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My Favorite Badass Heroines in Epic Fantasy

by  | September 10
Design of book cover images

The Vanished Queen is an exciting new debut fantasy novel, involving political intrigue and the pursuit of justice, as it follows a female student who joins a rebellion to overthrow a corrupt tyrant. Now that’s a plot we love to read! Since we can’t get enough of badass heroines making change, we’re glad to have author Lisbeth Campbell—who penned The Vanished Queen—here to share her favorite heroines of epic fantasy. Welcome, Lisbeth!


One of the three main characters in The Vanished Queen is a young woman named Anza, who joins the resistance after her father is unjustly executed by the king. A second main character is the queen herself, Mirantha, whose past story is interwoven with the present. Creating these characters was, for me, an exercise in imagining different forms of heroism: for Anza, heroism includes risking her life for the cause she believes in; for Mirantha, heroism is raising her sons to be just, while living in the presence of the dangerous and cruel king.

Mirantha and Anza are in excellent company with characters from other epic fantasies realms, and I’ve rounded up some of my other favorite heroines here. What these women have in common is courage and a vision of something more important than themselves. They are not in search of glory. Their courage is defined in their relationship to other people, whether it be one child or the citizens of an entire empire. Their work is directed at somehow bettering the world. Heroism, for them, is not about being a warrior; it’s about taking a risk for the sake of someone else.

The Books of Earthsea

The Books of Earthsea

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Tenar (also known as Arha)

In The Tombs of Atuan, the heroine of the story is a girl called Arha, who finds the courage to leave the gods who have “eaten” her and travel to a new land. In Tehanu and The Other Wind, she is a woman named Tenar, who raises an abandoned, disfigured girl whom other people fear. Her heroism consists of embracing what is strange and frightening, and practicing love and compassion even when they’re risky.

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Skullsworn

Skullsworn

by Brian Staveley

Pyrre

In the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series, Pyrre is an assassin who serves the god of death. She gets her own origin story in the stand-alone novel Skullsworn, where her task is to find and kill seven people, including one she loves. As if that were not difficult enough, she is swept up in an insurrection. Pyrre is tough, smart, and dedicated to her goddess; for her, murder is a holy task.

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The Last Road

The Last Road

by K. Johansen

Yeh-Lin

Yeh-Lin is a devil who once ruled Nabban, and she has immense power. While she often causes problems for other characters, in the fifth book of the Gods of the Caravan Road series, The Last Road, she joins with others to defeat another devil, who is trying to conquer the world and kill all the remaining gods. Crafty, powerful, and brave, Yeh-Lin is a grandmother who takes on her enemy in terrifying circumstances.

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We Ride the Storm

We Ride the Storm

by Devin Madson

Princess Miko Ts’ai

Miko and her twin live under the threat of assassins ordered by their father the emperor. When war with a neighboring country breaks out, Miko uses her bow and her wits to try to keep the empire together, even though she, as a woman, is not in the line of succession. She’s young, courageous, and committed to her country.

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The Bone Shard Daughter

The Bone Shard Daughter

by Andrea Stewart

Princess Lin

Princess Lin is competing with her adoptive brother to be their father’s heir in The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart. The empire is politically unstable and the world is physically unstable too. Lin relies on stealth, cleverness, and friendships to prove her worth to her father and then—as she learns of the horrors of his rule—to her people.

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Trail of Lightning

Trail of Lightning

by Rebecca Roanhorse

Plus, here a few additional recommendations from all of us at Get Lit! Because we just couldn't resist...

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters. Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel the rez, unraveling clues from ancient legends, trading favors with tricksters, and battling dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology. As Maggie discovers the truth behind the killings, she will have to confront her past if she wants to survive.

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An Easy Death

An Easy Death

by Charlaine Harris

In a fractured United States, a new world where magic is acknowledged but mistrusted, a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose takes a job offer from a pair of Russian wizards. Lizbeth Rose has a wildly fearsome reputation but these wizards are desperate. Searching the small border towns near Mexico, they’re trying to locate a low-level magic practitioner believed to be a direct descendant of Grigori Rasputin.

As the trio journey through an altered America—shattered into several countries after the assassination of Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression—they’re set on by enemies. It’s clear that a powerful force does not want them to succeed in their mission. Lizbeth Rose has never failed a client, but this job may stretch her to her deadly limits.

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Savage Legion

Savage Legion

by Matt Wallace

Evie is a warrior with a mission: to find the man she once loved, the man who holds the key to exposing the secret of the Savage Legion and ending the mass conscription of the empire’s poor and wretched. But to find him, she must become one of them, to be marked in her blood, to fight in their wars, and to find her purpose. Evie will die a Savage if she has to, but not before showing the world who she really is and what the Savage Legion can really do.

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The Vanished Queen

The Vanished Queen

by Lisbeth Campbell

If you loved all these recommendations, we also recommend picking up a copy of The Vanished Queen for an amazing story of even more badass heroines changing their fantasy realms for the better.  When a country is held in thrall to a vicious, despotic king, it’s up to one woman to take him down.

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