The popularity of The Hunger Games led to a wave of new dystopian books which put teenage girls at the forefront of rebellions, political strife and deadly combat. We may have no desire to fight to the death in the Arena or get locked in a giant maze, but if our world does turn into a dystopian nightmare, we definitely want Katniss, Tris and their counterparts to stand up for us and kick some butt.
But the role of heroines in dystopian and post-apocalyptic literature isn’t just confined to the last ten years, and not all heroines have to be knife-wielding, battle-hardened fighters. Words can be more powerful than arrows, and even silent protest is a rebellion of sorts.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, I’ve quizzed some of my readers and come up with eight of our favorite dystopian heroines. Many you’ll be familiar with but perhaps you’ll find a few new faces – and books – in the line-up.
If you love reading about strong women (and who doesn’t?), then you’ll want to pick up a copy of Cursed Lands. We’ve got plenty of plucky women to rival the heroines below in our 22-book collection, including my own beloved Vesper, star of The Shadow Games, my contribution to the box set.
Even better, you don’t have to wait until Cursed Lands launches to find your new favorite dystopian or fantasy heroine. Pre-order Cursed Lands today and you can claim a free limited-time gift of 15 dystopian, urban fantasy and paranormal romance e-books! This includes an exclusive copy of my dystopian fairytale retelling, Plain Jane.
Now on to our winning ladies…
8. Ellie (Tomorrow, When the War Began)
The Tomorrow series is told through Ellie’s eyes. She’s pretty stubborn and headstrong but as the story develops, she becomes more supportive and takes a natural leadership role in the group of teenagers fighting for their lives.
We love Ellie’s strength, bravery and the responsibility she takes on herself for the safety of her friends. If we had the misfortune to end up in a post-apocalyptic world, we’d want Ellie by our side.
7. Julia (1984)
Although she’s not the protagonist of this famous novel, Julia is arguably the force for change that drives Winston’s actions and changes in viewpoint. She is willful and cunning and, in many ways, more of a rebel than her lover. 1984 is a far cry from more modern dystopian novels – in this story, rebellion is represented not by guns or knives but by love.
Whereas Winston dreams big, Julia’s rebellions are on a smaller scale and perhaps less well-intentioned. But she gives Winston hope and validity and, in doing so, she is both his inspiration and his downfall.
6.Roxy (The Power)
The Power is a novel about what happens when women take control of the world and, as a warning, it’s not always easy reading. Roxy is one of the story’s four protagonists and is as hard-as-nails as they come. The daughter of a British mob tyrant, when she’s not peddling drugs, she’s figuring out how to get one over on her brothers.
Roxy’s strength is not just in her kick-ass attitude, it’s in her resilience when things go wrong. To avoid any spoilers, we’ll leave it at that…
5. Eden/Lily (E)
E, the first book in The E Series, opens with our heroine being dumped on the city floor. Stripped of all her memories, including her own name, she has to forge a new identity and life in the brutal world of Outpost Three. Fortunately, Eden is a born survivor and her wits and instinct keep her alive.
This is a dark and gritty series, but Eden and her fellow characters provide the light and hope we crave in a great dystopian novel. Eden does her fair share of butt kicking, but she’s also able to outwit her opponents – a trait we love to see in a dystopian heroine.
4. Offred (The Handmaid’s Tale)
Perhaps the most controversial of our selection, many people feel that Offred is more of a passive victim than a heroine. Unlike the recent wave of dystopian literature, there is no overthrow of the totalitarian society in The Handmaid’s Tale. Rebellion, such as it is, is much more subtle.
But while she may not take a stand with her weapon draw, Offred does rebel in her own quiet way, and the consequences of being caught are just as deadly as more action-oriented novels. You may feel she should have been more dramatic in her rebellion, but the story forces us to reflect back on ourselves – if we were put in a similar situation, would we have done more? Or, in fact, anything at all?
3. Melanie (The Girl with All the Gifts)
The undoubted star of this post-apocalyptic zombie thriller is ten-year-old Melanie. Melanie is by no means an average child. For a start, she has a genius-level IQ. But aside from this, the reason she is kept locked away in a government testing facility is that she is a “hungry”.
Setting aside all the moral questions the book raises about the ethics of using children as lab subjects, The Girl with All the Gifts is a story about Melanie’s journey of self-discovery. There may not be the romance which features in many YA dystopian novels, but The Girl with All the Gifts still has a love story at its heart – the love between Melanie and her teacher, Miss Justineau.
2. Juliette (Wool)
Juliette is not your typical dystopian heroine. She’s not a teenager for one thing, and she’s far from perfect. In fact, her complex character and flaws are one of the things we love about her. Quite happy in her job as an engineer in Mechanical, Juliette is thrust into a more political role when she’s chosen as the next Sheriff of Silo 18.
A reluctant hero of the people, Juliette’s dogmatic attitude to discovering the truth, despite the threats and barriers in her way, finally reveals the secrets of the silos. But it’s her bravery and loyalty to her friends that makes her the heroine we want to be.
1. Katniss (The Hunger Games)
In 2008, we fell in love with Katniss Everdeen. By the time the film version of The Hunger Games was released in 2012, she was a household name – a modern-day heroine for our times.
Why do we love Katniss so much? Is it her skill with a bow and arrow, or her willingness to defy the Gamesmasters? Perhaps it’s because when we see her, lost in the strange world of the Capitol, we see something of ourselves, lost in a world that is changing almost too rapidly for us to keep up? We also appreciate the fact that, unlike some female protagonists, Katniss doesn’t waste time moaning about her lot in life or making doe eyes at the surrounding males – she gets on and does what has to be done to survive.
We may never have to fight for our lives, but all of us have someone we would fight to protect. Katniss’s love of her sister, Prim, may be the heart and soul of The Hunger Games, but it’s her willingness to sacrifice everything for the people she loves that gives her the number one spot in our hearts.
Have we missed your favorite dystopian heroine?
Let us know in the comments below! And don’t forget to order your copy of Cursed Lands before time runs out…