ACOTAR · becca fitzpatrick · cassandra clare · georgia nicolson · hush, hush · louise rennison · maggie stiefvater · opinion · renee adhieh · richelle mead · sarah j. maas · scott westerfeld · shades of magic · the scorpio races · the wrath and the dawn · throne of glass · uglies · v.e. schwab · vampire academy · ya

Badass Ladies 

“A heroine is a female character who is admired for her noble qualities. We think it’s someone who meets the world head on. This doesn’t mean she has to be a hard-core girl who can beat up anyone who crosses her path (though those girls certainly qualify). Your favourite can be anyone you admire, for any reason. The important thing is that she is extraordinary in some way or another– be that the way she handles other people, her inexhaustible humour, or her skill with a crossbow.” YA Sisterhood

Whenever I walk into a bookstore these days, I immediately make my way to the YA section. While perusing for over an hour amidst elegant book covers and taking in that new book smell, I almost always end up leaving the store with a novel about a fierce female protagonist.

There has been a substantial rise in female heroines the past few years, heroines who are independent and do not cower in the shadow of a man. While I will forever be grateful that the Twilight series spurred an entire generation of young women to fall in love with reading, the type of female character that was presented was a problematic one. Bella is a dangerous representation of a female protagonist: she has no identity other than being completely wrapped up in Edward’s; she endangers her life (basically almost kills herself) when her boyfriend leaves her; she ditches her friends and family the minute Edward arrives; she is not allowed to do anything without Edward practically watching over her (he even watches her when she sleeps); and she has no life goals whatsoever other than being with a boy. This is a terrible role model for young women. Bella essentially represents a very rudimentary image of women: women who are cast as the bread-makers of society and who allow men to dictate their every move. It’s like we’ve returned to the 1950s. The popularity of Twilight is just as disconcerting as it suggests that this type of romance is all women want in life, and all they will ever achieve. I say differently. Here is a collection of YA novels with badass heroines who, even if they have a man, do not allow said romance to direct the course of their lives.

(Warning: spoilers below)

Aelin Ashryver Galathynius from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

‘Then she smiled with every last shred of courage, of desperation, of hope for the glimmer of that glorious future. “Let’s go rattle the stars.”’

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Aelin (known as Celaena Sardothien in the first 3 books) truly deserves to be placed at the top of this list. She ruled the streets of Adarlan as a famous assassin before she was betrayed by the father figure in her life and sent to work as a slave in the appalling conditions of Endovier’s salt mines. She makes a deal with the Prince of Adarlan, Dorian, who comes looking for the infamous assassin: if she wins a competition and becomes the King’s champion (a fancy term for paid assassin), she will be granted freedom in four years. Aelin wins the competition, the only woman in the all-male competition. These days, so many people think that being a role model for women means that you have to be physically strong and powerful. Aelin, while certainly that, also rocks a ball-gown better than the Duchess of Cambridge. She likes girly things, likes gossiping with girl-friends and wearing pretty dresses – and she could still beat the ever living hell out of someone twice her size. She has great self-esteem, enjoys sex (which is not often depicted in YA fiction, especially if with more than one man), and loves freely and with everything she has. She is also hyper-realistic. She is a young woman with an earth-shattering amount of pressure on her shoulders: she is the secret Queen of Terrassen, long thought dead, and her friends and her people are waiting for her to reclaim her throne. While none of us have experienced something like that (you might’ve, I don’t know you), each of us know what it is like to have people depending on us and feel as though we are going to let them down. Aelin has no interest in reclaiming her throne. She goes through a depressing time after the murder of her best friend, and wants nothing more than to run away from her troubles. Through guidance and friendship, Aelin reclaims her inner strength and steps up to her destiny. She is still afraid, who wouldn’t be, but she has support and strength of character. (Side-note: let’s not forget the other badass ladies in this series – Nehemia, Manon, Lysandra, Elide … basically every female character).

Buy the books here.

Shahrzad al-Khayzuran from The Wrath and the Dawn duology by Renee Adhieh (based upon 1,001 Arabian nights)

‘”Make sure they never forget. You are the Calipha of Khorasan, and you have the ear of a king.” She bent forward and lowered her voice. “And, most important, you are a fearsome thing to behold in your own right.”’

