Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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I hate feisty YA protagonists

I think the term “feisty” tends to be code for “stupidly impulsive.” Maybe your take on that is different, but that’s my impression. Therefore, when I see a post like this one at Book Riot, Five of the Best YA Fantasy Books with Feisty Princesses , I flinch a little.

I haven’t read any of the books they select, btw. The thing is, there are SO MANY YA books with feisty everything, it’s impossible to keep up.

Let me see, of those five …

Worst title: The Princess Will Save You

Wow, that is a terrible title. Why insert the reader into the title like that? How can that even work? It sounds like a choose-your-own-adventure book, not like a novel. How do you all feel about it? Thumbs up or thumbs down for this title?

The one here that looks most interesting to me is Decendant of the Crane. This one has a Chinese setting and a pretty good description …

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. … Hesina turns to Akira―a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

Still, the “feisty” part is probably a translation of this bit of the descritpion: “eager to shirk responsibility.” I hate that in a princess. I greatly prefer responsible princesses.

Let me see. Tamora Pierce has a lot of good YA protagonists, some of them princesses, who are determined and/or responsible rather than feisty. Not sure how many hit the intersection of princess + non-feisty, but probably some.

Sherwood Smith’s A Posse of Princesses offers a pretty wide selection of princesses, mostly difficult to describe as “feisty.” The actual protagonist might fit that term, I suppose.

Jessica Day George gives us some excellent princesses in her fairy tale retellings, like Princess at the Midnight Ball.

One of the best, especially after she matures, is Princess Cimorene from Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest stories, starting with Dealing with Dragons.

And, of course, I specifically wrote Kehera, way back when I wrote the first version of this story, as a response to irresponsible, feisty princesses who run off and desert their people. She stayed responsible, thoughtful, and (relatively) calm right through the revision as the original trilogy got sliced, diced, and turned into two standalone novels.

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10 Comments I hate feisty YA protagonists

  1. mona

    “The Princess Will Save You” sounds funny and very lighthearted. Reading the description, I have to wonder if it lives up to that impression.

    I read “Descendant of the Crane”. Rather than “eager to shirk”, Hesina doesn’t want to be queen in the first place. She’s stubborn, not feisty. I liked the setting a lot.

  2. Elaine T

    I also shy away from any character described as feisty’. Along with stupid and impulsive it connotes (to me, if no one else) incompetent. What they feistily try has no impact. But viewers or readers can say ‘strong’ because … defiant, I guess.

    I sampled Descendent of the Crane and didn’t finish the sample. Queen of the Tearling I didn’t even try since even local positive reviews (author is some variety of local to me) indicated everyone was incompetent.

    Kehera has some limitations, but she’s plausible, effective and grows.

    Was the other book that got split off from what turned into Winter Tuyo?

  3. SarahZ

    I liked Queen of the Tearling, but I definitely wouldn’t have described her as feisty (and she’s a queen, not a princess). But, the way they resolved the trilogy kinda ruined it for me (which I think is an interesting topic – series we liked almost to the end, when there was some sort of dealbreaker).

    Don’t remember The Wrath and the Dawn being particularly feisty either. Her main motivation is to avenge her best friend’s death.

    Not sure they know what the word means?

  4. Rachel

    Sarah, judging from everyone’s comments about these books, I’m guessing they just picked “feisty” as a random popular descriptor without really having much of an idea what it means.

    I’m glad to say that I’m having trouble thinking of too many series where I liked the story all the way through and then the ending fell apart. I can think of one. But surely there are more, only I never read them or I’m blocking the memory.

    Stubborn is fine. Lots of things are fine as long as they don’t intersect with “highly emotional and angsty” or “impulsive to the point of idiocy,” which are deal-breakers for me and both associated with the word “feisty” in my mind.

    Elaine, nope, the two books that diverged from that original trilogy are Winter of Ice and Iron and The White Road of the Moon.

  5. Kathryn McConaughy

    Another worrying word is “headstrong,” especially in the combination “headstrong and passionate.” Who thinks that describing their heroine as headstrong will make people want to read their historical romance? It’s usually code for “heroine has modern mores and thought patterns but lives in pseudo-historical world.”

  6. SarahZ

    In both cases I have of series that lost me in the very end, it was because they had a resolution that invalidated most of what happened in the rest of the series. Like, a oh, now none of that ever happened kind of twist.

  7. Elaine T

    I’ve given up on some series due to losing interest, but it’s rare to get to the end and then throw it at the wall. There was one manga, though….The ending was clearly set up from the beginning because of narrative beats, but due to world & character building elements, it actually doesn’t work at all. The characters would not accept what we’re supposed to believe they find enough. The author did put in stuff that seemed to indicate a different ending that would have worked better (IMO), but I guess couldn’t or didn’t see it, or didn’t want it, or… I don’t know what.

    As a character reader that was what I was watching most closely, so that’s how it falls down. There may be some readers out there who like it, I don’t usually look.

  8. Mary Catelli

    I picked up “The Princess Will Save You” and thus far it’s not caught me. Reading something else and considering DNF.

  9. Rachel

    Kathryn, you are so right. “Headstrong” is code for “Do not bother trying this story,” as far as I’m concerned. Evelyn, I think you have it nailed. Feisty does have the same condescending feel to it. Ugh. I do not want to read about a protagonist whom anybody would dare condescend to.

    In fact, the least satisfying tidbit in the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy (not important at all, but) was the way what’s-his-name, that jackass who kept condescending to Tremaine, NEVER got his nose rubbed in how utterly wrong he was about her (and about Nicholas, too). I longed for a moment when he would be forced to face reality. But his ego was so impenetrable he got through the whooooolllle story without ever having that happen.

    SarahZ, you’re reminding me of some book or other with a literal “and then she woke up and none of it had happened” ending. I may have blocked my memory of the novel, because that’s all I remember about it. What a terrible way to cheat the reader.

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