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Dec 18 2011

Feminist Fantasy

I’ve just finished reading Game of Thrones, the first book of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series. I really enjoyed the HBO series, but I didn’t feel like waiting years to learn the rest of the plot. The same thing happened with Lord of the Rings – I saw the first movie, then quickly gobbled up the trilogy, the Hobbit, and even the Silmarillion. And I’m pretty sure I don’t have to point out that I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I enjoy fantasy novels.

But it’s always a little weird reading fantasy as a feminist. I know other feminists lament the lack of strong female characters in traditional fantasy novels. I mean, does Arwen serve any purpose other than marrying Aragorn? Eowyn is badass as she slays the Lord of the Nazgul, but then she loses all her fighting spirit to marry Faramir and have babies.

Harry Potter left me similarly disappointed in the end. Hermione was such a strong female character throughout the series, but ultimately the end is all about getting married and having babies.  Rowling discusses her accomplishments in the Ministry in interviews, but in the book her future is represented only as a mother. And really, when you think about the series, it’s all about dudes. Harry, Voldemort, Dumbledore, Snape. I love Hermione, but sometimes I can’t help but see her as a useful plot device, the clever one who will serendipitously figure out all the puzzles and advances the plot.

So far, I’m enjoying Game of Thrones. There are many strong female characters. But more importantly to me, they’re not The Strong Female Character. I hate when a book or movie is so obviously trying to introduce a strong woman to the plot, that she ends up a flat caricature without flaws or weaknesses. It makes the viewer feel like there really are no such thing as strong women in the real world – otherwise why would they be so hard to write?

And that’s why I like this series (so far, at least). The strong women still aren’t perfect. Daenerys takes a terrible situation (which is an understatement) and uses it to grow into a powerful, confident woman. I think she’s one of the most compassionate characters in the series, yet that compassion is also her undoing. Cersei Lannister is powerful and recognizes how unfair it is that her power is curtailed by her bad luck of being born female – but she’s also tremendously evil. Catelyn Stark takes matters into her own hands when her family is threatened, but the same emotions that drive her also cause her to make mistakes. And do I even have to say anything about Arya? She’s stubborn and hot headed, but she’s as much as a feminist as I’ve ever seen.

But I also like the series because there are some terrible women. Lysa Arryn is… a little off her rocker. Sansa fills me with a rage that’s only surpassed by how much I hate Joffrey (or as I like to call him, Malfoy 2.0). If there are supremely flawed male characters, I want supremely flawed female ones. Women aren’t perfect.

I’ve heard some argue that the series isn’t feminist because the women, in their culture, are basically seen as second class citizens. But when you have a series that’s basically medieval Europe placed on an imaginary map, I’m not sure what you expect. It’s inspired by history, where woman were treated that poorly. I find it refreshing that the plot doesn’t accept that (like in Lord of the Rings), but rather multiple woman try to overcome it.

But I see the point. How many more fantasy novels do we need that perfectly mirror medieval Europe, with women having the roles of wives and nothing more? If it’s fiction, why not make them equal? Or why not make them the ones in charge? It would be refreshing to see that occasionally.

I’m sure it’s out there, but I’m not as prolific of a reader. What fantasy novels do you think have feminist ideals? Who are your favorite strong female characters? What do you think about the women of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones? Does one do a better job than the others? Am I totally full of it with my opinions of these characters?

359 comments

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  1. 1
    trevorvandenboer

    Epic fantasy suffers from a lack of female characters across the board, that much is for sure! However, if you’re looking for a great cast of female characters in a fantasy series, I strongly suggest The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (being finished by Brandon Sanderson). Happy reading! The SoI&F series is fantastic!

  2. 2
    Almulhida

    I don’t really read much fantasy for this (and other) reasons, but if you don’t mind something aimed at a youngish crowd then Kristin Cashore’s Graceling is a fantastic book in my opinion. It’s set in some fairly generic medieval fantasy but the whole book is a coming of age story for a young woman and the author’s real strength is emotional nuance, and it handles gender very well. It’s basically a feminist book that’s not encoded as such, and it was refreshing to read a story, for once, that neither eliminates misogyny nor takes it for granted as The Way Things Were Back Then.

  3. 3
    Mimmoth

    Well, I emphatically did not care for the series that starts with _Game of Thrones_, so maybe my tastes won’t match yours. Though come to think of it I didn’t mind the first book so much–it was more of a cumulative thing.

    But anyway, for fantasy I really enjoy I would recommend P.C. Hodgell’s books, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Series, Lois McMaster Bujold’s _Curse Of Chalion_, _Paladin of Souls_ and _Hallowed Hunt_ (_The Spirit Ring_ is also very good in my opinion but it was less well-received and may be harder to find) and Barbara Hambley’s fantasy in general (_Bride of the Rat God_ for example, sounds like it would be terrible, but it’s actually really good, in spite of the fact that the title is perfect for it.)

    I haven’t really thought about these in terms of whether they are feminist. But I’m about as feminist as it is possible to get without bursting into flames, and they don’t bother me with respect to gender roles, if that helps.

  4. 4
    EmuSam

    The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson and its Are-women-superior/equal/inferior controversy has to make an appearance in these comments. Robert Jordan is on record saying that he intended the genders to each be superior in different fields but overall equal, and that the reason many people think it’s a matriarchy is because we’re not used to a non-patriarchy, and powerful women by contrast seem more powerful. He has also said that the original idea for the story was What If Women Ruled the World.

  5. 5
    Atticus_of_Amber

    Try Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. It’s a retelling of the Arthurian legend with Morgana Le Fey as the heroine … and Christianity in general as the villain.

  6. 6
    Andrea

    Read on, there are four more books so far. Wait until you meet Brienne of Tarth. Or Ygritte. And the Sand Snakes. There are so many different woman characters in the books.

  7. 7
    PJG

    Feminist-friendly fantasy authors:
    -Tamora Pierce (Tortall universe– start with ‘Song of the Lioness’; the later ‘Protector of the Small’ quartet is my favorite series of all-time.)
    -Mercedes Lackey (Valdemar universe– start with ‘Arrows of the Queen’)
    -Terry Goodwin (Sword of Truth series– lead is a male but there’s also a kickass lady involved. This one gets a bit preachy with the capitalism after a few books though)

    ….now good luck getting any work accomplished.

  8. 8
    Carpus

    The works that come to my mind are the graphic novel(s) “Fables”. They have strong women that are very much the men’s equals and often their betters (though when there is traditional sword/sorcerer fighting, they do tend to be the brains rather than the brawn). Of course this is a little off the traditional ‘fantasy’ path, but enjoyable books none-the-less…

  9. 9
    Colt

    I too recommend Wheel of Time! Excellent series overall, though it’s unbelievably long, and tons of strong female characters, not all of whom are good guys. Mistborn is fun too (Brandon Sanderson).

  10. 10
    flyerec

    There are a number of strong/flawed women in Steve Erikson’s Malazan books. If you’re interested in finding a fantasy setting that isn’t basically medieval Europe with dragons, check them out. Not only is the series big and full of magic and world building, its also a completely egalitarian society. (Well sort of) Women fight in the military, lead armies, and rule empires.

    It’s very different in tone from Lord of the Rings or even Game of Thrones.

  11. 11
    Shannon

    Tamora Pierce is an amazing young adult fantasy writer who has some awesome female characters. She also has some awesome female characters overcoming and breaking gender stereotypes too.

  12. 12
    sunnybook3

    Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series has been a favorite of mine since high school. She wrote so many fantastic female characters (and male characters, too, for that matter) and they all have different personalities and strengths and flaws. Moreta is a legendary hero who brings vaccines to the world… Menolly is a talented musician who fights sexism in order to realize her talents… Lessa fights incredible odds to reclaim her birthright… Utterly brilliant women–and the story bridges between science fiction and fantasy in intriguing ways. Enjoy!

  13. 13
    LMM

    I would recommend Mary Gentle’s _Ash_ tetragy — it’s about a female commander in a very brutal medieval Europe.

  14. 14
    Michael Swanson)

    The Golden Compass (European title: Northern Lights), by Phillip Pullman. The main character, Lyra, is a brave but foolhardy, clever but sometimes dim girl. She seems very real to me. There’s even an interesting section where she gets to be “girly” for the first time, going shopping, putting on makeup, etc., but though she finds it novel and enjoyable for a while, she ultimately sees no real value in it. Disappointingly, she takes a back seat to a boy character in the second book. Still, it’s an excellent and completely original trilogy.

    And it has the bonus merit of pissing off Christians!

  15. 15
    capt_carl

    Brienne of Tarth. Strong as an ox, but also stubborn as one. You’ll meet her in A Clash of Kings.

  16. 16
    Lou Doench

    No spoilers Jen, but Sansa eventually becomes one of my favorite characters.

  17. 17
    Atheist Aaron

    Which would explain why he had all the male Aes Sedai go crazy and die.

  18. 18
    L.Long

    Going back a few years ….
    I always thought Andre Norton had good female characters but it is not epic fantasy.

  19. 19
    Shads

    Arya grows to become my favourite character over the course of the books, and Brienne is also up there. They do kinda pound her flaws into your head though.. pretty much every paragraph she’s in focus.

  20. 20
    abadidea

    I’m not yet published, I’m still working on my magnum opus many years in the making.

    However, you can bet that my primary motivation for getting this story finished and out the door is that I focus on female characters, LGBT characters, and even asexual characters over the traditional straight male hero, and I think there are a lot of kids out there who really NEED to read more stories like that so they don’t feel so excluded. As a child I clung to every reference of the word “she” I could find in fantasy novels and I didn’t even know gay people existed until I was in high school. We need more.

  21. 21
    Al

    Glad someone mentioned that – it’s probably my favourite take on the Arthur legend.

    MZB did something similar for Kassandra of Troy in The Firebrand, but The Mists of Avalon is better.

  22. 22
    Kevin Cantu

    Ugh, Robert Jordan’s series as first comment? I’m going to start tugging my braid! The hero is a dude who is married to, what, three or four women at once!? It isn’t all bad, but medieval polygamist fantasy is hardly a shining example for us..

  23. 23
    Joé McKen

    I don’t know much about fantasy novels so I can’t comment on their feminist traits (or lack thereof), but I have to disagree with you regarding what appears to be your general sentiment that a female character loses their badass cred if they choose to settle down and marry in the end. You could make the same argument about the male characters who also kick ass and then end up marrying and having kids on their end. For one thing, that’s really just how life usually goes – an impetuous youth followed by settling down for the long run with a loved one and some kids to create a legacy. I don’t think it’s fair to say (if that’s what you meant to say; my apologies if I misunderstand you) that characters like Hermione or Arwen are somehow diminished in the end if they decide to metaphorically hang the sword on the wall and just have a nice loving family. It’s clear Hermione is still as brainy as ever (as Ron makes sure their kids are grateful for it), and I can’t really comment on Arwen’s later development, having never read the books, but I still doubt matrimony and motherhood could take away her kick-ass self if her kids are ever in trouble, for example.

    I agree that the majority of literary works (fantasy or not) don’t have many strong women characters, but I don’t think it’s fair to claim that the feminist characters who are present are diminished in the end if they choose to marry a man they love and have some young’uns. I just see that as a common and respectable life choice, rather than some weakness or dumbing-down. Just a small nitpick, but I didn’t see the other commenters touch on it so I thought I’d add my 2¢.

    As for other characters, I think that Prof. McGonagall absolutely deserves some recognition, even if she was a secondary character, for being undeniably badass in her own, detention-loving way.

  24. 24
    ErMejo

    If you are fluent in spanish/german/italian/french you can go ahead and read some fantasy book by Licia Troisi.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Licia_Troisi

    She is an italian writer of fantasy (and a grad student in astrophysics!), and, not by change, in most of her books, the main character is a woman.

    Her books are very successful in Europe.

    Otherwise you can wait: sooner or later they will translate her books in english :)

  25. 25
    ellyphillips

    How about Melanie Rawn? I’m still hoping for her to write the concluding part to the Ambrai trilogy, which is set in a matriarchal society. I enjoyed seeing where my own stereotypes emerged; she would write about ‘the magistrate’, for example, and i didn’t realize I’d pictured a man until she went onto describe the character as ‘her’.

  26. 26
    rivqa

    I’ll echo the suggestions of Ash, Mists of Avalon, Northern Lights and Tamora Pierce. I couldn’t be bothered finishing the Wheel of Time series but it had many fails when it came to feminism.

    I’d also recommend Lois Bujold McMaster’s Sharing Knife series, anything by CJ Cherryh (but especially the Morgaine Cycle; note that she writes SF too as does McMaster I believe); anything by Tanith Lee and Jane Yolen; and I’m currently enjoying Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey — it’s more of an alternate history than fantasy per se but Jen you would LOVE it.

  27. 27
    Abscond

    Can I recommend the currently running show called “Once Upon A Time”? It’s a fantasy setting, but the three main characters are all strong women.

    I only started watching it reluctantly because I thought the idea was kind of dumb, but it’s turned out to be a really great show. They’ve come up with some plot ideas that I think are truly gripping. It’s also one of the few shows in memory that I haven’t been able to predict what’s going to happen next, which is a really nice change from most of the junk on TV.

  28. 28
    lia

    I loved Graceling! I’m currently reading the second book in the series, which is called Fire. This spring a third book called Bitterblue is being released. I must admit, sometimes I find young adult fiction to be more compelling than the stuff written for older folks.

  29. 29
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Elizabeth Moon – the Paxenarrion series, and also her light SF.

  30. 30
    capt_carl

    “Sausage fingers.” I still laugh whenever I read that one.

  31. 31
    LS

    Star Wars is often classified as fantasy rather than science fiction. And yea, there are some damned strong women characters in the novels. Leia is Chief of State for years, while Han largely stays home with the kids. Mirax Terrick is a badass smuggler and ruthless negotiator, and when she gets married she supports the family financially after her husband leaves military service to become a Jedi. Mara Jade is one of the most highly skilled people ever portrayed in the books, easily besting Luke Skywalker even when she’s poorly educated regarding her force powers. Eventually the two get married and have a kid, but if either of them becomes more home bound, it’s Luke, forced to deal with his duties as head of the Jedi order.

  32. 32
    LiveOnSteak

    Along with McGonagall I would mention Mrs Weasley. Sure she was supposed to fill the mother role for Harry, but she was definitely the person in charge of that household and was the person who kept everyone together when times got tough. Plus she goes all Rambo on Bellatrix in the last book. And if you’re looking for a strong female (albeit a crazy and evil one), you can’t do better than Bellatrix.

  33. 33
    Lou Doench

    Ditto for “The Sharing Knife”, I also recommend “the Curse of Chalion” and “Paladin of Souls” by LMMB

  34. 34
    Cully

    Sharon Shinn’s “Angels” series are not only full of strong women, but (trying not to spoil too much here) skeptical women who, over the course of several books debunk and figure out the truth behind their world’s religion and then turn it on it’s head.

  35. 35
    Joé McKen

    Ah, I knew I’d forgotten a few. Stoopid tired brane.

    After all, it’s a self-defeating notion to confine feminist characters to roles of kick-ass warriors. Even the most boringly sedentary housewife could be a feminist hero; it just depends how they’re portrayed in their beliefs and actions. (Though, yeah, Mrs. Weasley’s annihilation of Bellatrix didn’t hurt.)

  36. 36
    Lxndr

    I completely agree with the recommendation of Jacqueline Carey’s first Kushiel series. It’s definitely set in a fantasy medieval europe and the POV protagonist is certainly a strong female character.

  37. 37
    Joe

    RE: the general dominance of medieval Europe as the background for fantasy stories: I feel like GoT looks at the role of women in an atypical, exceptionally brutal, but realistic and ultimately feminist way. Most of the fantasy I know really just ignores women, except for the obligatory Strong Female Character and the damsels in distress. Martin has a parade of awesome (and terrible) female characters, but he’s also unsparing in his depiction of what happens to non-noble women in that world. The fact that he’s constantly referring back to rape and prostitution as just part of the world, to the point that they eventually become unremarkable, is (I think) an extremely effective commentary on the general social structure. It’s a useful parallel to the various female characters’ stories of trying to break (or live within) the social rules for noble women.

    That said, I don’t expect that the show will be nearly as effective in that regard. I don’t expect that even HBO will have the stomach for a half-dozen casual rapes every episode. Interested to see how they handle it in future seasons, since (I think) the only one they’ve had to deal with so far was the Dothraki.

  38. 38
    Beth

    …except that Terry Goodkind is hardly feminist. Kahlan has a few good moments, but only when she’s away from Richard, and there are some major issues with her own magic powers. Also, there’s the issue of Richard picking up something like 5 wives through the course of the books, not to mention all of the rape, torture, and more rape. There is so much rape in those books. D: Also the painful racism shown through the Mud People. And plenty of other massively problematic things that come up even before books 3 and 4, where the author decides to try to be Ayn Rand and the main character starts preaching about the evils of everything.

    To be fair, though, the sixth book in the series is possibly worth a read just to laugh at it. I mean, that’s the book where Richard (previously untrained in sculpting) manages to carve a sculpture so awesome that it CURES COMMUNISM. No lie.

  39. 39
    karmakin

    It’s been a while since I read it, but if memory serves me right Sanderson’s Warbreaker is pretty good as well.

  40. 40
    Tommy

    It’s not a novel or a film, but the society in the Dragon Age video games see women and men equally. You have strong non-mage females in your party, who are well developed, there are female soldiers running about, etc. The only exception seems to be the Qunari, who have a militant Confucianism-philosophy called The Qun, which forces their women into certain roles. But other than that, there isn’t a disparity between the genders.

  41. 41
    Veljko

    Now, I’m a guy so you may want to take this with a grain of salt.

    The Discworld books do have a good amount of strong female characters, but don’t fall neatly into the fantasy genre. It has dragons and magic and barbarian heroes (though slightly geriatric ones) but puts quite a different spin on them. Aside from writing strong female characters, he doesn’t focus much on gender relations. The only exceptions I can recall are Equal Rites and Monstrous Regiment. Equal Rites is an early one and, while good, is inferior to his later stuff. It relates the story of Esk, the first female wizard. What I don’t like about the book is, chiefly, that it seems to support, at least in part, the hoary old narrative of Mother Nature/Father Science. It is forgiven all sins, however, because it introduced the character of Granny Weatherwax who is one of Pratchett’s most brilliant creations.

    Monstrous Regiment follows a girl disguising herself as a boy in order to join the army in pursuit of her brother. There’s more to it, but I can’t say much else without spoiling it. Now, I really liked Monstrous Regiment. Not specifically the best of his books, but certainly up there. However, I’ve come to learn that some people think it deals with the aforementioned gender issues in a insufficiently subtle and/or sensitive manner. Caveat lector, I guess.

    The Mistborn books are more clearly fantasy in the vein of Song of Ice and Fire and do feature a really good female protagonist. I’m only now making my way trough the second one (of three[1]) so I can’t vouch for the entire series. The first book, however, is top notch. Wonderful world-building, clever plot and a credible and interesting character arc for the protagonist. Also my inner science nerd (who is much like my outer science nerd, but thinner) was very smug about the way the book averts the technological stasis inherent in your basic ISO standard fantasy universe.

    As an aside, I never could read the Song of Ice and Fire. I read the first book and stopped there. While I could recognize the talent in the writing and characterization (not to mention the savant-level organizational skills needed to keep all the viewpoints straight) I just couldn’t stomach the unrelenting bleakness of the world. The plot of what I’ve read can be summed up as “Horrible fates befall the innocent and guilty alike. For 900 pages. In excruciating detail.” Maybe I’m a wimp.