When Shahrzad discovers that her best friend has become the latest victim to die by the Caliph of Khorasan, she volunteers as his next bride with the sole intent to avenge her friend’s wrongful murder. Shazi is one of those characters that has such conviction in herself and her actions that I am left feeling a little awed by her. Knowing there is a very slim chance she will live to see the dawn, Shazi weaves a story each night to her new husband, Khalid, and refuses to tell him the ending until the following night, thus prolonging her life. She is an incredible storyteller, completely enrapturing the reader, that for a time I forgot the main story and just absorbed her words as she told a story. She is highly intelligent and master at archery. What I love most about her character is her ability to blend in with her surroundings: she hides her true nature in order to trick those around her so they don’t discover her true purpose. When she realises she is falling in love with her best friend’s killer, she does not swoon and fall into his arms immediately. No, she douses her feelings and tries to continue with her plan until she can no longer. Shazi is protective, open-minded, relatable and always willing to see the best in people. Like some, she can be proud and stubborn and I think that’s what I like most about her, as I can relate to that. (Let’s not forget the other awesome ladies in these books: Despina, Jasmine and Irsa).

Buy the books here.

Feyre Archeron from A Court of Thornes and Roses trilogy by Sarah J. Maas

‘I was not a pet, not a doll, not an animal. I was a survivor, and I was strong. I would not be weak, or helpless again. I would not, could not be broken.’

If it’s not obvious yet that I love Sarah J. Maas’ books, it will be soon. Maas has created another amazing, original character that I fell head over heels in love with. After her father loses his fortune, Feyre, the youngest in her family, takes responsibility and supports and feeds her family through hunting. If it is not for her, they would have all starved long ago. At the beginning of ACOTAR, she has no ambitions or dreams like her sisters; she doesn’t want to marry: she only wishes to see her sisters married to nice men so she can live the rest of her days with her father, painting. When she kills a faerie disguised in the form of a wolf, she is taken from her family and sent to live in Prythian – the faerie lands – on the land of her captor, Tamlin, the High Lord of the Spring Court. Feyre is fiercely protective and loving and tries several times to escape or send word to her family, who would surely perish without her. Slowly, she begins to fall in love with Tamlin, before he sends her away when her life is threatened by the evil witch Amarantha. She returns and fights tooth and nail to save her love’s life, as well as the lives of every faerie in all of Prythian. She survives the gruesome tasks Amarantha sets her, but is left damaged. Feyre’s character truly shines in the second book, ACOMAF. She goes through severe depression as she cannot deal with her actions in the trials. She does not eat, she cannot sleep, as nightmares plague her, and she drowns in Tamlin’s over-bearing protection. With the help of the High Lord of the Night Court, Rhys – who she was forced to make a deal with in the previous novel – Feyre escapes the Spring Court and is offered sanctuary in the Night Court. Here, she becomes a version of her former self, but stronger. She meets new friends, she trains her new powers and becomes truly happy. She becomes a true badass when she single-handedly protects her city from invasion. I almost cried when she and Rhys developed their relationship, and she understood that what she had with Tamlin before was essentially abusive. Feyre, out of almost any character I have encountered, goes through hell and suffers and loses so much, but is left stronger at the end. (Feyre’s awesome sisters deserve praise, too.)

Buy the books here.

Delilah Bard from Shades of Magic trilogy by V.E. Schwab

‘I am Delilah Bard, she thought, as the ropes cut into her skin. I am a thief and a pirate and a traveller. I have set foot in three different worlds, and lived. I have shed the blood of royals and held magic in my hands.’

Lila Bard is a true badass. When she discovers there is another universe that exists out there, she is not scared or frightened like other Regency women might be: she is excited for the chance of an adventure. Lila’s only dream in life is to be a pirate, and if that doesn’t say what kind of woman she is, I don’t know what will. She refuses to wear dresses, she steals from the rich to survive and she kills if threatened. She travels to alternate universes, battles magical kings and queens, and saves a kingdom. She is incredibly brave and willing to do what needs to be done.

Buy the books here.

Georgia Nicholson from The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series by Louise Rennison  

“Your soul shines through even if you haven’t got mascara on.”

