Fantasy novels featuring strong women (or women that aren't constantly abused)


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I like reading fantasy novels and I like discussing these with my fiancee, because I want to get him to read some books as well. However, most fantasy books I read (at least the modern ones) often have women in questionable stati, which means they are either abused, killed, sexually harrassed and molested, or everything, in any order.
My fiancee always sees red at novels with such scenes. He hates the thought that every fantasy novel nowadays (at least it seems so) features abused, killed or raped women. He wants to read, but with every book he picks up he fears that he gets angry because of something like this.

So what I am lookin for, as a present for upcoming Yule, are some fantasy novels without such themes. Price doesn't matter, language can be English or German. If any of you know of one or more fantasy novels with strong women/heroines or at least without the occassionally sexually harrassed female, I would be very grateful.


Does Wheel of Time count? I'm not sure where it would fall for your husband, as it plays a lot with stereotypes... but the women generally aren't ran through the fantasy ringer -- at least not as such or without it being something that is and should be considered repugnant (and even then I think it's fairly limited... but again I could be wrong too).


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The Deed of Paksenarrion - is a very good book series that features a strong female hero in the lead.


I refer you to the following thread:

Fantasy Series with a Strong Leading Heroine?


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Mark Sweetman wrote:
The Deed of Paksenarrion - is a very good book series that features a strong female hero in the lead.

+1 to this, still one of my favorite trilogies of all time.


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I don't know what sort of "modern" fantasy you're reading, that this is the case. It would have been expected in some old R. E. Howard tale (though even those had their own share of tough women). But I read an awful lot of new fantasy, and in what I read EVERYBODY is put into awful, compromising positions, and is relatively abused, whether male or female (we call those a hero's trials). I can't think of a single modern author I read who abuses women solely or exclusively, much less constantly. Come to think of it, most every modern author I read ALSO has tough women in his/her stories.

I submit, respectfully, that there may be no cure for this, so long as you and your significant other are convinced that any depiction of a woman in a bad situation is a depiction aimed at marginalizing women, whether or not men also find themselves in dire straits in the same novel. That sounds like what an old pal of mine referred to as "a personal problem."

(I know I assume a lot, but lately there have been a lot of misdirected claims of misogyny on these boards that seem an awful lot more like something happening in the head of the perceiver, rather than from the tongues of the accused.)

Now, for a shameless plug, I am currently working on a novel whose main protagonist is a woman. I consider her to be very strong, but I also depict her in sometimes sentimental, sometimes compromising, sometimes dependent situations, and sometimes in moments of intense pain. I am doing this because these are the things people go through in real life (though they are exaggerated in a fantasy novel). I have been in pain, and found myself dependent on others, even as a man, and I have seen the women in my life in the same positions.

I expect fully to be attacked roundly by every would-be feminist in the world when my protagonist displays her reliance upon, and eventual devastation at the loss of a certain man in her life. That doesn't change the fact that people, including women, do have to bear such excruciating pain and loss in real life.

Liberty's Edge

If you want something a little different, try Chicks in Chainmail anthologies.


Check out the awesome Pools Trilogy.

Book one is "Pool of Radiance"
Book two is "Pool of Twilight"
Book three is "Pool of Darkness"

One of the best D&D trilogy fantasy novels I've ever read.

Contributor

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Just to get the Pathfinder Tales nod out of the way, our novels with the strongest female protagonists are Plague of Shadows, Death's Heretic, and Winter Witch, though some of the others have pretty awesome female supporting characters, such as Vitta, Azra, etc. None of those women are taken advantage of (and those who think them weak are quickly shown the error of their ways, often at swordpoint).

Outside of Paizo, my favorite fantasy novels with a strong female protagonist are probably the Enchanted Forest books by Patricia C. Wrede, which start with Dealing with Dragons. I loved them as both a kid and an adult, and have had several female friends say they were some of the first fantasy books they encountered with a truly awesome female protagonist. Seriously--everyone should read those books. They're hilarious without being goofy, and the world is totally engrossing.

Oh, and if you want to go historical, Jirel of Joiry from Black God's Kiss (published by Planet Stories!) was really the first strong female protagonist in sword and sorcery. Ever. She's kind of a female Conan figure, and leads her male retainers by strength of arms....


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Bruunwald wrote:
I don't know what sort of "modern" fantasy you're reading, that this is the case. It would have been expected in some old R. E. Howard tale (though even those had their own share of tough women).

R E Howard's Red Sonya of Rogatino is nothing like the abomination Red Sonja created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith.... Set historical Europe and In the story, Red Sonya is a gun-slinging warrior woman of Polish-Ukrainian origin with a grudge against the Ottoman sultan.

