A sort of interesting thing has been happening to me recently. I’m going through a transformation. There’s this period when you are diagnosed with something like cancer (and then you learn you are *surprise* pregnant and can’t get the treatment you need, and then your back goes out leaving you basically paralyzed, and then you have a baby that was supposed to be mentally handicapped and/or supposed to die being born but is born normal and survives, and then you learn that, while you were pregnant, your cancer spread… and then you have three back surgeries) where you go through this mental adjustment. You adjust to being sick. My mind, for 2.5 years, had no room for anything but focusing on beating cancer, and getting to a point where I could walk normally again. For two-and-a-half years all I thought about was being sick, making sure my kid was healthy despite how sick I was, and learning to walk. That was it. I reviewed on here, but didn’t really do anything else, because I just mentally couldn’t. I could hardly handle my own life, much less running a website. I’m honestly shocked Bookworm Blues didn’t fall apart around me.
Now I’m cancer free, my two-year-old is healthy (despite everything set against her), and after three back surgeries, I can walk without pain again. The thing I’m learning is that there’s an adjustment to being chronically ill, and there’s an adjustment to being healthy again. For so long I had no room to mentally wrap my head around anything but the absolute basics that made life move forward. Reviewing was important because it got my mind off of me, but I couldn’t handle anything else. Now I’m healthy again, and suddenly I’m thinking about all this stuff that I didn’t have the emotional capacity to think of before. I didn’t run a blog with any commentary on it before, because I just couldn’t. When you are that sick and mortality is staring you in the face, you kind of get consumed. All of my energy was spent on not falling into that emotional pit that I was balanced on the edge of for so long. Now, even though my days are still 24 hours long, I feel like I have all this extra time, all this exciting room in my head to think about crap that doesn’t involve death, surgeries, or sickness. I don’t spend hours pondering the various “what ifs” in life that no one likes to think about. I’m starting to explore the ins and outs of various things more than I used to. This huge pressure has been lifted off of my shoulders. I feel kind of like this (only I’m not a dude):
ANYWAY, all of this is to say that I’m adjusting to being alive again. I mean, really, really alive. Due to all this extra room in my head, I’ll probably be running more commentary and various whatevers on good ol’ Bookworm Blues. I hope that doesn’t displease you. I am discovering that there’s a ton of aspects to SFF I never really thought about before, and I am having a lot of fun with it.
Which brings me to today’s post.
Yesterday I was reading Ancillary Justice to my kid while she was falling asleep (I’m cool like that). I realized that I’m oddly fascinated in female authors because I so rarely seem to run across anything they write that isn’t specifically urban fantasy. Then, through the pointing out of others and my own introspection, I realized that I’m an idiot. There are a ton of female authors out there who write so many amazing things, I just never really think about it. If someone says, “What’s a great epic fantasy series?” I guarantee you I will point them to a series that is penned by a man. This isn’t because I’m anti-woman, I just tend to have some male-bias with the books I read. I’ll be completely honest with you here, when I want to read a gritty book, I tend to gravitate to men more than women. Ridiculous, right?
The truth is, that’s complete crap. A little while ago I read God’s War by Kameron Hurley. I absolutely loved this book so much so that I don’t think I can really review it. It wouldn’t be a review, it would be a foaming at the mouth, THIS BOOK IS AMAZING diatribe so I’ve just avoided doing it. One thing that Hurley has proven to me is that anyone who says, “Only men can write really good, gritty SFF” is full of crap. Anyone who says that obviously hasn’t read Hurley’s books. When I sit down and have an honest schizophrenic chat with myself, many of the best, most complex, twisted, keep-you-guessing, remember-forever, attach-themselves-to-my-soul books I’ve read, are penned by women.
The fact remains, when a person reads a book they should read it because it looks good. The author’s gender shouldn’t even come into the picture. People write. It’s not a skill that is gender specific, nor should it be. However, gender bias does exist and I think we all participate in it to one extent or another. Regarding SFF, my own gender bias rears its ugly head with the belief that men write more substantial books and women write more romantic ones. Total crap, but that total crap is evident in the type of titles I pick out and read.
I’m being honest here, so don’t throw stones at me, please.
