I find myself drawn to stories of girls and women who are clever and brave, and who make their own path. Likely because I seek and struggle to embody those qualities myself. This will be a short post, as I could go on forever if I don’t limit myself. So here are a handful of my favorite book heroines, in no particular order.
Aly—Daughter of the Lioness
All of the heroines in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books fit the bill but Alinanne of Pirate’s Swoop most embodies cleverness. Aly is a quintessential guile hero, trained from the cradle in spycraft and chosen by a Trickster god. Said Trickster sweeps Aly off to the Kyprian Isles to be the last piece in a centuries-old game which is about to culminate in bloody rebellion. It isn’t easy to manipulate allies and enemies alike, much less from the position of slave girl, but Aly has her own tricks and games to play.
Tarma & Kethry—Sword and Sorceress for Hire
This pair of female mercenaries were my favorite characters growing up. No matter how dire their situations got, they persevered. Through all the trauma in their lives, they found strength in each other and their blood-bond—enough to face down demons and godlings. The Oathbound and Oathbreakers were my favorite books growing up, with Oathblood joining them when it came out. I never get tired of rereading these books.
Nancy Drew—The Original Girl Detective
Who doesn’t know the name of Nancy Drew? One of the first brave and clever girl of my youth, I discovered Nancy in a used bookstore. I remember the promise of adventure and cobwebbed secret passages luring me in. I still have that book somewhere. I think I’ll dig it out and reread it.
Gail Carriger’s Girls—Steampunk Ladies
Alexia—A Soulless Lady
Alexia is a Preternatural, also known as a Soulless. With the ability to render Supernaturals mortal for the duration of her touch, this proper young Englishwoman is the dread of the Supernatural community. Alexia herself is more interested in treacle tart than in intrigue but she’s more than up the challenge when intrigue comes calling, uninvited and badly dressed.
Sophronia—A Lady Spy
I’ve talked about Sophronia before, but to recap: Sophronia is a tomboy who is covertly sent to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s to learn both the arts of being a lady and being an intelligencer. With a talent for crawling and swinging about the exterior of a dirigible and a host of unusual friends, Sophronia’s fearlessness and acute observations make her series one of entertaining adventures.
Prudence—A Soul-Stealing Lady
The daughter of Soulless and a Supernatural, Rue is a Metanatural and often found running about London as wolf in bloomers. Also called a Soul Stealer or a Flayer by her Supernatural cousins, Rue is able to steal their abilities and become a werewolf or a vampire for a time, but it’s her quick wit that comes in most handy when she floats off to India and meets a whole new kind of Supernatural and has to prevent a war.
Esther Diamond—Actress and Kicker of Paranormal Ass
The latest addition to this collection, Esther was just another struggling actress in New York when magic intruded into her life. Not content to wait for someone else to rescue her, Esther joined in the fight against Evil. I reviewed the series so far here if you want to find out more about Esther and her unusual friends.
Tiffany Aching—Land Under Wave
Tiffany Aching chose to be a witch, in defiance of her land’s customs and in defiance of fairytales, but mostly in defiance of the fate of a helpless old woman blamed for the disappearance of the Baron’s son. A realistic girl, and later young woman, in a very unreal setting—that of the Discworld, a world that runs on narrativium and balances on the backs of four giant elephants, who themselves balance on a giant space-turtle.
Tiffany has faced down the Fairy Queen, a naked soul, the soul of Winter, and a soulless man. And in The Shepherd’s Crown, which I’m in the middle of, she will face the Fairies again. Tiffany chooses, chooses so hard she makes the land itself a part of her. And once I finish this last novel of hers—for Terry Pratchett, her chronicler, has died and can tell us no more of her adventures—I shall miss her dearly. But I can always reread her adventures and meet her anew.
So those are some of my favorite brave and clever girls. None of them is content with the path laid out for them by others or by circumstance. Each is a true hero. And they all live in my mind and my heart, and I hope to live up to their examples.
If there’s some you feel belong on this list, from any medium, by all means add to it in the comments. I’d love to meet your favorite heroines too.