YA Fantasy Literature with strong Female Protagonists in a D&D like setting
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X if *NOT* YAD&Desque?
Notesmay not have a female lead
YA Fantasy Literature
with Strong Female Protagonists
in a D&D-Like Setting
The purpose of this sheet is to help me identify YA (Young Adult) fantasy literature that can serve as a good (high or low) fantasy settings "primer" for students in my D&D classes at the girls middle school (US 6/7/8th grades) I teach (and dungeon master) at. I want works that:

- have a strong female protagonist as the main character
- feel D&D like (stock D&D 'fantasy land' setting)
- are "safe" YA recommendations
(no sex, minimal cussing, minimal/no graphic violence)

Note that I haven't read most of these. Do not consider inclusion on this list to be a guarantee that these works are YA friendly. Check the NOTES column for information as it's collected. Known NON YA works have been moved to the bottom of the page or marked as such. I'm also marking works that are well recommended but not D&D like as such.
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TOP RECOMMENDATIONSTamora PierceSong of the Lioness series (1st: Alanna)
Protector of the Small
Wild Magic
Protector of the Small quartets
Trickster's Choice duology
Circle of Magic series
The Provost's Dog trilogy
et al.
74Y@ItsMeganAlyse notes: Chronologically her Tortall books are:
Song of the Lioness Quartet
Wild Magic Quartet
Protector of the Small Quartet
Trickster's Choice/Queen (Daughter of the Lioness Duet)

The Provost Dog Trilogy is technically a "prequel", but might be better read after Song of the Lioness for better context.

@jkmiami89 notes: especially the Circle of Magic books. Her Tortall series is a little more D&D-esque, but the CoM have such an interesting and unique magic system, and fantastic adventuring storylines from a diverse group of characters.

@rtscosplay adds: I always recommend start with the Song of the Lioness series but my absolute fav is the Protector of the Small series.

Arielle Halpern adds: Published order is a pretty good way to read these, as the prequels were published after the books that give added context. Published order is: Song of the Lioness quartet (Alanna: The First Adventure 1st), The Immortals quartet (Wild Mage 1st), Protector of the Small quartet (First Test 1st), Trickster duology (Trickster's Choice/Trickster's Queen, features child death and has a strong anti-racism message), The Provost's Dog trilogy (prequel ~200 years pre-Alanna books, follows a young female cop fighting crime and protecting her city, includes mentions of prostitutes/murder/criminals/slavery but no sex scenes, Terrier 1st), newest ongoing series is the Numair Chronicles (Tempests and Slaughter 1st, features her first male protagonist for the Tortall series, includes many varied female characters that are influential in the protag's life, set concurrently with parts of The Song of the Lioness/pre-The Immortals).

@mynaminnarr notes: Circle of Magic is also more middle-grade than the others, although I read the Wild Magic books in middle school as well. I think I got spooked by the Song of the Lioness books ~6th-7th grade because the protag had (completely off-screen) sex. That's about the level of sex stuff to be expected in her Tortall works. Also, because Tortall is largely about warriors, the violence is a little more graphic but not more than the YA norm, I think. That said, reading Pierce's Tortall books in middle school was my gateway into fantasy.
Patricia C WredeDealing with Dragons
(+ Enchanted Forest Chronicles)
Caught in Crystal
36Yfrom @carolinethegeek : She and Caroline Stevermer also wrote "Sorcery and Cecilia" which isn't super D&D ish but does involve magic and such.
Garth NixSabriel/Lirael/Abhorsen
Clariel (prequel)
32Y@ethanschoonover: Just read it and loved it. Not 100% D&D in setting or in terms of magic, but everything works, it's very well written, there is zero time wasted on "she's just a girl" tropes, and the magic system feels fresh, threatening, and fantastic. There is discussion of her first period and some discussion/inimation of thoughts about sex, but IMO it's fine for my middleschoolers. Very age appropriate stuff.

@ItsMeganAlyse notes: Following Abhorsen, there is "Across the Wall" (a series of short stories) and Goldenhand. / "Prequel" is called Clariel, but again, might make more sense with the context of the first three books.

@carolinethegeek notes: The bells/the magic system in this series is one of my favorites. Also, Mogget and the Disreputable dog

@Wassamattawityu notes: I am so happy I see the Old Kingdom/Abhorsen series by @garthnix on this list. This series is always the first to pop in my head when I think DnD style with strong female protagonists.
Terry PratchettDiscworld feat. Tiffany Aching, Equal Rites28Ye.g. Wee Free Men, Hat Full of Sky, The Winter Smith, I Shall Wear Midnight, any of his witches books.