When I really sat down to write this post, I realized that most of my absolute favorite, go-to books I’ve read are books women have written, so I’m not sure why I always seem to turn to books written by men when I want something complex, bloody, or political. The books I’ve listed here are on my top shelf. They are some of my all-time-favorites, and the authors are authors I pay very, very close attention to.
The goal of this post is to admit that I am a flawed person and to share some of my favorite, bar none, top-of-the-class authors. They all happen to be female authors. Why? Because women pump out some incredible books that are worth celebrating. I’m trying to keep this already long post shorter, so I’m focusing on science fiction, epic fantasy, and urban fantasy with my absolute favorite books/authors listed in each category.
Do you have any to add?
Gritty and delicious, God’s War is a SciFi book that will make any lover of Abercrombie-type gore, darker themes, and far away worlds as happy as a cat in cream. The main character, Nyx, is rather morally ambiguous (something I love in my protagonists). God’s War is completely unfiltered. It’s complex, compelling, and bloody and moves at a fast pace that will leave you breathless when it’s over. It’s a must-read and a very promising start to a series I’m sure I will love.
Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie
I can’t say much about this one yet, because I’m not done with it, but I can already tell that Ancillary Justice is one of those SciFi books that will stick to me long after I finish it. It’s political, complex, and sprawling. The world(s) are well crafted. With just a few words, Leckie makes everything spring to life in such a vivid way. The main character, Breq, is absolutely captivating in the fact that she’s not what you expect, and her perception of what happen is tinted by that. Ancillary Justice is exactly what I want my SciFi to be. It’s equal parts social, political, tense, and sprawling with a protagonist that is absolutely engrossing.
This book is being published by Orbit on October 1, 2013 and I will post my full review once I finish reading it.
A Soldier’s Duty – Jean Johnson
Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of this series, but it’s worth mentioning because Johnson does do some good things here. The protagonist, Ia, swears herself into the military for some unusual reasons. A Soldier’s Duty focuses primarily on her training (which was rather boring to me). Ia, however, is a strong female lead, and her training forces her to face some interesting hurdles which pushes her to save the day in the process. Yes, it is fairly standard for SciFi. There’s nothing really new here, but despite that, I find myself thinking of A Soldier’s Duty often because Johnson really wrote a realistic, believable, and educational version of military life set in a futuristic world with a strong female protagonist anyone could be proud of.
The Chronicles of Sirkara – Laura Resnick
This trilogy was released a while ago, but it’s very underrated and one of my absolute favorites which I’ve re-read a few times now. The Chronicles of Sirkara takes place on an island with waterlords, assassins, people who control fire, exotic well-crafted cultures and so much more. Sileria (the island) has been oppressed for a long, long time. The people maintain their identity despite it, but conquerors have come and gone. The island is going through a political shift. The people are tired of being oppressed, and this series follows their toils and struggles in that vein. There’s battles, blood, heart break, relationships, magic, and whatever else you need. Yes, there is a prophecy, which is a kind of exhausted trope in epic fantasy, but Resnick handles it well. This trilogy starts with the book pictured here. What I love most about this series is how intricately Resnick crafted her world. Sileria really comes to life, and by the time the series is over, I feel like I’ve lost part of myself in the process. That’s probably why I re-read it over and over again.
Curse of the Mistwraith – Janny Wurrts
I’ve re-read this book twice now and I have yet to continue with the series. Not because it’s terrible. Acutally, it’s exactly the opposite. I’m just still catching up from the six months of health chaos earlier this year. Curse of the Mistwraith is the first book in one of the most epic of all epic fantasy’s I’ve ever read. This is one of those books that demands your full attention. It’s dense, complex, political, and full of twists and turns. Wurts’ has some of the most dense and descriptive prose I’ve ever read. Honestly, I cannot fathom why this series isn’t more well-known or popular. Curse of the Mistwraith competes with anything George R.R. Martin has ever written, and probably one-ups him quite a bit. Wurts is an epic fantasy powerhouse.
Epic fantasy fans: Why the hell haven’t you read this yet?
