Women in Fantasy: Thoughts on Disrupting the Circle

Yesterday, I must be honest with you, I felt a little down about the fantasy genre. Mostly I am an optimist (an angry, angry optimist) but sometimes a flurry of stuff comes along that can (briefly) turn me the other way. I don’t like it much, but it’s true. There was the all male short-list for the Gemmell awards, the ongoing examination of what books tend to get display space in book shops, which books tend to get more review space (spoiler: books by men get the majority of both of these) and the usual stuff I see on forums devoted to SFF; someone asks for recommendations of what to read next, and they get a list of the usual five or six male names. Etc. And so on. I can deal with this most of the time but every now and then it gets a little much. It starts to feel like I might be unwelcome in this genre, what with my being a woman and my tendency to write characters who are women.

And I don’t have any answers, either. Do I think women just aren’t as good at writing fantasy, and the coverage/attention reflects that? Emphatic no. Do I think women just aren’t writing fantasy? Uh, obviously not. Do I think the fandom in general is sexist? No. Do I think the editors and the people in charge of getting the books out there, the “gatekeepers”, do I think they are sexist then? No, and certainly not in my experience. Is there, perhaps, a pervasive, insidious vicious circle of sexism that spins male authors into the spotlight and twirls women off into darker, less obvious corners? Possibly…

It would be a case of: here, these men are best-sellers. Let’s get more books like this, because this is what the reader wants. The reader thinks, hey, I like stuff by this bloke here, and oh, there are lots of very similar books by blokes on this table. I shall buy more of these. Books By Blokes are obviously a success, so let’s keep going round and round in this circle. A simplification, and one that has been written about by better and clearer thinkers than myself, but I suspect that is closer to being the answer than dolloping the weight of sexism on any one group.

So what can I, with my somewhat dented optimism, do? Well, I think we can try to disrupt that circle a little bit. Push some of these women who write fantasy (and other SFF) back into the spotlight a little. Talk about them, recommend them to each other. Get some titles on to tables and face-out in sections. Spread the love and disrupt the circle.

With this in mind, yesterday I asked the bookish denizens of Twitter to recommend me their favourite women writing fantasy, and/or their favourite female characters in fantasy books. I wanted to demonstrate that women are a powerful force in fantasy, both outside (as writers) and inside (as characters). I wanted to mention those men who also write excellent female characters because reminding readers that women are real people with their own agency and adventures also disrupts the circle. Fantasy isn’t a sausagefest, never has been.

SO, with enormous thanks to @Estetio who was kind enough to actually compile a list of everything that went down on the #WomenInFantasy hashtag, here are some of the writers,books and characters that twitter mentioned yesterday. It was an amazing thing to witness; so much passion for women in fantasy. By the end of it my optimism had been restored, and I had one monster of a TBR pile. Have a look. Get stuck in. And maybe we can disrupt the circle a little more.

P.S) The list is in no particular order, and we’ve included those authors who were mentioned but did not have a book attached. It’s a list pulled directly from twitter, so it’s rough and there may be mistakes, bits missing, etc, but I suspect you can find what you need with a quick google search. It’s meant as a starting point really, and is by no means exhaustive. A number of people were kind enough to recommend THE COPPER PROMISE too, which I haven’t included in the list because, well, I am British and we don’t do that sort of thing, but Wydrin salutes you.

(and feel free to add more in the comments!)

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale

 

Best Served Cold, Joe Abercrombie

 

The Dragonlance books, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

 

Dragonriders of Pern, Anne McCaffrey

 

Hint of Frost, Hailey Edwards

 

Deryni books, Katherine Kurtz

 

Kushiel books, Jacqueline Carey

 

Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, Robin Hobb

Wild Rains Chronicles

The Assassin’s Apprentice (The Farseer Quadrilogy)

 

Legend of Eli Monpress, Rachel Aaron

 

Horsemaster, Marilyn Singer

 

Obernewtyn sequence, Isobelle Carmody

 

Blackbirds, Chuck Wendig

The Empire trilogy, Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts

 

Pantomime, Laura Lam

 

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, Catherynne Valente

 

