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Fantasy Novels That Subvert the Chosen One Narrative

By Zakiya Jamal & a cat

Place holder  of - 58We all know the story of the chosen one. Time and time again, we’ve watched the Fabled Hero rise from Humble Yet Noble Origins to unlock Hidden Power only to discover that their True Strength was Friendship All Along, or whatever. That’s not what we’re here to talk about today. No, today is about the books that take that familiar narrative and twist it up. Flip it on its precious, anointed head! 

And why today of all auspicious days for this task? Because we’re celebrating the release of The Discord of Gods, the thrilling conclusion to Jenn Lyons’ A Chorus of Dragons series, where chosen ones fall from grace, demons run rampant across the earth, and adventure is the most important word. 

So read on! Check out a whole list of novels that defy the heroic and shake up expectations!


The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

Image Placeholder of - 62Lyons’ debut novel follows Kihrin, a thief and minstrel’s son, who discovers he’s a long lost prince. However, being a prince isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Kihrin’s new family treats him as a prisoner and he’s caught up in their power plays and political ambitions. To make matters worse, Khirin does seem to have a part to play in the fate of the world–in that he might just be destined to destroy it.

Lyon’s has already followed up with The Name of All Things and she continues subverting the traditional versions of heroes and chosen ones.

 

Placeholder of  -50Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade

In Kel Kade’s riotous fantasy, Fate of the Fallen, the learned wizards, gallant nobility, career adventurers, and anyone who might be considered an archetypical hero have all yeeted themselves away from a world that is dying. Who’s left? The flotsam. The broken. The ne’er-do-wells. But no one fights like the desperate, and dying though it may be, this is their world to save, damn it.

 

Poster Placeholder of - 57The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman

Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which is why he makes the mistake of attempting to rob Galva, who is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. And from these lofty beginnings, a sharply funny and bitingly thrilling fantasy adventure unfolds.

 

Image Place holder  of - 30Daughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonald

The first installment in a brilliant new fantasy trilogy from critically-acclaimed author Ed McDonald, Daughter of Redwinter chronicles the adventures of Raine, a young woman with a history of unfortunate decisions who can unfortunately see the dead. It’s a powerful gift, and one she’d die for if anyone knew. No adulation or support for Raine, our chosen girl who just might save the world. It’s secrets and daggers in the dark until the climactic end. 

Daughter of Redwinter is on sale 6.28.22

 

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

While one could argue that protagonist Mia Corvere does fall into the chosen one trope, Kristoff breaks out of the typical narrative style by having a narrator who reveals early on that Mia will die by the time the tale is done. So while Mia may seem like the center of the story, she’s not the one telling it and she won’t survive the story’s end.

 

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

Without giving too much away, Chakraborty does a great job of setting up the reader to believe that Nahri is the chosen one of this story, and though she certainly is at the center of the book, the novel becomes a dual narrative tale where the reader is left to wonder how Nahri’s story will converge with that of Prince Ali.

 

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

There are a lot of reasons why Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series was turned into a hit TV series and continues to bring in fans, but one of the big ones is Martin isn’t afraid to kill his heroes. From early in the series, Martin made it clear that the characters one might think are the saviors, or chosen ones, still aren’t safe.

 

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Often referred to as the adult Harry Potter, it shouldn’t be surprising that The Magicians makes the list. However, unlike Harry Potter, protagonist Quentin Coldwater doesn’t face a clear villain, at least not at first; instead Quentin’s main story is about exploring (and abusing) magic and discovering a world he’s always admired but doesn’t fully understand.

Originally published November 29, 2018.

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9 of Our Favorite Rebellions in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Happy 4th of July! This week in the US we’re celebrating the Revolutionary War. There will be food, fireworks, and of course, books—because there’s no such thing as a holiday without reading, at least not for us! Since we’re celebrating a revolution, we thought we’d share with your our list of some of our favorite revolutions and rebellions in science fiction and fantasy. What are we missing?

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Poster Placeholder of - 7 In Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, it’s a revolution wrapped in a heist. When Vin, a young Mistborn, joins a crew of Misting thieves, she thinks their only goal is to steal the Lord Ruler’s atium stash—an incredibly rare, and therefore valuable, metal that allows Mistborn to see the future. Of course, things get much more complicated very quickly as Vin, and the reader, find that crew leader Kelsier has much more dangerous goals: to overthrow the city of Luthadel and destroy the Lord Ruler himself.

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Image Placeholder of - 36 Ken Liu’s debut novel The Grace of Kings tells the story of two very different rebel leaders: Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu. The conflict in this one isn’t just about the fight against tyranny, but in the relationship between the wily, charming bandit Kuni and stern aristocrat Mata. Their goals may start out in alignment, but what happens once the fighting is done? Once the rebellion has ended, the true problems have just begun!

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Image Place holder  of - 11 What happens when a small, divided peninsula is invaded on two sides? When the conquerors use magic, as well as might? Those are only a few of the questions posed in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana. In this standalone fantasy novel, a small band of rebels from a province forcibly forgotten by magic use guile and trickery to try to free their home from the massive armies of the two rival sorcerers who have conquered it. When you can’t compete on the battlefield, sometimes trickery can win the day!

