A sword and sorcery tale in the tradition of Jirel of Joiry and Black Agnes.
From Tangent Online:
Drith and Shard are on the run, heading to the ancient city of Seleucia. Set in an alternate history Earth, the story contains many fantasy elements, including magic and archetypes: Drith is a skilled thief, Shard a swordsman. Upon their arrival, they are taken to Prince Nikoleides who tasks Drith with finding a particular book in possession of his rival Ambrose. Shard is to remain as human collateral. Truths unfold as Drith’s mission progresses, unravelling a far more intricate situation than it once seemed.
Donna Thorland mixes real world settings with fantasy elements perfectly. Settings are described in great detail, while maintaining concision and flow. The plot is never what it seems, and is always believable. There is also a good amount of backstory to develop the characters, and their relationships and motives. “Drith” is a must read.
The Mongoliad is a very realistic work of historical fiction but unlike a lot of medeival fiction it has lots of strong 3-dimensional female characters. Cnán and Lian are not warriors but they have their own strengths – Cnán is a hunter and tracker, and Lian is an expert in the ways of the court. There are also groups of Shield Maidens who are warriors. This book has lots of interesting characters, male and female.
Set in the late 1800s, this novel explores what one woman achieves when she is freed from the ties of Victorian conventions. Pretending to be a man, she accomplishes an education and being elected to government at a time when Women were not even able to vote. Gloriana, proves a woman’s capabilities far exceeded those betrothed to her by strangulating social norms.
Bradley weaves the masterful tale of two valiant Amazon women who try to break the invisible chains of custom, convention, habit, and expectation with which society binds women, and women bind themselves. (Good Reads).
Darkover is a planet inhabited by humans, forgotten, and then ‘progressive, modern’ humans return. An excellent of exploration of what changes with the so called equalization of rights and the realities faced by women day to day.
In an ancient kingdom, eight young women are bound together by Jin-shei: a vow of lifelong sisterhood — a promise that is everlasting, a bond that cannot be broken, whatever the cost.
A review by Victoria Strauss
Tai is just a child when she first accompanies her mother, a palace seamstress, to the Summer Palace, the luxurious mountain retreat where the ladies of the Imperial Court go to escape the summer heat of the capital city of Linh-an. A chance encounter in a courtyard brings Tai to the attention of Antian, the First Princess, heir to the throne of the Empire of Syai. Unexpected warmth blossoms between the two girls, so different in station and destiny, and Antian offers Tai the precious gift of jin-shei: a vow of friendship that can be made only between women, binding them to a lifelong sisterhood that commands more loyalty even than the blood ties of family.
Little does Tai know that her joyous acceptance of this vow will bind her to another promise as well — one that, in the aftermath of tragedy, will alter the course of an empire. Across the years that follow, this promise, and Tai’s original jin-shei vow, shape the lives of eight women and those who love them: Liudan, Empress in her sister’s stead, whose fierce pride seeds a disastrous obsession; Yuet, healer, whose lie helps Liudan gain her throne; Khaelin, scholar, whose desire for secret knowledge snares her in dark servitude to a malevolent power; Nhia, sage, whose purity of spirit is coveted by that same power; Qiaan, adopted daughter of a palace guard, whose ambition makes her the pawn of Liudan’s enemies; Tammary, gypsy halfbreed, whose heritage holds an explosive secret that could bring down an Empire; Xaforn, extraordinary warrior, ready to give her life for her jin-shei sisters; and Tai herself, artist and poet, whose original gift of friendship spun the first ties of jin-shei between them all — a bond that can be honored or exploited or even abused, but never broken.
