Why Strong Female Characters Are Important in Science Fiction and Fantasy

by Sarah Beth Durst

 I was ten years old when I decided I wanted to be a writer.  Being a writer seemed like an impossible dream, akin to my earlier career goals, which were either become Wonder Woman or be crowned princess of the unicorns.  I didn’t know anyone who was a writer.  As far as I knew, I’d never even met anyone who knew anyone who was a writer.  I think a part of me was convinced that all writers were mythical.  Or dead.  Certainly no one ordinary could become a writer.  But then I read Alanna by Tamora Pierce, which is about the first girl in the legendary land of Tortall to ever become a knight, and when I closed that book, I distinctly remember thinking, “If Alanna can become a knight, I can become a writer.”

And that, in a nutshell, is why it is important to have strong female characters in science fiction and fantasy.

Could I have drawn that same inspiration from a book about a boy knight?  Sure, maybe.  But did I?  No.  It took Alanna.  It took a girl whose greatest strength was her stubbornness to show me the way to follow my dreams.

I write about strong women.  Brave.  Heroic.  Smart.  Occasionally evil, in some cases.  My new book, The Queen of Blood, is the first in a new epic fantasy series from Harper Voyager called The Queens Of Renthia.  It’s about a beautiful and dangerous world filled with nature spirits… but these aren’t your sweet, frolicking pastoral sprites.  These spirits wants to kill all humans, and only certain women — queens — can control them.  At its core, the series is about power — how to get it, what to do with it, and what it does to you.

One of the main characters in The Queen of Blood is Daleina, an idealistic young student who wants to right the wrongs in her world.  Daleina isn’t destined to be a hero.  There are no prophecies about her, no shuddering of the world when she was born, no magical ring or sword or amulet gifted to her.  She’s a mediocre student with just an average amount of power and no secret talents.  But what she does have is determination.  She wants to protect her family and save her world, and to do that she will have to work hard and sacrifice much.

That’s the kind of strength I wanted to write about in this book — that’s the kind of strength that I think is important: sheer strength of will.  And it’s my hope that Daleina and her courage and determination will inspire someone the way Alanna inspired me.

I believe that fantasy literature has (or can have) the power to inspire: it can, in the midst of all the magic and adventure, show us how to be brave.  Seeing a character pushed to the edge, and then seeing him or her come out the other side — especially if it’s a character you identify with — can be an important experience… even, as in my case, a life-changing one.

Here are ten other books with strong female characters who made me feel stronger and braver after reading them:

  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  • Jack the Giant-Killer by Charles de Lint
  • Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
  • Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  • Hope and Red by Jon Skovron
  • Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
  • Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • as well as everything ever written by Tamora Pierce

 


Sarah Beth Durst’s The Queen of Blood is available now, and was recently featured as a Fiction Short Take at Harper’s Bookselling blog run by Kate McCune.

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