WIHM: 10 Books By Female Writers That Deserve More Attention
As a part of Women in Horror month, Stuart asked me if I had a column about women in horror that I could give him. Well, not so much horror, but horror and fantasy, sure. And here it is. Now, I read a lot, but, I am ashamed to say, around 85% of my books were written by men. So I did an online check and found that women have been vastly under-represented in these genres across the board in the past. However, I have discovered that in the past twenty years or so, that has changed markedly. In fact, the last book on this list is one of my 3 favourite books from 2019.
Now, this list concerns books that I feel are simply not given enough love. That does mean I won’t be mentioning anything by JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Ursula K LeGuin, Marion Zimmer Bradley or other more popular authors and their works. And no Stephenie Meyer… but I think her works are poorly written, poorly plotted and morally dubious, so I wouldn’t recommend them in a fit.
However, I think these fantasy and horror books by these fine female authors really do warrant some re-appraisal and I would really recommend you search them out, and have a good read. I present these in order of year released, and I have tried not to include spoilers. Hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
1) The Sword Of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett (1953)
Leigh Brackett was one of the first female writers to make a success writing science fiction. Yes, before Ursula K LeGuin, there was Leigh Brackett. Now, I have not read a lot of her work, but this is one I own and I think it’s great. It is pure pulp Sword and Sorcery… set on Mars, borrowing a lot from Burroughs’ John Carter setting (though the setting is about all she borrows). This story of time travel, galley slaves, fights and looking for tombs is rather convoluted, but it is one of those “something is always happening” stories that just keeps on driving forward. This is a great example of why pulp fiction is my favourite genre.
2) Warrior Scarlet by Rosemary Sutcliff (1958)
Admission – this was a book we had to read in high school English. Admission 2 – it was one of the best things we read in high school English. This tale of a young man in Bronze Age England struggling to overcome his serious physical disability while trying to prove himself as a man, along with a wolf in a similar situation, resonated with a lot of us. It is a coming of age story, sure, but it is also a historical fantasy and an amazing tale of survival and overcoming the odds. Maybe that was why the school got a bunch of teenaged boys to read it. It has stuck with me for more than thirty years. So well written.
3) Daughter Of The Bright Moon by Lynn Abbey (1979)
This is one of my favourite fantasy novels ever. I bought it second hand when I was at high school and trying to find anything to read after working through Tolkien, Howard, Burroughs and the usual suspects. So, I went through the local second hand book shop with my Christmas money and bought whatever looked like fantasy. This was one of those… and it is wonderful. Abbey has developed a magnificent world and the journey of Rifkind is so different, and I think that’s because we are looking at a female on the Hero’s Quest, not a male, and the dynamics really stand out. In a good way. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy.
Oh, and Lynn Abbey also wrote D&D modules back in the day when I was a role-playing gamer (that is, before version 3 ruined D&D). How cool is that?
4) Savaged by Victoria Bugoyne (1980)
This story of hyenas loose in London is written in a style that is really easy to get into: over the course of two days, a gruesome story unfolds, and each chapter is another brief time period. It’s like 24 for horror lovers. A family of hyenas, their mother, a human family… Just on the edge of your seat horror. I think my biggest issue is Keith’s response at the end. It just feels… odd. I’m not going to tell you what he does, but you’ll know when you read it. Despite that, the hunting by the hyenas and the police out to get them is just so well done. It’s a game of cat and mouse… or lion and tiger, really, as they’re all out to kill everything. This is a book that flies by. Great, just great.
5) The Watch Gods by Barbara Wood (1981)
A rather intriguing little horror-fantasy novel. An Egyptologist is saved from unemployment, some-one dies, and he takes it upon himself to complete the search for the famed tomb of Akhnaton. However, there are curses and more people die and roadblocks are thrown in his way. The story drives along at a right cracking pace. But… the ending does let it down. A major death was not permanent, the main character (Mark) does things against his character, there’s some strangeness and it almost felt like it was rushed through. But, that aside, this is a great adventure yarn, harkening back to the pulp fiction I love so much.
6) Tales Of Natural And Unnatural Catastrophes by Patricia Highsmith (1987)
Okay, bit of a cheat – Patricia Highsmith is well-known still and this is not a novel. But this collection of 10 short stories is one of her works that is overlooked, and I think undeservedly so. These are weird horror tales, some with a slight political bent to them, but all with an odd ending. Even an ending that is just there is not something you see coming. My favourite was ‘Nabuti’ about an African nation doing all it could to appease the UN… quite nastily, too. Not what I expected when I was gifted the book in 1990! (Thanks, Troy & Leanne!)
7) Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips (2007)
A funny fantasy about Greek gods living in our world. This was given to me by a very nice editor when I gave her my manuscript of a story… about Greek gods living in our world. I’d been beaten to the punch. However, the tales are different enough, I’m still trying to sell mine (hint, hint to all publishers reading this!) and this is still a fun read. And an easy read. The gods, see, live together, they’re losing their powers and then Aphrodite and Apollo get into a fight and suddenly two mortals have to act like heroes. It’s odd and entertaining and an enjoyable read.
But, seriously, publishers – mine’s called Gorgon With The Wind and is 40,000 words long.
8) On The Edge by Margaret Visciglio (2014)
Yes, I’ve mentioned this book before, but I am huge fan of Margaret’s work; she is a wonderful writer and a wonderful person, so I have no issues at all in promoting her work again. Three-headed cat monsters, a young adult work, set in Australia – it’s great, and it has a decent message underneath all the strange horror-fantasy. So, yes, I have discussed this one very recently, but I don’t care. Buy it! read it! It’s great!
9) Her Crown Of Fire by Renee April (2019)
Another young adult book, the opening salvo in what will probably end up a series, this is a book that borrows a lot from the Harry Potter sort of magic school for kids trope. But this has enough strong differences for it to be easily kept separate. Through portals, two kids are transported to an alternate world; one has magic, one doesn’t. There are friendships made, young love blossoming, magic galore, deaths and it’s the sort of thing that it seems younger readers enjoy today. But one thing separates it – Rose Evermore, the main character, is completely compelling. She is believable and her struggles coping with this new world make sense. She carries the tale, and I really do recommend it for people who like this sort of fantasy.
10) The Teacher’s Piano by Jennifer White (2019)
And I’ll finish with a gentle ghost story. Horror story? Murder mystery? All of them? Look, this is a really well-written book and the imagery is so well put forth that the self-publishing errors (punctuation, inconsistency in formatting) and my personal bugbear (present tense… which Her Crown of Fire also suffers from) are very quickly ignored as you are sucked into this world of love and death. The piano is front and centre, there is death and there is a strangely happy ending despite it all. It is a novella, so is a relatively quick read, and it is one of the best paranormal romance tales I have come across in a very long time. Really recommended. One of my top 3 books of 2019.
I should also mention her 2019 collection of horror short stories The Eyes Of Death, which is a really good collection. Jennifer White is an author worth keeping an eye out for; her work is brilliant!
A decent spread of story types, I think, but every book here is a great work and worthy of renewed (or brand new) attention. And after reading White, April and Visciglio, the future is in safe hands. If you only buy three books from this list, those three are the ones to go for. Seriously – support these new, modern writers.
Yet all of these are great, fun reads. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!