Kendra here. My first love has always been fantasy. But as a teenager, I discovered that most of the people running around in these books saving the world were dudes. Thankfully, protagonists like Alanna the Lioness and Sabriel stand out in my mind. These women defied stereotypes, wielding magic like a boss and saving the day. Though we’ve moved beyond this barren desert where female heroines are few and far between, women writers of fantasy still have to fight for every inch of ground. Writers like V.E. Schwab are still told, “If I had known you were a woman, I wouldn’t have read your book.”
Every time I hear another story of the sexism facing women writers of fantasy, it boggles my mind. We discussed N.K. Jemisin and her brilliance earlier this year on the podcast. Both The Fifth Season and Obelisk Gate, the first two books in her Broken Earth trilogy, won the Hugo award for best novel. And All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders won the 2016 Nebula award for best novel. How is it that when women have proved themselves over and over, fantasy still remains a “boys club?”
In my search for some of the best fantasy books from this year, I found dozens of amazing novels by women. I felt simultaneously overwhelmed and elated at the incredible talent represented in the genre. I can’t mention all the books I found, but I want to tell you about some of my favorites.
Obviously, my favorite fantasy book of 2017 is N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky, and I’ll be cheering it on to win the Hugo next year. I’d be chuffed if she could have the perfect trilogy of Hugo award-winning novels. But you’ve heard enough about my Jemisin obsession for one year. Let’s talk about S.A. Chakraborty.
Chakraborty’s The City of Brass tells the story of Nahri, a low level con artist who accidentally summons a djinn. From there starts our whirlwind ride across the middle east to the city of Daevabad, the capital of the djinn world. If you love fantasy, I imagine that you might also feel like I do: if I read one more Tolkien rip off, I’ll end up chucking it across the room. Where’s the imagination? Where’s the creativity? Apparently, it’s all with Chakraborty. She uses middle eastern mythology and folklore as the base of her magical world. Djinn, Ifrits, and marids are just a few of the magical races roaming around the desert. Add political intrigue, Nahri’s mysterious parentage, and long kept secrets in the palace, and you’ll get this brilliant fantasy novel.
In the low fantasy realm, I recently discovered Kat Howard, the author of Roses and Rot and An Unkindness of Magicians. She writes books set in our world, but with a twist. There’s art-loving evil fairies and soul-sucking magicians. I feel safe in Kat’s hands. I know she won’t overwhelm me with world-building. She gives me just enough to keep me going.
Now, you all might remember Kristin Cashore, who wrote Graceling and Bitterblue. We’ve been waiting for another book from her for awhile, so I was pretty skeptical when I heard her latest book, Jane, Unlimited is a choose your own adventure book. It’s possible I’ve never been more wrong. When her Aunt Magnolia dies, Jane finds herself directionless. She ends up visiting a billionaire's island home where she is faced with a decision. From there, each segment is a different choice Jane could make. What’s more, the story about each choice is written in a different genre: space opera, spy thriller, fantasy, gothic horror, and mystery. Instead of feeling repetitive or chaotic like some choose your own adventure books, Jane, Unlimited feels perfectly synchronized and cohesive, with each choice both plausible and delightfully ridiculous at the same time. With Jane, Cashore won my eternal allegiance and became my favorite YA book of the year.
Despite having read my weight in fantasy books over the past couple months, there are still a few books left on my TBR — and they happen to all be debuts! In young adult, there’s An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, which is an adventure in space where the different levels of the space station are based on class. While this might qualify more as science fiction than fantasy, it sounds so good, I’m more than happy to give it a pass. With my love of fairytale villains, I know I won’t be able to pass up Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, an East Asian inspired retelling of Snow White from the wicked queen’s perspective. In adult fiction, The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso captured my attention with its Venetian-inspired fantasy story that's destined to fulfill my need for political intrigue.
2017’s women fantasy writers pulled out all the stops this year. Magic, danger, love, political machinations, saving the planet from destruction — their heros and heroines do it all. I couldn’t be more proud to be an avid fantasy fan at this moment in bookish history and can’t wait to see what these women come up with next.
I’m currently reading Jade City by Fonda Lee. I’ve been totally sucked into this East Asian mafia-inspired fantasy world where jade can give the wearer incredible power. This novel is complicated, surprising, and all engrossing. I’m only halfway through and have no idea what’s going to happen next.
Thanks to our friends over at Orbit, we're giving away one finished copy of Jade City. Comment below telling us some of your favorite fantasy reads this year for a chance to win!
U.S. Only | Closes 12/20