Sorceresses, Swordswomen and Queens

Fantasy is still considered by many to be a boy's game, though this is becoming less and less true all the time. I've collected some epic fantasies written by and starring women, all relatively recent, for this post. Most have large casts and LGBTQI diverse characters. 

The Priory of the Orange Tree is Samantha Shannon's latest, set in a world of dichotomies. The four main characters come from different regions in this fantasy world, which features dragons both good and bad. Shannon keeps things moving as a dragon rider, an undercover protector of a queen, a disgraced alchemist, and a nobleman wend their ways together to save their world. Lots of fantastic world building in what will hopefully be the start to a series.

Sofia Samatar writes of war and how it affects women, also through the eyes of four main characters in The Winged Histories. A young noblewoman becomes a swordmaiden only to realize that the rebellion she is helping to put down is a distraction from larger issues, her sister hides the awful secret of her beloved, and a rebel priest's daughter and a member of a nomadic tribe both get swept up in the chaos. Lyrical and full of sensual detail, the glossary in the back is helpful to understanding the lush world created in these pages.

Zacharias Wythe is the freed son of African slaves in an alternate 19th century England in Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown. His elevation to Sorcerer Royal causes a scandal, and Zacharias is blamed for the dwindling of magic in Britain. Enter Prunella Gentleman, sired on the wrong side of the blanket and a talented practitioner of the unladylike pursuit of sorcery. Together, they sojourn to the border of Faerie to negotiate a new supply of magic. Moving at less of a break-neck speed than some of the other books in this post, Sorcerer to the Crown obliquely references much of the racism and sexism endemic in the fantasy genre and brings to mind another young English wizard who has pull it together for the sake of all.

Erika Johansen starts off her fantasy series with The Queen of the Tearling. Young Kelsea ascends to the throne and undertakes a series of changes to her regent uncle's policies, managing to infuriate the Red Witch, ruler of a neighboring country. Political intrigue and a little mystery add spice to a coming-of-age tale featuring a strong, intelligent, and moral young woman.

The tale of Rumpelstiltskin gets a rejiggering in Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver. Miryem, a moneylender's daughter in a mythic, alternate Russia, has such an ability to turn a profit that she attracts the unwanted attentions of a Staryk, a creature of a wintry fairy tale kingdom. Caught boasting of her ability to spin silver into gold, Miryem has to save both the Staryk and human realms, which she does through intelligence, perseverance, and strength of character. Told from alternating perspectives, this is a deeply involving take on fairy tales we thought we knew.

Have more tales of swords, scepters, and sorcery? Tell us in the comments.

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