Last year, Topless Robot ran a list about some of the awesome, powerful, ass-kicking women you might encounter as you read your way through the ocean of fantasy books and series out there. In our last episode, Witchkings were slain, Slytherins were punched in the face, and the “headology” of Granny Weatherwax made people a little nervous. Okay, maybe a lot nervous. Also, hundreds of comments included the names of badass women that weren’t mentioned in the original list — there was no way that there could fail to be a Part Two (and judging by the amount of names that had to be culled from this one, a Part Three).
Seriously, there are a lot of badass women waiting to be recognized, but it was necessary to more or less stick with the “swords and sorcery” type in order to recognize more of the fantastic characters from that sub-genre, and hopefully add quite a few more books to your “to-read” list. The women of urban fantasy could very well make up their own list (so feel free to make your suggestions in the comments).
10) Karigan G’ladheon, The Green Rider by Kristen Britain
Karigan was a student of the university in Selium right up until the moment she decided to duel (and win) with a wealthy aristocrat. Too proud to bear the shame of being bested by a merchant’s daughter, the aristocrat’s family pressured the Dean to expel her. Karigan decides to leave on her own terms, however, and begins to journey through the great forest outside of the city. There she comes upon a Green Rider, one of the King’s elite messengers, barely alive after being pierced by two black arrows. He charges Karigan with his urgent messages, swearing her into the service and making her promise to deliver them only to the head of the Green Riders or the King himself. Karigan keeps her word, riding the messenger’s horse through danger, treachery and the supernatural on her way to Sacor City.
9) Mara of the Acoma, Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts
Intending to pledge herself to the goddess Lashima, Mara’s life is changed forever when she learns of the deaths of her father and brother. With no one left to govern the Acoma, Mara assumes her role as Ruling Lady in order to save her people from the powerful Minwanabi. Dodging assassins and attempts to ruin and undermine her from the less loyal noble families, Mara casts tradition aside as she seeks the help of the so-called “grey warriors” – outcast fighters and spies who have been despised for failing to overcome their Houses’ shortcomings. She also forges an alliance with a colony of cho-ja, gaining the opportunity for massive wealth and additional military might for her kingdom.
8) Kerowyn, By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey
After the death of her mother, Kerowyn fulfills her duty to her noble father by helping him run the household, even when she’d rather be spending her time riding or learning to fight. This being the case, she’s more than ready to pass her duties along to her future sister-in-law, Dierna. But when Kero’s home is attacked, her father slain, her brother wounded, and his new wife kidnapped, Kero takes it upon herself to attempt a rescue. After accepting the magical sword Need from her grandmother, Kero rides alone after the bandits and manages to rescue Dierna and return home safely. Her daring has made her somewhat of an embarrassment to her brother, so Kero takes her leave and joins up with the Skybolts, an elite mercenary company. And it’s with the Skybolts that Kero’s adventures really begin.
7) Sabriel, Sabriel by Garth Nix
When Sabriel receives her father’s bells and sword while at school, she knows that his role as the Abhorsen has been compromised. This means that she must venture into the Old Kingdom to try to rescue him, and do her best to act as Abhorsen until she does. The Abhorsen must counter the work of Necromancers, who raise Dead things to do their bidding and attempt to unleash great evils that could enslave the world. Sabriel makes it safely to the Abhorsen’s house, where she finds supplies and an uneasy ally – a Free Magic construct named Mogget, who chooses to take the form of a white cat. Though she’s not sure how much she can trust him, she knows that she cannot find and rescue her father without Mogget, so the two set out to free him from Death.
6) Morgaine, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Also known as Morgan Le Fey or Morgan of the Fairies, was raised in Avalon to become a priestess of the Mother Goddess, and it is from Avalon that she witnesses the beginnings of the conflict between her “pagan” way of life and the encroaching partriarchal structure of Christianity, as well as Uther Pendragon’s ascension to the throne of Camelot. Later, during a fertility ritual, she conceives the child of who she later learned was her half-brother Arthur, and named the child Gwydion (who becomes Mordred). Morgaine and Vivaine try to do what is best for Camelot after Arthur assumes the throne, and present him with the sword Excalibur, with which Arthur keeps the invading Saxons at bay. When Arthur’s wife is unable to provide him with an heir, she becomes fanatically Christian, and relations between Avalon and Camelot become strained.
