A Phoenix First Must Burn
A Phoenix First Must Burn is an SFF anthology of sixteen short stories written by bestselling and award-winning Black women and gender non-conforming people. I love this anthology because it’s both a celebration of and a testament to the innate power and magic of Blackness, as experienced through the lens of women and people of other marginalized genders. All of these stories are well-written, compelling, and I highly recommend them, but some of my feminist faves include “Gilded” by Elizabeth Acevedo, “Hearts Turned to Ash” by Dhonielle Clayton, and “Letting the Right One In” by Patrice Caldwell.
Gods of Jade and Shadow
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the mastermind behind one of my favorite horror novels to-date, the New York Times bestselling Mexican Gothic. Gods of Jade and Shadow does with magical realism what Mexican Gothic does with horror. The story follows Casiopea, a young woman living in a small town in southern Mexico, who accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan death god. What follows is a thrilling adventure that takes Casiopea on a journey through the harrowing Mayan underworld.
The Space Between Worlds
Micaiah Johnson is a staggering talent, and her debut novel, The Space Between Worlds, is a thrilling exploration into the themes of feminism, race, and poverty set against the backdrop of a vivid and intricate multiverse. The story follows Cara, a professional time-traveler whose citizenship depends upon the success of her work. But when her doppelgangers on other worlds began to die mysteriously, Cara’s quest to uncover the truth reveals a plot that endangers not just her life, but the entirety of the multiverse. The New York Times calls this story “Profoundly satisfying,” and I couldn’t agree more.
An Ember in the Ashes
The best of grimdark feminist fantasy, An Ember in the Ashes is a page-turning (and, at times, gut-wrenching) look into one girl’s fight to save her brother and rebel against a brutal system of tyranny, slavery, and oppression. This is a gritty YA fantasy read with a sprawling world, compelling characters, and stakes so high you’ll have trouble putting this book down. A must-read!
The Bear and the Nightingale
The perfect read for the winter season, The Bear and the Nightingale is a Russian-inspired fantasy that follows our main character, Vasilisa, a spirited young woman raised in the Russian wilderness, who struggles against her controlling stepmother, who would rather see her married off or committed to a convent. But when misfortune falls upon her village, Vasilisa is forced to look within in order to find the strength and power she needs to stop it. With its stunning prose and folkloric worldbuilding, The Bear and the Nightingale is certain to sweep you away.
Wilder Girls is a beautifully written (and eerily relevant) horror story about Raxter, an all-girls school on a remote island in Maine that succumbs to a strange and gruesome virus called the Tox. A few months into quarantine, students begin to disappear mysteriously in the night. One of them is the enigmatic Byatt, the best friend of our protagonist Hetty, who will do almost anything in order to find her. But her plight to find her friend reveals horrible secrets about Raxter, the Tox, and everything Hetty believed to be true. Best suited for those who love their feminist fantasy with a helping of existential angst and body horror. I can’t recommend it enough!
The Girl in Red
The Girl in Red is a gritty, post-apocalyptic reimagining of the story of Red Riding Hood. It follows our protag, Red, a razor-sharp young woman doing her best not to become prey in a world full of blood-thirsty predators. This page-turner is perfect for those who like their fairytale reimaginings with a feminist edge. It’s a sharp and engrossing read.
The Year of the Witching
In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.
But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.
Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.
For years, I’ve found catharsis in reading feminist fantasy novels. There’s something so inspiring about books that follow women who reclaim their power and wield it to save themselves, those they love, or even the world. From the story of a time traveler traversing multiple universes, to a girl’s school in Maine struck by a horrific and devastating virus, here are a few of my favorite feminist fantasy reads that are sure to keep your eyes glued to the pages.
Featured Image: @abrilliantdummy/Twenty20