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin

Placeholder of  -11 When humanity moves into the stars, will we go as peaceful partners, or conquerors? Le Guin’s classic novel posits that we may not always be benevolent. In The Word for World is Forest, Terrans have enslaved the peaceful people of Athshe, and use them to harvest the forests that cover their world, since lumber has become scarce on Earth. If you visit enough atrocities upon them, however, even a peaceful people will eventually rise up against you—as the Athsheans eventually do, introducing mass violence to their previously pacifistic culture. The Word for World is Forest is short, but hard-hitting; Le Guin doesn’t pull any metaphorical punches.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Place holder  of - 48 Should you defend a rightful ruler if he’s also pretty awful? That’s one of the big questions for the characters in Saladin Ahmed’s debut novel. The aging ghul hunter Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, his assistant Raseed bas Raseed, and the magic shape-shifter Zamia Badawi thought they were on the trail of a killer. Instead, they discover a fomenting rebellion against the rightful Khalif—who’s also a terrible person. All Adoulla wants is to retire and drink tea in peace, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon if the Falcon Prince, the iron-fisted Khalif, and a brewing power struggle have anything to do with it.

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

It’s brother against sister in J.Y. Yang’s novella The Black Tides of Heaven. Mokoya and Akeha are the twin children of the Protector, who sold them to the Grand Monastery as children. There, they developed their gifts—and began, despite their efforts, to drift apart. Akeha, seeing the rot at the heart of his mother’s rule, chooses to fall in with The Machinists, rebels who want to end the state. Can the siblings maintain their bond as they end up on different sides of a growing conflict?

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

After a terrorist attack in his hometown of San Francisco, 17 year-old Marcus is swept up by Homeland Security for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. After days of being detained and mercilessly interrogated, Marcus is finally let go, and discovers that his world has changed. The US has become a police state, with everyone treated as a potential hostile. Privacy has gone the way of the dodo. Marcus isn’t about to take that lying down, though. It’s time to organize a cyber revolution.

Dune by Frank Herbert

In Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel, political instability is a fact of life for Paul Atreides. His father, Duke Leto, takes control of the planet Arrakis at the command of the Emperor, even knowing it’s likely a trap from House Harkonnen. Once the trap is sprung, Paul and his mother Jessica survive, fleeing to join the Fremen, the Arrakis natives who live in the desert. Using the Fremen as his fighting force, Paul embarks on a quest to take back Arrakis—and the galaxy—by overthrowing the Emperor and destroying House Harkonnen.

The Star Wars Extended Universe

Star Wars: A New Hope introduced the world to the Rebel Alliance, an organized band of misfits opposing the colossal, evil Empire. After the original trilogy, the Star Wars universe expanded out into a universe of books, with stories from a wide variety of authors, following different characters and locations across the galaxy. In Rebel Rising, we see the rise of the evil Empire as well as the formative years of a soon-to-be hero of the Rebellion: Jyn Erso. How are heroes formed? This is how.

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5 Sci-Fi Novels for Fans of Hidden Figures

As SF/F nerds, we loved the math, science, diversity, and real-life space adventures in Hidden Figures. In fact, we were hungry for more. There are plenty of lists recommending more non-fiction titles similar to Margot Lee Shetterly’s masterpiece, but not many featuring fiction. So we rounded up 5 great science fiction novels sure to grab the imagination of everyone who loved the fiercely talented women of Hidden Figures.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Image Place holder  of - 46 Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series takes place in an alternate 1950s America, where the East Coast was devastated by a meteorite strike. The meteorite wiped out entire cities along the coast, killing millions and causing, possibly, a global warming event. As a result, America jump starts the space race, locked not into a competition with the Soviet Union, but an actual race for humanity’s survival among the stars. The Earth of Kowal’s series still has a lot of the hangups of our actual past (and present)—including, most prominently, the racism and sexism the women in Hidden Figures fought so hard against—and her diverse cast of women must fight to push their way into the front lines of science.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Placeholder of  -5 Much as the women in Hidden Figures had to deal with the very real legacy of racism in America, the characters in Nisi Shawl’s fictional Belgian Congo must deal with the legacy of colonialism in this alt history steampunk novel. The plot follows a diverse cast of characters in the titular Everfair, a colony created by well-meaning Westerners to create a safe haven for everyone, including escaped slaves. Of course, well-meaning doesn’t necessarily mean self-aware, and we see the Fabian Socialists from Great Britain struggling with their own unacknowledged racism, as they try to force Western values on the colonial inhabitants. Told from a multiplicity of voices—Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans—Shawl’s speculative novel is an examination of complex relationships in an often ignored period of history.

