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5 SFF Books Featuring Memorable Mothers

5 SFF Books Featuring Memorable Mothers

Characters in speculative fiction don’t fit just one profile—they can come in any gender, ethnicity, status, or set of characteristics. This rule holds equally true for heroes and villains, sidekicks and stars. But how often do you encounter a fascinating main character in science fiction or fantasy who also happens to be a mother? Just like in the real world, motherhood doesn’t define anyone completely, but it can intersect with other aspects of a character’s identity to provide interesting dimensions and dilemmas.

One of the things I enjoyed most about setting my Five Queendoms epic fantasy series in a matriarchal world was the opportunity to write a wide variety of female characters, from reprehensible to admirable and everywhere in between. The mothers featured in the two books released so far, Scorpica and Arca, run the gamut from those willing to sacrifice their lives for their children to those willing to sacrifice their children to save their own lives. Most of them wouldn’t fit the standard definition of “good” mothers in our world, but what good is “good” anyway? Much better to be memorable.

Here are five science fiction and fantasy novels featuring mothers who stick with readers long after we’ve turned the last page.

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Any mother of four has plenty to deal with, but when that mother is also a retired starship captain in disguise, fleeing an intergalactic war back on her home planet, who’s also trying to figure out how to keep human customers happy at her San Gabriel Valley donut shop… well, let’s just say Lan Tran’s in a bit over her head. And that’s before she finds herself irresistibly attracted to Shizuka Satomi, a violin teacher whose Faustian bargain is coming due, drawing Lan into an even knottier situation just as her children begin to second-guess whether Mother really knows best.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The first book in Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy introduces readers to Essun at what seems to be one of her life’s worst moments: her husband has killed her son and kidnapped her daughter, sending Essun into a desperate quest to recover the girl, even as the world literally crumbles around her. As we learn more of Essun’s story, we find that this latest disaster—one of the most terrible things a mother could ever experience—is only one of a long list of dark and painful events Essun has endured. While in some books magic protects its bearer, Essun’s magical nature repeatedly drives her toward disaster, and it’s only her inborn core of remarkable strength that keeps her going—as a mother, as a woman, as a human being.

Network Effect by Martha Wells

In the first several Murderbot novellas we see Dr. Ayda Mensah only in her professional capacity. She’s a highly capable, intelligent, compassionate leader who Murderbot rescues and is rescued by in turn. But Mensah’s identity as Preservation Alliance scientist overlaps for the first time with her identity as a mother in Network Effect, the first full-length novel in the series, when Mensah’s daughter Amena is a member of a research expedition accompanied by Murderbot. While Mensah isn’t present for most of the action of Network Effect, reading about her concern and care for her daughter—and by extension, the rest of her family, which includes multiple marital partners and the children they all share—casts a new, welcome light on the character.

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

It almost goes without saying that motherhood doesn’t have to start with giving birth to a child, and Lady Patience in Hobb’s Farseer series proves the point. Married to King-in-Waiting Chivalry and castigated for being unable to give him an heir, Patience sets aside her grief and anger to nurture her husband’s bastard child after Fitz’s sudden appearance at court as a six-year-old, even when the boy doesn’t appreciate her efforts. Which, in the beginning, is most of the time. But Patience lives up to her name, giving Fitz everything from a puppy to an expensive gem to the name she had intended to call her own son, and providing a steadying, wise influence without ulterior motives.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The central action of this speculative classic revolves around the absence (and eventual rescue) of Meg Murry’s math genius father, but the foundation of the Murry family is Meg’s very present mother, who keeps it together back at home. Oh, and Mrs. Murry also happens to be a brilliant experimental biologist, who worked with her husband to develop the idea of the tesseract, in addition to being a beacon of light, hope, beauty, empathy, and late-night hot cocoa. Is she a little too good to be true? Probably. But that’s how some kids see their parents, and this is, after all, Meg’s story.

G. R. Macallister’s Arca was published by Titan Books on 4 April 2023

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