Top 25 Fantasy Books for Women
Some women want fantasy books that are different from those for men. Now, I know many women read the same fantasy as the boys and are fine with that, but for the women who want fantasy with strong female protagonists, fantasy that's not all about some hunk whose mission is to slay dark lords and sleep with as many women as possible while doing so, this list is for you.
Why have I created this list?
I've heard many women complaining most fantasy novels are 'boy' fantasy. Sounds familiar? You know, fantasy books with male protagonists, pathetic females whose sole role is only to be saved by the hero, and to be part of a ham-fisted romance.
If you like that sort of book as a woman, that's fine. But if you are a woman who likes strong female characters and books that don't cater to the male mind (and yes ladies, MOST of the fantasy books are written by men FOR men), this list will give you some ideas.
While admittedly, most fantasy books are geared toward the male reader, there are some very well written books that may appeal to SOME women who like a "softer," more "character-driven" fantasy tale. Some of the books listed have strong elements of romance (see our best romance novels sister site for PURE romance recommendations if that's what you are looking for).
To aid these ladies in the quest to find good fantasy literature that appeals to such sensibilities, I've listed the best fantasy books for women, or to put it more politically correctly, the best fantasy books with strong female protagonists.
Those ladies who are offended by my title "Fantasy Books for Women," my sincere apologies, but this list is simply my attempt to help certain women (or men) find books that they may find particularly interesting. This is not only limited to girls -- guys who don't mind reading books with complex female protagonists will enjoy the books on this list too.
I do note that this list has become somewhat controversial over the past couple of years (I've had several women post long essays on the comment section "critiquing" my selections as completely sexist) mainly due to the mere fact that I've even suggested there may be a difference between what females and males prefer.
So let me reiterate my intent for this list: it recommends books with VERY strong female protagonists, strong (and realistic) romance, and characters you can emotionally connect with.
If you ladies want to read fantasy books with shoddy female characters, books with strong male protagonists, and books where females are treated like crap, then feel free to check out the Top 25 Fantasy Books list -- there are some books like that there. Or if you don't give a damn, then look at any lists on the site -- there are plenty of good books with both male and female protagonists authored by men and women.
There's a lot of good stuff there that both men and women will enjoy, but this specific list just has some particular books that you may connect with on an emotional level.
Books in Damar Series (4)
Books in Sevenwaters Series (6)
A lot of novels on this list are either children's stories or young adult. While they make for great stories, there are some great coming of age stories that feature very mature content. Primarily, Phedre's Trilogy is a fantasy series. It features a medieval world in Terre d'Ange, a mirror of France. It's complete with angelic powers, myths, and warriors. It also contains some BDSM. In the hands of a novice writer, this could become a Fifty Shades sleaze-fest. And though this is Carey's debut, she's far more subtle than that. Sexuality is tied into the very fabric of the world, feeling like an extension of it rather than being thrown in randomly. It's a fantasy book first, and a romance one second. Still, Carey realizes that the discovery of sex is an important role in coming of age. She doesn't linger on it unnecessarily, but it does tie naturally into the thread of the story. We follow Phedre from her roots as a courtesan, where a red mote in her eye makes her undesirable. However, it's more than just a blemish. According to her new patron, it's a mark from the heavens. What follows is an education surpassing her humble beginning. She learns not just language and history but to observe and influence. It's a telling that's epic in scale, stretching across three large books as Phedre uses her knowledge to combat conspiracies and save the ones she loves. Read if you like: BDSM in fantasy, epic fantasy, angels.
Books in Kushiel's Universe Series (2)
Carey's other Kushiel books are must reads
If you like the whole strong female protagonist of Carey's world, then you should read The Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb which features a very richly drawn world (same world as Hobb's
Read the Farseer which is a strong character-driven fantasy. The protagonist is male though.
You might also Like Laura Resnick's In Legend Born, which is high fantasy with some compelling females characters with realistic motivations.
If you like Carey's work, I suggest you look at the Top 25 Fantasy Books for Women list which will have quite a few books that you may enjoy.
Books in World Of The Five Gods Series (2)
Books in The Empire Series (2)
Books set in an Asian fantasy landscape are pretty rare. If you liked the sort of mystical Asian landscape portrayed in this series, you might Find Sean Russell's Brother Initiate and Gather of Clouds a good read as well. Guy Gavriel Kay also has a new book, Under Heaven, that's sort of an alternative version of China (with elements of magic to it).
Books in The Mists Of Avalon Series (2)
Books in Graceling Realm Series (3)
Books in Study Series (5)
Books in The Inheritance Series (6)
Books in The Immortals Series (7)
Books in First Law World Series (6)
Books in Exiles Series (2)
Fantasy about Magicians and Magic Schools...
For a poignant story about competing magicians with a similar feel to it in tone and writing, read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Fantastic book and perhaps the CLOSEST similar read to Susanna Clarke's work that I've found. Definitely literary in tone and style.
A remarkable trilogy by Lev Grossman that subverts many of the fantasy tropes. It also features a precise and detailed breakdown of a magic system that's internally consistent. If you like the emphasis on learning magic following consistent rules, with a captivating story, awesome prose, and many deep themes explored, then The Magician is the best you are going to find. Arguably labeled as literary fantasy, though not so high brow that you can't enjoy it if you like more low-brow style fantasy (i.e. Sanderson books).
Want more good books about 'magicians'? You may also find that you like Sean Russell's Moontide Magic Rise duology. It's kind of the same premise: magic has vanished from the world, a couple of people are trying to bring magic back to the world, etc. In my opinion, this is the closest book/series that you'll find to Susanna Clarke's work.
