I picked up Robin Hobb's Dragon Keeper, the first in her Rain Wild Chronicles series, in a post-A Song of Ice and Fire frenzy, when I was desperate for more fantasy with awesome female characters, adventure, and, of course, dragons.
The Rain Wild Chronicles deliver on all three counts.
For the first time in centuries, dragons have hatched in the Wilds. But the dragons are deformed, helpless, trapped on the beach where they were born and unable to feed or fight for themselves. Sick of caring for creatures that are more trouble than they're worth, the council hires a group of outcasts and misfits to lead the dragons upstream on a suicide mission to find the legendary city of the dragons. Among them are Thymara, a "deformed" outcast herself who has never felt accepted at home, and Alise, the studious wife of a rich and cruel Trader who longs for more freedom in her life and who becomes the official "dragon expert" of the expedition.
Alise and Thymara are both wonderful characters. Alise is a pragmatic intellectual, a girl with crushed dreams of romance and a passionate love of dragons, and her story of a loveless marriage and her last attempts at independence is both heartbreaking and liberating. Thymara, meanwhile, is a scrappy and fierce young girl, a talented climber and hunter who struggles against everyone else's expectations to figure out what she wants, in a world where she's not supposed to want anything at all. They are standout characters in a vibrant and compelling cast of misfits, and although the book is also full of adventure and twisting plot, these characters really make it shine.
The series is set in the same world as Hobb's other fantasy books, but I picked it up and followed it without any problems, and although I'm now working my way back through her other series, I still like this one the best. It starts a little slow (interesting, but a little difficult to get into), but by the end of the first book, I was completely hooked. When I finished the second book, I went into yet more fantasy-series-withdrawal, and I'm still in it now as I wait for the fourth and final book to be released.
If you're looking for fantasy with compelling female characters, definitely check this out.