As fun as it can be to read a nice, tame tale about a damsel in distress, sometimes we want to bite into a book that bites back. More and more often in modern fiction, female characters in peril, who once would have been portrayed as passive victims, have turned into figures ready, willing, and able to fight back. Here are 10 such books, running the gamut from literary fiction to boilerplate thrillers to fantasy adventures. The one thing they all have in common is that they feature tough broads who have no intention of sitting out the fight.
1. The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes
The only thing more terrifying than a deranged serial killer arbitrarily taking out women because “they shine” is a deranged serial killer with the ability to travel through space and time. In this thrilling and strangely beautiful novel, the killer’s only surviving victim, Kirby, holds the key to stopping him.
2. The Girl In The Box, by Ouida Sebeysten
This book has been on my mind since I read it at the far-too-young age of eight. It tells the story of a young woman who has been kidnapped and left alone in a dark room with paper, doughnuts, water, and no clue why she’s been abducted and if she will ever gain her freedom.
3. Kiss The Girls, by James Patterson
Patterson hero Alex Cross at his finest. In this book, Cross battles against the clock and the lingering racism of the deep south in a bid to foil the serial killer known as “Casanova,” who has kidnapped Cross’s niece, Naomi.
4. Room, by Emma Donoghue
Told in the voice of the son a kidnapped woman had with her kidnapper, Room presents the world of one small boy as he understands it—limited to the small confines of the only room he has ever been inside. He relies on his mother’s strength to get him through major changes as an event unfolds that change everything.
5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
If you aren’t familiar with the indefatigable Katniss and her mission to beat the system and take down the government from the inside, then you have been under a rock. That’s not a bad thing. Rocks are cool.
6. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi
Told from the perspective of a woman on trial for murder, Charlotte Doyle is the account of a woman on a transatlantic voyage, caught between a murderous captain and his mutinous crew. As predicted, shenanigans ensue, and Charlotte maybe-sort-of-for-valid-reasons becomes a pirate.
7. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
Sometimes it takes tattoos, piercings, technological prowess, and a history of violence to solve a murder. In this first novel in Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, we meet the gruff and troubled Lisbeth Salander, who, with journalist Mikael Blomkvist, tries to solve a crime committed over 40 years ago.
8. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
Set in post-colonial Africa, The Poisonwood Bible details the story of the Price family: Nathan, his wife, and their four daughters. Called to Africa on missionary work, they find that nothing in the jungle is as they expected it to be. Each chapter is told by a daughter, creating a compelling, rich, and disturbing narrative well worth reading.
9. One For The Money, by Janet Evanovich
Behold, the first in Evanovich’s famous Stephanie Plum series. Plum, eager to make a quick buck after losing her job and running out of luck, takes what she believes will be an easy job…as a bounty hunter. Before long, more than one person wants her dead, and an old flame from the past keeps narrowly evading her cuffs.
10. Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris
The very definition of peril is probably “dating a vampire”—something Sookie Stackhouse knows all about. This is the first in Harris’s Southern Vampires series (which inspired the HBO hit True Blood), which introduces us to Sookie, Bill, and the tiny town of Bon Temps, Louisiana.
Who’s your favorite strong female character?