In honor of Women’s History Month and yesterday’s International Women’s Day, I thought it fitting that we talk about women today. It’s no secret that women have long served as plot devices and shallow love interests in a lot of stories, but times have changed and so has the way females are represented in stories. Whether they’re the star of the show or a side character, there are plenty of strong female characters in fantasy today.
I pay much more attention to plot than character gender when choosing which books I pick up, and I have no problem connecting with male characters and enjoying their stories, but it’s always nice to see both genders being presented as fully fleshed-out, well-developed characters. And, as a female myself, I can’t say it doesn’t make me happy to see strong women kicking butt on page, whether they’re phyically strong and bold or protective and brave in smaller ways.
Here are ten examples of women in fantasy that I love:
The Memoirs of Lady Trent
by Marie Brennan
Throughout this series we see Isabella at a few key moments in both her personal and professional life. My favorite is the first book where we see her trying to break into the scientific community. Within this world, it’s not accepted for women to be in academic roles, but Isabella finds a loophole that will at least get her foot in the door. She manages to get more than just a foot in and begins her path to her greatest discovery.
She’s smart and resourceful, if not more than a bit reckless and shortsighted. I love when characters bend the rules just enough to get what they want, but not so much that they break them.
Betty, Violet, Dee, and Hannah
by Kurtis Wiebe
This is four women instead of just one (although if I had to pick only one I’d pick Dee, the group’s introvert). These women are strong in the literal sense. A group of adventurers taking on dangerous quests. They work hard and then they play hard. They have each other’s backs on their adventures and are a tight-knit bunch of friends beyond that.
Wheel of Time
by Robert Jordan
I honestly didn’t like Egwene at all at the beginning of this series, but I really don’t think the majority of female characters were particularly interesting for the first three books. In the fourth book, however, things changed. There’s a conversation that Egwene has with Rand where she essentially tells him ‘hey, we’re not kids in our safe little village anymore, let’s just agree to be friends and pursue our own paths now’. So they do, and after that moment Egwene rapidly became one of my favorite characters in the series.
Egwene develops into a strong woman throughout the series, taking every challange she faces with dignity and grace and learning from everything and everyone she encounters. When her friends are in trouble, she steps up to protect them, and when someone tries to take advantage of her, she finds a way to turn the tables. I loved seeing her character arc throughout all 14 books.
Howl’s Moving Castle
by Diana Wynne Jones
Another character who grows throughout the story, Sophie begins as a meek, dutiful girl. Then she’s cursed and, while it literally changes her into an old woman, it also sparks another change. Unrecognizable and spending more time with Howl, she develops into a bold, stubborn young lady.
The Bone Orchard
by Sara A. Mueller
Charm is a strong female in a different way than the other women on this list. When we meet her she’s subservient, filling her role as the welcoming mistress and a favorite of the Emperor. As the story unfolds and we learn more about her and her past, we see how much pain and trauma Charm carries with her every day.
An example of how you can’t always know what someone is dealing with, Charm’s strength is less obvious in her quiet resilience.
Book of the Ancestor
by Mark Lawrence
This series has a large cast of female characters, all varied in their strengths and personalities. One of my favorites is Abbess Glass. She’s bold and brave in such a subtle way. She’s protective of all of the girls in her care, defying those who stand against them without ever losing her cool. She’s a lady with a plan, but she never shows her cards, even to those close to her.
by T.L. Huchu
Ropa is young and has a lot on her shoulders, making her cynical and snarky. She works to support her grandmother and younger sister, and when she happens upon something troubling she can’t turn a blind eye. Quick-witted and with a bold voice, she may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved hearing her perspective.
A Song of Ice and Fire
by George R.R. Martin
There may be some other, more obvious choices from this series, but I love Catelyn Stark. A devoted wife and mother, she may not be the one drawing a sword and rushing into battle, but she doesn’t back down when it counts. And she certainly doesn’t let anyone mess with her family.
by Bree Paulsen
It feels a little weird to call an anthropomorphic bulb of garlic ‘female’, but it make sense if you’ve read Garlic & the Witch. Garlic is adorable. She’s nervous and lacks confidence, but when her friends need her to step up, no matter how anxious she is feeling, she does. Facing something scary takes strength, no matter how big or small that scary thing is.
by T. Kingfisher
Although this book has a female main character, I especially loved the side character of Aunt Nadia. A talented artist who drinks far too much coffee, she’s a little intimidating up front but just as kind and loyal as the rest of her relatives. Devoted to her work, although not always confident in her talent, she’s a great addition to this quirky cast of characters.