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“Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Books are glorious as they can stand on the uncharted precipice of “what if” and ask, “What if the world was different?” How would we feel about that? Authors take to pens or keyboards to make sense of the world. And unlike any other genre, SFF allows authors the freedom to ask big questions in creative circumstances. This freedom is how we got stories like The Handmaid’s Tale or Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness that challenged gender roles and biases. Or, She Who Became the Sun by Shelly Parker-Chan that boldly reimagines the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty. There is true power in the “pen.” It can sway people, change minds, and bend the future.

 

Due to current events in the US, we as a team came together and selected a few novels that touch on women’s rights or women’s roles. This list is obviously not complete. Its depth and breadth would have to be ten times larger and contain more viewpoints from different cultures and backgrounds. Many of the plights of women including those identifying as female are universal but not all of them. However, this is an excellent selection of books to get one started.

a natural history of dragons
1.

A Natural History of Dragons

By Marie Brennan

Do you feel like women are being told where they belong and what they are capable of/ should have access to by people who have no business doing so? Let Lady Trent take you on her journey into the world of science in a society that very much doesn’t want to let her do so.

– Taylor from Maed Between the Pages

About A Natural History of Dragons

You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

2.

The Year of the Witching

By Alexis Henderson

A dark fantasy story with an oppressive religion that tries to keep our main character Immanuelle from her witch-y heathen female ancestry. But maybe that’s what she needs in the end to find herself.

– Taylor from Maed Between the Pages

About The Year of the Witching

A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.

3.

The Bear and the Nightingale

by Katherine Arden

Poetically written and based on Russian folklore, our main character Vasilisa finds her agency through exploring her pagan historical roots. The touch of magic is everywhere if you know where to look.

– Taylor from Maed Between the Pages

About The Bear and the Nightingale

Katherine Arden’s best-selling debut novel spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice. 

“A beautiful deep-winter story, full of magic and monsters and the sharp edges of growing up.” (Naomi Novik, best-selling author of Uprooted)

Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.

Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village.

But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed – to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

4.

Monstress

by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda

For those who may feel powerless at the moment, find catharsis in a world run by matriarchal societies and chock full of morally grey characters that live by their own moral code.

– Taylor from Maed Between the Pages

About Monstress

Steampunk meets Kaiju in this original fantasy epic for mature readers, as young Maika risks everything to control her psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, placing her in the center of a devastating war between human and otherworldly forces.

5.

The Deep

by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes

What would happen if the pregnant women thrown overboard during the transatlantic slave trade gave birth in the ocean? How would their stories be remembered and passed down through the generations? Solomon explores this beautifully through poetic prose and mermaids.

– Taylor from Maed Between the Pages

About The Deep

Octavia E. Butler meets Marvel’s Black Panther in The Deep, a story rich with Afrofuturism, folklore, and the power of memory, inspired by the Hugo Award–nominated song “The Deep” from Daveed Diggs’s rap group Clipping.

Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.

6.

The Language of Thorns

by Leigh Bardugo

A collection of small stories form the Grishaverse (other reading in this universe not required); many of which focus on women making choices about their own lives- choices that are best for them.

– Taylor from Maed Between the Pages

About The Language of Thorns

See the Grishaverse come to life on screen with Shadow and Bone, now a Netflix original series. Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times-bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love. Enter the Grishaverse… Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns. Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price. Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, the tales in The Language of Thorns will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse. This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, each of them lavishly illustrated and culminating in stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.

7.

The Gate to Woman’s Country

By Sheri S. Tepper

This complicated story takes place 300 years after a nuclear holocaust destroyed nearly everything. Men and women are divided. I chose this story because, while some might say that it is divisive in a “love it/hate it” way, it does ask interesting hypothetical questions. The biggest is, “Is all of this worth it?”

-Beth Tabler

About The Gate to Woman's Country

Tepper’s finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women’s Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning.

The resulting manifold responsibilities are seen through the life of Stavia, from a dreaming 10-year-old to maturity as doctor, mother and member of the Marthatown Women’s Council. As in Tepper’s Awakeners series books, the rigid social systems are tempered by the voices of individual experience and, here, by an imaginative reworking of The Trojan Woman that runs through the text. A rewarding and challenging novel that is to be valued for its provocative ideas.

8.

The Handmaid’s tale

by Margaret Atwood

This book hardly needs an introduction from me, it has close to 40 years of readers across multiple generations and is now a wildly popular HBO series. The story follows Offred as she lives, struggles, and survives under a gender-based fascist regime. Offred’s body is not her own, and her struggles are more poignant now more than ever before.

