Here’s the thing: Tamora Pierce's Tortall books are not just a series. They are an experience. They are poring over maps at recess and arguing about the relative merits of Jon and George at summer camp.
They are deciding whether you are better suited to the Queen’s Riders or the Court of the Rogue, and telling all your friends what color their Gift would be.They are checking in on your favorite characters ten years later.
They are swords and gods and magical animals, but also bullies and bruises and a lot of hard work. They take girl power beyond easy cliche, and no cousin of mine gets through puberty without some exposure.
These are books for the grown-or-growing Tortallans out there.
Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson
Mistborn is at once a coming-of-age story about a girl learning to use her powers, a fantasy epic about a disparate group of rebels plotting the downfall of an evil empire, and an ambitious exploration of the power of legends and what it means to be a hero.
She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth, by Helen Castor
She-Wolves looks at four of England’s powerful medieval queens, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, Margaret of Anjou, and the Empress Matilda, and the legends and legacy they would leave for future would-be rulers.
The Privilege of the Sword, by Ellen Kushner
For fencing practice, cross-dressing teenagers, high society, gender shenanigans, mad dukes, and duels.
Flygirl, Sherri L. Smith
Ida Mae Jones dreams of flight, so when the United States enters World War II, she hides her heritage to pass as white and join the WASP program. This is an exciting read about a compelling heroine, a group of indomitable young women, and the complexities of race, gender and identity in America.
Kushiel’s Dart, by Jacqueline Carey
Kushiel’s Dart opens the epic and immersive Kushiel’s Legacy series. The books are heavy on the sex, violence, and existential angst, without ever straying into the needlessly grimdark. As in Tortall, major themes include finding your place in the word, the different meanings of courage, and the gifts and burdens of being touched by a god. Also as in the Tortall books, new protagonists in subsequent generations allow readers to explore an ever-expanding world while keeping tabs on old friends.
Princesses Behaving Badly, by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
Tackles the true stories of dozens of legendary princesses from around the world and across the centuries, without the fairy tale endings.
Ash and Huntress, by Malinda Lo
For rebellious, flawed, powerful heroines, quests, romance, well-grounded world building, and mysterious, hostile creatures popping up where they’re not wanted.
On Basilisk Station, by David Weber
Those who ate up Daine’s improvised guerilla tactics and Kel’s wartime logistics and struggles as a leader will revel in military sci-fi with no-nonsense Captain Honor Harrington.
The Secret History of the Mongol Queens, by Jack Weatherford
Weatherford explores the fascinating lost history of the 13th century Mongol Empire and the women who fought for control of it. This is both a portrait of remarkable women and an examination of female power, legacy, legend, and the rewriting of history.
The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Bujold effortlessly juggles sub-genres and combines action, character development, philosophical and sociological questions, and laugh-out-loud humor in her world-spanning Vorkosigan books. Good starting points are Cordelia’s Honor (for space exploration, decapitations, romance, and a level-headed, butt-kicking heroine) and Young Miles (for coming-of-age, fighting to find a place in your society, spies, space battles, and an accidental army).
The Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb
Launches the classic fantasy series and the story of Fitz Farseer, bastard son of a prince and assassin-in-training.
Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein
When young American ATA pilot Rose is captured by German forces en route to England during World War II, she is sent to a notorious women’s POW camp. Amidst the horrors of Nazi power, she meets an extraordinary group of women fighting for their survival.
Grave Mercy, Robin LaFevers
In Medieval Brittany, Ismae flees from an unwanted marriage to the sanctuary of St. Mortain, where a sisterhood of god-touched assassins teaches her a dozen ways to kill a man. But love, loyalty, politics, and fate are all more complicated than Ismae’s teachers will admit.
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie R. King
Orphaned teenager Mary Russell, prickly, proud, very bright, stumbles across the now-retired Sherlock Holmes in Sussex. Literally. They’re a mismatched pair, but Holmes becomes Russell’s reluctant mentor and partner in detection. This is a fast-paced, very entertaining adventure story full of thrilling chases, far fetched disguises, villains, espionage and intrigue, which still manages to fit in laugh-out-loud moments, well-drawn characters, and feminist theology.
Pantomime, by Laura Lam
For cities built on the ruins of mysterious civilizations, running away and joining the circus, magic and romance, and defying all the rules of gender, sex, and social expectation.
The Warrior Queens, by Antonia Fraser
The inimitable Lady Antonia Fraser offers a panoramic look at women rulers throughout history who have led armies and nations in times of war.
Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire
For Toby Daye, practical, put-upon, constantly snarking, who also happens to be a knight-errant of faerie. It’s hard to get by as a self-exiled changeling in modern San Francisco, and it’s harder when you’re getting dragged into murder, mayhem, and quests of mythic proportion.
Legends of Red Sonja, edited by Gail Simone
Tamora Pierce has cited pulp comic book character Red Sonja—she of the chainmail bikini, swashbuckling swordplay, and questionable sexual politics—as a source of both inspiration and frustration. Now Gail Simone, comic book icon and writer on the current ongoing series, brings together big names in fantasy, including Tammy herself, to give us Red Sonja as never seen before.
Previously in this series: The Giver Quartet