The best young adult fantasy/sci fi novels about female characters who don't care if you like them or not

The Books I Picked & Why

The Queen of Attolia

By Megan Whalen Turner

Book cover of The Queen of Attolia

Why this book?

This second book in Turner’s Queen’s Thief series focuses on Irene, the Queen of Attolia. Eugenides, the Thief of Eddis, stole a mythical relic from her kingdom. As she executes her revenge, she finds that he has, somehow, also stolen her heart. When Attolia falls prey to the grasping fingers of the Mede Empire, Irene has to decide if she can trust the Thief – and her own instincts. The story is intricate and engulfing, with deeply satisfying plot twists, and Irene is a complete badass.

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By Audrey Coulthurst

Book cover of Inkmistress

Why this book?

Asra is a demigod with the gift of dictating the future by writing with her own blood. When her blood magic leads to the mortal girl she loves turning into a vengeful dragon, Asra must embark on a journey across the kingdom to stop her. A big-hearted protagonist grappling with her own power, complex cultural politics, two compelling love interests – who could ask for more? That so many of the primary romantic relationships in the story are same-sex is almost beside the point – except, of course, that queer characters rarely appear so matter-of-factly in epic fantasy. Inkmistress trades in deep, nuanced characters, moral complexity, and a story that often surprises in the best way, keeping the reader hooked until the incredibly satisfying conclusion.

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The Girl from Everywhere

By Heidi Heilig

Book cover of The Girl from Everywhere

Why this book?

Nix has spent her whole life aboard her father’s ship, which can travel to any place he has a map for – whether that place is real or imagined. But he is obsessed with finding the map back to his lost love, Nix’s mother – which might mean that Nix herself will disappear. This is exactly the kind of thinking person’s fantasy that I love best. This is a book to savor, a world to dive into and hang out in. Every character feels like a friend, revealed in all their flawed yet compelling glory. My favorites were Kashmir, who is so much more than just the charming thief he appears on the surface, and Nix herself, whose strength goes far beyond the usual fantasy heroine tropes.

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The Winner's Curse

By Marie Rutkoski

Book cover of The Winner's Curse

Why this book?

Kestrel’s father is the fierce general who won the Herran War and enslaved its people. When she buys a Herrani house slave named Arin at the market, Kestrel gets more than she bargained for – a challenge to her privileged, sheltered life, an epic love, and a part in the revolution. This is the first in the trilogy, and it is a genuine pleasure to watch Kestrel, from the beginning a character with an independent streak, navigate impossible choices as she grows into the person she wants to be. A lush and detailed world full of intrigue, politics, and gripping romance. 

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The Words in My Hands

By Asphyxia

Book cover of The Words in My Hands

Why this book?

Set in Australia a few decades in the future, this compelling novel presents a world dependent on a food substitute. Our heroine is Piper, who has grown up as an oral deaf person, relying on hearing aids and speechreading. In the midst of economic collapse and food shortages, Piper falls for a handsome CODA (child of a deaf adult) and is introduced to Auslan (Australian Sign Language) for the first time. She meets his Deaf mother and learns about growing food in the earth and growing a sense of identity and language in her soul. She joins the wild food revolution, converting the public space on her street into a thriving community garden and announcing herself to the world as a proud Deaf person.

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