This is our compilation of feisty female characters, written by fierce lady authors, in no particular order of preference. If you have any of your own to add drop a message to Warrior Women with your lockdown booklist, we’d love to hear your recommendations. Compiled by Cat Booth & Bella Miller
Emma - Jane Austen
While Lizzie Bennet, the heroine of Austen's most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice is roundly adored and admired, it's quite difficult at first to root for Emma. Growing up in a life of privilege, sheltered from almost every type of hardship, Emma is spoiled, vain and not particularly well read, although her lack of self-awareness shields her from any issues of confidence. In fact, the story revolves around her complete and unshakable assurance that she is an uncannily talented matchmaker, with comic and devastating effect. Despite all of this, the character development is flawless and gradually reveals deeper layers as the romantic mysteries unfold. If this plot is ringing a faint bell, it should. Read this surprisingly funny and addictive novel and then re-watch Clueless with a whole new frame of reference.
Queen Jezebel – Jean Plaidy
Jean Plaidy is the pen name of Eleanor Hibbert, who wrote under many names for her different genres of books. Her historical fiction is meticulously well researched and brings European royal history to life through the eyes of prominent female historical figures. Queen Jezebel is the last in the trilogy about the life of Catherine De Medici, and the carnival of butchery brought about by her schemes and machinations to rid Paris of the Huguenot enemy, but it can be read as a stand-alone novel. If this gripping tale reignites your love of historical drama, Hibbert's Tudor and Plantagenet series are equally good.
The White Queen – Philipa Gregory
Another historical fiction entry, from the author of The Other Boleyn Girl. An interesting and more modern look at how crucial women’s roles were to the politics of the time, with a little bit of witchcraft thrown in to provide some remarkably accurate drama. A little more heavy going than other novels in the same genre, but addictive nonetheless. Navigating the complexity of the characters and the moral grey areas therein keep the reader in a state of suspense throughout, without making the story needlessly complicated.
Deja Dead – Kathy Reichs
If you loved the TV series Bones, prepare yourself to delve into the book series upon which it was built. Like most adaptations, the books leave the TV show in the dust. The author Kathy Reichs is a forensic anthropologist, as is her female protagonist Dr Temperance Brennan. These crime thrillers are based on real science and Reich’s personal experiences. Temperance ‘Tempe’ Brennan is a leader in her field and both her and the author share many personality traits which gives a real depth to the character. There are shamefully few realistic crime novels led by a female protagonist, but this - currently 20 books strong - series leads the genre effortlessly.
The Joy Luck Club - Amy Tan
Beginning in the 1940s, this novel explores the mother/daughter relationships of four Chinese families in San Francisco through their weekly game of Mah Jong. Each of the 16 stories that comprise the book reveal a different world depending on who is doing the telling. Exploring generational as well as cultural divides, this novel gently weaves connections that will resonate with anyone that has felt the oh-so-common sensation of disconnection with someone who should be so close.
Pandora - Anne Rice
Anne Rice is a prolific writer and regarded as many as the founder of the 'new school' of vampire novels. While Rice's books are generally centred around the Vampire Lestat, Pandora is the first in her 'New Tales of the Vampire' series. One of the lesser known of Anne Rice’s vampires, Pandora is from wealthy roman lineage and becomes a vampire after her entire family are brutally massacred. Her story, as drawn out by fledgling vampire and lore curator David Talbot, follows Pandora throughout the ages, looking at time and history from an immortal perspective. A must-read for anyone new to Anne Rice or those revisiting her world.
Circe - Madeline Miller
A beautiful tale about the complex relationships of the Greek Gods, powerful female characters, adventure and serenity, Miller’s brilliant description of the story's location makes this feel like a real escape. The book is described as a “celebration of indomitable female strength”, and it delivers in every way. A true tale of quiet triumph in the face of seemingly insurmountable hardship, the story of the life of Circe delicately unfolds through adventure, meditation, and tough love. Tear through this wonderful novel and emerge refreshed at the other end.
The Cows – Dawn O Porter
COW n. /ka?/
A piece of meat; born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd.
This is a fascinating modern novel about three women whose lives become linked through social media and the capricious power of this medium to either support and affirm, or destroy lives and reputations. The book explores the judgement that is disproportionally brought upon women and how to shatter stereotypes and expectations. By turns bold, brilliant, perceptive and devastating, it is an excellent jumping off point for anyone dipping their toes into the frustrating politics of being a woman in the modern world.
Beyond Black - Hilary Mantel
An unusual story about a medium and her assistant, this book explores their - arguably toxic - working and personal relationships as well as their interactions with the spirit world, the audience and clients that visit the clairvoyant. Set against a bleak and barren suburban wasteland of the once verdant English countryside, the protagonists find their lives spiralling and their very existence threatened by forces beyond their control. Darkly funny and unorthodox, Beyond Black not only explores the world of professional psychics, but broken childhoods, mental illness, and the metaphorical ghosts that haunt our lives.
Dreaming the Serpent Spear - Manda Scott
In the fourth and final book of her series on the infamous warrior queen, Manda Scott takes us back to 60 AD, to Celtic Britain and the final rebellion of Boudica and her tribe against the oppressive Roman Empire. Scott's storytelling is magical; a true insight into a faraway time. In Dreaming the Serpent Spear, the inclusion of Boudica's family and a deep exploration of her motives provides a much fuller personality than we are used to from history books and Roman accounts from the time. Motherhood, loves, dreams, hopes and desires enrich Boudica's character far beyond the famous warrior woman and leaves us begging the question: is revenge worth it at any cost?
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
Agnes Magnusdottir was the last woman to be executed in Iceland back far back in 1829. Kent wrote the book after she visited Agnes’s lonely place of execution and manages to unfold an emotive and sympathetic version of an otherwise brutal tale; vividly describing her final days on an isolated farm in the north of Iceland as she awaits her execution. Riveting from the very beginning, we watch as Agnes' version of events is drawn out, stripped of sensationalism, and laid bare for all to see.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
Where to begin with Eleanor? Her life is regimented, ordered, carefully curated, and a thinly veiled charade. While cycling through the repetitive routine of office work, punctuated by solitary, vodka drenched weekends, the curtain obscuring Eleanor's true self is slowly unpicked until the blatant and unexpected truth is finally revealed. I don't want to give away too much in this review, so I will simply encourage you to read this book immediately. You'll be thinking about it for weeks after.
The Bell Jar - Silvia Plath
The Bell Jar is the only novel written by the American writer and poet Silvia Plath. It is semi autobiographical, detailing the problems of oppressive patriarchal society in 20th century America. The main character is Esther Greenwood her journey from a small town to a big city internship, of academic success, a women’s place in society and her struggles with her metal health and the treatment available in the 1950’s.