R E Howard also had Agnes de Chastillon but she may be less to your partners taste as she had to undergo some hardships....

As for the women in Conan you must make a distinction between the stories that Howard wrote and the stories modified or written by other writers (Poul Anderson, Leonard Carpenter, Lin Carter, L. Sprague de Camp, Roland J. Green, John C. Hocking, Robert Jordan, Sean A. Moore, Björn Nyberg, Andrew J. Offutt, Steve Perry, John Maddox Roberts, Harry Turtledove, and Karl Edward Wagner to name but a few).

Even female writers tend to have their female protagonists suffer a few of the things you mention - Julian May, Anne MacCaffrey for example.

Cherrie Priest's Boneshaker (Steampunk rather than fantasy) is about a mother looking to get her son back. She hasn't suffered anything of a sexual nature.

Then again the whole purpose of the hero's journey is to transcend the extraordinary hardships and succeed.

Otherwise fantasy stories would be boring ie:

Aryiel the elf had a lovely time growing up, her parents were nice. Orcs didn't attack and destroy the kingdom in fact they all took up flower arranging and became vegetarians. The nearest dragon was friendly and liked to make tea.

Aryiel attended Elfland University where she was happy and secure in her sexuality and never had any unwanted attention from the opposite sex.

Once she graduated she got a job as a chartered accountant and married Bob who was a Quantitative Surveyor and they lived happily ever after the suburbs of Elfland.

The end.

Boring........

Now if her parents were distant and judgemental and one or both of them had died in the orc/dragon attack on the kingdom and she had been enslaved and beaten only to kill her master and escape.

Then while training with other refugee elves so that they could take back the kingdom she had to deal with unwanted advances from fellow recruits.

Also it turns out that Bob is short for Bobbi a female dwarf and Aryiel now has to deal with the pressures of a same sex interspecies relationship, within a group of racially pure violet eyed blue haired militant elves.

In the end Aryiel wins the victory but she has to live on the fringe of the kingdom because her beliefs and the person she loves does not meet the standard norms of elven society...........

Far more interesting.

Silver Crusade

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Hmmm...

Conflict is the essence of drama. However, abusing your female characters has become somewhat of an unfortunate trope in fantasy writing. Using rape and humiliation as drama is depressingly common especially in comics (both Marvel and DC are guilty of this).

If you are into comic fantasy Terry Pratchett has some of the strongest female characters in fantasy (the witches and Susan Sto'Helit spring effortlessly to mind).


I would also suggest the Sword and Sorceress anthologies.

Sovereign Court

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If you don't draw a distinction between fantasy & space opera, David Weber's Honor Harrington series fits the bill of what you're looking for.

It's actually less science-fiction-y than you might think at first glance.. it's nearly a reskinned telling of the napoleonic wars from the perspective of a young british (make that manticoran) naval officer.

Scarab Sages

Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

For strong female protagonists try reading Tanya Huff. Her Blood and Valor series are excellent.

The Exchange

The best fantasy novels to read would be from Paizo or Wizards of the Coast. They are both companies that appeal to a wide demographic. As many of their readers are younger, these books will have far less questionable content.

As many of the previous posters have pointed out, a good character has a good back story and often that means serious hardships. I fully understand where your fiancee is coming from. I am a single father with a teenage daughter and an impressionable 12 year old son and do not allow them to consume media where women are objectified.

There are some excellent examples already so I am sure you will find something acceptable.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
GentleFist wrote:

The best fantasy novels to read would be from Paizo or Wizards of the Coast. They are both companies that appeal to a wide demographic. As many of their readers are younger, these books will have far less questionable content.

The novels that Paizo sells in it's line though tend to be more adult oriented in my opinion.


FallofCamelot wrote:

Hmmm...

Conflict is the essence of drama. However, abusing your female characters has become somewhat of an unfortunate trope in fantasy writing. Using rape and humiliation as drama is depressingly common especially in comics (both Marvel and DC are guilty of this).

This is something my fiancee thinks as well. On of the most recent novels I've read was The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett, which featured the rape of a woman without any reason whatsoever. That was a major cause for anger.

I have no such qualms when it comes to drama, abuse, etc. regardless of gender. But that's just me.

To all of you, thank you for all the recommendations, I'll check them out, as well as the mentioned threat. My fiancee already read the two first Pathfinder Tales, maybe Plague of Shadows would be something.
Again, thank you so much!