    As yet another aside, I think that there may be a charitable explanation for the dearth of strong female characters in fantasy (and science fiction, for that matter). Certainly a part of the reason is good old fashioned unconscious institutionalized sexism, but I contend that a good portion of it is due to an obscure sort of fear. An integral experience in growing up as a man in this transitional period between the patriarchal era and what I hope will turn out to be an egalitarian future is that from time to time, clever women explain to you, sometimes with diagrams, that just about everything you think you know about gender relations and the position of women in society is wrong, probably evil and possibly even insane. This is a discomforting and chastening experience, but it is invariably useful. However, after a few iterations of Everything You Know is Wrong (again) you do end up with a firm belief that when it comes to touchy matters where your privilege may blind you it is much wiser to listen than to talk. This is generally a workable approach, but it does mean that your awareness of all the mistakes you may make when writing a female character may paralyze you. On an unconscious level this may cause you to shove female characters to the sidelines and resort to stock portrayals. I’m not sure if this is right, but I do prefer it to the alternative hypothesis that SF/F writers are inherently bigoted.

    I apologize for the tl;dr-ness of the preceding.

    [1] Well, four. But the fourth one is stand-alone-ish and set in the future.

  42. 42
    Beth

    Tamora Pierce is pretty much THE writer for strong women in fantasy. She does all YA, but I’ve been reading through her books and really enjoy them. Her Alanna series is probably the weakest writing-wise, but I really enjoyed Keladry’s books (“Protector of the Small” quartet) and my favorite is probably Beka Cooper’s books. She’s a lady cop in a fantasy world! It’s pretty awesome.

    I wouldn’t call the His Dark Materials trilogy feminist, but it is an excellent read.

    Likewise, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy is quite fantastic. I just read it recently and was very impressed; it took a lot of the standard cliches and totally overturned them. Great character development as well.

    I’ve also tended to read more urban fantasy/steampunk books recently, which often feature strong women. I quite enjoy the ‘Parasol Protectorate’ books, which, being set in Steampunk Victorian England, is maybe not feminist, but the main character manages to do a lot despite the social mores of the time. Also, the fourth book features a massive mechanical octopus rampaging through London, and there’s nothing cooler than that.

    I’d also recommend both the Mercy Thompson books. Yeah, the covers suffer from sexy fantasy syndrome, but the main character is interesting and fun, and the books are very well written.

  43. 43
    Win.

    I would recommend Jacqueline Carey and her Kushiel’s Legacy series, the central character, Phedre, is a strong confident female who doesn’t have to masculate herself to succeed in her world.

    Lynn Flewelling is another author who excellent feminist fantasy, particularly her Tamir trilogy.

  44. 44
    wigwam

    Men can’t have babies, only some women can. Get over it already, it’s a frickin beautiful thing and something to aspire to if you can.

  45. 45
    Lisa

    I second the recommendation for Malazan Book of the Fallen, and would not suggest reading Wheel of Time if the aim is to read fantasy books with feminist ideals. Wheel of Time for me: most of the females feel like stereotypical girls in their different ways. It has strong female characters, but in a stereotypical kind of way. I suppose I see it as an imagining of how women would rule the world if the stereotypes of women were true. The books aren’t bad, and I wouldn’t call them ‘sexist’ but definitely not feminist. Yes, the women’s goals aren’t to go off and have babies, but some of the things that are written will make you cringe.

    Whereas when flyerec mentioned Malazan Book of the Fallen, it took a second to remember who the ‘strong female’ characters are in the book. That’s because all the characters are really well written, feel like individuals and don’t conform to stereotypes. It isn’t a case of remembering who the women are, because unlike in Wheel of Time it isn’t like a sledgehammer of ‘look at the women being in charge’.

  46. 46
    matthewsmith

    If you can track it down, give Suzette Haden Elgin’s “The Ozark Trilogy” a try. It starts with “Twelve Fair Kingdoms”, then “Grand Jubilee”, and finally “There’ll Be Fireworks”. Ostensibly a great number of colonists from Earth’s Ozark mountains travel space and finally find a planet they can live on–”First Granny”, upon seeing the world says, “Kingdoms come at last”, which inspires her descendents to organize themselves into twelve ‘kingdoms”.

    You won’t regret it.

  47. 47
    A. Noyd

    I really would not recommend anything by Robert Jordan or Terry Goodkind. Their writing is painfully bloated and their women characters have no feminist appeal besides being fairly powerful in the context of their worlds. (Plus, Goodkind seems to consider himself some sort of successor to Ayn Rand. *shudder*)

    I’d suggest Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders trilogy, and Lynn Flewelling’s Tamir trilogy. (I see Win. beat me to the latter.) And if you like what they write, both authors have other series set in the same universes, though they tend to focus more on male characters in those.

  48. 48
    julian

    THANK YOU!

    Fuck the Sword of Truth series. With an agiel.

    That first book? Wizard’s First rule? It ruined wizards for me.

    After listening to windbag fuckwit VII explain to Gary Stu how magic was all make believe and how people are a mass of stupid that must be exploited for profit! and how he had to suffer and shit nicks cuz the good of all and how his cat wasn’t evil for eating mice so he should stop thinking about evil and just fuck shit I wanted to scream.

    And any series where the protagonist seduces women who’ve been raped repeatedly and has them throw away their lives for him because he showed them ‘what it could be like without the pain’ needs to fucking die. Painfully.

  49. 49
    Lxndr

    The angel series are great; her SF also seems to be populated with rather strong female characters.

  50. 50
    Vasha

    There’s a list at TV Tropes under “Feminist Fantasy”; use it with a bit of caution, since this is a wiki, after all.

  51. 51
    A.P. Fergus

    I’m not seeing it mentioned already, so I’m going to give a shout out to Ursula K. LeGuin and the Earthsea cycle. It starts out as a typical, masculine coming of age story (the young wizard-in-training does something foolish and must fix his mistake), but progresses towards an amazing feminist conclusion.

    The first thee books were published decades before the ultimate finale, so you actually get to see the feminist evolution of the author herself. Moreover, it actually does finish after five short novels and some short stories. My biggest objection to fantasy novel series is that they go on forever until the author dies (I’m looking at you Wheel of Time… and Dune).

    I do recommend them, as well as the other books by LeGuin if you’re into science fiction. Earthsea preemptively ruined Harry Potter for me. Also, the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries –does not– exist!

  52. 52
    rivqa

    LOVE Dragon Age, especially 2… also the romance options that aren’t hetero-only.

  53. 53
    Steve

    That is a spoiler.

  54. 54
    Ouabache

    I think The Hunger Games is considered Science Fiction and not Fantasy but… Katniss Everdeen is one of the best feminist characters I have ever read. She’s a strong teenager who took over the lead of her family when her father died. She became a good hunter to provide for them. She made many sacrifices for her mother and sister. She’s a bit angsty but more in the “how will my family survive” rather than “OMG, what if he doesn’t like me?” way. I haven’t gotten to the third book so I don’t know how the author wraps up her story but so far it doesn’t look like it will be an “… they lived happily ever after and had lots of babies” ending.

  55. 55
    Cale

    Just another vote for the Kushiel series by Carey~ Not only is the main protagonist of the trilogy an incredible female character, but the Dauphine really comes into her own as an amazing character, and then on the evil side I don’t think you could ask for a woman more incredible than Melisandre.

  56. 56
    Smikey

    I’ve read the next couple books, but even sticking to the first one alone, I want to defend Sansa. She’s a really interesting character, and I think she’s sympathetic. She’s not a feminist herself, obviously, but she’s learning to be. Sansa is a classical example of false consciousness, and she quickly falls into an abusive situation because that’s how she’s been socialized: women are supposed to be demure and forgiving, so she’ll forgive every one of Joffrey’s faults until it’s far too late for her.

    I’ll need to finish the books to say more, but while Sansa is hugely frustrating, I think she’s understandable, given her upbringing and socialization. That stuff is really hard to overcome, especially in an absolute monarchy where you spend your childhood being told that if you’re sweet and pretty and feminine, you get to be queen. Arya’s younger, and she didn’t get that treatment, and was more able to rebel. Sansa in good circumstances was rewarded every time she performed the most simpering version of femininity, and punished when she didn’t, but it was okay as long as her parents looked out for her. When she was pushed into a hostile situation, she played out the script she had been reading her whole life, only it wasn’t going to work any more.

  57. 57
    Smikey

    The Harry Potter epilogue is pretty much only about babies, I think. What are Harry and Ron doing afterwards? I don’t remember at all. I think Hermione might be the Wizarding Attorney General at the point or something.

    The books do a pretty good job with women (McGonagal, Molly Weasley, even Bellatrix LeStrange on Team Evil) but a much worse job with girls after Hermione. Most of those supporting background characters are boys; Ginny and Cho are little more than quiet love interests, and the rest barely get any lines.

    The exception is Luna, who is probably fascinating enough to deserve her own spinoff. But I wonder: as skeptics, what are we to make of a character who lives in a world where magic is real but still believes in outlandish crap no serious person could accept?

  58. 58
    Steve

    Jen,

    Interesting point about Eowyn: I always saw her change of heart as a kind of shell-shock from the horrors of War and her contact with the Morgul-Lord; I also took her attachment to Faramir as a function of her recovery from the same. I’ll have to consider this next time I read the series.

    I think that Tolkien endeavored to make many of his female characters strong, especially in the Silmarillion. However, many of the characters (males as well) do show as a bit two-dimensional in light of his goal of creating a specific kind of mythology.
    If you haven’t already, read Tolkien’s “Unfinished Tales” esp. Aldarion and Erendis. This is a tragic tale that has a VERY stong female protagonist.

    Terry Goodkind is a misogynist.

    All of the other comments people have made about rape is his books are true, but let me add that I find the scenes particularly offensive in that, each time, the character makes this ridiculous choice to endure the rape, as long as she can get back to her man.

    He’s also a terrible writer who repeats/rephrases every paragraph, every third paragraph. All of the books are poorly paced, and should only have been about 550 pages long (where was the editor?) Some of his characters are quite interesting, and he does make on or two scathing critiques on religion in general, but stay away if you don’t like to be insulted by petty, vapid writers.

    *takes soapbox shoes off*

  59. 59
    Smikey

    I should also add: look into China Mieville, for not just feminist fantasy but real leftist fantasy. Iron Council and Perdido Street Station in particular, and especially the character of Derkhan Blueday. Female, queer, editor of an underground newspaper, and wanted seditionist. And totally awesome.

  60. 60
    Izzy Leonard

    Dragonriders of Pern. Read them.

  61. 61
    Almulhida

    I haven’t read Fire. I’m honestly afraid to, I loved Graceling so much I’m convinced that nothing else she’s written will live up to the same standard, heh.

  62. 62
    miller

    When I was very young, I really liked Dealing with Dragons by Patricia Wrede. I did not realize it at the time, but it was quite feminist. The protagonist is a princess who is dissatisfied with the silly role princesses are given in life. She spends much of the book chasing away princes trying to rescue her from her dragon.

  63. 63
    drlake

    I third this recommendation. I didn’t think of it as feminist when I was reading it, but I think you’ll like what you read since it is an awesome series in general, without clear gender stereotypes being expressed.

  64. 64
    kenchambers

    Steven Brust has a couple of series set in a the world of Dragaera – The Vlad Taltos series and the Khaavren Romances. There are two primary races, humans and dragaerans. The dragaerans are the dominant species in the area that most of the action takes place and for the most part the sexes are equal. The current emperor is female. Many of the most powerful (and interesting) characters are female. The gods are a mix of male and female.

    Both series are fun reads and I’d be interested to know if others see them as being as gender balanced as I think they are.

  65. 65
    drlake

    Seconded. I love the Paksennarion series, and the various sci-fi books are pretty good too.

  66. 66
    jkmiami89

    Tamora Pierce’s books are wonderful.

  67. 67
    Noelley B

    Lois McMaster Bujold is tied with Heinlein for the most Hugos. She is absolutely amazing. Her background in history lends a unique weight to her stories. For fantasy, start with The Curse of Chalion to get to Paladin of Souls, which I feel is really her crown jewel. The Spirit Ring and The Sharing Knife are also excellent. Her science fiction series Vorkosigan is also amazing. Start with Cordelia’s Honor there.

    Octavia Butler was a groundbreakingly freaky science fiction author who is sadly no longer alive. Her only fantasy novel that I know of is Fledgling, which is very good but a weird place to start in her bibliography. Her Lilith’s Brood sci fi series, which starts with Dawn, would be a good place to start. Parable of the Sower also has a strong female lead, and is religious in a sort of humanism for the apocalypse sort of way.

    Elizabeth Moon, a Marine Vet, writes pretty amazing science fiction as well as fantasy. Though pretty much everything she writes is great, I recommend Remnant Population in particular, as the strong female lead in question is an old lady.

    Leigh Richards and Melanie Rawn have both written book specifically dealing with Matriarchal Societies. Though I think Richard’s Califia’s Daughters is the better novel, it’s a post apocolyptic scifi, while Rawn’s The Ruins of Ambrai is actually fantasy, with magic and everything.

    Downvote for The Wheel of Time and The Sword of Truth series both. The Wheel of Time was great for the first few books, but by the time you get up to ten or so you have two weeks of plot taking over a thousand pages, and the Sword of Truth gets all sadomasochistic and “some lady insisted that her husband hire a lazy bum to work at his factory and the entire city’s economy collapsed,” Socialism is evil and Capitalism is the best ever. It’s like Ayn Rand, Tolkien, and the Marquis de Sade had a threesome and she doesn’t know who’s the father.

  68. 68
    SaraDee

    I put up with it all with increasing trepidation until the fulfillment of the ‘Kahlan will betray him in her own blood’ prophesy. I had been sticking it out, because it was an actual fantasy novel with more than one female character with personality traits… but they all of course loooooved the main guy, and were all gorgeous… but for some reason, that was just the part where I just. couldn’t. take. any. more.

  69. 69
    drlake

    Some I haven’t seen mentioned so far…

    Amanda Downum’s The Necromancer trilogy. I’ve only read the first two, but most of the key characters are women, the societies described are not particularly patriarchal, and the characters come across as real people.

    If you want to give some sci-fi a shot, you might want to give David Weber’s Honor Harrington series a look. Good characters with depth including a variety of important male and female characters in critical roles and positions of power, and the dominant social models described are very gender equal or, where they are patriarchies, are portrayed as less advanced/civilized.

  70. 70
    Joseph Caine

    Paper Bag Princess is a classic feminist fantasy story… perfect for all ages. Robert Munsch did it first… just Saiyan.

  71. 71
    Jim Murrey

    I’m really surprised that no one mentioned the Darkover books by Marion Zimmer Bradley. You should especially read the “Saga of the Renunciates” trilogy. They feature a society of women called the Free Amazons. Those titles are: The Shattered Chain, Thendara House, and City of Sorcery.

  72. 72
    anat

    There’s a lot more to gender relations in Discworld that the two books you mentioned. Some of it shows up as small comments – for example in The Light Fantastic Pratchett has a woman-warrior who became such because of lack of other exciting alternatives for females – and Pratchett uses this character to ridicule the portrayal of this type of character in fantasy (why can’t they be dressed sensibly for fighting?). Or the educational philosophy of The Quirm School for Young Ladies. Some in themes that show up along several books – compare the respective political and social roles of witches vs wizards (the wizards look down on witches, but the witches are more useful to have on one’s side, I think). There’s a character like Sacharissa Cripslock – a woman trying to make a life for herself but also needs to conform to standards of ‘ladylike’ behavior and interests.

    An example of am evolving trend in gender relations is the dwarf society – the traditional dwarfs are a single-gender society (there being no external display of gender and no sex-specific tasks aside from the reproductive ones), but some city-dwelling female dwarfs adopt an equivalent of human feminine appearance. This is a major threat to dwarf society and a source of tension between traditional and modern dwarfs. (OTOH if I’m reading Unseen Academicals correctly, the logical conclusion to this development is that among dwarfs gender becomes optional, and dwarfs of either sex can choose which gender they want to be.)

    Another insightful dealing with gender involves a golem who became identified as female. Though perhaps its a story about how gender is perceived by a being who derives its identity from the written word.

    And of course there are several central female characters with story-arcs covering several books. Susan, Tiffany Aching, the adult witches. As well as the theme of ‘Women who Organize’ – showing the influence the wives have on the work of their more noticeable husbands. Lady Sybil is shown mostly as awife and mother, but she has quite an influence both on her husband and on the Patrician.

  73. 73
    julian

    I feel the same way.

    When I first started watching the series (yeah call me whatever for not reading the books like a true geek) I used some words to describe her I’m not proud of. Watched all 10 episodes thinking the same (Ha! Stupid bitch got slapped!) and sat down to read a linked piece to a woman who managed to get out of Quiverfull.

    Guess what shocking realization I had about 2 paras in?

    Yeah…

    Girl (yes, girl. If I remember right she hasn’t even had her first period by the time she’s married to Douchebag VIII) doesn’t need anyone’s hate. She’s every bit the victim as anyone else in the series.

  74. 74
    mr dan

    I’m not really familiar with any of the series you mentioned, but I do agree with your interpretations. I wonder if you’re a fan of Doctor Who and whether the Doctor’s (usually female) companions meet your standard of a strong but imperfect (i.e. normal, 3D) female character. Particularly in the new series; Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Donna Noble and Amy Pond. Certainly lots to be said for all in each direction.

  75. 75
    sunnybook3

    I was beginning to think I was the only one who was going to recommend Pern! I must say, you have excellent taste! :)

  76. 76
    bitguru

    The Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin is pretty good.
    I hadn’t realized there are five of them now, with the
    sixth due next year. I think I have read the first three.

  77. 77
    julian

    Well why wouldn’t they? After all, he was sooo tall with such broad shoulders. And, oh! the ruggedness… *swoons* I think I may have a man crush.

    *retch*

  78. 78
    Liz

    I didn’t go through all of the comments, so apologies if it is listed a bunch of times. I really like Sharon Shinn’s Truth Tellers series. The stories are not as epic as what you listed, but I really enjoyed her variety of important female characters.

  79. 79
    Tifu

    “the society in the Dragon Age video games see women and men equally”

    The game says that, but when I started as a male slum elf, [spoilers for intro chapter]some lord came along and demanded his right of first night with my wife and took her and her friends away to the castle without much fuss. I can’t see that happening in a world of equality =/

  80. 80
    npyundt

    I LOVE a song of ice and fire. I think it is great how all the characters develop over the course of the series. Not one is left unchanged, except possibly Tyrion who is so lovably cynical to begin with. I think Cersei is a great example of a strong female except that she is unable to recognize her own flaws and behaves in ways that doesn’t further feminism within the fictional world portrayed (I don’t know about her effect on real life). Arya is definitely my favorite character, and I can’t wait for her to start taking revenge on everyone who screwed up her life. Sansa does an almost 180 and becomes likable.

    Brienne of Tarth is bar none the best feminist character in the series. She is portrayed as the exact opposite of a super model, plain, well muscled, driven. She is literally a knight in shining armor. She is constantly told to go home and raise a family but fights for the right to fight all the same. Yet she is shown as being completely capable of falling in love with a man despite most men in her world being misogynistic.

    Oh and Jamie Lannister becomes likable, best morality lesson ever.

    For other series,

    I am disappointed that no one mentioned R. A. Salvator and his books about Drizzt Do’Urden. The female lead character Cattie-Brie is portrayed as a strong willed warrior, capable of taking care of her self. Not to mention the entire Drow (dark elf) society being a matriarchal tyranny. A mix of female rulers and warriors are common in all of his books.

    I couldn’t finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series because it was too slow paced, but it always bothered me that the main character, a male, had at least three wives that I remember. Why is it that almost always when multiple spouses are portrayed it’s a man with multiple wives. I actually preferred Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series because it was like a faster paced version of the Wheel of Time series, yet it had at least one instance of a fictional culture where women have multiple husbands, showed the leading male as being interested in monogamy (despite multiple marriages) and an endless parade of strong willed female roles. The only problem is the author ended up throwing away the series in the last couple books, like he got tired of writing them, and then started a TV series based on the books called Wizards First Rule. That TV series was garbage by the way.

