I read and write fantasy (with anywhere between a dash and a heavy dose of romance!), and I’m always on the hunt for a female protagonist with wit, guts, and a get-stuff-done attitude. Bonus points for humor. Here are five books published in the last 3 years that fit the bill.
1. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Zélie has a warrior spirit, but she’s also vulnerable and haunted by the mistakes and missteps she’s made as she tries to sort out her powers, her journey, and her fight to bring magic back. And then, of course, she has to contend with her growing feelings for the prince who is supposed to be her enemy.
The romance in this one takes a backseat to more of the adventure and action. I especially love the tough, growing-into-herself Princess Amari. A sweet friendship develops between Zélie and Amari, which further adds to their shared and individual journeys.
This book is heavy on the emotions. There’s a lot of violence and death, and the stakes are super high as a result.
I highly recommend the audio version, read by Bahni Turpin.
2. Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller
I have very mixed feelings about pirate stories in general. This one was a definite win for me, mostly because of the main character, Alosa. The plot itself is what you might expect . . . main character searching for a hidden map, bad pirates out to get her along the way . . .
But where this book really shines is in the character of Alosa herself. She’s smart, funny, and tricky. She’s one of those characters who is far from perfect but is someone you find yourself rooting for because she’s just so scrappy and determined.
Her father (the pirate king, in case you couldn’t tell from the title), is ruthless and violent. Alosa has his strength, along with other special traits, but she makes her own way without falling under her father’s shadow.
3. King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
I am a huge fan of Leigh Bardugo, and I loved that this book brought in some of my favorite side characters from her Grisha trilogy. The story takes place from three characters’ points of view: Nikolai, Nina, and Zoya. Even though most of the plot centers around Nikolai, Nina and Zoya are the real stars IMHO.
Nina is a Ravkan soldier. She embraces her sexuality and her curves and has a biting sense of humor to boot. She’s dealing with grief and loss, which changes her in deep ways. If you read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, this is a darker version of the Nina we got to know before her life was turned upside down. Her humor is still there, but there’s a new grimness to her that only adds to the complexity of her character.
On to Zoya. In a word, she’s fierce. Zoya has her own dreams and aspirations, but they take a backseat to her duty. She doesn’t get bogged down in what if’s or feeling sorry for herself, despite her tragic backstory. She’s girly and also unafraid of gore and death. She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She’s cynical and a little bitter, but there’s softness and kindness beneath her hard exterior.
This is a seriously character-driven story (although the plot will keep you on your toes, too!).
4. The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh
I have a soft spot for a New Orleans setting, and Ahdieh’s gorgeous prose places the reader right in the midst of the mystery and beauty of 19th-century NOLA.
Celine Rousseau has fled a tragic past in Paris, and she’s on her own as she tries to make a new life for herself. Plus, the story is exciting and fast-paced. She’s a tough, unapologetic character who doesn’t bemoan the fact that she doesn’t fit into conventional society. She embraces it.
I also love Celine’s snarky friend Odette, who adds a whole other level of wit and humor to the character interactions.
What about you? Are there any recent fantasy books with strong female characters that you’d suggest? I’d love to hear in the comments below!