I’ve been reading a lot more prose lately than comics, mainly in an effort to catch up on a lot of the new books I’ve missed over the last couple years. I have a problem though. Once I find a book I love, I can’t put it down. And once I find an author I love, I obsessively look for any other books they’ve written. I’ll read their books on the train ride to work, during lunch, and sometimes be tempted to sneak a chapter or two during the slow times at work. The last couple weeks I’ve been sucked in again by this obsession, and have found myself binging through a series I’ve read three or four times already in order to get to the new book that just came out. Right now, as I’m writing this I keep glancing over to the book on my coffee table, being tempted to pick it up again even though I’ve been reading it the last couple hours.
In a way, this has started to eat into my blog writing time, so I figured I’d try and appease the book-lover in me and talk about something different this time. Tonight we’re going to talk about some of my favorite prose fantasy/sci-fi authors, the ones that have managed to suck me in and keep me coming back again and again. For the most part, my favorite authors happen to be women, so I figured I put together a short list of the women authors I love and why they keep me coming back for more.
Anne Bishop (The Others, The Black Jewels Trilogy, The Tir Alainn Trilogy)
Anne Bishop has been one of my favorite authors since high school when I got sucked into the first book in her Black Jewels Trilogy series. In fact, she’s the author that’s keeping me captive right now, one of her Others books sitting on my coffee table staring at me with metaphorical puppy-dog eyes. Her Block Jewels Trilogy was my first introduction to her writing style, but I eventually went on to read her other series including Tir Alainn, The Landscapes of Ephemera, and her more recent Others books. While some of her story lines were definitely better than others, there were commonalities between them. Mainly, they were dark, a darker brand of fantasy than I had read before. Full of sex, murder, and mental illness but also packed with warm characters who could weasel their way into your heart and leave you smiling or laughing at times.
If there’s one thing Bishop knows how to do it’s write great characters. They’re always well-rounded, with quirks and personalities that endear them to you for a long time. Her characters were one of the reasons I got into fanfiction a long time ago. It was an effort to reconnect with them even after her books ended. However, I will admit she does have some problems with her writing when it comes to plots that can seem a little cliche at times, featuring character that may be too powerful or story lines that may be too thinly-veiled allegories for certain themes or cautionary tales. Her stories almost always focus on the clash between nature and humanity, often including beings who are intelligent beings in the form of animals or beings who can shift between human and animal, creating this blurred line that acts like a bridge. She loves examining how humanity often oversteps its bounds, greed becoming an ever present thematic element, and the often deadly consequences. But her books aren’t for the faint of heart, as they do contain a lot of sex (especially in the Black Jewels Trilogy), graphic murder, and issues of mental illness.
Jacqueline Carey (Kushiel Universe, Starless)
Jacqueline Carey is one of the authors I would recommend if someone was looking for a good high fantasy novel with intrigue and magic abound. I say high fantasy, but maybe I should define what I consider to fit inside this category. I usually consider anything that includes almost medieval universes with a sprawling world and a well-developed magic system or mythology. Carey does a great job building her worlds and injecting magic and mysticism into them in such a way that creates a unique and interesting feel that just sucks you right in. In particular, she has a fascination with how dieties would involve themselves in human affairs and affect people’s destinies. In the Kushiel series, the main character is gifted with a special ability that lets her withstand huge amounts of pain by veiling it in pleasure, a gift from one of the mythical apostles connected to their god. She uses her abilities to uncover intrigue and political plot against her Queen, traveling through the different countries and cultures, interacting with new forms of magic.
Starless is her most recent book that’s come out, and it contains many of the same aspects as her previous series just condensed into one book: people gifted with special abilities by the gods, traveling through different worlds, and uncovering plots that could threaten their rulers and the whole world. But in this one we see Carey progress to include transgender characters and disabled characters to create a story of queer and disabled empowerment. While I don’t think Starless really captures the expansive nature and deep intrigue of her other stories, it had its own charm and I would highly recommend giving it a try.
Karen Chance (Cassandra Palmer Series, Dorina Basarab Series)
I’m always looking for great urban fantasy stories with a romance twist. I fell in love with The Dresden Files a long time ago and I love the combination of modern magic and old mythological creatures. Karen Chance has created all of that in her worlds, putting together comedy, drama, and romance to create a series and world that kept me coming back multiple times. Surprisingly, I’m not a huge fan of time travel stories. I think maybe that it’s just become too confusing after a while with all the jumps forward and backwards in time and seeing how that affects present events that turns me off. But for the Cassandra Palmer Series I wound up liking the time traveling aspect and seeing how her actions in the past affected what happened in the future and how everything wound up connecting in the end.
But in the same vein as Anne Bishop, Karen Chance has a way of making great characters that stick with you for a long time. Not to mention their all fairly kick-ass, especially her female leads. And much like Jacqueline Carey, Chance has a way with building worlds and magic systems that are interesting and expansive. Her mythology is based off of old folklore and popular myths, including the old stories of Merlin, vampires, werewolves, the Greek myths surrounding the Oracle of Delphi, and Fae/faerie mythology. Chance brings all of these things into the modern era, creating a magic system that has aspects of old traditional magic and modern Alchemy combined with technology. Her series are fairly long and they both connect with each other as their set in the same world, but if you have the time to read through at least eight books, I would definitely recommend it.
Anne McCaffrey (Dragonriders of Pern, Acorna)
Anne McCaffrey is a hug name in the Sci-Fi community and has unfortunately passed away, but her stories still live on. One of the reasons I love her Pern series so much is because of the way she combines fantasy and sci-fi ideas into one world, creating a really interesting blending of stories. The Pern series focuses on a group of colonists who come from across the universe in these passenger space ships in order to start a new life on a distant planet. At first, they have access to high-tech machinery and science, but as the generations progress, their technology begins to fade and fail, eventually disappearing. It creates this interesting backdrop to a story about fire-breathing dragons that fly through the sky protecting its citizens from a type of alien creature that sucks the life out of all available living matter around it. Knowing that those dragons were the product of genetic engineering and that there are still the hulls of the passenger ships orbiting around the planet makes the whole story feel more multi-dimensional.
There is a huge hurdle to overcome though with just how many books there are in her series. It took me a long time to figure out in what order I should read Pern and then I haven’t really even gotten halfway through the whole series yet. Part of that is because the books switch to her son, Todd McCaffrey, as head writer and I tended to find his stories not as interesting. There were three books in a row where the main plot was dealing with a plague, and I just had to stop. But any book I’ve read with Anne at the helm was awesome. I especially liked her spin-off Dragonsong books, focusing on the bards and storytellers of the Pern universe. If you’re interested, maybe pick up Dragonsdawn and start there or you can read in publication order.
In the process of writing this list I managed to get sucked away and finished reading that book that was staring at me with mournful eyes. I definitely have more people I could add to this list, but for now, four is a good number. Let me know in the comments below if you have any other female fantasy or sci-fi writers you’d recommend. If you’d like to hear any specific reviews of books from the authors above, also let me know. If any of these names happen to be on your top lists as well, let me know that too! I’ll get back to anime and manga reviews next week, but I just felt I needed to do something different this time.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~