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Poster Placeholder of - 60 If your favorite part of Hidden Figures was how it combined science, ambition, and the personal lives of its leading women, then definitely check out Radiance by Catherynne Valente. Set in an alternate history 1986 where humanity has spanned the solar system, yet talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family, Radiance follows Severin Unck as she creates her final film: a documentary investigation of the disappearance of a colony on Venus. Combining love, loss, family, quantum physics, and silent film, this pulpy space opera mystery does its best to unravel the scientific and human mysteries of a fantastical universe.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Place holder  of - 27 If you love reading about strong women who defy societal expectations because of their love of math and science, then the next book you should pick up is Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor. The titular Binti is a member of the Himba people, who never leave their homeworld. So when Binti denies her family and her people to attend the galaxy’s most prestigious university, Oomza Uni, she has to run away to get there. On the journey, her ship is attacked by Meduse, an alien race, and Binti must use all her resources—her intelligence, her mathematical and communication skills, and a piece of ancient Earth tech—to stay alive.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

Image Placeholder of - 25 Hidden Figures is a story of women of color pushing boundaries to create a scientific future that they have a place in. While that fight is definitely not over, there are potential new conflicts on the horizon as well. Namely: if and when humanity actually creates artificial intelligence, how will we treat it? What will be the relationship between people and artificial entities? These are some of the questions at the core of Ted Chiang’s novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects. Chiang follows two people and the artificial intelligence they created as they deal with the upgrades and obsolescence that are inevitable for software. The question of nature versus nurture is about to take on a whole new meaning.

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7 Fantasy Novels Featuring Poison

Fantasy novels are full of swords and magic, knights and wizards. There are large scale battles, individual duels, and assassins galore. One weapon that doesn’t turn up nearly as often as it should, at least in our opinion, is poison. Luckily, when it does turn up, it tends to be in dramatic ways, as demonstrated by these 7 novels.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

Placeholder of  -91 “I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me.” That’s the opening line to Sam Hawke’s debut fantasy novel City of Lies, a story of family, treachery, war, and, of course, poison. Jovan, our hero, is the quiet best friend of the Chancellor’s heir, destined to always be a step behind his friend—because that’s the best place to protect him. Jovan is a proofer, trained in identifying and countering poisons. And, of course, using them if necessary. When the Chancellor is murdered by an unknown poison, it will take all of Jovan’s art to keep the impulsive heir alive while they try to unravel the mystery.

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

Poster Placeholder of - 51 A true classic of epic fantasy, Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy is full of magic, violence, and, naturally, poison. FitzChivalry Farseer was born a royal bastard, and is taken in by the royal family so that they can train him to be useful to them—primarily as an assassin. One of the tools in Fitz’s arsenal is poison: deadroot, death angel mushrooms, and nightmist are three of the particularly deadly poisons that show up in the series. Hobb is a masterful writer, and as Fitz learns his craft and begins to use it (and have it used against him) readers will fall in love with his earnest desire to please his royal family.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Image Place holder  of - 52 One of the most famous poisons in fantasy history—both in books and movies—has to be iocaine powder. In one of our favorite scenes in Goldman’s novel, the man in black outwits Vizzini with a rigged psychological game, challenging Vizzini to guess which cup of wine contains the iocaine poison. Of course, we all know both cups were in fact poisoned, but our handsome man in black has built up an immunity to iocaine powder. That’s only one element of this classic fantasy novel, of course (“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”), but it’s one of our favorites.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Place holder  of - 16 “Three dark queens are born in a glen, sweet little triplets that will never be friends…” because one is destined to kill the other two and claim the crown. That’s the setup for Kendare Blake’s dark novel, featuring three sisters who each have a particular skill or power. Katharine, one of the sisters, is supposed to be a poisoner, immune to any and all poisons. When we meet her, her ability hasn’t manifested yet, so her guardians try to build up her immunity the old fashioned way: by feeding her small amounts of deadly poisons, leaving her physically frail. Will Katharine’s ability ever manifest? And, more importantly, which of the sisters is strong enough to become queen?

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

Image Placeholder of - 92 The previous proofers and taste testers in this list have been volunteers or born with natural abilities, but that’s not the case in Maria V. Snyder’s series. Our heroine, Yelena, is an admitted, convicted murderer, who is offered the position of taste tester to the Commander of Ixia only because no one cares if she dies. Luckily, Yelena is strong and, more importantly, has a great palette—she learns how to identify poisons quickly and accurately, and twice survives attacks using the nearly-always-fatal poison My Love. Navigating the politics of life in Ixia is hard enough, but when you’re constantly having to ingest poisons on top of it? Let’s just say that while we love reading about Yelena, we definitely don’t want her life.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

In George R. R. Martin’s epic series, poison turns up fairly often, and sometimes in incredibly dramatic fashion. It’s definitely the weapon of choice for many of the women in the series. We see King Joffrey violently murdered with a poison called The Strangler, which causes him to choke and suffocate, dying quickly and very, very publicly. It’s discovered that Lysa Arryn used the Tears of Lys, a slow-acting poison, to kill her husband Jon. The HBO show even decided to up the poison factor, including a poison called The Long Farewell, which is used by Ellaria Sand to poison Myrcella Baratheon–which, of course, causes Myrcella’s mother Cersei to use the same poison to kill Ellaria’s daughter in revenge. With so many poisonings, it’s a good thing the series has a massive cast of characters, otherwise there wouldn’t be anyone left at this point!