    Terry Pratchett has some of the best equality I have seen written. Women are soldiers, cops, barbarians, wizards (and witches which are portrayed as wizards with intelligence), rulers, and of course as the love interest although always as a strong willed love interest. The best character is Sam Vime’s wife Sybil, as the stereotypical home maker with the non-stereotypical strength comparable to Mrs. Weasley of the Harry Potter series. When Sybil gets angry she causes the various villains severe pain.

    It should be noted that Terry Pratchett has books for young adults that exhibit strong young women as leading roles. Also Good Omens is fantastic for showing a strong woman.

    Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy, is centered on the idea of a young female necromancer, with out any significant supporting male roles. Definitely read these.

    My favorite female author is Margaret Weis, not that what she writes is particularly feminist, but she very often has leading female protagonists and antagonists. When Margaret Weis co-authors with Tracy Hickman, they create the most original worlds I have ever read. The Deathgate Cycle is so inventive, though there aren’t any female characters that really span the whole series, it’s a definite read.

    TL;DR

    Read Terry Pratchett, best equality, turns all tropes and archetypes on their head, funniest sense of humor and satire, promotes skeptical thought in a huge way, and one sample quote (I encourage everyone to look up more):

    “Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn’t believing. It’s where belief stops, because it isn’t needed any more.” – Terry Pratchett, Pyramids

    P.S. for clarity’s sake, I am a man

  81. 81
    Tifu

    Though everything else yes, and the female armour actually looks like armour, which is a step above many other games in the genre =D

  82. 82
    npyundt

    I liked Mary Gentle’s Grunts!

  83. 83
    npyundt

    I was excited about Once Upon a Time. Then when I watched it I was infuriated by the “don’t be skeptical just believe in my all knowing magical book” message it keeps forcing. Keep clapping all you like, even if fairies existed in reality, Tinkerbell would still be dead.

  84. 84
    npyundt

    If you haven’t you should check out Dragon Age: Redemption, a web series. It’s the work of Felicia Day. Also The Guild web series by Felicia Day is fantastic.

  85. 85
    Christopher

    Second (3rd? 4th? whatever) the rec’s on McMaster Bujold (my all time fave), Disc World, Le Guin, and Pern books (and a shout out to whoever mentioned the “Dealing With Dragons” books by Patricia C Wrede, those are fantastic too).

    But I wanted to mention specifically one I hadn’t seen mentioned yet. Dianna Wynn Jones does great slightly off kilter fantasy (Sort of like Pratchett, but less tongue in cheek). Both Howl’s Moving Castle and Dark Lord of Derkholm do interesting takes on the Fantasy genre, including the place of women in fantasy worlds.

  86. 86
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    All the silly little women must be so grateful to you for authoritatively setting them straight, and for being graced by the insight of one so wise and, um, authoritative, and, um, wise, that you don’t even need to bother reading the post or comments to see whether your comments are remotely topical or anything other than smug, entitled stupid boilerplate.

  87. 87
    Jim Baerg

    To go in the slightly different direction of webcomics: There is the ‘gaslamp fantasy’ Girl Genius.

    In the story so far put online, the protagonist Agatha Heterodyne has grown from a very non-confident student to a very confident leader. Several of the secondary charactors are strong willed women.

  88. 88
    Nicola

    You NEED to get into Tamora Pierce. I first read her when I was ten, I’m 24 now, and I’m still obsessed. She’s got a range of strong female characters and villains throughout the series. While the earliest of her writing does tend to be quite dismissive of pretty women, she’s developed since then and is amazing.

    While Song of the Lioness was her first book, and I think with the best characters (my favourite is Alanna), it’s not particularly well written. Check out Protector of the Small, which is much better written.

    Also – hers is also a medieval europe / fantasy hybrid, but women have a lot more power and control.

  89. 89
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Continuing with the young adults theme, I’m not sure how well it stands up in retrospect (for one thing, from my recollection it doesn’t do much to decouple “strong” from “tomboy” in female characterization), but I really enjoyed Bruce Coville’s The Dragonslayers as a teenager, and found it a really formative influence as far as my fondness for strong female characters – the main character is a princess whose hand in marriage has been promised to whoever slays the dragon threatening the land, and decides to sneak out and do it herself, reasoning that this will force her parents to refrain from interfering in her deciding the course of her own life.

  90. 90
    Veljko

    I agree completely. I only mentioned the two books specifically because they are primarily about a gender issue. All the other ones include some amount of commentary, at least insofar as they feature unique and complex female characters, but are focused on some other theme.

    Regarding Unseen Academicals, I believe you are correct. Considering that traditionally dwarfs give no indication of their gender (except, obviously, in very private circumstances), there seems to be no way to detect cases where dwarfs showing femininity aren’t biologically female. That being said, I don’t think we’ve seen an example. Or rather, we’ve seen no evidence that we’ve seen an example.

  91. 91
    npyundt

    I missed a couple things on my first read through,

    Jen, you watched the TV series Game of Thrones and then read the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire. You are my hero. One of my best friends watched the series then skipped to book two because he thought he knew how book one went (so angry). I think Game of Thrones is the best live action adaption I have ever seen of a fantasy series.

    Also, in the end of Harry Potter, it wasn’t JUST Hermione who had raised a family but every other major character in the book. So it wasn’t that bad. It was more like saying eventually everyone settles down / fighting is for the young.

  92. 92
    Christopher

    I hate to double post, but this is really a separate set of thoughts from my other post.

    I’m doing the same thing you are Jen, reading the Song of Ice and Fire books after seeing the series. And I pretty much agree with you on all the points you hit. I’m glad to see people saying they like where Sansa ends up story wise, because I actually almost felt bad hating her. Clearly she’s a female character with a *lot* of growing to do.

    I also want to expand on my own recommendation of Lois McMaster Bujold’s books (it can be hard to get me to shut up about her, honestly). She has three main series (with a few off-shoot novels and short stories): the Vorkosigan series (which is Sci-Fi); the Chalion books; and the Sharing Knife trilogy.

    Vorkosigan primarily focuses on a male character, but embodies a remarkable number of feminist ideals nonetheless. The series is chock full of strong female characters from all walks of life, but the most notable are Cordelia (the protagonist’s mother who get’s her own book “Cordelia’s Honor.” which is an excellent starting point) and Ekaterin (who shows up at the end of the series).

    The Chalion books are pretty classic fantasy, with royalty and curses and a fascinating pantheon of gods and goddesses. The protagonist of the first book is male, but the real hero of the story is the princess he serves, and she’s a fantastic strong female character, with real flaws and the ability to use strength intelligently in a world that stacks the deck against her and women in general. The series only gets better in Paladin of Souls, with a middle aged, half-crazy female protagonist going on a pilgrimage that turns into high adventure. And I’m totally selling it short.

    Finally, the Sharing Knife trilogy does something slightly different. The lead isn’t a Strong Female Character (TM) who is strong because she’s just like all the male protagonists of other stories (which frankly, a lot even the most admirable examples mentioned in this thread suffer from, if only just a little bit). Instead, the lead is so much the antithesis of that kind of character that I’m a little afraid I’ll put my foot in my mouth trying to explain why she *is* a strong character.

  93. 93
    matthewsmith

    Yes, discover as much of LeGuin as you can. I especially love the philosophical short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”.

  94. 94
    npyundt

    As a question to anyone, does anyone know of a story with a female version of the older mentor archetype? You know, the Fizban/Zifnab/Paladine (Weis and Hickman), Dumbledore(Rowling), Gandalf (Tolkin), Lu-Tze (Pratchett). The character that always leaves you wondering why they don’t just solve all the problems rather than getting younger less experienced individuals involved. I feel there is a significant missed opportunity here.

  95. 95
    Anna

    First off, I agree with the suggestion of Tamora …I kinda want to defriend Davies. He said something negative about Atlas Shrugged and I wondered to myself “well, what books/movies does he like?” so I went to his page to look. And his activities section has stuff like Tutor Mentor, the Irish language, and Gaeltacht Minnesota. Then the movies section has stuff like Dark Harbor and Six Ways to Sunday. These are things he almost certainly had to copy from my page. I mean, he’s got lots of other stuff listed too, and stuff that I like/do that are less unusual, but… Am I right in finding this weird and creepy?Pierce. Both her worlds (Tortall and Emelan) are great and feature kickass heroines and interesting stories about struggles for gender equality within a wider context. I happen to like Tortall more, and my particular favorite of those heroines is Aly (She’s trained as a spy!). If you like to read in order, you’ll have to start with “Alanna: the First Adventure” which is, as a previous commenter mentioned, weaker than the later books. But if you are like me and can pick up mid series, just pick which ever heroine sounds most interesting to you and start with her first book. I happen to like the way she deals with GLBT issues, particularly in the latest heroine’s stories (Beka, the lady cop already mentioned by another commenter), but the Alanna books are more awkward with it. Try not to let that scare you off initially.

    It’s a bit less high fantasy, but the Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop is AMAZING. It deals with a matriarchal society that is slowly being warped by evil- especially mistrust and harm between the genders. Trigger warning: it deals with some really horrific stuff. Slavery (sexual and otherwise), rape, and child abuse happen along with a lot of violence. I’ve heard that some don’t like the heroine, as well, but I’m not quite sure why.

    I know you watch True Blood, so you might find urban fantasy interesting, including the Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries. However, first person narration by the main character is common, so you have to keep in mind the prejudices if the character and not confuse them with the author or the underlying message. But urban fantasy has lots of kick butt heroines.

  96. 96
    anat

    That being said, I don’t think we’ve seen an example. Or rather, we’ve seen no evidence that we’ve seen an example.

    Since as you say, one can only know under private circumstances there are only 2 characters who know for certain. :)

  97. 97
    anat

    Granny Weatherwax is that to Tiffany.

  98. 98
    mythusmage

    Just to be different, Feast of Souls by C.S. Friedman. It’s the story of Kamala the thief and whore who becomes a magister; and learns the price of power.

    She is young, strong willed, and concerned with the source of her power and how it affects others. It is the story of how she joins a dark and disquieting assemblage. I’m not done with it yet, after which I have two more books to assay. So far I find the situations interesting, and Kamala intriguing

  99. 99
    laughingmadly

    I also wanted to throw in a vote for Jacqueline Carey! I enjoyed the Kushiel (first) trilogy better than the second, and I’ve only read the first book in the third story line (which takes place long after the first two) but it was shaping up to be great as well. Lots of strong women with a variety of different motivations and loyalties, and each with diverse flaws and talents ;) but one should be aware there is a lot of sex, specifically S&M. It is handled well, intrinsic to the plot and doesn’t get too romance novely, not that I think this is a crowd of prudes, but I’m just saying I would think twice before recommending these books to my mother… but I really liked them!

  100. 100
    Dianne

    In fairness to Rowlings, the epilogue of the Harry Potter series doesn’t mention anyone’s career. It’s all about the main characters saying goodbye to their children as they go off to school. There’s some implication that Harry is still acting as the guardian against all things evil, but otherwise I don’t remember a mention of anyone’s accomplishments apart from having had some babies.

    Arwen’s character gets fleshed out a bit in the appendix to LOTR, although never really obtains a full 2, much less 3, dimensions. I generally just go all 21st century condescending when reading Tolkien and call him “not bad for his time”.

    I’ve taken a dislike to books which refer to female characters explicitly as “strong” unless they’re talking about how much the character can bench press. Especially since most of the “strong women” in popular literature end up spending the whole book getting rescued. Also there are far too many books with A strong female character (TM) and no other women around. Failure to pass the Bechdel test is particularly pathetic when talking about a full length novel.

  101. 101
    dalekitchens

    I’d like to preface my comment by saying that I am a male and a relative newcomer to the feminist movement. Please be gentle if I’m way off with my observations.

    I don’t agree with your observations as they pertain to the Harry Potter books. The fact that Hermione chose to marry and have kids is not indicative of anti feminism in my opinion, because having kids is what the overwhelming majority of humans adults do. I don’t think it is right for you to say that choosing motherhood equates to not being a strong female. I know I would never consider my own mother a weak person, so maybe that’s bias on my part.

    I’d also like to point out that Mrs. Weasley was by no stretch of the imagination a weak person, and definitely deserves mention in this context. In the final book she did what nobody else had been able to do up til then, kill Bellatrix Lestrange. Bellatrix also being a very strong women in that she was the de facto second in command under Voldemort.

    Please let me know if I’m way off base on this.

  102. 102
    Tony

    I recommend a whole bunch of Pratchett books. Standouts include any with the witches and also any with Death’s granddaughter, Susan.

  103. 103
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    The fact that Hermione chose to marry and have kids is not indicative of anti feminism in my opinion, because having kids is what the overwhelming majority of humans adults do. I don’t think it is right for you to say that choosing motherhood equates to not being a strong female. I know I would never consider my own mother a weak person, so maybe that’s bias on my part.

    The issue isn’t that becoming a mother equates to not being a strong female, but rather that there is a well-established cultural tendency to define women’s worth and success purely in terms of family, and that ceasing to pay attention to anything else except a character becoming a mother plays into this in a very unfortunate way. It’s fairly common in works to present motherhood as practically a demotion, and that’s what’s being objected to.

  104. 104
    elaine

    let me correct you.

    ..it is something to aspire to if you want to.

    just because YOU can’t doesn’t mean WE should HAVE to.

  105. 105
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Damnit. I was going to link to the TVTropes page for “Female Success is Family” but it seems to have been subject to some Edioting and merged with an orthogonal but related page about female characters being defined in relation to “more important” male characters. >.>

  106. 106
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    …yeah, there’s that, too.

  107. 107
    npyundt

    True but most of the time Granny Weatherwax is a main protagonist and force of nature rather than a hands off mentor. She is my favorite witch portrayed anywhere.

  108. 108
    lordshipmayhem

    drlake @ 47 mentioned David Weber’s Honor Harrington series. Weber has also done fantasy.

    Oath of Swords and The War God’s Own are set in a fantasy world with any number of beings, from dwarfs and elves to the tall and muscular Hradani. The Hradani are especially quite feminist in many respects – judges and ambassadors are almost exclusively women, and the wise tribal leader includes women in his tribal council. The hero of the series, a Hradani named Bahzell Bahnakson, gets into trouble by rescuing a castle maid from a rape – and it is then pointed out that with the Hradani, a rape victim is not considered “damaged goods”, but the rapist is the one held in utter contempt.

    One of the most likeable characters is a female Champion of the War God. Champions are rare, and being a female makes her rarer still, but she is accepted (at least, eventually) for what and whom she is. She’s trained by a guild of female warriors.

  109. 109
    badandfierce

    Game of Thrones is good times! And Martin’s always had much more of a flair for solid female characters than a lot of his dudethor contemporaries. I always enjoy his women. My favorite writers for female characters in fantasy are mostly female, though (unsurprisingly enough), especially in books that go out of their way to explore gender and sexuality. My favorites right now are Catherynne Valente, Lynn Flewelling, N.K. Jemisin, and Tanya Huff, but there are many others.

    (Ahem, for book reviews of female authors and sci-fi/fantasy with a feminist perspective on top, you can check me out here. http://booksforwaifs.wordpress.com/)

  110. 110
    lizfrost

    Love, love, love Octavia Butler. Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents are good, but her series beginning with Wild Seed, I just loved. And of course, Lilith’s Brood (aka Xenogenesis) was fantastic.

  111. 111
    Patrick

    I have to second Catherynne Valente. Just read the In the Night Garden books. There are two of them, they’re not long, and they’re amazing. They may seem gimmicky at first, but just go along for the ride.

    At least for this male reader, they accomplished something that I feel feminism often utterly fails at- they encouraged me to see things from the very different, very female perspective of their characters. And they subtly yet brutally explain that the solution to women being oppressed isn’t for a bunch of big guys with swords to come in and chop up the oppressors. The problem is a lot more deep than that solution allows.

    I consider them my two favorite books.

    Beyond that, fantasy is a wasteland if you’re looking for feminist works. When its about male power fantasies, the women are chattel. When its about female power fantasies, they’re Mary Sues. When its about culture and nobody’s power fantasy, women are prostitutes or rape victims.

  112. 112
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Most of Bioware’s games are at least decent about that, actually. At least the ones I’ve played.

  113. 113
    rivqa

    Hear hear!

  114. 114
    rivqa

    Well yes, but if you play as a female city elf you get taken and fight your way out. So that’s not typical either.

  115. 115
    nanoboy

    In A Song of Ice and Fire, Cersei and Daenerys make an interesting comparison and contrast. Both are high-born women who come into power. Cersei recognizes and hates the place of (noble) women in society. She wants power, and her desire for power is blocked by her gender. However, she only wants power for its own sake, and she really doesn’t care about any agenda outside of herself. Daenerys, on the other hand, doesn’t really crave power except as a means of accomplishing an evolving agenda of compassion and justice. She wants to right the wrongs of the world, and she is all too eager to use her power for the betterment of whoever she can, even if there are frequent and terrible unforeseen consequences. She achieved her power almost accidentally, really fulfilling the fate of her bloodline more than anything.

    This story wouldn’t be possible without the pseudo-European feudalism and ingrained misogyny. While there is certainly a place for egalitarian fantasy, books that examine where we came from (even if it is superficially fantasy) have a value.

  116. 116
    Cieyrin

    Yes, that series was a nice tetralogy. The fourth book focuses more on her son but that has more to do with where the plot went and she loses no dimensions for having done so, at least from my recollection, but it’s been some time since I read it.
    Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine is another young adult Cinderella story that has a twist with the fairly godmother’s blessing being more of a curse, in that Ella would be obedient and the story is focused on her growth of overcoming such restrictions.
    Something a bit more mature is the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher. The main character is a man but the plot follows several characters with their own plots and goals, men and women. Relationships develop but characters are by no means defined by it, if anything it expands upon their character.

  117. 117
    Jacob Schmidt

    I remember there being a Greek play that satirized the patriarchal culture Athens had (Sparta was way worse, IIRC). It did so by having women in the role of dominant gender. That might be an interesting play to read through, assuming someone can find a translation.

  118. 118
    Maria

    Everything I would recommend is here already (with the possible exception of Carrie Vaughn’s fun “Kitty and the Midnight Hour” series). I just want to thank Jen for voicing this common frustration. I’ve bookmarked this page for future book purchases.

  119. 119
    yellowsubmarine

    I don’t want to spoil the books you haven’t read, so all I have to say is Arya is the best and the strong female characters get more interesting across the board. Especially Arya. Who is the best.

  120. 120
    Erp

    Sparta was different and what we have about it was written by their enemies. However it seems that the elite men were so militarized (mostly to keep the majority helots terrified) that the elite women managed most of the economy. I’m not sure which play you are thinking of but it might be Lysistrata where the women of Greece go on a sex strike to stop the war.

  121. 121
    Mary

    I’m a horror novel fan and a Harry Potter fan. But really, reading fantasy as a feminist is no where near as hard as reading horror as a feminist.

  122. 122
    hipopotamo

    I would definitely go with the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. Her female characters are complex, independent and smart. She even paints sexism, homophobia and other vices of human nature as bad customs from which the Pern inhabitants eventually freed themselves

    Enjoy this series… oh! And read the books in the order they were published, that’s the best way to enjoy them

  123. 123
    The Ys

    Most of what I would suggest has already been suggested (especially Brust and the Vlad Taltos series!), but here’s a few that were missed:

    David Eddings: the Belgariad (80s fantasy, probably OOP), 5-book series. He wrote a follow-up series called the Mallorean, but it kinda rehashes a similar plot line. He and his wife wrote two stand-alone books (Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress) about the two guiding figures in the series. The Belgariad is pretty juvenile stylistically, but the books improve as Eddings works his way through the story arc.

