion. And that’s before the Covenant of St. George launches a full scale strike against the cryptids of Manhattan, followed quickly by an attack on the Campbell Family Carnival.

It’s going to take every advantage and every ally they have for the Prices to survive what’s coming—and for Mary, to avoid finding out the answer to a question she’s never wanted to know: what happens to a babysitting ghost if she loses the people she’s promised to protect?

Photo of Seanan McGuire by Ryan Nutick
Photo: © Ryan Nutick

Seanan McGuire lives and works in Washington State, where she shares her idiosyncratic home with her collection of books, creepy dolls, and enormous cats. When not writing—which is fairly rare—she enjoys travel, and can regularly be found any place where there are cornfields, haunted houses, or frogs. A Campbell, Alex, Hugo, and Nebula Award–winning author, Seanan’s debut novel (Rosemary and Rue, the first entry in the New York Times–bestselling October Daye series) was released in 2009, and she has published more than fifty books since. Seanan doesn’t sleep much.

Keep up with her at seananmcguire.com.

Book Giveaway

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out Fantasy Cafe’s InCryptid Book Giveaway Google form, linked below, and specify whether you would like a copy of the first book or the latest book in the series. One entry per household and the two winners will be randomly selected. Those from the US are eligible to win. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Friday, May 3. Each winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them after 24 hours has passed, 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.

Note: The giveaway link has been removed since it is now over.

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Laura R. Samotin! Her novel coming out on May 7, The Sins on Their Bones, is described as follows: “Inspired by Jewish mysticism and folklore, this queer dark fantasy debut is perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo, C.S. Pacat, Ava Reid, and Katherine Arden, set in a fantastical reimagining of 19th century Eastern Europe.” I’m delighted she’s here today to discuss one of her favorite tropes and incorporating it into her soon-to-be-released novel in “Writing Found Families With Two-Dimensional Characters.”

Cover of The Sins on Their Bones by Laura R. Samotin

Writing Found Families With Two-Dimensional Characters
Laura R. Samotin, author of The Sins on Their Bones

March 28, 2024

Found family is, hands down, one of the best tropes out there. I will die on the hill that some of the most satisfying character interactions in literature have come from this trope, which highlights the unconditional love between people who have chosen each other as family. It allows authors (and readers) to delve into intimacy, connection, and the bonds between individuals who truly understand each other. I love reading found family books, and so I knew I wanted to write one that paid homage to the trope.

But a larger cast is difficult for any writer to manage, and limited pages in any given book don’t always leave room for fully fleshed-out secondary characters. Readers want to get to know the main characters, and so understandably, that’s who writers focus on. We come to know their personalities, their unique ways of thinking about the world, their hopes, dreams, and more. Because of this, characters in books with the found family trope can sometimes fall into a reductive dynamic, with characters typecast into roles that leave them feeling one-dimensional.

That can leave writers of the found family trope struggling to do the same with secondary characters. I personally grappled with this challenge in my debut adult fantasy THE SINS ON THEIR BONES, which features a queer cast that has formed a found family. My main character Dimitri is the deposed Tzar of Novo-Svitsevo, and his friends have joined him in exile. With a court of five members, I had my work cut out for me when it came to fully developing all of their personalities, making them feel vivid and real.

I also pushed myself hard to critically examine my characters and ensure that they were being portrayed as whole people, and not reduced to flat (or worse, stereotypical) depictions based on their identifying characteristics, as often happens when characters aren’t fully developed on the page. This was particularly important to me when it came to my two female secondary characters. So many times, I’ve seen the female member or members of a found family grouping being boxed into the role of the “mother hen,” the one who’s making sure characters eat and wear warm clothing and attend to other more mundane needs in the midst of heists or quests or other fantastical scenarios.

That’s all well and good, because if the members of a found family don’t take care of themselves, they won’t last through the story. And caretaking, in all its forms, is a key part of human connection. But these female characters can often be stuck only nurturing the other characters in the group—and being the only ones doing the nurturing as well. Their personality gets reduced to the act of caring for others. While nurturing can be fulfilling—and one of my female characters does a lot of it—it shouldn’t be the only trait that female members of a found family group possess. My two female characters are quite different from each other—intentionally so, given that they’re two separate people, and have different personalities, interests, and skills.

