The best unconventional heroines in fantasy by female authors

Who am I?

I've been a fantasy reader since the fourth grade when my father introduced me to The Hobbit. As I grew older, I found myself drawn to female-led fantasy stories. Before I started writing fiction, I reviewed books on a (now defunct) blog, learning from those authors as I critiqued what worked and what didn’t. Now, as a fiction author in my own right, I’ve focused on the story elements that truly speak to me; characters who live and breathe on the page, adventures through magical lands and diverse cultures, myths that feel so true they could almost be real, and heart-pounding action that breaks me out of my own safe little world.

I wrote...

Book cover of The Last Descendant

What is my book about?

A woman on the run. A mysterious magical heritage. When Rie Lhethannien is attacked by assassins from the enemy Shadow Realm, she finds herself mired in an ancient battle between the elven realms. Framed as a traitor, she has no choice but to forsake her oaths and flee to enemy lands to prove her innocence. Can she uncover the truth of her past before the high elf king takes her head?

If you like action-packed fantasy filled with mythological creatures, magic, and mayhem, you won't want to miss this!

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Cursed Luck

Megan Haskell Why did I love this book?

Kelley Armstrong has long been one of my favorite authors, but this book in particular struck a positive chord with me. The quirky heroine, Kennedy, is an actual adult without being a middle-aged divorcee. A twenty-something entrepreneur, she runs a small business selling formerly cursed antiques (which she can verify, since she’s a curse weaver who unmakes curses.) Of course, things get complicated when a new client tries to coerce her into a job that sets her at odds with the rest of the magical community. I loved the fresh contemporary setting—no dark and seedy urban underground—and the surprising twist on ancient mythology. All in all, it was a really fun, clean, modern fantasy for grown-ups.

By Kelley Armstrong,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Struggling curse weaver Kennedy Bennett's motto is Carpe Diem. Wealthy luck worker Aiden Connolly has never leapt without looking—usually twice. Forced together on an adventure, they're going to drive each other all the best ways.

Kennedy Bennett comes from a long line of curse weavers. For centuries, her family has plied their trade in Unstable, Massachusetts, an unconventional small town that’s welcomed paranormal practitioners since the dawn of spiritualism. Kennedy has recently struck out on her own, opening an antiques shop in Boston, where her speciality is uncursing and reselling hexed objects. Then Aiden Connolly walks into her life…

Book cover of The Elf Tangent

Megan Haskell Why did I love this book?

The Elf Tangent is an adorable (yet surprisingly dangerous) romp through the woods. Our heroine, Aldari, is an intellectual princess who has reluctantly agreed to marry the prince of a neighboring kingdom (sight unseen!) to save her own people. As she travels to her wedding day, her party is attacked and she and her bodyguard are kidnapped by elves who need her help to break a generations-old curse. For once, someone needs—and appreciates—her brains! Caught between the needs of her people and the intriguing puzzle presented by the elves (oh, and the enticing commander of their party), Aldari must use her wit—and at one point a shovel—to get out of her predicament.

By Lindsay Buroker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As a princess in the impoverished kingdom of Delantria, it’s Aldari’s job to look pretty, speak little, and marry a prince.

Studying mathematics and writing papers on economic theory in an effort to fix her people’s financial woes? Her father has forbidden it. With war on the horizon, they must focus on the immediate threat.

Reluctantly, Aldari agrees to marry a prince in a neighboring kingdom to secure an alliance her people desperately need. All is going to plan until the handsome elven mercenary captain hired to guard her marriage caravan turns into her kidnapper. His people are in trouble,…

Book cover of Inked

Megan Haskell Why did I love this book?

The first chapter is titled "Butt Cobras". That was enough of a recommendation for me! I loved the sense of humor throughout this book, including the over-the-top Jewish mother and the fact that our heroine, Talia, is a tattoo artist who’s afraid of needles and has no tattoos of her own. Add in magical tattoos that come to life—including the titular butt cobra and a rainbow-colored bird named Biscuit—a trek through the fae lands where carnivorous magical plants try to eat her, vampires are real, and a siren saves her life in exchange for a vial of her blood... and well, you have an action-packed adventure that’s nearly impossible to put down.

