If You Liked Heart of Mist You Should Try: Mel’s Top 3 Fantasies by Badass Lady Authors!
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
“I'm not going to wear a red dress," she said.
"It would look stunning, My Lady," she called.
She spoke to the bubbles gathered on the surface of the water. "If there's anyone I wish to stun at dinner, I'll hit him in the face.”
- Katsa, Graceling
First and foremost on my list of badass fantasy lady authors has to be Kristin Cashore. Her 3 related, but stand-alone novels in the same universe are fantastic and immersive. The female leads are fierce, imperfect, horrendously powerful and yet so relatable. Their stories sucked me in from page one.
The first of her novels, Graceling, follows a noblewoman called Katsa, who wields the dark Grace of killing. A Graceling in this universe has an innate and powerful ability that surpasses any natural talent of Ungraced humans. The Graced are automatically indentured to the Crown, and used as tools and weapons of their Kings. Needless to say Katsa is her uncle, the King’s, most prized and feared possession. The book follows her on a journey to redefine and reclaim herself, taking control of her abilities and making her own choices.
Katsa’s personality was the best part of this book for me. Cashore illustrates her character stunningly with excellent dialogue and meaningful action without overdoing it. She’s a kind-hearted but very restless and impatient woman, who thinks best when she’s moving. It takes her a while to process feelings and articulate them, which frustrates her, but she’s so refreshingly up front about them when she figures it out.
She doesn’t try to lie, or hide her feelings, and admits openly when she’s conflicted or scared. I really appreciate this contrast between her prowess and power as a fighter and leader, and her candidness. Our badass fighter isn’t stoic or calm, but she is relentless and active and constantly works through everything she faces.
The setting of this novel is also very evocative. Cashore's writing brings to life barren fields and crowded cities, as well as rainy forest pools, and glorious mountain castles. We follow paths through frozen mountain passes, underwater caves, and across the ocean through raging storms. Yet as full as this book feels, it never gets slow or overly descriptive. We see everything through the active eyes of Katsa who is too vividly engaged in her world to ever be boring.
Shared themes with Heart of Mist:
Imperfect characters, evocative landscapes, corrupt kings, great character growth, and fear of magic.
Poison Study by Maria V Snyder
“To Yelena, our newest food taster. May you last longer than your predecessor.”
- Poison Study, Maria V Snyder
Maria V Snyder’s first novel, Poison Study, also starts with our heroine being hated and feared. The first page introduces us to Yelena, who has spent an entire year in the dank dungeon for the murder of a nobleman. On the anniversary of her imprisonment, the day she is to be executed, she is dragged up from the depths of the castle and dropped in front of Valek, the assassin and chief of security for the Commander who rules the land.
Valek offers her the opportunity to become a food taster, a buffer between the Commander and those who would poison him, in order to eventually earn her freedom. She accepts and so starts her life of learning to detect poisons, while avoiding the vengeful family of the nobleman she murdered, and dealing with her frightening magical capabilities that are beginning to emerge in a land that outlawed magic in the Commander’s revolution.
Once again the characters stand out strongly in this novel. Yelena is in a constant state of disadvantage to those who surround her, and yet her wits, resourcefulness and determination keep her alive far longer than anyone expects, and wins her unlikely friends. As the story progresses, pieces of her traumatising past come to light, and break your heart a little more with each reveal. There are numerous revelations that genuinely surprised me, and they all change the way you see this world, and leave a deep impact on how you see the characters.
The setting is once again vivid and immersive, as we follow Yelena through cold stone corridors, spend time with her and the servants in the kitchen, and climb with her into the trees as she evades and eavesdrops on fun, bantering soldiers.
Shared themes with Heart of Mist:
Forbidden magic, traumatic pasts, loyal soldiers, imperfect characters, and evocative landscapes.
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
“No. I can survive well enough on my own— if given the proper reading material.”
- Celaena Sardothien, Throne of Glass
I think part of the reason I so loved Throne of Glass when I first picked it up, is because it has some of my favourite elements of both of the previously mentioned novels.
Celaena Sardothien is also imprisoned when we first meet her, enslaved in the mines of Endovia, for her crimes as Adarlan’s Assassin. Like Yelena, after a year of soul killing imprisonment, she is offered a chance at freedom. On the condition she serve as the Crown Prince’s champion in a tournament, and win, Celaena can then work towards her freedom. Witty and resourceful as Yelena, and restless and as fierce a fighter as Katsa, Celaena agrees and begins the gruelling task of training her weakened body for the tournament.
Celaena can be seen as a character that grates on the nerves, with a solid shield of arrogance, and a facade of emotional detachment and viciousness, however I find it unfair to dislike her for these traits, considering her back story. After a life-shattering loss, she is raised in an environment of violence and cruelty, only to lose everything again, and end up in a hellish work camp. It only makes sense that she’s got serious trust issues. There are also multiple instances in the books that soften her character, such as a love for literature and playing the piano.
“I like music," she said slowly, "because when I hear it, I . . . I lose myself within myself, if that makes any sense. I become empty and full all at once, and I can feel the whole earth roiling around me. When I play. I'm not . . . for once, I'm not destroying, I'm creating.”
- Celaena Sardothien, Throne of Glass
The world is once again similar to that of Heart of Mist and Poison Study, in that magic is banished and magic users are persecuted. However it's not just forbidden, but completely erased from the country, so even magical beings cannot access their natural magic. It takes a couple books for that to become pertinent to the plot, but her story follows similar paths to that of Yelena and Bleak.
Shared themes to Heart of Mist:
Forbidden magic, traumatic pasts, loyal soldiers, intriguing imperfect characters, and evocative landscapes.
So there you have it- my top three recommendations for books you should try if you liked Heart of Mist, love fascinating female protagonists, and want to read more excellent fantasies by women! I love these authors, their enthralling storytelling, and their fierce leading ladies, and I can’t wait to hear what you think of them!
Who is your favourite female fantasy character? Tell us in the comments!
Melissa is a genre-junkie, graphic designer, and illustrator. She’s a firm believer in the power of imagination and creativity, and loves getting parcels in the mail. She’s super keen to send happy little bookcases to excited binge-readers like herself. You can find her illustrations on most social media and Etsy @TheLittleInkery