With breakout sci-fi/fantasy series such as The Hunger Games, the time has never been better to introduce younger women and mature female readers to an expansive genre that has much to offer. If you’re searching for great female characters, or, as one female fantasy writer puts it, “girls who DO things,” here’s a brief guide to female-friendly authors that will help get you started.
Robin McKinley, the author quoted above, has devoted her extensive fantasy writing career to heroines who do things. From her dragon-fighting Aerin in The Hero and the Crown, to the modern baker by day/vampire slaughterer by night in Sunshine, Robin McKinley’s stories provide excellent examples of three-dimensional, vivid female characters. For young teen readers, check out her fairytale retellings Beauty, Spindle’s End, and Rose Daughter. Older readers may appreciate the grittier world of Sunshine and the downright dark tale, Deerskin.
J.K Rowling is best known for her Harry Potter series, though she is rumored to have begun work on a new series of adult-oriented books. While most people with even a cursory interest in fantasy will have glanced through the HP books, it may be worthwhile to remember her plethora of strong-willed, deeply essential female characters. From the tough Professor McGonagall to the open-minded Luna Lovegood, Rowling’s women can serve as excellent examples for young and old readers of both genders.
For those who want a series that will keep them busy for a year- or five- consider the excellent novels of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. Comprising 13 books of over 500 pages each (a 14th and final tome is due in 2013) these books will keep you occupied with dozens of point of view characters and a rich fantasy world. Women characters run the gamut of strength, villainy, and wisdom in these books, from a farmgirl who rises to be the head of a powerful organization of magic users, to a wicked immortal obsessed with depraved pleasure.
Since Robert Jordan passed away before the Wheel of Time series could be completed, the job of finishing the books fell to Brandon Sanderson, another author who deserves a place on the female fantasy bookshelf. With his Mistborn trilogy and the stand-alone novels Elantris and Warbreaker, Sanderson creates interesting and multi-faceted women who would scoff at simply being arm-candy.
George R.R Martin has recently gained popularity for his ongoing series, A Song of Ice and Fire, thanks to the excellent HBO adaptation, A Game of Thrones. While certainly reserved for mature readers due to strong sexual and violent elements, the series paints an interesting portrait of a deeply misogynistic culture, and the women who rise in spite of their constraints. The wicked, ambitious queen Cersei, determined assassin Arya, and the astonishingly powerful dragon master Daenerys, all prove to be important examples of how power can be obtained when women are underestimated.