Annika is Dimitri’s former general, who is still grieving over the defeat of her and Dimitri’s army in the civil war they fought. She is a nurturer, and to her, being a soldier is at odds with her deep desire to keep people safe. Annika likes knitting socks, providing tea, giving hugs, and listening when she feels her friends need a shoulder to cry on. But it doesn’t mean that that’s all she gets up to in the book. She also pushes Dimitri to critically examine the tough decisions which were made during the war, defends her decisions as a military tactician, and spends a lot of time on-page thinking about the potential ways in which the court can defeat Alexey, Dimitri’s ex-husband and the book’s villain.

Ladushka is Dimitri’s former chancellor, who helped him to manage the political running of his court and country.  She is a very different character from Annika, even though the two of them are close friends. Ladushka is a clear-eyed realist who frequently reminds Dimitri of the necessity of making the hard choice, even when the hard choice is the dangerous one, too. She isn’t a caretaker—not in the traditional sense, not even close. Ladushka shies away from overt displays of emotion, which is intentional given that her character is autistic. But her care and concern for Dimitri and the rest of her friends comes through in the way she exerts herself to ensure that the court’s goals are met. She’s the one urging everyone forward and calling them to action—a role typically held by one of the men in a found family group.

By allowing my female characters to hold multiple or contradictory personality traits at the same time, I hope that I’m able to bring more life and realism to my secondary characters, all while combating the “mother hen” stereotype in two ways: one, that it doesn’t work to write a female character who delights in that kind of caretaking without reinforcing stereotypes; and two, that female characters who don’t fit that mold are inherently less caring or interesting than ones who do.

And I also think that the same principle and concerns apply to male and non-binary characters as well. Showing non-female characters taking on “mother hen” roles is just as important, allowing for two-dimensional depictions of people of other gender identities which include stereotypical feminine traits. For example, Mischa, a non-binary member of my found family, is the one to consistently insist that Dimitri eat. Part of this comes from their profession (they’re a doctor), but mostly it’s because cooking for and feeding people is their way of showing care, and it’s a role they enjoy and derive satisfaction from. Vasily, a male member of my found family and the court’s spymaster, also sometimes takes on these “mother hen” activities for Dimitri, ensuring he sleeps, eats, and takes care of his health.

Ultimately, there are many ways to show love, devotion, and care—and some of those ways involve knitting socks, while others include helping you to plot how you’ll take back the throne and ensure your unhinged ex-husband’s downfall. The female members of a found family should be able to do both—and each should get the chance to be a fully-realized person on the page. And non-female members of a found family should get the chance to take on caretaking roles as well. A truly vivid found family in a book is one in which every character is multidimensional and layered. When authors pay attention to these kinds of dynamics, it allows for a richer and more vivid reader experience—with the benefit of reminding readers that in books, as in real life, people are more dynamic than tired stereotypes might suggest.

Photo of Laura R. Samotin Laura R. Samotin has a PhD in international relations from Columbia University and enjoys using her academic background on military tactics, power politics, and leadership to enliven and inform her creative writing. Her YA and adult fiction is grounded in Jewish myth, mysticism, and her Eastern European Jewish heritage.

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Amy Leow! Her debut novel being released on September 10 in the US and September 12 in the UK, The Scarlet Throne, is described as “a dark, heart-thumping political epic fantasy… full of scheming demons, morally grey heroines, talking cats, and cut-throat priests.” I’m thrilled she’s here today to discuss a type of character she loves—and her protagonist in the upcoming first book in The False Goddess Trilogy—in “Villains, Grey Areas, and What Women Can and Cannot Be.”

Image for The Scarlet Throne by Amy Leow
Illustration by Nica Galvez

Villains, Grey Areas, and What Women Can and Cannot Be
by Amy Leow

I love unhinged characters. Even more than that, I love unhinged women. There is something oddly cathartic about seeing a female character go off the rails and have everybody bow at her feet, perhaps because of how in real life women are often not allowed to do so.

The world loves them too. Female protagonists in plenty of books have a touch of darkness to them, and so much of marketing—especially in the SFF circle—revolves around these morally grey women making complex decisions and possessing complex motivations.

But as much as I loved these unhinged female characters, I also felt that something was missing from them.

