Nancy HolznerToday I will be handing over the Thoughtful Thursday reins to Nancy Holzner, author of the DEADTOWN series. Nancy is one of my favorite authors, and her razor sharp writing raises the bar in urban fantasy. It’s a an honor and a pleasure to have her guest post for today’s column.

I write urban fantasy, a genre known for its kick-ass heroines. Over the years, I’ve been involved in numerous conversations about “strong female protagonists” and what that means. To be honest, the phrase “strong female protagonist” irks me. Why do female characters need “strong” as a qualifier? Personally, I’m not likely to follow a weak protagonist — male or female — through an entire book. I don’t mind if a character starts off timid and uncertain, but unless that character begins to discover some strengths fairly quickly, I’m closing the book.

science fiction, fantasy literature, horror, YA, comics, book and audiobook reviewsThat point aside, what qualities do you look for in an urban fantasy heroine? I want to see someone who’s smart, decisive, and action-oriented (no updated female Hamlets dithering about the right course of action for two-thirds of the book). A sense of humor is a plus. I also want to see flaws that lead to mistakes and uncertainties; these make the character relatable and interesting. I like it when power is not easily acquired but costs something significant. A character who willingly makes sacrifices has me with her for the duration. Can she commit to a relationship? For me, the relationship probably isn’t her top priority — there’s no time to pick out china patterns when you’re saving the world — but I do prefer a heroine who can give and accept love.

Recently, a reader commented to me that she had noticed a shift in urban fantasy heroines, from strong and assertive to whiny and demanding. I haven’t seen that trend in my own reading, but the line between snarky (which is fun) and annoying (which is, well, annoying) can sometimes be a thin one.

What do you think? What makes a great female protagonist in fantasy? Who are some of your favorites?


  • Justin Blazier

    JUSTIN BLAZIER (on FanLit's staff since September 2009) is a Cyber-Security Analyst/Network Engineer located in Northern Kentucky. Like many fantasy enthusiasts, Justin cut his teeth on authors like Tolkien, Anthony, and Lewis. Due to lack of space, his small public library would often give him their donated SFF books. When he is not reading books he is likely playing board games or Tabletop RPGs. Justin lives in a quiet neighborhood with his wife, their daughter, and Norman the dog.

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