@carolinethegeek notes: Also any of the Death ones with Susan (Soul Music, Hogfather). Also: Tiffany Aching series is specifically YA, others are part of the main series so while they don't get explicit they get a little more complex/serious... I tore through them in middle school but I'd start with the YA.

@eruvadhril notes: The third book in the Tiffany Aching series, “Wintersmith”, has a companion soundtrack with the same title by the band Steeleye Span
Anne McCaffreyHarpers Hall trilogy (esp first 2, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger)20Yfrom @carolinethegeek : Dragonsong and Dragonsinger definitely

@Evil_ST notes: Dragonriders of Pern does come up with sex scenes in some of the books. Not explicit, but it is part of the story. The Harpers stuff is more YA firendly.

@Cat_Lance notes: I just want to warn you, outside of Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, Anne McCaffrey's Pern books have some effed up sex dynamics. Glossed over rape, etc. Definitely don't recommend the others, personally.
Mercedes LackeyVows and Honor
By The Sword
Heralds of Valdemar
Arrows of the Queen
Free Bards
(most books set in Valgarth)
20Ypossible adult themes? @VanishingAge notes: the protag of the last herald mage series is gay, which I only note because if it's something relevant to a kid's interests, it's *good* to know it's there. he does have a tragic story, which is a downer. I cannot remember if the content was risqué at all though.

@MurlocQueen also recommends the "500 Kingdoms" series of books by Lackey. They take their themes from classic fairy tales, but the main characters in most of them are female, or have strong female characters in partner as a co-main that are strong individuals

@bizarroclair notes: Definitely do read any Mercedes Lackey books before you recommend them to kids. I read them as a preteen, and just re-read a few as an adult. Several of them feature rape and other trauma, and the way it is handled in the books made me uncomfortable.

@eruvadhril notes: if you get into those books then be aware that there are companion albums with songs lifted from or inspired by the text, and a lot of them are up on youtube. (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZsgM3FOOVM …) Good mood music.
Brandon SandersonMistborn series19?xYNote: there may be some adult themes in this work

@ItsMeganAlyse notes: "Final Empire" is the name of the first book of the original trilogy:
Mistborn: The Final Empire, Mistborn: The Well of Ascension, MIstborn: The Hero of Ages. There's a second series (Wax and Wayne) but it's more male-centric.

@aheerema notes: Warbreaker and Elantris both feature female leads and stand on their own (not a series). The Emperor's Soul is a novella within the Warbreaker world. And his Stormlight Archive books too! (big reads though)

@ethanschoonover notes: just started reading this and confirming that right off the bat there are some serious themes (rape of a minor, doesn't occur but is prominent initial theme). Story is compelling and could be a good read but I don't know if I'd start with this for middleschoolers, at least not 6th/7th graders.
Elizabeth MoonThe Deed Paksenarrion (trilogy)12YStarts off with The Sheepfarmer's Daughter (one part of a chapter that deals with attempted rape)
5 OR MORE MENTIONSDiana Wynne JonesHowl's Moving Castle
House of Many Ways
11from @carolinethegeek : I'm also fond of Dark Lord of Derkholm (ensemble cast) and its sequel Year of the Griffin (female main character... who is also a griffin... and training to be a wizard) may be a tiny bit dated as they're about 20 years old at this point.

@mynaminnarr notes: Chrestomanci mostly doesn't have girl protagonists, and isn't really DnD-esque - it's set in sort of a weird alt early 20th century England. Seconding Derkholm/Year of the Griffin - those are in probably her most standard fantasy world, partly because she's gently poking fun at the standard tropes.
Gail Carson Levine
The Two Princesses of Bamarre
Ella Enchanted / Fairest
10Morgan Lockhart notes: Ella Enchanted is a good book but it's not super D&D-esque in that it's more domestic/relationship focused than adventuring.

@mynaminnarr adds: Doesn't have the standard Tolkein/DnD races, but definitely does have different kinds of people and monsters in all her books - elves, ogres, gnomes, dragons, spectres, gryffons, etc. Her girls (Ella, too) get to adventure, although combat tends not to be a good solution for them. Might read a bit young and princess-y, depending on taste, but I still have a soft spot.
Brian JaquesThe Redwall series8Y@missdoomcookie notes: I only know of Mariel of Redwall as being female led (I think some later in the series may be as well though.)
Erin M. EvansForgotten Realms works (e.g. Brimstone Angels), Ash-Winged Angels8Ytoo mature? have to check first
set in forgotten realms

@erinmevans notes that it is YA acceptable (at least specifically Brimstone Angels)

@ViktorEGB notes: As a reader of those novels I think it's a great intro [to D&D]. The first two books are great for introducing parts of 4e FR. Third is transition to 5e and into more grownup themes or motifs. The rest is great 5e, with parts related directly to SCAG and MToF content.
Jim C. HinesPrincess novels7
Noelle StevensonNIMONA7Y@missdoomcookie notes: Nimona fits I think, but Lumberjanes is modern with some magical twists.
Neil GaimanStardust6@carolinethegeek notes: This has one tiny f-bomb (literally, the font is smaller) and some implied stuff but overall should be fine. Neil Gaiman does have children's/young adult stuff (Coraline, The Graveyard Book) but this is probably the most D&D ish of his works, though I do love Coraline. I love Stardust and Neverwhere though.

