Good fantasy novels in which the heroine rescues the hero?


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Good fantasy novels in which the heroine rescues the hero?

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Jan 29, 2015, 3:19 pm

What are some good alternate-world (not urban) fantasy books that reverse the usual equation of the female damsel rescued by the male hero? This interests me because I found a list on Goodreads on the subject and was intrigued, but I found the integrity of the list was compromised a bit by the appearance of books by John C. Wright on the list -- the same John C. Wright who claims in his blog that speculative fiction needs to be "saved" from "strong female characters," and that any male hero who needs rescuing must automatically be a loser who isn't worth rescuing in the first place.

So I thought I might see if my friends here can suggest some good ones. I can think of a few that might qualify.

Any retelling of "Tam Lin," for instance, would belong on this list, including Patricia McKillip's gorgeous Winter Rose.

The heroine of a book I've just begun, Erin Lindsey's The Bloodbound, rescues the hero (or whom I think will be the hero) within the first twenty pages.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is contemporary fantasy, so it wouldn't normally be my thing, but the little girl does save the boy, and the day, at the climax.

The heroine of Marissa Meyer's Cinder saves the life of the Prince she loves at the cost of her own freedom. I still regret that I hated the sequel, Scarlet, so much that I had to abandon the series.

Cecelia, of Sorcery and Cecelia, is another rescuing heroine.

Some more like this?

Jan 29, 2015, 3:46 pm

Alethea Kontis Woodcutters series, particularly the second, Hero, have strong female leads. There are seven sisters, so I'm supposing there will be a book for each one.

Enchanted features Sunday Woodcutter, who befriends a frog prince. The second book features Saturday Woodcutter who defies all of the fairytale tropes that try to ensnarl her.

Jan 29, 2015, 3:57 pm

If you like humorous but still fantasy/fairy tale setting, The Unhandsome Prince by John Moore has an adorable starting premise. A young woman decides to look for that frog-to-be-turned-into-a-prince, and does so by systematically dividing the swamp into a grid and kissing every frog. Definitely a go-getter. I remember finding the rest of the book clever as well.

Jan 29, 2015, 4:07 pm

I just finished listening to Dealing with Dragons on audio (and I don't recommend that version) and the princess repeatedly refuses rescues.

Editado: Jan 29, 2015, 4:22 pm

Sabriel by Garth Nix is one.

Jan 29, 2015, 4:40 pm

>4 2wonderY: I love dealing with dragons! And that book definitely qualifies.

Another one I'm thinking about is By the sword by Mercedes Lackey, about the female mercenary Kerowyn who rescues a Herald. Then there's Scriber by Ben S. Dobson. Saints astray by Jacqueline Carey (with a profusion of lesbian bed scenes, so skip if that is not your thing. It has cool female bodyguards though, so plenty of saving. Or, as they call it in the book, sitting the babies.). The Mistborn books by Brandon Sanderson; Vin does a lot of saving... The hidden city by Michelle West, girl seer saves bunch of orphans.

I'm focusing mostly on the saving here... I'm not sure if all the men are damsel equivalents really. Isn't the damsel usually a love interest as well?

Jan 29, 2015, 8:27 pm

Three different rehandlings of Bradamant, the female hero from the Charlemagne/Orlando Furioso legends

Bradamant: The Iron Tempest by Ron Miller

Quest of the Warrior Maid (Bradamante & Ruggiero) by Linda C McCabe

Bradamant's Quest by Ruth Berman

And the arch-heroine of pulp sword & sorcery
Jirel of Joiry by C L Moore

Jan 30, 2015, 8:18 pm

The Blue Sword by McKinley (from the invasion rather than direct peril).

Editado: Jan 30, 2015, 9:08 pm

6: Scriber! This book needs more love. It is criminally underrated.

Its male protagonist is complex and capable in his way, but he couldn't fight his way out of wet tissue paper. He's saved and protected by not just one, but a whole band of warrior women, all of whom are intriguing characters in their own right. In no way is he presented as "not being worth it." He does make mistakes, but he acknowledges them and learns from them. And I absolutely adore the female lead (who is NOT the love interest)!

