These SFF books by and about women need to be on your reading list.
It’s official: the days of passive female characters in science fiction and fantasy are over.
Nowadays, we have more than just Buffy to look up to. From Star Wars’ Rey to Michael Burnham in Star Trek: Discovery and the new Doctor, recent pop culture has finally caught up to the fact that women are interested in seeing themselves assuming powerful roles in science fiction and fantasy (SFF).
And the situation in books is also changing rapidly. SFF shelves have for years been dominated by men, but female authors are now breaking through in their droves.
To make sure you don’t miss out of any of this year’s great science fiction and fantasy, here’s your guide to 2019’s SFF books written by women.
The Girl King by Mimi Yu
We all love a story of good versus evil, but there’s something much more compelling about stories where former friends, or even siblings, turn on one another.
In Mimi Yu’s The Girl King, Lu is destined to become the dynasty’s first female ruler, while her sister Min is resigned to a life in the shadows. Then their father names their male cousin, Set, as his heir, leading the sisters down very different paths.
Lu runs away to find an ally and an army to help her reclaim her birthright, while at court Min finds a forbidden deadly magic – one that could secure Set’s reign or allow her to claim the throne herself – rising within her.
The Girl King is out now, Gollancz, £10.99
A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Bridget Kemmerer
Fairytale retellings are nothing new (all fairytales are retellings), but Bridget Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely has breathed new life into Beauty and the Beast.
In our world, Harper is struggling – her mother’s health is deteriorating and her brother has fallen in with a dodgy crowd as he tries to help his family stay afloat.
Things get worse when Harper is sucked into Emberfall, a parallel fantasy realm whose heir, Prince Rhen, is cursed to repeat the autumn of his 18th year over and over and become a monster each time. As in Beauty and the Beast the only thing that will free him is love.
But that’s where the similarities end. Harper, who has cerebral palsy, is a ballsy heroine with a mind of her own, and is more interested in political intrigues and the intricacies of ruling a country than she is in falling in love. While this is a story about the redemptive power of love, it’s also a story about family and inner strength.
A Curse So Dark and Lonely is out now, Bloomsbury, £7.99
Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton
If you’re a fan of Black Mirror, then Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful is for you.
Arwen Elys Dayton’s book is a novel in six interconnected parts, set in our world and covering now and the distant future. Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful explores the consequences of advanced medical breakthroughs, like plastic surgery and full bodily reconstruction, and how they might shape and reshape humanity.
Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful is out now, HarperVoyager, £8.99
The Orphanage of Gods by Helena Coggan
It’s unusual to be a veteran of anything before you’ve even turned 20. But, given that Helena Coggan wrote her first novel at 13 and has since published another, it’s not inaccurate to describe her as such.
Her new standalone novel The Orphanage of Gods is set in a word where the gods were all but wiped out in a bloody revolution. The children they left behind have been imprisoned in an orphanage, with the ruthless Guardsman keeping watch to disappear any who reveal hidden powers. No one has escaped the orphanage, until half-god Hero and her brother Joshua break out.
The Guard – who have Hero and Joshua’s sister Kestrel in captivity – are on the siblings’ tail. Hero and Joshua encounter a band of gods-in-hiding, who promise to help in exchange for eternal loyalty. Hero is reluctant to trust them, but when even Joshua begins to turn against her, her options begin to shrink.
The Orphanage of Gods is out now, Hodder & Stoughton, £17.99
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
If you love fantasy epics but don’t like series where all the books aren’t published when you start reading, you may have decided to leave Samantha Shannon’s seven-book series The Bone Season for another time. Luckily, Shannon has taken a quick break from The Bone Season to write a standalone, which means we can indulge in her writing without worrying about impatiently waiting for a sequel.
The Priory of the Orange Tree follows three women – the unwed Queen Sabran the Ninth, who must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction; her lady-in-waiting Ead Duryan, who secretly protects the Queen with hidden magic; and dragonrider Tané.
A story about an ancient enemy and rising chaos, this is the kind of big fantasy book that you want to spend days reading.
The Priory of the Orange Tree is out now, Bloomsbury Circus, £16.99
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
Ann Leckie won all three of the world’s most prestigious SFF awards for her debut novel Ancillary Justice, the first in a trilogy. The Raven Tower sees her turn her hand from science fiction to fantasy for the first time.
