Aren't Women Awesome!

Note: this post was originally shared to celebrate International Women’s Day 2023

I thought today would be the perfect day to talk about female characters in books. If you’ve read The Sky Riders you’ll know I’m all about having more female characters in fantasy books—almost all my characters (major and minor) are female. It wasn’t something I originally set out to do, but it developed fairly early on as part of my editing process and just felt right for me, my books and the story I wanted to tell. And it turns out that I’m playing a small part in trying to reverse a huge disparity in the gender of main characters in books. I read an article in the Guardian last year and couldn’t quite believe that in 2022 male characters still outnumbered female by a ratio of 4 to 1!

I think it is changing, slowly, and there are more female writers and female characters, and I hope that in years to come we’ll get to enjoy their stories and hear their voices.

So, in the spirit of International Women’s Day I thought it would be fun to share with you my Top 8 Female Characters in Fantasy Books. (In no particular order, and 8 because IWD is on the 8th)

The Mistborn Trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson
I really like Vin because she’s shy, quiet and starts out in the books very timid. Strong female characters are often expected to be ‘badass’ but I don’t think you have to be loud or ballsy to be strong. I’m always drawn to the ones with a quiet inner strength. Vin is definitely one of these. She goes from being an orphan taken advantage of by a street gang to being the most amazingly powerful person (man or woman) in her world. But despite her awesome powers she’s still quiet, still humble, and I like that.

Polgara the Sorceress
The Belgariad and Malloran series, by David Eddings
When I was a teenager, and devouring every fantasy book I could find, there weren’t very many with female characters. So when I came across Polgara I loved her. I’m not sure her whole character holds up nowadays – she definitely gets lumped with all the cooking and childcare, and doesn’t seem to mind! – but when it comes to magic she’s easily as strong as the male sorcerers (and the others are, of course, all male) and her powers are no less than theirs.

Lyra Belacqua
His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman
It would be easy to describe Lyra as a ‘tomboy’ because she’s boastful and brave, enjoys pranks and doesn’t care about getting dirty. But ‘tomboy’ is a term that I hate. Why, if a girl has these traits, does that make her like a boy? Can’t girls be boastful and brave? Can’t it be a girlish quality to scramble over the rooftops of Oxford with your daemon then wilfully barge your way into an adventure? I think Lyra proves that it can.

Zoya Nazyalensky
GrishaVerse books, by Leigh Bardugo
Nina is arrogant and stand-offish, and not an instantly likeable character. I wasn’t keen on her in the early books but I really loved her by the end. She wears a hard shell around her heart, doesn’t let people get close, appears ruthlessly ambitious and is often downright mean to others. Often in books it’s only male characters who are written as emotionally cut-off (usually due to something in their past) and female ones are very in touch with their emotions. I enjoy the reversal with Zoya and it makes me like her more.

Mia Corvere
Nevernight Chronicle, by Jay Kristoff
Mia is not a character I’d like to meet in real life—she’d probably kill me! She’s an assassin, a very skilled one, and spends most of the books seeking vengeance against those who destroyed her family. I said earlier that ‘badass’ doesn’t always mean strong but in Mia’s case it definitely does! I think she embodies everything we think of when we say ‘kickass heroine’ – grit, determination, awesome skills with a blade, fearless to the point of stupidity, wields curses and sarcasm with panache and never gives up. It makes her story so much fun to read.

Steris Harms
Mistborn Books, by Brandson Sanderson
I know Steris might seem like a random choice—she’s a secondary character and has no magical powers in a world that reveres magic—but her lack of ‘awesome-ness’ is why I like her. The way I read Steris is that she has OCD, and possibly has Asperger’s syndrome too, and that just makes her so different and interesting. While everyone else is busy being a hero Steris is quietly organising everything in the background. And she doesn’t resent her role, she wholly embraces it, and that’s something to admire—know your strengths and embrace them.

Wayfarers Series, by Becky Chambers
(okay I cheated, this one’s sci-fi, but I couldn’t not include her!)
Pepper had the worst start in life, born into a slave class on an awful planet, but despite everything she went through she’s one of the kindest, gentlest, most grateful characters I’ve ever come across. Her strength is of the quiet, determined kind and she’s so big-hearted, risking her life to help others find a safe place in the galaxy. She isn’t magical or powerful, but actually she is because she’s so generous and unjudgmental and that’s a kind of magic in itself. She’s the sort of character that you read and feel inspired to be a better person yourself.

Aimee Wood
Sparks Series, by Kerry Law
Yes, I’ve included my Aimee but she’s a character I’ve created so obviously she’s one of my favourites! I spent years with Aimee in my head before I fully wrote her story so I got to know her really well. She definitely falls into the ‘quiet and determined’ type of strong, rather than the ‘badass’ sort of strong, and for me that was deliberate. I wanted to show that shy, unconfident girls can be strong too. Aimee is fiercely determined but that’s a flame which burns inside her, it doesn’t burst forth but I don’t think that makes her any less powerful.
Aimee is my representative of all the other introverts out there. We might not say as much, but we can still achieve awesome things.

So, who would be in your Top 8?

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