Let me preface this by saying that there is nothing wrong with having these characters in the roles that they were written in. Yet, while it’s clear that these women can make bad choices, they are—mostly—on the good guys’ side. And even if they are on the antagonists’ side, they will most likely have some redeeming quality. They commit genocide, but maybe they do it in a warped, twisted attempt to protect the ones they love. Or they are good rulers to their own people, but villains to anyone from the outside.

Almost as though women cannot be evil for the sake of being evil, while the misdeeds of male villains go unjustified, because apparently only men can be wicked in nature.

In other words, I grew tired of reading “morally grey” female characters who weren’t actually morally grey. I craved unhinged women like Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender, who harbored childhood trauma, but was also clearly evil and power-crazy from the get-go. I wanted to see more women like Adelina Amouteru from The Young Elites, by Marie Lu, who was born cruel and only grew worse when the world turned against her. I adored characters like Xifeng from Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, or Lada from And I Darken by Kiersten White, who manipulated everyone around them and reveled in their brutality.

I wanted messy women. Batshit-crazy women. Women who don’t have to justify anything they do to others.

So I created Binsa, the main character of The Scarlet Throne. She is a vicious young girl who—while shaped by her circumstances and her mother’s questionable parenting choices—is very much ambitious of her own will, and will stop at nothing to get her way. I purposely wrote her as lacking a clear “motivation” for her villainy too: because just as some are altruistic in nature, some are wicked. In Binsa, I wanted to create a character who is utterly evil and irredeemable—and for her to thrive with those characteristics.

Oddly enough, I know that with writing Binsa I will find readers who will inevitably question Binsa’s motivations for being a villain, when the whole point is that there are some things that you just cannot explain. I grew up in Asia, where women are told to be quiet and to only play supporting roles to men and to elders. My own anger and ambition were out of place in such a society. And when asked why I grew up this way, when everyone was teaching me otherwise, I could only answer that it was in my nature to be like so.

In some sense, I found release and joy in writing Binsa. I enjoyed embracing my inner villain when writing The Scarlet Throne, and although it deals with dark, heavy issues (like emotional abuse, xenophobia, and the exploitation of young girls for the sake of religion), it is also an escapist and self-indulgent story. Sometimes, there is no need for an explanation behind every action someone takes.

After all, women too, can be downright nasty and repugnant—and it’s okay for them to be like so.

Photo of Amy Leow Amy Leow is the author of the False Goddess trilogy (Orbit US/UK, forthcoming Summer 2024). Currently residing in Kuala Lumpur, she graduated with a degree in linguistics and is currently pursuing a PhD in the same subject. She is often found dreaming up worlds of feral gods and even more feral girls.

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Week three of the thirteenth annual Women in SF&F Month starts tomorrow. Thank you so much to all of last week’s guests for another wonderful week of essays!

There will be new guest posts on Monday and Wednesday of this week and a book giveaway on Friday. But first, before announcing the schedule, here are last week’s pieces in case you missed any of them.

All of the guest posts from April 2024 can be found here, and last week’s guest posts were:

And there is more to come, starting tomorrow! This week includes essays by the first two authors and a giveaway of two books by the third:

Women in SF&F Month 2024 Schedule Graphic

April 15: Amy Leow (The Scarlet Throne)
April 17: Laura R. Samotin (The Sins on Their Bones, The Way It Haunted Him)
April 19: Seanan McGuire (InCryptid, October Daye)

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Genoveva Dimova! Both books in The Witch’s Compendium of Monsters, her Bulgarian folklore–inspired fantasy duology described as “The Witcher meets Naomi Novik,” are coming out this year: her debut novel, Foul Days, on June 25 and the sequel, Monstrous Nights, on October 22. I’m delighted she’s here today to discuss her favorite character to write, some influences, and representation of older women in “Female mentors in fantasy.”

Cover Artist: Rovina Cai
Cover Designer: Jamie Stafford-Hill

Female mentors in fantasy

People occasionally ask me which one of my characters was my favourite to write, probably expecting it to be a difficult question, like asking a parent to choose a favourite child. Except, my answer is always immediate: Vila.

