This year, I was drawn to, over and over, without my realizing—fantasy, fantasy, and more fantasy—with strong heroines that ended up fighting for those they love (either physically, as warriors, or fierce nonviolent movers of fate. And yes, this includes rereads that I reread this year from my absolute-favorite library (so some books weren’t actually published in 2019)).
There were some men that made it into this list, but it was definitely girl power that leaves the most clear impression in my mind as I think of what I read this year.
Each book below is the first book (or only, if in a stand-alone) in which these characters appear.
Jael Furyk (Winter’s Fury, Furyk Saga) by A.E. Rayne A Viking princess-turned queen that is forced to marry a prince from an adjacent island, who happens to be entrapped in alcoholism and depression. I liked Jael from page one: first, she’s wise—she sees past vanity and people’s outward actions. She’s also hilarious without actually trying to be; as a stern person, she often makes those around her laugh with the no-nonsense approach she has for life. Eadmund (her husband) quickly falls in love with her fire, her love for her people, and her desire to challenge him in just the way he needs to be challenged. That love puts him on the series-long path to regain his former warrior self.
Aldrik Solaris (Air Awakens) by Elise Kova The crown prince of the vast Solaris Empire who can manipulate fire (i.e. Firebearer). While he is quite the angsty-brooding type, we learn he carries with him a fair amount of childhood trauma he hasn’t dealt with yet. (It’s not an excuse for him, but it does explain why he is the way he is). I like him as a character because the author doesn’t settle for the redemption=death trope, so I actually got to see the hard work that Aldrik needs put in to become better for himself—and for those he loves.
And later, in Vortex Chronicles, we see his daughter, Vi. She takes after him in many ways, and it’s delightful to see some of those traits show up in her!
Bayr (The First Girl-Child) by Amy Harmon He’s the son of the woman who cursed his clan—and because of that curse, he shoulders a unique burden of inhuman strength, but also a stutter. People treat him poorly for it, but it he doesn’t let it get in the way of living his life. He’s so lovable and innocent even to adulthood. I just loved him. And wished we got more of his story in a series.
Shahrzad (Wrath and the Dawn) by Renée Ahdieh She is bold, quick-witted, and a force to be reckoned with. I loved getting to see how her perceptions changed as she learned more about Khalid; she stays dangerous, but we see her humanity in her battles with herself and with what she used to know.
Paradise (The Bride Collector) by Ted Dekker One of the most relatable characters I’ve ever read. She’s complex, kind-hearted, intelligent, and we get to see the inside of her mind as she battles mental illness in the midst of awful circumstances. I honestly wanted the whole book to be about just her and her story.
Aren (Bound, Bound Trilogy) by Kate Sparkes The youngest prince of a brutal monarchy who is tired of living under the bondage of his cruel older brother, Severn. He has done terrible things with his magical abilities, and Severn has done everything in his power to make him forget that he actually has a soul somewhere past all the cruelty. In a rash change of heart, Aren quickly rescues the girl he actually kidnapped for his brother, Rowan, and tries to get her to safety. Rowan is kind and compassionate, and Aren is softened and challenged by those qualities. Characters who have this torn sense of good and evil, like Aren—ones that we can’t quite predict what they’ll do—I have such a special spot in my heart for them.
Vasya (Bear and the Nightingale, Winternight Trilogy) Ah, I could never leave Vasilisa Petrovna out of a list like this! Quite arguably my favorite female protagonist of all time at the moment.
Vasilisa is a girl-turned-woman (we see her grow up throughout the trilogy) that doesn’t fit into the world she’s born into: medieval Rus. She sees things other people don’t see—magical creatures connected to the world around her. Her family and everyone around her tells her that she needs to be a ‘proper’ woman: get married, have babies, be quiet, don’t speak, don’t look men in the eye, look down. (I’m not attacking women who want to be wives and moms, it’s a beautiful path to take—if it’s their choice to make.) But she looks straight ahead, in people’s eyes. Calls out foolishness. Rides a horse. Wanders the woods. Laughs unashamedly. Observes the men in her world—and sees the same chilling trait of ‘use-and-abuse’ in most of them; and because all of these things, she is met with baffling cruelty from the world. But it doesn’t stop her. Through trial and pain, she retains her tenderness and compassion and gains strength—both internal and external.
So, there you have it. There were more, of course, but I figured that the ones I could recall without having to go back and read multiple synopses were the ones that really stayed in my mind. Check these books out—and don’t judge them by their covers. Sometimes it really doesn’t convey how good a book is!