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

Poison plays a smaller role in Kai Ashante Wilson’s novella than in the previous books on this list, but we wanted to include it because it shows an interesting side of poison that many fantasy novels don’t touch on–the fact that poisons aren’t, in fact, all bad. Many even have medical benefits and are only lethal in large doses. In The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, one of the characteristics that makes our protagonist Demane a demigod is that he secretes poison from his skin. He uses that poison, in small doses of course, as an anaesthetic in his unofficial role as medic to a band of mercenaries. A lot of dangerous things have a good side if used carefully!

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Villains You’ll Love to Root For

Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to read about the farm boy turned chosen one. Sometimes the idea of a Hero’s Journey bores you to tears. Thankfully, not all genre fiction is quite so black and white, with good triumphing over evil. If you’re in the mood for a book with more shades of gray, we have a list of villains you’ll absolutely love to root for:

Vicious by V. E. Schwab

Place holder  of - 23 Everybody loves a good supervillain, and Victor Vale certainly seems to fit the bill. Ten years after a terrible accident tore Victor and his best friend Eli apart, Victor is out of prison and out for revenge. But while the world sees Eli as a virtuous hero and Victor as his dangerous nemesis, the truth is that things might not be so clear cut. If you’re a fan of moral ambiguity and villains who just might be a little right, you’ll love Victor.

Not Your Villain by C.B. Lee

Image Place holder  of - 34 Bells Broussard always assumed he was going to be a hero…until he discovered a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, and suddenly he and his friends are being framed as villains. Sometimes doing the right thing is just plain stupid, and Bells is the perfect example of that. He wants to save the world, but in the second book in C. B. Lee’s Sidekick Squad series, Bells realizes that the only way to do that might be to do some evil first. Can you do right by doing wrong? Bells and his friends will find out!

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

Poster Placeholder of - 56 Was the Wicked Witch of the West really wicked, or was she just misunderstood? We all know Dorothy’s side of the story from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but now we know Elphaba’s story too. Maguire’s novel portrays the famous Wicked Witch of the West as a smart and prickly girl whose life is one of tragedy and horror. Every story has two sides, and now that we’ve read Elphaba’s, we kind of agree with the sentiment behind “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!”

A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

Placeholder of  -46 There are no men in all of Westeros who are as revered and reviled as Jaime Lannister. If history is told by the winners, you’d think the Lannisters’ publicity team would do a better job spinning Jaime’s much-maligned murder of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen as an act of heroism to protect King’s Landing from a wildfire explosion. But, alas, Jaime is forever known as The Kingslayer and few trust his vows, even when he tries to be good. The fact that readers still root for Jaime after he pushed an eight-year-old out of a window is a testament to Martin’s skill at creating complex, compelling characters. If Brienne believes in Jaime, then so do we.

Trouble on Triton by Samuel R. Delany

Image Placeholder of - 48 Okay, so Bron Helstrom isn’t exactly a villain. But in Delany’s 1976 meditation on utopia, Bron’s definitely not a good guy, either. In fact, he’s incredibly self-absorbed, with little care for the feelings or experiences of those around him. He’s constantly dissatisfied, even though he lives on a world where everything he wants is available to him. As Bron becomes involved in a disastrous relationship with the brilliant Spike, you can’t help rooting for things to turn out alright—even though you know there’s no way that’s going to happen.

I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

Much like Dexter Morgan before him, teenage sociopath John Cleaver finds a different outlet for his disturbing homicidal urges: demon hunting. Is John delusional, or is he evil? Or is his neighbor really a supernatural creature of the worst kind? It’s a battle between inner demons and actual demons in this series from Dan Wells, and readers are forced to side with a character who would be a villain in any other book.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

If it’s at all possible to love a demon, we love Crowley. Originally Crawly, the serpent who tempted Eve with the apple, the evolved Crowley knows how to mix and mingle with humanity—and how to tempt them to do evil. He’s an agent of evil, with one exception: he doesn’t actually want the world to end. As heaven and hell gear up for the end times in Pratchett and Gaiman’s masterful team-up Good Omens, Crowley proves that even villains can have depth. He and his counterpart, the angel Aziraphale, will do their damndest to keep the world running smoothly.

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Our Favorite Female Captains in Sci-fi and Fantasy

Being the boss of a ship, whether on the high seas or in space, is a challenging job. You have to balance the personalities of your crew, your goals (be they military, trade, etc.), and the inherent dangers of the environment. Oftentimes, being a woman and the one in charge can add yet another difficulty to the job. But the #FearlessWomen in these books can handle it, because they’re serious badasses. Here are some of our favorite female captains in science fiction and fantasy. Who’s on your list?

Captain Josette Dupre from By Fire Above by Robyn Bennis

Placeholder of  -25 When you’re an airship captain, you can’t be afraid of heights. Captain Josette Dupre, the first female airship captain in the Corps, isn’t worried about falling. She’s more worried about a bullet in the back. And while she proved herself to the world in Robyn Bennis’s debut The Guns Above, that doesn’t mean the prejudice against her is going to instantly disappear. To constantly combat it, Captain Dupre must always be the best of the best. But when her hometown of Durum is occupied by the enemy, and her mother taken as a prisoner of war, all bets are off.