    Terry Brooks: the Shannara books. Some of them are meh, but a few have some pretty spectacular female characters in them. Wren Ohmsford is amazing.

    L.E. Modesitt Jr: the Recluce series. Has some amazing female characters and a matriarchal country, and has a pretty cool matriarchal history referenced throughout.

    As for the multiple spouse thing – if you’re into sci fi as well as fantasy, check out Melissa Scott’s Empress of Earth trilogy. The protagonist (Silence Leigh) is wonderfully complex, and you get to see her grow as a character throughout the series. Along the way, you run headfirst into societal rules that set women as inferior, and you get to see Silence’s growth as a feminist as well. She also gets two husbands. At the same time! The series sort of combines sci fi with fantasy as there are magi who use an odd sort of alchemy to enable space travel. It’s a neat read.

  124. 124
    StJason

    I can only honestly approve of the first two books of the Paks series. The “Deed” of the series title was so underwhelming that it more or less killed the series for me.

  125. 125
    wigwam

    Ugh. What a nasty POS you are. To abuse me for being a woman who happens to be not able to carry a child to term? Wow you are sick indeed. Go ahead with your filth I will not read it.

  126. 126
    The Ys

    Forgot to add that Eddings wrote a couple of other series as well – the Elenium and the Tamuli. The protagonist for both is a knight named Sparhawk, but the ‘wise and mystical elder’ throughout is a tiny little older woman named Sephrenia.

  127. 127
    Erp

    I would agree with the recommendations on Bujold and Pratchett; Cordelia shopping and Lady Sybil keeping swamp dragons (or Susan Sto Helit dealing with bogeymen) are not to be forgotten.

    I would also second the recommendation on P. C. Hodgell. She is a slow writer (6 books in just short of 30 years), but, Jame is a character not to be forgotten (and she has a cat). Start with God Stalk (or whatever omnibus that includes it). There is an excerpt on the net.

  128. 128
    Sam Izenman

    Has no one read any Madeleine L’Engle? A Wrinkle in Time (1962), A Wind in the Door (1973), and A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978) were favorites of mine as a teenager. Meg Murry is young, awkward, brilliant and strange. She comes to rescue of all the male characters, but she’s complex and very, very human in the process. She’s odd, disliked at school, has body issues—all things that make her a very accessible and realistic teenage girl.
    She is then portrayed as an adult and a mother in the four books that followed (which I have not read). I have read that Polly, Meg’s daughter & the protagonist in those books, has been portrayed as headstrong and more secure with herself, perhaps (and I’m quoting the reviews here) as a reflection of the changing ways by which women were perceived by the mid 1980s.

    I was also a huge fan of Ursula K LeGuin, but she has already been mentioned. I really appreciated that the first four books in the Earthsea series alternated main characters (The Tombs of Atuan and Tehanu feature very strong female leads).

  129. 129
    Sam Izenman

    On a non-fantasy note, if you have not read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, etc), I highly recommend them. Amazing female characters. Amazing books all around.

  130. 130
    The Ys

    YES! I completely blanked on L’Engle. I read those when I was in high school and really enjoyed them.

  131. 131
    Nutmeg

    Most of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books have strong female characters, even if a larger portion of the story is from the viewpoint of the male characters. The Fionavar books, starting with The Summer Tree, would be a good place to start. If you like Tolkien you’ll probably enjoy these. My favourites are the Sarantine Mosaic books.

    The other author I haven’t seen on this list yet is Robin McKinley. If you can tolerate a book involving vampires, Sunshine is the book I re-read when I’m having a bad week. When I was about 9, I also loved McKinley’s books The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown.

    And if you want to go back to young adult books, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series is excellent, although the later books are a bit weak. It’s more science fiction, where wizardry is governed by precise rules. The books are mostly from the perspective of teenage Nita, who is smart and unpopular and brave.

  132. 132
    StJason

    In a way, I don’t believe in ‘feminist fantasy’. There is good writing, and then there is crummy writing. Whether the characters are cardboard barbarians in loin cloths or tragic queens in hostile lands is irrelevant to the genre.

    That said, here are a few of my favorites:

    Glen Cook – Okay, lots of boys in his stories, but they are real. Uncomfortably so. The girls in his books also are. I recommend the Black Company series (The great evil of the land is a woman, who later joins the group. Their arch rival is another female who easily trades blows and manipulates the company.
    His new series Instrumentalities of the Night is also fantastic writing. Again, mostly boys, but the couple of females are rock-solid.

    Kate Elliot – Her Crown of Stars series is fantastic, and full of brilliant women who aren’t just “boys in chainmail brassiere”. The world is also a matriarchy.. and that somehow doesn’t change the endless political maneuverings and plotting going on…
    She also wrote the excellent Crossroads series. Which has a much more eastern culture. A very good fantasy series.

    Something much lighter is Elizabeth Kerner’s Tales of Lanen Kaeler. Talking dragons and a special girl who can hear them. It sounds pretty fluffy, but the story is quite strong, and Lanen is a good female character.

    The Dragonsbane series by Barbera Hambly is absolutely fantastic. It takes the old “noble knight rides off and slays the dragon’ trope and turns it on it’s head. The dragonslayer in question is bookish and unathletic. His wife is a hedge witch of limited power. Both have seen their best years slip by. When the kingdom is threatened again by a dragon, there is no other choice to turn to. Of course, nothing goes like it should. Growing older, parenthood, legacies… if you took the dragon away, this would be serious literature.

    Jennifer Robinson’s Tiger & Del series is another example of excellent literature. Dealing with topics of manhood/masculinity (Apparently, Robinson has been accused of being a psuedonym…), growing up, and yes, lots of magic and swordfights.

  133. 133
    dasunt

    I just want to point out that A Song of Ice and Fire has three prequel novellas:

    - The Hedge Knight (1998)
    - The Sworn Sword (2003)
    - The Mystery Knight (2010)

    They all were published in fantasy anthologies. The anthologies were later split up into separate volumes for paperback versions, so be careful to get the right one.

    I don’t recall many strong female characters in them, but the forth novella is supposed to be published soon, and it’s about the women of Winterfell.

    I’d recommend them.

  134. 134
    Michael Swanson)

    …and I can’t really comment on Arwen’s later development, having never read the books…

    The movies gave Arwen something to do. In Tolkien’s books she’s nothing but an object of perfect, virginal desire. Everything cool you see her do in the movies was done in the books by a male elf named Glorfindel that was written out of the films. Arwen just sits around doting on Aragorn and her father in the books. Galadriel, on the other hand, is a fairly powerful woman who bristled at male authority in her younger days/eons.

  135. 135
    Joe Dickinson

    OK, I’m not sure what counts as fantasy, but Dorothy in the OZ series seems to me to be a strong character pretty much before we even had a concept of feminism.

  136. 136
    Adele

    If you have time to play an insanely massive computer game, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim is pretty excellent on a gender front. You choose the gender of your character (unfortunately there are only two options) and they only thing it changes, game-wise, is the pronouns that other characters use toward you. You can marry male or female characters (gay marriage is legal in Skyrim). The named NPCs are a good mix of male a female, with female blacksmiths, rulers and bandit leaders. The non-named NPCs (like town guards, bandits, etc) seem to be spawned at a roughly 50/50 ratio, from what I can tell. There is little or no gendered violence.

    Otherwise, definitely back other people’s suggestions of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. The witches are some of my favourite female characters ever. Nanny Ogg is a work of genius. She is lewd, lusty and the overbearing mother/grandmother to a huge brood of children (her husbands, RIP, do not feature in the story at all). One of my favourite Nanny Ogg moments is when she checks under her bed to make sure that no strange man is hiding under it (there wasn’t much chance at her age, but she could always hope).

    Sansa’s story arc in A Song of Ice and Fire is, without spoilers, about the tearing down of the fantasy she has been fed. She becomes one of the most interesting characters in the books, and will likely grow up to do great things. If you are feeling unpleasant thoughts toward her, remember that in the books she is a child. She has led a very sheltered life. In addition, it’s likely that her slavish acquiescence to the demands made of her is the only thing that saves her life. While she may seem on the face of it a deeply anti-feminist character in Game of Thrones, she is actually making the best choices she can, given the options available to her.

  137. 137
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I’m pretty sure based on pattern recognition from the sneering sexism and oblivious mansplaining that they assumed you were male.

    Which I continue to, given that what you’re attempting here is a pretty routine troll misdirection tactic and the people who engage in this kind of “Shut up and have babies” stuff are overwhelmingly male.

    Although, I do believe that you “won’t read it” considering how you didn’t read any of the fucking thread before posting either.

  138. 138
    grumblekitty

    I love C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy. I don’t know why, but I never did get around to trying out any other books by her. I’ll have to give these a looking-at.

  139. 139
    Wayne

    I love The Sword of Truth Series by Terry Goodkind. Kahlan is a superb female lead along with many other strong women throughout the series. It also helps that all of the ideals in the book can be viewed from an atheist perspective. LOVE LOVE LOVE.

  140. 140
    Kristin

    I´m gonna sugest the Empire Trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts.

    It was the first fantasy novel I read with a female protagonist and I have re-read them many times since.

    Still a favorite of mine.

  141. 141
    Annaj

    It’s been quite a while since I’ve read the Oz books, but it seems worth pointing out that one of the earliest sequels involves the city being overrun with an army of women who make the men do all the baby care, etc. AND we get the female ruler of Oz, Ozma. Look up the romance section on her Wikipedia page- There are little hints of a lesbian relationship with Dorthy!

  142. 142
    Dave Wragg

    Malazan Empire by Steven Erikson has many strong female characters, women are soldiers alongside men and they are just as vicious in every way, there are Gods and acendants of terrible power both male and female. Look for Adjunct Tavore, Empress Laseen, Detoran, Korlat, Tattersail, Picker, Blend, Felisin, Feather witch the list goes on forever.

  143. 143
    Shaun

    The Elvenbane novels by Mercedes Lackey and Andre Norton are big on feminism. The protagonist (and she’s even the Chosen One) is a woman, and secondary females characters get chances to act heroically and bravely. That said, there are elements of the baby-making machine view (the highest reward for a male gladiator is a cast-off from the Master’s harem, but the slave-keeping elf high society is explicitly portrayed as evilevilevil).

    I’d like to toss my hat into the ring for Lois McMaster Bujold as well. Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan (start with the two-book volume Cordelia’s Honor) is strong nearly to the point of being a force of nature, and Miles has a thing, very nearly a fetish, for strong, competent and heroic women. Bujold also has the Chalion series (Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and Hallowed Hunt) that feature women protagonists.

  144. 144
    Shaun

    Oh, and Brandon Sanderson! Vin from the Mistborn series is one of my favorite characters in fantasy. Warbreaker features a pair of princesses who aren’t afraid of kicking a patriarchy’s ass. His treatment of Robert Jordan’s lamentable female characters in The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight is also a treat.

  145. 145
    GemmaM

    Gail Carson Levine is fun in general — ‘The Two Princesses of Bamarre’ is another one with an excellent central female character if you’re looking for the sort of fantasy where you get to watch the hero have adventures, overcome fear, save the vulnerable and find love along the way, sort of thing.

  146. 146
    Jura Nilson

    Along with Terry Pratchett (I’ve always been a particular fan of the werewolf Sergeant Angua), I’d also recommend Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles. Although only the first two books, ‘The Name of the Wind’ and ‘The Wise Man’s Fear’, have been published, they’re definitely worth it for a fairly subtle treatment of women in academia. Although the main characters are male, Denna and ‘Demon’ Devi are particularly fascinating female characters.

  147. 147
    Jenny Draper

    No-one so far seems to have recommended the Isavalta trilogy by Sarah Zettel, beginning with the book “A Sorcerer’s Treason”. There’s also “Daughter of the Forest” by Juliet Marillier.

    Although I gave up Game of Thrones after the second book (too much pot boiling for me), what annoyed me from a feminist point of view is that he’s always going on about the whores. All the bloody time. There don’t seem to be any lower-class women who haven’t been paid for sex.

    Still, there are some great female characters to come- Brienne of Tarth, and Theon’s sister, for example.

  148. 148
    Tamsin

    Adding to the Tamora Pierce recommendations! I actually prefer her Circle of Magic universe in terms of worldbuilding. I remember being fairly blown away by how gender-egalitarian some of the societies in those books are – not that sexism doesn’t exist, but it’s portrayed differently. Also it has less of a medieval Eurpoean feel – it’s more multicultural and a significant proportion of the cast are people of colour. But all of her books are worth reading.

  149. 149
    Jenny Draper

    The problem I had with the Parasol Protectorate is that the steampunk is so conspicuous. It’s waving its hands around, saying, “LOOK AT THE BRASS! LOOK AT THE DRESSES!” I felt the same way about the female lead- as if the writer was saying, “LOOK HOW STRONG AND INDEPENDENT SHE IS!!!”, so the protagonist ended up feeling like she had come from somewhere completely different to the rest of the characters.

  150. 150
    Quincyme

    My tuppence:
    Daughter of the Empire series by Raymond Feist and Janny Wurtz.
    Karen Miller’s Godspeak series (crazed, but definitely strong).
    Trudi Cavanan’s Black Magician trilogy.
    Alison Croggon’s Pellinor series.

  151. 151
    Jenny Draper

    Oh, and they might be kids’ books, but the Artemis Fowl series all the way. From the way Eoin Colfer writes his female protagonist, you’d swear he was gender-blind.

  152. 152
    Maarja

    Concerning the “Wheel of Time” series, there actually were some women with multiple men as well, more specifically the Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah (they weren’t married, but it was at least hinted that many of them had sexual relationships with their Warders). And as for the main character, the women actually forced him to marry them all, so I wouldn’t consider them powerless in that regard. It’s kind of hard for me to figure out what the author’s real meaning behind creating the strong female characters was – on one hand, they are really strong and capable of leading, but on the other hand, they often seem quite irrational and led by their emotions… And he gives too much attention to their dresses. :) Still, since he also portrays the male caracters as sometimes quite irrational, maybe it’s simply a general caracteristic for all people and not something he holds against women…

  153. 153
    benjaminsa

    Tor has a lovely article on a similar topic From Werewolf Hunters to Rights Activists: Updating Fairy Tale Heroines, a taste:

    Two of my favorite young adult fairy tale retellings both offer fantastic examples of updated heroines. In Jackson Pearce’s Sisters Red, Little Red Riding Hood is split into two sisters who spend their nights hunting werewolves with a vengeance. There’s no need for a woodsman coming by to save these sisters from any big bad wolves. However, this is an extreme example, and weaponry and battle wounds aren’t necessary to make the leap from damsel-in-distress to damsel-in-charge. Take Ella, the witty advocate for giant’s rights in Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted. This delightful take on Cinderella does feature a prince, and a charming one at that, but in the end it’s Ella who proves to be perfectly capable of improving her own life.

  154. 154
    Jenny Draper

    McGonagall kicks ass.

    And as for Luna, I think any “crazy beliefs” sins on the part of the Harry Potter series are balanced out by the mocking Trelawney got throughout the entire series.

  155. 155
    Tamsin

    Adding to recommendations for Tamora Pierce, Lois McMaster Bujold, Terry Pratchett, Diane Duane and Diana Wynne Jones. All are excellent writers who are generally feminist-friendly if not actively feminist themselves.
    I also recommend Sherwood Smith, a lesser-known fantasy author whose real strength, IMO, is characterisation. She wrote a quartet of YA fantasy books about a girl called Wren (Wren to the Rescue, Wren’s Quest, Wren’s War andWren Journeymage) which I absolutely adore; Wren remains one of my favourite characters of all time and I have reread the books multiple times since I was eight or so. Smith has also recently published some fantasy books aimed at adults: Inda, The Fox, King’s Shield and Treason’s Shore which I have not read but have been told are very good and deal with sex, gender and sexuality in interesting ways, as well as having a strong ensemble cast.
    Another YA fantasy author whose works I recommend is Shannon Hale. Her books are not explicitly feminist, but she has written some great heroines with good character arcs. She has also co-written a pair of children’s graphic novels called Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack which are steampunk-ish Wild West re-imaginings of the fairytales Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk, and manage to be both hilarious and feminist-friendly.

  156. 156
    benjaminsa

    Collection from the “Let’s Mock Terry Goodkind” threads at westeros.org, absolutely brilliant, The Goodkind Parodies.

  157. 157
    Riayn

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Elizabeth Moon’s The Deeds of Paksenarrion. If you like your fantasy Tolkien style but with strong female characters, then this is the fantasy series for you. If you like sci-fi, then I recommend Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta War series.

    Also Robin McKinley is a fantastic fantasy writer who also writes great female characters. Her book Sunshine is one of the best vampire stories I have had the pleasure of reading and her The Blue Sword is just divine. She also writes great books based on well-known fairy tales like Beauty & the Beast and Sleeping Beauty.

  158. 158
    docslacker

    Wow, this thread has taken off! Sorry if this has been mentioned before…

    1) You might want to check out the Geek Girls’ Book Club (#GGBC)

    2) And I enjoy the books by Robin McKinley, especially “The Blue Sword.” She has great female characters, who are strong and fight against male stereotypes.

  159. 159
    Elena

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabriel

    Try Gareth Nix’s Old Kingdom Trilogy. It’s young adult fiction, but I think it’s still appropriate for actual adults.

    It seems to me that young adult fantasy has more strong female protagonists than other genres. Maybe because the audience is mostly young women? (It is, right?)

  160. 160
    Eva @Mostraum Viewpoint

    I absolutely agree when it comes to the Pern series, lots of strong women around (and not all of them good either).

    When it comes to Harry Potter I agree on some, but not all of your points. Yes, Hermione is the strongest female character throughout the series, but there are definitely other strong women/girls around in the resistance against Voldemort, both at school and in the order of the phoenix. When it comes to the portrayal of our young protagonists as adults they are all presented as parents only. Nothing is mentioned about Hermiones career, but neither is anyone elses career. The only exception (as far as I can remember) is Neville Longbottom who is teaching at Hogwarts.

  161. 161
    jose

    Everybody must read this.

  162. 162
    Jake

    I feel like the common problem with epic fantasies and their characters is the ending. No matter what level of power character A, B, C, or D is built up to, there’s an end, and then the author creates a persona that that character is supposed to default to. With LOTR the men defaulted to protective ruler vs. active warrior (oh yeah, BIG difference), and the women defaulted to babymaking. The thing that determines just how serious a character is and just how strong their convictions are, I feel, ends up being where they end up once the epic is over, and a lot of series tend to disappoint with that. In terms of characters’ gender roles, class roles, etc., the ending ends up showing where the author’s preconceptions are. I think Eowyn is a perfect example of this. And people can argue that it’s culturally accurate for whatever society they’re mimicking, but at a certain point, the fiction of history starts to adapt to the progress of reality (probably why new religious reboots pop up every now and again).

  163. 163
    Jadehawk

    I can’t really comment on Arwen’s later development, having never read the books

    Arwen doesn’t have any development in the books whatsoever. There, she exists solely for the purpose of getting married.

  164. 164
    Jadehawk

    oh, and: not relevant possibly to the specific stories mentioned here, but the way this usually goes in fiction is that a woman who was defined by some fight or struggle finds a dude who is also defined by some fight or stuggle; once the dude’s struggle/fight is taken care of, they marry and settle down and spawn. with the woman’s struggle somehow evaporating into thin air, rather than being resolved or her continuing to fight for her cause.

    or, similarly, they’re both some sort of royalty who are fighting for their people, and then they marry and he takes over the fighting and she spawns.

    it’s disgusting and disgustingly common, so that I rarely trust a writer who introduces a heroic female character not to dilute her down to “companion”

  165. 165
    Sharon C

    Also Monstrous Regiment, which may be my favorite Discworld standalone.

