Much of the action in my epic fantasy Melokai is set in a matriarchal country called Peqkya. The society is ruled by women and women’s interests are valued above the men.
One thousand years before the story takes place, the country was a war-torn, ravaged and frightening place to live – for both the men and the women. A woman, Sybilya, wrenched power from the tyrannical, savage men who then ruled, and the women have maintained control since.
Now, Peqkya is peaceful and prosperous, no one goes hungry and all have work and shelter. But it is not an idyllic utopia where both genders are equal and everyone is happy, far from it. The men are oppressed, the customs are cruel and there are plenty of issues. The women are by no means perfect. Some, like Melokai Ramya, are trying to help the men – or peons as the males are called – but others want to keep them firmly in their place. Other women still, are out for their own gain and don’t care which gender they trample on to get to the top.
There are also patriarchal societies and gender-equal societies in Melokai - each with its own problems and distinct way of life.
I started writing the novel in May 2016, and published it in October 2017, and a month later, I listened to the audiobook of The Power by Naomi Alderman (read my full review here). This novel really struck a chord as it details how a matriarchal society might evolve – with mention of male babies being culled (shockingly, female infanticide still happens in the world today) and women dominating men, simply because they can – as they are now the physically stronger sex.
So, I started thinking – what other science fiction and fantasy books have I read that are set (or mostly set) in a matriarchal society? And I drew a blank. Seriously, I couldn’t think of one.
My mission for 2018, therefore, is to read more SFF that has a matriarchal society as its main culture. Why? Because sometimes reading novel after novel where women are whores or a prominent man's wife or daughter gets a bit tedious and I like to mix my reading up a bit.
To find a list of SFF with matriarchal societies I reached out to the knowledgeable and super friendly /r/fantasy group on Reddit for suggestions (you can read the thread here), trawled the internet and did some hunting in Goodreads lists to come up with the following twenty SFF books that I’d like to read (listed in no particular order).
(Blurbs and front cover images from Goodreads).
1) The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga #1) by Kameron Hurley
On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.
In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin.
As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.
Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.
In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.
My note: This was a book that I found in quite a few places around the internet. The Goodreads reviews are polarising, seems people either love it for its boldness in challenging gender norms or really hated it for its reliance on trying to shock the reader. So, with this in mind I will be reading it first! I’ve already got it on order at the library. (Watch this space for a review).
Update 12/02/18: Read my review of The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley here.
2) The Ruins of Ambrai (Exiles #1) by Melanie Rawn
A thousand years ago, Mageborns fled prejudice and persecution to colonize the planet Lenfell--a perfect refuge for those whose powers were perceived as a threat by people not gifted with magic. But the greater the magic, the greater the peril. Lenfell was soon devastated by a war between rival Mageborn factions that polluted the land with Wild Magic and unleashed hideous specters called Wraithenbeasts. Now, generations later, someone is planning another war on the still crippled planet that will tear three Mageborn sisters apart.
My note: This was a recommendation from Reddit, and the book has a lot of appreciation on Goodreads. However, it is the first of an uncompleted trilogy with the third book never written and so there is also plenty of sadness / irritation and recommendations from people who enjoyed it not to read it because of all the unanswered questions and unfinished plotlines. I’m still going to give it a read as I have a terrible habit of only reading the first book of a series anyway.
3) Daughter of the Blood (The Black Jewels #1) by Anne Bishop
The Dark Kingdom is preparing itself for the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy--the arrival of a new Queen, a Witch who will wield more power than even the High Lord of Hell himself. But this new ruler is young, and very susceptible to influence and corruption; whoever controls her controls the Darkness. And now, three sworn enemies begin a ruthless game of politics and intrigue, magic and betrayal, and the destiny of an entire world is at stake.
My note: I saw this on a few GR lists and recommended in articles and it was also suggested on Reddit. Definitely one I want to get to soon.
4) Fall of Angels (The Saga of Recluce #6) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
The 6th book in the "Saga of Recluce" chronicles Recluce's past and the founding of the Empire of the Legend - the mythological domain ruled by women warriors on the highland plateau of Candar. A revolutionary new society will be born here - if Nylan can learn to control his growing powers.
