I like my fantasy not so much swords and sorcery and a tad more modern, but I do like magic and mystery, monsters and mirth. For me, fantasy is not some wish fulfilment or quest to obtain the all-problem solving doodad or girl’s (or boy’s) heart. Which is odd, as I grew up with the Hobbit and Greek myths. Maybe it was my love for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory… The magical in the mundane, the unreal in the real. Fantasy is an exploration of those things outside of science and reason (although not always, clearly). Fantasy doesn’t always need magic but it definitely needs spirit and soul. It needs something that can’t easily be explained by rationality and evidence.
Books explain personalities that I don’t readily have access to. Books are my windows on how other people think. However, I’ve been alone in London, as Kalis is. I’ve been lost in a good book – see Thursday next. Of course I haven’t been trapped a mansion with a vampire or battling my ex-friend the mad scientist as the end-of-the-world approaches, but these are all women I’ve learned something from.
As I am who I am, I find myself drawn to these characters, written mostly by men, which probably says something, although I’m not sure what.
So, not in any particular order here are my top 10 female characters in modern fantasy fiction (I’ve taken modern to be any time since I’ve been alive).
Bellis Coldwine from The Scar (2002, China Miéville)
Defining quality: Fortitude, plus she’s a librarian (albeit reluctantly, and she destroys a book…hang on…)
Kalix MacRinnalch from Lonely Werewolf Girl and sequels (2007, 2010, 2013, Martin Millar)
Defining quality: Independence (and reluctant tolerance) but oh so much more. I love Kalix!
Lyra Belacqua from His Dark Materials (1995–2000, Philip Pullman)
Defining quality: Moral compass (and curiosity and loyalty and…and…everything)
Tara Martin from Some Kind of Fairy Tale (2012, Graham Joyce)
Defining quality: Faith in the magical.
Thursday Next from The Eyre Affair and sequels (2001-2012, Jasper Fforde)
Defining quality: Love (of books, of her family, etc)
Ariel Manto from The End of Mr. Y (2006, Scarlett Thomas)
Defining quality: Scholarly fascination.
Sunshine from Sunshine (2003, Robin McKinley)
Defining quality: Bravery (and loyalty and magic…)I love Sunshine as much as Kalix.
Zinzi December from Zoo City (2010, Lauren Beukes)
Defining quality: Determination
Nao from A Tale for the Time Being (2013, Ruth Ozeki)
Defining quality: Beautiful solitude.
Patricia Delfine from All the Birds in the Sky (2016, Charlie Jane Anders)
Defining quality: Empathy with the natural.
All these women bring something to my table. Who else should I seek out?