The 10 Most Badass Women in Fantasy Literature

George R. R. Martin's Dangerous Women

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.

5. Jadis

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.

9. Cleopatra

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?

  • Gwen Goble-Bartzen

    Granny Weatherwax the badass witch of Discworld.

    • Lisa Jones

      Nanny Ogg’s no slouch, either. I’d take either one of them on my side.

    • E.a. Solinas

      Headology should be applied.

  • Tanya Dennings

    I’m with you. I come from a family of 7 girls and have 4 of my own. I love reading books with strong females, not just physically, but also emotionally as well as being determined/ stubborn in accomplishing their goals. :) Thanks for the list. Now I habe new books on my to-read list.

  • Brenda Rezk

    I love Jane Yellowrock, Mercy Thompson, Rachael Morgan, and as someone already mentioned, Granny Weatherwax. Tiffany Ackin does pretty well, too. :-)

  • Sauce

    Patricia Kennealy’s ‘Keltiad’ novels have a lot of powerful and/or badass women in them. Aeron Aoibhell is awesome, but I think even moreso is her closest friend and foster-sister Morwen Douglas; unlike Aeron, Morwen isn’t magically gifted nor is she a warrior (nor High Queen, heh), but she is a whip-smart lawyer sort, serving as Aeron’s First Minister and being at her side through many of Aeron’s ordeals.

    • E.a. Solinas

      Just avoid her last two Keltiad novels, especially since one is her psychotic alter-ego who tortures people to death for saying mean things about her.

  • Skye Vaillancourt

    Um, Lisbeth Salander!

    • Piros Róka

      Yeah, definitely! I especially like her for her uncommon sense of morale (which is totally plausible neverttheless)

    • E.a. Solinas

      Not fantasy, so she don’t fit.

  • Solgirl

    So glad that Jane Yellowrock made it to the top 10! WooHOO!

    • E.a. Solinas

      I’m not so glad, because she was below a “badass” character who never even wakes up.

      • Guest

        Uninformative as a critique….wasted post.

  • Andrew Gordon

    Hey we is almost famous.

  • Lisa Williams

    Yahhhhhh Jane Yellowrock and of course Kate Daniels

  • drey

    LOVE Jane! And “Harley Davidson” is missing the hyphen. ;)

  • Debs Tarrents Scott

    Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar who is the Mistress of the Art of Death from the book series of the same name by Ariana Franklin.

  • Debs Tarrents Scott

    Oh, and Hermione Granger…

  • Raphaelm

    There are no anguisettes on this list….

  • Mariah Webster

    Phèdre no Delaunay de Montreve of the Kushiel’s Legacy series outshines them all!

    • Sarah Vine

      AMEN!!!! Also, Moirin of the Maghuin Donn. But, she’s a few hundred years in the future from Phèdre.

    • Lisa Jones

      That which yields is not always weak.

  • Will Hose

    Karrin Murphy!

  • Karena Fagan

    I agree with Gin and Sabina for sure. Also Elena Michaels from Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series was pretty bad ass. And Merit from Chloe Niell’s Chicagoland Vampire series as well.

  • Rebecca L. Beasley

    You have obviously never read Kushiel’s Dart. You don’t know what a badass is until you’ve met Phedre.

  • Christina Tinling

    Phèdre & Melissande from Carey’s Kusiels universe merit mention. Phédre, in particular, should be at the top of any such list.

  • Molly O

    Ugh – even a compilation on WOMEN is edited by two white men. Seriously, fantasy genre, get your inclusivity act together.

    Also – this list is incomplete without Phedre from Jacqueline Carey’s “Kushiel” series.

    • Kat S.

      To be fair, GRRM can be said to have created some of the most badass women in modern fantasy lit – Arya or Catelyn Stark? Brienne of Tarth? Cersei Lannister? Daenerys Targaryen? Yeah. I don’t think that gender precludes ones ability to write or identify badass female characters.
      And GRRM didn’t write this article, either. Heh.

      • sweetPixiesmile

        But he’s not the measure of female badassery either. To be fair, I’m not so sure about any of those characters other than Arya and Denaerys, being females concocted to support a male story, or to be used in for refrigerator stuffing.

        • Raphaelm

          if you can pick out the protagonist that threads all of GRRM books together, you are a more discerning reader than I. Saying that these characters are supporting assumes that you can identify his actual protagonists…which is hard to do.

          • sweetPixiesmile

            Haha, probably going to eat my words somewhere down the line but Song of Ice and Fire? My speculation is that Denaerys and Jon Snow are the main characters, with the rest of the Stark children being plot devices to move the story along (Bran, Arya, even Sansa). The near murder and mutilation of Bran, however, turned me off the book and series, and now the books are a victim of it’s own success. The books are increasingly bloated with unnecessary words, I wonder if the editors are even willing to rein in GRR and refocus the story.

