Top Ten Women Writers of Fantasy Fiction (Part 2)

22nd Aug 2012

Top Ten Women Writers of Fantasy Fiction (Part 2)

Welcome back! We never forgot you. What’s more, we want to spoil you. If your favourite female fantasy author isn’t featured on this list, don’t despair. We’ve name-checked several more at the bottom of this feature, so you can read and research at leisure.

Missed the first instalment? Find it here.

Robin Hobb

It’s a pen-name, but Robin Hobb is a hugely popular fantasy author with a host of trilogies and quartets to her name, the most beloved of them arguably being the Farseer Trilogy.

She is probably the best bet for a George R.R. Martin fan looking to find a new name on this list (along with N.K. Jemisin and Juliet Marillier, listed below).

All the tropes are there – the swords, the dragons, the thieves, the castles and guards and apprentices and mages – and they’re all written with deft, true style.

No lazy writing here… only characters that stand up, fantasy realms you can believe in and dialogue that doesn’t whiff of “thee” and “thou”. As with all my favourite writers, Robin Hobb can get into the minds, hearts and bodies of all genders.

N.K. Jemisin

Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award nominated author N.K. Jemisin’s debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, was placed at #5 on the 2010 Amazon Editor’s Pick list of the ten best works of science fiction and fantasy for that year.

As a starting point I’d suggest The Killing Moon, a hugely fun novel set in a world not entirely unlike Egypt and spanning a range of diverse and fantasy-centric characters ranging from a wily diplomat to an apprentice learning the trade of gathering dreams and a ninja priest.

Honestly, if you can’t have a book with a ninja priest in it, there’s not much point to anything. The Inheritance Trilogy is also particularly noted for its powerful female characters and rich worldbuilding. A must-read for fantasy lovers.

Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier specialises in (mostly) historical fantasy with a celtic slant. Expect lashings of druidry, absolutely lashings with it, probably with a yew-handled cat o’ nine tailed whip of ivy.

She enjoys revealing the flaws and strengths of her characters through use of the first person, making her a natural fit for the YA fantasy novels she’s now beginning to branch into.

I hugely enjoyed The Dark Mirror, the initial tale in the Bridei Chronicles, which follows the challenges faced by a boy fostered by a royal druid and destined to become king.

Marion Zimmer Bradley

I’d look really silly if I didn’t cast a giant sweeping bow to Marion Zimmer Bradley. She spent a little time as a neopagan and her interest in telling fantasy tales from a female perspective is clearly evinced in her first-ever publication, a short story called Women Only.

As the editor of the Sword and Sorceress anthology series, she actively encouraged writers to pen non-conformist tales with non-traditional heroines, fortunately making the decision to include male authors in her anthologies though she particularly welcomed female ones. If you’ve never yet read her, the best place to start is The Mists of Avolon. I think you can guess what it’s about.

Trudi Canavan

Trudi Canavan is a best-selling author of fantasy novels, and the key word here is best-selling. You know those George R.R. Martin books? She’s right next to them.

Well, she’s not, because the alphabet doesn’t work like that, but the world at large can’t get enough of her books featuring, variously, rogues and magician’s apprentices and novices, and often titled with the role of the main protagonist so you know exactly what you’re getting. That’s the whole point, really.

With Trudi Canavan, you know exactly what you’re getting. A fun, easy read. Featuring a rogue. Or a magician’s apprentice. Or, if he’s worked really hard, a novice. Her books have a touch of David Eddings about them, and that’s no bad thing.

As I said, it’s hard to draw a line. I missed some wonderful names, some wonderful books. I know I did. You may be raising a clawed bejewelled hand to laugh into your elegantly curled wizards’ beards (and I don’t care what gender you are, we all have wizard-beards which we don specifically for the purposes of mockery).

All because I have not mentioned Martha Wells, Mary Gentle, Hope Mirrlees, C.L. Moore, Catherynne M. Valente (a favourite of Jeff Vandermeer), Robin McKinley, Karen Maitland, Tamora Pierce and Carol Berg.

And now, perhaps, you are now opening the human-vellumed Tome of Fury to your favourite page because you’ve read all those additional mentions and I still haven’t listed your favourite fantasy author.

Forgive me. As I said, it was hard to keep the number below forty. When it comes to fiction there’s only one game in town, and it has nothing to do with thrones. As Neil Gaiman so beautifully put it, it’s a game called “and what happens next?”

That game can be played by anyone of any gender. And it’s a game that women writers have been playing for a long, long time.

Guest feature by Magda Knight, editor of MookyChick

(Image via Signs of Life)


  • Gill Jackman says:

    I’m afraid I don’t know any of this but now I think of it, I realise that no one has mentioned Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. So many people believe that Virginia Woolf isn’t funny, but she was arguably the first woman to fictionalise how it might be if we could overcome the boundaries of space, time and gender. The resulting leap through history and exposing of social mores as mere fashion is both liberating and hilarious, plus you get a blast of what really well-crafted writing can do. Now that she’s out of copyright, it’ll cost nothing or virtually nothing to read her. Enjoy.