Heroes and heroines are a staple of YA fantasy novels, but every once in a while, one of them will leap off the page and never let you forget them. Stolen Songbird author Danielle L. Jensen shares her top five all-time favorites.
1) Elisa of The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson is something of an anomaly amongst YA fantasy heroines in that she isn’t worldly, slender, and gifted with athletic prowess, but rather sheltered, plump, and sedentary. Despite being a princess and the chosen one, she feels powerless and suffers an extreme lack of self-confidence. But as the plot progresses and she is forced to rely on her own drive and determination to survive, she discovers that empowerment and confidence come from within, eventually becoming the chosen one her people need.
2) Laura Lam’s Pantomime is another novel featuring a hero who is unusual within the realms of YA fantasy. Micah Grey is a runaway who joins the circus to train as an aerialist in order to hide from his past, but also as a way to discover whom he wants to become. Micah’s greatest challenge is an internal one – his quest to understand his sexual identity. Despite his fears of discovery and rejection, Micah manages to be kind and loyal to those who matter to him, while at the same time being true to himself.
3) In Garth Nix’s Sabriel, the title character is tasked by her father to take up the inherited role of Abhorsen, the individual responsible for keeping evil spirits from passing through the gates of death into life. Despite having been raised in the non-magical world of Ancelstierre, she bravely ventures into her magical homeland, the Old Kingdom, determined to defeat the necromancer Kerrigor and rescue her father from death. Sabriel is brave and companionate, but what I appreciated most was her cleverness.
4) Ismae of Robin LaFever’s Grave Mercy begins her story as a victim of a brutal father and a horrific arranged marriage, her suffering predetermined by the large red birthmark she bears indicating that she was sired by death. When given the choice to turn her heritage into a weapon, she takes it, and trains to become a deadly assassin nun in the service of St. Mortain. Her shift from sheep to wolf is exciting and compelling, but what makes her stand out is how she develops her own moral code and stays true to it even when doing so runs contrary to the will of her saviors.
5) My last pick is the duo of Siobhan McQuaid and Owen Thorskard in E.K. Johnston’s The Story of Owen. To pick only one of them would be a disservice to this wonderful novel, because these two Canadian teens are a heroic team: a dragon slayer and his bard. Owen slays dragons aplenty, but he is also a regular teenage boy who struggles with math. Siobhan isn’t the most popular girl in school, but neither does she want to be. She’s smart, compassionate, and comfortable in her own skin. Their platonic friendship is refreshing, and the pragmatic humor they employ both while slaying dragons and while surviving high school make this novel a must read.