Watch out Bella Swan! This is the year for kickass women in paranormal fiction.
Okay, I guess we’ve been in this phase for a long time. But every once in awhile I pick up a book, get a quarter or halfway through it, and then throw it at the wall (I try not to do that with my kindle too often). It mostly happens with the more paranormal romance side of things rather than urban fantasy. I mean, what the heck? Can’t a woman, even if she’s falling in love, have a life of her own? Friends? Ambitions?
Can’t she be a burgeoning witch, or vampire, or talk to ghosts AND be falling in love? Can’t she have it all, too?
When I first started writing Home of the Dead, I thought it was paranormal fiction. It has witches; it has ghosts; it has psychics and lots more. But over time, I’ve come to find it’s more urban fantasy. While there’s a strong romance arc, the story is more about Grace’s self-discovery and the adventure at the middle of which she finds herself.
Many women were “fictional mentors” for Grace. They came before her, and influenced her formation. I’ve always been drawn toward strong female characters, the ones that make me stand up and say YES! And so I decided to make a list of my favorites.
My requirements for kickassery are as follows:
- She can have flaws (I hope she does), but she has to have strong character arc that brings her closer to either accepting or moving past those flaws;
- She has a strong personality;
- She has interests other than her love life.
That’s it. Simple, right? Here are the books that made it into my top ten, in no particular order:
10. Home of the Dead by SM Adams
I couldn’t help but include this in here. You can’t blame a girl, can you? I mean, I’ve been hanging out with all these kickass women, so it was about time I became one myself. And that means pimping my own book :-P.
After Grace Deacon’s family dies in a tragic accident, she inherits the family funeral home. But she soon finds that her inheritance includes much more than a house and a business.
Grace has hit a low point in her life by the time she returns to Hemlock Hollow, but she manages to pull herself together, and once she does she’s kickass as all get-out. Stubborn, smart — she’s devoted to her family and will do anything for them. She’s slow to trust, but once you gain her trust, she’ll defend you to the death. Literally.
9. Red by Kate Serine
Once upon a time a spell backfired, stranding all kinds of fairytale creatures in the real world. Tess Little — aka “Red” aka LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD — works as an enforcer for the Fairytale Management Agency. She’s totally kickass, bringing in tales that misbehave like a champ. But Someone out there is murdering tales left and right, and it’s not pretty. She pairs Nick Grimm (the Grimm Reaper) to find out who’s behind all of this.
Tess is smart, funny, and vulnerable all at the same time (what else could you want in a woman?) and I could not put this book down. The writing is clever (I want to be Kate Serine when I grow up) and there’s a good deal of suspense, romance, and drama. It’s not your usual vampires, and ghosts, and witches kind of paranormal, but it’s got werewolves and fantasy to spare.
8. Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost
Halfway to the Grave centers on the story of half-vampire Catherine (Cat) Crawfield, who’s systematically hunting down vampires to find her deadbeat vampire father. But she’s in for a surprise when master vampire Bones captures her.
It’s hard not to draw comparisons to Buffy (especially with Bones who seems a LOT like Spike), but this book is by no means a carbon copy. Cat has had some hard knocks in life, but over the course of the Night Huntress series, she starts to come into her own. This book is full of action and drama, with a hint of romance (and promise of more to come).
7. Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
Mercy, Mercy Mercy… If you’re a fan of werewolves, this one’s for you! There’s a werewolf clan clash going on in the Pacific Northwest and Mercy Thompson gets thrown into the middle of it.
The best part of this book is Mercy’s character (and that’s what we’re talking about today, right?). She’s a shapeshifter (called a skinwalker) and can shift into a coyote. But, more importantly, she’s just a real woman. She owns her own car repair shop, has tattoos and a degree in History, and even knows karate. She strong, but she knows her limits — she’s brave, but not stupid.
The book’s action-packed and exciting and Patricia Briggs is a gifted writer. I admire her!
6. Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Radin
Jaz Parks is a vampire hunter AND a CIA spy — how cool is that? Her partner (boss) is a three hundred year old vampire. They’re sent on a mission to take out a plastic surgeon with terrorist ties, but when they arrive, they find out he’s involved in something more sinister.
This is a fun, light, supernatural spy novel with an edge of darkness fitting for a vampire story. Jaz is strong, but vulnerable, and — there’s no doubt of this — she knows how to speak her mind. She’s got lots of flaws, but it’s almost impossible not to love her.
5. Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison
A witch story! My favorite.
This book follows Rachel Morgan, who works for Inlander Security (I.S.), which is basically paranormal law enforcement. It takes place in a world where a TOMATO virus has killed basically all of mankind. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But somehow Kim Harrison pulls it off.
Rachel is a tough, strong-willed woman with a kickass feisty and fun attitude to match. Love her.
4. Priceless by Shannon Mayer
Rylee Adamson has a special power, and she uses it to track missing children. She has a werewolf as a pet and a witch as a best friend, and she’s wanted by the FBI. She’s one of those heroines that’s tough on the outside, but very human. Even when she’s fighting multiple creatures, she somehow manages to keep her compassion.
The writing is clean and on-point. It has the perfect blend of humor, mystery, and a slow-burning forbidden-type romance. Recommended x 1000
3. First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones
When three attorneys turn up dead, Charley helps the PD find their killer. While she’s searching, she has to deal with ghosts, ghosts, and more ghosts. Charley Davidson is a part-time PI and a full-time Grim Reaper — she’s an investigator who sees the dead. And she’s spunky and sarcastic as just about any of the women on this list. Underneath it all, of course, she has a heart of gold.
If you’re looking for a lighter steamy (but not filthy) paranormal romance, this is the book for you! Charley is endearing, but off the wall, and she doesn’t care what other people think. And that, my friends, is what makes a character kickass.
2. Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
Kate Daniels is the kickassiest of all the kickass heroines here.
Kate is a mercenary in an alternate Atlanta, where magic and technology come in waves. When her guardian dies, she’s drawn in between two factions fighting for power. Kate’s got an attitude the size of China, and often gets in scrapes that leave her beat up. Oh man, is she tough, though. She puts on a front and pushes people away, but if you can get past that, she’s very loyal.
Brilliant protagonist, and a very well-developed paranormal fantasy world.
1. Skinwalker by Faith Hunter
Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind — a Cherokee “skinwalker” that can turn into any creature. She’s also a vampire hunter. This book follows her as she hunts down a rogue vampire who’s killing other vampires.
She most often turns into a mountain lion named Beast (if that doesn’t tell you that she’s kickass, I don’t know what does). On the surface, she’s self-assured. She carries a big gun along with other weapons, and rides a motorcycle. But, like many of the characters on this list, she has a vulnerable side as well to round her out.
0. Spider’s bite by Jennifer Estep
The outcry was huge when I first published this article — HOW COULD YOU LEAVE OFF GIN?! Well, I have no idea how I did that, or how I went so long without encountering this kick-ass woman. I fell in love with at first line — “My name is Gin, and I kill people.” And the love affair just continued from there. Gin is smart, sassy, and you don’t want to get on her bad side.
The thing about this book is that, unlike many of the others on this list, Gin doesn’t apologize for her badassery. She kills people. That’s her job. In this book, she’s sent on a mission south where she has to fight tooth and nail to save the ones she loves and herself. The plot is fast-paced and exciting. And I’m so glad I found her!
I’d love to hear what you think about these women. Did you think they were kickass? Did I miss any that you think I absolutely must read? Please share in the comments below!