Captain Leela from The Ballad of Beta-2 by Samuel R. Delaney

Image Placeholder of - 37 First published in 1965, Delaney’s short novel is framed by a graduate student’s search for the anthropological and historical meaning behind a short poem left by the Star Folk, who had left Earth in generation ships to colonize the stars. But it’s the story in between the frame that really caught our imagination–the story of Captain Leela, the alien she meets in deep space who gets her pregnant, and the Judges who declared her a “Misfit” and condemned her to death. And, of course, the Wonder Child that resulted from Leela’s pregnancy. We can only go along for the ride with Joneny, the student, as he discovers a story packed with wonder and horror.

Anne Bonney from The Queen of Swords by R. S. Belcher

Poster Placeholder of - 67 The third book in Belcher’s Golgotha series, The Queen of Swords is the first to take place in the wider world, rather than in the confines of the small mining town Golgotha. In it, we follow the twinned narratives of the world class assassin Maude Stapleton and her several times great grandmother, the pirate queen Anne Bonney. Bonney’s journey serves as a guide for her descendant, but more importantly for readers, she’s a badass pirate queen who breaks out of prison and treks across Africa in search of treasure. Anne Bonney is the pirate and adventurer we wish we could be some day.

Captain General Zezili Hasario from The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Image Place holder  of - 24 If you love grimdark fantasy, but hate that it’s so often dominated by male characters, then Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire is for you. The women in Hurley’s world are the soldiers and rulers, taking charge even as they work to slaughter each other. One of our favorite characters is Zezili Hasario, the Captain General of the Empress of Dorinah. Zezili is definitely a complex woman: she’s abusive to her husband (as is the custom for many Dorinah), and often uses her mixed heritage to unnerve others. Her world, already complicated, becomes even more so when she must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Honor Harrington from On Basilisk Station by David Weber

Place holder  of - 84 When one thinks of female captains in science fiction, Honor Harrington is often the first name on the list. Debuting in David Weber’s 1993 novel On Basilisk Station, the newly graduated Honor takes command of her first ship, only to fail in her first outing. That failure leads to punishment duty: picket duty at the remote Basilisk Station. There, with hard work and a clever use of resources, Honor and her crew not only succeed in defending the station, but uncover and defuse a massive plot to invade the Star Kingdom of Manticore. From her very first posting and through the subsequent 13 novels (with a 14th coming this year), Honor Harrington embodies everything we want in our female captains: she’s resourceful, resilient, intelligent, and overall, a badass.

Zamira Drakasha from Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

While the focus of the second book in Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series is, of course, on our heroes Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, our favorite character was without a doubt Zamira Drakasha, the middle-aged, black mother of two who ran her murderous pirate crew with an iron fist. She could leap between ships, wield her sabers with deadly accuracy, and cuddle her kids at the end of a hard day of looting. We would absolutely join the scrub watch and do whatever labor was demanded of us if only we got to join the crew of the Poison Orchid!

Lila Bard from the Shades of Magic Series by V. E. Schwab

Lila Bard was born to be a pirate. She knows it, deep down in her bones. Even after she starts going on magical adventures with Kell, she never sets aside this dream. Her first thought after meeting privateer Alucard Emery is, naturally, to steal his ship. Instead, she chooses to join his crew by becoming their thief—after killing the original crew thief, of course—and Alucard teaches her about the world of Red London. No matter how difficult the path, or how many obstacles kept getting in her way, Lila Bard knew she was meant to be a pirate. And she won’t let anything stand in the way of fulfilling her dreams.

Bonus Novella:

Captain Ann-Marie from The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

This one’s a bonus title because it doesn’t come out until August, but we think you’ll love it. In an alternate America caught up in a Civil War that ended with a divided country, an independent New Orleans sits uneasily between North and South. Haitian airship Captain Ann-Marie and orphaned street urchin Creeper must work together to save the world from a mysterious weapon called The Black God’s Drums. Between sky pirates, powerful and cagey African Gods, and a pair of very interesting nuns, Clark’s debut novella will draw you in, and you won’t want to come back to the real world.


