Older epic fantasies with women protags: yikes

So it was a month ago that I was talking on Twitter about my love of book lists, and my friend Macey said that she wanted a list of older epic fantasies with women protagonists. Her standards for “older” are not at all stringent–she mentioned Sarah Zettel’s Isavalta series (good call!), the last of which was published in 2007, so we’re talking about things that were not published five minutes ago, not things from the 1930s necessarily. And I don’t know about Macey, but my standards for what is epic fantasy–well, they move around a lot. I think that “is it epic enough” is approximately the most boring argument we could have on this topic. So basically I was going to make this list of books with female protags, not taking place in this world, published before the last ten years.

Yeah. So. That list ended up way shorter than I expected. Way, way shorter. Epic is not my sub-genre, but still, yikes. And if you think that having a woman or a girl at the head of the book doesn’t change things, I’m going to have to disagree. And if it doesn’t, well, why don’t we? If it doesn’t change anything, why didn’t more people flip that coin differently?

So here are some. I’m sure I’m forgetting some. Some are squeaking in on technicalities (that is, just barely not this world, just barely before 2007, etc.). Some are favorites, some are things I have meant to reread and just have not gotten around to so I honestly can’t say how they look to me in this millennium, just that they exist and I have meant to look at them again. But here’s what I can do:

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Spirit Ring
Pamela Dean, The Dubious Hills
Naomi Kritzer, Fires of the Faithful and Turning the Storm
Megan Lindholm, Harpy’s Flight and The Reindeer People (if I recall correctly–have not reread in ages)
Robin McKinley, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown
Elizabeth Moon, The Deed of Paksennarion (again, have not reread in ages)
Garth Nix, Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen
Tamora Pierce, oh so many things, how many of us my age and younger did her work show that we could do it our own way (which didn’t even have to be hers)
Jo Walton, The King’s Peace and The King’s Name
Patricia C. Wrede, much of the Lyra series and much of the Enchanted Forest series

If your book or your favorite book is not on this list, check to see that it is 1) fantasy that 2) has a female protagonist and 3) does not take place in this world and was 4) published in or before 2007. If it meets those criteria? Please comment adding it to this list! If it is science fiction! If it has a whole bunch of protagonists of various genders! If it was published in 2012! If it takes place in this world! Then what a worthy book it very well might be, but this is not the list for it.

Note that Macey didn’t ask for female authors particularly this time around, just for female protagonists–and noticing that Garth Nix was the only one I could find off the top of my head was also a bit startling. Please tell me some more men who have written women protags in that time frame and genre and expand the list for me!

10 thoughts on “Older epic fantasies with women protags: yikes

  1. Pat Briggs, almost everything. Her UF is much more recent.
    Mercedes Lackey, all of valdemar
    Pat mckillip
    McCaffrey/Norton- the elvenborn books, at least.

  2. Dennis L. McKiernan, Dragondoom and Voyage of the Fox-Rider and possibly some of the ones after that but I stopped about there.

  3. Epic fantasy was my genre of choice as a teenager, but most of those books have multiple POVs. To the best of my recollection (it’s been a while since I’ve read some of these), these are the ones that predominantly follow one female protagonist:

    Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (2002)
    Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey (2003)
    Green Rider by Kristen Britain (2000)
    Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder (2007)
    The Aware by Glenda Larke (2005)
    Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale (2007) (this is YA)
    The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (1996) (also YA)

  4. Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars is… well, it has a lot of protags, but it begins with Liath, who is a young woman.

    • I suppose I should explain a bit: to me, the story is All About Ladies. Not as much as Cold Magic– which is really the one I should have listed– but I think of it as Liath’s story to a great extent.

  5. maybe The Singer of All Songs by Kate Constable
    maybe The Adventures of Alyx by Joanna Russ
    maybe The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling

  6. I’m coming to this late, but casting about my shelves and memory yields the following:

    The Prince of Morning Bells/Nancy Kress
    God Stalk/P.C. Hodgell (Been awhile, but I *think* the sequels split POVs)
    Tathea/Anne Perry
    The Ill-Made Mute/Cecilia Dart-Thornton (I think; another one where it’s been awhile)
    Wildwraith’s Last Battle/Phyllis Ann Karr (Divided POV, from memory it’s between two women leads, might be misremembering a detail)
    The Changeling Sea/Patricia McKillip (Somebody mentioned McKillip in general up above; not all her books fit, but this one does, I think)

    Things on my shelves I haven’t read, but might fit:

    Scent of Magic/Andre Norton
    Black Trillium/Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May, and Andre Norton (POV divided among three different women)
    A Princess of Roumania series/Paul Park (alternate world where magic works, if that counts as epic; 3 out 4 2007 or before)
    Darkwar/Glen Cook (Not clear to me if this is SF or not, from the description. I’ll note also that a couple of Cook’s Black Company books had women leads/narrators, though that’s in an otherwise male-led series)

    A couple more thoughts:

    Would the witch-led Discworld books qualify? (It’s been *ages* since I read any of those.)

    And I think it’s possible to read Candas Jane Dorsey’s Black Wine as fantasy, but another reader might not.

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