First, I would like to thank Dan for letting me temporarily take over his blog. It’s truly an honor to be here.
Dan mentioned in a previous post on Strange Currencies a couple of years ago that women are often undervalued in the publishing industry as authors. Statistically, it’s not as bad as we feared. The majority of agents, editors, and publishers are women, and they’re publishing women authors.
However, there is a stigma among readers that women can only write romance novels, and thus avoid us on principle. I’m going to laugh at you in aroace until you correct that notion.
Then there are those like Dan who realized one day that their bookshelves are male-dominated, quite by accident. As I like to put it, he “accidentally a sexism.” These folks are now making conscious efforts to change that, as they should, because women have written some amazing stories.
To help you get started, here are ten of my personal favorite sci-fi and fantasy books written by women. I’ve listed them in order of young adult to grimdark adult. The links lead to more in-depth, spoiler-free reviews.
Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera
The post-apocalyptic Mexican-style Mega City is ruled by gangs. Each gang is made up of five girls under the control of the Mega Towers, which house the rich and social elite. Everyone wants into the Towers, including Nalah, the leader of the fiercest girl gang in the city.
To do so, she has to go undercover outside of the city, venturing beyond the walls for the first time of her life. And surprise surprise, the outside world is not the desolate hellscape she was led to believe.
Rivera did not write a traditional dystopian novel where the spunky group of protagonists work to topple the evil overlord and put someone else in charge. That’s not the central conflict, and it’s not what we as readers are necessarily waiting to happen. The core of the story is entirely on Nalah: can she accept the reality of the world, and can she keep her gang safe?
Nemesis Series by April Daniels
This is a superhero duology centered around the question, “What if Superman was a transgender lesbian?”
Dani—a closeted transgender girl—is immediately outed when she inherits the mantle of Dreadnought, the most powerful superhero in the world. As she struggles to deal with her emotionally abusive parents and transphobic superhero “allies,” she also has the slightly more pressing concern of the overpowered supervillain planning to level her city.
April Daniels—who is transgender herself—tackles several major issues in these books, including transphobia, classism, and racism.
As a white straight cis person, I actually learned a lot about real world-issues affecting minority communities through these books. It’s a neat trick when a speculative fiction book teaches more than several years of public schooling.
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
Hard sci-fi dystopian
City in the Middle of the Night takes place on a tidally locked planet—that is, a planet that does not rotate. There is no sunrise or sunset, one side of the planet is always facing the sun while the other faces away.
Which means one side is constantly on fire while the other is a frozen wasteland.
There’s one thin habitable zone—called the twilight zone—where a handful of human cities are located.
Sophie is a college student with a crush on her roommate, and the book starts with her getting executed for stealing a handful of lunch money. She gets thrown into the side of night—the frigid wasteland—but ends up saved by a telepathic creature and returns to the city as a fugitive.
She then has to navigate the dangers of the city’s politics as well as the wilderness, while working through the trauma of her execution.
This one is kind of a downer, and doesn’t have a happy ending so much as a hopeful ending.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Historical fantasy/alternate history
What if zombies showed up during the Battle of Gettysburg? That’s the premise of Dread Nation and its sequel Deathless Divide, which creates both a foreign and familiar 1880’s America. Twenty years after the dead rose during the Civil War, slavery is technically over. Instead, black girls are trained in special schools to kill zombies and protect their rich (white) employers. Jane McKeene is a rebellious student who is only going to school to get a degree and return home to her mother. But then she and her frenemy Katherine uncover a conspiracy theory that ends up sending them from Baltimore, Maryland, to the Wild West. Because even when there’s a global zombie plague, it’s really the humans who will ruin your day.
It’s a black girl Western with zombies. What more could you possibly ask for?
The Mermaids of Eriana Kwai Trilogy by Tiana Warner
This trilogy features flesh-eating mermaids at war with the native island of Eriana Kwai. The first book—Ice Massacre—follows Meela, a human going on her first Massacre.
Since the mermaids have been fishing out the waters so the natives starve and even killing people who get too close to the beach, Eriana Kwai sends out a crew of twenty people to kill as many mermaids as possible. Until very recently, these crews have been exclusively male, a bad call because mermaids are like sirens, with a power called the lure that hypnotizes men. Women are immune. So Meela gets to go on the first all-woman Massacre.
