When Addie King and I edited the stories in Never Too Old to Save the World, they weren't all about moms. The conceit of our anthology—that teenagers aren't always the best suited protagonists to become chosen ones, and that maybe someone with a little more life experience would be better for the job—meant that we saw several kinds of older protagonists. Vaseem Khan sent us a post-apocalyptic story about a man who lost his family during the alien invasion of Earth, and another, older man who saw to the heart of why the invasion had taken place. Lucy A. Snyder's protagonist is an aging warrior, whose mission to train a student to defeat a notorious witch has kept her from ever having a family (though there are other reasons as well). My own story for the anthology centers on an aunt who has lost her sense of belonging and is relying on her niece to find it for her.
But many of the stories featured mothers and grandmothers, even in their titles: "Big Momma Saves the World" by Maurice Broaddus, "The M.A.M.I. Incident" by Guadalupe García McCall, and "Granny" by R.J. Sullivan among them. Several years ago, there were some big conversations about the absence of parents, particularly mothers, in SFF; since 2017, the field has been blooming with them. Inspired by the moms and grandmothers in Never Too Old to Save the World (now at bookstores near you!), here's a list of five recent fantasy moms you should absolutely read. Just…don't get on their bad sides.
The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
This is an easy reach; Jemisin's work should be familiar to everyone by now, because she's just so good. The Fifth Season is the first recent novel that I felt centered an experience of motherhood as core to the narrative. The story launches readers into the perspective (in second person) of a mother who has just lost her child, and who is determined to get to her other, now-missing, child to save the older girl's life. As the novel goes on, readers see Essun, the protagonist, at several stages of her life, and while motherhood isn't crucial to all of them—it is never Essun's whole identity—that thread is woven throughout. Essun's magic has impacted all of her life decisions; it has stolen more than one family from her. She's determined to save what she can, no matter what it takes. It's gorgeously done, and if you still haven't picked up this series, you're in for a treat when you move it to the top of your TBR pile.
The Keeper's Six by Kate Elliott
In my other life as a reviewer, I frequently get to cover brand new books sent to me by publishers. When Tordotcom offered me an early look at Kate Elliott's saga of a mother whose adult child has been kidnapped by dragons, I jumped at the chance to read it. The novel is just as excellent as its hook. Esther, a prickly and headstrong woman with adult children (and young grandchildren), is magically alerted to the danger that her son Daniel has gotten into. In order to save him, she has to bring together her old realm-wandering team, her Hex, who were forced into retirement because of a decision that Esther made. The dynamic in the group is tricky for Esther to navigate; she wouldn't change her choices, but she doesn't like the consequences all of them have had to face. The world that Elliott creates in a very short word count is captivating, but it's really Esther who's the reason to keep reading. She's a fully fleshed out person, not defined by her motherhood, or her career, or even her faith, though all those aspects make her who she is. She's also faced with a budding attraction to a man she just met at a time she really doesn't want to think about romance. That Elliott brought in all those aspects makes Esther utterly relatable, and I'd love to sit down and have coffee with her sometime. This novel just came out in January 2023, so it's likely to still be on the "new" shelves at your local bookstore or library!
Jackalope Wives and Other Stories by Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher
We were so privileged to reprint Ursula Vernon's first Grandma Harken story, "Jackalope Wives," in Never Too Old to Save the World. I loved that story when I first read it in Apex Magazine, and I loved the novelette that followed, "The Tomato Thief," even more. Once you've read the first, you should absolutely pick up this full collection that contains both stories. Grandma Harken is a wise woman, but she's not perfect; she balances a line between what is right, what is just, and what is necessary, and I love that about her personality. "The Tomato Thief" starts as a quest to catch the person, or creature, stealing her tomatoes, but she finds herself involved in something much, much larger. Thus far, I think those two tales are the only stories featuring Grandma Harken that Vernon has written, but I'd read a whole collection just centered on those adventures.
Voracious by Markisan Naso, Jason Muhr, and Andrei Tabacaru
Voracious, a comic about a time traveling chef who hunts dinosaurs (to catastrophic multiversal results) is not technically about a grandmother. It's about the chef, and his maybe girlfriend. But his grandmother, Maribel, is one of my very favorite action heroes in comics. You can see even from the cover here that she's got a knife strapped to a belt on her dress. It's a surprise the first time she uses it, and she rises to every occasion the writing and art team puts in front of her. (Also: dinosaur-meat restaurant, time travel adventure. This book deserves to be read by far more people!)
Once & Future by Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora
Bridgette McGuire is cut from the same cloth as Voracious's Maribel, with a side of Arthurian mess. In Once & Future, Gillen and Mora retell the Arthur legend, only when white nationalists bring the sleeping Arthur back to life, they don't realize he wants to remake the world in his own image. Arthur is an undead nightmare, and Bridgette's too old to fight him and his minions alone. She enlists her grandson, Duncan, only to reveal over the course of the series just how messed up their family tree is, and how closely they've entwined themselves with stories in order to gain power over the myths themselves. The final collected volume of this comic is out in March 2023, and I cannot wait to see how it ends.
—Alana Joli Abbott
Who are your favorite moms and grandmothers, action hero or otherwise, in SFF? Tell us in the comments, and check out the other older chosen one stories collected in Never Too Old to Save the World.