Women in fantasy have come a long way from Eowyn and Arwen, and though I love Tolkien, I think the genre is the better for it. In this post, I'm going to focus on fantasy series-starters that have take-no-guff-just-names female protagonists. None of these books are older than 2016, so you have the chance to get in on the ground floor of these series without having to worry about a reading backlog to catch up.
The Armored Saint by Myke Cole is one of my favorite genre books so far this year. Heloise is traveling with her beloved father, a professional letter writer, when she snaps. A deployment of the religious military tasked with rooting out wizardry and any other act of disobedience abuses her father and Heloise defies them. After seeing several more incidents of horror at the hands of these pious brigands, Heloise is forced to make some hard decisions and ends up in the fight of her life. Myke Cole writes a highly atmospheric medieval world where life is harsh and often short. Cole also knows how to make you keep turning the pages and pens thrilling action in what promises to be a rip-roaring trilogy.
Another young woman is pushed to her limits in Jay Kristoff's Nevernight. Mia is humiliated by the execution of her once-mighty father and the imprisonment of her mother and brother. She joins the assassination school of the Red Church and with her magical ability soon rises to the top, always bent on revenge. Based on the world of the Italian Renaissance, this intricately drawn world is also corrupt and bloody. Mia is no mere sociopath, but wounded to the core and resourceful, carving out a place in the world that would crush her at every turn in this first book of a series.
Speaking of assassins, they're all over the place in Red Sister by Mark Lawrence. Nona barely escapes execution for defending a friend from a local noble. The nun who rescues Nona takes her to a convent to learn to use her supernatural speed and other skills as a killer and mystic. The question becomes: can Nona learn enough fast enough to neutralize the threat of the aggrieved lord who still wants her executed and then continue her training? Another smart, vulnerable heroine who you want to keep sharp objects away from leads a cast well-developed characters.
The eponymous The Bloodprint in Ausma Zehenat Khan is a book banned by another religious regime. Arian and Sinnia are female veterans returning home to the capital from fighting this empire, but they discover that the Bloodprint needs to be found to bring peace back to their land. Addressing issues such as the role of women, the written word, and religious directives on how to behave, this novel is different from most fantasies in that it takes place in a world resembling the Middle East during the caliphates. Another compelling tale and the start to a new series.
Got more tales of fierce women? Tell us about them in the comments.