  166. 166
    Sharon C

    I second Honor Harrington for sci-fi. It often reads like Weber first thought up interesting characters with rich backstories… and then assigned genders later.

  167. 167
    Chiara

    Also Stormqueen! and Hawkmistress! in that cicle have quite badass female protagonist. I think I never read a book in wicht he heroin has to solve first also “real” problem like how to deal with menstruation and similar.
    The saga of the Black Trillium too has mostly female heroins that are not only about family and marriage (it describes 3 sisters that are in fact very different…one wants to marry and have children, one wants to fight and another one wants to study, I really liked it)

  168. 168
    Kevin, Youhao Huo Mao

    Not to plug my own (future) novels but here goes:

    Of the four main female characters in the first book I’ve written (not yet published,) we have

    1) a human princess tired of being the solution to her country’s problems,
    2) a gnollen musketeer and cook who’s dragged along because of destiny,
    3) an avian school teacher who can summon the Sentinels, and
    4) a caprine assassin who’s torn between loyalty and threat of death.

    (The gnollen are a race of three-foot tall dog-men. Both avian and caprine are a race called the sem, which are human-animal hybrids: avian being human-bird, caprine being human-goat.)

    The princess is proud, strong-willed, and gets dragged kicking and screaming into the story when two bandits threaten her life. She doesn’t fight well, but knows that applying heavy rock to a thick skull means unconciousness. She does fall for one of the male characters, but she doesn’t stop being her same strong-willed self.

    The musketeer is of a heavier build than the rest of the tribe. She’s rough, sharp, and crude. She’s trained extensively with the use of a weapon that no other species knows or can use well (in a world with magic, who needs guns?) She goes actually to protect the main character, seeing herself as his bodyguard.

    The school teacher is very motherly, always ready to help and comfort. If no one else fits the bill, she’s the damsel in distress – seeing as she’s captured, rescued, and wanders along merely to stay safe. Her summoning ability is, perhaps, the strongest magic in the storyline, but she hates using it because she doesn’t like to harm others.

    The assassin is your kickass, more or less. She knows her way around a human body – precise points to kill, incapacitate, or cause incredible pain. She’s quiet and shy, but when she’s doing her job, she’s an incredibly efficient killer. Her nature is loyal, but she’s working for the bad guy because he has her in his grip – she fails to do his work, she dies.

    Besides these four there are women who run the gamut from queen to porter, old woman to little girl. None of them are as fleshed out character-wise, but they’ve all got their own strengths and personalities (I’m basically writing a brief biography of every character in the story, even if they’re known as “the guard”.) The four main female characters are, in my opinion, some of the best I’ve written. Took a lot of work to get them to that point, but I feel that they’re strong without being a trope.

    The thing that puts my stories separate is that there’s no determining strength solely by gender (race is a touchy subject though – people are prejudiced against black folk.) The strongest person in the world who isn’t a god is a woman – the High Priestess of Creation. (And Creation is also a woman.) Women hold official positions in government – at the time of the story there are three women heading the small cities in the kingdom of Tavsere, and thus are the voices of their people. There are women who are heroes, women who are villains. Legends speak of great women who have fought and died to save their lands.

    Whenever I publish my book, I hope that I’ll adequately be presenting a “Feminist Fantasy.” If not, if I fail to achieve that, I hope I’m told precisely where the failings are.

  169. 169
    Stephan

    Have you read any of the Wheel of Time series? That series has a bunch of lead, strong, female characters. I’d actually love to hear your opinion on those female characters, actually.

    They are strong, yet imperfect. Some are good, some are evil. Some, you have no idea where their allegiances lie. There are also weird moments when they have to stop being strong and independent and it shows how that is awkward, and it has them being leaders of the world, controlling the fate of time itself.

    There are 13 books in the series, and the last 14th book is due out next year.

    It looks like trevorvandenboer beat me to this with the first comment, but I figured I’d post this anyways. You should give it a go, I’m not a huge fantasy fan (more of a sci fi guy) but this series was too good for me to pass up, fantasy or not.

    On more thing. They are pretty good on audio book too. I find they make my commute quite entertaining.

  170. 170
    Kevin, Youhao Huo Mao

    Looking at this I think the only point I’d get a B grade in would be that the female characters kind of play second fiddle to the male characters. Of course that reason is largely because two of the three males are arrogant and won’t let others take center stage – one thinks he’s the best thing since sliced bread, the other is used to twenty years of hero worship being passed his way. Throughout the story, I quickly drag their pride through the gutter so hard that it hurts.

  171. 171
    Svlad Cjelli

    The live action series is entertaining. Richard’s signature attack is a jumping pelvic thrust, as if drawn by Rob Liefeld. Sometimes he even climbs onto a rock like Adam West’s Batman kicking.

  172. 172
    Svlad Cjelli

    There are even magically transgendered people. Though an insane abomination.

  173. 173
    Svlad Cjelli

    There’s also a horny old man living in his head.

  174. 174
    Svlad Cjelli

    Not that it matters. I’m quite able to run. Many can’t even walk. Awkward or hostile feelings over that is hard to avoid completely, because yeah, kind of sucks a lot. Still doesn’t mean I have to let them hit me with a whip at a race track until I “appreciate my gifts”.

  175. 175
    Lori

    Try _The Gate to Women’s Country_ by Sheri Tepper. Or any of her books, she’s terrific. It’s a post-apocalyptic, feminist fantasy. A bit over the top maybe but a good read.

    Also _Cyteen_ by C.J. Cherryh, it’s SF, but still great for a portrayal of a strong woman. I think all of her books set in that world are great.

    For modern fantasy I recommend Tim Power’s _Last Call_.

    And check out the World Fantasy Awards for some possibilities.

  176. 176
    Lori

    I second that! She’s a terrific writer.

  177. 177
    Predator Handshake

    Jen is in graduate school! Don’t try to sabotage her grades with the possibility of being sucked into Skyrim.

  178. 178
    JoeBuddha

    Probably out of my depth here, but I remember reading Jo Clayton’s Diadem series with relish; it’s been a long time since I read it, but I was so impressed I named my daughter after the protagonist (Jessica).

  179. 179
    rabbitambulance

    Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy is brilliant, and Vin, the protagonist, is a great example of a strong, yet flawed and intensely compelling, female character.

  180. 180
    Brian Westley

    I’ll recommend the manga and anime Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA:Brotherhood is the anime version that follows the manga) for strong female characters.

  181. 181
    Broggly

    I see Cersei as a bit like that evil bastard son from King Lear whose name I’ve forgotten. They’re both sympathetic villains because much of their anger and bitterness is due to the prejudice against them (as a woman or bastard) preventing them from taking what they see as their rightful position as their father’s heir. Of course, King Lear didn’t have any twincest and Glouchester’s second son wasn’t Richard III, but then again the Yorks never had giant magical wolves and Scots didn’t ride battle mammoths.

  182. 182
    Ratshag

    As a fantasy character meself, I’s always enjoyed books with strong, interestin’, believable characters, both mens and wimmenz. Addin’ me voice ta thems recommendin’ more Song of Ice and Fire (is more good characters fer ta come), Ursala K LeGuinn, Terry Pratchett, and Anne McAffrey. And a deep, bellowin’ orcish shout-out fer Lois Mcmaster Bujold. Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls done be excellent books with wonderfuls female characters. Also strongly strongly recommends her novella The Mountains of Mourning – is SF, but is all in the backcountry with no electricity and ridin’ horses.

    Sunmthin’ completely different be Walter Jon Williams’ Metropolitan and City On Fire. Looks like SF on the surface, what with a world-spanning city and helicopters and 1960ish computers such, but is really a fantasy story with magic and wizards and demons. Two damn fascinatin’ wimmenz in that one.

  183. 183
    Zuche

    “The Spirit Ring” was a wonderful story.

  184. 184
    Simon B

    Thirding (or fourth-ing?) Lynn Flewelling. The first book in the Tamir series is ‘The Bone Doll’s Twin’ and the whole series deals with gender and identity issues. Her other series starts with ‘Luck in the Shadows’. I really enjoyed both. Her books feature queer (and arguably trans or genderqueer) main characters, awesome women kicking ass, a city that’s basically fine with same-sex relationships. Good stuff all around!

  185. 185
    Konekon1nj4

    I too love the Wheel of Time but be warned it’s incredibly long! If you like world building to an insane degree then it’s just right for you but those who want their story to move along at a fast pace are probably better off to pass it over.

    Brandon Sanderson is finishing the series (as others have said) and pretty much everything I have read by him is great with female characters. I had a chance to talk to him about it at a book signing and he said that it was very important to him to write women well and that he worked at it by taking writing classes and having the women he was close to read his work and give criticism. So yay for a male author listening to women!

    I also raise a vote for Jacquelyn Carey! The first Kushiel series is excellent and her Santa Olivia book is fabulous.

    As for GOT…I loved the first book but every consecutive book has gone further and further down hill for me. How he uses rape and other tactics to subjugate the women characters puts me off the series. And your point of –

    “but when you have a series that’s basically medieval Europe placed on an imaginary map, I’m not sure what you expect. It’s inspired by history, where woman were treated that poorly”

    -is definitely appropo and I think that is what GRRM is trying to do it just didn’t succeed for me personally especially as the series continued.
    However I have seen writing where that has been done and it seemed more successful, the Firethorn novel by Sarah Micklem was written in that gritty style and I loved it. I’ve only read the first one but it was well worth the read!

  186. 186
    Bean

    Lots of great suggestions here! Terry Pratchett is of course great for writing stories for and sbout strong women. But my favourite author is Peter S. Beagle. He wrote the novel and screenplay for The Last Unicorn which many people my age watched as children – over and over and over again… But he has also written a number of other fantasy novels and short stories many of which have an unapologetically strong female protagonist. The Inkeeper’s Song is a great example. It’s out of print now but you can still find used copies on abebooks.com and conlan press. I always thought Lal-Khamsin Khamsolal deserved her own television show.

  187. 187
    Blueaussi

    Ugh! I have been known to slog through some really bad books because I hate not finishing a book I’ve started. I made it halfway through “Wizard’s First Rule” before flinging it across the room in disgust. Then I carefully put it in the trash so it couldn’t be inflicted on some other innocent.

    I mean, a character banned fire…banned fire! in a pre-industrial society! What the fuckity fuck?

    And from what I gather, it’s gotten worse, not better.

  188. 188
    LoriWatts

    I’ve only read the first book, but I still have high hopes for Sansa. Many of us have had to learn that the appeasement and compliance which we are taught to exhibit are not the best strategies.
    My thoughts while reading were not unlike yours: since the authors of this and other similar fantasy fiction are not hewing to a strictly historical version of Medieval Europe, which reality presumably contained no dragons or walking dead, why do they feel they need to hew to the historical detail of women’s second class status?

  189. 189
    Blueaussi

    I forth it, and would add in Ian C. Esslemont’s books that take place in the same world.

    Night of Knives
    Return of the Crimson Guard
    Stonewielder

  190. 190
    Blueaussi

    Arwen was a trophy wife.

  191. 191
    Blueaussi

    Girl Genius is wonderful! Yes, yes, go quickly and read it! Everyone, go at once!

  192. 192
    erinwinslow

    “How many more fantasy novels do we need that perfectly mirror medieval Europe, with women having the roles of wives and nothing more?”

    Actually medieval Europe offered more than you might think! http://books.google.se/books/about/The_age_of_abbesses_and_queens.html?id=ZREpAAAAYAAJ&redir_esc=y

    The historian who wrote this has written a series of books set in early medieval scandinavia and France that include a number of strong female characters, some of them historical. Unfortunately, the series hasn’t been translated to English.

  193. 193
    The Pint

    I can see your viewpoint on that, and I’d agree if it weren’t for the fact that the audience knows that the book is right and it’s not just the kid insisting the fairy tales are real with no evidence. As it stands, after the mid-season finale, it’s without a doubt that the fairy tales are real now. I think the “get out of jail free” card for things like this is that the show lays out the presence of magic as “real” from the get-go, rather than leaving it an ambiguous matter of “faith” in the unseen. But that’s just my opinion.

    It is refreshing, however, to see a show with some strong female leads.

  194. 194
    jose

    Characters don’t have to be necessarily strong, but interesting and relevant. Ugarte from Casablanca is a weasel with a short role, yet he’s way more interesting than that dull, flat hero Laszlo.

  195. 195
    The Pint

    Well, technically speaking, the main character in the 2nd book, Jovah’s Angel, is the faith proponent, while her love interest is the skeptic atheist. And the heroine of the Alleluia Files ends up going from atheist to fuzzy “I think there’s something because I felt it.” But the female characters are on the whole very strongly written and they’re an enjoyable series of books for sure. After going back and (finally) getting to read Dragonsflight, it’s really interesting to see McCaffrey’s influence on writers like Shinn – I could swear that Lessa and F’lar from Dragonsflight are almost direct templates for Rachel and Gabriel in Archangel, and both series are about civilizations that grew from human settlers and chart said civilizations’ rediscoveries of lost tech and the effects of modernization on societies heavily rooted in following tradition.

  196. 196
    Mango

    Really? I’m halfway through the last book, and Sansa still makes me vitriolic.

  197. 197
    Yoav

    Add to that that in the book describing the colonization they refer to the bad old days before humanity have advanced and united as the age of religions.

  198. 198
    The Pint

    Oh, Marillier’s Sevenwaters books are quite lovely, and all feature lead female protagonists – and each of them are different. I don’t know if you’ve read the rest of the series past Daughter of the Forest, but they’re quite good. DotF is followed by Son of the Shadows, featuring Sorcha’s daughter, Liadan, and Child of the Prophecy follows Liadan’s niece (she’s my favorite of the protagnists). Those 3 books make up the first story arc and are probably the strongest. The second story arc follows Sorcha’s grandchildren and is good, but the story isn’t quite as strong – I’m withholding judgement until the arc is finished, not quite sure where she’s going with it yet.

  199. 199
    Chas, PE SE

    Have you tried Lois McMaster Bujold’s fantasy series? I confess to having not read ‘em, because I do not care for fantasy (It’s SCIENCE fiction, dang it!) but her Barryar series has a whole bunch of strong female characters (Miles at one point frets about his pechant for heavily-armed girlfriends)I must believe that LMcM-B put good female characters into the Sharing Knife series.

  200. 200
    The Pint

    Maybe I missed it, but surprised no one’s mentioned Guy Gavriel Kay. His books consistently feature strong and complex female characters, often in positions of power. The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy is where most people start out, but as much as I love it, for my money, the stand-alones Tigana and A Song for Arbonne are his strongest novels. The latter’s plot is actually quite strong in its feminist themes, not the least of which is the plot centering around 2 countries: Arbonne, a woman-ruled country, being threatened by a neighboring kingdom, ostensibly because its ruling priesthood finds Arbonne’s Goddess-worship abhorrent, but more likely because its ruler covets Arbonne’s fertile lands.

  201. 201
    capt_carl

    Dragon Age is also heavily influenced by Martin’s world, there’s tons of websites and such paralleling the two worlds to eerie detail.

  202. 202
    Mango

    In case he didn’t make it obvious, Vin (the primary protagonist of the Mistborn trilogy) is female. There’s also another character whose portrayal throughout most of the final book of the trilogy would, I think, be vastly amusing to our hostess. That said, it wouldn’t be honest to claim that the cast isn’t predominantly male, or that males don’t, in general, dominate society.

  203. 203
    Andy

    Does Cassandra just toss Paris off the walls of Troy, thus sparing everyone the whole Trojan War clusterfuck? I always wondered why she was SUCH an ineffectual character.

  204. 204
    Zuche

    “Girl Genius” is a magnificently over-the-top series, in which everyone is a crazy, brilliant resident of Id. The novelization of the first two collections is also quite good, making minor tweaks that make both Zulenna and Krosp more sympathetic, as well as fleshing out some of the earlier Jaegermonsters to be more than wacky comic relief.

    I can’t wait to see how the Foglios will portray Queen Albia when she finally makes an appearance.

  205. 205
    Andy

    Ah, the epic war of Objectivist bullshit against the Communist/Religious Straw men. So very, very bad.

  206. 206
    Color Me Atheist

    THANK YOU! I LOVE the Hunger Games. I’m planning on rereading the series (or at least the first book) before the movie comes out.

  207. 207
    Zuche

    Some, including Terry Pratchett, would say that Nanny Ogg is that to everyone from Granny Weatherwax on down. She has her own version of Lu Tze’s Rule #1, one she’s never needed to advertise.

  208. 208
    Marc

    It is not fantasy but for strong female characters in a medieval setting I recommend “Pillars of the Earth” by Follett. It was made into a very good mini-series too.

  209. 209
    Zuche

    His work was mentioned, but he certainly deserves a second and third recommendation.

  210. 210
    Andy

    Eowyn is badass as she slays the Lord of the Nazgul, but then she loses all her fighting spirit to marry Faramir and have babies.

    Why wouldn’t she retire? She just killed presumably the second most powerful evil thing in the world, and by the time she recovers from her wounds #1 has already bought it, so she hangs up her helm and retires to spend more time with her family.

  211. 211
    Hibernia86

    So you assume by what they said, they must be “mansplaining” and must be a man and you will continue to assume that despite the fact that the person said that they were a woman who couldn’t have children? Isn’t that a little bit…sexist of you…

  212. 212
    Mike

    I second Jennifer Roberson’s Sword-Dancer (Tiger and Del) series. While the protagonist is a man, the first book is very much about him coming to terms with Del, a woman who is his equal. And while she never fully takes over as the hero, she’s never made out to be weak or dependent. Plus, you know, lots of sword fighting.

  213. 213
    ButchKitties

    I agree with most of your examples, but I disagree with your interpretation of Hermione’s ending. The focus was on all three main characters as parents, not just Hermione.

    Harry Potter is, among other things, an orphan story. What better way to end a series about an orphan than to show him (and his friends) getting to have the family life he was denied as a child?

  214. 214
    Kate from Iowa

    All that saiit still really pissed me off that Glorfindel got written out so that Liv Tyler could deliver cobbled together lines in that asthmatic wheeze of hers just so that people wouldn’t complain about a lack of women in the story.

  215. 215
    Kate from Iowa

    I’m glad to see these here, I was going to see if they were mentioned anywhere before adding my own comment at the end.

    The Captal’s Tower, sadly, seems nowhere on the horizon. I have seen a few comments attributed to Rawn that seem to indicate that she’s got no actual interest in finishing the Ambrai series, which I hope isn’t at all true. I want to know what happens next…*whine*

    Although I am still a little pissed about Alin Ostin.

  216. 216
    Zuche

    I’ll add a recommendation for Susan Dexter’s Warhorse of Estragon series. The second book was almost entirely about a woman’s efforts to get her harvest in on time, handled so that it was more entertaining than most authors manage with an “action” scene.

    R.A. MacAvoy is another favourite, though mainly for Tea with the Black Dragon. The female lead never quite falls into the category of either Mary Sue or damsel in distress for reasons that merit having this book receive more attention.

    Finally, I’m going to suggest “The Brown Girl in the Ring”, a fantasy taking place in the not so distant future. It’s not epic fantasy, nor is it quite science fiction. The characters are believably stupid, as is what growth the female lead gets. (Her love interest’s growth owes too much to a heavier hand, I’m afraid.) It may be that too much of it revolves around romance and family for it to be good feminist fare, but then so much of what goes wrong for the characters is shown to result from how such things were overemphasized by them.

  217. 217
    julian

    Not really. Most of the women who post here, Hibernia86, wouldn’t be so hatefully dismissive of a woman who doesn’t wish to exist solely for the purpose of procreation.