Jan 30, 2015, 9:22 pm

I'm never good at coming up with examples for these threads.

But I was just thinking...

Wouldn't every Beauty and the Beast retelling out there qualify? Also, Tam Lin.

Editado: Jan 30, 2015, 9:42 pm

Hm, you're right. Say Fire and Hemlock by DWJ. And Hexwood as well. And Howl's Moving Castle. And Black Maria.

Lots of saving from DWJ heroines.

Jan 31, 2015, 1:35 am

>3 amysisson: That sounds like fun. Unfortunately, it seems to be out of print and my library doesn't have it.

Editado: Jan 31, 2015, 2:01 am

The later books in the Black Company series (Water sleeps and Soldiers live) have a woman, Sleepy, scheming to save the bacon of earlier major (and mostly male) characters who have come under unfavorable circumstances.

Editado: Jan 31, 2015, 9:46 am

13: Doesn't she end up getting killed, though? That kind of dims the glow for me, particularly if there's no heroine who can step up to fill the void. Still, if I decide to dip my proverbial toes in the water of the Black Company, those are the books I'll begin with.

Jan 31, 2015, 12:18 pm

>10 LShelby: I don't know, isn't the saving in the Beauty and the Beast stories of the girl-saves-boy-by-loving-him and of the girl-saves-boy-by-enhanced-emotional-acuity-which-comes-natural-to-all-good-women variety? I don't think that's the kind of saving we're looking for, right? Or perhaps I'm not up-to-speed on the Beauty and the Beast tale...

Jan 31, 2015, 1:12 pm

>15 zjakkelien: There are traditional stories where guys rescue girls from curses or other difficulties through "enhanced emotional acuity". I didn't realize that those didn't count as "damsel rescuing". Sorry.

Jan 31, 2015, 1:31 pm

I just read Holly Black's The Darkest Part of the Forest and it's the girl doing the majority of the saving in that one. It just came out a couple of weeks ago so I won't get too spoilery

Jan 31, 2015, 2:43 pm

Though the book has a male lead, The Ladies of Mandrigyn are not to be trifled with.

"The City of Mandrigyn was conquered and its men enslaved in the foul mines of the evil Wizard King Altiokis.

Now the women of the city, led by Sheera Galernas, had come to hire the mercenary army of Captain Sun Wolf. But Sun Wolf was too wise to become involved in fighting against wizardry..."

Editado: Jan 31, 2015, 4:17 pm

>16 LShelby: Well, that's my interpretation anyway, maybe other people feel differently. To me a damsel in distress is usually in some kind of physical or political distress, needing the hero to save her. She usually doesn't need the hero to ground her emotionally, so that she can be less of a monster, or to give her a reason to live or some such. Can't think of good examples, sorry...

I'm curious about those stories you mention, though, can you give an example?

edit: just found the perfect example: The black dagger brotherhood by J.R. Ward. Ok, that's a certain subgenre, I realize, but in those books, the women rescue by the emotions they evoke, not by their actions. Partly it is by their own emotions, loving or needing one of the guys.

Jan 31, 2015, 5:09 pm

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making has a male character who's a fairly spot on damsel. Unfortunately the book tried a bit too hard to be quirky and charming for me, but I can see how other people would like it. Hogfather might be another one. (I can't get my tablet to do touchstones for some reason, sorry.)

In my mind a damsel is the motivation behind the plot and reward for the hero, in a way where the damsel could be replaced by a treasured object with little change. A very clear damsel would be the reward at the end of a quest plot.

However, I see other people defining it as any female character under duress who is rescued by the hero.

Editado: Jan 31, 2015, 5:22 pm

>19 zjakkelien:
The Beast in Beauty and the Beast doesn't need emotional grounding to break his curse, he needs to find a girl who is willing to marry him in spite of the fact that he looks like a monster.
Some retellings may have her changing a mean beast into a nice beast through her amazing goodness, but in most of them he's actually a reasonably nice guy, or at least has become so by the time she arrives on the scene. She's the one who needs to learn to see past his appearance.

