Phenomenal Women

My Four Favorite UF/PNR Heroines

One of the best things about urban fantasy and paranormal romance is that there is no shortage of amazing female lead characters. You can't throw a rock in the UF/PNR section of the bookstore without hitting a female who is not only strong, but faceted, smart, romantic, cynical, optimistic, vulnerable, honorable, damaged, and generally real. And one would think that with so many wonderful female characters, both leads and supporting cast, it would be challenging to narrow down which ones are the best to just a few. However, I have absolutely no qualms about pointing out exactly which heroines are the best, the feistiest, the smartest, the snarkiest, and just plain the best.
Girls rule!

Zee told us about her favorite heroines in this post, although that has changed a bit. And you may notice that my favorite heroines list bears a striking resemblance to my favorite series list. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a great female protagonist, and it's not coincidence that the very best series have one.

So follow me after the jump, and I'll introduce you to four kick-ass women who you should know. I'll do my best to keep the spoilers to a minimum.

Sydney Sage: Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

I've only know Sydney for a few months, having come rather late to the Vampire Academy/Bloodlines party (as I talked about here and here), but she has rocketed up my list of incredible heroines. It took me a while to warm up to Sydney due to her standoffishness and rigidity seen through Rose's eyes in VA. But in the Bloodlines books we get to see Sydney through her own eyes where she shares vulnerabilities that the outside world isn't privy to. We learn her greatest fears, watch her overcome deeply ingrained, rigidly taught, prejudices, witness her charming cluelessness regarding social cues, see her frightening fierceness, and best of all, watch her fall in love. Sydney Sage is unlike most UF/PNR heroines in that her kick-assery is not in physical strength or the skills of a warrior. Sydney's strength is her intelligence, her beautiful mind. She is brilliant and strategic, besting foes in ways that they never see coming, researching solutions when she doesn't have all the answers, and solving problems using her cleverness and wits.

Beyond her fierceness and bravery, Sydney Sage falling in love is a rare delight, indeed. Having been very sheltered and groomed with a laser-like focus on her role as an Alchemist, social interaction wasn't a priority in Sydney's upbringing. So watching her try to analyze her way through her first "relationship" then convince herself that she's not in love, then fall head-over-heels in love is absolutely glorious. At this point in the series, Sydney's outcome is uncertain, but I am steadfast in my confidence that Sydney's intelligence and heart will get her through the travails to come, and she will be stronger, better for it.

MacKayla "Mac" Lane: Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning

It's no secret that we are huge Fever fans around these parts, and that is in large part due to the growth of one MacKayla Lane. I did not like Mac when I first started the Fever series. At all. She was flighty, shallow, obsessed with her looks, with a complete disregard for anything that didn't make her life happy and easy. Basically the complete opposite of what I look for in a heroine. But Mac's journey, her transformation, is stunning and by the end of the first book I was completely in love with her.

Initially driven by a need for revenge, Mac quickly learns that the world isn't what she thought it was, but given the opportunity to run home and return to her simple, sunny life, she chooses the hard path. She chooses to learn who she is and embrace that role, fighting not only for revenge, not only for herself, but for all of her fellow humans. She faces her adversaries boldly, learning all she can about how to win her battles and never shies away from doing the dirty work that only she can do. Over the course of Mac's journey she learns so many lessons that change her into a completely different person, but her falls never break her. She keeps getting up, fighting back, turning herself into someone who survives. No matter what.

Cesaria "Chess" Putnam: Downside Ghosts by Stacia Kane

Chess is a remarkable woman who has no idea how special she is. She truly, deeply believes that she is not worthy of love or anything positive in her life, which causes her to make questionable choices. There's no getting around the fact that Chess is a drug addict, which is difficult to witness, forcing her to go to great lengths to appear normal, while at the same time working to dull her pain. But she is also a brilliant and gifted witch whose job is to protect people from ghosts, a job that she does incredibly well and is one of the few sources of pride in her life. It's easy to be frustrated with Chess, seeing her sabotage her own happiness, hurting those who care about her.

As frustrating as she is, I have much more sympathy for Chess than most other heroines, because she has actually been through hell and back. She has genuine, deeply rooted reasons for her idiotic, self-preserving actions, which we discover more and more with each book. But eventually we get a glimpse of the roots of Chess's pain that she's dulling with drugs, and we understand why she does what she does. Her life isn't pretty, but Chess has a heart of gold and a fierce loyalty to her small circle of friends. But what is amazing about Chess is that, in spite of her inconceivable hardships and issues, she is brave and smart, resourceful and talented. When given an opportunity to improve her lot in life, she grabbed that chance with both hands, and became one of the best Churchwitches around. She faces terror every time she goes to do her job, but she does it with skill and aplomb, protecting others in the process. 

