Last week we brought you some of our favorite fantasy heroines. Now it’s time to go a little bit darker with the anti-heroine. For those who don’t know, they’re a main character lacking in traditionally heroic qualities like idealism or a typical moral compass. They may have noble or altruistic goals but tend to use unconventional or even unsavory means to achieve them. This creates an intriguing character to follow, and even root, for despite their immoral tendencies. Here are some of my favorite literary anti-heroines from recent years!

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Essun

None of the characters in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy are entirely good. No matter their motivations, most are willing to do terrible things to achieve their goals, and Essun is no exception. She’s lived through unspeakable horror and only cares about one thing: finding her missing daughter. At the very start of The Fifth Season, she kills an entire village, freezing them solid and destroying their only water supply when they try to stop her from leaving. Still, it’s easy to empathize with her losses and determination, and I rooted for her on every step of her journey.

Monza Murcatto

“That was the difference between a hero and a villain, a soldier and a murderer, a victory and a crime. Which side of a river you called home.”

Prior to the events of Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold, Monza Murcatto brought victories and gold to her employer, the Grand Duke Orso of Talins. As the Thousand Swords mercenaries leader, she grows wealthy and popular: too popular for Orso, who has her and her brother betrayed and thrown down a mountain. Unfortunately for him, Monzo survives, taking her brother’s death personally and setting off for revenge against the seven men responsible.

Monza is almost completely dislikable for any reader with morals. She spends the majority of the book on a killing spree: like Essun, however, it isn’t hard to understand her motivations. She’s relentless to a fault, fiercely loyal and wickedly funny.

Nimona

The titular Nimona, created by Noelle Stevenson of She-Ra fame, is a monstrous girl with the ability to shapeshift. She becomes the sidekick of notorious villain Lord Ballister Blackheart (he wasn’t looking for one) by breaking into his lair and declaring it so. Nimona throws herself into the job with enthusiasm and quick thinking innovation; still, she’s incredibly destructive and tends to avoid dwelling on the consequences of her actions. Nimona is chaotic, fierce and endearing, and her shapeshifting antics are a delight.

Miryem Mandelstam

“Let him think he had me, and could have my heart for the lifting of his finger. Let him think I would betray my people and my home just to be a queen beside him. He could hold my hand the rest of the way if he wanted to, as a fair return for the gift he’d given me, the one thing I’d wanted from him after all: I’d lost even the slightest qualm about killing him.”

Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver has three incredibly unique female protagonists that each deserve individual attention. I’m focusing here on Miryem, the daughter of a Jewish moneylender and a character whose behavior stands out among the other anti-heroines on this list. Her family lives in poverty because of her father’s kind heart, so she takes over the trade, quickly turning a profit and channeling her anger and hurt at the townspeople’s mistreatment of her family into a lucrative business. Her rise to wealth and ability to “turn silver to gold” draws the eye of a vicious fairy king; he sets her an impossible task and will kill her if she fails. Miryem is ambitious, clever and resourceful, and she doesn’t let anything get in her way.

So, what do you think of the darker side of female protagonists? Let us know who your favorite anti-heroine is and why!

This article was originally published on 3/17/21

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