        • E.a. Solinas

          What is that male story? It has a true ensemble cast, IMHO.

          • sweetPixiesmile

            Anyone can create a mixed gender cast. The question is whether or not the females in The Story of Ice and Fire exist as characters in their own right or as simply plot devices to reflect the lives and actions of the male characters, and being able to discern which do and which don’t.

            Discuss! ^_^

  • Jeremy Steele Burela

    UMmm what about Melisande Shirazzhi from the Kushiel’s Saga….easily one of the most diabolical women in Political Fantasy…Bitch even outshines lame ass Cersei Lannister…

    • Tegan Keller

      Shahrizai! :)

    • Taija Solin

      Melisande Shahrizai de la Courcel!!!! :3 & Phèdre of course

  • Miss Stephanie

    Phedre is awesome, but I wouldn’t necessarily call her a “bad ass”. She’s just too good-natured. Melisande Shahrizai, on the other hand, tops them ALL.

    • Ariana Saraha

      Oh come on, getting everyone out of Daršanga (and everything she had to bear to do so) doesn’t qualify as badass? Are you trying to say one can’t be good natured and a badass?

  • Alyssa Guzik

    You completely forgot Phèdre no Delaunay de Montreve and Melisande Sharizai of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series, Rachel Morgan from Kim Harrison’s Hallows series, Hermoine Granger and Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter…list seems a little empty. Guess that happens sometimes when a man creates the list.

  • Gabrielle Faith

    Where is Melisande Shaharizai? Or Phedre? Or Rhapsody? wow….not a complete list in my opinion

    • DesignCreations

      Google ‘Jacqueline Carey Kushiel series’. Start with ‘Kushiel’s Dart’.

    • Monica Lynn Kennedy

      I loved Rhapsody, but the Kushiel’s series is still my #1.

  • http://www.goodreads.com/joeleoj Joel Cunningham

    Serafina Pekkala from His Dark Materials is pretty awesome as witches go.

  • Kat S.

    There is a part of my soul that wants to believe that Mr. Allen wrote this article with purposeful omissions, in order to get some of us all riled up about the glaring lack of badassness as we know it.
    I’m an optimist, you see.
    Anyway. Mr. Allen – I spent about 30 seconds looking at my bookshelf, and here are a few female badasses I feel you missed, notwithstanding a number of characters that have already been mentioned by other commenters:
    Sabetha Bellacoros of the Gentlemen Bastards series
    Galadriel, who had the LotR’s plot figured out at the start of the Hobbit
    Manza Mercatto, from the world of The First Law series
    Elphaba, from McGuire’s imagining of Wicked
    Katniss Everdeen (in Catching Fire, though, rather than the Hunger Games)
    I also am pretty sure that I define badass differently than some…. so maybe that’s where the disconnect comes from.

    • Gwen Goble-Bartzen

      Eowyn deserves mention as well. She did after all kill the Lord of the Nazgul.

      • E.a. Solinas

        And she did the rebellious princess thing LONG before it was cool, AND she got the hot sensitive prince.

  • Heather Scott-Penselin

    What about Jaenelle Angelline (Witch) and Surreal (an assassin who’s cover is high end prostitute) from Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books? or Belladonna from her Ephemera books? A lot of her characters are bad ass women and the men aren’t wimps either.

    • Piros Róka

      I’m really out of my senses-tired that I forgot to mention those in my “omissions list”

  • Heather Scott-Penselin

    oh and Kahlan Amnell from “The sword of Truth” series.

  • Lisa Jones

    Phedre no Delaunay de Montreve, and Melisande Shahrizai
    Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg
    Rachel Morgan and Ivy Tamwood

    These are all women I would want to have my back.

  • Dianne Foore

    This list is so lacking!
    You have forgotten Amara Rose better known as Ara from The Dark Secret Series by A.M.Hudson. She is a very intriguing Immortal heroine that goes on quite the transforming self discovery journey. This is a captivating character! ;)

  • Sophie

    Phedre and Melissande, for sure. (Kushiel’s Dart) Kahlan and Nicci from “Sword of Truth”. Rhapsody (Symphony of ages) Azhure, and Shra from The Wayfarer Redemption (first three books (Axis), the second trilogy (Drago) wasn’t anywhere near as good) Katniss. (Hunger Games) And Luna Lovegood, from Harry potter, because she’s just awesome!

  • Lionors

    What? Nobody’s mentioned Morgaine or Viviane from MZB’s The Mists of Avalon? How about Morgan le Fay from classic Arthurian literature? And while we’re on the subject of MZB, there’s any number of her Darkover heroines who’d fit the badass bill — in fact, I think we can thank MZB for the rise of the strong fantasy heroine. So much of the older fantasy had few if any women, and those that were included were largely weak or were included so they could hang around and be rescued.

