15 Books With Female Monsters, From Vampires To Zombies To Werewolves And More
I'll be the first to admit that I love a good retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I love it when the monster gets the girl. I've seen The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway more than once, to my everlasting shame. But as much as I enjoy a torrid Gothic romance, where the pretty lady falls for the dangerous creature of the night and they ride off across the misty moors together... when are we going to mix it up a little? When are we going to get a lady monster who ends up with the hunky guy? Or a lady monster who ends up with another lady monster? Or a lady monster who is single and quite happy with that, thank you very much? We're seriously lacking in fiction (and nonfiction) about female monsters. Here are a few of the stories that do exist about monster ladies, for when you yourself are feeling extra monstrous.
Because really, most of our modern monsters are misunderstood outcasts, as opposed to mindless killing machines. From Frankenstein to Shrek, we've gotten very good an empathizing with monster dudes. They are the anti-heroes, or even just the regular ol' heroes of their stories. But monstrous leading ladies are still few and far between. These books show us the nuance and complexity of witches, zombies, griffins and other dangerous creatures who also happen to be women:
1'The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter' by Theodora Goss
Mary Jekyll is all alone in the world following the death of her father, the secretive Dr. Jekyll. But as she starts to unravel her own family's past, she'll find and befriend several other "daughters" (or rather, "creations") of great scientists: Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappaccini, Cat Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. Theodora Goss brilliantly brings together several lady monsters from all across Victorian literature in this witty, one-of-a-kind mystery.
2'Monstress' by Marjorie M. Liu, art by Sana Takeda
Monstress has pretty much everything one could want in a comic book: steam punk art deco design, an alternate matriarchal version of 1900's Asia, and a teenage girl trying to manage her psychic link to a monster of terrible power. Their strange connection will transform them both as the pair fight back against human warfare as well as otherworldly forces.
3'The Girl With All the Gifts' by M.R. Carey
Melanie is just an ordinary kid who loves going to school and talking about what she'll be when she grows up... except that her school is inside of a high security prison, and she has to learn at gunpoint, while strapped into a wheelchair. The Girl With All the Gifts is a highly original twist on a classic monster story, with one little girl at its center.
4'Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West' by Gregory Maguire
With her pointy hat and her evil cackle, the Wicked Witch of the West is certainly one of the best known lady monsters around. In Wicked, we get to know the green-skinned Elphaba before she was after Dorothy's slippers. This is the story of her friendship with the "good" witch Glinda, and her complicated road to "wickedness."
5'iZombie' by Chris Roberson, art by Mike Allred
Gwen is your classic zombie-girl detective. She works as a gravedigger in an eco-friendly cemetery, and she has to eat human brains at least once a month, lest she lose her own human memories. Eating brains isn't so simple, though: Gwen finds herself flooded with the thoughts and feelings of the deceased, and so she sets about finishing the unfinished business of each corpse she consumes.
6'Carmilla' by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
This classic Victorian vampire story actually predates Bram Stoker and all his Dracula nonsense. Carmilla is a beautiful, dangerous vampire lady who just wants to drink blood and seduce noblemen's daughters. If you're looking for some classic Gothic horror, a creepy-romantic atmosphere, and a devilish femme fatale, this is the book for you.
7'Seraphina' by Rachel Hartman
Forget werewolves. It's all about WERE-DRAGONS. In Seraphina, you see, dragons are able to "fold" themselves into human forms... but humans and dragons don't really get along. This makes life difficult for young Seraphina, a gifted court musician with a terrible secret that would make her an "abomination" in the eyes of human society.
8'Fledgling' by Octavia Butler
A young girl wakes up with no memory of who she used to be... but whoever she it, she doesn't seem to be entirely human. Fledgling was the great Octavia Butler's last book. In this one novel, though, Butler manages to utterly transform the vampire genre with a stunning story of monstrosity, "otherness," and what it means to be a human being.
9'Year of the Griffin' by Diana Wynne Jones
The griffin is a tragically underused mythical monster. Lucky for us, Diana Wynne Jones wrote an entire novel about a girl griffin who goes to college and it's quite possibly the most delightful griffin college novel ever written. With a plot that revolves around making friends, finding financial aid, and going to the moon, Year of the Griffin is a wonderfully unique take on the fantasy genre.
10'Tehanu' by Ursula K. Le Guin
One of Ursula K. Le Guin's beloved Earthsea books, Tehanu is the story of a woman who adopts a strange, seemingly injured child. This little girl (spoiler alert) turns out to be half dragon, but the book itself is less about huge magical fantasy fights with monstrous dragons, and more about loving people who come from a different background than you.
11'Let the Right One In' by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Young, bullied Oskar pretty much hates his life, until a new girl moves in next door... a strange girl who only comes out at night can solve a Rubik's Cube in moments. There's plenty of gore in Let the Right One In, to be sure, but there's also a sort of love story between the vulnerable Oskar and the bloodsucking Eli, who has a complicated history both with her vampirism and her gender identity.
12'Sweet Venom' by Tera Lynn Childs
Grace, Gretchen, and Greer have never met before, but all three look eerily alike. Turns out, not only are they triplets, they're all part-gorgon—descendants of the terrifying, snake-haired Medusa herself. That means that all three girls have a destiny to face, and unfortunately that destiny is going to involve fighting a whole bunch of other Greek monsters.
13'The Woman in Black' by Susan Hill
It just doesn't get more classic than The Woman in Black. If you want a good old fashioned lady ghost monster to make creepy sounds in the night and hang out in the abandoned nursery up at the old manor house, then this is the ghost story to read.
14'Sharp Teeth' by Toby Barlow
Sharp Teeth is your typical epic poem about a dogcatcher and his lady werewolf love. Set amid the roving werewolf packs of L.A., this book is a beautiful, free verse take on lycanthrope mythology, with the rare female werewolf in the middle of it all.
15'The Queen of the Damned' by Anne Rice
Of course, you can't begin to talk about monsters in fiction without talking about Anne Rice and her vampires. The Queen of the Damned features an especially regal lady vamp, who rises from her 6,000 year sleep and immediately starts making moves to "save" mankind by making "all myths of the world real" and just generally being a fierce, creepy badass all over the place.