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If you love Arya Stark, you’ll love…

I recently got an email from a reader, asking for sci-fi/fantasy recommendations for books with main characters like Arya Stark. Prominent female characters who aren’t just badass swordswomen or magicians, but complex characters with limitations, a darkish personality, and a thirst for revenge, without being inherently evil.

I wish I could help. I’ve been wracking my brain for days, trying to think of books that fit the bill, and I haven’t been able to come up with anything. I have a few suggestions, but nothing that really fits. And this makes me sad, because a badass, damaged female protagonist on a vengeance kick sounds great.

My best suggestion is Graceling by Kristin Cashore, as a novel about a girl who believes she’s pre-destined to be a detestable killing machine, and struggles against this identity, and against the people who have used her for her whole life.

Another idea is The Magician’s Guild by Trudi Canavan, which tells the story of a slum-dweller who despises the magicians and everything they stand for, and then finds out that she should be one of them. Gregory Maguire’s retellings from the villain’s point of view, particularly Wicked, might also be worth checking out.

Does anyone else have any recs? Any books with characters like this that they’ve enjoyed? Please comment and share!


Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

19 thoughts on “If you love Arya Stark, you’ll love…

  1. I’d strongly recommend you the trilogy “His Dark Materials” by Philip Pullman, comprising Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.
    The protagonist Lyra is just awesome, and following her development throughout the books is, too.

  2. Jennifer Roberson usually writes interesting female characters. I particularly like Del from her “Sword Dancer” series and Keely from “Daughter of the Lion”. Both are skilled swordswomen with obstacles to overcome, and Del especially has a certain darkness to her because of things that have happened in her past.

  3. I’d say The Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind is a good shout. Kalhan is a bit softer than Arya, but pretty damaged and out for blood! Also, the Matthew Swift Series by Kate Griffin (A Madness of Angels, The Midnight Mayor, The Neon Court and The Minority Council) also have a series of bad-ass women, a good proportion of whom are motivated by revenge.

  4. I find myself amazed by what a hard time I’m having coming up with any women who match this description! (I think my brain just has stage fright.)

    The one that did occur to me: Felicity Worthington from the Gemma Doyle Trilogy. She’s not the MAIN main character, since that title of course goes to Gemma, but she is one of four main characters and in my opinion she fits all the criteria you listed, & in such a gripping way. Really, every one of the main four from that series owns me. <3

  5. These are great Suggestions! Quite a few of them are pretty close to Arya Stark.

    Well i have a non-fantasy recommendations which don’t exactly fit, but eh neither does anything else…

    Millennium series comprising of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels. Lisbeth Salander is the char you would focus on.
    I would have recommended The Hunger Games Triology, but Katniss Everdeen is not selfish enough and well the ending is too optimistic…

  6. The Immortals quartet by Tamora Pierce. The main character, Daine, comes from a very traumatic background. She is a great archer, has magic, cares deeply about her friends and loved ones. But she can also be ruthless and cruel when she or her loved ones are threatened. At one point in book 3 she believes that her best friend has been murdered and to avenge him she is ready to tear town a whole city and kill everyone who gets in her way.

    1. I was a massive Tamora Pierce fan in highschool, and Daine was always my favorite… perhaps it’s time for me to get those books off the shelf again!

  7. I would absolutely recommend Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers. These are the first two books in LaFever’s His Fair Assassins Trilogy and feature two of the most impressive ya female protagonists I’ve read in a long while. Both girls, Ismae and Sybella, are trained assassins, so they have their fair share of bad ass moments, but both are beautifully flawed and complex characters–characters who learn and grow and stand their own ground. Seriously, I cannot recommend these books enough.

  8. ‘…a badass, damaged female protagonist on a vengeance kick sounds great.’
    No idea if you’re still looking, but Joe Abercrombie’s ‘Best Served Cold’ fits that description like a glove, though it is darkness galore. It is a treatise on the nature of revenge, its pros and cons, and what the hunger for vengeance can drive anyone to do. Main character is a dark, damaged female army commander who knows her powers well and intends to use them to their fullest. It’s really quite grim, and it has its own problems within the novel, but its ultimately a fantastic narrative and I can’t recommend it highly enough. (Though Monza does dance around the line separating good and evil – its up to the reader to decide where she starts and where she ends, whether revenge makes her better or worse. I’ll stop rambling now!)

    1. Ooo, I’ve been considering getting one of Joe Abercrombie’s books for a while. I’ll have to check it out!

      1. I highly recommend him. Not without his flaws, of course, but who isn’t? Hope you do check him out and enjoy 😀

  9. The Sabriel series, by Garth Nix. Especially the first one. The titular character is not a full-on warrior girl, but she is brave and capable, and has a great arc. It’s one of those YA books that works well for adults, too.

  10. The Mistborn Trilogy has a great female caracter, Vin. She starts as a broken, fearful little girl, then grows confident and more feminine as she discovers her magical powers… She’s not as badass as Arya, but she has her lot of desillusions too (the story has some mind-blowing plot-twists — DO NOT read anything about book 2 if you haven’t finish book 1, I’m serious). And her love-story is quite unconventional, with a very strong female caracter and a generous, loving man who doesn’t take offense of the fact that his lover is stronger than him (a relationship seldom depicted in fiction).

  11. So I personally found Arya Stark boring… I would like to create a character that is a deconstruction of the spunky tomboy… Not quite sure how to go about it? Would you say that Arya is an extrovert (she has way more friends than Sansa) … Sensing or Intuitive ( one of my criticism of this character type is they are far more limited than say a character like Cersei) so perhaps I could argue that this sort of character fails to see the big picture. I would say feeling rather than thinking because they follow their feelings instead being sensible and staying at home… Judging or perceiving I am not sure.. I have a lot of perceiving characters already since I am perceiving… It’s really hard to deconstruct the tomboy cliche from a feminist perspective… But I know I am sick of reading books were feminine=pathetic/weak and the only way for a woman to be awesome is for her to be masculine.

    1. I definitely think Arya fails to see the big picture a lot of the time, but then again, she’s very young, and incredibly traumatized. I actually think Arya is a deconstruction of the “spunky tomboy” idea to some extent, because although some people might see her as the badass fighting sister, she is a seriously messed up girl. She’s certainly not someone we’d want to emulate, and I think the feminine=pathetic reading only crops up here when readers impose than on Sansa, instead of seeing how the sisters mirror each other. Other than having an emotionally damaged character like Arya, though, I’m not sure how you could go about doing a deconstruction… I guess she could be a bully character, or you could write someone like Brienne, who is a tough warrior, but who also has a lot of “weak feminine” traits, like naivety and blind optimism and a love of romantic notions. It’s an interesting question.

  12. I don’t know if you’re still looking (I’ve only just found this site today), but Mortal Engies, although technically a children’s book, has Hester Shaw. She is flawed in all sorts of wonderful ways, and the first time you meet her is when she’s being chased through a moving city after trying to kill someone. There’s a whole host of female characters presented in sch good ways all throughout the series.

  13. I definitely recommend the Throne of Glass series! The main character is called Celaena and she’s a badass assassin who is still funny and loving but fierce and even a ruthless killer! I love the series

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