Feature image © Greg Manchess

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5 Science Fiction Tales of Revenge

Revenge is a dish best served cold—as cold as space, in fact. Maybe that’s one of the reasons revenge pairs so well with science fiction. Are you looking for a tale of vengeance in the cold, hard vacuum of space? We have some suggestions for you:

Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport

Image Placeholder of - 84 Generation ships often seem to breed discontent and violence—take a large population, force them into a limited space, include the class barriers humanity just can’t seem to let go, and you have the perfect recipe for depraved acts—and the revenge that inevitably follows. In Emily Devenport’s sci-fi novel Medusa Uploaded, Oichi is one of the downtrodden, who is tossed out an airlock on suspicion of insurgency. Luckily, she’s rescued by a secret presence on the ship. And now that she’s officially dead, it’s time to fix the imbalance of power—one assassination at a time.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Image Place holder  of - 71 This classic 1950s novel has been called a science fiction retelling of one of the greatest revenge tales of all time: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. A poor, uneducated man is abandoned by the company that employs him, left stranded as the only survivor of an attack in deep space. Improbably, the man, Gully Foyle, survives, amasses a fortune, and educates himself all in order to pursue his singular goal: revenge against the company that wronged him, Presteign. Of course, nothing is that simple, and Gully’s journey includes many twists and turns. Is he the hero, or the villain? No one, especially Gully himself, can be entirely certain.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Poster Placeholder of - 97 In Ann Leckie’s Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novel, great spaceships of the Radch Empire use artificial intelligence to control ancillaries, human bodies that can move and interact with people while containing the knowledge of the ship that controls them. When her ship, the Justice of Toren, is destroyed, Breq is the sole surviving ancillary. In her fragile body, Breq goes on a quest across the Empire, seeking vengeance for her own destruction.

Killing Gravity by Corey J. White

Placeholder of  -57 Mariam Xi is a dangerous woman—a deadly voidwitch, a genetically-manipulated psychic super-soldier with a high body count. She escaped MEPHISTO, the group that experimented on her and made her into the weapon she is today, but soon enough, her past is going to catch up with her. When that finally happens, MEPHISTO better watch out. There are very, very few things in the universe more dangerous than an angry voidwitch.
 
 
Dune by Frank Herbert

Place holder  of - 95 There are many, many, many themes in Frank Herbert’s Dune—among them ecology, empires, gender dynamics, and more. And, of course, revenge. When the Emperor and the Harkonnens kill Paul’s father, Duke Leto, Paul and his surviving family must flee and join the Fremen in the desert. Later, when Paul Muad’Dib has the chance to remove the emperor and take his place, he does it not just to become one of the most powerful people in the universe, but also to take revenge for his father’s death.

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#FearlessWomen We Admired Growing Up

Whether we got into science fiction and fantasy as kids or adults, there were plenty of women in the pages of our favorite books that inspired us. The fearless women in these books taught us how to be adventurous, how to be strong, and how to be self-confident. Here are just a few of our favorite women of the science fiction and fantasy books we read growing up. Who’s on your list?

Phèdre nó Delaunay from Kushiel’s Legacy by Jacqueline Carey

Poster Placeholder of - 88 While the scale of Jacqueline Carey’s first Kushiel trilogy is breathtaking, there is no better guide to this lushly imagined world than Phèdre nó Delaunay. Trained as a spy and a courtesan, Phèdre was constantly underestimated—even by herself. But as she was thrown into increasingly dangerous situations and emerged triumphant (if often a bit bloody), her self-confidence grew until she took her rightful place as one of the more powerful women in Terre d’Ange. Her journey from scared, unwanted child to intelligent, powerful, sex-positive woman was an inspiration.

Lauren Oya Olamina from Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Image Place holder  of - 86 The future that Octavia Butler painted in the first Earthseed novel is a bleak one. Lauren, the teenage protagonist, suffers from hyperempathy, meaning she feels the emotions of those around her, from pain and fear to happiness. When her community is destroyed and Lauren sets off on a journey to create a new home, that hyperempathy makes her journey even more difficult. Confronting racism, sexism, and physical danger at every point along the way, Lauren was the kind of teenager we looked up to: strong, determined, intelligent, charismatic, and above all, caring.

Simsa from Forerunner by Andre Norton

Place holder  of - 58 In the very first novel Tor ever published, our main point-of-view character is Simsa, the orphaned Burrower who dreams of more. After having to hide her differences for most of her short life, Simsa starts to take chances when her caregiver, the not-so-caring Ferwar, dies. The adventures Simsa had with Starman Thom made us long for a chance to go on a hunt for a long lost city of our own—especially if we got to have our own zorsal (a batlike creature) as we did it!

Ti-Jeanne from Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Placeholder of  -51 Hopkinson’s powerful 1998 debut novel about a young woman rising up against the powers that be takes place in a futuristic Toronto that’s been ravaged by economic downturn and vicious gangs. In the Burn, the slums at the center of the city, a pregnant Ti-Jeanne moves back in with her grandmother after leaving her drug-addicted boyfriend. Her grandmother is respected in their Caribbean-Canadian community as an herbalist and Obeah (seer), but Ti-Jeanne has always rejected her grandmother’s spiritualism. But when Ti-Jeanne’s boyfriend runs afoul of a local gang who wants him to harvest a human heart for a powerful politician, she discovers the power of magic, reconnecting with both her grandmother and her culture. We loved following Ti-Jeanne’s journey as she finds the strength within herself, and recognizes the strength that’s always existed in the women in her family.