Magician by Raymond E. Feist. If you want to forego all the literary aspects of fantasy and just opt to a straightforward classic style fantasy about a coming of age with a young boy becoming a powerful magician, then you could also read the standard epic village boy to might magician in Feist's Magician.
Literary Fantasy (fantasy with deep themes and beautiful writing):
The Golem and the Jinni. Another book you may just enjoy if you like fantastical tales that are touching and incredibly well written. Definitely considered literary fantasy.
TOOTH & CLAW by Joe Walton. Dragons living in a Victorian Society? I dare you to try it! Read if you like the rich Victorian fantasy setting present int Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
For an epic fantasy series about fairies, you could read Shadowmarch by Tad Williams. There's lots of little folklore tales about fairies and elder creatures scattered throughout the story -- something that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has in abundance.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet. There's a lot of Brtitishness to this novel that you might just like if you liked Clarke's work.
If you like the slow pedantic pace of Clarke's work, the intense focus on characters and descriptions which almost seem to the point of excess but (finally) a fully realized magical world and with a gripping plot by the end of it, look no further than the majestic Gormenghast books.
For the rich use of the English language, read Lord Dunsany's magnificent The King of Elfland's Daughter. This is one of those proto-fanasy classics in the genre that few have read.
Jack Vance Dying Earth series. Science Fantasy, but oh god the use of the English language.
Are you a fan of fairies in a fantasy tale? Another book that deals with old fairy folk tales is Keith Donohue's The Stolen Child. A novel about the search for identity, The Stolen Child makes for a compelling read. The Stolen Child, like Susanna Clarke's work, is very well written. These books are sort of your "out of the box" fantasy. It's quite refreshing to see the fantasy genre has more to it than epic fantasy.
Books in Samaria Series (4)
Books in Crown Of Stars Series (5)
Books in Dragon Prince Series (2)
Books in Abhorsen Series (4)
A classic series kids around the world have grown up reading is The Chronicles of Narnia. While Narnia is very clearly a Christian allegory, it can be enjoyed without reading too deep into the Christian subtext. The writing is decent and it's a great magical adventure for both kids and adults.
You should also read Garth Nix's newest series, Keys to the Kingdom, is also a great read, both for the kiddies and adults, one of the better series for kids.
Don't forget to read Jonathan Stroud's very impressive The Bartimaeus Trilogy. It's an action-packed thrill ride about a magician's apprentice who manages to summon a powerful genie (Bartimaeus). Bartimaeus is less than pleased with this turn of events and tries to sabotage his young master at every opportunity. Hilariously funny, at times very dark, with great writing, a great cast of well-developed characters, and an interesting world, Bartimaeus is a must-read series (for both kids and adults).
You might want to take a gander at Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. It's uber famous and with good reason.
For a great steampunk fantasy for young adults/kids, read Scott Westerfield's Leviathan. I'm not usually into YA fantasy, but some of the concepts and the action present in the book had me hooked.
You must read Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn. It's a fantasy tale set in a Japanese milieu. It's got all you want in an epic fantasy WITH the addition of samurai's, ninja's, and magic!
And finally, Harry Potter. I won't bother explaining why.
Books in The Earthsea Cycle Series (5)
Similar recommendations: J.R.R.Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
I also recommend Phillip K. McKillip's wonderful Riddle-Master trilogy, which features similar prose and a similar, though at the same time, very different, story.
You might also try Sean Russell's The Swans' War .
This book is a classic with a complex heroine and plenty of subversions. The author is from the same mold as Le Guine.
The Lyonesse Trilogy by the great Jack Vance. Plays quite a few of the same notes as does The Earthsea Cycle: beautiful, poetic writing, well developed complex characters, a magical world steeped in welsh/Celtic mythology that you want to move into, and some deep themes explored.
Starts with The Dragonebone Chair. From boy to man and from man to hero, this is a remarkable tale that's brimming with detail. It's a story where the journey's end is not the ultimate destination, but the journey itself is.
The Curse of Chalion won the World Fantasy Award and the author has won Hugos and Nebula awards already for her other series. Beautiful writing, complex characters, deep themes. Something about this book brings to mind A Wizard of Earthsea, even if the plot and story are not at all the same.
Books in The Black Jewels Series (10)
Books in Codex Alera Series (5)
These recommendations are taking up the 'Roman themes' in fantasy. That is, fantasy set in a Roman-esque setting or fantasy about roman legions or influenced by Roman history/culture.
Oath of Empires. Fantasy set in an alternative Roman Empire with the whole East vs West mentality. Lots of magic, lots of powerful heroes, lots of action, lots of sword and sorcery battles, and quite dark overall. I'd say the closest thing to Codex Alera you'll find.
You might also want to check out The Videssos cycle by Harry Turtledove which is about a Roman legion who find themselves magically transported into another world in the middle of a pitched Roman battle. While this is not really about magic, there's lots of politics and battle strategy involved with a few vs. overwhelming odds theme -- so it shares that similarity with the battle tactics Butcher details in his Codex Books.
Ghost King by David Gemmell. Features a whole barbarian invading a roman-like empire theme here.
The Gates of Rome. Conn Iggulden's alternative historical fiction featuring some of the famous roman characters we've all studied in history class. You might like it if you are hungering for some Roman historical fiction.
Latro in the Mist by Gene Wolfe. Expect something remarkably well written, excellent plotting, but not as much action. For those who enjoy a well written tale set in a roman-like landscape.
Saling to Sarantium (and the sequel Lord of Emperors) written by Guy Gaverial Kay. Expect awesome plots, detailed world building, complex characters, but less so on action. The action often takes place on the political stage and between characters, but not via battles. No magic. Still, read it.