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Polgara in David Eddings' books (The Belgariad series and the Malloreon) would definately fall under the strong female character list (she constantly pushes around the most powerful men in the realm) and though she goes through hardship and heartbreak certainly, I dont think there is a point where she is abused.


I can think of a number of fantasy books with strong female leads or other strong female characters, but none where the characters do not experience at the least some sort of violence. In fantasy books, bad things tend to happen to people, both men and women.

A number of the Anne McCaffrey books (both Pern and her other lines of books) might fit those guidelines, or at least lean in that direction.

If your S.O. is interested at all in modern fantasy, you might want to consider The Green and the Grey by Timothy Zahn, where you have a very ordinary modern day couple dealing with some extraordinary/fantastic situation. Not really epic fantasy, and sort of sci-fi in nature.

For a Sci-fi book, I can recommend the Heir to the Empire trilogy by Timothy Zahn. Mara Jade isn't the main character, but she's a strong female character (most females in the books are actually pretty strong people).

If you are interested in looking at some books for younger people, I can recommend

Frozen Fire - Tim Bowler
The Keeper of the Isis Light - Monica Hughes (or really any of her books)
His Dark Materials series - Phillip Pulman (male and female children leads)
A Wrinkle in Time - Madline L'Engle (and some of the other books in this series)


Ceres Cato wrote:
FallofCamelot wrote:

Hmmm...

Conflict is the essence of drama. However, abusing your female characters has become somewhat of an unfortunate trope in fantasy writing. Using rape and humiliation as drama is depressingly common especially in comics (both Marvel and DC are guilty of this).

This is something my fiancee thinks as well. On of the most recent novels I've read was The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett, which featured the rape of a woman without any reason whatsoever. That was a major cause for anger.

I have no such qualms when it comes to drama, abuse, etc. regardless of gender. But that's just me.

To all of you, thank you for all the recommendations, I'll check them out, as well as the mentioned threat. My fiancee already read the two first Pathfinder Tales, maybe Plague of Shadows would be something.
Again, thank you so much!

I haven't been steered badly yet reading highly rated books over at

http://thewertzone.blogspot.com/.

A few books I've enjoyed from there with strong female characters (who may or may not experience or have experienced bad things)

The Fade - Chris Wooding
The Braided Path - Chris Wooding
The Dresden Files - Jim Butcher
Codex Alera - Jim Butcher
Crossroads - Kate Elliot


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Alias, from Curse of the Azure Bonds?


Princess Bride, obviously! :-)

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Kolokotroni wrote:
Polgara in David Eddings' books (The Belgariad series and the Malloreon) would definately fall under the strong female character list (she constantly pushes around the most powerful men in the realm) and though she goes through hardship and heartbreak certainly, I dont think there is a point where she is abused.

I'm abit ambivalent about Polgara, She shows strength but it's a male chauvnistic of a woman's strength, she seems to win her arguments in more of a "don't anger your wife" mode rather than her personal strength. Her mother Poledra, is a bit more free of that trope.

Xena is a better example of a woman who's strong on her own terms.


LazarX wrote:
Kolokotroni wrote:
Polgara in David Eddings' books (The Belgariad series and the Malloreon) would definately fall under the strong female character list (she constantly pushes around the most powerful men in the realm) and though she goes through hardship and heartbreak certainly, I dont think there is a point where she is abused.

I'm abit ambivalent about Polgara, She shows strength but it's a male chauvnistic of a woman's strength, she seems to win her arguments in more of a "don't anger your wife" mode rather than her personal strength. Her mother Poledra, is a bit more free of that trope.

Xena is a better example of a woman who's strong on her own terms.

I think you will find that Leigh Eddings co-authored many of his books - (she was uncredited until David acknowledged it in later books) she was behind a lot of the female characters in their stories.


GRR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire has very strong female characters, but I'm afraid they still get constant abuse (like everything else in the setting, to be honest).

Sovereign Court

Nathan Longs Warhammer Ulrika the Vampire fit that mold. She is also in some of the Gorek and Felix books.

Bloodsworn and Bloodborn

Also if you like stories with a historical flare Gladiatrux and Roma Victrix (Russel Whitfield) though she does get raped in a book, she is a tough woman and the guy that rapes her gets his due.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
The 8th Dwarf wrote:
LazarX wrote:
Kolokotroni wrote:
Polgara in David Eddings' books (The Belgariad series and the Malloreon) would definately fall under the strong female character list (she constantly pushes around the most powerful men in the realm) and though she goes through hardship and heartbreak certainly, I dont think there is a point where she is abused.