In my debut Slavic fantasy, Foul Days, Vila is a prickly older witch with a penchant for sequined woollen vests and terrible jokes, living in a chicken-legged house. She is an untouchable figure with many years of knowledge and skill behind her back, who serves as a mentor to our witchy protagonist, Kosara. In the sequel, Monstrous Nights, as Kosara grows in knowledge and skill herself, we get a more vulnerable side to Vila, as she has to come to terms with her own eventual mortality.

Some of my influences in writing this character are perhaps obvious. Firstly, Baba Yaga, the Slavic witch in her hut on chicken legs, is a figure that has always fascinated me. When she appears in fairy tales, she is all-knowing, otherworldly, and threatening. Yet, despite her frequent remarks about how much she appreciates the taste of human flesh, she’s often benevolent and willing to help our hero in their quest, sometimes for a price, sometimes just because she feels like it.

The second obvious influence is Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, who we see taking on a mentoring role multiple times in the series, first in Equal Rites and then in the Tiffany Aching books. Granny is a complex character—stern, practical, distrustful, and powerful. Someone you can’t help but love, despite her being far from a “likeable female character”.

This is, perhaps, what always attracts me to female mentor characters. They tend to be older, settled in their ways, knowledgeable, skilful, and confident. They’re rarely ‘likeable’ or ‘relatable’ in the way we’re told our female characters have to be, or else readers wouldn’t sympathise with them—yet, I find them so easy to sympathise with, probably because they remind me of the older women in my own life. Frankly, I find them inspirational.

So, imagine my surprise when I deliberately searched out more fantasy books with older female mentor figures in them, and I found a distinct lack. Sure, there are some excellent examples out there: there’s Od from Od Magic by Patricia McKillip and Meghan from the Witches of Eileanan by Kate Forsyth. There’s the dust-wife in T. Kingfisher’s Nettle & Bone and Baghra from Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone (and you can’t convince me she doesn’t share the Baba Yaga influences with my own Vila!). However, for every female mentor figure I encountered, there were three times more old, wise men. For every Granny Weatherwax, there was a Gandalf, a Dumbledore, and an Obi-Wan Kenobi.

As an archaeologist, I couldn’t help but dig deeper. I simply couldn’t figure out why this lack of female mentors occurred. In between reading ancient forums and more recent Reddit threads, in between blog posts and Reactor essays, I realised this is an issue other people have noticed, and a question other people have asked.

Ultimately, it seems, it boils down to this: there aren’t more older female mentors in fantasy because there aren’t many older women in fantasy, full stop. Or, to take this even further, there is a real lack of older women in media as a whole. Ageism is a well-documented problem in Hollywood, for example, where a recent study found that there is a sudden drop from female characters who are in their 30s (33%) to characters in their 40s (15%). Only 7% of female characters were aged 60 or over, which is nevertheless a slight improvement over the 5% reported by the same study conducted 2 years prior. While no such studies have been carried out about books, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if the numbers are very similar—after all, authors and screenwriters exist in the same cultural milieu and draw from the same inspirations.

This lack of older female representation, I believe, goes back to that belief that female characters need to be likeable to the average reader—so, we need to make them young, beautiful, nice, agreeable. Male mentors can be kooky and spooky and mad. Female mentors need to be palatable.

Except, as already discussed, female mentors don’t need to be likeable to be fascinating. They don’t need to be agreeable to have readers cheer them on. In fact, I believe it is precisely this lack of ‘relatability’ that gives female mentor characters their air of otherworldliness we, as readers, grow to love in characters like Baba Yaga and Granny Weatherwax. As fantasy is expanding, as more and more fresh, new, previously underrepresented voices enter it every day, I truly believe we’re due some excellent female mentors soon. I personally can’t wait.

Photo of Genoveva Dimova by Julie Broadfoot
Photo Credit: 2022 © JULIE BROADFOOT
Genoveva Dimova is a Bulgarian fantasy author and archaeologist based in Scotland. Her debut novel inspired by Slavic folklore, Foul Days, is coming out in June 2024, with the sequel, Monstrous Nights to follow in October 2024. When she’s not writing, she likes to explore old ruins, climb even older hills, and listen to practically ancient rock music. To keep up to date with news and updates about Genoveva’s books, join her newsletter at genovevadimova.com/newsletter or find her on Instagram at @gen_dimova.