The fantasy genre has always been the domain of women, as we explored in our list of female fantasy authors who shaped the genre. However our list of writers to recommend for Women’s History Month is significantly longer than one mere top 10 list can contain. Now that we know how we got here, let’s take a look at the contemporary female fantasy authors who are building upon the past. These women are redefining the fantasy genre for the 21st century. Add them to your t0-read list today and find your new favorite fantasy author.
10) Jenna Glass
Photo by Eabby Verhoeven via Penguin Random House
Author Jenna Glass only has one title to her name: 2019’s fierce feminist fantasy epic The Women’s War. This novel marked her as an up and coming author to watch, but it turns out that she has written a variety of urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels under the name Jenna Black. She is also a visual artist who created hand-painted jewelery based on the elements in The Women’s War that she sells on her Etsy page. A prolific author of many names and a woman of many mediums, Jenna is one to watch for more epic fantasy in the future.
9) Charlie Jane Anders
Photo by Sarah Deragon/Portraits to the People via the Author’s Website
Charlie Jane Anders is no stranger to genre. She was one of the founding editors of the website io9 where she wrote extensively about science fiction and fantasy in literature and media. It was inevitable that Anders would eventually transition from writing about genre, to writing genre fiction herself. Her debut novel All The Birds In The Sky won a Nebula award in 2017. She recently published her follow-up The City In The Middle of the Night. In 2019, she also joined the writing staff for the upcoming Y: The Last Man series on FX. Anders blurs the lines between genre, her books are a surreal combination of both science fiction and fantasy. Along with her novels, Anders has written a variety of short fiction and currently hosts the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct with partner and fellow io9 founder/author Annalee Newitz.
8) Ilana C. Myer
Photo by Dave Cross | Image via Author’s Website
A former journalist who has recently turned to genre fiction, Myer gained acclaim for her debut novel Last Song Before Night published in 2015. A newcomer to the genre, Myer always knew that she wanted to be a novelist. She wrote the first draft of Last Song Before Night while grappling with religion, a theme that shows up in the novel. She was also torn between two worlds, living in Israel with a deep desire to return to New York City and this conflict is also reflected in her character struggles. Myer’s world is full of complex characters and a deep appreciation for music, which is manifest as magic in her work. She currently has two books out in this world, with the third The Poet King due at the end of March.
7) V.E. Schwab
Image via Tor Books
We have written about our love of V.E. Schwab in the past, specifically her excellent Shades of Magic series. A versatile author who can seamlessly blend genres, she has authored over a dozen books (some under her full name Victoria Schwab). In 2017 she signed a historic $1 million deal with Tor books to publish more books in her Shades of Magic universe. Many of her titles have also been optioned before they were even released. There is no doubt that Schwab is one of the hottest fantasy authors around, and that is no surprise. Her complex characters and unique worlds are compelling and evocative. Schwab’s writing style is detailed and cinematic and seems ripe for adaptation. Her next book The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue will be out later in 2020.
6) Laini Taylor
Image via Author’s Twitter
Laini Taylor hit the scene in 2011 with her fantasy series Daughter of Smoke and Bone. She followed up the popularity of that series with her excellent Strange the Dreamer. Taylor’s work is often pigeon-holed as YA or Teen fiction, but that does a disservice to the maturity of her writing style, along with adult themes of love, sexuality, and identity. Her next series is due out sometime in 2020 with the a novel titled Dreamdark.
5) Naomi Novik
Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons
Naomi Novik is an incredibly versatile author who is constantly stretching beyond the boundaries of what she has done before. Long before she was a published author, Novik was deeply embedded within fandom where she founded the legendary Archive of Our Own. The books that gained her popularity was her Temeraire series that imagined dragons fighting in the Napoleonic wars. She followed this up with a pair of novels that reimagined various folktales and fables with her books Uprooted – which won the Nebula award for best fiction book in 2015 – and Spinning Silver. Up next, Novik returns to the series format with A Deadly Education, a novel about a magic school that is much more dangerous than anything Harry Potter could have ever envisioned.
4) Samantha Shannon
Photo by Louise Haywood-Schiefer | Image via Author’s Website
An excellent storyteller who builds richly detailed and fully realized worlds, Shannon sold her 7-book series The Bone Season to Bloomsbury in a six-figure deal at the age of 21. This long-running series takes place in a dystopian alternate England. However, Shannon has made it clear that she dislikes genre restrictions and often bends them in her work. She ranks on this list of fantasy authors thanks to her excellent high fantasy novel The Priory of the Orange Tree that came out in 2019. Shannon has described this novel as “a feminist retelling of Saint George and the Dragon.” A promising young writer with a strong work ethic, we hope to see more high fantasy from Shannon in the future. Until then, her next novel will be the fourth volume of The Bone Season due for release in 2021.
3) Erin Morgenstern
Photo by Allan Amato | Image via Penguin Random House
Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel The Night Circus published in 2011. It won the Locus Award for best first novel and spent seven weeks on the New York Time’s Bestseller’s list. Morgenstern captured the hearts of genre readers everywhere with her dreamy surrealist love story between two dueling magicians. Then Morgenstern went dark for years, not publishing a follow-up until last years The Starless Sea. The years between the two novels were well spent. Her sophomore effort is as beautifully written and layered as her first endeavor. Morgenstern started writing The Night Circus initially as a project for Nanowrimo, standing as inspiration to writers everywhere who undertake the same challenge. We can only hope that it will not be another 8 years before we get to read another novel by this talented fantasy author.
2) Jenn Lyons
Photo by Matthew & Nicole Nicholson, Dim Horizon Studio | Image via MacMillan Publishing
Jenn Lyons might not be the definitive name in epic fantasy, but she is certainly on her way there. Her debut novel The Ruin of Kings came out in 2019. It was followed swiftly by its sequel and the third book in the trilogy is on the way in 2020. These books are the epitome of modern epic fantasy, sprawling and massive with multiple tricky points of view.
Lyons is a former writer for video games, such as the EA Lord of the Rings games, so she has some experience conveying large amounts of complex information in an easily digestible manner. Complicated characters veer between hero and villain from one page to the next. There are dragons and deep magic, strange otherworldly beings and gods walking amongst men. Despite all of this, the writing is never clunky or burdensome. The trilogy is fast-paced and cleverly written, shockingly easy to read despite the number of pages involved. The third book The Memory of Souls is due for release in August 2020. We look forward to seeing more from Lyons in the years to come.
1) N.K. Jemisin
Photo by Laura Hanifin via the Author’s Website
Acclaimed author N.K. Jemisin is no stranger to our top 10 lists. And there is a good reason for that. She is one of the best fiction writers of our time, and consistently makes history within the genre. We have covered how each book in her Broken Earth trilogy won a Hugo award for best novel three years running. She was the first author to ever achieve this feat. Even without that feat, she would still be included on this list purely by virtue of her Inheritance trilogy. My personal favorite of her works, this series is more familiar fantasy territory with gods living alongside and mixing with humans. Yet nothing about Jemisin’s work is ever expected or standard. She outdoes herself with every new novel, and stands as the epitome of a new era in fantasy fiction.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.