The term ‘powerful woman’ in literature or pop culture usually paints a picture of a woman who can fight, keep up with the boys, and destroy her enemies. However, people tend to forget that power is more than just delivering a suckerpunch. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, the following is a list of books (in no particular order) which have different types of powerful female protagonists and are written by a diverse range of women.
1. Circe by Madeline Miller
This book followed the story of the Greek goddess, Circe from her birth to her final breath. The thing about Circe is that she is what we call a ‘mother figure.’ Usually, maternal figures aren’t seen as powerful. While Circe does possess the typical traits of a mother — caring, soft, nurturing, protective, loving — she also shows the side of motherhood that people tend to ignore: a fierceness to protect her kin and home. Circe is a lioness whose power is always underestimated because of her soft demeanour. What Circe shows is that there is nothing wrong with having a quiet personality because power comes in many different forms.
2. Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas
This Cinderella-inspired saga is now considered a modern young adult fantasy classic. The seven-part series follows the adventures of Celaena Sardothien, the greatest assassin in Adarlan. While Celaena falls into the typical “powerful because she is as strong, if not stronger than a man” archetype, she is so much more than that. Her love of typically girly things like dressing up, sweets, make-up, jewellery, dancing at balls and boys means she destroys the stereotype that only girls who act like men are strong. We love a girl who can do both.
3. Vengeful by V.E Schwab
Sometimes the powerful protagonist is a villain. In V.E Schwab’s book, Marcella Riggins gains the superpower to turn anyone she touches into ash after her husband tries to murder her in an apartment fire. When she reawakens with her newfound power, Marcella decides to eliminate all the men who ever did her any wrong without mercy. Marcella is the definition of a woman who is regularly looked down upon for her sex even though she is the smartest one in the room. Once she becomes powerful, she shows every man who dares question or hurt her into smouldering ash and they burn from the inside. Men are trash? More like men are ash.
4. The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden
This Russian folklore retelling follows the story of Vasilisa who, since childhood, has questioned the establishment set forth for women by the church. Her constant defiance catches the eyes of Frost—a blue-eyed winter demon— who aids her in finding her destiny to break free of the patriarchy. Vasilisa’s power resides in her ability to stand up against society’s expectations of women even if it means being outcast by society. You have to be mighty strong to stand up for what you believe in, and Vasilisa shows us how it’s done.
5. We Hunt the Flame by Harsh Faizal
Set against the backdrop of ancient Arabia, Zafira must pretend to be a man— the Hunter of Arz— to feed her family and small community. Zafira is well known in the kingdom of Arawiya as her male persona, even though she doesn’t want to be. She is willing to do what it takes to protect those she loves, even if it means living a double life and entering dangerous lands that could lead to her death. Zafira’s character is proof that powerful women are not limited to white women and that power resides in all of us, no matter our cultural background.
6. The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante
Emotional strength is usually overshadowed by physical strength but the former is often necessary for survival. Seventeen-year-old Marisol is forced to leave her home in El Salvador and cross the US border as “an illegal” with her younger sister after her brother is murdered, but the two are caught. To stay in the US and keep her sister safe she takes on an odd job where she is experimented on to become a Grief Keeper — taking the grief of another into her own body to save a life. While being emotional is usually seen as a weakness, Marisol’s emotional endurance is the one thing that keeps her family alive when she is seen as nothing but a parasite by white America.
7. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
In this Russia-set loose retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, we follow the story of three women with different traits that make them powerful, making Spinning Silver the ultimate female empowerment story. There is Miryem, a Jewish moneylender in a small village who assumes the typically male role of a banker after her dad’s failure to make people pay their debts and takes the interest of a powerful ice fae King whom she does not fear to stand up against. Then there’s Wanda who is forced to stand up against her abusive father in order to protect her brothers. When her brother accidentally murders her father, she takes the role of the head of the family and lifts her brothers from being poor peasants to a happy middle class family. Finally, there’s Irinushka, who was destined to marry the Tsar but uses her new power as the Tsarina to save the nation and expel the demon that lives inside her husband by using compassion.
8. The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu
History usually forgets that there were two Mozart prodigies. This story follows the often missed piano master Nannerl Mozart, the older sister of Wolfgang Mozart. Nannerl is continuously verbally abused by her father due to her sex, and is told she will only be kind enough to be a wife. However, this doesn’t stop her from finding her inner strength and a way to play the music she loves, creating a life beyond simply being a wife.
9. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Power is not limited by one’s age. This Black Lives Matter movement story follows Starr, a teenage girl who uses the power of her voice to demand change. At just sixteen, Starr starts a revolution in her community and the country, demanding justice against police brutality towards black people. This is the perfect novel to prove that you can be young and still have the power to initiate change.
10. Too Much Lip by Melissa Lugashenki
Standing up against family and opening old wounds is a form of power that not everyone possesses. Kerry Salter is a woman who doesn’t follow the rules and puts herself first as long as it keeps her away from emotional pain and prison. She doesn’t let her opinions become influenced by people who want to brand her a certain way — especially her family. Kerry uses the power of her voice and her resolute determination not to be swayed by others to help save the Bundjalung country’s beloved river from developers. If there was ever a story that was a testament of female power and strength, it’s this one.