Reversing that basic set up, there's a Arthurian tale about a knight who is challenged with a riddle "What do woman want most?" Some promise to marry a hag comes into it somewhere (he doesn't want to, of course, his honor demands it). Anyway he finally figures out that the answer is "Her own way", marries the hag and discovers that she's only a hag half the time, the other half a time she's a beautiful maiden. She tells him he can choose which half of the day she's beautiful, day or night. He'd rather go to bed with the beauty, but proves that he truly learned the earlier lesson by telling her it can be whichever she prefers. Whereupon the spell on her is broken and she stops turning into a hag.

There a Celtic tale that I remember even less well, so maybe it doesn't apply, but it's about a guy going courting and being asked to choose between the beautiful sister and the "monstrous" sister. Only they're both actually the same girl, and he has to choose her in the not-beautiful persona in order to actually end up winning the girl of his dreams.

And my brain is niggling at me that I've run into at least a couple more variants on this theme, but it refuses to produce any details. I think one was arabian, but when I try come up with it, I instead end up with Ali Baba, who was apparently an idiot, and got rescued several times by the cleverness of a "damsel". And from there it hops over to the Russian tradition of "simpleton" stories, many of which are about intellectually challenged men who become rich powerful and etc by faithfully following the instructions of one or more women. In other words, I've switched back the the starting question somehow.

My brain is often recalcitrant like that. :(

Jan 31, 2015, 5:44 pm

>21 LShelby: Ah, I know that first one, I like it!

Jan 31, 2015, 9:00 pm

You could try out Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear, which is replete with strong women kicking butt. The first book in a trilogy.

Fev 2, 2015, 3:27 am

Hmm, I feel like I should have examples, but most of the ones I'm coming up with are hero gets in trouble, heroine goes after him, and they work together to get out of their situation- eg Moira J. Moore's Resenting the Hero.

>16 LShelby: I think that my problem with including many Beauty and the Beast type stories- for example the numerous paranormal dangerous magic guy/naive mundane girl romances out there currently- is that the heroine's love often feels like a reward for the hero's suffering as much as a passive damsel would be for the hero's bravery.

This isn't always the case, of course, but it often is in retellings that more loosely interpret the theme rather than strictly retelling- not even getting in to the cases where the heroine has to overlook not an off-putting appearance, but rude or outright controlling, abusive behavior.

The book that typifies the "Beauty as reward" best for me- and I know this may be a controversial choice- is Lois McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor, where Cordelia comes to love Aral despite his surface- his reputation as the ruthless Butcher of Komarr- and comes to him in his time of emotional need; he loves her because she helps him emotionally, for the way she loves him despite the awful choices he has to make- if she believes what he did was honorable, he can come to some sense of it himself. I didn't see him engaging with or making an attempt to understand her in the same way at all, or even acknowledge everything she went through and try to provide her the same comfort that she did what she had to do- the Beast never had to make an effort to understand Beauty, or court her really since they fell in love so quickly (in other cases a "soulmate bond" type contraption serves to bring them together- Beauty given to the Beast not by her father's folly but the inescapable metaphysical laws of the universe) it felt quite one-sided to me.

A Wrinkle in Time is an example of a heroine rescuing damselled men (Charles Wallace and her father) that I think is a more direct reversal of the damsel trope, with the heroine's power being emotional in nature, the strength of her love- their rescue is proof that Meg's bravery and that she has come into her own (though her romantic reward is of course not either of them, but Calvin, so it doesn't quite fit this thread I don't think).

Editado: Fev 5, 2015, 1:01 pm

>14 kceccato: At the very end so those books are her show.

Fev 5, 2015, 2:12 pm

The Tombs of Atuan and Tehanu would qualify, I think.

Fev 6, 2015, 10:16 am

>24 sandstone78: mordant's need kind of falls into that category. Maybe the best description is that they rescue each other.

