A lot of times in literature, male characters get the roles of not only the heroes, but the villains too. They save the day and are the biggest threats to ending it, while women’s roles are often packed with princess stereotypes and few aspirations outside of romance.
This is especially true for fairy tales: I grew up with stories about women who waited around to be saved, rather than taking action and saving themselves. Women who didn’t have agency in their own stories. To Kill A Kingdom was born because I wanted to show a strong woman in a fairy tale setting, taking charge of her own destiny and fighting for her own survival, regardless of the consequences.
In a time where women are struggling for our voices to be heard, we all want complex, fierce female characters who take control of their story and aren’t just a product of someone else’s adventure. Women who go after what they want and don’t apologise for it.
Enter the antiheroes and ruthless women!
They take action, rather than reacting to the events around them. They show that love isn’t the most important thing and, while there’s nothing wrong with a little romance, it doesn’t need to be all there is to a woman’s story. Ruthless women are fierce and independent. They are who they are, unashamedly so. And you can take it or leave it.
That kind of confidence—to be ourselves and not shy away from it, or try and fit into the mould—is a message that resonates with all of us. And one that’s so important to young women today. Too often we consider what other people think, or try and change ourselves to be what other people want. But ruthless women refuse to do so. They’re flawed and imperfect, but they wear it with pride.
Now more than ever there’s a desire for women in literature to be just that: imperfect. Not to fall into the stereotypes of what a woman should look like or act like, but to be real people who are flawed and have to work hard to achieve their goals. Women we can root for and see ourselves in. Ruthless female characters show us that you don’t need to get it right the first time, as long as you put yourself out there and go for it. As long as you try and keep trying, even in the face of adversity.
Whether it’s a heroine who takes the lead, or a villain intent on destroying the world, ruthless women seem to be the most fleshed-out and three-dimensional females in literature. They not only go through physical trials, but emotional ones too, learning to grow and adapt to their circumstances, and giving us a journey that’s not just action-packed but packs an emotional punch as well.
These women are complex and multifaceted. They’re the characters that are afforded the most backstory, motivations for their actions, and a driving force behind everything they do or feel. They don’t act frivolously, but with purpose, and that kind of intense character focus is something we have been waiting for. Women with real objectives and a clear course to follow. Women who aren’t bystanders in their own stories.
Ruthless women in YA show us that it’s okay to put yourself first and go after your dreams. It’s okay not to be the perfect princess. It’s okay to scream until your voice is heard. And you don’t ever need to apologise for it.