My note: Yes, this is book six of a series, however it was suggested on Reddit as a book set in a matriarchal society and the description above certainly confirms this. I’m happy to just read this one book to see how the author has dealt with the female rule knowing I don’t have the full history of the past five books. But I appreciate this might freak a few people out!
5) Homeland (The Legend of Drizzt #1) by R.A. Salvatore
In exotic Menzoberranzan, the vast city of the drow is home to Icewind Dale prince Drizzt Do'Urden, who grows to maturity in the vile world of his dark elf kin. Possessing honor beyond the scope of his unprincipled society, can he live in world that rejects integrity?
My note: This had two recommendations on Reddit, including one from fantasy author Steven Kelliher, so I’m looking forward to reading it.
6) The Cloud Roads (The Books of the Raksura #1) by Martha Wells
Moon has spent his life hiding what he is — a shape-shifter able to transform himself into a winged creature of flight. An orphan with only vague memories of his own kind, Moon tries to fit in among the tribes of his river valley, with mixed success. Just as Moon is once again cast out by his adopted tribe, he discovers a shape-shifter like himself... someone who seems to know exactly what he is, who promises that Moon will be welcomed into his community. What this stranger doesn't tell Moon is that his presence will tip the balance of power... that his extraordinary lineage is crucial to the colony's survival... and that his people face extinction at the hands of the dreaded Fell! Now Moon must overcome a lifetime of conditioning in order to save and himself... and his newfound kin.
My note: although the description above doesn’t mention it being set in a female run society, apparently it is… so we shall see. It sounds pretty good, anyhow, even if it is a patriarchy.
7) The Demon King (Seven Realms #1) by Cinda Williams Chima
Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for his family. The only thing of value he has is something he can't sell—the thick silver cuffs he's worn since birth. They're clearly magicked—as he grows, they grow, and he's never been able to get them off.
One day, Han and his clan friend, Dancer, confront three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. Han takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to keep him from using it against them. Soon Han learns that the amulet has an evil history—it once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece that powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.
Meanwhile, Raisa ana'Marianna, princess heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. She's just returned to court after three years of freedom in the mountains—riding, hunting, and working the famous clan markets. Raisa wants to be more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea—the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But her mother has other plans for her...
The Seven Realms tremble when the lives of Hans and Raisa collide, fanning the flames of the smoldering war between clans and wizards.
My note: There were quite a few gushing five star reviews of this one on Goodreads (including a number from my Goodreads fam) which convinced me. Looking forward to reading it.
8) The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance Trilogy #1) by N.K. Jemisin
Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.
My note: This was another Reddit one. It’s not set in a matriarchal society, but the main character comes from one and “Jemisin handles the concept of a matriarchal society very well”. Which is good enough for me.
9) The Broken Crown (The Sun Sword #1) by Michelle West
The Dominion, once divided by savage clan wars, has kept an uneasy peace within its border since that long-ago time when the clan Leonne was gifted with the magic of the Sun Sword and was raised up to reign over the five noble clans. But now treachery strikes at the very heart of the Dominion as two never meant to rule--one a highly skilled General, the other a master of the magical arts--seek to seize the crown by slaughtering all of clan Leonne blood.
My note: Again from Reddit, this one contains multiple societies, one of which is matriarchal. However, apparently, it takes a couple of books before this society appears in full, being referred to in the early books but not fully explored until later.
10) The Gender Game (The Gender Game #1) by Bella Forrest
A toxic river divides nineteen-year-old Violet Bates's world by gender. Women rule the East. Men rule the West. Welcome to the lands of Matrus and Patrus.
Ever since the disappearance of her beloved younger brother, Violet's life has been consumed by an anger she struggles to control. Already a prisoner to her own nation, now she has been sentenced to death for her crimes.
But one decision could save her life. To enter the kingdom of Patrus, where men rule and women submit. Everything about the patriarchy is dangerous for a rebellious girl like Violet. She cannot break the rules if she wishes to stay alive.
But abiding by rules has never been Violet's strong suit. When she's thrust into more danger than she could have ever predicted, Violet is forced to sacrifice many things in the forbidden kingdom ... including forbidden love. In a world divided by gender, only the strongest survive...
My note: randomly, on the morning I was writing this post I saw a review of this one in my local magazine that probably goes out to a few hundred people, and was intrigued by the premise. I'm not a big YA fantasy reader but definitely going to give this one a go.