Fev 6, 2015, 11:48 am

It's still on my Mount Tbr, but I believe the heroine rescues the hero in C. J. Cherryh's Angel with the sword.

Fev 6, 2015, 11:59 am

>27 reading_fox:, ten stars for citing Mordant's Need in any capacity.

>28 Sakerfalcon:, read that one but I couldn't confirm that for you now, it's been too long.

Editado: Fev 7, 2015, 8:58 am

>27 reading_fox: >29 Cecrow:
Things made me cringe and not go further than the first book, as far as I remember.
The empty heroine who's suddenly Something Very Special upon ending up in the secondary world (but that may be my extreme reluctance with most portal/time travel uses). The dynamics with the creepy (but still depicted as seductive) mage.

Fev 7, 2015, 8:51 am

30: I have to admit that I'm very wary of anything Stephen R. Donaldson writes. He likes to turn rapists into heroes, while their victims are destroyed. This is how The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant starts off, and I understand it's also a main feature in The Gap Cycle. I find it hard to trust that any heroine I might like or admire would spring from these books or this writer.

However, if I am totally and completely wrong, I will accept correction with humility.

Fev 7, 2015, 1:46 pm

I would sincerely recommend the Mordant's Need duology by Donaldson for anyone who has a trigger factor - it highlights his strengths without touching on what readers object to in his other series.

Regarding The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant - there is so much controversy flying, it is difficult to sort. I read the series long ago, and despite the controversial aspects, I would still rate it a landmark work in fantasy literature.

Here is why:

At the start, the hero is not a hero at all: he is a depressed individual who has lost everything due to leprosy: physical health, job, wife, sexual function - gone - in short his whole life is in the 'hopper' - his misery has overtaken everything, and the last thing he has left (so he believes) is his sanity.

When the portal shift hits him, the last bastion that he has is 'threatened' - he believes he is losing his mind....and his struggle becomes trying to hold on to that last shred of identity when he believes his only reality - is everything lost BUT his mind....he subscribes to the fantasy belief he is 'dreaming' and in his despair, does the unthinkable.

The entire rest of story is about an individual who pays for that reprehensible act - who demonstrates what it is to be hopeless, depressed, dispicable - and how to go on in the face of that. The series from the protag's view is a miserable, wretched journey through the pits, set against a world of hope and beauty and forgiveness.

I will not go into the final ending of the second trilogy where it all comes together - I'd say that this series does explore arenas that few authors have dared. To slap dash label it 'enabling of rape culture' is careless dismissal, in my opinion. The painful moments in these books are seriously handled, and the catharisis from the stand of everything lost, everything bleak, everything hopeless, and now, living out the consequences of that one despicable act - are not done casually or without very deep thought.

By all means, everyone who wants to steer clear of these books is quite right to do so. I finished them out of sheer RAGE for what was depicted in Volume I. And while I would not take that journey again, Donaldson did not let me down - everything that stemmed from that act was NOT glorified - and the finish was the result of deep thought and perceptive handling.

These are not light reads, not kids stuff, not simplistic fantasy, but an adult look at human nature and the depths to which the human spirit can find itself. It is about redemption, not glorification or heroics. It is about beliefs and the shifting backdrops upon which beliefs can cause choice to fail. And about backdrops in which beliefs also can become pitfalls, if not create the downfall of everything held dear.

There are plenty of literary works with such edges, and such deep examination of the bleak side of human nature. Few dare to show the perspective of a character's shortfalls with the gloves off. Nothing in that first volume is done without purpose or for gratuitous shock - it is all part of the fabric of a very seriously handled story that, IMO, does not deserve to be casually dismissed, often by people who have not read the work in its entirety. Your mileage may vary, of course, and naturally, not everyone would choose to read this work, and that is quite a fine choice.

It's the knee jerk rap that (sometimes) bothers me, is all - and you asked if there was anything to admire from this writer....I feel there is. But start with Mordant's Need, the significant trigger is not in that work.

