Everyone loves a good knight in shining armor story. It’s what great fairytales are made of, and many of our favorite stories have a damsel in distress and some rather attractive guy who’s going to save her, slay the dragon, and set things to right.
It’s great. Sure. Things don’t become classics without reason, and there are days when I really just want someone to sweep in on their white horse and save me (AKA clean my house and maybe cook a meal or two).
But sometimes it just feels like it misses the mark. We want the lady to be badass all on her own. We want her to pick up a sword and join the hero in battle as a full equal. We want some righteous feminine rage. We want to see her save herself—and maybe the hero, too, in the bargain.
Feeling that way? I’ve got you covered with some great book recs featuring badass ladies that should really hit the spot!
Alanna by Tamora Pierce
This quartet features a lady in literal (sometimes) shining armor. Alanna decides she’s not down with being shuttled off to a lady-appropriate future and she trades places with her brother to train to be a knight. She’s strong and fierce and the series is a total delight from beginning to end. She’s full equal to the other dude knights, and bests them often enough that she’s ultimately named the King’s Champion. My kind of woman! Bonus points in that the guy she eventually ends up with isn’t the golden boy—he’s the rogue. You know how I feel about rogues.
Dime Store Magic by Kelley Armstrong
This is one of the earlier titles in Armstrong’s Otherworld series, and the first time we see witches as the main characters. Is there anything more feminist and badass than witchy ladies? Our heroine, Paige, has taken on a young orphan witch as her charge…and there’s a lot of dangerous baggage that comes along with this new addition to the family. For all intents and purposes, she’s a single mom who’s doing the best she can. She’s outmanned and outgunned through most of the book and even though there’s a rather fetching hero who’s trying to help her out, ultimately she steps in and saves both herself and the young witch in her charge. Because she’s a badass like that!
Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean
This book is the final book in the Rule of Scoundrels series (highly recommend reading them in order), and the hero’s main goal is to save the heroine. He’s got this idea about the life she’s living and who is in control of her fate…and he’s 100% wrong. She is in control and has been from the beginning. Watching him try to save her, and her essentially tell him “I’ve got this. I’ve always got this.” is a delight of the highest order. It’s also a really, really wonderful payoff to the series as a whole.
Son of Shadows by Juliet Marillier
Son of Shadows is one of my favorites because it turns the woman in need of saving trope on its head. The honorable guy who just wants to save the heroine and marry her and put a baby in her? He is the villain of this story (and not so honorable, it turns out). While the men in her life are important both for how they support her—and how they try to clip her wings—this story is very much the heroine’s. From the moment she chooses her course, she commits fully and will not be swayed. The heroine is in charge of her own destiny and she owns the consequences of that, for better or worse. She saves the man she loves, saves his men, and just generally saves the day despite all the odds against her.
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
Last, but certainly not least, is this gem of a story. Minnow Bly is a girl who was raised in a cult. Through the story, as we take a journey through her memories growing up and what she was put through by the cult leader and her family, we also see her romance develop with a boy she met in the forest. If this was your traditional story, his wanting to run away with her would end in a happily ever after for both of them. In reality, it’s a whole lot more complicated. Minnow’s rage and her desire for more is what pushes the story forward—and pushes her into the possibility of a real future and freedom.