Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Unconventional, complicated female heros

Some of my favorite girl characters are fighters: literally sword-fighters or kick-boxers or killer archers or have super powers like Katniss Everdeen, Sabriel, Alanna, Buffy, and the Avengers' Black Widow.

This Tuesday Top Ten is NOT about them! (This week's theme is Top Ten Characters Who ARE X... we get to pick, from the Broke and Bookish blog). 

I love strong fighting girls. But I don't want every dystopian, fantasy, science fiction or action/thriller book I read to feature a girl who can hold her own in physical combat, or has special powers to the same effect, and I definitely don't want that to become the main requirement for a "strong female character."

Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.  (quote from Sophia McDougall's article here) 

Does anyone else feel like the kick-butt heroine is overdone in YA? So many of them in paranormal/dystopian stories in recent years. (tweet by Michelle Witte)

So this is my list of girl heroes in science fiction or fantasy that saved the day, with unconventional strengths.

Elisa in the Bitter Kingdom, by Rae Carson.
In the first two books and part of the third, Elisa does have a special power that sets her apart, though she struggles with insecurity. Without spoiling the third book, I think I can safely say her power changes enormously. She saves the day in an unexpected way with unconventional strength.

Lilac in These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner.
Spoiled, rich, smart, fashion-saavy, clever with space ship mechanics, party girl, chased up a tree, great at putting guys down, dangerous with explosives, determined, dogged... there are so many dimensions to Lilac.

Seraphina, in Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman. I need to read this one again because I honestly can't remember the details of the ending and how Seraphina triumphs: but she's a very complex character with a lot going on in her head and no special abilities to help her stop a war between humans and dragons.

Meg Murray in A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle.
Her stubbornness and love is what she uses to save the day.

Miri in Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale.
If I remember correctly, it was primarily Miri's diplomacy and smarts that saved everyone.

Ani in the Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale.
Ani's discovery of her magic doesn't impact how the ending turns out. In other words, the magic isn't what "saves" her, except in a very small way. 

Hermione in the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
While Harry Potter often gets credit for the "big" saves, Hermione saves the day and Harry's skin in many smaller ways. I loved that she was Muggle-born (nothing special, no magic in her family) and that her strengths were that she worked really, really hard to study and learn and observe and figure things out.

Okay, here's a couple more who did have some special powers/fighting prowess/weapons to help them along, but their strength was evident in many others ways too:

Ismae in Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers.
She's trained to be an assassin, so at first I didn't include her in my list. But in the end it's not her special skills that make her stand out, but her mercy.

Karou, Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, by Laini Taylor.
She's pretty keen with a knife and has some unusual powers but she mostly fights (using this term loosely) her enemies in surprising ways.

I am sure there are more great examples of girl heros like this that I've missed. Help me FIND THEM, please!!!


  1. Oh Meg - a bundle of insecurity, but ultimately she's able to save the day :). And Hermione is potentially my favourite character ever, so I'm happy to see her on any list like this haha!

    1. Meg and Hermione are my favorites, too, but I was surprised how few girls like them I could find in SF/F... now in contemporary and historical there are a lot more examples.

    2. Huh. You know, I'd never thought of that there really aren't many. Daine and Lirael sort of fit, but they also have powers (although they're not aggressive ones). Ooooh - the lead girl in Michael Grant's Gone series (although she might have powers by the end, but I'm only two books deep) fits! Actually a few of them would. But you're right, I had to really search for that haha

  2. I love your choices of strong female characters who have inner strength that helps them save the day. Love just about all the series you mention.

    1. Inner strength! Why could I not think of that phrase last night when I was writing this? Thank you

  3. Yes! I love characters, male or female, who have quiet strength, and whose strength and abilities come from within themselves. Which is probably one reason why quiet, mature Anne Elliot is my favorite Austen heroine, above and beyond the witty and sparkling Elizabeth Bennet (though I like Lizzy, too). And why I love Kate, of Wrede and Stevermer's "Kate and Cecilia" books, even a little bit more than Cecy.

    1. Oh me too!!!! I love both Anne and Lizzy, but have more respect for Anne for the same reaseson. Not familiar with Kate and Cecilia but looking them up right now!

  4. Great mentions here, Margo. I especially love your description of Meg in A Wrinkle in Time as having stubborness and love that saves the day.

    1. The Mysterious Benedict Society was another one with a stubborn girl that saved the day :)

  5. I'm with you, Margo! I'm sick of every "strong" female character having to be literally strong. I'm drawn to those with quieter strength, and I think we can find a lot more of these in older fiction, like the sisters in LITTLE WOMEN or Anne of Green Gables. Inner strength is just as important as knowing how to wield a sword. And I just reread A WRINKLE IN TIME and how I loved it!

    1. Isn't Wrinkle amazing?? And Little Women and Anne of Green Gables are my staples of great female characters... just wish there were more of them in science fiction and fantasy.

  6. I love Elisa, she's one of my favorite female protagonists. I love your list and definitely agree with you.

    My TTT

  7. Ah, this is a great list. I love Meg and Hermione too. I remember reading about Meg as a kid and so relating to her. I find I just can't relate to a lot of the kick-butt heroines in most YA lit, because I was never that kind of girl.
    A couple of other fantasy heroines I thought of: Ella from Ella Enchanted (she's clumsy and saves herself through sacrifice, not magic) and the heroines from Marissa Doyle's books (all true to their times with inner strength--I love that one character hates wearing pants when she dresses up like a boy).
    I think we need more of these types of heroines, so girls know they don't have to be tough to be strong.

  8. I love watching women kick butt in the movies, but I prefer quiet strength and wits when I read. Hermione is one of my favorite characters, too!

  9. Great list! I definitely love strong, fighting gals but Meg and Hermione also are some of my favorites.

  10. Lilac and Karou are awesome. I'm just starting the third Daughter of Smoke and Bone book. And I agree with you, I think we should hide all the bows and arrows from everyone but Katniss.



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