The guys have had their turn, now it’s on to the girls. From epic to urban to apocalyptic to historical and seemingly everything in between, here’s my Top Ten butt-kicking heroines of the fantasy genre:
- Lyra Belacqua – His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman
Yes, in my opinion, the most kickarse of all the female fantasy butt kickers is a twelve-year-old child.
His Dark Materials is one of my absolute all-time favourite series, and has been since I was a kid (I seriously feel so old thinking about how I first read it almost twenty years ago!). One of the reasons I loved it so much was Lyra, who is so amazingly different to a lot of the other female characters I was reading about at the time (this was back in the late ‘90s). She is fierce, wily, loyal, and incredibly brave in the face of every obstacle thrown at her over the course of the series.
‘How can I just go and sit in the library or somewhere and twiddle my thumbs, knowing what’s going to happen? I don’t intend to do that, I promise you.’ – Norhtern Lights (His Dark Materials #1)
- Cleiona Bellos (Cleo) – Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes
Introduced in the beginning of the series as the pampered younger daughter of the King of Auranos whose main passions in life involve parties and gallivanting with her friends, Cleo’s priorities soon undergo a drastic transformation as her entire world is ripped apart and she is forced to live amongst enemies, all the while scheming and plotting to take back her family’s crown. Unlike the other female characters in this series who are skilled in magic and weaponry, Cleo needs to rely solely on her wits to navigate the treacherous waters around her.
Like in the rest of this series, the character development with Cleo is fantastic. And I’ve particularly loved seeing the highs and lows of her relationship with Magnus as they’ve unfolded.
‘…you should remember that charm opens far more doors than harsh words do.’ – Frozen Tides (Falling Kingdoms #4)
- Feyre – A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Feyre is another character that undergoes a drastic transformation throughout the course of her story (so far). Originally taken into the faery world in order to pay a debt, Feyre starts out kind of timid and naïve. Of course, from her first person POV, she doesn’t recognise these traits in herself and it is not until the second book after she has undergone quite a bit of character development that we can really see the true Feyre—and that Feyre is pretty damn awesome.
Like many characters on this list, she resolves to do whatever is necessary in order to achieve her aims, including sacrificing herself. I think, perhaps, the thing I like most about her is the way she sticks to her guns—something that does sometimes get her into trouble, but also has been known to work out in the long run.
“I was not a pet, not a doll, not an animal.
I was a survivor, and I was strong.
I would not be weak, or helpless again.
I would not, could not be broken. Tamed.”
- Kestrel Trajan – The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski
While this series isn’t technically a fantasy (there’s no magic in it) it is set in a completely made up world, so it’s generally counted as such.
If you’ve not yet read The Winner’s Trilogy now is a great time to go out and get it. The series is now complete so there’ll be no freaking out about how on earth you’re possibly going to survive for the next year without knowing what happens next after those epic cliff-hangers.
Kestrel is a fantastic character (complemented brilliantly by Arin, who just missed my YA Book Boyfriends list)—she is incredibly clever, resourceful, brave, passionate, self-sacrificing, and ruthless when she needs to be.
The twisting and turning plot of this series had my heart-racing from the very first page, but I doubt it would have had nearly as much effect without a character like Kestrel.
‘If you won’t be my friend, you’ll regret being my enemy.’ – The Winner’s Crime (The Winner’s Trilogy #2)
- Tessa Gray – The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare
Tessa is a seemingly normal 19th century New York girl, brought over to London upon the death of her aunt and caught up in the Shadowhunter world after being kidnapped by two crazy old women (who turn out to be warlocks). From that point on, Tessa becomes the centrepiece of The Infernal Devices trilogy, handling every challenge that is thrown her way with grace, dignity and no small measure of bravery.
The Infernal Devices is one of my all-time favourite series, and a big part of that is the characters, including Tessa. I love all of Cassandra Clare’s books, but when you’re comparing Tessa to the likes of, say, Clary—there’s just no competition.
“’I know there are monsters on this earth,’ said Tessa. ‘You cannot tell me otherwise. I have seen them.’” Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices #1)
- Penryn – Penryn & The End of Days by Susan Ee
In the midst of an angel apocalypse, Penryn has to work with Raffe, ‘The Wrath of God’ in order to save her sister from the renegade angels who kidnapped her.
Penryn is a really wonderful character—she has so much spunk about her, and is constantly proving herself capable of doing whatever might be necessary to get to her sister. She’s resourceful, quick-thinking, and brave, and can literally kick butt with her awesome karate skills.
“I’ve never killed anyone before. What frightens me isn’t that I’m killing someone. What frightens me is how easy it is.” Angelfall (Penryn & The End of Days #1)
- Evie Green – The Arcana Chronicles by Kresley Cole
In this epic, apocalyptic fantasy where teenagers have the identities and powers of the figures on tarot cards, Evie Green is one hell of a contradiction—she can be incredibly sweet and kind but also incredibly ruthless. And when she turns into The Empress—her tarot identity—you’d better watch out!
I love her humour, which comes out a lot in her first person POV, even in incredibly serious situations. And I also love the loyalty she has towards her friends and her no-bullshit attitude towards people who cross her.
‘Remember my titles? I don’t get poisoned, I do the poisoning. I’m the Princess of it.’ – Poison Princess (Arcana Chronicles #1)
- Shahrzad al-Khayzuran (Shazi) – The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Andes
In this retelling of 1001 Nights, Renee Andieh’s Shahrzad absolutely steals the show. After volunteering to wed the 18 year-old Caliph of Khorasan—who is known for marrying a new girl every night and having her executed the very next dawn—Shazi sets herself two tasks: 1. Survive the dawn, and 2. Kill the Caliph.
Of course not everything is as it appears and the longer Shazi spends in the palace the more the comes to realise the Caliph is not actually the monster everyone thinks him to be.
Shazi is perhaps one of the most strong-willed characters on this list—which is saying something. Throughout the course of the duology she finds herself coming up against challenges set by both friend and foe and handles each new hurdle with grace, tenacity, and fierce bravery.
‘I will live to see tomorrow’s sunset. Make no mistake. I swear. I will live to see as many sunsets as it takes. And I will kill you. With my bare hands.’ – The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and The Dawn #1)
- Meg Corbin – The Others by Anne Bishop
I think Meg is probably the nicest of our female fantasy arse-kickers, giving Tessa a real run for her money.
The Others is such a unique story, so it stands to reason it would need a unique heroine. One of a very few select humans living amongst The Others in a world where humans have become more monstrous than the creatures they are fighting against, Meg represents the very best of humanity, even though she’s only ever experienced the worst of it.
“She would always be short, but she wasn’t helpless and she wasn’t small. Not anymore.” – Written in Red (The Others #1)
- Alina – The Grisha by Leigh Bardugo
I almost didn’t put her in the Top 10, because even three years later I am still a little mad at Alina for her choice in guy…
But taste in men aside, I think it is fair to say Alina got a hell of a lot of butt kicking done during The Grisha trilogy.
Raised as an orphan, when her magical gifts are discovered Alina is caught up in a battle for power but ultimately manages to maintain control and prevent herself from being used.
In the process, she gathers a cult following, amasses unfathomable power and basically saves the world. Pretty awesome, right?
‘If I told you I’m trying to save the world, would you believe me?’ – Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1)
Who are your favourite heroines of fantasy? Did they make my list?
Stay tuned next next week for the Top Ten kick-arse Heroines of Sci Fi!