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9 Books Featuring Strong Female Leads To Read This Women’s History Month

Much like Maeve Wiley (of Netflix’s Sex Education), complex female characters are kind of my thing — specifically, literary ones. The Harry Potter books were my bedtime stories as a child, and Hermione instantly became my favorite fictional character — her intellect and bravery amazed me. That same love for books with strong female leads has remained to this day, and what better time to read them than during Women’s History Month? Whether you’re looking for a way to spend history month learning or you simply want to be inspired by strong, independent protagonists, here are eight books with badass female main character leads.   

1. 'The cruel prince' by holly black

“If I cannot be better than them, I will become so much worse.” –Jude Duarte, The Cruel Prince

The Cruel Prince is the first in the Folk of the Air series by Holly Black. The book is a young adult fantasy novel that follows Jude Duarte, a mortal girl who – along with her two sisters – was stolen from the mortal world and brought to the High Court of Faerie as a child. Jude gets caught in a web of royal faerie intrigue as she tries to win a place at the Court, dealing with palace intrigues, deceptions, her own morality, and her conflict with Cardan Greenbriar, a faerie prince who — like the rest of the faeries — hates mortals. 

Jude is a morally-gray badass with a hunger for power, and her journey is intense. The women of The Cruel Prince are diverse – sweet, gentle, cautious, quiet, selfish, and loud. All personalities are represented, and while they might not be considered morally “good” people, there’s no doubt that they’re all incredibly strong. The Cruel Prince has been described as a mix of high school drama, faerie lore, high fantasy, and fantastic imagery. Black is great at worldbuilding and, if you’re looking for a choice that makes you feel like you’re inside the book alongside the characters, this is the book for you. 

2. 'The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo' by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“I know the whole world prefers a woman who doesn’t know her power, but I’m sick of all that.” –Evelyn Hugo, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Loyalty, betrayal, and loss are all themes of  The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The book tells the story of fictional Old Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo, who, at age 79, gives one final interview detailing her life, from her rise to stardom to her exit from Hollywood — and, as the title suggests, the seven husbands she had along the way. The story switches back and forth between the present — with Evelyn speaking to journalist Monique Grant — and the past, from Evelyn’s POV. The novel covers sexuality, slut-shaming, femininity, and the struggles that accompany them. To put it simply; Evelyn Hugo is the ultimate queen.

3. 'Six of crows' by Leigh Bardugo

“I’ll die on my feet with a knife in my hand.” –Inej Ghafa, Six of Crows

Six of Crows is another young adult fantasy pick that’s part of the Grishaverse, AKA a fictional world that Six of Crows, Shadow and Bone (and their spinoffs), take place in. This book tells the story of a thieving crew called the Crows and is told from third-person POVs of seven different characters. They live in the bustling, crime-ridden city of Ketterdam — which is loosely inspired by Dutch Republic-era Amsterdam — and they’re led by a criminal prodigy who assembled the Crows in order to carry out a deadly heist. 

Since Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows take place in the same universe, Netflix’s adaptation of Shadow and Bone also features characters from Crows. Between the intelligent and resilient Inej Ghafa and flirty and headstrong Nina Zenik, audiences and readers will instantly fall in love with the women in the story. It has also been said that Six of Crows is setting a new standard for diversity and inclusivity in young adult fantasy – the cast of characters is diverse in race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, and psychology, and inclusive of people with disabilities. From spies and romance to mystery and crime, this book has it all. 

4. 'Salvage The Bones' by Jesmyn Ward

“I will tie the glass and stone with string, hang the shards above my bed, so that they will flash in the dark and tell the story of Katrina, the mother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered.” –Esch, Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones follows the plight of a family trying to keep it together in an impoverished area of Mississippi as they prepare for Hurricane Katrina and deal with its aftermath. The main character is Esch, an intelligent fourteen-year-old girl with an interest in Greek mythology who just found out she’s pregnant.

Her older brother, Skeetah, has a white pit bull, China, who’s one of the top fighting dogs in the area. Esch acts as a caretaker for her younger brother Junior. Their mother died giving birth to Junior, and Esch’s father struggles with alcoholism. Between Esch’s pregnancy, China’s puppies, the kids being left to fend for themselves, and Mother Nature introducing challenges of its own, motherhood and family are major themes in Salvage the Bones. The book is tragic, unapologetically brutal, and raw. Although not for the faint of heart, Salvage the Bones is a powerful read that features a strong female lead.

