The Darkover Books of
Marion Zimmer Bradley

This series is set in a future time of our world, on a planet called Darkover.  Early in the series, the society of Darkover is patriarchal, with a level of technology equivalent to medieval times on Earth.  Women belong to their husbands and to their husbands' families; some are even held in slavery.  There are however two categories of women who fall outside this rigid pattern: the leroni, whose powers of the mind gain them a place ruling the Towers, and the Free Amazons, who have formed guilds and move freely about as artisans and guides.

The prequel, Darkover Landfall, which was actually written some time well into the series, tells how the early settlers of Darkover were the survivors of the crashlanding of a Terran spaceship on this largely uninhabited planet.  As time passed however, technology was lost as the planet was poor in metals, and even the memory of their origin was forgotten.  The society developed in fairly primitive fashion, and interbreeding with one of the few human-like local species, who possessed mind powers, or "psi" powers, created the talents of "laran" which replaced technology as a means of developing the civilization.

The early books in the series tell the stories of this society, and women's place in it.  Then in Rediscovery, which takes place centuries after Darkover Landfall, Darkover is "discovered" by spacefaring humans, the Terran Empire, who come to realize what Darkover's true origin is.

Rediscovery and subsequent books tell of the culture clash between the society of Darkover and the newcomers who want to establish a spaceport on Darkover and make it part of the rest of the Terran spacefaring world.  Darkover wants no part of technology, and keeps the powers of "laran" a secret as long as possible.  And of course there is the inevitable clash between the modern Terrans, where women hold equal place with men, and the patriarchal society of Darkover.  The Free Amazons play an important part in the contact and growing understanding between these two radically different cultures.

I recommend the entire series, and you can start at the beginning and work your way all the way through.  But if you want to begin with the books that focus most strongly on the women's stories, I would recommend reading Hawkmistress first, and then The Shattered Chain.

I have listed the main books of the series here, in chronological order of the stories that they tell.  There are a few other Darkover books which MZB wrote earlier on and does not include in her own list  in the beginning pages of her books.  There are also several anthologies of short stories written by other authors about the world of Darkover, and edited by MZB.