There are a vast number of books with kick-ass, resourceful, strong, self-reliant, intelligent female protagonists and it’d be impossible to include every book in this list. So, this list is a compilation of a variety of personalities who are all kick-ass in their own, unique, sometimes unconventional way.
1. Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas
Celaena Sardothien is the archetype for the phrase kick-ass. She’s calm, cool, collected and badass. Outliving everyone in a harsh, labor-intensive prison, the only thought that drives her survival is that she must survive. When she is released from prison, she competes in a competition to become the King’s assassin and, of course, is a boss throughout the entire thing.
2. The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson
Nombeko Mayeko: forced to work as a cleaner for South Africa’s secret nuclear weapons facility, she reads everything she can get her hands on and becomes somewhat of an expert with numbers and nuclear knowledge.
Her own intelligence and resourcefulness allow her to escape from employment-to Sweden. It also must be mentioned that, in her spare time, she learned Chinese from the other girls in the engineer’s employment which help her to, eventually, save the King of Sweden’s life.
3. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
In “The Essex Serpent” we are introduced to Cora Seaborne: a mother, widow and budding paleontologist. Defying 1890’s expectations of women, Cora dusts off any opinion that might discourage her from gallivanting through mud to find evidence of the famed Essex Serpent.
She isn’t the only kick-ass woman in this novel though; her friend, Martha, is a passionate activist for the working class and is a pioneer for progression of human rights and right to housing.
4. Matilda by Roald Dahl
Unbroken by the oppression and cruelty she endures from both her parents and the gruesome headteacher Miss Trunchbull, Matilda is one strong, intelligent, little lady. Teaching herself to read when she was just a toddler, Matilda’s thirst for knowledge is an inspiration- especially considering the resistance she faced from her parents.
5. Emma by Jane Austen
Emma refuses to be influenced by society’s expectations of what a woman should be. Unlike the majority of the women of her time, Emma refuses to marry- despite being attractive, wealthy and very eligible.
One of the biggest reasons for this is that she couldn’t bear to leave her father, who would be condemned to loneliness and depression without her. Her love for her family and her defiance against societal stereotypes make her pretty damn kick-ass.
6. The Graceling Trilogy: Graceling, Fire & Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
I cannot express how much I love each protagonist in this trilogy. Each woman possesses unique kick-ass features: Katsa is an incredible killer with a grace that means she has extraordinary survival skills; Fire, an impossibly beautiful ‘monster’ has strong, benevolent morals which she imposes upon herself and her life (for example, deciding to bear no children as she believes it is dangerous for there to be monsters- like her -in the world) and; Bitterblue, a kind-hearted, brave queen who seeks to understand and help her kingdom, regardless of the danger.
7. In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park
This non-fiction memoir by Yeonmi Park recollects her struggle to live in poverty in North Korea, the fear she survived when crossing the border and the horrors she had to endure in China before eventually settling and thriving in South Korea. All the suffering Yeonmi endured has only made her stronger; she is now a human rights activist and is an advocate for victims of human trafficking in China.
8. The Secret Garden by France Hodgson Burnett
Mary Lennox arrives in Yorkshire selfish and disagreeable. Over time, she develops into a nature-loving, nurturing young girl. Her strong will and personality shock her cousin, who she meets whilst living in Misselthwaite Manor, into grabbing life with both hands and refusing the pitiful life he had before. With her help and the help of Dickon, he’s able to take his first steps, strides, and bounds. She may not be perfect but her strong will and determination, love for nature and life make her pretty admirable to me.
9. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
When Claire is thrown back into 18th century Scotland, her resourcefulness and intelligence not only help keep her alive, they allow her to establish herself as a healer within the Scottish community and help many members of the Highland community. If she’s anything, she’s immensely adaptable. Being able to build a life in 18th century Scotland after being ripped from the life that she knew… that’s pretty kick ass.
10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Personally, my favorite female protagonist of all time. She is so strong, driven, intelligent and independent that I strive to be like her every day. She does exactly what she thinks is right; she acts based on her morals and won’t contrive to do something just because it’s easy. Even when staying with Mr. Rochester is what her heart wants, she goes far away because she believes that to be with a married man would be wrong. Following this, she does everything she can to survive. She never loses her will to live and uses her own resourcefulness and resilience to build up her life once again.
Honorable mention: The Harry Potter series. Although I probably wouldn’t consider Hermione a protagonist she’s still so kick-ass that I thought she had to be mentioned; she wants to learn everything regardless of what others think of her and doesn’t let anything deter her from achieving her goals. Honestly, I could go on forever about how awesome Hermione is but I’ll leave it there. Luna was pretty kick-ass too.