Fev 9, 2015, 11:36 am

>31 kceccato: - that's perhaps a simplistic viewpoint. I wouldn't class either Angus or Thomas as heroes. Neither are their victims destroyed. Perhaps both Angus and Thomas become redeemed whilst accepting the anguish they have caused. Lena, Elena and Morn transform themselves and are not defined as victims. Janny obviously says it better.

>30 Jarandel: "The dynamics with the creepy (but still depicted as seductive) mage." Is kind of the point. You can't tell bad from good just because one is "creepy". Donaldson writes complex characters. People are attracted to all sorts of personalities even if it isn't in a healthy way.

I do accept that none of his work (even the short stories) is going to be pleasant or the right choice for everybody.

Fev 10, 2015, 8:55 am

32, 33: Thank you for your thoughtful, detailed replies. My impression had been that Lena went mad, and she and Elena were actually transformed into villains in the first Thomas Covenant trilogy, which made me not want to read it (since I'm far more interested in heroines than in villainesses). Clearly it's more complicated than that.

I'm still a bit wary of the first trilogy, but the second series actually intrigues me, since it does include a female character presented as a heroine, and it also includes a character called "The First" whom I think I would love reading about.

But back to the topic -- I thought of another good example: Cat Barahal of the Spiritwalker Trilogy spends most of the last volume, Cold Steel, coming to the rescue of her man.

Fev 10, 2015, 11:29 am

You could not possibly read the second Thomas Covenant trilogy without the first one. Really, they aren't two trilogies, but one story in six volumes. The delivery at the ending would lack meaning if you jumped in midstream. There is so much signal to noise/prejudice bouncing around about this series - the only way to know it is to see for yourself. Given your posts here - I'd say - if you were going to try Donaldson, go for Mordant's Need. He'll either work or not/and you don't have to hit the trigger issues with that duology at all. That series fits this topic as well.

Might look at Julie Czerneda's A Turn of Light also.

Fev 11, 2015, 7:41 am

I didn't realize Czerneda wrote fantasy as well as science fiction. Joy.

Mar 8, 2015, 12:55 am

I must admit that I abandoned Thomas Covenant without giving it a chance, partly because of the rape. On the other hand, I am a huge fan of The Gap Cycle. As Donaldson explains somewhere, his plot does something complicated with abusers, victims and rescuers. Morn Hyland is at least twice a victim, but also so so much more. Angus Thermopyle is also a complex character.

All that said, I am not sure that either The Gap Cycle or the The Mirror of Her Dreams are stories that are simple enough to classify as the woman rescuing the man.

Jun 21, 2019, 9:46 am

The short stories collected in the Sword and Sorceress series may have a few that fit this criteria.

Out 29, 2019, 3:09 pm

Tinker by Wen Spencer has a heroine that I believe does a bit of rescuing from my admittedly vague recollection, although the rescuing may be in Wolf Who Rules which was the sequel. More books I read years ago that I should probably re-visit.

Editado: Out 29, 2019, 9:13 pm

I think the Wheel of Time series fits the definition, if you broaden it sufficiently. Although the "hero" is male, he is guided (and at times protected) by several women (especially Moiraine). The world itself is slightly matriarchal (although the late Robert Jordan intended to simply write the world where the power between the sexes was balanced), and men are often portrayed as bumbling loose cannons who can't channel magic without going insane.

This is a somewhat divisive debate amongst the many WoT super-fans out there. Some people think he was a creepy old man obsessed with breasts who wrote cartoon characters of women. I (a male) tend to think of him more favorably in this regard. What did it for me was Egwene. Her character received a lot of criticism for being stubborn and egotistical who made several bad decisions (and one amazing one) as the story unfolded, and, in my mind, the criticism validated what Jordan intended, because the criticism sounded a lot like how readers would complain about a male character! She was judged as a LEADER, not as a FEMALE.

Out 30, 2019, 10:41 am

I think the Mistborn series is one that would qualify even if want to argue with me about the ending of the series I still think it counts overall. Vin is one of the best leading female characters I've ever read.