11) Court of Fives (Court of Fives #1) by Kate Elliott
On the Fives court, everyone is equal. And everyone is dangerous.
Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family, she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for the Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors.
Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an improbable friendship between the two Fives competitors—one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy—causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.
My note: another YA fantasy that caught my eye. It has some mixed reviews on Goodreads, but one positive reviewer's description of the egalitarian matriarchal society interested me enough to add it to my TBR list.
12) Behind the Throne (The Indranan War #1) by K.B. Wagers
Meet Hail: Captain. Gunrunner. Fugitive. Quick, sarcastic, and lethal, Hailimi Bristol doesn't suffer fools gladly. She has made a name for herself in the galaxy for everything except what she was born to do: rule the Indranan Empire. That is, until two Trackers drag her back to her home planet to take her rightful place as the only remaining heir.
But trading her ship for a palace has more dangers than Hail could have anticipated. Caught in a web of plots and assassination attempts, Hail can't do the one thing she did twenty years ago: run away. She'll have to figure out who murdered her sisters if she wants to survive.
A gun smuggler inherits the throne in this Star Wars-style science fiction adventure from debut author K. B. Wagers. Full of action-packed space opera exploits and courtly conspiracy - not to mention an all-out galactic war - Behind the Throne will please fans of James S. A Corey, Becky Chambers and Lois McMaster Bujold, or anyone who wonders what would happen if a rogue like Han Solo were handed the keys to an empire . . .
My note: This is the first scifi book I plan to read. It was recommended on Reddit. I’m waiting patiently for it to arrive at the library alongside The Mirror Empire. I’m definitely wondering what would happen if a rogue like Han Solo were handed the keys to an empire! Can’t wait to find out.
Update 07/01/18 - Read my review of Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers here.
13) The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper
Tepper's finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women's Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning.
The resulting manifold responsibilities are seen through the life of Stavia, from a dreaming 10-year-old to maturity as doctor, mother and member of the Marthatown Women's Council. As in Tepper's Awakeners series books, the rigid social systems are tempered by the voices of individual experience and, here, by an imaginative reworking of The Trojan Woman that runs through the text. A rewarding and challenging novel that is to be valued for its provocative ideas
My note: this is a sci fi classic and is mentioned EVERYWHERE. It also sounds pretty cool.
14) Ammonite by Nicola Griffith
Change or die. These are the only options available on the planet Jeep. Centuries earlier, a deadly virus shattered the original colony, killing the men and forever altering the few surviving women. Now, generations after the colony has lost touch with the rest of humanity, a company arrives to exploit Jeep–and its forces find themselves fighting for their lives. Terrified of spreading the virus, the company abandons its employees, leaving them afraid and isolated from the natives. In the face of this crisis, anthropologist Marghe Taishan arrives to test a new vaccine. As she risks death to uncover the women’s biological secret, she finds that she, too, is changing–and realizes that not only has she found a home on Jeep, but that she alone carries the seeds of its destruction.
Ammonite is an unforgettable novel that questions the very meanings of gender and humanity. As readers share in Marghe’s journey through an alien world, they too embark on a parallel journey of fascinating self-exploration.
My note: came across this one in a round up article and was sold on the premise. And I’m always up for some self-exploration…
15) The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley
Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution. As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion.
Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation - the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan's new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion's gravity well to the very belly of the world.
Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion's destruction - and its possible salvation. But can she and her ragtag band of followers survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?
My note: the second Kameron Hurley novel on the list. One review of this said that women literally birth the things they need, which is quite “gross”. But I’m definitely game.
16) The Shore of Women by Pamela Sargent
This classic work of feminist science fiction finds the world reordered. Following a nuclear holocaust, women have used advanced technology to expel men from their cities, bringing them back only for purposes of loveless reproduction under the guise of powerful goddesses. When one young woman, Birana, questions her society's deception, she finds herself exiled amongst the very men she has been taught to scorn. As Birana and her reluctant male protector Arvil grow closer, their feelings for each other just might mend their fractured world—if they somehow manage to survive.
My note: according to one write up, there’s quite a bit of sex in this one. Woohoo!