    That coupled with how obviously trolling the proclamation of being a woman was, there’s more than enough reason to dismiss and ignore the fuckwit troll. If it had anything to actually say, a proper discussion may have happened.

    Not to mention that particular rebuke is one many patronizing men default to and have targeted Ms. McCreight with in the past on this blog.

    Really there’s no reason to give a troll any level of compassion or concern.

  218. 218
    Shaun

    Yes, most of the rest of the cast is male, but I don’t ever remember it feeling like they were treating Vin differently because she was female. In addition, all of the “fluffy” women in the cast aren’t as one-dimensional as they might initially appear.

  219. 219
    Jannie

    Since you’re in grad school, I would recommend the short story anthology series edited by Esther Friesner, starting with “Chicks in Chainmail”. Fair warning, there will be puns. . .

  220. 220
    lillabertalan

    The Ichresta trilogy by Rick McGowan. Start here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/ichresta-volume-1/13524706

    I’m not sure if women should be anything but mothers though. I mean, there’s already a bunch of evidence that most women aren’t good enough for an active combat role, so the only other opportunity left is making babies. Not that I wanted making babies, but that’s because I shouldn’t have been born to begin with.

  221. 221
    Kate from Iowa

    And again I get beaten to what I wished to add. Yes, Aerin is…well, pretty awesome, given that she believes in and goes after what everyone else either dismissed as myth or wild fantasies throught her story. And Harry is no less so for contributing greatly to what eventually becomes a peace treaty between the two lands she finds herself caught between. Wasn’t there supposed to be a third book at some point, about Gonturan (the magic sword that connects the two heroines is female herself.) I don’t remember, and my copy of The Hero and the Crown is so tattered that I have decided to leave it alone until I get my Kindle.

    As far as Diane Duane…I think the real problem with the latter of the Young Wizards series is that it needs a bit of a break. Nita, Kit and Dairine are growing up and the the problems are getting more adult and more complicated, but they also seem to be treading water in so many ways. While I do appreciate the (spoiler, if you’re interested) various examinations of the differing ways of dealing (or not dealing) with the deaths of loved ones…she seems to have hit a wall with some of the characters. Which hasn’t kept me from keeping up with the books, since I’ve been reading them from the time I was a part of the intended audience!

  222. 222
    beezlebubby

    Jen, I highly recommend you check out some Tom Robbins. I recommend “Skinny Legs and All” and “Jitterbug Perfume”. His female protags are fantastic. Even when there’s a female character who isn’t the main protag, they’re strong, independent, and in charge of their sexuality. Both books I mention have fantasy components.

  223. 223
    J.M. Pierce

    You want a strong female character? Have you read the Earth’s Children series? Clan of the Cave Bear is the first book. Also, there are two different series of books that deal with the settling of Australia. The Australian Series of 12 books by William Stuart Long/Vivian Stuart read more like historical novels…..Aaron Fletcher also has written a series of books about the settling of the outback of Australia…I loved reading all of these series of books, and they abound with strong women who keep it together during incredibly tough times.

  224. 224
    Alyson Miers

    *raises hand timidly*

    I’m the author of a new novel that involves some fantasy elements, overtly secular and feminist themes, and female characters who range from the sympathetic-but-imperfect to the seriously-complicated. Is it okay if I wave it around in here?

  225. 225
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    So you assume by what they said, they must be “mansplaining” and must be a man and you will continue to assume that despite the fact that the person said that they were a woman who couldn’t have children? Isn’t that a little bit…sexist of you…

    “Mansplaining” describes the behavior of showing up to comment on opinions women have expressed on issues of concern either to them specifically or to women generally, trivializing and ignoring the opinions expressed and the reasoning behind them, and smugly making a pronouncement, of varying topicality, to the effect of “Aww, the little woman thinks she knows something; how cute! See, here’s how things ACTUALLY are…” It’s a diagnostic behavior of obliviously privileged men who have an unquestioned and usually unconscious belief that they automatically speak with authority because they are MEN, and therefore know much better than the silly little women, whose opinions are treated as irrelevant at best and embarrassing at worst. (Mansplaining is a subclass of what I have dubbed “condesplaining,” which also includes similar dynamics across other privilege gaps, such gaps of racial privilege, economic privilege, or my favorite, neurotypical privilege.) Although on occasion the mansplaining is by a woman who nevertheless believes presenting the “party line” of particular male culture lends authority to her arguments, the vast majority of mansplainers are male, and the behavior is inherently sexist. (The fact that the label of “mansplainer” is occasionally abused to dismiss arguments that do not presume authority drawn from unexamined male privilege but simply run counter to the consensus in a feminist community is likely to be brought up, is real, is actually embarrassing, but is irrelevant here). The “Oh, shut up, there’s nothing wrong with having babies and everyone who can should” thing was smug, dismissive, and irrelevant to Jen’s actual point in the few respects in which it wasn’t simply Not Even Wrong, with undertones of tired old sexist tropes about what women’s acceptable relation to motherhood and acceptable goals and feelings in general are. Strike 1.

    Second, AFTER having been rebuked for mansplaining and for the sexist assumptions about what women should care about or aspire to, wigwam claimed to be a woman, misrepresented an offhanded comment as “abuse because I can’t conceive,” and ignored everything else said. The last is a smoking gun that wigwam is a troll. Let me reiterate that the self-identification as a woman came only after being called out for mansplaining and sexism; nothing that even hinted at it was said earlier. Claiming to be a member of a marginalized group or otherwise a victim in order to put those calling the troll out on the defensive is a very common trolling tactic. Needless to say, such claims are almost never true; they’re simply deployed for underhanded rhetorical advantage. Strike 2. (Additionally, this particular kind of trolling behavior is far more prevalent with young males, given the way they’re socialized and the implications of privilege for their psychological development). Strike 2.97.

    So, no, it’s not like that at all. Otherwise I’d be assuming you’re male for willfully misreading my comments and making unjustifiably uncharitable assumptions about my motives and reasoning, too.

  226. 226
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I think the word “strong” is used in a few different senses that are kind of conflated in these discussions – one of which is basically “well-written and interesting with coherent, realistic motivations and a reasonable, effectual role in the plot.”

  227. 227
    Jim Murrey

    The “Chicks in Chainmail” series was awesome. I particularly like the book “Turn the Other Chick”. She’s also edited a great antholgy series called “Supernatural Suburbia”.

  228. 228
    lorigb

    Like other people have already said, the women in Wheel of Time aren’t exactly feminists. Jordan’s basic theme when it comes to both women and men seems to be, “Look, I’m strong, capable…ohmygod there’s someone of the opposite sex I’m attracted to, all of my common sense and strength will now go out the window!” Plus he plays Mat’s rape for comedic effect, which is awful.

    Maybe Sanderson does a better job than Jordan did, I stopped reading after book 11 and won’t finish the series til it’s actually complete. I started reading it when I was 13, and I’m now 30 and it’s *still* not done.

  229. 229
    Tom Robbins

    Be patient, and you may read me and my girlfriend’s novel (9 chapters in and counting, woo!), wherein the female love interest is ostensibly more rounded out, smarter, and much more tactically flexible than the male protagonist, and actually makes the first move at him, seeing as he’s cripplingly shy in social situations outside of beating someone to death with a goat head (happens). essentially, he’s a stranger, less limited version of me (bisexual, even) while, believe it or not, the crazy elf lady killing machine is modeled on my girlfriend. and no, she isn’t just a murderous vagina, or a plot tool. this is a collab. look for it sooner or later!

  230. 230
    Katie

    Seconding/thirding Tamora Pierce – love the Becka Cooper series and the Protector of the Small series. Gracling and Fire by Kristin Cashore are fantastic, and I agree with the above comments about Guy Gavriel Kay. His female characters are secondary to the male leads but play an important role in ‘world’ events. I am also a huge fan of Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time – and everything that follows). I loved The Hunger games as well. If you liked the Hunger Games try the Maze Runner books. It starts out as all male characters – but there is a reason for that – and the girls that are introduced are no slouches either.

  231. 231
    Chad B

    I also vote Carey. I enjoyed her first two trilogies (I actually read the second on first by accident). I would vote that the third is actually my favourite though it takes a bit to get going. Book two has a horrific period if your an atheist :)

  232. 232
    Radi

    (apologies in advance that I’ve not gone through every comment before writing mine, someone else might have mentioned the author I’m about to).

    Robin McKinley. The woman is absolute GENIUS! Read “Deerskin”, also set in the same kind of medieval Europe world with a different map. Or almost any of her novels, really. I’ve just recently discovered her, and she’s my current obsession, in that I’m reading everything she’s written that I can lay my hands on :)

    She takes your standard anti-feminist fairy tale, and makes eminently RE-readable feminist stories of them, with real women, who are emphatically not perfect, and with endings that are usually uplifting, but definitely not your standard “… and then they lived happily ever after”.

    Trust me, Jen – you’ll absolutely LOVE her.

  233. 233
    Besomyka

    The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K Le Guin.

    It’s technically science fiction, but personally I think it bridges a gap in a similar way that Dragonflight by Anne McCaffery does. Which, I suppose, is a good second suggestion!

    I have a list of books I want to pick up – not sure if they are great yet, but they come recommended in the same spirit as this thread’s request.

    Earth’s Children series by Jean M Avel. It’s historical fiction, set 30k years ago. Coming of age story about a cro magnon girl.

    The Female Man by Joanna Russ. Feminist Science Fiction parallel universe stuff.

    The Song of the Lioness by Tamara Pierce. Young Adult fantasy, so an easier read about a stubborn, short tempered girl who wants to be a knight. Another coming of age story.

    And… that’ll keep me busy for a while, at least.

  234. 234
    Radi

    This is all goodness – been reading the comments, and marking at least one book by each author I haven’t already read/heard of before, to my wishlist in Amazon (so I don’t lose the names). However, I’m spending FAR too much time doing this at work, so I’m going to need to bookmark this post! :)

    Anyway, I got about a third of the way through the comments, and didn’t see any mentions of Sherri S. Tepper (not strictly fantasy, but oh most certainly feminist) – try “The Gate to Women’s Country”. There’s Nancy Kress, though the books I’ve read of hers so far have all been more SF than fantasy.

  235. 235
    Radi

    Oh yuck, Jean M. Auel… Besomyka, if you haven’t yet read the Earth’s Children series, I’d suggest you skip them. Mostly soft porn with a few stereotypical adventures thrown in. Each book is pretty much summarized by:

    Man and woman have lots and lots of sex
    Man and woman move on from where they currently are
    Man and woman have lots and lots of sex
    Man and woman go to new community and introduce something new to them
    Man and woman have lots and lots of sex
    Man and woman fight the “old-timers” in new community and win hearts and minds of said new community
    Man and woman have lots and lots of sex
    Man and woman move on from now not-new community
    Man and woman have lots and lots of sex
    ………
    and so on.

  236. 236
    Radi

    Besides, Auel characterizes the Cro-Magnon as these enlightened, pseudo-feminist creatures, and the Neanderthal as this stronglyl patriarchal society, with an organized hierarchy with males at the top, and females at the very bottom, and with said bottom-dwelling females supposed to be perpetually available to any male who wants to fuck her.

  237. 237
    Gabrielle

    So glad to see you recommend my all time favorite author, Ursula Le Guin.

    A more recent novel, The Telling, is told from the point of view of a asian lesbian, and is wonderful. The Left Hand of Darkness (with a few gender neutral characters) is a classic. All of her works, including her many sets of short stories, are wonderful.

    She has stories both from male and female points of views and her characters are never stereotypical. Perhaps one of her weakest female characters is Semley, (from Rocannon’s World) and I still loved that book.

    This has been a great thread, I am going to check out some of these recommendations!

  238. 238
    Riki

    I don’t know if I agree that the end of Harry Potter was only about Hermione’s role as a mother. I would argue that it was about family and their (all of the characters’) ability to live peaceful lives. It doesn’t portrait Ron or Harry or any of the other characters in any other way.

    I’m currently reading Game of Thrones but have only just barely started. I’ll report back when finished!

  239. 239
    darchole

    If you want to read something that has a strong women lead that actually has some major issues, then Lilith Saintcrow’s books are a good read. Strong female leads, with major emotional problems.

    If you want to read a book that actually does have women completely ruling the world then A Brother’s Price by Wen Spencer takes that on (not that it’s the best book I’ve ever read with the premise, but she does get into how there are gender inbalances no matter what sex leads).

  240. 240
    Celeste

    You’re right, Eva. Every time I hear someone complain about Hermione and Ginny somehow being “reduced to mothers” at the end of Harry Potter, I want to scream. It’s as if the term “mother” has become the feminist version of slut-shaming. Why is it so horrible that these people grew up and did what so many people willingly and happily choose to do: create families! The end of Harry Potter was a glimpse of happiness and normalcy in Harry’s future. It in no way diminishes the accomplishments of the characters.

  241. 241
    Celeste

    Let’s not forget Tonks! Badass, yet charmingly clumsy Auror. There’s also Luna Lovegood, Fleur de la Couer, Olympe Maxime, and two of the Hogwarts founders are women.

  242. 242
    Celeste

    Some of my favorite novels of all time are her Dragon Prince and Dragon Star trilogies. They were the third fantasy series I read back in high school (way too long ago) and I still use the screen name Sioned on most online forums.

  243. 243
    Celeste

    If you like Urban fantasy, I also recommend Kim Harrison’s Hollows series. It has two strong female leads and the male lead is a pixy. She also wrote the Madison Avery series for teens with a strong female lead. One of my favorite things about her characters is that they’re deeply flawed, but they also learn from their mistakes and change in a realistic way.

  244. 244
    jose

    Eowyn goes to the fight to follow Aragorn, not because of some sense of honor or anything. She wanted to go, but had been not for Aragorn’s pretty face she wouldn’t have gone anywhere. When it comes to women in lotr, it’s always about love. She follows Aragorn but he picked passive Arwen instead (who by the way is the one making a huge sacrifice for the sake of the couple, as usual with women in stories), so she immediately fell in love with Aragorn-lite, Faramir. Gotta give em someone to love, these women. Can’t do anything on their own.

    Even Galadriel is married to some guy whom she loves and spends her days just sitting there as Sauron advances, instead of doing things that are interesting.

    (lotr isn’t exactly my favorite book.)

  245. 245
    Jurjen S.

    I’d just like to thank everybody for contributing to this discussion, because up till to today I had [i]no[/i] idea what to get my wife for Christmas. You’ve all given me something to work with, and for that I am most grateful.

  246. 246
    A. Noyd

    Major emotional problems? More like obnoxious beyond all reckoning. It’s as though the hysterical emotional vulnerability of Saintcrow’s Mary Sues characters is there just to offset the fact that they’ve got ridiculous super powers. Although, if she needed some flaws, Saintcrow could merely have highlighted how her characters don’t have the imagination to use those superpowers to any good effect. And I have a hard time seeing the feminist side of an author who wastes that much ink on praising her character’s superlative (and ever-improving) good looks and writes books like Dead Man Rising, the “plot” of which is basically the “strong” character crying over losing her man for 400 pages.

  247. 247
    Tamson

    Second Sheri S. Tepper’s (known as an ecofeminist science fiction writer) Gate to Women’s Country, Singer from the Sea, and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. Also Patricia McKillip. LOVE her complex “fairy tales”.

  248. 248
    Jen

    The very fact that you assume marriage and motherhood is “normalcy” is the problem.

  249. 249
    suzysalaksartok

    I dont know if it quite counts (because honestly my memory is shiiiiiit), but I really enjoyed The Books of the Black Current by Ian Watson.

    But its been a while since I read it, so not sure if its quite fantasy (its mostly fantasy with some sci-fi [God's a giant computer who wants to kill a sentient river with a beam cannon/telescope on the moon powered by souls])

    or exactly how feminist it is (the main character is a strong woman, then a strong girl, then a strong baby while also being a strong woman, then she gets sat on by a fat guy.)

  250. 250
    Blueaussi

    I’d like to hear more.

  251. 251
    Jen

    Yes, this.

  252. 252
    The Pint

    Bingo. It’s not that seeing Hermione and Ginny married and parents at the end of the story is bad, it’s that the perception that being married and a mother is the *definition* of normal is less than satisfactory because it excludes all other states. Being married and being a mother is normal – but so is being single or being married with no children because it depends on the *individual’s preferences.* Not everyone wants to pair up. Not everyone who pairs up wants to procreate. It’s just that 99% of the time, the former two states are treated as what women should aspire to, while the latter two are often presented as “ok, but they’re still lacking.” No one’s saying there’s anything wrong with being married or having children, and considering the narrative arc, this ending arguably make sense for both Ginny and Hermione – however, these characters were role models for an entire generation (and then some), so they deserve critiquing as to what messages they may be sending. Considering how women are still dinged considerably for either being single or being married without children, it would have been nice for at least one major female character to have been portrayed as happy and successful without being married or being a mother.

    And for the record: “creating a family” =/= having children. My husband and I don’t want kids, but we still consider ourselves “a family,” and by extension, consider those we’ve built close relationships with as “family” as well – kinda like Harry, who was an orphan, and yet created a “family” of his own with Hermione and Ron, and so many others. There are many ways to create families other than having children.

  253. 253
    Blue Duck

    For strong female characters and interesting plots, I’d have to recommend P.C. Hodgell. The first two novels (God Stalk & Dark of the Moon) have been combined in later additions as ‘Dark of the Gods’.

  254. 254
    SaraDee

    whoa, @radi4music – that sort of complete word-for-word copying of a text is plagiarism, you know.

    To be honest, I didn’t find it too tedious until the Plains of Passage, which basically devolved into Auel apparently trying to figure out whether it was actually possible to bore her readers to death with graphic sex descriptions (that were also weirdly not descriptive of actual genitalia… in true romance-genre form). I was 12 when I started reading the series -thinking hey, cool, mammoths! cave people! adventures!… and hey, sexy things I’ve never thought about before but…hellloooo- I should have been impossible to bore with too much illicit my mom would kill me if she knew I was reading this sex – but Auel did itI remember skipping 5 or 6 pages at a time to get past each increasingly ridiculous scene.

  255. 255
    tielserrath

    I wrote my Stormwatcher series as a response to Melanie Rawn and the (ahem, trying not to spoil stuff here) Collan event in the second book.

    I was well into writing the story before I suddenly noticed how many subconscious parallels I’d drawn. I have to note here that writing fantasy gives you a totally different perspective; whether I’d want to go back to being solely a reader is a question it’s hard to answer.

  256. 256
    Cliff Hendroval

    There’s a brand-new YA fantasy novel (which is apparently going to be the first in a series) called “Wildwood”, written by Colin Meloy, lead singer of The Decemberists, featuring illustrations by Carson Ellis, who does all The Decemberists’ artwork. The story starts in Portland, Oregon, with 12-year-old Prue taking her baby brother to the park, where he is abducted and flown away by a murder of crows. Prue follows as the crows take her brother into the Impassable Wilderness, an area that just shows as a blank green blob on all the maps of Portland, and that no one ever goes into, or comes out of. Of course Prue goes into the IW and finds a world much larger on the inside than the outside, with various factions fighting for power. Prue herself is a good character – she’s smart but not super-smart like Hermione, she doesn’t have any special powers like Lyra – she’s just a normal 12-year-old, although she does have a bit of a smart mouth. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing what happens from here.

  257. 257
    Andy

    It’s true. I can respect them for what they made possible in coming years, but wow do they not hold up in a lot of ways. They’re like the novel version of Lenny Bruce.

  258. 258
    heironymous

    Even though I agree with the others about Goodkind, Mercedes Lackey has extremely strong female characters. Actually, it almost goes too far the other way. As a straight male reading her material, I felt marginalized because every “good” character was either female or a gay male, while almost all the straight guys were pondscum.

