I began 2016 with a simple reading goal: I was going to spend the year reading fantasy books either with female leads or written by female authors. As a result, I read some absolutely amazing fantasy books, and I want to share them with you. Do you need some recommendations for 2017? Look no further.
Anything and everything written by Robin Hobb.
After I read Ship of Magic, I was hooked on Robin Hobb. These are some wonderfully unique fantasy books with great female characters. Even the Fitz series (which features a male protagonist) is such a fun read that I just couldn’t put the books down. There’s magic, adventure, pirates, unique dragon lore, and a cast of well-rounded characters. I can’t recommend these enough! Be forewarned, the series is long and so are the books; I spent my entire summer reading these fifteen books (each averaging about 800 pages). Also, the series isn’t yet complete: the last book of the Fitz and the Fool series is set to release in May 2017.
Enchanted Forest Chronicles #1, #2 by Patricia C. Wrede
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles were written for young readers, but I never let that stop me. These follow a young princess who doesn’t want to follow the typical princess path, so she runs away to make friends with dragons. The first book in the series was charming, genre-aware, and humorous. Though, I couldn’t get into the series much after that first book. I’d recommend these to any young girl obsessed with princesses or the grown woman who was once that young girl.
The Ugly Princess: The Legend of the Winnowwood by Henderson Smith
I do enjoy reading children’s books, but this was not one of them. I struggled to finish this book. Much as the title suggests, it’s about an ugly princess who must choose between either having extraordinary magics or extraordinary beauty. While I can applaud the author for trying to turn the princess trope, I just couldn’t like this holier-than-thou princess.
Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley
After watching this summer’s release of the live-action La belle et la bête, I was drawn to this book. As a retelling of a fairy tale, I thought that this book was pretty entertaining. It’s definitely written with a YA audience in mind, and it’s an early effort by the author, but I enjoyed it all the same. McKinley doesn’t turn the story around or give it some surprise ending; it’s Beauty and the Beast fair and simple. It’s sweet, enchanting even if it isn’t highly original.
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
After reading Beauty, Goodreads recommended this book by the same author, and I’m glad I read it. This book shows a completely different side to McKinley’s writing. It’s an original fantasy written for a YA audience, but it won’t disappoint an adult reader. Aerin, the protagonist, is alienated by family and kingdom simply for being born. Unhappy with her lot in life, she decides to create her own path and become the hero her people need. It’s an empowering story in an intriguing world.
World of the Five Gods #2, #3 by Lois McMaster Bujold
These books really surprised me, and I look forward to reading more in the series. Based on recommendations, I began with book #2 and then onto #3. Reviewers often compare the writer to Jane Austen, which I guess would be accurate if Jane Austen ever wrote a book about war, magic, demons, and gods. The comparison no doubt comes from the amazing way the author explores relationships and the constraint society places on individuals. The Curse of Chalion follows the broken man, Cazaril, who returns from war to a royal court filled with enemies. Paladin of Souls doesn’t follow Cazeril but the forty-year-old dowager queen, Ista, who believes that she is long past the adventure in her life but sets out on one anyway. It was beyond refreshing to read a fantasy/adventure with a lead that’s already “come of age”. After spending years as a wife and a mother, Ista finds out what it means to be Ista by setting out on a pilgrimage that leads her to a life she never imagined. I highly recommend these novels!
The Wicked + Divine Volumes #1, #2, #3 by Keiron Gillen, Jaime McKelvie (illustrator), Matt Wilson (colorist)
When I first picked up Wicked + Divine, I wasn’t sure what to think. Was this brilliant or insane? The beautiful art kept me reading, and now I am hooked. It’s based on the premise that every 90 years, the gods are reborn in human bodies, but they die after only two years on Earth. It’s original. It’s now. It’s music. It’s fashion. It’s divine. It’s everything. I fell in love with some of the characters and the brash way the authors kill everyone you love. At the end of each graphic novel, I was left mouth hanging open with shock and anticipation. I think this is one of those series most people either love or hate.
Princess Academy #1 by Shannon Hale
After seeing about a million copies of this one at Half-Priced Books over the years, I finally picked up a copy for $.50. Princess Academy follows the young girl, Miri, who lives in a far-off mountain town. The whole town is shocked when they learn that the bride for the prince will be chosen from their town. Before a princess can be chosen, the court must set-up a princess academy to teach these rural girls the etiquette of the court. This book is definitely written for children, and it was a super fast read. However, I found the book to be extremely predictable, and no adult reader will have a hard time at guessing the ending within the first 25 pages of the book. Maybe if I had read this at eleven, I would have been more impressed. As is, I just found it a bit boring.
Mistborn #1, #2, #3 by Brandon Sanderson
I’d never read Sanderson outside of the Wheel of Time series, which he finished after the death of Robert Jordan. I picked up the Mistborn series knowing only that. I haven’t yet finished the third book (no spoilers!!!), but I am very impressed with this series, and I can’t wait to read more from Sanderson. The series begins in a world where an evil empire has ruled for a thousand years, and a group of slave thieves decides that they have had enough. The books follow Vin, a street urchin-turned-superhero (of sorts) when she discovers that she is an allomancer. These books have not only some of the most original magic I have ever seen, but also have a great way of turning familiar fantasy plots/themes into something new.
I’m continuing my streak of fantasy novels with female protagonists and/or authors into 2017, what do you recommend?
(For a comprehensive list of what I read in 2016, check out Goodreads)