Why are there so many men in fantasy novels? I mean, don't get me wrong, I love A Song of Ice and Fire as much as the next nerd. I'm all about Targaryens and snow zombies and learning the detailed history of the political parties of Volantis. And yes, George R.R. Martin does have some pretty stellar ladies at the helm of his series: Dany and her crew. Brienne of Tarth. Arya and Sansa Stark and their revenge zombie mom. But even so, the Game of Thrones books, like so many other fantasy epics, are written by a man. Between Tolkien and Martin, high fantasy can feel like a real boys' club. But if you don't mind venturing into the wilderness out beyond Middle Earth and Westeros, you just might find that there are a lot of fantastic fantasy novels written by people who are not men. If you like Game of Thrones, you should read these fantasy epics by women.
After all, there's no rule that says that all high fantasy novels must be set in a vaguely medieval, fairly European, patriarchal world. Why is it so easy for authors to imagine dragons and elves and demons, and so darn hard for them to picture a layered female protagonist? If you're feeling a little burnt out on men stabbing each other with phallic symbols in fake European settings, here are a few novels that offer something a little different:
1'The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms' by N.K. Jemisin
If seven kingdoms just aren't enough for you, how about a hundred thousand? Yeine Darr is an outcast: born to parents of two different races, and raised in the barbarian north. She's surprised, then, to be summoned to the great city of Sky and named as an heir to the throne. But life in Sky isn't all royal leisure time. This is where the most powerful "weapons" of the kingdoms are kept — weapons who once would have been called gods, but are now forced to use their powers to wage war on rebellious mortals.
2'A Darker Shade of Magic' by V.E. Schwab
There is not one London, but four: each existing in the same spot, in a vastly different universe. Only the Antari magicians can travel between Londons, from the magical Red London to the bloody White London to the dull Grey London, and even (possibly) to the mysterious Black London. Kell, one of the last Antari, and Delilah, a Grey London cut purse, find themselves tangled up in a web of magic and treachery as they try to keep the balance between four perilous, parallel cities.
3'A Wizard of Earthsea' by Ursula K. Le Guin
You can't talk about high fantasy without talking about Earthsea. Tired of moldy castles and endless iterations of fake English countryside, Le Guin came up with Earthsea: a fantasy realm unlike any other. An archipelago of islands, Earthsea is hope to wizards and dragons, secret plots and bold adventurers, and the saga is just as compelling as any trip to Westeros.
4'Kushiel's Dart' by Jacqueline Carey
If there's one thing that A Song of Ice and Fire is famous for, besides the ludicrous number of characters, it's the ludicrous number of sex scenes between all those characters. Kushiel's Dart is an intricately plotted, sophisticated fantasy novel set on a parallel Earth, and it still manages to make time for some steamy romance on the side. Phèdre nó Delaunay is both courtesan and spy, and her story is one epic tale of intrigue, love, and the birth of a new age.
5'Huntress' by Malinda Lo
If you love the out of wack winters of A Song of Ice and Fire, you're going to love Huntress. In Malinda Lo's world, nature has been thrown out of sync. It's been years since the sun came out, and strange creatures have started to appear in the dark. Two teenage girls must shoulder the fate of their failing realm as they journey to a magical city, fight for their own survival, and begin to fall in love in the midst of a dangerous world.
6'Six of Crows' by Leigh Bardugo
Two words: Fantasy. Heist. If you haven't read Six of Crows yet, consider this your formal invitation. The criminal mastermind Kaz Brekker is determined to break into the infamous Ice Court to release a dangerous hostage and make himself filthy rich — but first, he'll need a crew of the deadliest outcasts he can find. What follows is a wild ride of clashing characters, fantastical mayhem, and one very enjoyable heist novel.
7'Paladin of Souls' by Lois McMaster Bujold
Paladin of Souls is a classic of the high fantasy genre, and the protagonist is a forty-something women who's struggling with her mental health. The royal dowager Ista has just been released from a curse of "madness," and now she must protect her realm from treacherous war and demonic monsters. It's a nuanced fantasy novel, a very different kind of coming-of-age story, but it's still filled with romance, adventure, and a complex middle-aged woman who fights demons.
8'An Ember in the Ashes' by Sabaa Tahir
Laia is a slave under the Martial Empire. She and her family try to keep their heads down, because the Empire is none too kind to rebels—but when her brother is arrested for treason, Laia finds herself working as a spy in the Empire’s greatest military academy. Sabaa Tahir's Rome-inspired fantasy world is one of brutal conquest and danger, but Laia will find herself at the center of rebellion and romance as she tries to save her family from the brink of destruction.
9'The Blue Sword' by Robin McKinley
What's a list of fantasy books without at least one kick ass lady knight? Orphan girl Harry Crewe may have started out as a tomboy, growing up in the woods, but once she's kidnapped by the Hillfolk King, a far grander destiny starts to unfold for her. Harry can see visions, and she is to be trained in the art of war, to become the king's rider, and to wield the legendary Blue Sword.
10'Sorcerer to the Crown' by Zen Cho
Zacharias Wythe, a freed slave and talented magician, finds himself in a tough spot: as Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers, he must travel to the border of Fairyland and determine why England's magic reserves are drying up. Sorcerer to the Crown is a funny, wildly original fantasy-meets-regency-England novel, perfect for fans of George R.R. Martin and Jane Austen alike.
11'Who Fears Death' by Nnedi Okorafor
If you're wondering what George R.R. Martin's been doing all this time to procrastinate on The Winds of Winter, he'll be producing Nnedi Okorafor's brillinat fantasy/sci-fi novel as an HBO series. Who Fears Death is set in some far future version of Sudan, where magic exists in the apocalyptic ruins of civilization. Young Onyesonwu is born of two warring factions, and her strange powers mark her as an outsider, a monster, and the only one who can possibly save her people from annihilation.