The best fantasy books with strong female protagonists

Who am I?

I absolutely love reading representations of strong, powerful women. And while it’s always fun if they’re kick-ass warriors who can take down an army all on their own, strength doesn’t always have to be in combat. Depictions of emotional strength, resilience, and/or compassion can be wonderful elements of strength too. But don’t discount the ‘grey’ women protagonists, either, the mercenary, callous, and/or ruthless characters with only a touch of softness. All these nuances make female characters strong and I love to see any and all of them in my fantasy protagonists. It's why I write so many of them!

I wrote...

A Tale of Stars and Shadow

By Lisa Cassidy,

Book cover of A Tale of Stars and Shadow

What is my book about?

Talyn Dynan, a broken warrior haunted by her past, fears she’ll never be able to lift a blade in combat again. When she is sent to the divided country of Mithranar to hunt a notorious thief known as the Shadowhawk, she finds herself forced to confront the thing she fears most … failure.

The Shadowhawk thrives in the darkest of nights. Fighting to help the oppressed human folk of Mithranar, he haunts the streets, stealing from those who have everything. The arrival of a foreign warrior brings him closer than ever before to being unmasked and executed. Vengeance stalks Mithranar, and a darker battle is coming. Could Talyn Dynan be the spark that sets the Shadowhawk’s hope alight… or the one who snuffs it out forever?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Nevernight: Book One of the Nevernight Chronicle

Why this book?

Mia Corvere – the protagonist of the Nevernight Chronicles – and her offsider Ashlinn Jarnheim are very close to being my absolute favourite female protagonists of all time. I adore their partnership, and I enjoy how ruthless and practical both of them can be—while also caring very much about those they love.

Mia wants revenge for the execution of her father when she was a small child, she trains under a mysterious mentor throughout her childhood so that she can attend a violent assassin school. There, she intends to learn everything she needs to be good enough to take down her father’s killers. Of course, it’s not quite as easy as all that, but Mia’s journey is a twisty, interesting, complex one that will leave you compulsively turning pages. This is a dark, moody, and sometimes gruesome read. If you prefer your fantasy a little lighter, be warned before starting this. But Jay Kristoff is a masterful writer, and he’ll draw you in from the very first page.

Nevernight: Book One of the Nevernight Chronicle

By Jay Kristoff,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In a world where the suns almost never set, a woman gains entry to a school of infamous assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers that destroyed her family. Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father's failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she wanders a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and its thugs. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the hearth of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined. Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock…

Gideon the Ninth

By Tamsin Muir,

Book cover of Gideon the Ninth

Why this book?

When I read this book, it was so different from anything I’d read before it, and that remains the case a few years later! This is a darker read, with lots of gross parts – so be warned. Having said that, Gideon Nav, the protagonist of this book, is hands down the most entertaining narrator I’ve ever read, and that’s why I’ve picked her here. Her offsider, Harrowhark, is her polar opposite, and the two of them are such a fantastic pairing, I honestly couldn’t stop turning pages to read more of their interactions.

Gideon is Harrowhark’s cavalier (read: bodyguard), while Harrowhark is a necromancer (hence the gross parts). The two are thrust into a twisty locked-room-type mystery scenario with a bunch of other necromancers and their cavaliers (there are a lot of characters to keep track of) in an empty house on an abandoned planet. And something is taking them all out one by one…

This is a well-written and engaging tale! As with keeping track of characters, following what's going on isn't always easy (I'm not going to pretend I totally followed everything that was going on with the necromancy stuff), so the recommendation with this one is just to buckle in and enjoy the ride and forget trying to make sense of every little thing. 

Gideon the Ninth

By Tamsin Muir,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked Gideon the Ninth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

15+ pages of new, original content, including a glossary of terms, in-universe writings, and more!

A USA Today Best-Selling Novel!

"Unlike anything I've ever read. " --V.E. Schwab

"Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!" --Charles Stross

"Brilliantly original, messy and weird straight through." --NPR

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead nonsense.

Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth, first in The Locked Tomb Trilogy, unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as…

Book cover of A Darker Shade of Magic

Why this book?

Lila Bard. That’s really all I need to say here. She shares screen time with the other protagonist of this book, Kell, but she is far and away the best character in this series – which is saying something, because VE Schwab is a masterful writer, and all her characters are brilliantly written (especially Kell’s coat, which almost comes a close second to Lila for me). Think swashbuckling, knife-wielding, devil-may-care attitude with a well-hidden soft center, and you’ve got Lila Bard. In addition to great characters, Schwab weaves a fantastic fantasy tale, switching between different universes (multiple Londons!!) with pirates, magic, and some awesome fight scenes. This book (and series!) just got better and better as it went along, and this was in no small part due to Lila Bard’s sheer awesomeness. 

A Darker Shade of Magic

By V.E. Schwab,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked A Darker Shade of Magic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A stunning collector's edition of the acclaimed novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author V.E. Schwab.

With an exclusive metallic ink cover, this edition will feature:

* End papers of London
* Fan art
* A glossary of Arnesian and Antari terms
* An interview between author and editor
* Original (never before seen!) tales from within the Shades of Magic world

Kell is one of the last Antari-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons. There is Red London, where life and magic are revered, Grey London, without magic and ruled by mad King…

The Priory of the Orange Tree

By Samantha Shannon,

Book cover of The Priory of the Orange Tree

Why this book?

I adore Ead!! Unsurprisingly, that's why I’m including this book in my recommendations. One of three central characters (including my second favourite in this book – Sabran), Ead won me over because she’s just fantastically capable, but not showy about it at all. She’s the kind of person you’d love to have at your side through thick and thin. 

I got a little bit of a Robin Hobb vibe from this book which also made it a winner for me because I love all of Hobb’s work. This is a monster of a book (and it’s a standalone), but the pacing moves quite quickly despite the length and I never got stuck or felt like it bogged down in too much detail. The world building is fantastic and brings the story to life.

The Priory of the Orange Tree

By Samantha Shannon,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Priory of the Orange Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Get ready for Samantha Shannon's new novel, A Day of Fallen Night, coming in February 2023!

The New York Times bestselling "epic feminist fantasy perfect for fans of Game of Thrones" (Bustle).

AMAZON (Top 100 Editors Picks and Science Fiction and Fantasy) * CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY * BOOKPAGE * AUTOSTRADDLE

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction--but assassins are getting…

Queen of Shadows

By Sarah J. Maas,

Book cover of Queen of Shadows

Why this book?

I have an absolute favourite book character and her name is Manon Blackbeak.

No, she’s not the main protagonist in this book (although Aelin Galathynius is awesome), and that’s why I’m recommending the fourth book in this series rather than the first, because it’s really where we start to Manon come into her own. She is vicious, unapologetic, fiercely loyal, and just so cool. Yet for someone so hard and tough, her bond with her wyvern, Abraxos, gives you all the feels. I loved how Manon’s plotline developed further in Queen of Shadows and her showdown fight with Aelin at the end was one of the best I’ve ever read. 

This is a fantastic series by Maas, with a trove of great characters. My experience was that book three – Heir of Fire – was where the story really began to find its footing. By halfway through Queen of Shadows I was thrilled and delighted by the story and couldn’t wait to see where it went next.

Queen of Shadows

By Sarah J. Maas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Queen of Shadows as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sarah J. Maas's New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series reaches new heights in this sweeping fourth volume. Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she's at last returned to the empire-for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past... She has embraced her identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. But before she can reclaim her throne, she must fight. She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die just to see her again. She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in magic-supernatural, revenge, and identity?

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