Wench Note: You're reading Downside Ghosts, right? I told you all about why you should be here.  While we don't have details yet about more books, Stacia Kane assures us that there's more Downside to come. So let her know if you love them, and buy the books if you can!

Merit, Sentinel of Cadogan House: Chicagoland Vampires by Chloe Neill

Merit is, far and away, my very favorite heroine in anything ever. We have gushed about these books (in every CLV review we've written!), about Merit and Ethan's journey, about the author, and we've fangirled about Ethan and about Merit.  I don't think there's much more I can say about how much I love Merit. Her character growth, her ever-increasing kick-ass skills, her compassion for the citizens of her beloved Chicago, her love of gastronome, her snarky, sarcastic sense of humor, her completely relatable self-preservation tactics when falling in love...she is a character I feel like I know, I actually want to be BFFs with in spite of the fact that I'm fully aware that she's fictional. 

I loved Merit from the very first chapter, which is not usually the case with me. But her sarcastic banter just sounded like me, her love of literature speaks to me, and her training as a ballerina made me equal parts jealous and awed, since I dreamed of dancing when I was a little girl. Merit is a woman I love reading about because I relate to her on one level, yet live vicariously through her fantastic adventures. Ethan says it best when he tells Merit:
You like the things you like. You take great joy in those things, and you should never be ashamed of that. The pleasure that you take in simple things--food, clothing, architecture--is a very attractive quality.
Merit is my perfect heroine. There is nothing about her that I don't like, and I eagerly await each release, knowing that she will be funny and loyal and sexy and fierce--everything I want in a heroine. 

Those are my favorite heroines. Do you agree with my choices, Saucy Reader? Who would you add to my list? Share your thoughts below!


  1. I would definitely add Cat from Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series. She is truly a unique character with such wit while struggling to accept who she is. She is a strong character that doesn't encounter insta-love but her relationship grows with Bones. She and Merit are characters that I would love to see meet and watch unfold. :) I definitely agree with Sydney and Merit on your list. I haven't read Fever so I'm not sure of the character but I wasn't really a fan of Chess when I read the first book in the series. Maybe I'll appreciate her more in the next!

    1. Chelsea, a year ago Cat would have easily been on this list, but I was so disappointed with her in last book that I just couldn't include her. Bones, however, will always and forever be my number one hero!

      Chess really does take some getting to know, to really love her. Her choices are so self destructive, but the more we learn about her, the more we understand why she makes such awful choices. She's genuinely doing the best she can. I'm hopeful that love will get her to a happy place in life.

      Unsurprisingly, all the Wenches would highly recommend Fever. It's one of only a few series we agree on. :-)

  2. Great post Barb!! This is my top 5.

    My number 1 is also Merit.
    2. Kate Daniels
    3. Jaz Parks
    4. Sabina Kane
    5. Mercy Thompson

    1. Yay Merit! I would have put Mercy on my Top Five list, but it's been so long since I read a Mercy book that I didn't think I could do her justice. I will get to Jaz Parks. I will!

  3. I haven't tried the Bloodlines series, but I was a DNF on the first of the Fever, Downside Ghosts, and Chicagoland series (and Mead's Dark Swan Series). After reading this maybe I'll give the Chicagoland another shot

    I'm relatively new to the genre, but thus far my favorites are
    Mercy Thompson (Mercy Thompson series): a good combination of confidence while understanding her limitations, admits she is attractive but not drop dead gorgeous, given clear strengths and weaknesses as a character.
    Meg (The Others series): a bit of a Mary Jane, but she is basically a newborn in an adult woman's body. She is neither arrogant nor falsely modest, accepts sometimes she does the saving, sometimes she needs to be saved.
    Penryn (Penryn and the End of Days series)

    Mixed feelings on Jane Jameson (Jane Jameson series). She has a lot of what I dislike, including talking a ton of shit about perpetrating violence, but she can also be really really funny so... ?

    1. Oh I ADORE Penryn Anon! You should definitely try Fever and Chicagoland again though. Fever is a one of a kind series, try and make it through the first book, you won't regret it!

  4. Love your post, Barb. Obviously, I love Merit. I do love all of them, and add Penryn and Charley Davidson to that list.

  5. Loved your list Barb. I really love October (October Daye series) and Meg (The Others series) and Rachel Morgan (The Hollows).


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