I’m not fond of damsels in distress. I prefer women of substance, of wit and integrity and tempered power. I’m also not of the belief that women should necessarily dominate all males in all aspects of every plight. I like a good balance of both gender roles. These characteristics flavored my adolescent reading choices and led me to the type of writing I use today. The following is a list of five fantasy authors with incredible novels that I highly recommend.
Tamora Pierce: My life would be forever changed had I not encountered The Lioness Quartet and all of its earnest characters. Alanna was a good starting point, but In the Hand of the Goddess really captured the essence of womanhood, adversity, romance and honor that empowered my thoughts and directed my reading appetites. Her second series was also a valid starting point, but Alanna was my first cherished novel. I hope Ms. Pierce knows how many readers she has inspired with her words, and regarding the young adult fiction market for girls, I consider her royalty.
Gail Carson Levine: Not that I have anything against Anne Hathaway or Disney, but they tend to simplify ideas for their audiences. Ella Enchanted presented a Cinderella tale filled with mirth, sorrow, innocent romance and redemption that I felt was wholly absent from the film. I remember picking the novel from a book fair and spending a rainy day in bed devouring the pages. I laughed and cried and swooned and gnarled my teeth. It was an emotional rollercoaster for preteen Karen, and my copy is rather dilapidated from use. I can look back on it fondly. Her other novels didn’t quite have the same charm as Ella Enchanted, and I was quickly outgrowing their short lengths, but I fully intend to read Ella Enchanted to my children when that day comes.
Patricia Briggs: Before she jumped on the smut bandwagon with her Mercy Thompson series, Patricia Briggs wrote this wonderful novel called When Demons Walk. I have no problem with Mercy Thompson, but urban fantasy has a lot of gimmicks that makes it forgettable. When Demons Walk is mystery about a thief/mage/overachiever named Shamera on her hunt for the demon of Southwood. Sham must pretend to be the mistress of the new leader of the realm, who is himself a noble warrior of just morals and logical thinking. Briggs is great with weaving humor and witty dialogue with an unpredictable plot and fully-fleshed characters. I wouldn’t say her skills have waned today, but they are certainly tuned in another direction.
Anne Logston: Logston doesn’t quite fit in the young adult grouping: I consider her topics a bit more mature. Still, I enjoyed reading her books, even if they were somewhat formulaic. Her characters would have some sort of magical advantage, there would be some questing, a lover may or may not show up, and the triumph was sweet and satisfying. I think her writing made me realize that I needed to like both the protagonist and the romantic interest in order to like the book. If either one was faulty, my interest would fade away.
Kristin Cashore: She’s a newcomer, but I would be doing a great disservice if I left out Kristin Cashore from any of my favorite author lists (unless it was a favorite male author for instructional guides and bromance, in which case she might make an honorable mention despite gender disqualification). I was desperately hoping to run into her on my Boston trip last week. I carried a new copy of Graceling with me, just in case. Alas. There are enough rave reviews for her work to negate the need for a summary here. Just know that I give my stamp of approval and fully support any praise she has received. She excels in character interaction and growth. I can only hope to follow in her footsteps.
Patricia C. Wrede: Dealing with Dragons. Can’t you imagine saying that with a sigh and your arms akimbo? I didn’t include Wrede on my list because although her books are fantastic, the characters are never quite at the edge of survival and turmoil like those above. They certainly do grow, but the stories are so comedic and fast-paced, I can’t quite group Wrede’s work with the others. I have A Matter of Magic on my shelf at the moment, but I have yet to read it. I hear it surpassed her debut novels, which I consider a rare occasion for most authors. I may come back to revise this list after.
Vivian Vande Velde: VVV has branched beyond the fantasy genre. I enjoyed reading A Well-timed Enchantment and Dragon’s Bait, but neither of these books featured a strong female lead; they sorta… let things happen to them. I’m interested in reading The Changeling Prince, but the male protagonist won’t be challenging any traditional gender roles there either. I hear she hangs out with the big-time authors like Jane Yolen, etc.
Sherwood Smith: I admit it. I bought Crown Duel because of the cover. I didn’t even realize that I had read Sherwood Smith’s novels about Wren several months before. I have to thank my middle school library for being so well-stocked. Smith’s writing is somewhat immersive, but I feel that she had a stronger hand in description than plot or character. Still, the late 90’s was a great time to be reading young adult fantasy and the name Sherwood Smith should ring a bell for anyone in the genre.
Did I forget anyone? Is there an author you think should usurp one of the lofty top 5 positions? Let me know.