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I debated whether or not to add Georgia to this list. I grew up reading this series and laughed and cried like a fool each time a book was released. Georgia is like all 14 year old girls: she is boy-crazy and embarrassed by her family. She tries to change herself for a guy but acts like a loon with her best friends. As she grows up, she realises that she doesn’t need to change herself to get a boy’s attention: she is lovable as she is. More than anything, Georgia is unapologetically herself. She is a badass in her humour, in her ability to live life to the fullest and have fun doing it. Her misadventures are one of a kind and that’s why I added her to this list.

Buy the books here.

Everyone from Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters books  

“Whatever you are physically, male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy – all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. Whatever the colour, the shape, the design of the shade that conceals it, the flame inside the lamp remains the same. You are that flame.”

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I disputed with myself exactly which female character from Clare’s amazing world should go on this list and finally came up with an answer: all of them. Clary: a fiery red-head who is thrust into a strange world and told she has a destiny; Isabelle: a seductress who is highly protective of her family and a great warrior; Maia: a domestic abuse survivor who faces her fears and takes control of her life; Jocelyn: a mother doing the best to protect her child; Maryse: a warrior who tackles her husband’s infidelity and loves her children; Tessa: a young girl thrust into a strange world and survives threats from everyone; and Emma: a fierce warrior who does whatever it takes to protect those she loves.

Buy the books here.

Rose Hathaway from Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead

‘”Were you really going to attack all of us? Doing that…protecting her like that—it was very brave. Stupid, but still brave. Why did you even try it?”

“Because I’m her guardian.”’

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The OG badass. Rose is a dhampir, half-vampire/half-human. Due to her heritage, she is a Guardian and protects the lives of the Moroi – the ‘good’ vampires in society. She was my favourite female character during my teenage years and I loved everything about her. Her humour, her personality, her strength and power. She is an amazing fighter and warrior, but more than that, willing to do illegal acts for the greater good. She is a protector and a lover. She will always have a special place in my teenage heart.

Buy the books here.

Nora Grey from the Hush, Hush series by Becca Fitzpatrick

‘“I can’t imagine why you’re so interested.” He shook his head.

“Interested? We’re talking about you. I’m fascinated.”’

Hush Hush

I don’t know how many people will remember this series, but it was one of my favourites as a teenager. It stays in mind, even all these years later, because of Nora. Nora, an unpopular girl at high-school with only one friend, who gets caught up in a war between Angels and Nephilim. She falls in love with Patch and when she discovers something terrifying about him, she does what almost no YA character does: she runs away from him. Nora has great courage and bravery. She loves wholly and does whatever it will take to protect those she cares for.

Buy the books here.

Puck Connolly from The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

‘I hear laughter and someone asks if I need help, not in a nice way. I snarl, “What I need is for your mother to have thought a little harder nine months before your birthday.”’

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I took a long time to choose exactly which character from Stiefvater’s books to choose from and I decided on Puck from the stand-alone book The Scorpio Races. Puck risks everything to protect herself and her younger brother when their elder brother decides he is leaving the island they grew up on and moving to the mainland. She signs up for the Scorpio Races, a deadly race that happens in September each year where riders race on capall uisce horses – mythical sea horses who feed on meat, most often human. She is the only girl in history to sign up and has to deal with misogynist critics who don’t believe a girl should be allowed into a male-only sport. Despite being terrified, Puck overcomes her fear and bravely rides in the life-threating race. She is a great role model for girls who want to pursue a career in male-dominated sports, as well girls everywhere who have ever experienced sexist comments and proved critics wrong.

Buy the book here.

Tally Youngblood from Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld

“What you do, the way you think, makes you beautiful.”

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One of my favourite characters from my teenage years, Tally Youngblood is perhaps one of the most highly relatable female heroines. Living in a world that prioritises beauty over anything else, Tally is an Ugly until she turns 16 and undertakes an operation to turn her Pretty. Tally deals with feelings all teens have, feelings of inadequacy, body image, and not wanting to let people down. Tally undergoes massive transformations per book that change the way she thinks, acts and behaves, and yet, at the end, she still manages to retain a little of her humanity, although every day is a massive challenge.

Buy the books here.

If you’ve read and loved these women, or know of any other badass ladies in YA fiction, leave a comment below!

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