I'm abit ambivalent about Polgara, She shows strength but it's a male chauvnistic of a woman's strength, she seems to win her arguments in more of a "don't anger your wife" mode rather than her personal strength. Her mother Poledra, is a bit more free of that trope.

Xena is a better example of a woman who's strong on her own terms.

I think you will find that Leigh Eddings co-authored many of his books - (she was uncredited until David acknowledged it in later books) she was behind a lot of the female characters in their stories.

There are women who did and still do buy into the traditional ways men have portrayed women. I think it's a telling point that for years,maybe decades, she was the uncredited part of the Eddings team.


Abraham spalding wrote:
Does Wheel of Time count? I'm not sure where it would fall for your husband, as it plays a lot with stereotypes... but the women generally aren't ran through the fantasy ringer -- at least not as such or without it being something that is and should be considered repugnant (and even then I think it's fairly limited... but again I could be wrong too).

No. I only got a few books in, and bam there were magical slaves being sexually abused. Not the protagonists, but still not a good counterexample.

Edit: No relation to the OP; just another guy who's sensitive to the all-too-common trope.

Silver Crusade

Pixel Cube wrote:
GRR Martin's Don't Get Attached to Anybody has very strong female characters, but I'm afraid they still get constant abuse (like everything else in the setting, to be honest).

Fixed that for you.


The sword of truth novels tend to very strong female characters

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

While I would generally recommend The Deed of Paksenarrion, that might not be what you're looking for—while the main character is a very strong woman,

Spoiler:
a fellow soldier attempts to rape her in book 1, bandits attempt to rape her in book 2, and she's raped and tortured in book 3, and another young woman is tortured (the rape is off-screen; the torture is described in detail). There are also allusions to sexual violence committed against a male character in his youth.

So that might not be what you're looking for (though Elizabeth Moon at least treats her characters with empathy, treating rape as abuse of power, and as real violence, instead of treating it as a magical source of inner strength or a cheap way to motivate the menfolk).

If you're looking for fantasy books with strong female characters where sexual violence is simply off the table, Emma Bull's War for the Oaks might fit the bill—the story of a guitarist who gets sucked into a battle between opposing fey courts.


Judy Bauer wrote:

While I would generally recommend The Deed of Paksenarrion, that might not be what you're looking for—while the main character is a very strong woman,

** spoiler omitted **
So that might not be what you're looking for (though Elizabeth Moon at least treats her characters with empathy, treating rape as abuse of power, and as real violence, instead of treating it as a magical source of inner strength or a cheap way to motivate the menfolk).

If you're looking for fantasy books with strong female characters where sexual violence is simply off the table, Emma Bull's War for the Oaks might fit the bill—the story of a guitarist who gets sucked into a battle between opposing fey courts.

Didn't a few short stories from that universe get put into Sword and Sorceress?


I would add Paladin of souls to that list. Lois McMaster Bujold is a good writer, and though bad things happen, it is very well done and there never is a sense of gratuitous exploitation.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Many of Terry Pratchett's books feature strong women. Smart, satirical fantasy, anything with the Witches or Death's Grand-daughter Susan fits the bill.

Sovereign Court

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Talonhawke wrote:
The sword of truth novels tend to very strong female characters

Not sure if serious...


Judy Bauer wrote:

While I would generally recommend The Deed of Paksenarrion, that might not be what you're looking for—while the main character is a very strong woman,

** spoiler omitted **
So that might not be what you're looking for (though Elizabeth Moon at least treats her characters with empathy, treating rape as abuse of power, and as real violence, instead of treating it as a magical source of inner strength or a cheap way to motivate the menfolk).

If you're looking for fantasy books with strong female characters where sexual violence is simply off the table, Emma Bull's War for the Oaks might fit the bill—the story of a guitarist who gets sucked into a battle between opposing fey courts.

I never read the original series but i did read the a recent sequel to it where nothing noteworthy actually happened in the entire book.


Robert Hawkshaw wrote:
Talonhawke wrote:
The sword of truth novels tend to very strong female characters
Not sure if serious...

Had a moment of confusion what your looking for would be The Book of Swords.


Robert Hawkshaw wrote:
Talonhawke wrote:
The sword of truth novels tend to very strong female characters
Not sure if serious...

I am. Admittedly some of them (especially one in particular) ARE dragged through 'the fantasy ringer,' but the main female characters are very strong in their resolve to press through and overcome them.

(I will readily note though that there are also women on the opposite side of the spectrum in that series that are totally abused and victimized though. Lots of them...)


kyrt-ryder wrote:
Robert Hawkshaw wrote:
Talonhawke wrote:
The sword of truth novels tend to very strong female characters
Not sure if serious...