@neilhimself confirms this is in fact YA! https://twitter.com/neilhimself/status/1014907084763254785
Shannon HaleBayern series
Book of a Thousand Days
Princess Academy
7@BrowncoatPanda notes: Love this author! And perfect for middle school age.

@reid_r adds: Shannon Hale's Bayern Series could use more love. Goose Girl, the first one in this series is one of my absolute favorites.

@mynaminnarr notes: Bayern deals with dark stuff sometimes - most often violence. It's more an undercurrent than the main thing in most of the books, but book two was a hard read. Fire powers + war end up being a bad mix. Wonderful female protagonists and friendships, though, in all her books.
Sherwood SmithCrown Duel, Court Duel6
Tomi AdeyemiChildren of Blood and Bone6
Cornelia FunkeInkheart trilogy5
Jane YolenSister Light, Sister Dark / Unicorn books5Y
Jessica Day Georgedragon slippers and it’s sequels, tuesday in the castle series5
Kate Novak, Jeff GrubbAzure Bonds / The Finder's Stone trilogy5forgotten realms
Nnedi OkoraforAkata Witch / Akata Warrior / Binti trilogy5urban fantasy
Trudi CanavanThe Magicians' Guild
The Black Magician trilogy
Ursula K. LeGuinEarthsea series, Tombs of Atuan5not female protagonist in original trilogy, Tenar in Tombs of Atuan female protag.
Dragonlance series5?xY@ethanschoonover - I'd love some comments on this series... anything with a strong female lead that is YA appropriate?

Danielle Clarke replies: Few and far between, I'm afraid. I've had a google around and found that there's a set called the Linsha Trilogy, but I've not read that one so I can't comment on its YA-appropriateness. None of the ones I've read from the Dragonlance series have had female protagonists or been particularly YA-friendly.
Catherynne M. ValenteThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making4Nmore surreal than DnD
Diane DuaneSo You Want to Be a Wizard, Young Wizards series4
Maria V. SnyderPoison Study / Storm Glass / Touch of Power4
Terry BrooksShannara, Elfstones of Shannara, Wishsong4YThe first with a female lead is in the Wishsong, 3rd book of the original trilogy.
Alison CroggonThe Books of Pellinor3@wildwoodsgames notes: If you want something in the vein of Tolkien (lyrical, travelogue-y, magic that feels ineffable and wondrous) then @alisoncroggon’s Pellinor Quartet.
Alison GoodmanEon and Eona3
Cindy PonSerpentine, Silver Phoenix3
Gilbert MorrisThe Lost Chronicles / Seven Sleepers series3
Kristen BritainThe Green Rider3Y
Leigh BardugoSix of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, The Grisha trilogy3
Rachel AaronThe Legend of Eli Monpress, The Heartstrikers series3not a female main character
Rachel HartmanSeraphina3
Richard AwlinsonThe Forgotten Realms Avatar trilogy3Midnight is the female lead character.
Stuart HillCry of the Icemark / Icemark Chronicles3
Susan DennardThe Witchlands series3
T. KingfisherThe great Summer in Orcus3
Vande Velde VivianHeir Apparent4@mynaminnarr notes: virtual reality in a stock medieval setting. Quite fun, as I recall. (I can't remember specific Vande Velde books to recommend, but she has others in good settings for this).
Alethea KontisThe Woodcutter Sisters/Books of Arilland series2NArielle Halpern notes: Not strictly D&D, definitely fantasy though, a mix of fairy tales and more standard fantasy expectations. Very fun and unique, imo
Alwyn HamiltonRebel of the Sands + sequels2@VanishingAge notes: sits somewhere between the wild west and Arabian nights in terms of flavour
Caroline StevermerA College of Magics (series)2@carolinethegeek notes: A couple of really interesting and contrasting female leads (who butt heads a little but are/become friends). I haven't re-read in a while but I can't recall anything too adult-y.
Charles de LintThe Dreaming Place
The Riddle of The Wren
2urban fantasy notes: I loved the book "The Riddle of the Wren", by Charles de Lint. It's about a young girl who leaves her normal life behind on an adventure into the ancient magic of the multiverse. It's very heavy in the celtic influence.
CJ CherryhThe Paladin, The Morgaine Stories2
Clive BarkerAbarat2"if they're not squeamish" @carolinethegeek notes: I remember reading the first one and liking it but it was a while back...
Cynthia VoightJackaroo2@BrowncoatPanda notes: We've also taught this one with our 7th/8th graders in the past - should be relatively safe for this age level! (I wasn't personally teaching it, so I'm not positive...)
E.D. BakerThe Frog Princess series
The Wide-Awake Princess
Ed GreenwoodSpellfire
Shandril's Saga
Edith PattouEast3@wildrosemage notes: East by Edith Pattou is also one of my favorite books and favorite fairytale retellings with adventurous, determined, artistic protagonist. If you can get your hands on the full cast audiobook, do it! Overall: 10/10

