Over the years, I have noticed a certain shift in my personal preferences when it comes to characters. One of those shifts is that I find myself more drawn to older female characters – by this I mean female characters who are in their thirties or older. I suppose this shift is natural: after all, as I age I am more likely to be interested in characters that reflect my own sense of time and experience.
Here, then, is a list of five women from fantasy fiction, whom I now count amongst my favourite characters, all of whom might also count amongst the “older set” in terms of age. Though I will always love a good female character, no matter her age, these characters are the sort I find myself appreciating all the more as I enter my early thirties, and will likely to continue to appreciate as I get older still.
Minerva McGonagall – Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Why I Love Her: She has the strength and the warmth to be a teacher in the truest sense of the word.
When I first read Harry Potter, I was immediately drawn to Hermione. She was, I thought, very much like me: know-it-all, a little bossy, and not very pretty. While it was wonderful to have her as someone I could relate to while reading the series, I found myself increasingly drawn to McGonagall: because she was the teacher I always wanted to have, and eventually, the teacher I aspire to be. She is not only a teacher in the academic sense, but a true educator who cares for and nurtures all her students, Gryffindor or otherwise.
Jasnah Kholin – Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson
Why I Love Her: She does not apologise for her beliefs, even though they make her a figure of gossip and suspicion.
It’s not easy standing up for what one believes in, even if one knows that one is right – and that is why I was instantly drawn to Jasnah, from the moment she appeared in Sanderson’s epic Stormlight Archive. Any reader could easily say that she is “strong”, but I think it’s more important to understand where that strength comes from – and I can say, without spoiling too much of the series, that it comes from hard work, great perseverance, and an intense belief in the rightness of her cause. Jasnah could never have become who she was if she did not choose to follow the path she thought was right, and that is something I wish I myself could do, with the same determination.
Yangchen – Eternal Sky Trilogy by Elizabeth Bear
Why I Love Her: She knows that she has done something very wrong, and tries her very best to make it right.
It is easy to love a character who always does what is right (from the reader’s perspective, anyway), but it can be harder to love a character we think is doing everything wrong. That was how I felt, at first, about Yangchen: her initial actions actually help empower the trilogy’s primary antagonist, leading to a series of events that results in immense tragedy. But Yangchen actually sees the error of her ways, and is really, truly repentant of them. Her penance is more than just lip service: she does her best to repair the damage, even though she knows she can never truly reverse her actions. Female characters rarely ever get redemption arcs as strong and carefully thought out as hers, and she is now one of my favourite characters in any medium.
Mak Genggang – Sorcerer Royal Series by Zen Cho
Why I Love Her: She is proud to be who and what she is, and never once apologises for either.
One of the greatest delights I experienced while reading Zen Cho’s wonderful Sorcerer to the Crown was reading about Mak Geggang. Though the way Cho has written her will likely elicit laughter from the reader, almost everything she says is in fact a hard-won, hard-bitten truth – particularly where it relates to imperialism and colonialism, both of which are key themes of the novel (albeit not immediately obvious ones). Mak Genggang also knows that some consider her “monstrous” or “dangerous”, but instead of rejecting those realities she chooses instead to embrace them, and thus deriving a kind of power from them she might not have otherwise.
Turyin Mulaghesh – Divine Cities Series by Robert Jackson Bennett
Why I Love Her: She does not let her own personal tragedies stop her from caring for those who need it most, nor does she let it stop her from doing what she thinks is right.
To say that Mulaghesh has been through hell is something of an understatement, especially based on the events detailed in City of Blades, which is the second book in Bennett’s series and which features Mulaghesh as the primary protagonist. She has experienced the most brutal aspects of war, and while it has left her scarred in both mind and body, she can still find it in herself to care for and about those who fall victim to war. This speaks to a capacity for compassion that is rare in soldiers at all levels and in all sections of the military, and yet is the most vital quality any soldier could possibly possess.