I am. Admittedly some of them (especially one in particular) ARE dragged through 'the fantasy ringer,' but the main female characters are very strong in their resolve to press through and overcome them.

(I will readily note though that there are also women on the opposite side of the spectrum in that series that are totally abused and victimized though. Lots of them...)

Yeah think the last part is why i wouldn't recommend them to the OP in this case.

Sovereign Court

There is also the annoying tendency of using the strong, educated, sophisticated (etc) female characters as foils for Richard to show how super duper special he is. They are strong on paper but in practice are frequently shown up or 'put in their place'. Kahlan is awesome (so is Bridget Regan as an aside) except when she is being written as a moron or a dependent. It ain't her fault its the author's.

YMMV of course :)

Sovereign Court

SM Stirling frequently uses strong female characters. The Draka series for example

Spoiler:

Tongue in cheek, in that series the strong female is the villain. The Nantucket series has a heroine though.


No-one's mentioned Terry Pratchett yet? The entire WITCHES sequence of the DISCWORLD setting (starting with EQUAL RITES) has a very strong, mostly-female cast acting with agency. Some of the GUARDS books also feature strong female roles.

Fredrik wrote:
No. I only got a few books in, and bam there were magical slaves being sexually abused. Not the protagonists, but still not a good counterexample.

I'm pretty sure this never happens. Unless you're referring to the (somewhat over-simplistically but deliberately uncomfortable) trope-inverting sequence in Book 9 where one of the male characters is sexually harrassed and molested by a strong female character.

The WHEEL OF TIME has many problems and Robert Jordan's idea of 'feminism' is somewhat flawed and occasionally patronising (as arguably it usually is for any male writer trying to adopt a feminist approach, see also Joss Whedon), but his approach of only allowing women to use magic safely and this resulting in them being far more powerful than in the real medieval period does offer up some fresh spins and ideas on gender roles in fantasy.


Any of the Hawk and Fisher books by Simon Green.

Paizo Employee Managing Editor

Pual wrote:
I never read the original series, but i did read the a recent sequel to it where nothing noteworthy actually happened in the entire book.

Kings of the North? I just got that from the library, looking forward to it. :D The short stories set in that universe are all safe reading.

Yeah, the third book of the Deed of Paksenarrion in particular got pretty rough at the end.

Spoiler:
Which I guess makes sense in that the central theme of the trilogy is the problem of how paladins can champion those who are afraid/weak/defenseless without ever knowing and understanding that kind of fear/weakness themselves. But. Still tough reading.

Anyway! Other recommendations: Sunshine (more urban fantasy) and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, and Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster trilogy.


Werthead wrote:
I'm pretty sure this never happens. Unless you're referring to the (somewhat over-simplistically but deliberately uncomfortable) trope-inverting sequence in Book 9 where one of the male characters is sexually harrassed and molested by a strong female character.

Graendal has magic sex slaves, doesn't she. It's not explicit or really dwelt on, but it's there.


thejeff wrote:
Graendal has magic sex slaves, doesn't she. It's not explicit or really dwelt on, but it's there.

Of both genders, if I recall correctly. So at least it's evenly distributed :P


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I'd recommend the underated Empire Trilogy by Feist and Wurts. A very strong lead female character without an ounce of fighting skill or magic powers has to lead her shattered house from the edge of ruin.

Pity Feist never wrote any books after this and the initial magician trilogy.


A few off the top of my head...

Wild Seed, and others by Octavia Butler. This one is tricky, in that there are aspects of rape/abuse, but it is overcome. Also given the context in Wild Seed (era of slavery, protagonist is an African woman) it would be unrealistic not to have some degree of abuse. Anyanwu ultimately is a very strong, complex character who turns the tables on her abuser.

The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula LeGuin.

Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, all by Garth Nix. Very strong and compelling female leads here.

A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray (two others in series)

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley. Though, come to think of it, there is a rape scene. But among the strongest women characters you'll ever see.

War for the Oaks, Emma Bull.


DM Dan E wrote:

I'd recommend the underated Empire Trilogy by Feist and Wurts. A very strong lead female character without an ounce of fighting skill or magic powers has to lead her shattered house from the edge of ruin.

Pity Feist never wrote any books after this and the initial magician trilogy.

Isn't it.

That was my favorite of those series.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Forgive me if these have already been mentioned, but my wife really likes Green Rider by Kristin Britain (spelling?) and First Truth by Dawn Cook. Each has a number of sequels, as well.

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