I’m just going to put Jemisin’s picture here, because everything she writes is epic and it’s all wonderful. One thing I love about Jemisin’s writing is how she almost always has at least one perspective that is a strong female, and how she always, refreshingly, fills her work with a lot of minority characters that, in my humble opinion, aren’t used enough in SFF. Jemisin is a name anyone in SFF will know. Her writing is flowing and lyrical. Her worlds and cultures are well developed and finely crafted. She adds anything you’d want in your epic fantasy to her plots. Bonus, I believe she’s working on a SciFi series to be released next year. I can’t wait to see what this fantastic author can pump out for that genre.
Please. Do I really need to say more? Elliott is one of the most prolific female epic fantasy authors. She’s pumped out plenty of books that prove her epic fantasy prowess. Elliott is another author that almost always writes from a strong female perspective. Her books usually have a dash of romance in them, but that’s balanced well with all of her politics, adventures, and battles. One aspect of Elliott’s books that I absolutely love is how completely unafraid of exploring interpersonal growth she is. Her books run on two different levels. There’s the surface action, adventure, and tension. Underneath there’s always a strong theme of interpersonal development that adds a nice emotional zing to all of her books.
Of Blood and Honey – Stina Leicht
I am really, really fussy with urban fantasy. It’s a genre I either love or hate. I tend to approach it with care. Of Blood and Honey slayed me. It absolutely slayed me so much so that I actually wrote to the author and bought myself a Christmas present of her books autographed. I mean, I loved this book so much it hurts. Stina Leicht writes urban fantasy the way it was meant to be written. This duology is somewhat historical taking place in Northern Ireland during those intensely political, devastating battles that savaged that country. Leicht shows how those struggles absolutely devastated lives and families. You fall in love, and you lose, right along with Liam. Her research is impeccable. Her prose are absorbing. The fantasy is nicely and naturally woven into the real-world setting. Liam is… wow. Liam is one of those characters that never let me go. He firmly became part of me. Of Blood and Honey is one of those rare books that had me in tears. Stina Leict does it right. Read this book. Now.
Miserere – Teresa Frohock
I read this book on the heals of Of Blood and Honey, and I probably wasn’t emotionally ready for the emotional havoc this fantastic book would heap on me. Both Leicht and Frohock are authors on the top of my Authors to Watch list, and neither of them write or publish books fast enough for my liking. Miserere is emotionally absorbing, well thought out, and perfectly paced. The world and politics are absolutely perfect. The story is full of tension. However, Frohock does some things that really set her above and apart from the rest. Her use of religion is fascinating, but never hits the reader over the head. This is probably one of the only books I’ve ever read that is so heavily focused on religion, but absolutely never felt preachy. Instead, it felt absolutely natural, like her use of religion should be there, instead of feeling like it was forced to be there. Next, most of her main characters are older and have some sort of disability. This was shockingly refreshing. No one is perfect, and Frohock plays to that. Furthermore, the disabilities her characters suffer from are absolutely realistic. Frohock knows how people compensate for their disadvantages and she also knows how strong disabled people are. This makes her characters incredibly relatable and realistic. Lastly, she’s one of the only authors who has been able to blend “our world” and an alternative world completely seamlessly. There is so much more that I could say about Frohock, but I’m trying to keep this post shorter than a novel, so I’ll leave it there. Read this book.
Elfland – Freda Warrington
This series of books has some of the most stunning cover art I’ve ever seen. Each cover is exactly like a beautiful painting. The kind I’d want to look at every day. Each book is exactly like that. It’s sort of disorienting, sort of captivating, very emotionally absorbing, and full of fantasy. Warrington’s writing is the kind of writing that lets stories just unfold around the reader without any effort on the reader’s part. Her books are full of layers, and the fantasy is the perfect addition to her books. I started out thinking Elfland would be a typical coming-of-age book, but it’s really so much more than that. I absolutely fell in love with Warrington’s writing, and the realistic emotional struggles her characters face. Her books are comprised of perfectly balanced tension and endearing emotional struggles. Perhaps what I loved most about Elfland was how incredibly realistic her fantasy elements are, and how I so desperately wished that the world of Elfland was the world I lived in. Warrington is an enchanting author, and her books are artwork.