@mynaminnarr notes: It's Weird Fairytale Norway but it does have trolls quite prominently (? I don't recall the term used).
Emily Bee MartinCreatures of Light trilogy2@EmilyBeeMartin notes: Creatures of Light is a fantasy adventure trilogy chock full of lady rangers, scientists, queens, rebels, and heroines. Characters are in their 20s but there's nothing inappropriate/graphic for younger readers.
Erika JohansenQueen of the Tierling2
Gail CarrigerThe Finishing School series2@AnnMusic1 notes: excellent for all those young Rouges and Bards out there

@derekthebard notes: Unsure if it fits the D&D criteria, but Gail Carriger’s Finishing School novels are about teenage girls learning to become spies in an all-girls airship school in a Victorian England full of vampires, werewolves, and robots.
Gerald Morris
Arthurian tales (not all have female leads)
The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight (The Squire's Tales Book 6)
3Arielle Halpern notes: Amazing books, don't necessarily have female protagonists for every book though female characters do feature heavily in the books that have male protagonists as well.

The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight (The Squire's Tales Book 6) has a female protagonist, evidently

@mynaminnarr ntoes: The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf also has a feisty female protagonist.
Holly BlackSpiderwick Chronicles2
Jane LindscoldThrough Wolf's Eyes2also others in the rest of the Firekeeper Saga
Joe AbercrombieHalf the World2Thorn Bathu
M.A. LarsonPennyroyal Academy2
Marie BrennanThe Memoirs of Lady Trent Series2
Melissa CarusoThe Tethered Mage2
Nancy SpringerThe Tales of Rowan Hood2Arielle Halpern notes: I remember this book/these books! They were so good! Excellent for any girl who loves Robin Hood but doesn't feel like/doesn't want to be pigeonholed as a Maid Marian.
Robin HobbLiveship Trader trilogy2
Tanith LeeThe Claidi Journals2@R0seOfStone notes: definitely fantasy, female led, written mostly in the style of journals, very immersive & interesting world building.

@carolinethegeek adds: Also the Unicorn Series! And Piratica if they're into the pirate-y stuff!
Tui SutherlandWings of Fire series2
Audrey FayeThe KarmaCorp series, AND Dragonkin series1
@gildedspineThe Gauntlet1
Adrienne YoungSky in the Deep1
Adventurers Born: Taking the high road
@worldofaerix1@WitchGirls notes: All the female characters are strong. This book is also full of a lot of diversity.
Alison Croggonthe Pellinor Series1bards bards bards
Amie KaufmanIlluminae
These broken Stars
Barbar HamblyDragonsbane1
Brandon MullFablehaven1@leechmon notes: I get a lot of my dnd story ideas based off this series
Bridget ZinnPoison1
C. L. MooreJirel of Joiry1@Tim_Eagon notes: technically pulp sword & sorcery/weird fiction from the 1930s, but it's written by a woman and the titular character is a woman warrior in mythic France. I don't remember anything really offensive in it either
Chantel Pereiraw.i.p.1@bizarroclair notes: I really liked Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt as a girl. I re-read it recently and it holds up. I like that it is from a commoner’s perspective (as opposed to the many books about princesses).
China MievilleUn Lun Dun1modern london setting
Cinda Williams ChimaSeven Realms series1romance?
Cynthea MassonAlchemists’ Council1
Daniel SwensenOrison1
David CookSoldiers of Ice (Forgotten Realms - The Harpers, No 7)1YForgotten Realms setting
David Eddings-BelgariadPolgara the Sorceress1
David WileyMonster Huntress1
Derek LandyThe skulduggery pleasant series and the demon road series1
Diana Pharaoh FrancisThe Path Trilogy1
Diane ZahlerBaker's Magic1
diterlizziSearch for Wondla1
Donita K PaulDragon Keeper Chronicles1
Dyan ChickHeir of Illaria: Book One of the Illaria Series1
E.K. Johnston That Inevitable Victorian Thing1
Elise KovaAir Awakens1
Elizabeth KernerKolmar series1not sure if YA