Part of what attracted me and Emily to the whole big genre of YA is that it has so many, many incredible woman characters. Seriously, there’s nothing quite like it if you want to read about badass women doing badass things. Or women doing anything, honestly, although I think that’s changing.
Anyways, YA features a whole host of women who are truly incredible. And there’s an important reason why they’re a key part of YA–because they tell us that we ourselves can be a little bit badass, and we can be women too. So here is our first Top Ten list, and a tribute to all of the badass heroines who have been there for us, in no particular order.
Alanna the Lioness, Song of the Lioness Quartet
by Tamora Pierce
No one, and I mean NO ONE is going to dispute this one for me. There are controversies, and internet arguments, and then there are actual life-changing events. It won’t change a damn thing about this list. As a young, naive 12-year-old, stumbling on Tamora Pierce’s series about a feisty woman warrior was like a thunderbolt from a blue sky. This book and this character single-handedly taught me about feminism, the realisation that I can and should fight for what I believe in, a reluctance to let a man tell me how to use my body, and the fact that any woman is equal to any man. Besides that, Alanna is notable for disguising herself as a boy for EIGHT YEARS in order to gain her knightship, not running away after the entire court shuns her when the truth comes out but instead performing amazing acts of bravery, and being incredibly badass at all times. I am really not kidding when I say that Alanna showed me how to stand up for myself and not be afraid, and so this character has always had a lasting influence on me.
by Sara B Larson
Alexa Hollen gets on this list for also being a total badass warrior (obviously). When given the opportunity to choose between disguising herself as a man and becoming a warrior or getting thrown into a brothel, she chooses to hide as a man, and ends up becoming the most elite warrior of the Prince’s guards. She doesn’t let loss, injury or love get the better of her, and in fact is so amazingly good at fighting that she is able to defeat the evil sorcerer that no one else can get near–without having or using a drop of magic (which is actually more than Alanna can say, considering she was also quite handy with supernatural power). Alexa proves that with enough hard work, we can be who we want to be, and her skill forces everyone to overlook the fact that she’s a woman, even in a culture where they clearly don’t value women. Better yet, she also demonstrates perseverence and devotion to duty, which are not traits to be taken lightly.
by Robin LaFevers
Sybella and her sister assassin-nuns grace this list for a few reasons. All of them are amazing warriors and dispensers of death, but none of them are quite as good as it as Sybella is. Possibly because she had the kind of childhood that would absolutely break someone, and she came out tempered and deadly instead. A horrific father, two equally icky brothers, and a selection of stepmothers just served to make her tougher. I really admire Sybella for working through her issues–even if she does it by killing people. But she also doesn’t disguise herself. She doesn’t tell herself she’s doing it for justice, or mercy, or some other shit. She has a sense of justice and right and wrong (somewhat), but when she has to kill she doesn’t justify it with pretty words. And when she gets the chance to dispense justice, she knows exactly how to do it. But she’s not just a crazy death machine, either. Sybella shows us how to overcome adversity and grant forgiveness–and, when forgiveness isn’t an option, exactly how to get revenge.
by Robin Mckinley
Aerin is on this list mainly because she’s so badass she killed a giant dragon all by herself. She grew up feeling isolated and estranged from the rest of her family, because her mother was a foreigner and she didn’t have magic. But, instead of wallowing in despair, she teaches herself how to fight and starts using her skills and determination to exterminate the little, annoying dragons. Then, when the big dragon shows up and everyone freaks out, she takes it on selflessly, for a country she loves even if it doesn’t love her. And wins. And she battles her way through illness and performs incredible feats with buttheaded determination and a little bit of luck. And an awesome sorcerer/mentor and a blue sword. In fact, she’s so awesome she singlehandedly turns the tide of battle. Really, making her queen was almost not enough, especially when she could have married the mysterious good sorcerer/mentor. But instead of rubbing everyone’s noses in the fact that they were horrible to her right up until they needed her, she becomes queen and rules amazingly for the rest of her life, and becomes a legend afterwards. Really, she’s almost too selfless and gracious, but she’s a good example of role model behavior for the rest of us.
by Suzanne Collins
Katniss will probably have a slot in every list of awesome female warriors, and for good reason. She taught herself to use a bow as a way of making sure her family didn’t starve. When she was picked by a cruel government to compete in a gladiator-esque fight to the death, she utilized every skill at her disposal (including feminine wiles and the sappiness of the audience) in order to survive and win, and even got to give a big ol’ middle finger to the government. When they tried to subdue her again and stick her in another fight, she broke the arena and raced off to head a revolution, despite battling PTSD and a sneaking suspicion that there’s no good side in the battle. Katniss wins a slot on this list not only for her mad skill with a bow, but also for a stubbornness and will to survive that we can all learn from.
