Calling all book lovers! Are you looking for some new books to binge? Do you like fantastical stories with strong women leads? Read on, Geek Gals, we have some awesome suggestions for you. Check out these five books with female leads in the urban fantasy genre.
What is urban fantasy?
Most book lovers have a favorite genre, something that’s their go-to playlist when they want something they know will satisfy a particular craving. My favorite is urban fantasy, sometimes referred to as UF, which involves a generally kick-butt character who is solving a mystery and/or on a quest in a contemporary setting (i.e. “urban”) where magic and/or mythical beings exist (i.e. “fantasy”). It’s the contradictions and relationships between the modern and the magical that fascinate me. Would wizards use smartphones? Could unicorns live in Central Park? How would electricity and magic interact? What could elves do with software?
TIP: If you’re intrigued but not convinced, there is a way to test the waters without diving full in to a series. Urban fantasy is very open to promoting its authors, which means there are a lot of short story collections on the market today. This allows you to try out multiple authors, both newly emerging and bestselling, for the cost of one book.
Why are female leads important?
There have been many discussions about how important it is to have female representation in areas like superhero movies, and the same can be said for urban fantasy. In the early days, this genre was dominated by male characters (a holdover from traditional fantasy), and it was so exciting when we started to see female characters who were more than a love interest, sidekick, or one-dimensional villain. Now, women get to be center stage, and this empowers our generation and following ones to believe women can be just as strong and kick-ass as any man. If you see someone like you being a hero, then you can believe that YOU can be a hero, too.
How are they different than male leads?
You would think that the biggest difference between female leads and male leads might be strength or courage, but NO. In these regards, the characters are fairly similar, especially when magical powers can negate the whole “he has bigger muscles” argument. Instead, the biggest differences I’ve seen is that female leads take less for granted. For instance, when reading a book with a male lead, the character (and by turns the author) make assumptions about what the lead character can do and what other secondary characters will do in reaction. It leaves you wondering how they got from point A to point Q or rolling your eyes and thinking, “Well, that was awfully convenient.”
On the other hand with female leads, you’ll often find that they study the situation, they brainstorm with others, and they ask for help. In other words, they are much less likely to make assumptions that just luckily end up being correct.
NOTE: A strong exception to the above rule is Harry Dresden by Jim Butcher, who does study and plan and recruit others to help. If you identify more with masculine characters than feminine characters, give this one a try!
What are we still missing?
OMG, we are so desperate for more women of color (WOC) leads that I am begging you: if you are a writer and/or know writers, someone please write some urban fantasy starring WOC. I am constantly looking for something really good and genuinely diverse, but, as you may have guessed, minority women are almost always secondary characters. I do have a few Native American leads and one African American lead to recommend, which I’ve indicated below. That’s it, insert-sad-face. (Side note: if you’re willing to look into other fantasy sub-genres, Octavia Butler and N. K. Jemisin are highly regarded for their amazing African-American female leads!)
Top Female Leads
Jade Crow from The Twenty-Sided Sorceress by Annie Bellet
- Bio: Native American Sorceress
- Job: Game Shop Owner
- Summary: Not just a female lead, but a GAMER?! You read that right! With actual gaming references and pop culture quotes, too. Gamers everywhere can rejoice, especially when Jade talks about how gaming helped her learn practical application and strategy in magic, YASSS. Jade has more emotional issues to work through than others on this list, but she does have compassion for others and grows stronger and steadier as the books progress.
Eden Moore from Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest
- Bio: African American Medium
- Job: N/A
- Summary: Eden Moore is the sassy young woman that we all wish we were growing up (or maybe that’s just me). She is strong and determined, showing maturity beyond her years as she deals with ghosts, crazy family, and horrifyingly dark secrets from the past. For this list she is the youngest, but you don’t get that feeling when you ride along with her. Considering her ethnicity and that she is fighting for answers in the deep South makes you actively want to cheer her on even more and holler “GIRL POWER!” all the way to the end.
October Daye from Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
- Bio: Half Human / Half Fae
- Job: Knight
- Summary: Yep, October, who goes by Toby, is a female knight and expert swordsman, which immediately tells you something about the kind of person she is. Of all the leads on this list, she has had the roughest background with a lot of personal tragedies, which she later uses to her advantage. Toby also knows what it feels like to be an outcast and underdog, and that makes her very down-to-earth and relatable. She has to work twice as hard because, being only half fae, she can’t just fall back on magic for an answer to everything. Instead, she mixes in her human ingenuity, too, and you cheer her all the way to the finish.
Mercy Thompson from Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
- Bio: Native American Shapeshifter
- Job: Mechanic
- Summary: Mercy doesn’t need anyone, but still attracts friends and alliances from all different kinds of creatures. She is feisty and wily, and she knows how to use silence and stealth to her advantage when others want to charge guns blazing into a situation. Mercy also has a knack for reading people and figuring out what they want, and this helps her navigate some fairly murky political waters along the way. In this list, she is the epitome of a spunky female lead who doesn’t follow the rules, which I love.
Kate Daniels from Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
- Bio: Unknown
- Job: Mercenary
- Summary: You want bad-ass-who-can-kick-yours, you get Kate, mercenary for hire. She is a fighter skilled in multiple types of combat who will not hesitate to get involved in a fight, especially if it means defending someone weaker than herself or if it’s for the greater good. Another fascinating part of Kate is her mystery. She knows what she is (or at least has a good idea), and it’s up to the reader to slowly discover her backstory, her abilities, and her potential future. This series is my top recommendation, because there are surprises and twists in every book. BONUS: The post-apocalyptic world that the author creates is truly phenomenal and rich in detail. You will want to live in it.
There are a few other popular female leads worth mentioning, although they did not make my top list. Why? Well, it has a lot to do with character development. You know that friend you have that is pretty awesome but also self-destructive because they keep making the same bad choice over and over again? Yeah … That was how I felt about these women. I may have screamed in frustration at some of the later books. These are still worth trying, though, as the early books in the series’ are really fantastic.
- Rachel Morgan from Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison
- Kitty Norville from Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn
- Anita Blake from Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton
Now that you have some starting points for urban fantasy series with strong female leads, get thee to a bookseller or library pronto. The books are singing their siren song for you to join them.
Featured image credit: Emily Rudolph/Unsplash