Since March is Women's History month, I thought I'd write about women who are currently writing traditional fantasy (by traditional, I mean fantasy that takes place in a secondary, pre-industrial setting).
I became a voracious reader of science fiction and fantasy in the 1970s and 80s, and I've been reading it ever since. While I read all types, my primary interest has been traditional "space focused" SF, and traditional "secondary world" fantasy. For a long time, most of my favorite writers of speculative fiction were women. They included writers like C.J. Cherryh, Mercedes Lackey, Lynn Flewelling, Kate Elliott, Ursula K. LeGuin, Kate Elliot, Kage Baker, Elizabeth Moon, and Anne McCaffrey. My bias was somewhat deliberate, because I noticed that a lot of the popular male SF and fantasy writers of that time period treated female characters (and relationships between the genders) in a way that didn't appeal to me.
Sometime during the early 2000s, I decided I needed to remedy my female bias in reading, and I started reading some of the newer male authors
Not dismissing the men here. Many of my favorite fantasy authors have been male. But with all the controversy over at the SFWA, I've been thinking a lot about this issue lately. Epic fantasy has taken a darker, grittier turn in recent years, and it also seems like fewer of the new voices in adult secondary world fantasy have been women in recent years, though there have been a lot of women writing YA fantasy and urban fantasy. When people recommend fantasy, or discuss their favorite authors, female writers often get overlooked.
Here's a list of some woman fantasy writers I've read personally who have set at least some of their more recent novels in secondary worlds and who write primarily for an adult audience. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I've tried to emphasize some writers who are a bit more recent.
Kristen Britain: Green Rider Series. This tale is set in a more
traditional fantasy world, where special messengers called Green Riders
serve their king. An enjoyable tale with a strong female protagonist.
Amanda Downum: The Drowning City (first book in the Necromancer Chronicles). A great female protagonist, and a cool take on necromancy in general.
Lynn Flewelling: The Nightrunner series and the Tamir Trilogy.
She's been writing for a while, and has a strong following, but a
surprising number of epic fantasy fans haven't read her work. Her
fantasy society is ruled by a lineage of warrior queens and served by a
network of wizards and spies, and intrigue and conflict figure
prominently in these stories.
N.K. Jemison: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: This is her
debut novel, and it's a complex tale of intrigue and ambition, set in a
Jaida Jones and Daniel Bennett: Havemercy. This is
the first book in a series that is set in a world where a country with a
Czarist Russia feel uses mechanical dragons to fight their enemies.
Francis Knight: The Rojan Dizon Trilogy (Fade to Black, Before the Fall and Last to Rise). Darkish fantasy set in a dystopian theocracy where magic is fueled by pain.
Glenda Larke: The Stormlords Trilogy and the Isles of Glory Trilogy.
Both of these have great world building and intriguing characters. The
water-based magic system in the Stormlords books is wonderful.
Jane Lindskold: The Firestarter series. The protagonist is a girl
raised by intelligent wolves, but this doesn't stop her from becoming
embroiled in a web of royal intrigue. Lots of twists and unexpected
turns. An added bonus is that the author actually researched wolf
behavior and social structure and didn't rely on the outdated
stereotypes and assumptions that clutter up far too many stories.
Anne Lyle: The Night's Masque Trilogy. This is set in an alternative Elizabethan England, where an intelligent, magic-using species that is decidedly not human inhabits the new world.
Maria V. Snyder. Poison Study. I've heard that this is marketed as YA, and as a romance, but it doesn't really fit the typical mold for these genres (the protagonist is 19, already past the usual cut-off age for YA at the beginning of the series, and ages throughout. Plus the romance is an important part of the tale, but not its main focus). An interesting debut novel set in an unusual fantasy world.