  • Andrèa Nò Eliotropio

    Mèlisande Shahrizai IS the most dangerous woman of all times and spaces and possible universes.
    Period.

  • Monica Lynn Kennedy

    Other than glaringly missing the women from Kushiel’s series, I would add Ayla from the Clan of the Cave Bear series.

  • Cara Ferguson

    Aside from the aforementioned Kushiel series, Loup Garron from Santa Olivia is a hell of a badass!

  • Jo Ann Drake

    Actually what I found most disturbing about this list is that very few of HIS fantasy heroes are good gals nor did he offer any profound insights into why these characters made the cut. The strong women in his family stuff hmmm it seems these were chosen for their marketing potential. I have read most of his list and would offer an entirely different list, with some of the same authors even.
    Also did not see J Carey, D Harkness, A Bishop or M Gentle on this list so it must a marketing gig.

    • E.a. Solinas

      I doubt Lewis and Baum would be on the list if it was all about marketing. It seems more like he chose the ones from his childhood and the ones he thinks are hot. He can’t offer any insights, because there are none.

  • Anitsisqua

    I definitely agree with some of the suggestions I’ve seen.
    Also maybe Sabriel or Lirael?

    • E.a. Solinas

      Sabriel a thousand times. Where else do you see a cool-headed, capable teen girl who will instantly pick up a sword and magic bells, and go off to save people IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER with no whining or wangsting?

      Who can handle every kind of grotesque Dead thing without losing her cool? Who rescues the prince in distress, and even after she marries him is just as important as he is?

      Seriously, she is not only a badass woman, but she is also a great role-model.

  • Piros Róka

    I’m missing Jacqueline Careys heroines as well, both Phredre and Moirin. Also, not to forget, Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson, who kicks ass even if she’s just a 30 pound shapeshifter seing ghosts among the much more supernatural powerful werewolfs, vampires, and fae. Also worth mentioning: C.J Cherryhs Ateva Jago.or, J.. Abercrombies Monzcarro Murcatto. and so on, and so on….

  • E.a. Solinas

    “Marmee Noir”? Seriously? She just lies there and sleeps, has inept henchmen who can be taken out by someone as dim as Anita, and occasionally sends bad dreams or sex compulsions.

    How is that badass? Being old doesn’t make you cool or awesome, especially when you’re easily killed by a bunch of random mercs with bombs. You could make an argument for the vampire that Noir is shamelessly copying, Queen Akasha… but not her.

    Pass me some Sabriel, Karrin Murphy, Daenarys Targaryen, Eilonwy, Karigan G’ladheon, Mercy Thompson etc. You can have Marmee Noir.

  • sweetPixiesmile

    WAIT. A MAN, writing his top 10 WOMEN “badasses” while touting a book about WOMEN whom two MEN think are “badasses?” OK. Just wanted to be clear.

    Also, why all the vampire stories? Fantasy genre for women isn’t dictated whether or not they have pointy teeth, and a blood fetish or simply have issues with lycanthrope.

    Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter from The Deed of Paksennarrion, for instance.

  • Laaxrun

    Way to focus on a very small part of the fantasy genre. We’re all so proud of you, because clearly urban and paranormal fantasy are the only two sub-genres anyone actually cares about anymore, especially when you put them together.

    My recommendation for this list: Jamethiel Priest’s-Bane Knorth from the Chronicles of the Kencyrath.

  • Ana Berkovich

    I’d like to add my two cents to this discussion. For those hating on this author for the apparent lacking of other characters, please remember that this is a list of 10, and he by no means led you to believe it was a definitive list. So add your favorites and defend them, as he mentioned. Keep it nice, friends :)

  • Evette Davis

    Nice to see this list, but I’m curious to know why bad ass heroines need to be half-dressed and thin on their book covers to make a sale. I’d throw my new character Olivia into the mix, along with her time walking sidekick Elsa. Woman King @SFevette

  • Ariana Saraha

    I totally second the motion to nominate Phèdre no Delaunay, but I also want to give a shout-out for Moirin of the Maghuinn Dhon, because of her awesome and somewhat shamanic connection with nature and the wild forces. Both of these women are subtle, not flaunting of their bad-assness ~ but I think that makes them even more dangerous to cross.

  • Daryn Cazin

    First. Tamora Pierce writes amazing fantasy heroines. They are generally strong willed, hard-core, fantastic characters (my personal favorite is Kel from the Protector of the Strong series). Second. Garth Nix’s Sabriel and Lireal are absolutely fantastic female characters. They destroy zombies but not zombies. It’s complicated. Just trust me. They’re AMAZING!
    For those hating on the author because he’s a man talking about women or because he picked specific books. Let’s be real. I can appreciate men heroes as a woman and I wouldn’t add half of that because that’s not my cup of tea, I generally go with dragons and such as compared to vampires but now I know these books exist. Thanks for the list, I really love it!