Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Great female protagonists —

— written by guys. I got interested and looked through my library this morning, and here’s the top five list I came up with:

BJ in THE MAGIC AND THE HEALING by Nick O’Donohoe. Which is the first book of a trilogy by the way. I learned about the difference between writing a smart character and writing a character that everyone says is smart from this book. BJ is extremely perceptive and puts things together that I as the reader didn’t even notice, and that’s so different from the sort of book where everyone swoons over how smart and determined and spirited she is, when there’s no actual evidence of that at all from the story.

Candice Smith-Foster from EMERGENCE by David Palmer. This is a brilliant post-apocalyptic epistolary novel features a young girl and her faithful hyacinth macaw; it’s a shame Palmer only wrote a couple of books.

Nile Etland from THE DEMON BREED by James Schmitz. This is a very clever, very short novel published in 1968. Talk about showing a character be clever. I bet you didn’t know that Lois McMaster Bujold named her character Ekaterin Nile Vorkosigan after Schnitz’s character, but that’s what I’ve heard! I can believe it because Nile is pretty fabulous.

Cirocco Jones in the TITAN / WIZARD / DEMON trilogy by John Varley. There’s a complicated, flawed, realistic, kick-ass female protagonist from before the era when everyone started talking about the need for “strong female protagonists.” (TITAN was published in 1979.) This is a glorious, complicated SF epic — with centaurs and angels and stuff thrown in. I’ve read it at least half a dozen times. In fact, now that I’ve pulled TITAN off my shelves, I sort of want to re-read the whole trilogy again.

Tiffany Aching in that set of novels by Terry Pratchett — THE WEE FREE MEN, A HAT MADE OF SKY, WINTERSMITH, and I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT. I’ve listened to all but the last one, and they are fabulous, of course, as you’d expect.

Who would you pick for a list of female protagonists written by male authors?

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5 Comments Great female protagonists —

  1. David H.

    I really love Honor Harrington from her series by David Weber. Horatio Hornblower in space, yo.

    Straying from SF/F, how about Mma Ramotswe from Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series? She’s the first person I’d go to if I needed help in Botswana. :)

  2. Rachel

    You are so right about Honor Harrington. Don’t know how I forgot about her! And sure, let’s open it up to mysteries! I, too, am a fan of Mma Ramotswe, though I imagine it’s unlikely I’ll ever get into trouble in Botswana. Are there ANY other mysteries with woman protagonists, written by a guy? I can’t think of any.

  3. Elaine T

    Jehanne from LIONS OF Al-RASSAN. Because she’s written as a woman, not as a man in drag, and is a strong character.

    Schmitz wrote wonderful female characters. Almost all of them were good, strong characters and not men in drag.

    Seconded Tiffany, for sure.

    The Varley and Weber never did much for me. I read the O’Donohoe, but couldn’t tell you much from this distance., except I remember enjoying them.

  4. Cheryl L

    Mrs Klapper in Peter Beagle’s A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE. It’s always amazed me that a man aged 20 could write such a thoroughly believable middle-aged female character. When I read the novel in my early twenties, I found Mrs Klapper comical. Upon re-reading the book at 40, I found her tragical. Great writing!

    Garth Nix’s Sabriel from the novel of that name. A kick-ass female character before they became run-of-the-mill.

    Philip Reeve’s Hester Shaw from the Mortal Engines series and Fever Crumb from the related prequel series. Reeve actually writes better female characters than male ones. He has commented that even when he sets out to have a male protagonist, the female supporting characters tend to take over the story. Hester and Fever are completely different characters who just walk off the page.

  5. Rachel

    Hmm. I’ve never read anything by Reeve. Guess I need to look him up. “Fever” is quite a name!

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