5) Lyra Belacqua, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Lyra grew up in a universe parallel to ours, at Jordan College. Believing herself to be an orphan, she’s under the tutelage and supervision of the scholars, professors and servants of the campus. Highly intelligent but unwilling to consistently apply herself to her studies, she much prefers spending time with her closest friends: her daemon, Pantalaimon, and the kitchen boy Roger Parslow and his daemon Salcilia. When Lyra is invited to live with the beautiful and mysterious Mrs. Coulter, the Master of Jordan College secretly gives charge of the alethiometer to Lyra, a truth-telling compass that she eventually learns to decipher. After learning of Mrs. Coulter’s affiliation with the Gobblers, a group abducting children (including her friend Roger), Lyra runs away and is taken in by the Gyptians. In her travels she meets Iorek, one of the great ice bears, and the Witch Serafina Pekala.
4) Daja Kisubo, The Circle of Magic Series by Tamora Pierce
As the only survivor of the sinking of her family’s Trader ship, Daja was cast out of the Traders and branded as a bringer of bad luck. But due to her ambient fire magic, Daja is accepted as a student at the Winding Circle Temple, along with three other misfits (Sandry, Briar and Tris) that somehow find themselves brought together in friendship and study. When the four of them combine their magics to do a massive working to re-direct an earthquake, Daja finds that her fire magic and skill as a blacksmith allow her to create living metal, which she uses to forge strange new plants that take root in various ores, producing buds of iron and copper. Daja is accepted back into a Trader clan when she saves them all from a maelstrom of fire, allowing her to socialize, speak and do business with her people once more. In The Will of the Empress, Daja discovers her sexuality, and starts a relationship with the Empress’ Mistress of Wardrobe.
3) Captain Jane Roland, His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
In this alternate-fantasy history of the Napoleonic Wars, the major powers involved in Napoleon’s attempt to make himself Emperor of Everything have, along with their footsoldiers, cavalry and navies, developed Aerial Corps that fly on dragons and wage terrible battles in the air. Women of course are not allowed to serve in most of England’s armed services, but the Longwing dragon breed (one of many types in the service of the Aerial Corps) will only accept female captains, so the women Aviators are a closely-guarded secret known only to high-level military personnel. Jane Roland is captain of the dragon Excidium, an acid-spitting Longwing and leader of an aerial formation. Roland is brash, direct and a strong leader, and finds it difficult to “blend in” with civilians when she isn’t allowed to wear her uniform.
2) Susan Sto-Helit, The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett
As Death’s “grand-daughter”, Susan has inherited some strange abilities. In her time at the Quirm College for Young Ladies, she was able to disappear from the notice of her instructors so that she could read books during class and educate herself in peace. She’s had to step in for her grandfather from time to time, particularly when the Auditors start poking their not-so-neutral noses into Discworld goings-on. She can also “walk through walls and live outside time and be a little bit immortal.” At first Susan rejects the existence of the supernatural entirely, being far too sensible to believe in things like the Hogfather or the Soul Cake Duck. Eventually she realizes that despite her wishes, she’s a reluctant part of that world, but seeks to remain as outwardly “normal” as possible in her work as a governess and then as a schoolteacher.
1) Paksennarion, The Deed of Paksennarion by Elizabeth Moon
The Deed of Paksennarion is an omnibus that contains the books Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, Divided Allegiance and Oath of Gold. In it, we follow the adventures of Paksennarion (or Paks as she likes to be called) as she escapes a marriage arranged by her father and joins a mercenary company. She begins her military career with training, and her stubbornness and drive allow her to make her way up through the ranks amidst difficult and hard-won victories. She eventually becomes a paladin-in-training, and faces some of her toughest challenges yet – building herself back up from nothing after everything is ripped away from her. Paks’ training and military career are well-informed from Elizabeth Moon’s own time as a member of the Marine Corps, and Moon’s steady, deliberate story-telling transform Paks’ world from a standard Dungeons & Dragons adventure to a nuanced, complicated and magical world.