Who are some of the best female characters in fantasy fiction? If you’re a lover of the fantasy genre like I am, you’ve probably suffered through what seems like hundreds of fantasy tales in which women are reduced to damsels in distress, the prize for the hero at the conclusion of his adventure, or whatever other tired cliché you can think of.
Since such female protagonists were so uncommon in literature at the time, reading about them saving the world, fighting for justice, or doing their best under difficult circumstances was a special treat.
These days, you can find many more fantasy novels with strong female protagonists, so it’s good that the genre has progressed; who are the best female characters in fantasy fiction?
Whether or not you share my admiration for women who relentlessly pursue their goals, I find it impossible to watch enough of these fighters.
This list of best female characters in fantasy fiction is just what the reading list doctor ordered for those who like tales about strong, independent, intellectual, and provoking women.
1. Daniela Vargas
- The We Set The Dark On Fire duology by Tehlor Kay Mejia (2019)
We Unleash The Merciless Storm was the second and final installment of a duology begun by Tehlor Kay Mejia with her first book; We Set The Dark On Fire.
The dystopian novel takes place in a society in which males are allowed to have two wives and wherein women get specialized education in the areas of childrearing and homemaking.
The protagonist, Daniela Vargas, one of the best female characters in fantasy fiction, has recently graduated at the top of her class while using an assumed name and fake documents to attend a school within Medio’s fortified walls.
However, having wed one of Medio’s most influential men makes her an easy target for organizations searching for spies inside the country.
When Daniela develops feelings for her husband’s second wife, she is forced to make tough decisions.
The two books provide a dramatic tale of resistance and the sacrifices typically required during rebellions, as seen through Daniela’s experiences.
- The Sorcerer Royal series by Zen Cho (2015)
Zen Cho, a Malaysian novelist, living in the United Kingdom, wrote the Sorcerer Royal series. Although the first book, Sorcerer To The Crown, does center on the once enslaved Zacharias, the series’ most remembered character is the lady he takes on as a pupil, Prunella.
Laws prohibiting women from practicing magic in Regency-era England do not deter Prunella, one of the best female characters in fantasy fiction, who is determined to help a society that desperately needs her despite such barriers.
In little time, Prunella becomes the master, and Zacharias can hardly keep up as demonic powers from fairyland cross over and turn the tables.
But, unfortunately, Prunella’s spells are only as effective as her courage and will to face down any threat.
3. Dorothy Gale of Kansas
- The Oz series by L. Frank Baum (1900)
A children’s narrative set around the turn of the century, Dorothy Gale is one of the first foremothers of the fantasy genre; nonetheless, L. Frank Baum’s 14-novel series reveals remarkable world-building developed during the book.
But the girl who shows us the globe stands out, particularly once she relocates to Oz permanently in the fourth book in the series. Dorothy Gale is a strong and mature young lady.
She is one of the best female characters in fantasy fiction, who is realistic about her predicament and can feel compassion for both the family she left and the one she discovers on the Yellow Brick Road.
Because of her intelligence and resourcefulness, she has become a classic character that young readers may still enjoy 122 years after her birth.
4. Meg Murray
- The Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)
With her curly hair and awful spectacles, Meg Murray is one of the best female characters in fantasy fiction.
She saved the world and rescued the men in her family using time travel and technology; in the process, she made those things cool.
Meg eventually marries her closest friend and sidekick, Cal. They have a daughter named Polyhymnia O’Keefe, who goes on to become the protagonist of her series of books by Madeleine L’Engle.
The Time-Defying Novel, A. It is an early yet profoundly feminist book that teaches young women that it’s okay to be furious and even better to utilize that anger to resist oppressors.
Any lady who has ever felt socially inept while striving to rescue the world has to read The Time Quintet.
- The City in the Middle of the Night (2019) By Charlie Jane Anders
The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charles Jane Anders, is one of the few standalone tales on our list.
It follows Sophie, a student who lives in a world split in two: one half is perpetually trapped in darkness, while the other half is blazing limitless brightness. Sophie is left in the shadows when the uprising to liberate “Twilight City” Xiosphant fails.
However, with the aid of creatures frozen in the ice, she again assumes the mantle of revolution and leads her battered people into the light.
Sophie’s willingness to put herself out there when people are aware of the need to take action to effect change is awe-inspiring.
6. Katniss Everdeen
- The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (2008)
The movie starring Jennifer Lawrence has made Katniss and her love triangle more well-known than the book itself.
The novel is told from the first-person viewpoint of the book’s protagonist, who is more concerned with staying alive in a cruel society where she is treated more like an animal than a person.
The books of The Hunger Games series are not only scarier than the films but also more scathing of the entertainment and political realities of the reality show genre.
Katniss’s story is considerably more terrible, but reading about how she deals with the horrors of battle and the problems of PTSD while still having to amuse the people is rewarding.
7. Nynaeve al’Meara
- The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (1990)
The T.V. adaptation of Robert Jordan’s famous (and exhausting) 14-book series, The Wheel of Time, reframes the narrative to focus on the books’ formidable female protagonists.