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N. K. Jemisin

 

Miserere, Teresa Frohock

 

The Belgariad, Mallorean, and Elenium series, David and Leigh Eddings

 

Black Magician Trilogy, Trudi Canavan

 

Poison Study, Maria Snyder

 

Graceling, Kristen Cashore

 

The Split Worlds series, Emma Newman

 

Deverry series, Katherine Kerrs

 

Castle series, Steph Swainston

 

Paksenarrion books, Elizabeth Moon

 

Monstrous Regiment, Terry Pratchett

(and Discworld in general, Granny Weatherwax forever, yo)

 

Skulduggery Pleasant, Derek Landy

 

The Black Jewels Trilogy, Anne Bishop

 

Seven Waters, Juliet Marillier

 

The Dresden Files series, Jim Butcher

 

Riddlemaster trilogy, Patricia A. McKillip

 

Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness

 

Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Laini Taylor

 

Mortal Engines, Philip Reeve

 

Spellcracker books, Suzanne McLeod

 

Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

Deep secrets.

Charmed life.

Year of the Griffin

 

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

 

Sabriel, Garth Nix

 

Northern Lights, Philip Pullman

 

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke

 

Three Days Till Dead books, Kelly Meding

 

Empress, Karen Miller

 

King’s Dragon & Cold Magic, Kate Elliott

 

Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold

“The Paladin of Souls”

 

Geist, Philippa Ballantine

 

Hero and the Crown, K. T. Davies

 

The Blue Sword and Sunshine, Robin McKinley

 

War for the Oaks, Emma Bull

 

The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon

 

Eon, Allison Goodman

 

Falling Kingdoms, Morgan Rhodes

 

Ash, Mary Gentle

 

Babylon Steel, Gaie Sebold

 

Blood & Feathers, Lou Morgan

 

The Drowning City, Amanda Downum

 

Perdition, Ann Aguirre

 

The Iron Hunt, Marjorie Liu

 

Skulk, Rosie Best

 

Wolf at the Door, J. Damask (aka Joyce Chng)

 

Shambling Guide to NY, Mur Lafferty

Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson

 

The Dark Is Rising, Susan Cooper

 

Nights at the circus, Angela Carter

 

The Innkeeper’s Song, Peter S. Beagle

 

Immortal Empire series, Kate Locke

 

Zoo City, Lauren Beukes

 

Living with Ghosts, Kari Sperring

 

Neptune’s Brood, Charles Stross

 

The Runemarks series, Joanne Harris

The Gospel of Loki

 

Threshold, Sara Douglass

 

Cherry St Croix, Karina Cooper

 

Toby Daye, Seanan McGuire

 

Symphony of Ages saga, Elizabeth Haydon

 

The Doomsday Book, Connie Willis

 

The Merlin Series, Mary Stewart

 

Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth

 

The Golem and the Djinni, Helene Wecker

 

Outcast Chronicles, Rowena Corey Daniells

 

True Game books, Sheri Tepper

 

Walking the Tree, Kaaron Warren

 

Brides of Rollrock Island, Margo Lanagan

 

Flesh & Fire, Laura Anne Gilman

 

The clever Dark Heavens, Journey to Wudang and Celestial Battle trilogies, Kylie Chan

 

Otherland series, Tad Williams

 

Winter of Magic’s Return, Pamela F. Service

 

Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson

 

Outside Over There, Maurice Sendak

 

The Lark and The Wren, Mercedes Lackey

 

‘Parasol Protectorate’ series, Gail Carriger

 

Down the Long Wind, Gillian Bradshaw

 

Classic Trek novels, Ann Crispin

 

The Queen’s Thief series, Megan Whalen

 

Urban Shaman series, CE Murphy

 

Mercy Thompson series, Patricia Briggs

 

Ash, Malinda Lo

Mindspace Investigation, Alex Hughes

God’s War, Kameron Hurley

Writers who were mentioned without a particular book attached:

Juliet E. McKenna,

Kate Griffin,

Aliette de Bodard,

Nnedi Okorafor,

Angela Slatter,

Helen Oyeyemi,

Tamora Pierce.