I’m honestly amazed I never got into debating. I am basically an expert at looking at any kind of decision from both sides, and then finding a few bonus sides to look at it from too, weighing things up, and finally making a decision. Maybe that’s why I look for the opposite in fiction. I seek out characters who jump in head first and make a decision halfway down—characters who go on gut instincts and then act on them and bend the world by doing it.
And when I say characters, I usually mean female characters. Even nowadays there’s a tendency to cast women in the cautious, levelheaded role in fiction, warning the hero off whatever rash thing he might be doing, whether that hero is the sword wielding prodigy or the sitcom dad about to enact shenanigans. But give me a girl who acts quickly, and violently, and in doing so cuts, punches or shoots her way out of any attempt to but her in a stereotypical gendered box, and I’m all over her.
So here are my top five girls who move things along with snap decisions and a bit of muscle.
Aerin from The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Aerin winds up as the legendary hero of Damar. But her story starts with her mother dying of despair after finding out that she had borne a daughter instead of a son.
Combine that inauspicious start to your life with the fact that everyone in the kingdom calls your mother a witch, and it’s not exactly surprising that a young girl might turn her attention towards proving that she’s not totally worthless.
Aerin is smart enough to invent a fire repellant balm, resourceful enough to train a horse to be ridden without reins, skilled enough to be the one to wield to the Blue Sword, and impulsive enough to think that combining all these things and going off by herself to face a dragon the size of a building is a good idea.
Alanna of Trebond from the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce
Alanna’s skills as a knight come from years of hard training, working her way from an awkward young squire to the mythical figure of the Lioness Rampant. Every scrap of fighting in this red-headed heroine is learned and hard-earned. Alanna also holds a major place among my favorite heroines because she is the first heroine I remember reading about who dressed as a boy to go looking for a better destiny than the one society has given her. But, looking back, it’s also an awfully impulsive decision for a ruse that she has to spend years keeping up. When Alanna and her brother decide swap places, her twin winds up happily learning magic with no risk, while Alanna is left scrambling to figure out how to hide her true identity as puberty kicks in around a whole bunch of boys who are not quite so clueless that a few of them aren’t going to notice it happening.
Saba from Blood Red Road by Moira Young
Saba of Silverlake is known as the Angel of Death because she never loses a fight. She will take you down and she’ll do it with her bare hands, no less. Forced into cage matches where three losses means execution, Saba is a survivor who sends her competitors to the chopping block. But most of Saba’s fighting doesn’t come from skill or strength; it comes from the semi out-of-body wildness that kicks in when she’s threatened. Her fighting style is mindless but effective.
Katsa from Graceling by Kristen Cashore
Katsa is magically graced in a way that makes defeating her enemies a walk in the park most days. With her two different colored eyes marking her, she’s naturally faster, with more endurance, strength, and skill than the men she faces who are twice her size. She also serves a dangerous and powerful king who wants to control her every move. Katsa decides to forge her own road instead of letting herself be controlled, even if she doesn’t totally know what’s at the end of it before she starts on it. And that’s what’s great about her. The Katsa who would do the smart thing and just follow orders instead of taking a leap of faith and deciding to fight the odds and tackle the injustices in her world is not the Katsa we know and love.
Harimad Sol from The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
Harimad Sol starts her story as Harry Crewe, a girl from foreign lands who is nonetheless destined to wield the legendary Blue Sword of Damar. And she’s a natural at it. Harry picks up the foreign skills of her new country like someone who has been training her whole life. She proves herself over and over again on the desert crossing and then again in the capitol city in a series of trials that ends with her facing the king, the only person who can hold a candle to her in a fight anymore.
She’s a born hero. But she’s also a girl who decides to ride off in defiance of her king in the middle of a war. The one who jumps a horse over a fortress wall somehow thinking confidence will keep her from getting shot on sight. The fact that her king is maybe kinda in love with her is the only thing that keeps these sorts of impulsive decisions from being taken as outright treason. But of course, if she had been sensible, she might not have managed to bring an entire mountain down on the enemy’s head.
Alwyn Hamilton was born in Toronto and lived between Canada, France, and Italy until the was three, when her family settled in the small French town of Beaune. She studied History of Art at King’s College, Cambridge, graduated in 2009, and lives in London, where she works for Christie’s as Senior Administrator in the Interiors department. Her debut novel, Rebel of the Sands, is available now from Viking.