Older women as protagonists in SFF

I asked on Twitter the other day for examples of science fiction and fantasy where the protagonists were middle aged and upwards women.

Why? No amazingly good reason. Mostly just I was rereading “A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark” by Harry Connolly, which I really like, and I was thinking that most of the examples of such books I’ve read I’ve enjoyed. There’s a broader political point about representation, and I do care about that, but I was mostly just looking for good and slightly different books.

Here are the results from that thread:

Ones I can personally recommend

These are the ones I’ve read and what I think about them.

A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark by Harry Connolly

This is the one that started the thought process. It’s good. It’s a mystery novel about a 60 year old high-society lady who used to be a monster hunter but has turned pacifist. She now basically dominates the magical scene of Seattle and forces people to play nice.

It’s stylistically a bit odd (at least partly due to a conceit you find out about a third of the way in that I enjoyed as a one off but think would get old fast), but a lot of fun and I definitely recommend it.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Louis McMaster Bujold

Probably doesn’t make a lot of sense if you haven’t read the previous books in the Vorkosigan Saga (which is very good but mostly does not count for this list) – it’s a book about the Cordelia Vorkosigan, the mother of the eponymous protagonist of most of the rest of the series. It’s also a book about how much of her life that her son (the protagonist of most of the other books) has been completely oblivious to.

I think everything Bujold does is great, but I really enjoyed this one in particular.

Paladin of Souls by Louis McMaster Bujold

I confess I remember literally nothing about this book except that it was by Bujold and didn’t change my opinion that I like almost everything she writes. So recommended on that strength but not much else.

The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams

Only partially counts and only partially recommended. The book arguably has three protagonists – a middle aged black lesbian, a young woman persecuted for witchcraft, and an immortalish man who is somewhere between a vampire and an elf and acts a lot like he was a young man.

I like Jen Williams but I only weakly recommend the book. The protagonist who gets it onto this list is great, but I felt like the story overall had a bit too much going on and didn’t quite live up to its promise.

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

A middle-aged mother tries to find her daughter, who has been abducted by her husband. A rare instance of the genre of post-apocalyptic high fantasy (which I enjoy in general).

N. K. Jemisin is very good and I recommend most of her books, including this one.

A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

The protagonist is a retired revolutionary who conquered the known world and then deliberately faded into obscurity, but her past catches up with her and she’s forced out of retirement.

I actually remember very little about this book other than that I enjoyed it.

My Real Children by Jo Walton

A sort of sliding doors style exploration of a woman’s life as she lives it in two alternate histories of the world based on the differences caused by a single choice she made that turned out to have far-reaching ramifications. It covers most of her life from a young age but primarily the middle of it.

This novel is very good but absolutely heart breaking.

The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

One of the many books in Charles Stross’s Laundry Files, this one focusing on Mo, the wife of the protagonist from earlier books.

Doesn’t really stand on its own without the rest of the series, and I’m kinda tiring of the Laundry Files a bit, but they’re still worth reading.

Rule 34 by Charles Stross

Not 100% sure this one counts, but the protagonist is a fairly senior police officer so is at the very least not young.

Good book, although it’s been long enough since I’ve read it that I’m hazy on the details. Would nevertheless recommend.

The witches books by Terry Pratchett

  • Equal Rites
  • Wyrd Sisters
  • Witches Abroad
  • Lords and Ladies
  • Maskerade
  • Carpe Jugulum

Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax are some of my favourite of Pratchett’s characters. Can definitely recommend.

Jackalope Wives by T. Kingfisher

T. Kingfisher (secretly Ursula Vernon) is great and you should read everything she writes, but the titular Jackalope Wives and a few other stories in that collection (including “The Tomato Thief” where the protagonist of Jackalope wives reappears) is a grandmother who likes tomatoes and magic and puts up with very little nonsense.

Recommendations from Others

I haven’t read these yet, but I aim to fix this.

  • The Marq’ssan cycle by L. Timmel Duchamp’
  • Tea With the Black Dragon by R. A. MacAvoy
  • Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling
  • The Gaia Series (Titan / Wizard / Demon) by John Varley
  • Tehanu by Ursula Le Guin (I think I actually have read this one but it was ages ago and I have no memory either way of it)
  • Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
  • Fair Peril by Nancy Springer
  • The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopkinson
  • Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon
  • Sassinak by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Moon
  • The Baba Yaga by Una McCormack and Eric Brown (this is the third in a series where the first two don’t seem to qualify)

I’m currently reading through The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brenna (which will probably count in some of the later books I haven’t read yet – the protagonist is writing her memoirs from an age where she would definitely qualify, but I’m so far only on book three where she’s only just in her 30s, which I am determined not to count as middle age while I’m still in them). After I’ve finished this series I’ll start making inroads into the above list and report back.

In the meantime, feel free to suggest more books, or point out ones I missed from the thread, in the comments.

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