The best YA fantasy books with “unlikeable” heroines

Who am I?

I firmly believe that everyone, especially teenage girls, should own their right to pick and choose. Life guarantees you’ll run across the opportunity to make “bad” decisions, but these are so much more fun to read about than a path that’s straight and narrow. Cultivating radical empathy for my fellow humans, even those I don’t agree with, is a passion that makes me a kinder person and a more nuanced writer. Plus, I like shouting at books as much as the next reader. It makes my cats come running, which makes them tired, which makes them sit and cuddle. Diabolical, indeed.  


I wrote...

Magic Mutant Nightmare Girl

By Erin Grammar,

Book cover of Magic Mutant Nightmare Girl

What is my book about?

When 18-year-old bi, anxious Harajuku fashionista Holly Roads is infected with super-strength, she strikes a deal with a CIA prodigy: Capture the mutant his scientists unleashed upon San Francisco in exchange for the cure for her powers.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Dark and Hollow Star

Erin Grammar Why did I love this book?

This Final Fantasy and DnD-inspired contemporary fantasy has 5 POVs, but we’re really here for prickly leather queen Nausicaä. Nos is a sarcastic ex-Fury with a short temper, a sword, and a serious grudge against the Deities who exiled her to the mortal realm. She’s old, she’s cranky, and she’s totally soft for Arlo, an adorable half-fae girl on a mission to uncover the mystery behind unsolved magic murders in Toronto. I seriously can’t resist a grump and sunshine team-up. 

By Ashley Shuttleworth,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Dark and Hollow Star as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Beautifully written and deliciously complex…I couldn’t get enough.” —Nicki Pau Preto, author of the Crown of Feathers series

The Cruel Prince meets City of Bones in this thrilling urban fantasy set in the magical underworld of Toronto that follows a queer cast of characters racing to stop a serial killer whose crimes could expose the hidden world of faeries to humans.

Choose your player.

The “ironborn” half-fae outcast of her royal fae family.
A tempestuous Fury, exiled to earth from the Immortal Realm and hellbent on revenge.
A dutiful fae prince, determined to earn his place on the throne.
The…


Book cover of Not Even Bones

Erin Grammar Why did I love this book?

An absolute must-read for everyone who looks at villains and goes “I want their story.” Nita dices up monsters and sells their magical parts on the black market with her narcissist mother. And that’s just the beginning. The real conflict starts when mommy dearest brings her a body that’s still alive. This is a book with propulsive, edge-of-your-seat energy. Raw, gory, morally ambiguous, and every other unsettling box YA fantasy should check more often. It’s even got a Webtoon adaptation for visually-inclined readers.

By Rebecca Schaeffer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Not Even Bones as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

"Twisty, grisly, genre-bending and immersive, Not Even Bones will grab you by the throat and drag you along as it gleefully tramples all of your expectations." —Sara Holland, New York Times best-selling author of Everless Dexter meets This Savage Song in this dark fantasy about a girl who sells magical body parts on the black market—until she’s betrayed.

Nita doesn’t murder supernatural beings and sell their body parts on the internet—her mother does that. Nita just dissects the bodies after they’ve been “acquired.” Until her mom brings home a live specimen and Nita decides she wants out; dissecting a scared…


Book cover of A Curse of Roses

Erin Grammar Why did I love this book?

In this atmospheric Portuguese historical fantasy, Princess Yzabel’s got a serious problem: Her country is plagued by famine and she can’t stop wasting food. Why? Every bite turns to flowers in her mouth. She’s crumbling under a mountain of royal pressures. What sets her apart from the “unlikeable” natures of the others on this list is that her niceness, not her dark side, is what landed her here. Decision paralysis and Pinguicha’s exploration of being “good” to a fault make Yzabel a girl worth getting to know.

By Diana Pinguicha,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Curse of Roses as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

17-year-old Yzabel of Aragon is engaged to the young King of Portugal, and under her touch, food turns into flowers.

With the populace starving, and barely surviving herself, Yzabel doesn't only need to end her curse - she must reverse it somehow. Turn flowers into food. Desperate, she sets to find Fatyan, an immortal rumored to live nearby, but she is imprisoned by an old enchantment. So they must strike a bargain: Fatyan will teach Yzabel how to master her magic, and Yzabel making a deal with Fatyan will release the magical bonds holding her captive.

As she learns to…


Book cover of Little Thieves

Erin Grammar Why did I love this book?

This wickedly funny reimagining of Goose Girl, a lesser-known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, is dripping with gritty German charm. It’s got everything; wonderful queer representation, witty banter, and a “horrible” (seriously, the blurb even says so!) girl named Vanja with questionable morality. After all, she’s living a double-life as a princess and jewel thief, robbing the rich while she tries to outrun a curse literally turning her to stone. This character truly makes fling-your-book-across-the-room-worthy choices. I want to shake her and then give her a hug.

By Margaret Owen,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Little Thieves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Kids' Indie Next pick for November/December!
Amazon Best Book of October 2021!

A scrappy maid must outsmart both palace nobles and Low Gods in a new YA fantasy by Margaret Owen, author of the Merciful Crow series.

Once upon a time, there was a horrible girl...

Vanja Schmidt knows that no gift is freely given, not even a mother’s love—and she’s on the hook for one hell of a debt. Vanja, the adopted goddaughter of Death and Fortune, was Princess Gisele's dutiful servant up until a year ago. That was when Vanja’s otherworldly mothers demanded a terrible price for their…


Book cover of This Poison Heart

Erin Grammar Why did I love this book?

The award-winning author of Cinderella is Dead does it again in this contemporary fantasy with the intoxicating, deadly aura of a haunted mansion wrapped in creeping vines. Friendless, tough-as-nails Brooklynite Briseis has a secret: Her touch controls plants. When she inherits her aunt's estate in the New York countryside, she's immediately entwined with the poisonous garden and sinister mysteries that come with it. Watching the full force of her powers bloom is the best pay-off. Pair this one with a gloomy thunderstorm and a (non-toxic) cup of tea.

By Kalynn Bayron,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked This Poison Heart as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

_______________ 'Kalynn Bayron does more than re-write a fairy-tale ... She breaks it apart and rebuilds it into a wholly original and captivating story where girls finally decide for themselves who lives happily ever after' - Brigid Kemmerer 'Brings much-needed inclusivity and contemporary flavor to the teen fantasy genre' - Kirkus Reviews 'A delicious mix of intoxicating fantasy and coming of age, steeped in Greek mythology and peppered with references to the Jordan Peele films Get Out and Us' - Observer New Review _______________ Ever since she can remember, Briseis has had power over plants. Flowers bloom in her footsteps…


You might also like...

Book cover of The Saucer-Heads

George Bixley

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Hired to track down Finley, the missing boyfriend of tech worker Truax, investigator Slater Ibáñez soon discovers that the job isn’t really what he was asked to do.

The search for Finley leads him to an arcane book and the flying-saucer subculture, where a deep dive takes Slater out into the Mojave Desert, leaving him unsure of the precise boundaries of reality itself. With input from Doris and his operatives, and begrudging help from his romantic partner, Pike, to weasel him out of a jam, Slater cuts a dogged path to sort out what Truax really wants, and what Finley is really up to, all the while juggling high explosives, navigating his deepening narrative complex with Pike, and never failing to throw that punch.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in arranged marriage, fairies, and romantic love?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about arranged marriage, fairies, and romantic love.

Arranged Marriage Explore 47 books about arranged marriage
Fairies Explore 125 books about fairies
Romantic Love Explore 797 books about romantic love