  259. 259
    heironymous

    Agreed – strong female lead in a male-dominated society.

  260. 260
    Alyson Miers

    Alrighty!

    I’ve written a coming-of-age in a post-apocalyptic setting. The protagonist (Charlinder) is a young man, which is not exactly breaking the bounds of the hero quest model, but he’s a very progressive, pragmatic guy who defines masculinity on his own terms. Important female characters include Eileen, who was a pivotal member of the original survivor community, their village’s first schoolteacher, and serves as a sort of mentor to Charlinder through her diaries. She wasn’t very pleasant and cuddly in life but she was extremely competent and strong-willed and Charlinder handles her journals like a lifeline to the past.

    Equally vital to the story is Gentiola, who is very much alive in the middle of Charlinder’s journey, and also becomes a sort of mentor-figure to him while simultaneously raising a new layer of complication.

    That’s not even getting into the women who are living in Charlinder’s home village in his young adulthood, including Miriam, an important community leader.

    He never actually says the word “atheist” but he clearly is one, and he takes off on his journey for explicitly secularist reasons. Eileen identified as a “fanatical agnostic.” Gentiola’s belief system is too weird to give away here, but she understands God as something man created, not the other way around.

    There is lots of information here: Charlinder’s Walk

    And just for fun, here is a link straight to the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=In0R-1gBXog

  261. 261
    heironymous

    I _love_ his stuff. And I never thought it was particularly feminist, but you’re right, it’s certainly not sexist – and it’s all wonderful.

  262. 262
    heironymous

    Lori -

    I started reading it in college and I hope it finishes before I die. :)

    I stopped reading around books 6 or 7 when the plot stopped moving and more and more meaningless (to me) characters were being introduced. Recently, I went back and read the last few and they’ve improved, so I’m looking forward to the conclusion.

  263. 263
    Avicenna

    I will also put up Honor Harrington series of books for a strong non-sexist (It’s a gender equal society). It’s also a very Age of Sail book in terms of the whole way space combat works.

    Web Comic wise there is Girl Genius which I rather like. There is also Freakangels which has an excellent pedigree (done by Warren Ellis of Transmetropolitan fame)

    For print comics I suggest the very excellent Question who is a fresh take on costumed heroes (And is the original basis of the Rorschach of the Watchmen). The current iteration is Renee Montoya and I quite like the books and the art style.

  264. 264
    gshelley

    It seems a little unfair to criticise the way the women are portrayed at the end of Harry Potter when the men are just the same. It is basically saying that the world goes on and the school continues. For whatever reason, Rowling didn’t think the actual details of the characters lives relevant and she certainly didn’t think there was any need to give special attention to the female characters because some girls might see them as role models and in some way be negatively affected by not learning more about them
    I would suggest Wheel of Time, though it drags from books 7-10.
    Jordan claims all the women were based on his wife, though having met her, she seems a lot more rational than that. There are many strong, capable women who don’t take on the traditional female roles, but they also have a tendency to be highly irrational and to act on incomplete and incorrect information, but again, Jordan said that was one of the themes of the series. Most of the lead female characters are in leadership roles – nobles, Aes Sedai, Wise Ones etc so have grown up with a sense of privilege and that they are entitled to their own way, which affects them. The male characters generally started off as everyday people, so do not usually suffer the same issues. It can get a little annoying though
    And certainly Lyra in his Dark Materials

  265. 265
    Brian

    If you’re looking for strong female characters who are also flawed, I highly recommend the Nickelodeon show, “Avatar” which “The Last Airbender” movie was based on. SOOO many awesomely badass girls, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities and yes, even jealousies of other women. They save the boys. The boys save them. It’s awesome.

  266. 266
    Al

    ‘Fraid not ;-)

  267. 267
    Kate from Iowa

    *sigh* Yes, writing anything has that effect. I’m still struggling to finish anything horror-ish, after trying to write it, because it frustrates the hell out of me! And the most maddening aspect is I’m most successful where “it just happens” and it just freaking feels like all the time I spend planning things out is wasted!

    Urgh. So now I’m working with low fantasy and monsters that are mere superstition and shadows in the dark. *snort* And had to go all the way back to my Lloyd Alexander books to get the right feel for it, as magic is something that’s not anything other than simple trickery in the Westmark series.

  268. 268
    Edward

    If George Martin has pleased you so far, I’d recommend the other main series he is currently working on/editing, the Wild Card series. Technically he is re releasing the first published Wild Card books while working on a new plot line that revived the series in total. I count the series as Fantasy since its people with flashy powers or crocodile heads and other such fantastical ideas, though others might consider it Sci-Fi.

    The new stuff starts with Inside Straight, and it is jam packed with interesting women who range along every character trait spectrum you can imagine. Personally if Bubbles was a real person she would be my hero, and Gardener. It also very poignantly points out how messed up our society’s focuses are sometimes.

  269. 269
    suzysalaksartok

    A. if you’re going to try and promote the cartoon, for the love of FSM dont mention that horrendous tragedy of loose stoolwater sprayed on film that is m. knight’s last airbender.

    B. Toph is awesome incarnate. Easily one of my favorite characters from any medium. (Ty Lee is pretty cool too)

  270. 270
    Yoav

    While the book is true within the show’s universe and the kid keep insisting that others should believe him when he say so, the other characters, especially Emma, are all skeptical about it.

  271. 271
    Jake

    Definitely the Wheel of Time. You could argue that in the WoT series women are actually superior to men as far as the amount of power they wield. The most powerful political entity in the book is a society of exclusively women.

  272. 272
    Flimsyman

    “Transformation” by Carol Berg.

    Several interacting cultures in the book, a desert warrior empire that oppresses women, out of which emerges a strong, yet very human, female character who achieves the respect of one of the (completely chauvinist) main characters.

    In another culture, of noble sorcerers, from which the other main character hails, women rule. Traditionally, women have unambiguous power, and are effective rulers facing down tragedy.

  273. 273
    dukeyork

    Check out the Pelbar Cycle by Paul O. Williams. One of the main societies — the titular Pelbar — is strictly matriarchal. It isn’t fabtasy (it’s iron-age post-nuclear apocalypse) and I don’t remember it being particularly feminist (the main characters are men, and the matriarchs are portrayed as hide-bound and stifling, if more civilized than the neo-savages around them) but it is a matriarchy.

    And I’m sure someone’s mentioned this, but look at the works of Octavia Butler.

  274. 274
    d cwilson

    I actually watched the Sword of Truth TV series before reading any of the books. I thought the show was fun, if very light. Much like the Hercules series that same production company produced.

    Then I tried to read Wizard’s First Rule and found I liked the TV series better. Compared to TV Richard, the Richard in the book was kind of a prick.

  275. 275
    ChrisH

    I have to add my vote for “Mists of Avalon” It was an incredible book on the Arthurian legend from a female perspective. I read it as a Junior in high school and couldn’t put it down.

  276. 276
    Bruce Gorton

    I quite enjoy Kelly Armstrong.

  277. 277
    Christianne

    The Marvelous Land of Oz was my favorite book as a child because it’s an awesomely affirming fantasy for transgender children (which I was). After Tip, our young hero, is transmogrified back into Ozma, and Jack Pumpkinhead says “You’re the same, only different!” I was that book’s devoted fan for life.

  278. 278
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    For comparison, I was working on an NPC mod for Baldur’s Gate II – a third-party add-on that in this case introduced a new adventuring companion of the player character and a new story arc. Said story arc grew beyond what I could implement into the game myself in the time available and I haven’t had any luck recruiting people to work on it with me. It’s pretty deep and driven mainly by the personalities, goals, and past and present interactions of three main characters, of whom two (the new companion, Arkalian, and the main villain of the new story arc) are female and all, I feel, are complex, well-rounded, and appropriately deep. I don’t think Jen would like it much; I don’t have a good sense of what her tolerance is for extremely dark elements of the storyline, but more seriously Arkalian acquires a cat-sized, sentient jumping spider as a companion/pet/”familiar” of sorts.

    The point, though: the game features “epilogues” explaining what the characters went on to do after its conclusion; what I had in mind for Arkalian included founding a semi-secret society dedicated to undermining tyrannical and totalitarian regimes and the practice of slavery throughout the world in which the game was set and especially to extirpating the last remnants of the cult led by the introduced villain; commissioning a powerful magical ship she would captain and use to attack pirates and the navies of tyrannical governments alike; making major contributions to scholarship magical and otherwise; establishing an enlightened, light-handed government and providing for the defense of a specific island community formerly passed from pirate lord to pirate lord; and, if in a relationship with either the player character or a specific other party member at the game’s conclusion, working together in most of this and eventually having a son who’d go on to be a hero in his own right.

    See the difference?

  279. 279
    Sara

    Alison Goodman’s Eon and Eona are quite good. And rather than being set in a fantasy medieval Europe, they’re set in an Asian-based fantasy land. The main character is a girl in a very patriarchal society who is pretending to be a boy in order to stay alive.

  280. 280
    shac

    OK I never get mad at you but now I am! I couldn’t even finish your post because I couldn’t get past your statement Hermione ends up as only a mother! I’m a feminist I work and love my job, but being a mother is ten times harder. Especially in a country where there is no respect for motherhood. I got 4 weeks paid leave after giving birth and could have takend up to 3 months unpaid leave for ‘bonding time’, but who has the money(?). The hardest thing I ever did in my life is drop my daughter off at day care when she was 10 weeks old. Tears fill my eyes today.

    I loved Harry poter because the women were powerful, and remember it was Rons Mom Mrs Weasly that blew the sh*t out of Belatrix! I hope you have kids one day or you will never really understand the feminist movement from a mothers perspective. I expected more from you Jen. :(

  281. 281
    shac

    My husband thought Katniss was a boy for half the book! just couldn’t believe a girl was so badass. Also she doesn’t want to have kids, but she doesn’t dissmiss people that are “only mothers”.

  282. 282
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    What.

  283. 283
    shac

    If there is no respect for women I feel there is even less for mothers. Saying someone is “only a mother” doesn’t help. I feel discrimination as a woman and then a whole second helping as a mother at least in my career. Women who choose not to have kids tend to do better and make more in their careers.

  284. 284
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    That’s broadly true but has at best the most tenuous link to Jen’s actual position imaginable and doesn’t really excuse you asserting that women’s disinclination to reproduce is invalid…

  285. 285
    Grace

    Just another voice chiming in on the awesomeness of Erikson’s Malazan series – can never resist a chance to plug these absolutely amazing books!

  286. 286
    julian

    I hope you have kids one day or you will never really understand the feminist movement from a mothers perspective.

    ???????

    I hope you get breast cancer so that you understand the feminist movement from a survivors perspective.

    I hope you become maimed so that you can understand the medical industry from a disabled person’s perspective.

    I hope you lose your vision so that you can understand the world from a blind person’s perspective.

  287. 287
    julian

    Saying someone is “only a mother” doesn’t help.

    Generally I’d agree with you, as the son of a single mother I have some idea of how difficult it can be and how contemptuous employers often are. But you’re missing the context of Ms. McCreight’s post.

    From my reading she was not dismissing the difficulties of being a mother or declaring a job beneath her. It was frustration at seeing the few heroines in literature almost inevitably default and become defined by their motherhood. And that does seem to be the way women go in fantasy and much popular fiction.

    Which isn’t to say they should have been more than mothers. Just that they shouldn’t have been only mothers as that reduces the complexity of the character and their role. (Again, please don’t take that to mean mothers aren’t complex.) It’s a boring recipe that writers introduce into their epilogues. One that diminish, frankly, all the characters by boxing them into stereotypes roles often running against everything they had stood for previously.

  288. 288
    darchole

    Yes, Dante was a main character I could have happily seen die, probably well before the last book. However the Strange Angels and Steelflower are much better. My point is that the protagonists of most of most of Saintcrow’s books are not ‘normal with flaws’ but have major issues, which are more reflective on how some people tick.

  289. 289
    fizzchick

    N’thing the Tamora Pierce and Ursula LeGuin recommendations. I enjoyed Anne McCaffrey when younger, but I’ve had a hard time getting over a few flaws since they were pointed out to me. 1) Dragon mating = gang rape, or close to it, for the queen rider involved. 2) The female characters almost never have a complete story arc without dying tragically or finding a good man to settle down with. 3) Even the “strong” female characters are defined in relation to/in comparison with their men (rot13 for spoilers) r.t., Yrffn fgehttyrf ntnvafg Snk, hagvy erfphrq ol S’yne. Zrabyyl ehaf njnl sebz ure sngure’f ubyq, hagvy erfphrq ol Ebovagba naq riraghnyyl cnverq bss jvgu Froryy. Zbergn, Nenzvan, Funeen, naq Oerxxr unir fvzvyne ceboyrzf. The pedestaling of female characters gets even worse in some ways with the Rowan series.

    For something more satisfying, I recommend C.J. Cherry’s Foreigner series. It’s a fascinating anthropological study, and some of the best world-building I’ve read in a while. The main protagonist is male, but two of his closest associates are kickass female characters, and there are more strong female characters the further you get in the series.

  290. 290
    fizzchick

    Ack, forgot the fantasy limitation – the Foreigner series is decidedly SF. Kage Baker’s books have a fair bit of fantasy and some good female characters, though there’s a bit of a tendency for them to be good at traditional female things (healing, gardening, etc.).

  291. 291
    J. J. Ramsey

    I don’t if Fullmetal Alchemist is the best example, since the story focuses more on the male characters for the most part. On the other hand, the female characters are varied in personality, and with one arguable exception–the homunculus Lust, a femme fatale who embodies the sin for which she is named–they don’t fit neatly into stereotypical female roles and aren’t particularly exploited for fanservice. I guess you could say that while Fullmetal Alchemist isn’t a feminist paragon, it’s a good showcase for well-written female characters.

  292. 292
    Santiago

    As others have said the Wheel of Times series is one example where, arguably, women are, on the whole, in charge. It is also epic and extremely entertaining. But, to be honest, in terms of gender relations it isn’t pretty. The best way to describe Robert Jordan would be as someone who had excellent intentions with regards to gender equality, but who wasn’t quite able to wrap his head around the concept.

    In his attempt to make women “equal” to men he basically said: “well, it sucks that ‘important’ roles in society like government and trade are exclusive for men. The answer, therefore, must be to have many of those roles be exclusive for women!” This would not necessarily be a bad thing, but the novels basically accept this state of affairs, just like LoTR just tacitly assumes that the status quo is fine and dandy.

    Also annoying was Robert Jordan’s strongly essentialist mindset: women and men (in his mind) are utterly distinct and separate creatures, who thus find it almost impossible to understand and trust each other.

    Basically his attempt to make men and women equal was to copy/paste the prejudices and sexism of men towards women unto women’s attitude towards men. And yet no character, anywhere, of either sex, remarks on the stupidity of it all.

  293. 293
    Brian Westley

    Well, it is a shonen (target audience young males) manga, after all. I’d still rate it better at strong female characters compared to Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.

  294. 294
    julian

    If we’re going to be throwing mangas out there, I’ll recommend my personal favorite Black Lagoon. I should note it isn’t fantasy but it does sport some interesting female leads. (although they’re all mostly of the psycho fem killer type.)

    One I just got into is Claymore which I’ve convinced myself has some profound feminist underpinning but likely doesn’t. The characters are pretty solid and it’s almost an exclusively female caste of women warriors.

  295. 295
    Stacy

    I always wondered why she was SUCH an ineffectual character

    ‘Cause Apollo cursed her, that’s why. That’s the whole point.

    First he gave her the gift of prophecy, then, when she refused to sleep with him, he cursed her so nobody would ever believe her.

  296. 296
    The Ys

    Eowyn didn’t go to the fight for Aragorn. She couldn’t stand being left behind to rot in what she saw as a cage designed for women, and she wanted to stay as close to her brother and uncle as she could – which is why she was nearby when Theoden King got taken down by the Nazgul. She rode to war so she could fight and die like the men instead of slowly withering away in a cold, lonely hall. The movie didn’t touch on it, but that seemed pretty clear from the books.

    The Faramir thing – she didn’t just fall for him, and the movie didn’t do this part justice either. Faramir paid court to her for a fair length of time, and she gradually fell in love with him.

    I’m annoyed that they spent so much more time developing Arwen and totally ignored some of the depth of Eowyn’s character.

  297. 297
    nathanlee

    I pulled out that series too when going through my fantasy books – a very strong female character there. Feist (And Janny Wurts) love their characters too much, but the story is excellent.

  298. 298
    nathanlee

    Elizabeth Hayden’s Rhapsody trilogy is pretty good, with a strong female lead character. She is surrounded by strong male stereotype guys, but they are all basically sidekicks to her.

    Hayden does loves her characters too much, but you’ll find that in most fantasy series. A fun series anyways.

  299. 299
    Dianne

    If we’re including science fiction, I’ll put in a recommendation for John Scalzi. In the “Old Man’s War” series, one of the main characters is a very literally strong woman (she’s a bioengineered “super soldier”) and there are a number of other female characters who are characters first and female second. That is, they are people with various good and bad points who happen to have two X chromosomes. Which I find to occur less frequently than books with a single or even a few female characters who are clearly there to be the perfect strong female character.

  300. 300
    Dianne

    Even Galadriel is married to some guy whom she loves and spends her days just sitting there as Sauron advances, instead of doing things that are interesting.

    I disagree with this characterization. I think the chapter with Galadriel, Frodo, and Sam at the magic mirror makes it clear that Galadriel is doing quite a bit to fight Sauron, although most of it occurs “off stage”.

  301. 301
    Dianne

    One of the things I like about Girl Genius is that there are two strong, highly competent male characters who are essentially sidekicks to the title character. Also that both men in question are very smart and successful…but not quite as much so as Agatha.

  302. 302
    Heather

    It depends on which of her works you read. I haven’t read much outside the Velgarth, Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, and Elemental Masters stories, so I can’t speak to that, but the stories set in Valdemar have a lot of amazing straight male characters. Without even stretching it: Alberich, Skif, Dirk, Darkwind, Karal, Darian, An’desha, Lavan Firestorm, Bear, and Mags are all amazing strong and good straight male characters, and they’re all main characters, even the main characters of entire books or trilogies. Mercedes Lackey also does really good fairy tale adaptations (which do, as per the genre, always end with a marriage or at least a relationship) that feature very strong female characters. Definitely worth a read, especially if you’re looking for fantasy with amazing diverse female characters.

  303. 303
    Gwynnyd

    What? You mean you didn’t believe that Jondalar had never found a woman who was, er, stretchy enough to take in all of his massive manhood before he met Ayla? The books are good for giggles, at least. I recommend wine and dramatic readings of the funniest bits.

  304. 304
    greensage

    I’m not sure that we can infer much at all about Jordan’s beliefs from WoT. It is entirely possible that much of the male-female dynamic in WoT developed organically from a few simple, seed ideas–the system of magic, for example. That said, the way he sometimes described Aes Sedai really grated: arms crossed under ample bosoms, hens observing a ridiculous pecking order based on raw power, etc. Though I wanted to slap some sense into Daenerys (not literally!) while reading ADwD, the male-female dynamic of ASoIaF is certainly much more recognizable because culturally speaking ASoIaF is less different from our world than that of WoT.

    It really is a shame, what has happened to the WoT series, especially of late (books 10, 12 and beyond).

  305. 305
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    …which are important and valuable skills that anyone would do well to cultivate.

    (Unless you mean “to the exclusion of other skills” and/or “in explicit contrast with male characters.”)

  306. 306
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    My take on it was that the movie depicted a budding relationship between them, which makes a lot more sense under the circumstances.

