YA Friday: Dangerous Girls & Fantasy Worlds

Who Run the World?

When it comes to book characters, females have the capability to kick butt in every genre, but fantasy makes it particularly easy for them to slay, one inspiring adventure at a time. And young female protagonists are taking over the stage of YA fantasy. Just a decade ago, it wasn't uncommon to barely have a female character mention in a fantasy book. But not anymore. Brave, complex young women fill our book shelves. Often, these warriors can be found defending their family’s honor, saving their town, and proving time and time again that men aren't the only heroes. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games with her bow and arrow, skyrocketed the popularity of archery. And Rey from Star Wars first appeared bravely salvaging for parts in an unforgiving environment, her quarterstaff in tow. We readers share a hunger for awesome storytelling driven by complex female characters, who exhibit their strength in different ways.

With supernatural spectacles, fantastical feats, and plenty of magic and mythology, fantasy novels are chock full of opportunities for girls and women to become true heroines in the face of danger and in spite of gender expectations. Please look at the list below if you also enjoy reading fantasy novels about fierce female protagonists who aren't afraid to wield a weapon and are laced with magic and political intrigue.

These Rebel Waves book coverThese Rebel Waves by Sara Raasch

In the devout country of Argrid, the people worship the Pious God, and magic is punishable by death. Crown Prince Benat watched his beloved uncle and cousin burn to death for disobeying his father’s laws, and Ben has kept his own interest in the forbidden magic a secret—until his father gives him an unexpected task. On the island of Grace Loray, once oppressed by Argrid but now free, magic flourishes even as political relations remained strained. Adeluna "Lu" Andreu, the daughter of politicians, helped Grace Loray fight for its freedom when she was just a child. When a diplomat vanishes during the peace talks between Grace Loray and Argrid, it could all be for nothing. Lu forms an uneasy alliance with Devereux "Vex" Bell, a notorious pirate who sells Grace Loray’s magical plants on the black market and has his own reasons for getting involved.

Grave Mercy book cover

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Two words: Assassin nuns.

In the late fifteenth century, Mortain, the god of death, has sired Ismae to be his handmaiden. She will carry out his wishes by working through the Convent, where she has found refuge from a brutal father and husband. After learning the Convent’s wily warfare and womanly arts, and being apprenticed to Sister Serafina (poisons mistress and Convent healer), 17-year-old Ismae is sent to the high court of Brittany, ostensibly as the cousin (aka mistress) of the Breton noble Duval—but, in truth, she is there as a spy. Her tacit assignment is to protect the young duchess by assassinating Duval if he proves to be a traitor, a charge made more difficult because of the couple’s attraction to each other.

The Winner's Curse book coverThe Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

When 17-year-old Kestrel, daughter of an esteemed Valorian general, pays too steep a price for a Herrani slave at auction, the audacious maneuver reveals more than just a lapse in judgment. What Kestrel doesn't know is that Arin is really a spy for Herrani rebels plotting to overthrow the Valorian empire. On equally deceptive footing, Arin manipulates Kestrel’s trust to mine her for military secrets while Kestrel uses Arin to deflect attention from unwanted suitors. As their relationship unwittingly evolves from master and servant into one of guarded mutual respect (and blush-worthy sexual tension), the two are torn between loyalty to their peoples and traditions and a love that can never be realized.

Flame in the Mist book cover

Flame In The Mist by Renée Ahdieh

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place--she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort--a political marriage that will elevate her family's standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace. Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and track down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she's within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she's appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love -- a love that will force her to question everything she's ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

The Hundredth Queen book cover

The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King

As an orphan ward of the Sisterhood in the ancient Tarachand Empire, eighteen-year-old Kalinda is destined for nothing more than a life of seclusion and prayer. Plagued by fevers, she's an unlikely candidate for even a servant's position, let alone a courtesan or wife. Her sole dream is to continue living in peace in the Sisterhood's mountain temple. But a visit from the tyrant Rajah Tarek disrupts Kalinda's life. Within hours, she is ripped from the comfort of her home, set on a desert trek, and ordered to fight for her place among the rajah's ninety-nine wives and numerous courtesans. Her only solace comes in the company of her guard, the stoic but kind Captain Deven Naik. Faced with the danger of a tournament to the death--and her growing affection for Deven--Kalinda has only one hope for escape, and it lies in an arcane, forbidden power buried within her.

Throne of Glass book cover

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Celaena Sardothien is considered the best assassin in Adarlan, and she has been condemned to the salt mines for her work. As the story opens, she is plucked from slow execution by the calculating crown prince, Dorian, to be his candidate for champion, competing against "thieves and assassins and warriors” to become an enforcer for the king. The stakes are freedom or death: win or return to the mines. Youthful captain Chaol is charged with preventing Celaena’s escape, and though she fantasizes about killing him on occasion, he becomes a far different target of her attention.

Further Reading

An Ember in the Ashes book cover The Wrath and the Dawn book cover The Girl of Fire and Thorns book cover Snow Like Ashes book cover Frost Blood book cover Ruined book cover