by Robin LaFevers
Ismae doesn’t enjoy killing quite as high as her sister-assassin Sybella, but don’t let that fool you–she’s been fathered by death himself, and is more deadly than you think. She’s very good at poisons, and very good at avoiding the effects herself. She’s also willing to use every trick in the handbook (yay, feminine wiles), sometimes with surprising results. She also embodies a whole host of traits that Sybella rolls her eyes at–loyalty, honor, justice, etc. Ismae never kills randomly or lightly, but that’s not something to be dismissed. She is an assassin with a strong moral code, but that also means that once she picks a side, she puts everything she has into it. For straight-up deadliness no one can beat Sybella, but if you have to pick someone to have your back, there’s no better choice than Ismae.
by Sarah J. Maas
Another assassin–I’m sensing a trend here. But Celaena isn’t just any assassin, she’s Adarlan’s Assassin, and the best in the land until she’s caught and sent into slavery. But even then she keeps her reputation by being a little too good at using a pickaxe. So what’s to keep her when the handsome prince rides up and offers to free her? Well, revenge, of course. She takes on a horrible contest to be King’s Champion, despite the stacked odds and nasty magic set against her, and she makes everyone else wish they could be as beautifully deadly as her. She also doesn’t let something faze her. Even when the person closest to her commits a horrible betrayal, she keeps her head high and makes everyone remember exactly why she’s the best assassin in the land–it’s not pretty. Celaena shows us what it means to believe in yourself, and that putting yourself first isn’t exactly a bad thing. She’d probably be my favourite assassin if it weren’t for the abrupt plot turn about fairy princesses (I wish I were joking).
by Chloe Jacobs
There aren’t many people who can one-up Alanna and Alexa about pretending to be another gender, but Greta can. After all, she doesn’t pretend to be another gender, she pretends to be another race entirely. A human in a world where humans are despised and hated, she’s learned to live another life, and also become an amazing bounty hunter as well. In a field where loyalty isn’t prized, she keeps to it nevertheless, and risks her life to help save and protect other humans, despite the interference of that annoying Goblin King who’s obsessed with her. If only we could see more of Greta’s awesome skills, and less of the romance, I would be happy.
by Laini Taylor
And, in a brilliantly opposite move, let’s go to the girl who has been disguised as a human her entire life (but she’s really a Chimera). Karou thought she was an ordinary–well, OK, no one would actually call her ordinary, but she thought she was at least human. Nope! Turns out that she’s one of another race, who can be reborn into different bodies, and she’s been hidden as a human because in another life she royally pissed of…well, a royal. All for the crime of being in love. That might break another young girl…chimara…person, but not Karou. Instead, Karou offers her skills to the chimaras, who are losing their age-long fight. And, when they show their real feelings about her in the worst way possible, she keeps her head high and wins the battle for them anyways, even managing to make the world a better place in the process.
by Garth Nix
There aren’t many girls who could handle being the sole person stopping the armies of the dead from overrunning the earth. But Sabriel can. She’s been training from a very young age to do exactly that, although she’d hoped her first mission wouldn’t be rescuing her father from the clutches of an evil undead sorcerer. Throw in a kingdom dissolving into ruin, a long-lost prince, a very unusual cat, an evil necromancer, and hordes of the Dead, and you have an insane adventure. Kudos to Sabriel for not only wielding a hideously scary necromantic magic, but also for wielding a magical sword with skill and finesse.
Runners-up (AKA other badass heroines we still love):
by Veronica Roth
Tris is, admittedly, a warrior. She trains like mad, survives crazy things, and has a bunch of tattoos, which even I admit are cool. But she gets points taken off for the entire second book, and also because she feels like a Katniss pretender.
by Tamora Pierce
In many ways, Kel is a much better and well-rounded character than Alanna. I also like that her quest is actually to help people, not just to win glory and honor. But Alanna trumps her because she did it first–Kel just capitalises on what Alanna made possible.
by Garth Nix
Lirael is an awesome character, and I highly recommend reading the books. But she spends a good bit of the books running away from things and fulfilling prophecies, which is not quite as warrior-like (although her devotion to duty is commendable–not quite so much her death wish).
by Robin McKinley
Again, same thing as Kel. Harry is an awesome character and I love her. She represents awkward bookish girls everywhere. But Aerin makes everything possible–literally, guides Harry onward and helps her do great things from the afterlife. So Aerin makes the list, and Harry is a beloved second.
by Ann Agguire
Deuce is a brave warrior who survives a community of literal sewer rats, a horde of mutated creepy things, an Amish community and a super-warrior commune. She’s an intriguing character, and I’d recommend the series to anyone wanting a new take on dystopia. But it’s not quite enough to make the list proper.
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Disclaimer: The cover pictures were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. None belong to us.