-Beth Tabler

About The Handmaid's Tale

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now . . .

9.

Vox

by Christina Dalcher

A story where men control everything down to how many words are spoken from a women’s mouth. Women are silenced in a very real way.

-Beth Tabler

About Vox

Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed to speak more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial—this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

But this is not the end.

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

10.

Once and Future Witches

by Alix E. Harrow

“The dragons were slain and the witches were burned and the night belonged to men with torches and crosses.”

In my humble opinion, Alix E. Harrow can do no wrong. This story is about suffragette witches. Three women who repair their torn relationships, step up and fight for women’s and witches’ rights in Salem Massachusets circa 1893.

-Beth Tabler

About Once and Future Witches

In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

11.

The Jasmine Throne

by Tasha Suri

The Jasmine Throne is, more than anything, a story of the strength of women. Clever, strategical strength, such as Malini’s. The strength to survive and thrive despite extreme hardship and tragedy, like Priya. Even the strength to rebel in whatever way a person is able, like Bhumika. Alone, each woman is a force to be reckoned with. Together, they will shake the world.

I loved that each of them used their own strengths, and not one of them was ever the stereotypical “damsel in distress”.

-Jodie from WItty and Sarcastic Book Club

About The Jasmine Throne

Author of Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne, beginning a new trilogy set in a world inspired by the history and epics of India, in which a captive princess and a maidservant in possession of forbidden magic become unlikely allies on a dark journey to save their empire from the princess’s traitor brother.

Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.

Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.

But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire.

12.

The Queen of Blood

by Sarah Beth Durst

So many books strip women of the femininity in an attempt to make them look strong, completely ignoring that women are strong already. The Queens of Renthia shows different kinds of strength. Daleina is hardworking and headstrong. Any character that is introduced as wanting to kick fate in the face is one I’m going to love.

The Reluctant Queen (book 2) introduces Naelin, whose power comes second to her desire to protect her children. The term “mama bear” grossly underestimates what Naelin becomes when she feels her children are threatened. There are many kinds of badass women, and Naelin shows a facet of female strength that isn’t often represented in fantasy.

-Jodie from WItty and Sarcastic Book Club

About The Queen of Blood

An idealistic young student and a banished warrior become allies in a battle to save their realm in this first book of a mesmerizing epic fantasy series, filled with political intrigue, violent magic, malevolent spirits, and thrilling adventure

Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .

But the spirits that reside within this land want to rid it of all humans. One woman stands between these malevolent spirits and the end of humankind: the queen. She alone has the magical power to prevent the spirits from destroying every man, woman, and child. But queens are still just human, and no matter how strong or good, the threat of danger always looms.

With the position so precarious, young women are chosen to train as heirs. Daleina, a seemingly quiet academy student, is under no illusions as to her claim to the throne, but simply wants to right the wrongs that have befallen the land. Ven, a disgraced champion, has spent his exile secretly fighting against the growing number of spirit attacks. Joining forces, these daring partners embark on a treacherous quest to find the source of the spirits’ restlessness—a journey that will test their courage and trust, and force them to stand against both enemies and friends to save their land . . . before it’s bathed in blood.

13.

Legacy of the Brightwash

by Krystle Matar

“…you never really recovered, so much as you learnt to go on living even though you were falling apart.”—Krystle Matar, Legacy of the Brightwash

“And that’s what makes it so painfully, soulfully, and beautifully humanBrightwash uses fantasy like a safecracker’s tool to break its characters open and lay their contents out with the lightest of touches.

Matar’s prose is deep, mournful, and gorgeous, able to bring out both the deep physical and emotional wounds the characters experience throughout the story. And although the world is light on its fantastical elements, Matar manages to make it feel absolutely strange and familiar all at once – books like Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and China Miéville’s The City and The City come to mind. This is dark stuff written so beautifully that you can feel the grime on the walls and the grit in every crevice – both in the world and the characters themselves.”

-From the review by author G.M. Nair

About Legacy of the Brightwash

Follow the law and you’ll stay safe. But what if the law is wrong?

Tashué’s faith in the law is beginning to crack.

Three years ago, he stood by when the Authority condemned Jason to the brutality of the Rift for non-compliance. When Tashué’s son refused to register as tainted, the laws had to be upheld. He’d never doubted his job as a Regulation Officer before, but three years of watching your son wither away can break down even the strongest convictions.

Then a dead girl washed up on the bank of the Brightwash, tattooed and mutilated. Where had she come from? Who would tattoo a child? Was it the same person who killed her?

Why was he the only one who cared?

Will Tashué be able to stand against everything he thought he believed in to get the answers he’s looking for?

Tell me what you think!

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