5. 'Circe' by Madeline Miller

“Witches are not so delicate.” –Circe, Circe

Circe is an adaptation of various Greek myths and is largely based on The Odyssey by Homer. In the book, Circe, a nymph and the daughter of the sun god Helios, tells her origin story and shares her encounters with various mythological figures (Hermes, the Minotaur, Jason, and Medea) as well as her romance with Odysseus and his son, Telemachus. 

Similar to how Circe was only a small part of Odysseus’s (the hero of The Odyssey) story, he is only a small part of Circe. And while the “male” version of the ancient story has been well-documented, the tale is not objectively true. After being exiled to the island Aiaia, Circe is liberated from gender restrictions and lives independently, allowed to have power and intimidate even the gods themselves. Circe by Madeline Miller shows the titular character in all her complexity as she develops as both a witch and a human being.

6. 'Crazy Rich Asians' by Kevin Kwan

“It was never my job to make you feel like a man. I can’t make you something you’re not.” –Astrid Leong, Crazy Rich Asians

Yes, this is the book that inspired the 2018 film of the same name! Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy book about Rachel Chu, a New Yorker who goes to visit the family of her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, in Singapore only to discover that he’s the country’s most eligible and affluent bachelor. This story features plenty of strong women, but one of my favorites is Astrid Leong, Nick’s cousin, and a wealthy socialite. She is the breadwinner of her family and feels the need to shield her husband from her power in order to prevent him from being insecure. When she discovers that he is cheating on her, Astrid finally unapologetically embraces her identity. The female characters in Crazy Rich Asians are complex, resilient, and human — the perfect strong leads to learn from during Women’s History Month and beyond. 

7. 'Girl, Serpent, Thorn' by Melissa Bashardoust

“To anyone who has ever felt poisonous or monstrous or bristling with thorns.” –Girl, Serpent, Thorn dedication by Melissa Bashardoust

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a Persian-inspired twist on mainstream fairytales. The story follows Soraya, a bisexual princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch, who has spent her entire life hidden away and separated from her family. Soon, Soraya discovers that power might lie within her curse. The heroes in Girl, Serpent, Thorn are flawed and some aspects of the villains are even relatable. (Yay for morally-gray — AKA human — characters)! If dark, feminist fairytales are your thing, pick up a copy of Girl, Serpent, Thorn ASAP. 

8. 'Throne of Glass' by Sarah J. Maas

“‘You could rattle the stars,’ she whispered. ‘You could do anything, if only you dared.’” –Elena Galathynius, Throne of Glass

Throne of Glass is a young adult high fantasy novel that details the journey of teenage assassin Celaena Sardothien, set in a corrupt kingdom with a tyrannical ruler. Celaena is summoned to the castle to participate in a competition — the prize being released from prison and dubbed the king’s “champion.” However, along the way, Celaena uncovers something evil in the castle as her competitors start dying one by one, leaving her to change her fight for freedom into a fight for survival. Much like The Cruel Prince, the world of Throne of Glass is extremely detailed and rich, with its own history and culture. Not only is there political intrigue and a gripping plotline, but there’s also romance and humor, all topped off with an incredibly strong main character Celaena.

9. 'An Ember In The Ashes' by Sabaa Tahir

“When the fear takes over, use the only thing more powerful, more indestructible, to fight it: your spirit. Your heart.” –Laia of Serra, An Ember In The Ashes

Told from two perspectives, An Ember In The Ashes is about Laia of Serra — who becomes a spy for rebels against the reigning empire in exchange for her brother’s life — and Elias Veturius, the top student at the military training academy where Laia is spying. Elias wants to be free of the tyranny he must enforce, and eventually, the two realize that their stories are intertwined and that they have the power to change the entire empire. Laia is a unique character in YA – she is neither 100% kickass, sword-swinging fighter nor 100% soft and sweet. Instead, she sees her own flaws, pushes herself to be stronger, and finds her confidence as she begins to see her own self-worth. She fights inner demons instead of physical ones.

If you’re looking for an extra dose of girl power this Women’s History Month, this is the reading list for you. Whether you’re interested in fiction inspired by real-life events a la Salvage the Bones or a dive into fairies and high fantasy like The Cruel Prince, there’s something for everyone. Honor Women’s History Month by diving into juicy books that celebrate passionate, complex, resilient women.

Hi! I'm an editorial intern at Her Campus and Senior Editor at HC Pace! I can recite Gilmore Girls lines from memory and you can find me wherever books, dogs, or concerts are.
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