The evil queen is a trope kicked off by classic fairy tales and shaped by Disney—and is, perhaps not surprisingly, one that looms large on the YA landscape, too. After all, who doesn’t love a powerful, purposeful woman, particularly one with a dark agenda? They’re the best kind of foes for our teen heroines, making them bring their A game and teaching them a thing or ten along the way. Here are six crown-rocking queens we could all enjoy learning from.
The Shadow Queen, by CJ Redwine
The first book in Redwine’s Ravenspire series pits Princess Lorelai Diederich against the wicked Queen Irina, whole stole the throne and slayed the king. Is Lorelai’s fledgling magic any match for that of the most powerful sorceress in all the land? Maybe not, especially when the Queen strikes a bargain with Kol, a newly minted king with much on the line. The one thing the queen didn’t expect: the connection between Kol and Lorelai, whose bond might be too strong to be broken by even the most malicious of magic.
Fairest, by Marissa Meyer
Can a villain be worthy of empathy? That’s the underlying question in Fairest. An origin story for Queen Levana, the bitter and jealous foe who disfigured the young princess Winter, this prequel to Meyer’s magnificent Lunar Chronicles series of steampunk fairy-tale retellings revealing the future ruler’s troubled youth growing up in the shadow of a cruel sister who was meant to wear the crown, all while learning to cope with and channel her powers of glamour.
Dorothy Must Die, by Danielle Paige
Paige’s clever and confounding Oz upending, which just completed its run with The End of Oz, turns the whole darling Dorothy thing on its head, casting her instead as the devious and dastardly new ruler of the land of the yellow brick road, now full of decay and man-eating cornstalks, downtrodden Munchkins, and misunderstood wicked witches who are behind a new rebellion. Dorothy’s gone a bit power mad, you see, and the result could very well mean the end of Oz—but not if Kansas kid Amy Gumm has anything to say about it.
Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard
Mind control? Hell, yeah! While Mare may play the heroine in Red Queen, Queen Elara’s innate power of “whispering” makes her a formidable foe. The mother of Prince Maven, to whom Mare is betrothed as Mareena, the queen has a sadistic streak that makes her stand out among her world’s royals—and plays out to devastating effect in Aveyard’s stunning debut.
Paperback $11.55 | $11.99
An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir
Okay, okay. So the Commandant isn’t technically a queen. But come on: she so is. And truly, the most evil kind. Tahir’s villainous headmistress Keris Veturia is the woman in charge, and you’d best obey. Her murderous rage—especially toward her son, Elias—fuels her take on the world, but the woman’s backstory is fraught and rich. Awesome bit of trivia about the Commandant: Tahir has said she was originally supposed to be a male character. But the power she commands as a villainous woman is profound and chilling.
Three Dark Crowns, by Kendare Blake
Okay, so here we’ve got three sisters, all in line to wear the crown. Only problem? They’ll have to kill each other to get it. If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, well, that’s because it is. Chilling, hypnotic, and delicious, Blake’s dark drama imbues each princess with power: Katharine is a poisoner, Mirabella is an elemental, Arsinoe controls the very essence of nature. But it’s the darkest heart that will win this crown.