5 Book Heroines that are Awesome Sauce
This little blog o’ mine makes one thing very clear; I love a fabulous story with a fabulous female protagonist.
In my world there are 4 ingredients that make up an awesome sauce type of female character. They are:
1. Human-ness. They are allowed to be human and to be human is to be flawed. Sometimes these female characters are not always likeable. They are emotional, selfish, fierce, aggressive; whatever the trait, they are so much more interesting because of these things.
2. Their importance to the story. Without them, the story couldn’t exist. There are some female characters in stories that act simply as a placeholder for the attention and energy of a male protagonist and so they aren’t necessarily crucial to the actual soul of the story.
3. Intelligence. They can think brilliant and difficult thoughts, they can determine their own fate independently and make hard decisions. They see the world with open minds. They have awesome dialogue and are not made up of shitty, one dimensional stereo-types (which pisses me off to no end when these type of female characters exist).
4. Passionate. I don’t mean this in the sexual desire way (which unfortunately to often female characters are regulated to). I mean this in that the character has beliefs, values, unwavering commitment and passion for what she perceives to be right, not just for her but those around her, no matter if her belief is rooted in “good” or “evil”.
So, with keeping these 4 elements in mind I introduce you to a list of my all time top 5 female protagonists that have all 4 in spades.
Kaiku is a character from The Braided Path, an epic, heart-stopping book about social classes, politics, ethics and magic; and damn it’s a fine book. Kaiku is one of the main protagonists, a young woman who discovers unknown powers within and takes on a whole social structure of men that are determined to keep control and power over a system of have’s and have not’s. She has all four ingredients especially the human-ness quotient. She is quite unlikable when you first meet her; petulant, whiny, childish. But as the story grows, so too does Kaiku. She evolves before our eyes from a spoiled, helpless girl to a powerful, determined young woman. And yet, she maintains a level of that petulance as she evolves, it is just more refined, shaped and formed by the horrible things she has been witness to. This story can’t exist without Kaiku – she plays an extremely important part in the overcoming of evil, aided along the way by a very unusual and quiet man. And this is really where I appreciate the author, throughout the book Kaiku has had a couple of opportunities to “fall in love” and yet she refrains herself from such a path; she has a job to do and she will get it done. There is love, of course there is, however it is not the focal point of the story. This love is a result of a trusting partnership that developed through an intense and difficult journey she takes in the story and is not based on physical attraction or an aching, possessive need.
The Boudica I am speaking about in particular is from the author Manda Scott and her Boudica trilogy. Boudica was a Celtic queen in 60 AD who led her people in battle against the Romans. You can find many historical books and documentaries on her. The fact that she was a real, living woman makes her even more awesome but I really want to highlight Scott’s telling of her. We follow Boudica from childhood (where she makes her first kill and becomes warrior) to motherhood and it is a life filled with pain, blood, violence and tragedy, and yet, there is hope, love and friendship along the way. Boudica is a complicated woman, because she is queen she must lead as a queen would, but she is also a woman, a lover, a mother and a friend – it is this colourful mix of being that really allows you to see Boudica as the flawed, honest, tortured woman that she is. With so much resting on her shoulders (basically the survival of her people) Boudica must make sacrificial type decisions and it is in these moments where you see how alone and solitary a figure she really is. She takes lovers, she fights in bloody and raw battles and she is confrontational without being aggressive. She is a complex character living in unforgiving times which makes her such an interesting female character to read.
Zuleika is a fierce warrior in the story The Steel Seraglio and for me, she was a most unexpected surprise. Unexpected in that you are not aware of her level of cunning, power and athleticism until halfway through the book. She is a mysterious character, one of many women in a harem that is exiled to the desert once their master is assassinated. When you are introduced to Zuleika she is cold, silent and menacing even. You wonder if there is love in her heart as she makes hard and cutthroat decisions. You are given glimpses into her past and see why she is the way she is and you end up agreeing with her decisions. She is like a caged panther in the beginning part of the story, waiting for the moment where she can burst free. When the story culminates in one of the most breathtaking and heart-pounding battles I’ve ever read in a book Zuleika is pure, raw power set free. She leads the group of women to fight and take back the city they were exiled from and through this battle she is a General, soldier and assassin. To me Zuleika represents the primal nature within all women, the warrior-goddess we all are down deep inside. When the story went away from her and focused on others, all I could think about was Zuleika and when I would read her story again. There is a very human side to her as well and this comes in the form of (much like Kaiku) an unexpected source of love – one that I was not expecting but that was tender and tragic. You can feel Zuleika’s struggle to resist what she perceives to be a weak emotion and a distraction but in the end, through all the death, violence and victory she is born anew.