In contrast, before the introduction of Nynaeve, one of the best female characters in fantasy fiction, the first book in the series, The Eye of the World, read like any other male-driven hero’s journey.
It was revolutionary for its day to have a strong female protagonist in a patriarchal culture and even more so to feature a woman who was visibly battling ingrained sexism that held her back from her magical skills.
When initially introduced, Nynaeve comes off as bitter, furious, snappish, and sure that her beliefs are correct, making her seem like an anti-hero.
However, the path of seeing her find her soul mate and fall in love with herself and a guy is one well worth taking.
- The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (2018)
This is one of the few books ever written in the second person. To place the reader squarely in the shoes of Essun, a damaged, middle-aged mother and one of the best female characters in fantasy, is a brutally effective technique used by N.K. Jemisin in her The Broken Earth trilogy.
She has spent the previous decade surviving in a society that seeks to eliminate people like her. However, she must go on a dangerous adventure to save herself and locate her missing kid as her former love decides to tear apart the world since it regards him as inferior because he is LGBTQ+ and magical.
Amazingly, The Broken Earth trilogy uses the clichés used many times by white, heterosexual male writers but does so from the viewpoint of a woman of color.
Even though Essun’s tale of survival is remarkably well-known, it has the freshness of a tale being recounted for the first time.
9. Sansa Stark
- A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin (1996)
The HBO series Game of Thrones ran ahead of the George R.R. Martin books it was based on and, as a result, botched the conclusion to the epic narrative.
However, Sansa Stark is presented as someone else in the five published volumes. This is because most male authors, while writing about women from their point of view and in their voice, end up making the female protagonists into males. Examples include (but are not limited to) Arya and Brienne.
Although Sansa Stark’s coronation as Queen of the North has yet to occur in the novels, as it did in the show, her character stands out for being feminine and having a “family first” focus.
It turns her into an unsuspecting servant to the enemy at first, but later it becomes her greatest power. She is undoubtedly one of the best female characters in fantasy fiction.
10. Celaena Sardothien
- The Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas (2012)
Not everyone will like Sarah J. Maas’s Celaena. This part-fae assassin finds herself in one of the classic enemies-to-lovers romances, but she doesn’t alter a thing about herself to make the gentleman fall in love with her.
The first book has an excellent hook, revolving around a tournament for expert assassins in which Celaena’s unwavering convictions are put to the same test as her ability to kill on order.
But the ensuing volumes’ epic scale, in which she discovers her history and faces her destiny, puts her to the ultimate test.
- The Deathless series by Namina Forna (2020)
The second book in Namina Forna’s Deathless trilogy, The Merciless Ones, was released only last spring, and the third chapter does not yet have a title or publishing date.
However, it has been well worth the wait for the conclusion of this West African-inspired epic tale, and the series’ heroine, Deka, has more than earned her place here.
Deka, who has always only wanted to fit in, finds out on her sixteenth birthday that she bleeds gold instead of red. While Deka’s people would shun her for being “impure,” the alaki—near-immortals with extraordinary talents—look for women with the same trait, and the Emperor recruits her to serve as part of a female army.
- The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty (2017)
The City of Brass, Shannon Chakraborty’s first book, was an instant worldwide bestseller because of its captivating protagonist, Nahri, a con artist in 18th-century Cairo.
Nahri, one of the best female characters in fantasy fiction, is taken to Daevabad, the famous city of brass with magical walls that holds the six djinn tribes, when she inadvertently calls a djinn named Darayavahoush e-Afshin.
One of the nicest things about Nahri is that she doesn’t miraculously change into a saintly queen or any other cliché.
Instead, she rapidly realizes that the street smarts she developed as a grifter can be utilized to her advantage in the realm of magical politics.
She meets a noble prince whose faith in the innate goodness of people ultimately proves to be his doom, while she stays on top thanks to her cunning.
13. Hermione Granger
- The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (1997)
It’s not Hermione’s fault that the Harry Potter books made fun of the child with the scar on his head who sat next to her in class or that the creator of the series is acting so despicably.
Hermione Granger, the geeky Muggle youngster with absolutely uninteresting parents who becomes the smartest witch of her age, was an instantly relatable character for every girl over the age of eight who was given the Harry Potter books.
Hermione’s blend of brains, sympathetic vulnerabilities, and an infatuation with someone who wasn’t quite good enough was influential to a generation of women readers, whether they saw themselves in Emma Watson, Noma Dumezweni, or their imaginations. No collection of the best female characters in fantasy fiction would be complete without her.
- An Ember in the Ashes series by Sabaa Tahir (2015)
An Ember in the Ashes is the first book of a trilogy inspired by Ancient Rome that takes place in a dystopian future when the globe has been ruled for centuries by the ruthless Martial Empire.
Laia, the protagonist and one of the best female characters in fantasy fiction, is a member of the repressed Scholar class whose peaceful existence is shattered when a group of Martial Raiders arrives to capture her brother for treachery and murder her grandparents.
Laia, desperate to locate and release Darin, decides to work for the underground insurrection in return for their assistance in freeing him from jail.
As a slave working for the resistance, she is sent to the Imperial military school where she meets Elias, a student and soldier (also called a Mask) who is also trying to rise up in rebellion.