The best fantasy books featuring a lady spy/assassin

Who am I?

I’ve always been drawn to badass female protagonists in fantasy, but the femme fatale has a special place in my heart, and none more so than spies and assassins. Their weapons are a mix of daggers and subterfuge, poison, and seduction. They often straddle the line between cold-hearted villainess and righteous freedom fighter, and that complex morality can make for intriguing internal struggles that coincide nicely with their goal of dismantling corruption, which is not always black and white. Additionally, the aforementioned seduction means that they get to be unapologetically sexual (but only on their terms!). All of this went into Lily’s character.


I wrote...

The Black Lily

By Mandy Burkhead, G. D. Burkhead,

Book cover of The Black Lily

What is my book about?

The Black Lily is a dark fantasy novel following a lady spy/assassin tasked with killing the king and prince of Arestea. This book features courtly intrigue, seduction, backstabbing, and a game of cat and mouse between the kickass femme fatale Lily and naïve Prince Adrian.

The books I picked & why

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Poison Study

By Maria V. Snyder,

Book cover of Poison Study

Why this book?

To avoid execution, Yelena becomes the Commander’s food taster. Under the tutelage of the Commander’s spy and assassin, Valek, she learns about poisons, subterfuge, and how to fight. She also finds herself developing magic, which she must keep secret because it is outlawed in her country. This novel is dark and full of political intrigue, with Yelena battling inner demons and unsure who to trust. The gray morality is interesting, as neither the country of Ixia nor its enemy Sitia are particularly sympathetic. The slow-burn romance between Yelena and Valek is sexy and well-done. While Yelena spends most of this book learning how to be a spy, it is just the first of a fantastic series, which follows her adventures as she tries to prevent war between the two nations.

Poison Study

By Maria V. Snyder,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Poison Study as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How much is your life worth?

In the territory of Ixia the government maintains control through the Code of Behaviour, forbidding the practice of magic, but danger lurks in mysterious places...

Imprisoned for murder Yelena Zaltana's punishment is death, until she is reprieved - for a price.

As the Commander of Ixia's food taster she will risk assassination from poison daily, a position she would be a fool to refuse... In a world where magic equals death and freedom is for the lucky few, survival is all Yelena has and the battle for her life has just begun.

A CHRONICLES…


Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I

By Robin Lafevers,

Book cover of Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I

Why this book?

Ismae is trained at the convent of Saint Mortain in France as a daughter of Death. Sent to the high court of Brittany, she must navigate treachery and intrigue while assassinating the marks assigned to her by the convent. As she begins to fall for one of her marks, she starts to question if the convent really speaks for Saint Mortain or for its own interests. I love a dutiful assassin who begins to question her loyalties, which is especially interesting here because being an assassin is part of her religion. This novel blends historical fiction with fantasy, as each daughter of Death has a different magical ability. The other books in the His Fair Assassin series follow other daughters of Death, who all have a unique personality, inner demon, and love story.

Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I

By Robin Lafevers,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Grave Mercy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
     Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high…


Trickster's Choice

By Tamora Pierce,

Book cover of Trickster's Choice

Why this book?

Technically two books (Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen), this duet follows Alianne, daughter of the heroine Alanna and spymaster George, who is kidnapped by pirates and sold as a slave to an outcast royal family. The trickster god enlists/coerces her to aid the family’s plot to reseize their throne, which has Aly working as a spy against her homeland. All of Pierce’s books are fantastic, and the Tortall series shaped me as both a reader and writer of fantasy. It was interesting to move away from the heroism and adventure of the earlier books in this universe to a more morally gray protagonist with spy and assassin training who is secretly working for a god. Also, her love interest is a crow turned human, and it works surprisingly well.

Trickster's Choice

By Tamora Pierce,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Trickster's Choice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When you gamble with kingdoms, all bets are off. Legends are born in this thrilling and New York Times bestselling spy saga from the fantasy author who is legend herself: Tamora Pierce.

Aly is from a family known for great deeds. She is the daughter of Alanna, the famed knight and King’s Champion of Tortall. But even though she is bold and brave, like her mother, her true talents lie on her father’s side, in the art of spying.
 
When Aly is captured by pirates and sold as a slave to an exiled royal family in the faraway Copper Isles,…

The Decoy Princess

By Dawn Cook,

Book cover of The Decoy Princess

Why this book?

Tess learns that she is not actually a princess but a decoy, and that the king and queen, who raised her as their child, have hidden the real princess away in a convent for her protection. It would explain why the chancellor taught her the arts of diplomacy, politics, self-defense, and subterfuge and had her build up a tolerance to poison. Despite feeling betrayed by her parents, after they are murdered by a usurper, she has to use all of her skills learned since childhood to reclaim the throne for the actual princess. While Tess is a bit bratty in the beginning (not surprising since she thinks she’s a princess), she develops into a mature (but still snarky) spy. The sequel, Princess at Sea, continues her adventure after restoring her “sister” to the throne.

The Decoy Princess

By Dawn Cook,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Decoy Princess as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Princess Contessa of Constenopolie has just learned of her true identity-that of an orphan adopted and raised as a decoy to protect the real princess. That doesn't make Contessa less of a royal target.

Graceling

By Kristin Cashore,

Book cover of Graceling

Why this book?

Katsa, a Graceling, is unnaturally skilled at murder. As a result, she is forced to work as an assassin for her uncle, the king. Unlike the other characters on my list, Katsa hates being an assassin and loathes her abilities (in fact, she has quite a bit of self-loathing). She also prefers using her brawn over her brain. Her love interest, Po, is very much her opposite—a soft, well-read boy who also has a secret Grace of his own. Together, the two must rescue a princess and take down possibly one of the most awful villains I’ve ever read. Graceling is also part of a series that further expands the world, its characters, and its primary villain, and be prepared because it gets dark.

Graceling

By Kristin Cashore,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Graceling as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discover the Graceling Realm in this unforgettable, award-winning novel from bestselling author Kristin Cashore.

A New York Times bestseller
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature Winner
Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal,Booklist, and BCCB Best Book of the Year

"Rageful, exhilarating, wistful in turns" (The New York Times Book Review) with "a knee weakening romance" (LA Times). Graceling is a thrilling, action-packed fantasy adventure that will resonate deeply with anyone trying to find their way in the world.

Graceling tells the story of the vulnerable-yet-strong Katsa, who is smart and beautiful and lives in the…

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