17) The Moon and the Other by John Kessel
In the middle of the twenty-second century, over three million people live in underground cities below the moon’s surface. One city-state, the Society of Cousins, is a matriarchy, where men are supported in any career choice, but no right to vote—and tensions are beginning to flare as outside political intrigues increase.
After participating in a rebellion that caused his mother’s death, Erno has been exiled from the Society of Cousins. Now, he is living in the Society’s rival colony, Persepolis, when he meets Amestris, the defiant daughter of the richest man on the moon.
Mira, a rebellious loner in the Society, creates graffiti videos that challenge the Society’s political domination. She is hopelessly in love with Carey, the exemplar of male privilege. An Olympic champion in low-gravity martial arts and known as the most popular bedmate in the Society, Carey’s more suited to being a boyfriend than a parent, even as he tries to gain custody of his teenage son.
When the Organization of Lunar States sends a team to investigate the condition of men in the Society, Erno sees an opportunity to get rich, Amestris senses an opportunity to escape from her family, Mira has a chance for social change, and Carey can finally become independent of the matriarchy that considers him a perpetual adolescent. But when Society secrets are revealed, the first moon war erupts, and everyone must decide what is truly worth fighting for.
My note: this was published in 2017, whereas most of the others on this list are not so recent. I read a glowing review of it and was sold.
18) Jaran (Jaran #1) by Kate Elliott
The first book of Kate Elliott’s epic Novels of the Jaran, set in an alien-controlled galaxy where a young woman seeks to find her own life and love, but is tied to her brother’s revolutionary fate
In the future, Earth is just one of the planets ruled by the vast Chapalii empire. The volatility of these alien overlords is something with which Tess Soerensen is all too familiar. Her brother, Charles, rebelled against them at one time and was rewarded by being elevated into their interstellar system—yet there is reason to believe they murdered his and Tess’s parents.
Struggling to find her place in the world and still mending a broken heart, Tess sneaks aboard a shuttle bound for Rhui, one of her brother’s planets. On the ground, she joins up with the native jaran people, becoming immersed in their nomadic society and customs while also attempting to get to the bottom of a smuggling scheme she encountered on her journey there. As she grows ever closer to the charismatic jaran ruler, Ilya—who is inflamed by an urgent mission of his own—Tess must choose between her feelings for him and her loyalty to her brother.
My note: This one is described as science fiction fantasy and a Goodreads reviewer summed it up as “Genghis Khan meets Jane Austen” – YES PLEASE.
19) The Glorious Angels by Justina Robson
The groundbreaking new novel from one of the genre's most respected authors: a thrilling mix of science, magic and sexual politics.
On a world where science and magic are hard to tell apart, a stranger arrives in a remote town with news of political turmoil to come. And a young woman learns that she must free herself from the role she has accepted.
My note: The above description doesn’t really sell this one to me. But then I came across a brief review on the Financial Times website (who’da thought?) which has this to say, “Beautiful prose and some succulently concocted sex scenes keep one’s interest.” Ok then. (Perhaps I should do a round up of SFF with lots of sex… hmm).
20) The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The lush city of Palmares Tres shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that's sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him including June's best friend, Gil. But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.
Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Tres will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the governments strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.
My note: I'm looking forward to this one - firstly because it is YA sci fi, a genre which I've never read before, and secondly it is set in a matriarchal city state in a future Brazil and I LOVED Brazil when I travelled there.
BONUS: Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) by Ann Leckie
On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren - a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.
My note: How awesome does this sound – the main character was once a starship! Sold. Although this one isn’t set in a matriarchy, apparently it doesn’t distinguish gender at all which I was intrigued by - but it does call Breq she / her. Hmm. Perhaps I should also do gender-neutral and gender-equal round ups next… (And come on, the MC was once a ship.)
Update 06.06.18: I did a round up of 25 SFF books with interesting takes on gender, you can read the post here.
Update 21.03.19: I listened to Ancillary Justice on audiobook, you can read my review here.
So, there you have it, can’t wait to get reading. Let me know if there’s any I’ve missed, or if you’ve read any of the above, I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments. Also please suggest any self-published SFF set in a matriarchal world.
**My debut novel, an epic fantasy called MELOKAI, is out now! Available from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play Books, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. Read more about my books here.**
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