I read my fair share of serious non-fiction and magazines– I was keeping our waiting room supplied with more Economists, Atlantics, and Times than all the lawyers could steal– but I love me some trashy science fiction and fantasy, especially ones written by women.
In no particular order or preference, here are some favorites:
Elizabeth Bear’s Hammered Trilogy, and Carnival. Interesting sci-fi concepts, strong untraditional women and men characters, snappy dialogue, fast pacing, not too bogged down by flux capacitor mumbo-jumbo.
Robin McKinley– Deerskin, The Hero and the Crown, The Blue Sword, and others. These three are my favorites. Unlike other fantasy writers, McKinley writes mostly one-offs. Some of her books are classified as Young Adult, but they’re wonderful, and far from simplistic. The theme running through her books is that you can discover yourself no matter what roadblocks others throw up in front of you. Warning– Deerskin has a heavy story line about rape, but it makes the character’s transformation all the more amazing. McKinley doesn’t feel the need to explain all the magic that’s going on, either– she’s content to let some things be mysteries, which is nice since some other authors spend lots of time talking about the technicalities of their characters’ learning their powers.
Lois McMaster Bujold’s fantasy books, especially The Curse of Chalion. Bujold is a prolific sci-fi writer, but I must admit that the sci fi series doesn’t capture my interest. The fantasy books have richly imagined theologies, and the characters are amazing, so layered and complex. The central characters have lots of internal dialogue, but this is so well done that you end up wishing for more, not less. Bujold’s characters usually have some Heavy Stuff of one kind or another to get over before they can fulfill their destinies, but it’s so well done– never portentous or predictable.
Jacqueline Carey, the Kushiel series. Romantic, flowery prose. Smutty sex, and lots of it. Whirlwind adventures. More sex. Interesting theologies, and lots of characters who keep popping up when you don’t expect them. Non-central characters are richly drawn, and the books are big, long reads. I will admit that I gave up on the series after the first three, because I am not as interested in the successor characters as I am in the central heroine of the first three, Phedre. I’ve tried her Godbreaker books and wasn’t able to get into them.
Anne Bishop, the Black Jewels series. More romantic, flowery, fate-thwarted love across the ages. More sex. Less smutty sex, less overblown-tending than the Kushiel books. The series traces the central heroine’s growth from a scared child to a powerful witch. Great treatment of animals as thinking, magical beings capable of feats of their own, on par with the humans. Lots of double-crossing, plot twists, and bad characters who eventually really get their due. I like these better than the Careys.
Anne McCaffrey– start with the Dragonsong/Dragonsinger series, about a young girl who runs away from home rather than be denied her dream of living a musical life. You could skip Dragondrums, which is not particularly relevant to the whole series. Then on to the Dragonriders of Pern series– a blend of sci-fi and fantasy– starts out in a feudal society to start, and twists to incorporate more sci-fi as the series progresses. I am not a fan of the Acorna series, I think it’s twaddle, and some of the outlier Pern books are neither necessary nor as interesting to the series. There are a series of books about Earth psychics starting off with Pegasus in Flight that are really well done and quite enjoyable. The Rowan and progeny are pretty good, but can be overwrought, and the series switches central characters, some of whom are far more interesting than others.
Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence– five books, modern Arthurian fantasy. Sold in the YA section, but not baby stuff at all. Cooper, like McKinley, is content to not explain all the workings of magic. Like Bujold, she allows her characters to have well-written inner lives. And the treatment of good and evil is not simplistic– the book deals nicely with the difficulties we face, over & again, about making the easy choice, or the right choice.
Mercedes Lackey– I am hot and cold on her books, but the Arrows of the Queen trilogy and the Vanyel series are great books about feeling misunderstood, finding onesself, learning to trust others, and finding love. The talking horses are really cool, too. Warning– Lackey puts her characters through some violent episodes. If you’re a PTSD or abuse survivor, be warned. The outlying Valdemar books are off and on– the Magestorms trilogy is good (talking cats! Yay!) but other ones can be draggy and less interesting. The Elemental Mages books are one offs with a theme, and some of them are better than others– The Serpent’s Shadow is the one I like best. Of the recent fairy-tale redux books (The 500 Kingdoms series), The Fairy Godmother is the only one that doesn’t sidetrack into basic romantic tropes.