Arienrhod and Moon from The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge

Image Placeholder of - 88 Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen was a staple fairy tale of many of our childhoods. So when we learned that Joan D. Vinge had adapted into a science fiction novel, we were incredibly excited. Plus, in a time when most science fiction novels were dominated by male main characters, Vinge’s The Snow Queen was full of women—and women in power, at that. The story focused on the power struggle between the titular Snow Queen, Arienrhod, and the Summer-tribe sibyl, Moon. Add in Vinge’s spectacular worldbuilding, and we desperately wished we could visit the planet Tiamet and meet the women who ruled there.

Jessica from My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due

Jessica and David are happily married, with a wonderful 5-year old daughter. Until Jessica makes a startling discovery—David is actually 500 years old. Due is a master of beautiful prose and horrifying plot twists. This beloved dark classic combines history, horror, and the supernatural, but what really stands out is watching Jessica fight for herself and her daughter. When a beloved partner turns unexpectedly different and alien (alas, not something not just found in fiction), Jessica’s struggle sparks both chills and cheers for her courage.

Sorcha from Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

If there was ever a book that demonstrated that there’s more than one kind of strength, it’s Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier. Rather than strength of arms, swinging a sword at her every problem, Sorcha’s is the strength of endurance—the ability, thanks to her love of her family, to continue on her journey despite difficulty after difficulty, heartbreak after heartbreak. Marillier’s story is lyrical and atmospheric, and tore us to pieces over and over again. And it was worth every tear.

Lessa from the Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

Imagine surviving the slaughter of your family. Imagine hiding in plain site in your ancestral home, constantly performing back-breaking labor as a drudge in the home you should rule. And then imagine walking away when the opportunity arises to take back your legacy and your home, because the world at large needs your help. That’s only part of the journey taken by Lessa of Ruth, later Lessa of Pern, in the first of Anne McCaffrey’s iconic Dragonriders of Pern series. Her strength, and her bond with her queen dragon, were things we truly envied when we first read Dragonflight. Add in magnificent dragons, the deadly threat of threads, and a stubborn population that doesn’t believe in the coming danger, and you have a winning combination.

Kerewin Holmes from The Bone People by Keri Hulme

Any woman who would rather live in a tower made of seashells and books than be around other humans is already the kind of heroine we love. But, more than this, Kerewin on a quest to save not the world, not her country of New Zealand, but to rediscover her own artistic voice. An artist who can no longer look inside herself to make art, she is forced to connect with a young, mute European boy who has washed up on her beach from a mysterious shipwreck. The boy’s Maori foster father also provides a painful lesson on love and destruction that paints a vivid, fantastical portrait of Maori myth, post-colonialism, and redemption.

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Deadly Sibling Rivalries in Fantasy

Siblings are often the best part of growing up—they’re usually someone you know you can count on, someone who will have your back even as they’re making fun of you. But sometimes siblings can be dangerous, even deadly. We love a good story about sibling rivalries gone vicious! Here are some of our favorites:

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

Image Placeholder of - 29 Tessa Gratton’s fresh take on the story of King Lear revolves around the relationships of three sisters struggling for control of their father’s failing kingdom: Gaela, Regan, and Elia. The eldest, Gaela, pursues martial control; her sister Regan seeks to restore the ancient religious rites long forbidden by her father. Elia stands between them, resented by her older sisters. As tensions rise among this fractured family, the conflict between the three begins to take a deadly toll on the island of Lear itself.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

Place holder  of - 96 There are plenty of contentious—and outright murderous—relationships between family members in the A Song of Ice and Fire series: Tyrion and Cersei, Catelyn and Lysa, Daenerys and Viserys. Perhaps one of the most consequential for the fate of Westeros, however, is the rivalry between Renly and Stannis Baratheon, both of whom become contenders for the throne in the wake of their brother’s death. Their rivalry leads them close to outright war between brothers.

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

Placeholder of  -41 There’s no conflict quite like that between half-brothers—especially when one is illegitimate and kept hidden from the other. That’s the setup between Zane and Elend Venture in The Well of Ascension, the second book in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. While Elend was raised in comfort as the heir, Zane, one of few full Mistborns in the world, was raised as a weapon. Zane is definitely an unstable individual, so of course he wants to kill his half-brother. Standing in his way is Vin, the heroine of Sanderson’s series and a powerful Mistborn in her own right. Zane was robbed of a normal childhood, but readers win when Zane and Vin face off, with Elend in between.

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

Poster Placeholder of - 3 If there’s one thing we’ve learned from reading, it’s never to trust ambitious younger siblings. Regal in the Farseer Trilogy is no exception: he seeks to position himself as the heir to the aging king, establishing a rivalry with his older brother Verity—and he just might have plotted the pre-series murder of FitzChivalry’s father.
 
 
 
Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson

Image Place holder  of - 54 Like A Song of Ice and Fire, Steven Erikson’s epic series has plenty of siblings who really (really, really) don’t get along. From a pair of sisters who find themselves on opposite sides of a rebellion, to nearly-immortal brothers who can barely be on the same continent, being someone’s brother or sister is as likely to be a guarantee of violent conflict as it is to be a source of familial love.

And you thought your family didn’t get along.