Set in an exotic imaginary China, The Secrets of Jin-Shei stands on the borderline between fantasy and commercial women’s fiction. There’s dark magic and alchemy, shapeshifters and golems, spirit journeys and a quest for immortality; but the central story is the women’s lives, irrevocably shaped by the shifts and stresses and triumphs and tragedies of their sworn sisterhood. Unlike some writers who incorporate fantasy elements into mainstream fiction, Alexander is familiar with the tropes of the genre (under another name, she’s the author of the well-received epic fantasy Changer of Days, which I reviewed here last year), and the book’s fantasy elements aren’t just window dressing or awkward add-ons, but integrally woven into the larger tale of female relationships. It’s a novel that should appeal as much to fantasy readers as to mainstream readers who normally steer clear of speculative fiction.
Things start off somewhat slowly, as Alexander takes time to lay the groundwork: introducing her cast of protagonists, who are first seen as children, and building a picture of Syai’s complex culture, with its centuries of history, its court life rigidly circumscribed by ancient custom, and its multifaceted religious traditions. The pace speeds and the atmosphere darkens as the women move toward adulthood, and the ties between them, rendered ever more complex and ambiguous by their individual characters and life choices, are tested both by outside events and by their own flaws and failings. Liudan’s deep insecurity, as well as the challenges she faces as Empress, drive her to cruelly exploit the bonds of jin-shei, tearing the sisters apart even as Tai, the nurturer, fights to hold them together. In the end, each woman is forced to terrible sacrifice in the name of the jin-shei vow she honors above all else — and yet in those painful ties of sisterhood, the women also find their greatest strength. It’s a nuanced treatment of the contradictory faces of friendship, which can be giving and demanding, nurturing and destructive, selfless and self-serving, all at the same time — and of how love, finally, can survive even the most devastating of injuries.
The book belongs to its women; the men, by contrast, are supporting players. Men do hold important roles in the sisters’ lives — Tai’s husband, Tammary’s royal lover, the powerful King of the Beggars, the dark mage Lihui — but by and large they remain peripheral to the action, and even the magnetic and seductive Lihui, upon whom most of the supernatural events center, doesn’t compare in interest and complexity to the female characters. Some readers may feel this as a lack, but others may not mind — this is the story of jin-shei, after all, which can exist only between women. Vivid and involving,
The Secrets of Jin-Shei is both an exotic journey into the imagination, and a graceful exploration of the heart.
This collections refashions traditional Finnish tales from a female point of view, reassessing women traditionally dismissed or demonised to see what their perspective reveals.
The book is woman-centric and examines the way gender and class have been used to deny access to power. It shows how powerful the traditionally female realms of food and care taking can be.
Katherine, the main character in The Privilege of the Sword, was brought up in the country knowing the rules of civilized society, but she’s encouraged to break them all by her uncle who summons her to the city in Riverside. She starts learning swordplay instead of following the usual path of finding a well-to-do husband to take care of her. This book explores issues like gay relationships in a homophobic society, breaking traditional gender roles, and different aspects of female friendships.
The protagonist in this book had a rough start as an orphan abused in a nunnery. Her tough-love father returns for her when she is eight years old. They both work for royals who use them. Despite this, Reveka holds no grudges, tries to do the right thing and works towards her impossible dream of becoming an herbalist. When a curse on the princesses of the castle starts hurting everyone, and the prize for breaking the curse would let her become an herbalist, she cleverly and sneakily takes matters into her own hands.
The most feminist aspects of this book are rather subtle. Reveka criticizes the status quo. She thinks of everyone’s well-being rather than trying to follow the rules. She is chastises the princesses for being selfish and using religious superstition as justification for letting others get hurt. There are no obvious male romantic interests. She admits to small attractions to a young boy and an older man, but those feelings are brushed aside in favor of practical matters. Reveka is even outraged by her father’s ridiculous love interest. This hero exhibits great critical thinking, independence and empathy.
The whole book is a series of letters between two cousins, Kate and Cecelia. (Each author took on one persona and wrote letters from that girl’s perspective.) Kate and Cecy share a time period with Austen’s heroines, but unlike those ladies, Kate and Cecy have magic to contend with. They learn sorcery, meet eligible young gentlemen, and vanquish evil. They are fantastic heroines.