My wife, who eats novels like Sweet-Tarts, has recently bored through several series of fantasy novels with female protagonists. The other day, while finishing rereading The Atrocity Archives, I realized I couldn't say the same - in fact, I couldn't think of any books I read recently with women as the main characters. I've read several written by women, but even those primarily starred men.
That really bothered me. For one thing, I realized it was kind of boring. So I asked Kitty to suggest something to me from her collection.
"I think you'd like this series," she said, handing me Alanna: The First Adventure, the first part of the Song of the Lioness quartet. It was the edition I show here.
"The cover's a bit... fluffy," my wife said. "But the book's not at all."
I read the back cover. It described a girl who wants to be a knight, so she pretends to be a boy. She befriends the Prince, is very special, etc.
"So, you're pretty sure I'll like this?" I asked dubiously.
"There's a prince...."
"It doesn't go where you think it will, at all. It's very good."
And she was right. I entered with visions of Mary Sue going to Knight-School, being a natural at everything and winning the love of the Prince. What I found was a honest and sometimes brutal story about a very determined person. It never strays outside the bounds of Young Adult fiction, mind you, but it certainly surprised me. Alanna gets her bones broken by boys more than twice her size, deals with hiding menstruation and binding her breasts, and befriends a man who keeps ears as trophies. She does excel at most everything, but not easily - she spends weeks training in secret with a too-heavy sword in her off hand so she can best the others at fencing.
I've read halfway though the series, now, and it's only gotten better. It's also not the only series Peirce has published. I'd consider her novels required reading for anyone that enjoys fantasy, not only because they're good but because they're one of all too few examples of real female protagonists in the genre.
If any of you just thought "Hey, what about Red Sonja!" please go to the nearest Home Depot, ask for the sledgehammers, take off your left shoe and drop the largest hammer in stock on your big toe. That pain you feel? That's why people wore clothing in melee combat. Red Sonja's preferred dress was a chainmail bikini, meaning at best her body should look like a roadmap of LA and at worse a very scantily-clad corpse.
Red Sonja was for sticky-fingered boys. Alanna is for people.
(also, there are several editions, especially in the UK, that have much better cover art)