The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny’s classic series follows “shadow-walkers” who can move through parallel worlds. The ability belongs only to those of royal blood, descendants of the mad sorcerer Dworkin Barimen. Of those with the ability, there’s a lot of in-fighting—much of it deadly as the various family members try to take the throne from Oberon, the liege lord of Amber. Before the story even begins, Oberon’s sons Osric and Finndo supposedly conspired against their father, were caught, and sent to the front lines of a war from which they never return. The scheming and conspiracies only get worse from there.

The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne by Brian Staveley

Few fantasy sibs get their ​wires crossed as badly as the Malkeenians of Brian Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. Separated by vast distances in the middle of a massive conspiracy to topple their murdered father’s empire, Kaden, Adare, and Valyn each do their best to survive the crisis and fight back against the conspiracy, only to end up in deadly conflict against one another. We mean, Let’s hug this out, and just ignore these knives I’m holding kinds of conflict.

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Celebrate Valentine’s Day with our Favorite Relationships in SF/F

The term shipping doesn’t just refer to boats or how fast you can get your package. These days, it also has meaning in relationships—fictional ones, that is. Ships are the couples from fiction, whether books, tv, or movies, that you desperately want to get together in a romantic way—whether the creator intended them to or not. Over time, fans have created some pretty famous ships (cough*Harry-and-Draco*cough) and some super bizarre ships (Elsa and Jack Frost, really?). Many have gained a life of their own, with fan art, fan fic, and more.

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, we started thinking about our favorite relationships as well as our favorite ships in science fiction and fantasy. We’re celebrating the holiday by sharing our list with you! What couples are your list?

Phèdre nó Delaunay and Joscelin Verreuil

Place holder  of - 66 One of the things we love about Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series is the number of relationships to wish for, root for, and cry buckets over. Alcuin and Delaney, Ysandra and Drustan, Phèdre and Hyacinthe, Phèdre and Melisande, Phèdre and Joscelin…okay, really Phèdre and anyone who can make her happy. But we polled the Tor staff, and found that most of us were rooting for the opposites attract relationship of Phèdre, courtesan to kings, and Joscelin, warrior-priest and sworn virgin (at least, at the beginning). Those crazy kids belong together, and they prove it by supporting each other through increasingly dire and dangerous situations, all the way to the ends of the world.

Mat Cauthon and Tuon (Fortuona Athaem Devi Paendrag, Daughter of the Nine Moons)

Placeholder of  -62 The Wheel of Time is full of relationships, both good and bad. How could it not be, with 14 books spanning years? And while Rand and his relationship with Elayne, Aviendha, and Min was fun to read, our favorite relationship in WoT is the one between Mat and Tuon. The scene where Mat accidentally marries Tuon (be careful what you repeat three times in fantasy novels, guys!) made some of us laugh, and when she finally completes the ceremony, there may have been tears. Their elaborate courtship dance in between, and the sense that Tuon is always one step ahead of Mat, just makes their romance even better.

Baru Cormorant and Tain Hu

Image Placeholder of - 37 Sometimes you just want a relationship that makes you cry. Amid all the politics, intrigue and plot twists that made The Traitor Baru Cormorant such a fantastic read, the budding—and forbidden—romance between Baru Cormorant and Tain Hu was definitely a highlight. Two ruthless, competent women who begin on opposite sides, but come together to start a revolution against an ever-growing colonial force—what more could you want? Of course, love in wartime is never easy, and there are plenty of hidden agendas at play that make it even harder. Fair warning: not every favorite romance has a happy ending.

Eddi McCandry and the Phouka

Image Place holder  of - 50 This classic urban fantasy is both a slice of rock life in the 80s (you know Prince was totally one of the fey), and a delightful story of learning who you are accompanied by a wonderful romance. We’ve all been Eddi McCandry at some point—juggling the one-two punch of a bad ex and trying to figure out your life—and the Phouka is a babe.
 
 
Richard St. Vier and Alec

Poster Placeholder of - 70 Not only is this a wonderful, tangled world of duels fought with swords and over tea in parlors, but the heart of the story is the tangled, snarled, tricky, unlikely and utterly swoon-worthy pairing of a sword for hire and his difficult inamorata. Fireworks, banter, tension (all kinds), and so much more in a beloved m/m pair. As Jo Walton says in her Tor.com review, is Richard and Alec’s relationship love, or is it a duel? Finding out is part of the fun.

Nienna and Ulmo

Two literary characters who we think deserve one another are Nienna and Ulmo from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. Nienna is one of the Valar, whose purview is grief, mourning, and mercy, ever turning sorrow to wisdom. While Ulmo, the Lord of the Waters, is the Vala who was fondest of the Children of Ilúvatar (Elves and Men). But like Nienna, Ulmo is a loner. All the other godlike Valar were married—why not these two?

Quick Ben and Kalam

If ever there was a “they argue like an old married couple” in Epic Fantasy, it is Quick Ben and Kalam. One is a trickster mage who might be the most powerful magician around, the other is an Assassin that really distrusts magic. They’ve been together since they were rebels fighting the empire, so long that they’re reached the pinnacle of couple-dom in fiction: they can finish each other’s sentences.

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