For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by a god known as the Raven. But in their hour of need – a usurper has claimed the throne and invaders are amassing at the borders – the Raven has abandoned its people.
Into this comes Eolo, a warrior who is aide to the true heir to the throne. Eolo discovers that the Raven’s tower conceals a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself, and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden.
The Raven Tower is out now, Orbit, £16.99
Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh
Do You Dream of Terra-Two?, the debut from British writer Temi Oh, is a space travel epic with a hint of CW teen drama.
Ten astronauts leave a dying Earth to find a habitable planet called Terra-Two. Four are decorated veterans of the 20th century’s space race, while six are teenagers from the exclusive Dalton Academy, who have been training for this mission for most of their lives.
It will take the group 23 years to reach Terra-Two, time enough for things to go very, very wrong.
Do You Dream of Terra-Two? is out now, Simon & Schuster, £14.99
Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear
Described as space opera, Elizabeth Bear’s Ancestral Night follows a salvager, Haimey Dz, who uncovers evidence of a terrible crime during a mission.
In possession of ancient, universe-changing technology, Haimey and her small crew find themselves at the outer limits of the Milky Way, running from both pirates and the authorities.
Think a darker version of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, but one where Gina Torres’ Zoe is in charge.
Ancestral Night is out on 7 March, Gollancz, £16.99
The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton
Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles was one of the most anticipated YA novels of 2018. The story of a world in which a group of women – the eponymous Belles – can make anyone beautiful, for a price, was not just an entertaining read, but also a commentary on beauty standards and our image-obsessed world.
Clayton is back with the sequel to The Belles, The Everlasting Rose, in which evil Queen Sophia has put a prince on Belle Camellia’s head. Racing against time, Camellia must try and find the ailing Princess Charlotte and restore her to her rightful place as Queen. She is helped by a secretive resistance movement called the Iron Ladies, who reject all beauty treatments.
The Everlasting Rose is out on 7 March, Gollancz, £10.99
Atlas Alone by Emma Newman
In Atlas Alone, Dee has left Earth after a nuclear strike destroyed the world – a threat that occasionally doesn’t feel so unrealistic. But thankfully, the rest of Emma Newman’s novel is thoroughly fictional (for now).
A dedicated gamer, Dee is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. When she kills a character in the game’s climax, he turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time. A man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth.
Disturbed, Dee hunts for information and finds out the true plans for the new colony, and realises she will have to save humanity.
Atlas Alone is out on 18 April, Gollancz, £14.99
Nocturna by Maya Motayne
This debut is set in a world of magic, where nothing is quite what it seems. Finnian Voy is a talented faceshifter who hasn’t seen her own face in years. She’s used magic for years against anyone who crosses her, but it’s not enough to help her when she’s caught by a powerful mobster and forced to steal a legendary treasures from the royal palace.
Meanwhile, Prince Alfehr, commonly known as Alfie, is first in line for the throne since the disappearance of his brother. Alfie is determined to find his brother, even if it means dabbling in forbidden magic.
When Finn and Alfie meet, they accidentally end up realising a magic into the world that they don’t expect or understand, they just know this magic is hungry…
Nocturna is out on 7 May, Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99
Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
Arrah is from a long line of powerful witch doctors, but her own magic is weak and she can’t cast even the simplest curse. When the children in her kingdom begin to disappear, she undergoes the dangerous and scorned process of selling years of her life for magic, uncovering a nightmarish betrayal and a danger beyond her imagining. This debut is set in a West African world of magic and legends and promises a twist you won’t see coming.
Kingdom of Souls is out on 19 September, HarperVoyager, £12.99
The Sky Weaver by Kristen Ciccarelli
Described as “lavish, romantic and magical”, The Sky Weaver is a standalone novel set in Kristen Ciccarelli’s The Last Namsara universe.
Sworn enemies Safire, a soldier, and Eris, a deadly pirate, must come together to find Asha, the last Namsara who is also the daughter of the King of Firgaard.
From the port city of Darmoor to the fabled faraway Sky Isles, their search and their stories become threaded ever more tightly together as they discover the uncertain fate they’re hurtling towards may just be a shared one. In this world, and the next.
The Sky Weaver is out on 14 November, Gollancz, £12.99
Images: Supplied by publishers / Aaron Gang