This is bad for Meela, because her best friend and eventual girlfriend Lysi is a mermaid.
This trilogy is officially young adult, but it’s so intense and bloody that this can translate into the new adult section without much difficulty.
Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas
Young adult/new adult
This seven-book series (technically eight, if we’re counting the prequel anthology) is about a fantasy world where magic disappeared from the land and is officially forbidden. The kingdoms are ruled by different tyrants, and it’s one of these tyrants that our main character Celaena is forced to serve.
Celaena is an assassin who, at the start of Throne of Glass, is currently serving a miserable life sentence in the salt mines. She gets pulled out to enter a competition of warriors, soldiers, and killers to become the king’s primary wet worker. As much as she hates the arrangement—and the king—this is her one shot at freedom.
As the series progresses, we uncover more of Celaena’s backstory and explore more of the world. After a major identity reveal and
new plot direction around book three, the series really picks up steam.
Kingston Cycle Trilogy by C. L. Polk
This is an ongoing trilogy. Two books—Witchmark and Stormsong—are already out, with the third and final book Soulstar due for release in February 2021. Dr. Miles Singer ran away from his family of nobles so he could use his healing magic to help veterans, rather than be chained to his sister as her personal magical battery pack. But then a murder happens, his sister finds him, and there’s yet another conspiracy theory that they have to solve.
Miles is helped by Tristan, a fae-like badass who picks locks, is magically incapable of lying, and stars as the same-sex romantic love interest. This series uses its magic system and worldbuilding to highlight classism, as well as mental health and historical oppression. Polk takes no prisoners with her writing and doesn’t even try to be subtle about her theme. It’s beautiful.
The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis
Adult (rated PG-13)
Airships have revolutionized war. But while science is progressing by leaps and bounds, the military is stuck in its old patriarchal ways. Until Lieutenant Josette Dupre—after winning a battle that killed her captain—is promoted to captain and given her own airship.
But Josette sees it as the trap it is. Everyone is waiting to see her fail, and her commanders send a spy Bernat to report all of her failings, whether they’re real or not. Which he does, gleefully.
Until he and Josette are forced to work together to survive and end up accidentally creating a friendship. Because there are some things you just can’t do together without becoming friends, and fighting battles, making fun of superior officers, and bringing down the patriarchy are some of those things.
The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
Adult (rated R)
Epic fantasy grimdark
In a fantasy world heavily inspired by 19th Century China, gods are real and grant terrifying powers to their shamans. None is more powerful than the Phoenix, who can grant his people the power to burn whole cities in the ground. Our main character Rin is from a poor farming village, and she manages to get into the top military academy in the nation on scholarship. There, she goes through the ringer, and after graduating is immediately thrust into a horrible war where she makes disastrous, bloody decisions. This is basically a tragedy where we watch Rin become a monster. This does have a sequel, but I couldn’t get into it. As much as I adore The Poppy War, I could not get into the next installment. But several others disagree with me, so maybe check it out.
The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky
Adult (rated R)
This book follows an Inuit man, Omat, who is…well, if he’d been born anywhere else, he’d have been assigned female at birth. But because of certain Inuit customs, he’s raised as a man and fully identifies as a man even though he’s biologically female. Because of those same customs, he’s trained as a shaman and gets magic powers as he learns to communicate with the gods.
Basically, he’s a magic trans baby.
Also, bloodthirsty Vikings are washing up on his shores. Oh, and the Norse and Inuit gods are real and want Omat dead for one reason or the other.
This one has a lot of dark moments—transphobia and sexism, animal death, rape—but there’s a really sweet, happy ending.
Those are my ten personal favorite sci-fi and fantasy books written by women. Please list yours in the comments so we can check them out!
Christina “DZA” Marie, the creator of the blog Dragons, Zombies & Aliens, has been obsessed with sci-fi, fantasy, and horror since childhood. In addition to blogging and YouTubing, she’s published several short stories and novellas. Come bug her on blog or social media.