The anthology Dangerous Women, out today, is a mammoth collection of never-before-published stories from some of the biggest names in genre fiction, including George R. R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Jim Butcher, Carrie Vaughn, and Sherilyn Kenyon. It features a cavalcade of decidedly dangerous female characters, heroines and villains alike.
And after reading this exceptional compilation—which includes an absolute treasure of a novella from Martin that examines the origins of the Targaryen Civil War—I realized that, yes, indeed, fantasy fiction is filled with some seriously badass women. Some are characters that I love and admire, while others are morally bankrupt and simply scare the bejesus out of me.
As a longtime book reviewer who has slogged through countless novels featuring weak female stereotypes who are either helpless victims-in-waiting or some kind of reward that the meathead hero gets at the end of the quest, I have to admit that I love reading about badass women, both heroines and villainesses, in fantasy literature.
As a father with two young daughters, I would much rather have them grow up reading stories about kickass female necromancers and courageous monster hunters than trembling damsels in distress that can’t think or fight their way out of a paper bag.
For me, the bottom line is this: as a man who was brought up in a family of incredibly strong-willed and self-empowered females, I know that a woman can do anything that a man can, so the same should certainly be true in fantasy fiction.
That said, her’s my list of some of the most badass women in fantasy lit.
1. Marmee Noir
The Mother Of All Darkness, from Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake saga, she is the godlike leader of all vampires and predates the evolution of humankind. (“She was the primordial dark made real. She was why humans feared the dark, just the darkness, not what lies in the dark, not what hides there, but why we fear the darkness itself.”)
2. Paige Strobel
One of the main characters of Marcus Pelegrimas’s Skinners saga (Vampire Uprising, et. al.), this heroic woman is expert at tracking down and killing supernatural monstrosities. She is an action hero of the highest order, but it’s her badass attitude that makes me love reading about her: “Don’t gawk at a woman’s ass when she’s carrying a shotgun.”
3. The Wicked Witch of the West
You think this witch was scary in the classic 1939 movie starring Judy Garland? She’s even freakier in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz—a one-eyed, megalomaniacal hag who has armies of animals (bees, crows, wolves, and those damned flying monkeys) at her beck and call.
4. Sabina Kane
The half vampire/half mage protagonist from Jaye Wells’ Sabina Kane saga (Red-Headed Stepchild, et. al.) is one of my all-time favorite urban fantasy heroines. She’s compassionate, courageous, and principled, has a great sense of humor, and can throw down with the best of them.
The White Witch in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles is about as tough as they come. She’s the one who froze Narnia in the Hundred Years Winter and adorned the halls of her castle with the petrified statues of her enemies.
6. Siobhan Quinn
The ill-tempered, foul-mouthed antiheroine from Blood Oranges, by Caitlin R. Kiernan (writing as Kathleen Tierney), is easily one of the most unforgettable powerful women I’ve ever stumbled across in the pages of an urban fantasy—or any fantasy, for that mater. A heroin junkie who gets bitten by a werewolf and a vampire in the same night, Siobhan is downright nasty—and her piranha teeth don’t help matters.
7. Gin Blanco
The central character in Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin (Spider’s Bite, et. al.) saga is a silverstone knife–wielding assassin who can control the elements of ice and stone. There are a lot of badass heroines in paranormal fantasy, but Gin makes this list because of the sheer complexity of her character. Who knew an assassin could be so endearing?
8. Kate Daniels
Like Sabina Kane and Gin Blanco, Kate Daniels—the heroine of Ilona Andrews’s urban fantasy series—makes this list because of the unfathomable depth of her character. This trash-talking mercenary is tough, but her capacity to love is just as impressive.
Maria Dahvana Headley’s debut novel Queen of Kings revolves around one of the most intriguing females in the history of humankind: Cleopatra. Except in this novel, Cleopatra attempts to save her beloved realm from Augustus by summoning the warrior goddess Sekhmet and offering up her soul. The goddess, however, uses the queen for her own devices and transforms her into the “mistress of the end of the world”—a seductive monstrosity who will drown the world in blood in payment of the wrongs done to Sekhmet.
10. Jane Yellowrock
A list of badass women in fantasy literature wouldn’t be complete without the heroine from Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock saga (Blood Cross, et. al.). A skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires, Jane is really good at killing supernatural monstrosities. Having a Harley Davidson motorcycle doesn’t hurt the image either…
Who’s your favorite powerful woman in fantasy literature?