  307. 307
    david robertruiz

    Feminist Fantasy? Try Sir Terry Pratchett! Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Monstrous Army, The Wee Free Men, A Hat full of Sky… Plenty of interesting female characters there! If dino-fantasy counts, Raptor Red has a female Utharaptor as the main character…^^

  308. 308
    jose

    As I said she wanted to go, but if not for Aragorn she wouldn’t have gone. Call it devotion or whatever. She falls in love and that makes her braver or something so now she dares to go. At the end of the day, she followed the man.

    And then she falls in love with Faramir after we know she can’t have Aragorn because we can’t have an independent woman. Gradually or immediately doesn’t matter.

    Here’s an edit for the story: you have Celeborn sitting there alone as the ruler of the forest and then you completely remove Gandalf from the story and replace him with Galadriel, instead of having her doing nothing. Then you’d have something.

  309. 309
    beezlebubby

    Why am I *not* surprised to find you reading this blog, Tom? Nice to see you pop in. FWIW, I really enjoyed the audiobook version of Wild Ducks Flying Backward, especially the Valley of the Vaginas chapter. Jen, you would too!

  310. 310
    Brad Emery

    DOOOO EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!!!! *Squeeeee!*

  311. 311
    Bastiaan

    Marion Zimmer Bradley was the editor of the Sword and Sorceress series of anthologies, where she explicitly stated that the stories should be about women as strong, interesting fantasy characters.
    25 volumes of often excellent fantasy stories!

  312. 312
    Kaoru Negisa

    I kept forgetting to post this, but I thought of this when I read your post. http://www.deborahteramischristian.com/writing/gender-roles-women-in-power/

    Hope you enjoy.

  313. 313
    Jen

    That was not my point at all. My point is in fantasy, the ONLY ending for women is motherhood. You never see anything else. I want to see other options represented, rather than defaulting to motherhood. There’s nothing wrong with motherhood in itself, but it’s wrong when it’s the sole expected goal for women. I’m sorry if I mad you mad, especially since I wasn’t trying to say what you thought I said at all.

  314. 314
    Radi

    @SaraDee Why should I worry about plagiarism? The woman merrily plagiarizes herself, mostly all the boring bits. I too started off attracted to the novels because of mammoths, etc, at about age 14, I guess? Kept reading them for the deliciously forbidden sex scenes (grew up in India, which is notoriously prudish, notwithstanding the film industry’s simulated sex scenes in songs), and eventually (within about 2 books or so), got sick of ONLY sexsexsexnewplacesexsexsextravelsexsexsexfightsexsexsex (oh, i forgot a few sexsexsex sexsexsex episodes *rolling eyes*) and nothing remotely related to actual paleontological, scientific evidence extrapolated into fiction.

    @Gwynnyd Totally agree with dramatic reading for the funnies. Even better would be to do it while partly drunk or at least buzzed… So say, a couple strong drinks to get the buzz started, followed by slow sipping of a good wine to keep it going without devolving into drunkenness, and we’ll be all set! :)

  315. 315
    Caravelle

    I love the Pern books and they’re certainly good for having great female main characters, dealing with sexism and homophobia and such.

    But they ARE problematic; I’ve encountered many people who hate those books because of their gender and sexuality issues and I could hardly disagree with them. To be fair I haven’t re-read the books much with those criticisms in mind so some might be off-base, but they’re all consistent with what I remember of the books. They are problematic in the way they treat rape, in the whole structure of how dragons work (you can see she tried to, if not redress, at least acknowledge some of it in Dragonsdawn), there’s some virgin/whore dichotomy going on, and she’s expressed some weird ideas about homosexuality in interviews (like anal penetration makes you gay) which I don’t recall being reflected in the books I read much, mostly because homosexuality isn’t that prominent, but well.

    They’re certainly feminist in intent and in practice when compared to books that ignore women or are actively sexist, but they’re far from perfect.

  316. 316
    Christopher

    If we’re taling about Manga, I feel compelled to mention Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Myazaki (as well as pretty much any Studio Ghibli movie) for excellent manga/anime depictions of strong female characters (who are never exploited for their sexuality, Miyazaki just isn’t that kind of storyteller). Nausicaa and Princess Kushana are the linch pins of the story, and greater agents of change in the world than any of the men in the story (with a number of less prominent female characters who are strong in less strident and world changing ways).

  317. 317
    julian

    Christopher, I believe what you meant to say was anything and everything by Miyazaki.

    Some folks grew up on disney. Others grey up on Miyazaki. I won’t say who had more enriching and well told stories but I will point out one did not default to idiotic stereotypes and cliched endings or tried to reinforce sexist gender roles.

  318. 318
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I don’t think you have any reason to be sorry; other than one drive-by troll everyone else understood….

  319. 319
    woodsong

    Mercedes Lackey’s “Bedlam’s Bard” series (urban fantasy: elves and magic in a modern setting) also includes good straight male characters, as well as strong women and gays. Eric Banyon and Tannim Drake, to name two offhand. This series also has several characters who were either runaway or abused children (or both).

    If you like historical fantasy, I’d also recommend her Tudor fantasy. It’s the same sort of elves and magic (and a couple of the same elven characters) as in the “Bedlam’s Bard”, just set in the time of King Henry VIII, with his children as major characters, mostly told from the point of view of an elf sent to protect first Henry Fitzroy, then Elizabeth.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read any Lackey works that I didn’t like.

  320. 320
    Juniper Shoemaker

    No, you don’t have any reason to be sorry, Jen. I’m a Harry Potter fan myself, but I found your reflections on Hermione’s role in the series and Rowling’s epilogue refreshing. I am really damn sick and tired of the idea that a woman can’t be truly happy without (a husband and) children. (‘Cause, you know, we’re all heterosexual. Or something.) I can’t seem to escape people with this attitude in my real life, even as a graduate student in the biological sciences. Why the hell wouldn’t I want to hear about fantasy novels that don’t subscribe to this tired trope?

  321. 321
    Marty

    Definitely on the Tamora Pierce bandwagon – feminist and (in my opinion at least from what I remember) also good on gay rights and relationships.

    Love the books, always recommend them to any kids once they’re old enough to read them (and still reread them a fair bit myself at 22).

  322. 322
    Laura

    This is great! I never explicitly realized that my favorite novels/authors are fantasy feminist, but well, they are :) I will reiterate: Tamora Pierce, Anne Bishop, Garth Nix, Jacqueline Carey, Patricia Briggs, Kim Harrison, Juliet Marillier, Diane Duane, Lynn Flewelling, Robert Jordan, Sherwood Smith, Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones, and Madeleine L’Engle.

    I’d also like to add: Diana Pharaoh Francis, Jane Lindskold, William Nicholson, and Dave Duncan (The King’s Blades series is male character focused for most of the books in the series, but the female characters are done well).

    And: Lynn Kurland is fantastic! I’m more into her romance novels than her fantasy, but she has both. The romance novels are a mixture of medieval, modern, and time-travel between the two. Her women are strong and independent.

    I need to compile the rest of you all’s recommendations to form a go to list for future reading :)

  323. 323
    Anat

    Hey, there are only 10 sex scenes in Plains of Passage, and that was the book that had more of them than any in the series. I really loved those books for a long while, for the archaeology and archaic technology (I didn’t know anything about atlatls before reading them, or the different methods for knapping flint and many other things). The societies in books 2-4 are somewhat idealized versions (with the exception of one failing society for the heroes to fix), but a reader can understand how the more realistic versions might have worked. Books 5-6 introduced a society that was too unrealistic, and most of the story went nowhere.

  324. 324
    msironen

    I’m surprised that no-one yet has pointed out that in addition to being a raging misogynist, Tolkien was also an unmitigated racist (people under Sauron’s rule being described as “dark” and all that). I feel sorry for any enlightened people who saw the movies / read the books without being aware of this, but you can’t unsee/unread them I’m afraid. Lots of penance to do, all around.

  325. 325
    Rachel

    If anyone is still reading… I’d like to put in a recommendation for Doris Egan’s _Gate of Ivory_ series. Way out of print, but still available via used outlets. (Side note – Egan’s fantasy writing career was derailed by her other job as one of the main writers for TV’s “House”). The main character is a stranded scholar (cross-cultural myths and legends) on a planet where magic works. She’s a skeptic about the magic, but approaches her new world (reminiscent of Byzantium) with a practical bent. One of the strongest feminist characters I’ve ever met in fantasy. Cannot recommend highly enough!

  326. 326
    Karen

    I have always found Terry Pratchett’s female characters to be pretty kick-ass. Granny Weatherwax is a personal fave.

  327. 327
    chrisshaffer

    The Feminist Science Fiction, Fantasy and Utopia site has a great bibliography. Their wiki is also good.

  328. 328
    Jenny with the axe

    Most of my favourite fantasy writers have already been mentioned, but let me add Jo Walton’s “The King’s Name” and “The King’s Peace”. It’s a bit of an alternative Arthurian legend, i.e. set in another world, and told from the perspective of a woman who’s one of the Arthur-equivalent’s most talented and highly respected warriors.

  329. 329
    David Ellis

    I’d suggest the Ethshar novels of Lawrence Watt-Evans. Female characters tend to have mostly the same rights as men. I’d guess this is due to the fact that various schools of magic are pervasive in their culture and women are as likely as men to be magic-users. It’s tough to treat women as second class citizens when so many of them can turn you into a hamster if you piss them off.

    http://www.ethshar.com/

  330. 330
    Radi

    Hey, has anyone mentioned Octavia Butler yet? She wrote fabulously inventive, fiercely feminist, speculative fiction that focused on African-American women in particular. To my utter astonishment, I learned that she was a Seattle resident; but unfortunately for me, the reason I even heard about her was because of her obituary in the paper a few years ago :(

    I’ve read all of her books that I’ve been able to lay hands on. Unfortunately, I’m not at home, so I don’t have a quick reference of her books that I particularly liked…

    - Radi

  331. 331
    Metal_Warrior

    I totally agree – Pratchett is a fine writer for both of your needs: Strong female characters (with flaws too – Susan Death, Adora Belle Dearheart, Sergeant Angua, Perks, Esme Weatherwax, Tiffany Aching, …) and a whole lot to read (as I recall about 40 books just Discworld series, and that’s not the only thing he wrote – Strata is also very good). And he’s incredibly funny, with nasty remarks on almost everything you can imagine. Do read them – you won’t get bored…

  332. 332
    pyrope

    Second on Robin Hobb’s liveship traders series. This is a good one if you like character evolution and is definitely focused on female characters.

  333. 333
    pyrope

    Seconding Guy Gavriel Kay (again). Tigana is probably my favorite fantasy book – it’s the one I look forward to rereading every couple of years. Intricate plot combined with poetic writing makes for a good weekend. I’ve been disappointed with his newer stuff though, the latest one I didn’t even finish (which is kind of unheard of for me).

  334. 334
    ginger k

    I recommend the novels of Elizabeth A. Lynn. She won a couple of World Fantasy Awards in the 70s, then she stopped writing. Her books have very strong women characters, and very unconventional male characters as well. I think her books are out-of-print now, but maybe you can find them at a used book store or a library.

    I also recommend Connie Willis. She writes more SF than fantasy, but her novels and stories always have strong realistic women.

  335. 335
    maja

    Dianna Wynne-Jones! Howl’s Moving Castle :)

  336. 336
    Musical Atheist

    Very happy that Ursula LeGuin got mentioned – she’s the best of all, with moral and philosophical depth. I just wanted to add that The Left Hand of Darkness, and other fiction that deals with the same planet has a whole world of characters who are non-gendered except when they come into sexual season, when they all become temporarily either male or female to mate (bisexually) with each other. All mature members of this species experience being both male and female. The Left Hand of Darkness deals very thoughtfully with our sexual/gender norms in an extended encounter between one of these people and a human.

    New commenter to your blog by the way, although I’ve been a reader for some time.

  337. 337
    witless chum

    One of us, one of us. I love Song of Ice and Fire. I’m jealous you get to read it for the first time, too.

    I really enjoyed the HBO series, but I didn’t feel like waiting years to learn the rest of the plot.

    Oh, dear. You still have a problem, there. Martin has become notorious for increasing waits between books, to the extent that hardcore fans are developing a very love/hate relationship with him. He’s supposed to be starting work on book 6 of 7 soon. My sister has been cursing me for getting her hooked, though I warned her it wasn’t a finished series. Luckily, the books are pretty dense in detail and little foreshadowings, so they’re pretty re-readable.

    Personally, I’m okay with this. I’d rather have him take his time than publish half-finished crap, but I thought it was kinda funny.

    It might not be a bad idea to read the prequel novellas in tandem with the series, too. They’re set in the same world about 90 years before the events of Game of Thrones, but they add backstory and resonance. They’re also a bit more of a light-hearted fantasy with chivalrous knights and such in comparison to the books themselves.

    And the next prequel is to be about “The She-Wolves of Winterfell.”

  338. 338
    Tia

    Arya is my favorite character in A Game of Thrones…

    But, to that end, I highly, highly, highly reccommend Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra. First book is Cast in Shadow. Kaylin is an amazing protagonist, and far from perfect. I couldn’t put it down.

  339. 339
    CAV

    Really loved a series of short stories that are all woven together of fairy tales retold – book was called Kissing the Witch but I can’t remember the author. Won’t take long to read, but was rather enjoyable.

  340. 340
    attackofthequasars

    I’m coming late to this (I don’t know why my Reader jumped over this post, argh!), but I just _have_ to root for Terry Pratchett! He has the most amazing female characters spanning all ages, professions and archetypes.

    Besides that, all his books are incredibly well-written and remain funny even after the 89234th time you read them (because you will most certainly read them over and over and over again, and laugh out loud).

    As a feminist and an atheist his books are by far part of my favourite literature of all times.

    Please five the Science of Discworld books a chance too.

    You can find many reading order guides here: http://www.lspace.org/books/reading-order-guides/index.html. And here is one in .jpg form: http://www.lspace.org/books/reading-order-guides/the-discworld-reading-order-guide-20.jpg.

    (This is my first time commenting here and I just wanted to say, thank you for your posts and time and energy. You rock!)

  341. 341
    attackofthequasars

    “Please five* the Science of Discworld books a chance too.”

    *That’s “give”. Damn keyboard! >_<

  342. 342
    2Rax

    Well, there’s the excellent Elemental Logic series by Laurie J. Marks (though the last book, Air Logic, has not yet been released.) The nuanced treatment of politics in this series is superb, and the leading characters are mostly women (and, wonder of wonders, each have different, non-sexist-troperific characteristics and skill sets.) To top it all off, most of the important romantic/sexual pairings are f/f and m/m, and are not treated in that semi-exploitative yaoi/yuri kind of way.

    If you like more science fiction kinds of stuff, there’s the ever-satisfying (if ridiculously feminist exploitation style) Daughters of a Coral Dawn by Katherine V. Forrest, which basically documents the travails of a super-smart alien/human breed of strictly lesbian women who leave Earth due to the worsening of the Patriarchy and form their own non-oppressive society.

  343. 343
    Eclectic

    Have you seen Margaret Ball’s work, particularly Flameweaver? Female characters all over the place.

    (She’s also a contributor to Chicks in Chainmail, and althogh I’d hardly call Rivakonevva stories high fantasy, they are a lot of fun. I love the scene where some punks are hired to meance her with switchbaldes in her house and she has to retreat to the kitchen to get a cooking knife because she wants to compare blade techniques, but where she was brought up it’s a deadly insult to touch another’s knife.)

    I’ve only read two of the books (Snowbrother and Saber and Shadow) but the Fifth Millenium series looks interesting. And you have to enjoy any book where a nomadic horsewoman rapes a male captive. (“Here’s my knife. I’m naked, alone, unarmed, and so drunk I can barely stand. If you don’t escape, I’ll rape you. You’ll never have a better chance.”)

  344. 344
    Gladis Keatts

    Please email me with some hints about how you made your blog look this cool, I would be appreciative!

  345. 345
    Rhamantus

    I have to reiterate that Allison Croggon’s Pellinor series is something you should read, not only because of an awesome female lead, but because the worldbuilding is incredible. Also have to recommend Tamora Pierce, and The Oran Trilogy by Midori Snyder (the first book is called New Moon).

  346. 346
    Nick

    You’ll want to read Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Material’s trilogy. The heroine, Lyra Belacqua, is good-hearted but prone to mischief and an inveterate liar–Huck Finn, basically.

    Meanwhile, the female protagonists are generaly formidable, even callous (Dr. Mary Malone, Marisa. Coulter, the witch queens Serafina Pekkala and Ruta Skadi). I suspect it even passes the Bechdel Test, though I haven’t read it quite that finely.

  347. 347
    Jordan

    The Secret of the Unicorn Queen. I loved those as a kid (and still do). A girl from our world falls into another world and joins up with a band of warrior women.

  348. 348
    Brianne Bartnik

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  349. 349
    Coucou

    Thought of this post while reading the amateur story Hidden Magic from here: http://www.literotica.com/stories/memberpage.php?uid=879271&page=submissions
    It’s erotic and very much about role reversal: the wars are mainly fought by women and men are oppressed, for example. It’s not complete yet, but I think it’s very well done.

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    {Free

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    Mobile Apps

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    jiiiik.com

    Feminist Fantasy | Blag Hag Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  353. 353
    Earthstone

    I really enjoyed this site, there’s some great stuff on here.
    On fantasy stories where women rule, I’ve recently read ‘Blessed of the Earth’ by Annette Wilson.
    The world is not only run by women, but by old women!
    The men are not subservient, they’re ‘equal but different.’
    Thanks for this site.

  354. 354
    breaking bad season 2 stream

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  357. 357
    Samuel Reiterman

    You’ve made some decent points there. I did so searching on the subject and found most guys goes together with with your blog.

  358. 358
    Kenneth Aar

    Most of Patricia Briggs Books have good female characters. Both the Raven Duology and the Sianim Series. They all have credible and believable female characters. Also her Alpha and Omega books are top notch. I also quite enjoyed Nora Roberts book “The witness”. But that’s just fiction, not fantasy

  359. 359
    valie

    First of all, I agree with the first comment, if you want to see women in power roles, read Wheel of Time.
    I also agree with someone that said that there are some great female characters coming on the last books of Song of Ice and Fire, and Dany, on the other hand, goes ever down the slope.

    But I’m not sure I can agree with your post…
    Lord of the Rings is a very, very small part of the world Tolkien created, and it’s the one meant to be the most archetypal. So, yes, women there are not so huge. But Arwen is there to be the ideal love that makes men want to be better and want to fight and want to make good prevail. Éowyn herself says that what she’s afraid of is being locked in a cage. She wants to be able to do whatever she wants, whether it’s going to battle and slaying Nazgûl or marrying and having children. Choosing the last after actually doing the first doesn’t lessen at all her character. And there is also Galadriel, queen of elves, clearly not submissive to her husband, older elf in Middle Earth probably, member of the White Council, etc.
    And that is only on LoTR. There are around 100 female characters in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and countless of them have really imoprtant roles. 6 out of the 13 highest powers on Arda are female by choice and loose nothing to their male companions. The bearer of the Sun defies and hurts the ultimate evil guy. The same evil guy who gets tricket by the most powerful female elf while she helps her beloved (human) steal a jewel so that her father will let them be together. There are also one woman that leads her whole people so well that they get named after her. Ah, yes, and two of the most powerful villians are female (even if they’re spiders) So… yeah, there are pretty awesome female characters in Tolkien.

    And, also, I don’t think it’s fair to say Hermione is less great for ending up becoming a mom. Every girl dreams of marrying and having children, and that doesn’t stop them from also dreaming of being successful in their carreer, that’s what Hermione proves. Also, McGonnagal is one hell of an authority figure, and Mrs. Weasley shows what a stay-at-home mom can do when she’s messed with. Umbridge is in a super powerful position, despite being wicked, and Bellatrix gets as high as it’s possible with the Death Eaters. Not to forget that 2 of the School Houses were founded by women.

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