We all know women in novels can be particularly susceptible to stereotypical characteristics. Even the most willful woman can be prone to a complete change in personality once Mr Hero steps onto the scene.
In fact, there’s even a test to see if women in books and movies are fairly represented. It’s called the Bechdel Test and it assesses if two women can have a conversation with each other where the topic doesn’t revolve around a male character. Next time you read a book or watch a movie, apply the Bechdel test. You’ll be surprised by how many fail.
But today is International Women’s Day. Today we celebrate women as their own entities – we celebrate their strength, ambition and what they’ve accomplished in leaps and bounds to progress society. And I want to celebrate some of my favourite female characters in fantasy who hold their own. They are strong, empowered, but are not without their flaws:
Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones
Every woman in Game of Thrones is a bad ass babe in her own way, but I can’t help but be drawn to Cersei. In a patriarchal world where her own family (husband, brother, father) try to quash her ambitions, she proves them wrong, time and time again and often under brutal circumstances, to rise as the victor.
George R R Martin was once asked how he writes women so well and differently. His response?
“You know, I’ve always considered women to be people.”
Boom, there it is! Women are subject to the same ambitions, strengths and pitfalls as men and CAN be written accordingly.
Hermione Granger from Harry Potter
I feel like Hermione was the character who made smart girls cool again. She proves you can enjoy books, learning and backing worthy causes while also having fun getting dressed up in pretty clothes and going to parties and then topping it all off by getting her wand dirty in epic battles. She proves that you don’t have to stick women in a single stereotype. Interests can be vast and one doesn’t have to preclude the others.
On a side note, Hermione’s actress, Emma Watson, is one of my favourite feminist activists. I love her inclusivity of all genders when calling for social change.
Surreal SaDiablo from The Black Jewels
The Black Jewels series is a feminist epic in itself, with role reversals that, at the time, tipped conventional gendered fantasy tropes on their heads. While female lead – Jaenelle – often falls prey to needing to be saved repeatedly by male characters, Surreal definitely makes my list of strong female characters in fantasy.
A prostitute and an assassin, Surreal turns the undesirability of the former occupation into a kick ass job that sees her assassinating some far-too ambitious foes. She does have weaknesses though, and she knows them which speaks to how much of a well rounded character she is.
Vin from Mistborn
Vin may start out as an underdog, but she’s a girl who knows how to work situations to her advantage. She’s the sort to have a quiet confidence, who can get the job done while others fumble through.
While I love Sanderson’s work, I do find his female characters often lack depth, but Vin holds her own and stays true to herself whilst rising through the ranks.
Cori from The Dragon’s Song
Yep, how could I go past my own creation? I wrote Cori with specific feminist goals in mind. She is empowered, but also headstrong. She doesn’t know when to back down from a fight and that’s a lesson she needs to learn.
She is surrounded by men, and as in real life, some empower her to be stronger while others try to bring her down. Her rise to power is not without its struggles, and I haven’t shied away from exploring these in my writing.
Do you have a favourite female lead? Share her in the comments!
Emily is the author of The Dragon’s Song series – an epic fantasy in which human-born Cori finds herself thrust into a society outside her understanding and must fight to secure her place there, all while battling dragons that sabotage her dreams and rip her apart from the inside out.
You can read the first installment – The Dragon’s Throne – on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited now.