Okay, so you notice a theme yet? Dian is the main character in Califia’s Daughters, a post-apocalyptic story where the population of males have dwindled down due to a virus and so it is the women who now lead and build this new society. What I really liked about Dian was her quiet nature. She is an observer and the author does an excellent job of portraying this quality in Dian. Dian watches and assesses, she is not highly emotional and relies heavily on her intelligence and intuition. She is dedicated to her community, to keeping them all safe and watches over her people and the land on which they live. One fateful day takes her away from the people she knows and loves and sets her on a perilous, emotional journey. She is confronted with hard decisions and the grim reality of life in this new world. She is flawed no doubt, one might think that her commitment to the people she loves blinds her to the needs of others and often some of her decisions are seen as selfish. But with Dian you always get the sense that her decisions affect the greater picture, and they do. What I really enjoyed about this story is that Dian experiences love in three ways, through her dog Tomas, who aids her on her journey (which will devastate you at moments), through the man she has come to slowly love over time and through another man, Robin, a man whom she owes her life to. Robin is abducted and taken away and at a moment where Dian can choose to go home and be with her friends and community (and the man she does love) she can’t turn her back on Robin. What I appreciate here is that this choice is not based on desire for Robin, it is based on the fact that she can only do what she perceives as the right thing to do. Robin saved her life, she owes it to him in return – love and desire do not even enter the picture in this scenario and it is very refreshing.
And now for my number 1 pick:
I’ve chosen the character of King Arthur’s mother as re-imagined by A.A Attanasio as my number one. You want to talk about complex and contradicting natures? Ygrane in The Dragon and the Unicorn is a myriad of flaws, pain, desire, power, compassion, selfishness and selflessness. Women represent many things: nature, power, abundance, mysticism, sex and insight. It is all these words that could describe Ygrane from her journey as child queen to powerful witch queen with many enemies, even her own daughter. Ygrane’s choices throughout are complex, filled with a back story that Ygrane has lived hundreds of lives and her soul is filled with her previous incarnations as queen. It is in this lifetime, that of which the book takes place, that she seeks peace, not only for her people, but for her soul and her heart. She is queen caught between two worlds – the human world and the world behind the veil, the supernatural. Christianity wishes to destroy this world and she strives to protect it. As a child she is arrogant and stubborn, she believes she can change the tide of destruction by offering herself to a god but she is spurned. This spurning pushes her to accept a marriage to a human king who is cruel and violent towards her for she is without hope. In her desire to experience love at least in one of her many lifetimes, she sees a path before her that she desperately wants to find and yet it is this very path that allows the death of the cruel man she is currently married to. Throughout the story Ygrane makes choices that are at times frustrating and contradictory to her duty as queen but what she makes very clear, is that first and foremost, she is a woman and the heart and soul of a woman is in itself the biggest mystery of all – unexplored and unconquered. She is a mother who desperately seeks to save her child and in doing so sacrifices the very thing that could save her people. She is a woman in love who is helpless in preventing the death of her one love despite the power she has and, despite the numerous lives she has lived, underneath it all she is still that child who yearns to be free. Yrgrane is sensual without being sexual, she is intelligent, fierce, weak, doubtful, commanding and spirited. It is this character alone that compels me to re-read the story every year for she always has something new to teach me.
So there you have it, my top 5 kick-ass, awesome-saucy female protagonists. What are yours?
Posted on August 18, 2013, in For the Love of Books, Geeking Out and tagged awesome sauce, books, boudica, Califia's Daughters, female protagonists, kick ass women, the braided path, The Dragon and the Unicorn, the steel seraglio. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.