I'll be honest, I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road because my Facebook feed deemed it a feminist triumph, and I just couldn't fathom that... until I saw the movie. Setting aside the impressive plotting and the morally on-point message, it is rare to find fiction of any kind driven by such genuinely bad ass female protagonists. So rare, in fact, that as I left the theater on Friday, I began mentally scanning my bookshelf for a work of fiction with a protagonist who could live up to the raw power of Imperator Furiosa, and at first I didn't have much luck.
Unlike the men of daring do who seem to run wild throughout the literary world, genuinely kickass female characters are significantly harder to find in great works of fiction. Of course, just because you have to look a little harder, doesn't mean what you find won't be worth the wait; as my casual mental browsing turned to frantic, real-world searches through online lists, local libraries, and the shelves of friends and family, I managed to rout out enough strong women to populate a small library of their own.
So, after narrowing and practicing my ninja moves in front of the mirror, I present to you 15 of the most badass female protagonists of all time, ranked for your reading pleasure.
15. Anne from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
With locks aflame and sass that won't quit, Anne with an E is not your typical wayward waif. This outspoken orphan lives every day like its an adventure and never backs down from a fight. Although she may not have weapons by her side, she's got the sharpest tongue on Prince Edward Island, and she's not afraid to use it.
14. Reno from The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
Reno — she's a riot girl who set records racing motorbikes, an American abroad making illegal moves across international boarders, and a fierce, passionate artist who lives every day to its fullest, as the self-possessed protagonist of Rachel Kushner's 20th century epic, she is one tough cookie.
13. Jo from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Don't be fooled by the peaceful New England town and the family of loving sisters, beneath the still waters of Little Women Jo March lies in wait with a restless heart and nerves of steel, ready to meet and master any challenge. When there's rescuing to be done, Jo leads the charge (and chops off all her hair in the process) — this is one feisty female protagonist who earns her battle scars in the name of family.
12. Eliza from Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
Following her heart from Valparaiso, Chile to the gold fields of California circa 1849, Eliza quickly finds herself engulfed in a strange new world of single men, painted ladies, and all the independence a girl could ever dream of. Taking charge in the rough and tumble world of the wild west is no simple task, but as Eliza steps up to the plate and stands her ground she proves herself to be one of literatures most beloved bad asses.
11. Hester from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
With a mind of her own and no time for the rules of the game, Hester Prynne lives outside society and on her own terms. Her community may shun her, love may elude her, and god may judge her, but Hester takes it all in stride, and with her everyday defiance Hester stakes her claim as one bad mother (and I mean that in the in the best possible way).
10. Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
In a dystopic future where women are the property of men, reading is forbidden among the fairer sex, and an old-testament-inspired terrorist organization has taken over the government, one woman dares to dream of a better life, and that women is Offred. Under the thumb of a lecherous commander, in the throws of an illicit romance, and consumed by memories of the family she has lost, this handmaid still manages to eke out a place for herself in history — and what could possibly be more hardcore than that?
9. Hermione from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K.Rowling
There will come a day when an alternate history of the Potterverse featuring Hermione Granger in the starring role hits the shelves. Until that day comes, let us all acknowledge here and now that Hermione, with her mastery of magic, her wits, and her willingness to do what must be done has already earned herself a reputation as one of literature's all-time greatest ass-kickers.
8. Jackie from Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard
Elmore Leonard's cold-as-steel and tough-as-nails Jackie Brown is the master of her own destiny as well as the art of the double-cross. Turning a police investigation into a unique business opportunity, Jackie Brown brings all new meaning to the term bad ass (and earning a staring role in a Quentin Tarantino film hasn't done anything to dilute that reputation).
7. Alanna from Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
What would you say to a young girl taking fate into her own hands, making her way to court, training to be a knight, and earning her place as a champion all while dressed as a boy? If you answered "bring it on," you're thinking like Alanna, and you're in luck, because Tamora Pierce's devastatingly dangerous heroine takes on a starring role in not one but four spectacular novels.
6. Scarlett from Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Through war, through famine, through heartbreak, and hard-won victory, Scarlett O'Hara rages on, a ravishing beauty with a heart of steel. Although she never took up arms, no one fought longer or harder than Ms. O'Hara, making this Southern Belle both a beauty and a bad ass.
5. Princesses from The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
Within Angela Carter's dark reinterpretations of classic fairytales women take center stage, and this time the princesses come out on top thanks to knife skills and quick wits rather than charm and grace. From the young girl who marries a French Marquis only to discover his sadistic inclinations to the maiden seduced by the forest itself, in Carter's stories the princesses are not only the protagonists, they are the brute force that brings the stories to a brilliant and bloody crescendo in true action-star style.
4. Sabriel from Sabriel by Garth Nix
In a world where the dead walk on earth, only powerful magic can control the evil rising from the underworld — magic harnessed by Sabriel in an epic battle of good versus evil. As a guardian of all life and a fearless walker among the dead, Sabriel is just about as bad as it gets, and oh-so-good all at the same time.
3. Sofia from The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Mired in the grotesque inequality of slavery, Sofia refuses to submit to any man's control, sparking a beacon of hope in an otherwise bleak world. Defiant, daring, and unyielding, Sofia stakes her claim to freedom within a climate of absolute intolerance, making her undoubtedly one of the fiercest female characters in all of fiction.
2. Lisbeth from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
You may have seen the movies, you may have heard the stories, but until you've read Stieg Larson's magnificent trilogy you've only just begun to understand how far Lisbeth Salander will go. Righting wrongs, kicking ass, and taking names in the boldest, baddest, most brutal ways possible, Lisbeth is utterly unforgettable.
1. Joan from Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
She led armies into battle, lay siege to cities, conversed with saints, and at the age of 19 she was burned at the stake. Were you to search the world over, you could not find a fictional woman worthier of the number one spot than Joan of Arc. Mark Twain's beloved heroine is more than just a badass, she's a crusader with a purpose, an icon with hundreds of years of history to back her up, and an immortal legend whose fearlessness and passion still echo resonate to this day — she is the number one bad ass.
Image: Warner Bros.