By Rachel Rener,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Zayn, your smoking hot boss, tells you never to touch the cache of deluxe tattoo ink locked away in his office, you listen to him… until the day you run out of your own ink, your squirming client is on the verge of peeing his pants, and your boss is nowhere to be found. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

I fully expected Zayn to yell at me when he returned to the shop. What I didn't expect was the fresh cobra tattoo on my client’s butt magically springing to life. Or the interdimensional filing cabinet hiding in…

Book cover of The Wicked & The Dead

Megan Haskell Why did I love this book?

Half witch, half…something else…Genevieve is a zombie hunter. Sort of. Undead are legal in this near-future alternate New Orleans, but only if they consent to be raised. So when a bunch of anti-draugr businessmen starts rising from their graves Genevieve is hired by both the Queen of the Undead and the wealthy son of one of the victims. Thing is, Genevieve isn’t entirely human, and her magic isn’t quite working properly. Fruit makes her drunk, and alcohol gives her energy. There’s only one person who can help—without getting caught in the crossfire and ending up dead himself—the local bar owner, Eli. With wicked action sequences and a unique twist on the vampire/zombie motif, I thought this one was more than worth the read.

By Melissa Marr,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In near-future New Orleans, draugar, again-walkers, are faster and stronger than most humans, but not venomous until they are a century old. Until then, they shamble and bite. Since not everyone wants to see their relatives end up that way, Geneviève Crowe makes her living beheading the dead.

But now, her magic's gone sideways, and the only person strong enough to help her is the one man who could tempt her to think about picket fences: Eli Stonecroft, a faery who chose bar-owner in New Orleans over a life in Elphame.

When human businessmen start turning up as draugar, both…

Book cover of Reign & Ruin

Megan Haskell Why did I love this book?

This book was an emotional rollercoaster ride filled with everything I love about epic fantasy, but without the stereotypical cookie-cutter women. Set in an alternate ancient middle east, where sultans rule and magic is elemental, Naime is the only child of the declining sultan. She’s smart, self-controlled, a powerful air mage, and dedicated to the prosperity of her kingdom. Unfortunately, the king’s council is mired in tradition and opposed to a woman on the throne. With the threat of invasion from a technologically superior anti-magic nation, Naime must navigate the web of political intrigue to broker an alliance with the neighboring warrior realm. Enter Makram, brother to their king and one of the powerful (and feared) death mages. As obstacles are thrown in Naime’s way, success is not guaranteed. There were moments I had to pause to breathe, the tension was so high. I loved every minute.

By J. D. Evans,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reign & Ruin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“All magic is beautiful...and terrible. Do you not see the beauty in yours, or the terror in mine? You can stop a heart, and I can stop your breath.” 

She is heir to a Sultanate that once ruled the world. He is an unwanted prince with the power to destroy.

She is order and intellect, a woman fit to rule in a man's place. He is chaos and violence and will stop at nothing to protect his people.

His magic answers hers with shadow for light. They need each other, but the cost of balance may be too high a…

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The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

Book cover of The Road from Belhaven

Margot Livesey Author Of The Road from Belhaven

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Reader Secret orphan Professor Scottish Novelist

Margot's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Road from Belhaven is set in 1880s Scotland. Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small girl that she can see the future. But she soon realises that she must keep her gift a secret. While she can sometimes glimpse the future, she can never change it.

Nor can Lizzie change the feelings that come when a young man named Louis, visiting Belhaven for the harvest, begins to court her. Why have the adults around her never told her that the touch of a hand can change everything? When she follows Louis to Glasgow, she begins to learn the limits of his devotion and the complexities of her own affections.

The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, a novel about a young woman whose gift of second sight complicates her coming of age in late-nineteenth-century Scotland

Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small child that she can see into the future. But her gift is selective—she doesn’t, for instance, see that she has an older sister who will come to join the family. As her “pictures” foretell various incidents and accidents, she begins to realize a painful truth: she may glimpse the future, but…

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