Books | 01.25.2024

12 Fantasy Books with Protagonists Like You

Woman reading a book.

By Franki Hanke

In the effort to depict strong female characters, some authors create perfect young women imbued with too much power instead of dimensional, realistic women. Instead, these fantasy books with female leads look for older women with depth, including flaws and challenges, so they feel believable and even familiar.

Some characters do not have explicit ages, so this list does its best to lean towards characters who appear to be middle-aged or older and do not fit into the young adult YA fantasy genre. No shame, if you enjoy popular YA, picks like Graceling by Kristin Cashore , Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, or Circle of Magic by Tamora Pierce–even Hunger Games! Any age can be a badass, but this list is to help you find a new book with an older protagonist. 

Fantasy Books with Female Protagonists

Staying truest to the fantasy genre, these books rely on world-building to bring you into an alternative reality. 

A classic fantasy novel featuring a female lead: Paladin of Souls.

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold


Following the first book The Curse of Chalion, this sequel follows a new character in the same world switching from Jean Valjean-esque Chalion to mother Ista. 

“If you’re looking for YA romance, don’t even think about picking this up! But if you’re looking for something special to set you thinking about love and life, or spirit and purpose while making you laugh out loud and brightening your day, this is the perfect choice,” one reviewer wrote. 

Buy now on Amazon | Target

A high fantasy novel featuring two main characters; one is a woman hiding as a man.

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler


Set amidst a fantastical war, The Thousand Names teases at being a retelling of Disney-classic Mulan with one of our protagonists, Winter, being a woman masquerading as a man, but the story is much broader, deeper, and more complex than that would suggest. 

As much as I love women being portrayed strongly (as well they should be) I also want to see a realistic character who, not only is tough but is also HUMAN, who has vulnerabilities and can also fall & get back up like the rest of us. I have to say, as female POV characters go, she was one of the best ones I’ve read about in a good while.” 

Buy now on Amazon | Walmart

An urban mystery book featuring a female spy trying to solve a murder.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett


The start of the Divine Cities trilogy, City of Stairs exists in a city previously wielding divine power until the gods were killed. Shara Thivani, posing as a junior diplomat, is an accomplished spy sent to solve a murder, but more must been unwound than just one crime. 

“The story itself is a slow burn, full of compelling politics and thought-provoking religious discussion…City of Stairs is one of the best starts to a trilogy I’ve ever read, and it was truly worth the climb.” 

Buy now on Amazon

A novel centering a black woman on a mystery to resurrect a fallen god.

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone


Similar to City of Stairs, Three Parts Dead is a must-read if you crave more of the urban fantasy setting with an undercurrent of murder mystery to follow. Tara has been hired for a dead god to solve a murder and resurrect a god before all the repercussions of his death come to pass. 

“It isn’t often that I find a book that hits that fantasy sweet spot. An interesting lead character who rises above gender stereotypes, world-building inventiveness, a storytelling style that keeps me engaged, a clever little mystery, a willingness to poke at authority, and did I mention inventiveness? Three Parts Dead has a few bumps, certainly. But it was one of the better fantasies I’ve read this year.”

Buy now on Amazon

Spirit Caller by Krista Ball


Unique among the best fantasy, Spirit Caller is set on our Earth in Northern Newfoundland. Rachel Mills recently moved to quiet her connection to the spirit world, but even with the meager population of 20, it only takes one accidental summoning to stir up a paranormal conflict.

“Rachel is the protagonist I’ve related to most in recent memory. There are so many things coming out of her mouth that could’ve come out of mine.”

Spirit Caller is the first novella in a three-book series. They can be purchased in a set. 

Buy now on Amazon

Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang


Misaki left behind her old life when she married into the Matsuda household, including her sword, but as her son begins to ask questions and invasion looms from across the sea, she finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface.

“Misaki, in particular, is an exquisitely refreshing protagonist, and the character that followed me off the page the furthest.”

Buy now on Amazon

Science Fiction (Sci-Fi) Novels

Melding elements of space exploration or technological advancement into a fantasy plot, these science fiction books have hallmarks of both genres. 

Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold


Differing from her fantasy series, Shards of Honouris Bujold’s take on a galactic setting with Cordelia, a Research Captain exploring an unknown planet when it goes awry. 

This is some of the best characterization that I’ve ever seen. These characters are so rich, they are like a souffle, just layers and layers of details all piled together to make a whole person. It is amazing that anyone can be this detailed with their characters and make them feel so human.” 

Buy now on Amazon

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kj Johnson


If you’re a fan of H.P Lovecraft, Johnson’s novella is a must-read retelling, but it will still entertain the uninitiated. The book’s landscapes feel familiarly Lovecraftian as Professor Vellitt Boe is tasked with a rescue mission into a dreamscape. 

“Vellitt is smart, resourceful, self-deprecating, and extremely relatable. When I was reading about her travels, I felt I’ve been through the same experiences.” 

Buy now on Amazon

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin


Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun arrives home to find her husband has murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter, and beyond their home, the entire system their civilization relies upon collapses. Now, she sets out to find her daughter in a dying land. 

“I can’t say much about the plot without giving away some of the wonderful surprises, but if you want to read about a truly dystopian world that holds a mirror to the darkest of human motivations, this novel will haunt you long after you finish it.” 

Buy now on Amazon

Author N. K. Jemisin has reviewed City of Stairs for the New York Times if you enjoy their writing, you may also enjoy their book reviews

Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon


Ofelia is tired of being told what to do, so when her colony is set for relocation, she hides out to stay behind. Finally, she’s free to do what she wants until she dies and she realizes she’s not as alone as she thought. 

“Ofelia is a three-dimensional character: strong and kind, unsentimental and maternal, resourceful and forgetful, sharp-tongued and grouchy and impatient, generous and open-hearted and patient.”

Buy now on Amazon 

Add Some Romance, Please? 

While not to the degree of the ever-popular Sarah J. Maas, author of Throne of Glass, Court of Thorns and Roses, and Kingdom of Ash, these books have a sub-plot of romance. 

The Silent Tower by Barbara Hambly


Melding the line between fantasy and sci-fi, the Windrose duology (turned trilogy) even sprinkles in some romance for a tri-genre read. Our protagonist is a computer programmer who is sucked into the conflict of Ferryth when she’s kidnapped. 

“The characters are just fabulous, especially Antryg Windrose, who still stands out in my mind as one of the most fully realized and three-dimensional romantic heroes ever written.”

PSST! This book ends in a cliffhanger leading to the follow-up The Silicon Mage, so do yourself a favor and buy both to start with! 

Buy now on Amazon | Walmart

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher


Halla is a housekeeper until her employer dies, leaving her his estate, to his other remaining family’s chagrin. They imprison Halla to force a marriage, but she resolves she’d rather kill herself than be married against her will. But, when she takes an old, mounted sword down to do it, she meets Sarkis, the sword’s magic warrior. 

“This is an author who seems to love taking characters who fade into the background in another author’s hands, and bringing them forward, giving them a chance at adventure and happy endings.” 

Buy now on Amazon | Target

If you’re after more romance, get eight more recommendations in our previous article.

If this list of fantasy books with female leads is missing YOUR favorite books with strong female protagonists aren’t on this list, please comment below! I’d love to have more strong female leads you love. 

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