10 female fantasy writers to read after Game Of Thrones ends

Graphic: Natalie Peeples

With HBO’s eighth and final season of Game Of Thrones coming to a close this weekend, millions of dedicated, dare we say obsessed, viewers of the fantasy juggernaut will soon be left with nothing to do on their Sunday nights. But superfans and completists looking to read George R.R. Martin’s own version of events in Westeros will have to wait, as the author still hasn’t said exactly when the final two books in the A Song Of Ice And Fire series will be released. For those who will need to sate their hunger for warfare, scheming, and magic sooner rather than later, we’ve pulled together a group of some of our favorite fantasy writers, who happen to be women. Whether it’s Game Of Thrones’ large, complex world, political jockeying, or dragons you most enjoy, or if you were one of the many people critical of the show’s sometimes arbitrary violence against its female characters, here are 10 writers—with dozens of books among them—to help you take the edge off your withdrawal.

Lois McMaster Bujold

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Like Game Of Thrones, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Hugo-winning Chalion series begins almost entirely devoid of fantasy elements before abruptly revealing that the world is far more complicated than its characters or readers knew. Inspired by the history of the unification of Spain, The Curse Of Chalion follows a down-on-his-luck noble who becomes embroiled in intrigue after taking a job as the princess’ tutor. There are lots of specific similarities between Bujold and George R.R. Martin’s plots, including an incompetent king without a clear heir, an ill-fated wedding, and dark magic powered by a mysterious god, though the tone is overall lighter. The books are also less directly connected, so you can easily read The Curse Of Chalion as a standalone or continue to the rest of the trilogy, where each book has a different protagonist. [Samantha Nelson]

Robin Hobb

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The work of Robin Hobb, a pen name of West Coast author Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden, rarely strays from the Realm Of The Elderlings, a fantasy world that sets the stage for 16 books divided into four trilogies and one quartet. Linked as they are in both world and character, though, Hobb’s series doesn’t commit to any one style—she’s long experimented with tone, as well as perspective. Still, it’s helpful to begin with 1995’s Assassin’s Apprentice, which kicks off the Farseer Trilogy’s tale of Fitz Farseer, a budding assassin staring down malevolent princes and brutish Red Ship Raiders. Game Of Thrones fans should find plenty to like, from the vast world to the warg-like Wit to a mode of zombification that’s creepier and more existential than the White Walkers could ever be. Martin himself has described Hobb’s work as “diamonds in a sea of zircons.” [Randall Colburn]

N.K. Jemisin

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N.K. Jemisin will readily call out the “underlying rhetoric of white supremacy” and “inherent conservatism” of fantasy’s male-dominated history, and with her daring, politically charged works of speculative fiction, she’s propelling the genre in a new direction. She’s been prolific as hell since publishing The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in 2010, but it’s her Broken Earth trilogy that serves as an excellent gateway, if only for how impactfully it weaves modern anxieties regarding racism and climate change into its narrative. There’s plenty to unpack here, from the single continent that serves as its setting to Jemisin’s geological magic system to the world’s different societal orders, but 2015’s The Fifth Season, like Game Of Thrones before it, frames the lore through the perspective of its characters—here, three women and girls with the ability to control energy—as well as one wicked quest for revenge. [Randall Colburn]

Sarah J. Maas

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That Sarah J. Maas was raised on Disney movies is clear—her first two series, Throne Of Glass and A Court Of Thorns And Roses, are riffs on Cinderella and Beauty And The Beast, respectively. There’s an edge to her retellings, though, with the popular Throne Of Glass—which wrapped up its seven-volume run in 2018—refashioning the “rebel princess” as a complicated assassin. The resulting stories contain the brutality and betrayal of Game Of Thrones, as well as some despicable, Cersei-esque royalty, but tend not to revel in the grimness that can weigh down Martin’s narratives. But you’d better get started with the seven books soon: The A Throne Of Glass series is currently in development at Hulu with Handmaid’s Tale writer Kira Snyder at the helm. [Randall Colburn]

