Despite passing on their deep love for Disney, my parents weren’t big on the idea of princesses. I didn’t have dolls, my walls weren’t pink, and I didn’t have a crown I insisted on wearing in public. By the time I reached adulthood, I typically saw princess characters as being silly and vapid, and couldn’t understand women and girls who decked themselves out in Cinderella t-shirts and wrote Facebook posts about looking for their Prince Charming.
Which means that, while I was sticking my nose up at these royal ladies, I didn’t notice a new breed of princesses emerging in YA lit. Instead of sitting around while their prince slayed a dragon, these girls are fighting evil, saving villages, and finding princes who appreciate them for their strength and courage, not just their looks. In other words, princesses were becoming badass, and this was a bandwagon I definitely needed to get on. Here are some of my favorite YA princess stories, perfect for the reader who likes their royalty with a bit of bite.
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The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen
There’s nothing better than a bookworm princess. Kelsea is coming out of exile to reclaim her rightful place on the throne, even if she has to take on murderous neighboring rulers and unfaithful members of her own court to do it. It’s great to see a princess who’s more concerned with protecting her country than finding the perfect ball gown.
Tiger Lily, by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Tiger Lily is a princess in the original Peter Pan story, so I’m counting her here. But this Tiger Lily isn’t just one of the many undeveloped characters obsessed with Pan. In this novel, she’s an incredibly brave Indian princess feared by her people and betrothed to a brutal man. She finds solace in the free-spirited Pan, and slowly they fall in love. Too bad that pesky Wendy is on the way…
Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard
Mare is a Red, a commoner under the rule of the socially and physically superior Silvers. But after she displays astonishing magical abilities, the ruling class helps her pass for a Silver, and she ends up engaged to a Silver prince. Now she must protect herself from a scheming monarchy and a particularly fearsome queen.
The Sin Eater’s Daughter, by Melinda Salisbury
Twylla might be engaged to a prince, but that doesn’t mean she can’t have a job of her own. In fact, she has a pretty important one: she has the touch of death, and is in charge of killing those deemed dangerous by the monarchy. Not exactly a glamorous gig. The queen who keeps Twylla in her service may not be trustworthy, however, and Twylla must learn who in the court she can actually depend on.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson
Elisa doesn’t consider herself to be special, but she’s a Chosen one, destined to be a hero. Everyone wants her help, from handsome kings to dashing rebels. But first, she has to begin believing she’s worthy of her Chosen status. Oh, and she also has to survive.
The Looking Glass Wars, by Frank Beddor
Alyss Heart is heir to the throne of Wonderland—but she’s on the run from her murderous and power-hungry Aunt Red. When she finds herself stuck in Victorian England, her bodyguard, Hatter, has to find her and help her reclaim her rightful place as Queen. This is definitely NOT the curious, unflappable Alice you grew up with, but an even cooler, kick-butt version who’s out to save Wonderland.