Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

Often women are only considered powerful if they renounce femininity, essentially following a definition of power men have created. When power is only defined in that way, it limits our understanding of ourselves and our abilities. The fantasy genre explores these dynamics and the various ways women are and can be powerful. 

A woman can display and embrace masculinity without being offended by the femininity of others or the femininity she may possess; femininity isn’t something that reduces power. Harnessing dagger to the throat energy undoubtedly emanates power, but one doesn’t have to be physically able to have strength. Power can come from one’s mind, emotions, and even their relationships with others (familial, platonic etc). Relationships can enhance strength, but this doesn’t mean that their power is attributed to someone else –  namely a man. One’s power is their own. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some YA fantasy books with powerful women. 

Graceling by Kristin Cashore


Katsa is a primarily masculine character. In the Seven Kingdoms, some individuals are born with a skill or supernatural ability –a Grace. Katsa’s Grace was believed to be “killing,” so she has exceptional fighting skills and the ability to kill. 

For the longest time, her abilities were used to manipulate her into believing that all she was was a killer, but she learns to define her power in her own terms. Katsa understands that her power has the potential for so much more, and that she is the one who can control it; she isn’t someone’s tool for destruction. She has the potential to foster growth and survival. 

I love that Prince Po has more feminine abilities, and she regards them in awe. Katsa and Po balance each other, and he will gladly smile as she pummels him into the ground. 

This book is part of a series, but each book follows different characters within the same world, so it can be read as a standalone.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo


Leigh Bardugo is a mastermind when it comes to creating and developing her characters, and the women in Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows are no exception. 

I’m going to discuss Genya from the Shadow and Bone trilogy. We’re introduced to her as the royal tailor and Queen’s servant. It later becomes apparent all the horrible things she’s subjected to and forced to do by the King. Her strength is often underestimated, and those in power use their position to manipulate her because of this. 

Her resilience and mind are so incredible, and she doesn’t give others the satisfaction of claiming her ruination. 

Crier’s War by Nina Varela

Crier and Ayla

The Automae rule over humans. Lady Crier is an Automae and the daughter of the Sovereign. She was prepared to take over her fathers role until she was betrothed to Kinok and truths became illuminated. 

In this world, emotions are viewed as a weakness since it’s thought to be something associated with humans, and, therefore, inferior beings. Throughout this duology, Crier tries to understand who she is and what it means to potentially love someone.

Ayla, the human servant determined to kill Crier, discovers truths as well, and both Crier and Ayla begin to see their world in a new light. The ways their growth is exhibited in this series is awe inspiring. 

Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao


Reading about a morally gray woman is so refreshing because it is so often men who are displayed this way. This book emulated similar feelings I had while reading fantasy in middle school, and I loved it so much.

Ana is cunning and can use her own power against others. I love how she is more masculine in her actions and often acts before thinking, but Ramson balances her. He doesn’t change her or give her power directly, but they both learn from the other and are able to grow because of it. I love that both Ana and Ramson are morally gray in their own ways; it displays the complexity of living in a corrupt world, and how power isn’t so simple. 

Caraval by Stephanie Garber


I know a lot of people fond of this series favor Tella, but I want to highlight Scarlett. The first book in the series, Caraval, is the only one that centers Scarlett in the story – the others follow her younger sister, Tella. 

As an older sister myself, I admired the strength that came from being a guardian figure to those that you love. As the story progresses, her love for her sister remains strong, but her view of protection shifts. Initially, she believes following the rules is the best way to ensure protection – which makes sense because of all they’ve had to endure as children – but she learns that she can explore her own individual power and test the lengths of it without limiting herself. 

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller


Alosa’s pirate crew consists of women, and her loyalty to them is incredible. She effortlessly shifts into the role that would suit her and her people best. 

In this first book, she gets captured by an enemy ship, allowing them to believe they’re the ones who’ve succeeded in their mission. She is capable of fighting for herself, but during this time she must use her mind to get what she wants – lest they figure out her plan. 

Her understanding of the world and the people she used to trust shifts, and she is driven by the desire to harness her full potential to fight for everyone she loves. As readers, we get to experience her growth from this book to the next, and it’s wonderful. 

There are many other strong and intelligent women in fiction, and I’ve only named some within the fantasy genre. There are fictional women that I have read about and not named, as well as women who I’ve yet to read about, and I intend to write about them in the future.

Bella is a fourth year student at Michigan State majoring in Apparel and Textiles with a cognate in English. She is the Social Media Director for Her Campus at MSU, celebrating and uplifting members through various platforms. Bella is also the Secretary for the Creative Writing Club at MSU. She is a lover of art, poetry, literature, film, music, and nature. As a writer and artist, understanding and analyzing art as a reflection of society and a mode for social change is something that fascinates them.