Fantasy has a reputation for orphans and absent parents, but that’s certainly never a rule. I’d like to turn that tired stereotype on its head and showcase some novels that were formative for me as a writer, as well as a few recent titles that have been inspiring and notable in regards to mother/daughter relationships in all their often achingly difficult beauty and infinite complexity.
No matter what family means to you—as it’s something that everyone should define on their own, on their own terms—it’s a critical aspect of context and world-building. Whether by accidents of fate or chosen families, the core of my favorite stories showcase the unique complications and exquisite, fragile dynamics of love and care.
Here are a few examples:
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The most formative early fiction in my life is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I love that Meg is a thorny, imperfect character. We see her mother and family grapple with that fact, and all the “Mrs.” characters wrestle with it too and try to meet her where she is, encouraging her individuality and the ways in which she is uniquely suited to the task of saving her loved ones, especially her little brother. An extended array of maternal and mentor figures in each of the “Mrs.” allows for many iterations of a mother/daughter dynamic that I found to be profoundly entertaining, each with their own gift to share. This is a likely source of my insistence on writing team stories with quirky, enigmatic supporting casts.
The Collected Works of Jane Austen
I would be remiss not to mention Jane Austen as formative in my work. There are distinct swaths of period parlor drama in my books, and Austen is a core inspiration in this regard. A master at showcasing the fraught, equally wonderful and terrible capacities of family politics, Austen wrote an astonishing array of mother/daughter relationships for better or worse, often highlighting the limitations placed on women by class, wealth, societal position and various points of emotional and situational contrast.
The Brooklyn Brujas series by Zoraida Cordova
In Zoraida Cordova’s Brooklyn Brujas series, immediate family flourishes at the forefront, in vibrant detail. A magical mother has raised powerful daughters who are the respective stars of the series (Labyrinth Lost, Bruja Born). The dynamic, powerful female relationships in the Mortiz family create palpable tensions and joys across each adventure. The stakes are high, the emotion is rich, and culture is vital. It’s easy to care deeply for all of them and empathize with the rich scope of their familial conflicts and resolutions.
The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi
Karuna Riazi’s The Gauntlet seamlessly weaves in the inextricable importance of family and culture while supporting a fantastic adventure where kids shine. Some of the qualities I loved in A Wrinkle in Time are also in play here: the heroine Farah’s love for her younger brother and willingness to go to all lengths to help him; the inevitable navigations and negotiations of family; and the wonderful lizard guide Henrietta Peel, who serves similar maternal and mentor qualities as the “Mrs.” characters in my favorite L’Engle work. Farah’s strong family dynamic has created a good foundation for her to take on the mantle of an elder’s responsibility.
Riazi and Cordova’s works are great examples of engaging, beautifully realized, holistic portrayals of vibrant family dynamics that are expressions of each author’s lived experiences but also imminently relatable across all cultures and backgrounds.
“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong
In thinking about this post, one of the first phrases that echoed into my head, just by process of association with the topic, was “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers”, the title of one of Alyssa Wong’s most notable and multiple-award-winning stories. Her strong women always shake me to the core in the best ways. In this story in particular, the portrayal of the mother/daughter relationship is fascinating, viscerally complex, and thoroughly haunting. It’s one of those searing kinds of stories that imprints itself in your mind.
The core of my Strangely Beautiful series, and the component of its resilience, is love. Familial love, blood family, chosen family, accident-of-fate family—all of it applies. Especially in Miss Violet and the Great War, a mother-daughter relationship takes center stage.
Considering my own lived experience with an incredible, strong and supportive mother, I’ve tried to bring truth and big-hearted beauty to Violet’s relationship with her mother. There’s a very simple line in Cordova’s Bruja Born that has stuck with me as incredibly resonant: “I want to tell my mom that when I felt like I needed strength, all I had to do was think of her.” The mother/daughter relationship can be, in and of itself, an inimitable magic that has many levels of possible power and meaning.
That’s what I celebrate in Miss Violet, that strength and unbreakable bond, now that my darling Miss Percy is all grown up, these many years later, to become a mother. I hope she and Violet, in all their aching efforts to protect one another through all dangers, will find a home in your heart, as all these stories have made such indelible homes in mine.
Leanna Renee Hieber is an actress, playwright, ghost tour guide and the award-winning, bestselling author of twelve Gothic, Gaslamp Fantasy and Supernatural Suspense novels for adults and teens for Tor, Sourcebooks and Kensington Books. Her Strangely Beautiful saga, beginning with The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, hit Barnes & Noble and Borders Bestseller lists and garnered numerous regional genre awards. The series continues with Miss Violet and the Great War, available now. She tweets often @leannarenee.