Monday, April 2, 2018

Leading Ladies: Seven Awesome & Epic Heroines

Epic Fantasy is often touted as the genre of world-saving-or-falling stories, grand campaigns, and larger-than-life adventures, where the leading character is the hero, whether farmboy or paladin, with a sword and a destiny.

But today I'm starring a few of the fabulous heroines that are not only leading ladies but also their story's lead protagonist, all of whom have rocked my reading world  – as well as giving a nod to a leading lady and central protagonist of my own. :)

A is for Aerin in Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown (YA)
Aerin is a classic epic heroine, an isolated and disregarded princess who teaches herself to slay dragons and master the magic of her people, and who is eventually called upon to save both people and kingdom from a demonic horde. And you can't get more epic than that!

A is also for Aidris in Cherry Wilder's A Princess of the Chameln (YA)
Aidris is also a princess, one who must flee for her life from her home and Chameln peoples and survive until she can return and reclaim her kingdom's double throne. A fascinating exploration of kingdoms, cultures, and with intriguing and mysterious magic. 

B is for Breyd in Roberta Gray's The Sword and The Lion
Some of you may better recall Roberta Gray as author Ru Emerson, but if you like your fantasy with overtones of Greek myth and legendary history then you'll enjoy this tale of Breyd, a commoner chosen by lot to bear the magic that may save her city from a ruthless invader (think Alexander the Great.) Breyd and her tale have never gotten the attention they probably deserve, but this is still a grand epic with some romance woven in.

G is for Gill in Katherine Kerr's Daggerspell
Gill is the only daughter of the famous mercenary warrior ('silver dagger') Cullen of Cerrmorr and grows up to carry the silver dagger herself as well as discovering that her destiny is to become a master of the magical dweomer. If you like your fantasy with a strong Celtic element, including time slip and multiple lives aspects, as well as adventure and romance thrown in, then you'll love Daggerspell and its sequels.

L is for Liath in Kate Elliot's The King's Dragon
Although there are other leading characters, Liath is still arguably the central protagonist in Kate Elliott's The King's Dragon, or sufficiently so, at any rate, to have  a place on this list. The orphaned daughter of a scholar, cast adrift in a dangerous and changing world, Liath must chart a course between war, politics, and magic to assert her place in the world. Plus her relationship with Sanglant adds romantic interest to a many-layered tale.

M is for Mara in Janny Wurts & Raymond E Feist's Daughter of the Empire
Orphaned in a single battle through an enemy House's treachery, Mara must assume leadership of her House and save it from annihilation through political and strategic acumen, personal self sacrifice and courage. If you like a young woman succeeding by her wits against almost overwhelming odds, in a fascinating and colorful world, then you'll love Mara.

M is also for Malian in The Heir of Night
In creating my own leading lady and lead protagonist in The Wall Of Night series, I feel honored to be adding to such a great tradition of clever, courageous, and resourceful heroines. Malian is also a leader who cuts a swathe through her world's grand campaigns and masters both magic and weapons' skills as well as knowing how to form alliances with others to achieve her ends. Nor is Malian alone: her tale includes a cast of supporting heroines, as well as heroes, all playing vital parts in the story.

Nor is this by any means all: names such as Tamora Pierce's Alanna (Junior), Marion Zimmer Bradley's Morgan, CJ Cherryh's Morgaine, and Elizabeth Moon's Paksenarrion also spring to mind not to mention other heroines penned by these authors.

But if you have other heroines that are lead protagonists to suggest, then please leave your recommendation in the comments. Because here on Supernatural Underground there's always room for MOAR! :)


Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night, Book Three) is her most recent book and she is currently working on the fourth and final novel in The Wall Of Night series. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we


Kim Falconer said...

I love this bouquet of wonderful female protagonists and Malian is definitely one of my favorites.

I have a few to add...

Lessa, from Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. The rider of the queen dragon, Ramoth, Lessa was the Weyrwoman of Benden Weyr and the last survivor of the Ruathan bloodline. And also so memorable in that series, Brekke, rider of gold Wirenth.

Oh, and Tory from Traci Harding's Ancient Futures series. Incredible growth arc there over many books and series.

Perhaps more SF/Fantasy, the nameless narrator (who is mostly female but does become male for a short stint as you can do in this story world) in Tanith Lee's #4BEE series, Don't Bite the Sun. From the opening line, "My friend Hergal had killed himself again," to the last, it's fantastic, edge and immersive.

Karou, in Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. Heartbreakingly beautiful. What a journey.

Oh, and more Urban Fantasy, but Mercedes Thompson in Patricia Briggs' series. She's a wonderful protagonist!

I'm sure I'll be thinking of more all day long!

Thanks for the great post!

Katherine Petersen said...

I agree that Malian is my favorite. Kim's mention of Mercedes Thompson brings to mind October Daye from Seanan McGuire's series, my favorite UF female lead.

Kim Falconer said...

Oh, I have not read Seanan McGuire's series. Checking that out now.

Have you read Faith Hunter's Jane Yellowrock series? I like some of the books better than others, but I LOVE the Mountain Lion soul he carries.

Helen Lowe said...

These are great names and recommendations, which I really appreciate - thank you, Kim and Katherine. The reason I focused the post on epic fantasy was because Urban Fantasy already has so many fabulous leading heroines -- such as your own Ava Sykes, Kim! And Mercy Thompson and Sookie Stackhouse, to name two of the most famous. Yet while Epic Fantasy has many great female characters they are still often "best supporting" parts with the central character still being a hero or antihero -- hence my search for the heroines who firmly occupy center stage. A tradition yet to be fully adopted from UF, perhaps. :)

Kim Falconer said...

I realized that Helen, as I thought of Sookie and so many others after I posted. UF is full of these strong female characters, but Epic Fantasy? As you say, we have to search.

Soon you'll meet Ash, the protagonist in my YA Epic Fantasy The Bone Throwers, coming out in Sept. But that's another story!

I also thought of Maria V Snyder's Yelenda in The Poison Study series. That was so well written. And then Sarah J Maas's Celaena in the Throne of Glass series. But for every one Fantasy leading lady I think of, there are ten UF coming to mind.

It's a slow sea change for the Fantasy genre.

Helen Lowe said...

I am looking forward to Ash -- and glad to hear The Bone Throwers is an epic fantasy tale. The list of heroines as main characters may not be as great, but at least we can say we are boldly going where 'relatively few' have gone before. They few that have, though, they're mighty!