12 Books With Badass Female Characters

by Catherine Kovach

When it comes to entertainment media, badass female protagonists are having a bit of a moment. We've been given Jessica Jones, we've critiqued Black Widow's role in The Avengers, we bow to the Khaleesi in Game of Thrones, and call for more female representation in video games. The same thing is happening to the world of books. We have our Hunger Games, we celebrate the cool characters in the Harry Potter series, and sat at the edge of our seat when Lisbeth Salander's newest book hit the shelves. We just can't seem to get enough of a badass female protagonist, and that's a terrific thing.

While, we all know about Hermione, Lisbeth Salander, and Katniss Everdeen, but what other badass female protagonists are out there? And what makes a female protagonist badass? Well, it's really in the eye of the beholder, but I like to think that a badass female protagonist does what she has to do and isn't afraid of being herself. She doesn't necessarily need to be good with a weapon (although in some plots that would definitely help) nor does she need to destroy her own femininity in order to be considered badass. To celebrate this, I've compiled a list of 12 books that feature badass female characters. Take a look and get ready to feel empowered!

1. Cinder by Marissa Meyer

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In this retelling of the classic fairy tale Cinderella, our heroine is a cyborg mechanic living in the future Chinese city of New Bejing. Treated as a second-class citizen due to her cybernetics and hated by her stepmother after she's blamed for the sickness of one of her stepsisters, Cinder's life isn't necessarily the best. When the charming Prince Kai arrives on the scene with a request that Cinder fix one of his androids, she's set loose on a wild adventure. Not only is Cinder a relatively badass character on her own (seriously, cyborg mechanic), but this is the first book of The Lunar Chronicles series that features a whole bunch of awesome badass, converted fairy tale characters.

2. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

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My love of Arthurian legend comes out pretty solidly in my articles, but if you're on the same page as I am and love a medieval tale of knights and their ladies fair, The Mists of Avalon will fill those needs while giving you some awesome female characters. Told from the point of view of the sorceress Morgan Le Fay (now called Morgaine), this epic tale focuses on the women behind the throne of King Arthur.

3. Defiance by C.J. Redwine

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In this post-apocalyptic world, the population is kept safe inside of a walled city, and every female is assigned a male "Protector". While most of these women are kept doing stereotypical "feminine" things such as sewing and dancing, Rachel Adams has learned how to hunt and carries a willful determination of her own. Things begin to fall apart when her father goes missing and her new Protector turns out to be Logan, the man who rejected her two years previously. Refusing to believe that her father is dead, Rachel and Logan escape the walled city and fight their way through the wasteland in order to bring her father home.

4. Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

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14-year-old Sophronia has appalling manners, being far more interested in learning how to dismantle a clock and climb trees than doing a proper curtsy or learning how to dance. At her wits end, her mother enrolls her in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, a finishing school that not only teaching ladies proper etiquette and poise, but also teaches them how to be spies. The first of a series, not only are the ladies in the book complete badasses, but they are also incredibly witty and smart. That's a winning combination if I've ever heard of one!

5. Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

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Set in an alternate history where a disease has forced supernatural creatures to reveal themselves since they have started to outnumber humans, our heroine Rachel Morgan is a witch who recently quit her job in order to go into business for herself with a vampire and a pixie as partners. When her former boss puts a hit out on her, Rachel needs to get rid of the price on her head in spite of her own inexperience. The world building is quirky, all of the characters are unique, and Rachel herself is a world-class magic-wielding badass.

6. The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

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Set in a world where all lost children are sent to a dual school where they become various fairy tale tropes, Sophie is princess-y girl who dreams of being rescued by a prince and being beautiful forever, while her friend Agatha leans slightly more to the Gothic way of life. When the two girls get lost in the Endless Woods, they discover that their fates have been reversed: Agatha is destined for the School of Good, where she will learn to become a fairy tale princess, while Sophie is destined for the School of Evil, where she will learn to become an evil witch. Both girls struggle against their new identity as they try to learn about who they really are.

7. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

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Right before she's about to be executed for murder, 19-year-old Yelena is given an offer she can't refuse. She'll live in the palace, eat all the best meals, and in return live as a food taster for the Commander of Ixia. Facing death every day, the circumstances grow even more dire as the head of security insists on poisoning her every morning and only giving her the antidote at night to ensure full cooperation. As tensions in the kingdom of Ixia grow, Yelena quickly discovers magical powers that are beyond her control. Yelena is a fearless and awesome protagonist who also has room to grow, this is the first book in a trilogy, so you'll have plenty of time to get to know her.

8. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

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When Mara Dyer wakes up in the hospital, she swiftly realizes that not only does she have no memory of how she got there, but that three of her friends are dead. Plagued with strange ghostly visions and the fact that she keeps losing stretches of time, Mara's family decide to start over in Florida, where on the first day of school she meets the rich and attractive Noah Shaw. When Mara begins to believe that she can kill with her imagination, she goes on a quest to figure out exactly what's happening to her before she completely loses her mind.

9. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

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18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien spent the past year working hard labor in the salt mines before she was dragged before Crown Prince Dorian, who has requested that she a act as his champion in a competition to find the new royal assassin. If she wins, she'll serve for four years before winning her freedom. However, once her fellow contestants start winding up dead, Celaena must find the killer before she's next.

10. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

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Set in a kingdom that is constantly on the brink of peril thanks to the Shadow Fold, an impenetrable darkness filled with monsters that eat human flesh, Shadow and Bone centers on Alina Starkov, a soldier who reveals a mysterious dormant power after her regiment is attacked by the Fold. Upon discovery of her power, she's taken away to the Royal Court where she will train to be a Grisha, a member of the magical elite. Not only is Alina a badass in her own right, but the trilogy takes inspiration from Russian culture, which is an added bonus indeed.

11. The Scene by R.M. Gilmore

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Dylan Hart is a twentysomething journalist with a big butt and a bigger mouth. In an attempt to catch her big break, she decides to take it upon herself to investigate a series of prostitute murders that all have one thing in common: each body is drained of blood. Diving head first into a seedy vampire subculture, Dylan needs to find the murderer before she's on the menu next. She's a fearless and wonderfully sarcastic heroine.

12. Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

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The end of the world is nigh, or so an evangelical American church seems to think. When the rapture seems to come and thousands of people go missing, the world is plunged into a panic. Vivian Apple at the End of the World has not one, but two badass female characters. We are treated to Vivian herself, a 17-year-old girl who never really bought into the evangelical church her parents were obsessed with, and her best friend Harp, who openly shows disdain for the new world order. When their parents disappear, Vivian and Harp team up and go on a cross-country journey in order to discover the truth behind the apocalypse.

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