Madeline Miller

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If you’re missing Cersei Lannister’s delightfully hateful scheming, check out Madeline Miller’s book about her mythological namesake. Circe pulls together Greek myths that make Martin’s grimdark sensibilities look tame in comparison. The story’s filled with murder, rape, abuse, betrayal, and all the other crimes that come from the worst impulses of men and gods, but manages to avoid feeling exploitative because of Circe’s own fragile humanity and desire to make the best of the situations she finds herself in. If you like it, go back and read Miller’s first novel, The Song Of Achilles, which focuses on the romance between the legendary hero and his fellow soldier Patroclus described in Homer’s Iliad. [Samantha Nelson]

Naomi Novik

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Winter is coming for the people of Lithvas in Naomi Novik’s Hugo- and Nebula-nominated novel Spinning Silver. Combining the story of Rumpelstiltskin with elements of The Merchant Of Venice, the book primarily follows the daughter of a Jewish moneylender who boasts that she can spin silver into gold and winds up attracting the attention of the lord of the Staryk, icy fey creatures that want to freeze the mortal world. It’s a gorgeous story driven by a cast of amazing women whose stories interweave magic, politics, and mundane prejudice and cruelty. Dragon fans will also find plenty to love in Novik’s Temeraire series, which imagines the mythical creatures being used as air support during the Napoleonic Wars. [Samantha Nelson]

Nnedi Okorafor

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Nnedi Okorafor’s oeuvre is daunting in its breadth, the Nigerian American author having flexed her blend of science fiction and fantasy across fiction, nonfiction, and comics for both adult and YA readers. The good news is that, unlike many authors on this list, her works don’t unfold in bricks of text, but in trim, approachable formats, like the Binti novella series. Published in 2015, 2017, and 2018, the series’ three volumes follow a Himba woman who leaves Earth for an intergalactic university, where her heritage becomes interwoven in her conflicts with a murderous alien race. If comics are more your bag, you’ll also find Okorafor in Marvel’s stable—she’s written a handful of Black Panther comics, including a five-part series centered around Shuri. Though their work occupies different realms, Okorafor’s found an advocate in Martin, who is executive-producing HBO’s adaptation of her 2010 post-apocalyptic science fantasy novel, Who Fears Death. [Randall Colburn]

Tamora Pierce

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Tamora Pierce is revered among fantasy fans for the feminist trail she’s blazed through the YA genre since 1983, when she published the first in her Song Of The Lioness
quartet. The first of several interlocking series, the initial quartet tells the story of a girl who pretends to be a boy so she can train for knighthood in the magical land of Tortall. Alanna remains a key figure in Pierce’s subsequent The Immortals and Protector Of The Small quartets, as well as the Daughter Of The Lioness duet, all of which set Tortall’s evolutions in gender equality against the realm’s myriad conflicts. Protector Of The Small’s Lady Keladry is the first woman allowed to train for knighthood, and Alanna, now much older, serves as an overseer of sorts for the young warrior. Fans of Game Of Thrones’ Brienne will find plenty to like in Pierce’s characters, while those critical of the show’s treatment of women should respond to Pierce’s complex portraits of PTSD. [Randall Colburn]

Noelle Stevenson

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Game Of Thrones was at its best when it was subverting expectations of what a fantasy story should be, and Nimona, Noelle Stevenson’s webcomic turned graphic novel, offers the same sorts of surprises. Starting as a goofy story about the titular young shape-shifter, who particularly loves turning herself into a dragon or shark, apprenticing herself to the knight turned supervillain Ballister Blackheart, Nimona grows into a beautiful queer love story that questions perceptions of heroism and villainy. Check it out before 2021, when Disney will be releasing an animated adaptation. Stevenson also has an ongoing modern fantasy comic series called Lumberjanes. [Samantha Nelson]

Sabaa Tahir

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Combining Roman history with Arabian mythology, Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember In The Ashes YA series provides a wonderful counter to Game Of Thrones’ tendency to use people of color as victims for its white cast to save or avenge. That shift is best represented through Laia, one of three narrators and a member of an oppressed ethnic group who she hopes to help liberate. As with Thrones, the story can be brutal, as characters deal with physical and emotional assaults from powerful enemies who are skilled at intrigue, fighting, and magic. Three books are already out, so you’ll have plenty to catch up on while you wait for the planned fourth and final entry in the series. [Samantha Nelson]

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