I read this depressing but accurate post yesterday morning at Teen Librarian Toolbox… This book, mentioned there, is one of the best recent teen series for gender-busting teen girls. She was dismayed at how few others have come out recently, so I’ve included a list at the end of my favorites… not necessarily romance-free, but certainly books where the women are strong and strong-minded, rather than beautiful, passive and tractable.
The Crown of Embers. Fire and Thorn Trilogy Book 2. by Rae Carson.
In the first book, Queen Elisa successfully drove off the invading Invierno army, was able to use the power of the Godstone in her navel, fell in love and watched her love be killed in front of her, and made friends with her husband and watched him die slowly. Now she is the 17-year-old queen by marriage of an entire kingdom, one still reeling from the destruction of the war. She may be the queen who saved the kingdom, but few people are confident that she has the strength and wisdom to rule the country going forward. There are numerous attempts on her life in the first couple of chapters alone, and the council urges her to marry or pick a regent for herself to allay the fears of the people. One of these attacks occurs in the crypt where her husband is buried, despite the presence of a loyal guard outside the door. His execution in her name but without her knowledge before she’s even able to get out of bed opens her eyes to the fact that at least some of her council members are actively working against her. There are hordes of suitors showering her with lavish gifts, but she finds herself falling for Lord Hector, the captain of her guard. When Elisa learns that there is an Invierno working inside the palace, she, Lord Hector, and her guardian Ximena plan to leave the city until things cool down somewhat. Elisa forms an alliance with the sweet if ultimately unmarriageable Lord Tristan, as well as the outcast Invierno and underground leader Storm, whom she likes to deal with because his hatred of her is refreshingly open. Lord Tristan will be her cover and Storm her guide as she tries to find the narrow Gate of Life the scriptures talk about, which the Inviernos believe to be an actual location.
While the action is steady, there’s also a lot of personal growth as Elisa struggles with issues like how to use her Godstone, the appropriate use of power and role of a Queen, and how to balance the roles that she and Hector have always had to each other with the very different one that romance would require. She’s still overweight, and the world is such that she finds the blond hair and pale eyes of the Invierno Storm unsettling, which I find wonderfully refreshing. She’s a devout believer in her faith, with the tangible proof of God’s existence the living Godstone in her navel, but she learns more and more that she must use her mind more than its vague guidance. The only part that I found unbelievable (spoiler alert here) is that her captain of guard would be considered a remotely good match for her sister, the heir to a throne, if he isn’t considered good enough for Elisa and when he is most definitely needed to ensure her safety. The unlikelihood of this pulled me right out of the story to ponder it. As I couldn’t figure out much better what would have accomplished the author’s purposes, though, and I’m not her editor, we’ll have to leave it. I went on to enjoy the story, which wraps up the current storyline in some pleasantly surprising ways and opens up several more cans of worms in readiness for the final book.
Recent and favorite strong girl fantasy books for teens and older elementary:
Anything by Robin McKinley – The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown would be particularly appropriate.
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede
The Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater
Seraphina by Rachel Hartmann
Graceling and others by Kristin Cashore
Peaceweaver by Rebecca Barnhouse
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
I’m sure there’s more, but that feels like a good start. What are your favorites?
Edited to add: WordPress tells me this is my 701st post.